Many of you, like me, are software developers. No matter how many marketing services offer to take over the marketing from you and once you finish coding, in the end you are the one that must push your software forward and do the marketing. No doubt you have read many articles on how to market your software. With this article, my hope is to give you an understanding of how to market your software from a software developer’s point of view.
Creating the software product was the first challenge. Getting real beta testers and sales was the second. My efforts to get people to test JobFish by offering them free copies were an abject failure. I had many people who did nothing at all. I learnt that my best beta testers are my customers; those who pay cold hard cash. I do not think that I will ever forget the one customer who sent me a relatively angry email from abroad saying that my product had a myriad of problems. I answered him politely and apologized for the problems. Trough subsequent emails and revisions, he became a happy paying customer and a friend. I realized that if somebody takes the time to complain, they actually really do like the product. This person’s comments were well taken, so I implemented them. I figured that if he was upset, then there are many other people that would also be upset by the same thing. The trick is to know which suggestions to implement and which to ignore.
I remember my first efforts trying to sell JobFish. I uploaded my first product (not JobFish) to download.com and several other download sites and kind of expected cash to start flowing in. It did not. That led me to discussions on ASP’s marketing newsgroup and several other places. Everybody told me the same thing. Download sites account the smallest portion of sales with conversion rates of 2 to 5 percent. Search engine traffic account for the next major share, and affiliate sales for the rest. I was told that all the big shareware companies have strong affiliate sales. My thought was what is an affiliate? Even after I had people explain it to me, I still was asking myself the same question. The film Sleepless in Seattle comes to mind here. Basically, an affiliate is a reseller, somebody that resells your software and receives a commission.
Of the limited sales that I had, most came from search engines. That at least was true. My download site conversion rate was 0.01%. I guess that explains the lack of sales there. I then moved on to try emails, for which even the air molecules were against me. I did try one email campaign and that did not do to well. What I did not know at the time was that email campaigns are complicated. You have to track the open rate, test the subject line, and do a whole host of other things. You can not just track the number of people clicking on the link, downloading the product, and then making the purchase. Email campaigns can work, but you should be prepared. I would not go into this topic now, as I want to focus on search engine optimization.
As people kept avoiding JobFish and my other two products like the bubonic plague, I started to treat my sales problem like I would any other engineering problem. After all, I am an engineer accustomed to solving problems. The more that I treated sales and marketing like an engineering problem, the more that I got interested in the subject and realized that the two are not that much different.
Before I continue, let me say that the first thing you have to do is to be stubborn. They will be people telling you to quit. If you believe that you software is great and that it can work, then it can. Listen to your inner voice, and do not avoid tackling the marketing. It is fun, if you really think of it. It is all mathematics.
If somebody would have told me how difficult it would be to write a website, I would not have believed them. I clearly remember my first website that I wrote using Microsoft FrontPage. The thought of keywords, alternate domain names, Meta Tags, titles, alt tags, frames, Macromedia Flash, and all the other marketing related stuff did not even cross my mind.
When a search engine looks at your site, they use a piece of software called a spider. Personally, I think the analogy of an ant is more appropriate, but the principle is still the same. The spider will crawl all over your website, page by page, capturing the text, keywords, and other information in the process. Needless to say that if the search engine spider cannot find your page, it would not catalogue your page. Spiders are as important as real visitors. Based on the combination of your page title, Meta Tags, Meta Descriptions, body text, alt tags, and other web page related items (i.e. headers) search engines using a proprietary algorithm create what the industry calls, keyword weights, for each of the pages they catalogue. Spiders, unlike their arachnid brethren, are quite multi-dimensional, able to decipher whether or not you are really using a keyword or just trying to fool the search engine.
Therefore your first task is to choose keywords that are appropriate for you. That does not mean which keywords have generally the highest number of clicks in a month, but rather which keywords have the highest number of clicks and will likely interest search engine customers. Do not forget that they will only see a few sentences.
Search engines do not magically know about your website. You have to submit your site to each of them, preferably on a regular basis. Using a service like Promaxum.com comes in handy here. I would recommend doing one on your own, then farming out the work. Before that can happen, your website must be search engine friendly. Search engines do not like frames, Macromedia Flash, inline frames, and many other cutie things. When you create your website, think like an ant. Spiders cannot navigate pull down menus. A high page ranking (PR) does not just happen. It comes from hard work. To get around many of the limitations imposed by spiders, Macromedia Dreamweaver offers library items. They have got to be the web programmer’s best friend.
The most important thing that you will do is to choose the right keywords. Use a service like WordTracker.com as a start, but not as the bible. You will find out that coming up with the proper keywords can be a bit time consuming task, but it is not as bad as you might think. Pay per Click services, such as those on Overture.com, offer you instant keyword feedback. I would hold off on Google AdWords until you are somewhat seasoned. Google has a minimum click through rate and will charge you a fee, when you drop below that level for 3-consecutive times. I would use Overture.com first and then take your winning keywords that you have gleamed from Overture.com to Google. I cannot emphasize enough that the words that you think will interest people may not be what will really interest people in the end.
Once you come up with a keyword set, use these keywords in your title, page description, Meta Keywords, Meta Description, and regular body text. Most search engines look at comments too. That is a little trick of the trade. Determine which pages you want as a landing page and which you do not. For those pages that you do not want a search engine to see as a landing page, make sure to de-optimize those pages. I once got shocked, when typing in a keyword and seeing that Google picked my download page for a term rather than the product home page or any of the other terms. Having a user see the wrong page first is just as bad as having the user not come to the site at all.
I will leave you with a couple of tips. Do not forget to create an error page. If the user goes to an invalid page for whatever reason, control what they see. My second tip for you guys is if you do a promotional mailing, you do not have to create a custom landing page to track those clicks. It is enough to create a dummy page, say Campaign_1.htm, which merely redirects to your home page or anywhere else. That way you do not have to spend enormous amounts of time creating a custom page specifically for one mailing, but you can still get the same result. Think smart!
Published originally in October 2004 in the Association of Shareware Professionals publication.
Sarah M. Weinberger is the CEO at Butterflyvista Corporation and is the creator of Jobfish, the professional tool for the serious job seeker. She spends her day performing software development and marketing related tasks. She is also politically active and is the founder of Progressives Leading.