Lower Literacy Website Visitors

By Dave Collins
Founder, Shareware Promotions

Let’s start with an obvious statement: if you’re reading this article, you know how to read. The question is: how well? The scale between reading fluently and being completely illiterate is wide and fluctuating, and much more complicated than you might have thought. For example, did you know that 48% of the US adult population are classed as being low literacy readers? Figures in other advanced countries are fairly similar.

Traditionally, literacy is defined as being able to read and write on a level that enables you to communicate with other literate readers. If that’s the average, who qualifies as a lower literacy reader? Basically, anyone who can read but struggles with it. If you have trouble scanning text for information because you need to go through it word by word, or if you often find yourself re-reading long, unfamiliar words, you may well belong to the low literacy category. (Struggling with pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis doesn’t count, you’ll be pleased to hear.)

If you have a website, this affects you. As one lower-literacy researcher puts it, nearly 50% of US adults read at an eighth-grade level or below, whereas the vast majority of websites are written at a twelfth grade level or above. Obviously, this presents a problem – and how much you need to worry about it depends on the nature of your business and the product you’re trying to sell. If you’re selling business software to other businesses, or if you’re selling very expensive, scientific or intellectual products, chances are your customers are highly literate. On the other hand, if your product has a broader appeal you definitely want to keep those 48% in mind.

At this point, it’s probably worth taking a step back and making one thing extremely clear: lower literacy does not equal low intelligence! People struggle with reading for all sorts of reasons, and if you think that taking lower literacy users into account is a waste of time, you may well be the one with an IQ in the lower figures. Neglecting half the population is never clever!

The good news is that catering to lower literacy users doesn’t necessarily involve completely redoing your website. In fact, many of the recommendations are identical to general usability guidelines. In other words, if your site already qualifies as user-friendly, lower-literacy users shouldn’t find it overly problematic. If you’re unsure, here are five general guidelines to follow:Â

  1. Make sure you place the important, valuable information at the top, and avoid starting a page with long, dense paragraphs of text. Lower-literacy users will probably avoid them like the plague, and they won’t appeal to anyone else either. Prioritise information and make your main points as clear and simple as possible.
  2. Avoid unnecessary distractions. Flashing images, animations, moving text and pop-out menus are annoying at the best of times, but if you need to concentrate on reading, they’re a nightmare. Keep it nice and simple – it is not the same thing as boring and dated, and illustrations can still be very helpful.
  3. Avoid long sentences and parenthetical text (don’t start talking about flowers, hippos, the general state of the galaxy and the latest episode of Stargate SG1, the latest change to the menu in your favourite restaurant or perhaps some other vaguely related thing that seems like a good idea at the time but might not be so clever after all now that you think about it) because some readers will struggle to remember the point your were trying to make! Using an active voice and a conversational style of writing can also be helpful, but again, you need to keep your target audience in mind.
  4. Simplify navigation. If you have one navigation bar at the top, one on the left, one on the right and several additional text links throughout the content, it’s time to trim things down. Guide your visitors through the site, make it clear where you want them to go. For the textual content, try using headlines and sub-headlines in a bigger font – it’s an oldie, but it really does work.
  5. Make sure that the page structure is consistent throughout the site. This should really be self-evident, but we still see a surprising number of sites that leave out vital elements on certain pages. If you use a top menu, all pages should have it. If you include a side navigation bar, don’t leave it out on certain pages. This is confusing at the best of times, and can create an even bigger struggle for low literacy readers.

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These are the main points. If you suspect that a significant proportion of your visitors fall under the lower literacy category, you’d be wise to take a good look at your site. Try to meet the needs of all your potential customers, not just a percentage. To be crass, lower literacy does not equal empty wallet. Don’t scare your visitors away, but welcome them with open arms and clear

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Dave Collins is the CEO of SharewarePromotions http://www.sharewarepromotions.com, a well established UK-based software marketing company. Dave specialises in Google AdWords, Log Analysis, Online Marketing and Delegation.

[Editor Note: Dave Collins, noted UK micro-ISV marketing expert, is sharing his considerable expertise on marketing, SEO, Google AdWords and more on Fridays at MyMicroISV. Thanks Dave!]

[tags] Dave Collins, microISV, marketing[/tags]

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Weekly Site Review – RNSoft

After taking a few weeks break to attend to other matters, it’s time to get back into the game! This week’s microISV volunteer for my Weekly Site Review post is Ronald Northrip, founder of RNSoft.

RNSoft has two related products. The first, rssDreamFeeder, ($49 to $79 USD) integrates RSS feed creation into the site building and maintenance process for web designers whose use Adobe Dreamweaver as their design environment. The second, RSS Replay, ($29 to $59 USD) makes it a simple matter to integrate RSS feeds into your Dreamweaver-created web site.

When Ron volunteered for the Weekly Site Review, he was more than a bit worried that his microISV’s two products were too specialized – after all, only serious web developers who use Dreamweaver are going to be interested in these two products. Ron, you are right on track! The more specialized your market, the greater your opportunity to be relevant to them and the easier it is to find, define and connect to your market.

Ron is delivering is solving two real problems that cause real pain for people who need that pain to leave: that’s a great business to be in. While Ron’s product line’s fate is tied to the fate of Dreamweaver that’s a fair bargain for clarity of market it provides. The risk here for Ron – and every developer of software or services that enhance a better known product – is that one fine day the Elephant shifts a foot to the right and renders your product(s) obsolete.

Unfortunately, RNSoft’s site needs a big whooping dose of clarity before it starts working the way it should. Here’s how RNSoft.com scored out – the higher the score the better (0 is totally missing, 5 means this is very well done indeed):

What

Score

First Actionable Task

USP

0

Add to site.

Benefits/Features

2

Rewrite – beware rhetorical questions – they bite back.

Visuals

0

At least one product screenshot! Not an image in sight.

Testimonials

0

Buried – quote your reviewers prominently.

Credibility Markers

2

Very weak.

Tech Support

4

A good selection of information

Blog

2

Needs more entries and be less a product blog.

Overall Average:

1.4

This site needs major work to be effective.

USP

(The USP – Unique Selling Proposition – is the most important part of your site. It’s your first foot forward, you first impression and the basis for all else on your microISV product’s site rolled into one.)

RNSoft’s home page is a collection of rounded corner boxes – in fact the entire site is a collection of rounded corner boxes. Now I like RCB’s as much as the next Web 2.0 guy, but this is a case of adopting the form and missing the function.


What’s the first thing you saw when you looked at RNSoft’s home page above? The yellow RCB cart. Because it’s yellow and everything else it white and we’re hardwired to react to differences first. What a wasted opportunity! There’s plenty of time later for your customers to purchase – your first job is to give them a clear, compelling reason to not hit the Back button – and that’s what a USP is for.

Here’s a quick hack of RNSoft’s home page I hope illustrates this point:


Benefits/Features

Rhetorical questions are an awful way of introducing features, let alone benefits. Look at it from the prospective customer’s point of view. You find this RNSoft you’ve never seen before. The first thing it does is hit you up for money. The next thing it does is ask you a bunch of questions – questions you have no intention of answering, because halfway through that list you are looking for the exit and finding it.

RSSDreamFeeder is actually a very cool product – among other things, it has a built in search engine that build the feed for you (which you can easily edit) based on the changes you make in the site. Now that’s a very nice feature, and the basis of a great benefit (get the job done fast), but it’s buried on the jump page for the product.

Here’s what you want to see happen on your home page – Your USP immediately is relevant to the person who just got there – or it’s not and no harm done. Your benefits back up the USP and your features back up your benefits.

You say: “RSSDreamFeeder makes it fast and easy to build an RSS feed for your site.” They think: Oh yeah, right, prove it! You say: “It uses a custom search engine to build the feed based on what’s changed and then you can edit it before it goes live.” They think, “that sounds credible: tell me more.” And so on as you build your case that your product is relevant to their pain.

Visuals

Zip. Nothing there. Not a screen shot, not a print out of RSS, nothing. Worse, since when has the RSS logo turned St. Patrick’s Day Green? A sceenshot is a must have – it’s not “eye candy”.

In fact, I would strongly suggest a web site makeover is in order. Given that RNSoft is selling to web designers, a visually appealing site is a must have.

Testimonials

None to be found, at least that’s what I initially thought. The “Articles” page is actually a lost gold mine of testimonial ore – but who is going to find it?

Credibility Markers

The money back guarantee is nice – but needs to be reworded. The Articles page suggests you’ve gotten some very good reviews – but they’re buried.

Unfortunately, two things detract from this site’s minimal supply of credibility. “Deals” are all over it – the first item on the menu, featured product of the week, deal of the week, etc. I’m all for deals – but first you have to establish the worth to me of what you’re selling, otherwise it’s just noise.

Speaking of noise, there’s a little bit of cognitive dissonance right smack in the middle of the home page: rssdreamfeeder vs. RSSDreamFeeder. Which is right? Either one – but only one – everywhere.

Tech Support

This section of RNSoft is actually very good. RNSoft displays top issues with solutions, a couple of pages of solutions in general, a list of reported bugs and you can browse though all issues. I’d like to see some of the items from the tutorial page here, but don’t worry about that for now.

Blog

Ron has started a blog which is a good thing, but it needs more than two entries and to lay off talking about his products. Product blogs are boring! Instead, Ron can talk about – and cite instances of – the advantages, value and challenges of RSS, particularly retrofitting RSS to static web sites. That’s what will get the attention of his market.

Overall

RNSoft has a good story to tell, a well-defined market, solutions to real pain. But what it doesn’t have is a web site with a clear USP, information (text and graphics) that backs up that USP in the form of clear benefits, comprehensible features and credible supporters.

+++

The Weekly Site Review is a regular feature of MyMicroISV.com. Please add your comments, rebuttals and opinions. If you’d like to volunteer your microISV’s web site for a free public review, email me at bobw@safarisoftware.com. MicroISV’s only need apply!

Technorati Tags: microISV, Weekly Site Review

You should escape from cubicle nation

Michael just posted one of the best interviews we’ve done: Pamela Slim, famous for her Escape from Cubicle Nation blog, podcast and now radio show.

Pamela fired her corporate life several years back and now helps others break the golden handcuffs both professionally and on the web. Pam has an incredible knack for bringing to the surface all the emotional and internal fears and concerns we all face when we start organizing ourselves and knocking them down with practical, actionable advice, insight and (sure to embarrass her) wisdom.

Give our latest interview at Microsoft’s Channel Nine The MicroISV Show a listen – you’ll be glad you did.

[tags]The MicroISV Show, Pamela Slim[/tags]

Measuring for Success

By Dave Collins
Founder, Shareware Promotions

I’ve now been speaking at various Shareware conferences for more years than I can count. Possibly because I think it now stands at a bewildering 11 or 12 conferences, and once I run out of fingers I’m lost.

One of the things that I’ve become well known for is repeatedly pushing the idea of log analysis, and the importance of using this information in all aspects of your business.

Yet to this day I’m frequently shocked by how many software developers fail to do so. Reasons (or excuses) include not knowing where to start, not having the right software, not having the time and so on.

I find it all quite bewildering. I always thought that developers would love to sink their teeth into some serious number crunching and data analysis, but apparently this is not always the case.

And despite my becoming ever more familiar with this reality, I’m constantly amazed by how many companies don’t even know the absolute basics: how many visitors they get on a typical day, which pages are popular, who sends them the most traffic and so on.

How do you run your business without keeping track of all this?

If you’re not on top of your website metrics, then you really need to read this article. If you’re already as familiar with your web logs as your own nose, then perhaps this article isn’t for you. But read on anyway.

Top Ten Lists seem to be the current vogue, so let’s start by looking at my top eight reasons for getting to grips with metrics.

(1) Improve the functionality of your website.

If you don’t know what your visitors are doing, which pages they go to, which links they click on and which pages they run away from, how on earth can you hope to have any impact on their behaviour?

(2) Sell more software.

Think of a supermarket. Do you think that the order of the products is random? That the layout of the store is completely haphazard? Or have you perhaps realized that large and successful stores carefully study how people behave and buy?

(3) Waste less.

There’s no such thing as a recycled site visitor. Once they leave they’re usually gone for good. If you work hard (or pay serious money) to bring fresh traffic to your website, it’s important to make sure that you retain as many of those visitors as possible.

(4) Achieve targets.

I’m hoping that every single person reading this article already has a business plan, and that it contains a little more detail than “to sell a lot more”. A business plan without goals isn’t worth the paper it is or isn’t written on. And unless you’re measuring traffic and conversions, you can’t possibly know whether or not those goals are being achieved.

(5) Work to a plan.

Here’s an amazing fact. Just like the supermarket, you actually have a fair amount of control over your website visitors. You get to decide what they see, what they click and where they go. Aside from occasional lunatic who’ll be randomly running up and down aisles with his eyes shut, most visitors can be streamlined and sent more or less exactly where you want. But if you don’t know what they’re already doing, this simply isn’t an option.

(6) Improve the customer experience.

It’s a little old fashioned, I know, but it’s generally a good idea to make sure that your website visitors walk away happy, satiated and with the solution that they were looking for. Short of forcing an exit poll on them when they leave (good luck with that) there is no way to achieve this without web log analysis.

(7) Feel the pulse.

I’m guessing that most people reading this article already have reasonably large websites. Unless you have one of those looooooong irritating single-page “websites” with yellow highlights, large fonts and boxed testimonials, in which case I’m not talking to you anyway. Ever.

Assuming that you have a large website, you probably have some pages that are more important than most, right? The main product pages, the really effective sales pitch and so on.

How do you know that people are seeing those pages? And how do you know that they’re spending more than five seconds before leaving?

(8) Identify trends and opportunities.

Your sales conform to trends. I guarantee it. Your website traffic will follow a seven-day cycle, and depending on what you’re selling, certain events will have a massive impact on your sales. National holidays, religious events, vacation dates, tax returns, the new school year, corporate tax deadlines and many more. All of them will to some extent affect your website traffic and sales.

If you don’t know about them they’ll pass by unnoticed. If you are aware of them and plan ahead, you’re ready to jump on a wave of opportunity.

If you’re still not convinced that you should be watching your web site stats like a hawk, then I give up. Stop reading, and take the day off. However, If you’ve decided that this time you really are going to get serious about your web logs, let’s consider three prerequisites, and one advisory note.

(i) Web logs.

In order to properly analyse your web logs, you need access to your raw server log files. Most decent web hosts will already provide this as standard, but some require that you activate this option from within the control panel.

Ideally, they should be separated into daily files and compressed. But the important thing is that you can access them, that they contain referral information, and that they exist.

If your web host doesn’t provide access to your server logs, then move hosts. I’m serious. I know how much of a nuisance this can be, but you have no choice. No logs means no data which means no hope.

(ii) Software.

Unless you’ve already explored the market, you may be amazed by how many different log analysis applications there are out there. What’s even more amazing is that if you run the same set of data through them all, none of them will agree with each other. And the differences between some of the reported “facts” can be staggering.

I myself have worked with more log analysis applications that I can begin to remember. I’d hazard a guess that my current desktop (which is less than a year old) has probably seen about six or seven different applications. So I’m in a good position to make recommendations.

My two favourites are Web Log Storming – http://www.datalandsoftware.com – and ClickTracks – http://www.clicktracks.com. These are two very different applications with very different prices, but both are excellent options to consider.

Web Log Storming is a reasonably fast log analysis tool. At first glance it looks like another variation of the standard idea, but it has one unique feature that blows away all the competition. It allows you to drill down in your data in real time. In other words, you can look at your referrals, drill down to see more on your Google traffic, and then drill down further to show the trends of Google traffic over time, which pages Google visitors are visiting and so on. Very nice.

If you don’t want to spend too much money, then this is a great means of delving into your logs without getting your hands too dirty. At $129 I rate this as an absolute bargain.

If you’re prepared to spend more money, then you might want to take a look at ClickTracks. The standard version of the software starts at $295, and the focus is on visitor behaviour. I have never come across an application that will help you understand what your visitors are doing so quickly. If you want to know the critical facts in the shortest amount of time, then ClickTracks is for you.

(iii) Time.

Every time I speak about log analysis, people come and tell me that they’ve been inspired enough to do something about it, and will be purchasing the software as soon as they get back. I know we’ve sent a fair number of people to both ClickTracks and Web Log Storming.

But all too often I see the same people twelve months later only to find out that even though they purchased the software, they just can’t find the time to use it!

To me this is as absurd as going on holiday, staying in a beautiful hotel, but not having time to leave the room and sample the restaurant, pool or beach.

You have to make the time. You can’t afford not to.

One final note. Most websites come with some sort of built-in free web logs. People sometimes ask me whether these are good enough. The nutshell answer is no, they’re not.

Most are far too basic, horribly inaccurate, and offer little more than a very hazy and blurred glimpse of the important information. Don’t waste your time with them. But do check that the stats aren’t open to the whole world just by entering yourdomain.com/stats in a browser. You won’t believe how many hosts include this as default. What a gift. Maybe they should just install spyware to share your email with the rest of the world, too?

Be seen, be sold.

++++++++

Dave Collins is the CEO of SharewarePromotions http://www.sharewarepromotions.com, a well established UK-based software marketing company. Dave specialises in Google AdWords, Log Analysis, Online Marketing and Delegation.

[Editor Note: Dave Collins, noted UK micro-ISV marketing expert, is sharing his considerable expertise on marketing, SEO, Google AdWords and more on Fridays at MyMicroISV. Thanks Dave!]

[tags] Dave Collins, micro-ISVs, server logs, log analysis, marketing[/tags]

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Selling Abroad, Wherever You Are

By Dave Collins
Founder, Shareware Promotions

“On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”.

What the well-known saying neglects to clarify is this: On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a French/German/Japanese/Bolivian dog, until you sink your foreign teeth into their ankle. As much as we may like the idea of the Internet being the last great equalizer, the truth is that we never leave our own identities and expectations behind. And to a large extent, these expectations are tied to our culture and language. When they’re not met, we get frustrated and angry, and the chance of our spending money decreases significantly.

In the US, there is a tendency to think that foreign is simply a synonym for non-American. However, this is not the case – look it up if you don’t believe me. Everyone’s a foreigner outside their own country, and thanks to the Internet we can now spend hours outside our cultural comfort zone whenever we choose to. Most of the time, that isn’t a problem – but the fun starts when we want to spend money.

 There’s enough material to write an entire book on this subject, but because the main purpose of this article is to get you thinking about this issue I’ll stick to nine practical ways in which you can avoid annoying potential customers.

 1) If you sell real, tangible products, make it very clear where you do and don’t ship to – right from the very beginning, rather than making your visitors hunt through the fine print only to be told they’re not wanted. Telling visitors you’re only selling to the US/UK/Australia is the polite thing to do, and means that there won’t be disappointed would-be-customers wanting to strangle you in every corner of the world.

 2) If you hope to sell outside your own cultural sphere, avoid slang, local metaphors and “inside” terms or jokes on your website. Don’t confuse/annoy visitors by using sports terms such as “ballpark figure”, “playing hardball” or “having a good innings”, because as clear as you think they are, they’re not universal. At all.

 3) Similarly, anyone wanting to sell abroad would be wise to avoid graphics with symbols or gestures. You might think the “thumbs up” sign is universally positive, but in many Middle Eastern and South American countries it’s actually incredibly rude. Trust me, you don’t want to know why.

 4) Flags aren’t always the best way to signal a link to a French/Spanish/German part of your website, at least not if you’re hoping to sell beyond the borders of those particular countries. French, for example, is also spoken in Canada, Morocco, Senegal and Lebanon, but these countries might not appreciate being bundled together under one, foreign flag. Using the actual names of the languages – Français, Deutsch, Español – is often a better, safer option.

 5) Don’t force your ideas or expectations on your visitors – people are more flexible than IP addresses, and you should be too. If someone in Germany is using the English version of your site, it’s probably for a very good reason. Don’t send them emails in German, and don’t keep redirecting them to the German site. Not only German people live in Germany!

 6) Don’t assume that what works well on your US website will be just as effective for all native English speakers. Your compatriots may respond well to the suggestion that they should buy something to “support their country”, but this is likely to put a lot of Canadians off. Many Americans love clear, simple explanations and illustrations, but your arrogant British visitors will hate being “preached” or talked down to.

 7) If you’re not in the US but you’re hoping to sell to a lot of Americans, you have to work hard and do your research to meet their expectations and their standards. As an example, some surveys have found that US users react negatively if their country isn’t the default option in a drop-down list of countries.

 8) If you create separate pages or sections of your site for other languages, make sure you have them checked by a native speaker. Don’t rely on translation software combined with vague memories of high school French – at best you’ll entertain, at worst you’ll offend. There’s more to cultural differences than replacing one word with another.

 9) Finally, basic but well worth repeating: let visitors be flexible about the way the enter their address. Zip codes don’t exist outside the USA, and neither do states – make sure your customers can enter their own versions, or leave those fields blank.

 Naturally, these rules don’t apply every single time or with every single customer. I’m sure there are people reading this who are thinking “Well, I’m from Senegal and I don’t mind clicking on French flags” or “I’m Canadian and I think American patriotism is perfectly charming!”. Good for you – but that doesn’t change the fact that some people may feel very differently.

Also, if you’re a small business it goes without saying that you can’t set up a separate website for every language you want to sell to. Neither can you hope to set up a friendly, patriotic American site, a neutral, funny-accent Canadian version, and a smug, superior British one. What you can do, however, is be aware of these issues, and make conscious informed decisions how you want to handle them. Selling in the dark is never a good idea – and when there’s a whole world of foreign “dogs” out there, it can become downright dangerous. After all, some of them might have rabies.

Disclaimer: I’m British, proud of it, and therefore naturally arrogant and dismissive. But I’ve tried to mock “both sides” equally here. Even though “we” don’t deserve it as much. Obviously.

Be seen, be sold.

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Dave Collins is the CEO of SharewarePromotions http://www.sharewarepromotions.com, a well established UK-based software marketing company. Dave specialises in Google AdWords, Log Analysis, Online Marketing and Delegation.

[Editor Note: Dave Collins, noted UK micro-ISV marketing expert, is sharing his considerable expertise on marketing, SEO, Google AdWords and more on Fridays at MyMicroISV. Thanks Dave!]

[tags] Dave Collins, micro-ISVs, marketing[/tags]

The Shape of things to Come

By Bob Walsh

I’m back from Mix07, trying to a) build out a Mac Book Pro (my first mac in 13 years; I think I’m in love!) as my ultimate Vista PC (yes, I did say that), salvage what I can from my fatally wounded Sony laptop and most importantly mentally digest the implications of Microsoft’s Silverlight announcements at Mix07 for micro-ISVs. I’m still mulling over Silverlight and other items, but as I read through this thread and this thread at Business of Software and I was struck by just how much misinformation is getting cast about.

First off, if you are a micro-ISV, head over to Michael Lehman’s post re Silverlight. Yes, Michael is a paid evangelist for Microsoft – he’s also a very experienced micro-ISV, smart guy and a friend. He is not just blowing Microsoft Marketing Smoke in your face – he’s right. Silverlight and WPF are going to remake what we think of as software, and micro-ISVs have the most to gain precisely because of their size, agility and lack of investment in big fat legacy product lines.

Obviously, all this stuff – Silverlight, Expression Studio, Orcas, even .NET 3.0 (WPF, WF, WCF) are totally in the early days: Silverlight 1.0 will ship this summer, 1.1 is in alpha, Orcas is beta, Expression is 1.0 and pushing to 2.0 already. Early days are good: that’s the best time to get into a new technology if you are going to make money with/from that technology. And, I have not had time to play/learn anything more past what I learned at the show, although I’m really looking forward to that once (ahem) I get through a few IT issues.

The reason I’m writing you this post is what I see are the reasons Silverlight et. al. is worth your attention as a micro-ISV. Here goes:

  • While at Mix07, I talked to two developers who between them have authored 27 programming books. I’m not naming names because I did not tell them I was going to post about them. What struck me was they both said the same thing: Silverlight is going to be a disruptive opportunity as was .NET. That got my attention.
  • Silverlight means I can write VB .NET applications for the web, not (hated) ASP.NET. That got my attention. And by the way if you are a Ruby programmer you can write .NET now and I’ll bet before the end of the year you will see a fully supported PHP .NET.
  • There’s a Silverlight Chess demo with source code comparing processing speed of Silverlight (managed code/CLR) to JavaScript. Silverlight is roughly a thousand times faster. That got my attention. Try the demo, look at the source code – and keep in mind Silverlight is beta!
  • There was one demo – Metaliq’s Top Banana video editing Silverlight application. Build in one month, from beta/alpha bits, a 50k (sic) download. Able to run/edit 9 running videos at the same moment. On a PC or a Mac (or Linux) absolutely no difference. That got my attention. Watch the video (especially at 4:04!).
  • Time to install Silverlight on a clean XP box (no .net, no nothing): 4 to 10 seconds. So total time my prospective customer can go from “What is this?” to “I must buy it now!” – 10-12 seconds? It is the best damn install experience I’ve ever seen on a PC (Don’t know how it compares to a Mac – haven’t installed anything but the first updates yet!)
  • Best damn looking interfaces I’ve ever seen. Expression Blend is an awesome interface editor for both Silverlight and WPF. That got my attention bigtime. Looks matter.
  • Michael made some excellent points – Silverlight is an app that is served from your server running on their PC or Mac, with localized data storage if you want. Say goodbye to being screwed over by the cracked/warze crowd. That got my attention, as did being able to do software by subscription, software based on ads (Silverlight can go back and forth between living in a Div on you web page to full screen – while playing video with your controls overlaid without dropping a frame).

Undoubtedly over the weeks and months ahead you will read comments here, discussions at BOS, thumbsuckers by professional trade reporters and for all I know Jay Leno monologues disparaging Silverlight. I assert that a year from now the people trashing Silverlight will be wrong and the people excited by it and building apps with it will be right. And I predict that Silverlight + WPF + Window/Office Live Services + Amazon Web Services (3S, C2 etc) will have made it possible for thousands of micro-ISVs to run rings around traditional software and traditional software companies and make money hand over fist.

That’s why this new Microsoft stuff has my full, undivided attention – and what I suggest is worthy of your time as well.

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Back from Mix07

Next week – after I’ve had a chance to mull over what I saw and head at Mix07 and a chance to either repave my Sony laptop or use it for target practice ala the late Hunter Thompson – I’ll have a good deal to say about micro-ISVs, Microsoft and the Weekly Site Review.

In the meantime, anyone have an argument against getting a MacBook Pro now and running Vista on it?

Through The Eyes of your Customers

By Dave Collins
Founder, Shareware Promotions

Stop what you’re doing and concentrate. You shouldn’t read this article with your feet up on your desk, cradling your morning coffee. Nor should you read it before 8 am or after 4 pm. And don’t even think of skimming it.

You need to concentrate.

Why?

Because the ideas I am going to present in this article are guaranteed to increase your sales. That’s right. I absolutely guarantee it. Terms and conditions may apply.

The ideas that I’m about to go into aren’t revolutionary. No-one will write books about the Dave Collins theory of Customers’ Eyes. Nevertheless, these ideas are not only critically important, but overlooked by companies on a regular basis.

Have a quick look at the first few paragraphs of this article. I guarantee that my words had the desired effect and caught your attention. I know, there I go with my guarantees again.

But my point is that I am 100% confident that they worked.

(1) You’re probably a software developer, and you’re most probably interested in making more money by increasing your sales.

(2) You wouldn’t be reading this far along unless my tantalising words served their purpose.

Being able to see the world through the eyes of your customers is one of the most fundamental skills of sales and marketing.

If you can get into their minds, see and understand their needs and speak their language, you’ll have them reaching for their credit cards before you can shout the word gotcha.

I assume I’m not telling you something you don’t already know. But never overlook an important fact. The web not only makes reaching the world and selling your software a lot easier, but also changes the balance of your marketplace.

The customer has truly become king. The fact that they found your website means that they have probably found your competitors too, meaning that they call the shots.

Competition is great for the market, but doesn’t half put the squeeze on the companies selling their products and services.

Unless you’re lucky enough to be in a very cosy niche market segment, complete with high demand and low/no competition, then chances are that there is more supply than demand. You have to work to sell your wares.

So understanding who your customers are, where they come from, what they are looking for and why is of vital importance.

Nowadays, so the theory goes, the typical consumer takes less than three seconds to decide whether or not to purchase. Personally I’m in awe of these typical people. It can sometimes take me weeks or even months.

But I’d also hazard a guess that online, that tiny sliver of time gets cut down even further. Clicking back on your browser takes a lot less effort than walking out of a store, and in some ways there are far more compelling reasons to walk away. Think fraud, payment risks, the many unknowns, delivery delays and so on. Selling online is a tough business.

So if we push aside the theories, what does this mean to you?

Well, unless you’re phenomenally wealthy, incredibly bored or both, then chances are that you yourself don’t purchase the moment something catches your eye. If you do, please click the following URL and enjoy yourself: http://www.sharewarepromotions.com/overview.html

But the rest of us very quickly weigh up a number of different factors before deciding whether or not to purchase, and this unfortunately includes your customers.

So how do you turn the sceptic into a customer in those precious three seconds? With five variables:

Benefits. Value. Pricing. Empathy. Clarity.

I know, BVPEC doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But I’m not going for clever and cute here. I’m trying to help increase your sales.

Benefits.

I’ve stated this so often that I can actually lower my heart rate just by repeating the word too many times.

But the fact remains that benefits sell over features. Always. You know it. I know it. But to some extent we are all guilty of making the mistake.

Developers love features. They tend to get very excited, and while they’re telling you about them they occasionally get quite red faced and shiny eyed. Scary.

Customers get freaked out by features. We don’t like them, they sound intimidating, and they do nothing to make us smile. But we love benefits. Save time, save money, use more for less. Lovely. Music to our ears.

Value.

Tangible benefits communicate value to your customers. We crave them, and as software developers, you need to understand this.

I have an Outlook add-in that looks out for the words attach, attachment or attachments in my outgoing emails. If there isn’t an attached file, a little window appears and asks me if I meant to attach one.

It’s absolutely inspired. And it’s dirt cheap. But most importantly of all it stops me looking stupid, and saves me and my clients time by avoiding the “I think you forgot to attach the file” exchange.

If you have any other plugins that stop me looking stupid let me know. I need all the help I can get.

On the subject of help, do you think that this article is worth $50?

If so, please go to the following URL to make the payment:

https://usd.swreg.org/cgi-bin/b.cgi?s=783&p=783SIXstd&v=10&d=00&q=1

If you do, be sure to state your name, company and URL so that I can thank you in another article.

I suspect there’ll be no takers. Why?

(a)Â Â Â Â You don’t have to pay. And you know it.

(b)Â Â Â Â There isn’t enough value to make doing so worthwhile.

(c)Â Â Â Â Where are the benefits to you?

By all means prove me wrong. I’m usually right, so it would be nice to be proved wrong every now and then. And at least you’ll get a kick out of it, and thereby knock theory (c) on the head. How am I doing?

Pricing.

The product’s price is of course linked to its value. But as long as I (a) see the value and (b) think the price is reasonable, then I’m probably hooked.

This further reinforces the importance of communicating benefits. If I don’t realise the benefits, then even $0.10 is too high.

Empathy.

Understand me. Understand my needs. Understand what itch is causing me to seek the solution that you offer. And speak the language that I speak in. Your customers are hungry. Find out what they want to eat.

Clarity.

If your website and sales pitch aren’t crystal clear then you’ll lose sales.

A convoluted diatribe may massage your ego, but clarity always prevails. If your sales pitch is only set to tickle the needs of the average genius, then you’ll probably exclude most of your visitors. If, however, they’re aimed at the average person in the street, then everyone will understand what you sell. Even the geniuses.

Push the benefits. Demonstrate value. Price reasonably. Empathise and understand. And keep it clear.

More sales? Be seen, be sold.

++++++++

Dave Collins is the CEO of SharewarePromotions http://www.sharewarepromotions.com, a well established UK-based software marketing company. Dave specialises in Google AdWords, Log Analysis, Online Marketing and Delegation.

[Editor Note: Dave Collins, noted UK micro-ISV marketing expert, is sharing his considerable expertise on marketing, SEO, Google AdWords and more on Fridays at MyMicroISV. Thanks Dave!]

[tags] Dave Collins, micro-ISVs, marketing[/tags]

Weekly Site Review – NewsInjector

This week’s micro-ISV volunteer for my Weekly Site Review post is Vilmantas Baranauskas, founder of newsinjector.com.

NewsInjector modifies any PHP, Perl, Ruby on Rails, Java, ASP .NET server based application in one very specific way. With NewsInjector, a corporate system admin, PM or programmer can inject and control a stream of news announcements into a web application without modifying the underlying codebase.

NewsInjector is priced reasonably – $99 USD per application – and solves a very specific problem – how to add to a wide variety of Open Source, custom, in-house and commercial apps a flow of information from the people who administer the applications for that company to the people using these applications.

While the software looks good, the price is cheap, there’s a real problem identified, Vilmantas when he volunteered for the Weekly Site Review back in early March had yet to make a single sale. How come? In my opinion, it’s because NewsInjector neglects one critical part of a micro-ISV’s presentation to prospective customers and because it’s missing that one key element, the entire effort is wasted.

Let’s look at what’s missing and what Vilmantas can do about it.

Here’s how NewsInjector scored out – and note, from now on as several people have recommended the higher the score the better (0 is totally missing, 5 means this is very well done indeed):

What

Score

First Actionable Task

USP

3

The USP needs strengthening, but that’s not your first to-to.

Benefits/Features

4

These are fine, but need better translation into English.

Visuals

4

The tour is very good – but start with the punch line, and then explain how you got there.

Testimonials

0

Totally missing – see below.

Credibility Markers

0

Totally missing – see below.

Tech Support

1

Three email addresses don’t cut it.

Blog

0

None.

Overall Average:

1.4

This site is missing the foundation of any sale – trust.

USP

(The USP – Unique Selling Proposition – is the most important part of your site. It’s your first foot forward, you first impression and the basis for all else on your micro-ISV product’s site rolled into one.)


NewsInjector has a prominent USP – “News Management for Corporate Web Applications” – but it’s dull, lifeless. The USP is what it does, not what problem it solves, and why this solution has value. Adding a one word would provide by implication the problem and what the value of this solution is: “Simple News Management for Corporate Web Applications.”

I could go on, but the USP isn’t the big problem for NewsInjector – something else is. One thing to mention because it’s a great USP in waiting at the bottom of the home page: “Spend your time writing news. Don’t waste your time figuring out how to get them into your application.”

Benefits/Features

I like NewsInjector’s benefits and features – there’s one set for developers and administrators, one for Project Managers and Editors. This identifies the four kinds of people NewsInjector is likely to be of interest to in the corporate world.

There is one issue with the features and benefits, and just about every other section of NewsInjector: the text is almost, but not quite good English. Now let me make something perfectly clear: having the benefit of speaking and writing English for nearly 50 years, I mostly have it down. And my linguistic ability in any other language are so incredibly bad, so unspeakably awful, fellow high school and college students literally ran from the room rather than listen to me torture them further.

But still.

Statements like “News are saved on a file system as XML files.” And “It inserts news into existing web application without a need to adjust web page design or do programming.” and “Explains why NewsInjector is better than alternatives.” just don’t sound right to native English speakers.

Micro-outsourcing – outsourcing very specific tasks – is fast becoming a standard way of getting specific tasks completed. I’d suggest a very light edit by someone who does copywriting in English would be beneficial.

Visuals

I like NewsInjector’s visuals – no fluff, now businessmen shaking hands over a conference table. NewsInjector’s tour is a good example of content triumphing over programming: no ubercool YouTube video, flash movie with soundtrack – just march through using NewsInjector to get the job done.

I would suggest moving the punch line – your news showing up on the login page for XPlanner, a popular Open Source project planning application (see image below) – to first screen of the tour instead of the last.


Testimonials

NewsInjector has no testimonials – and that’s a big part of what is crippling this micro-ISV site in my opinion. Testimonials are both a way of establishing credibility and relating your product or service to who and what the market thinks it is. Let’s break that down a bit further.

When you have attributed testimonials (“This product saves me an hour a day” – Bob Walsh, http://safarisoftware.com, Sonoma, CA) you are drawing on a very powerful part of human nature – the power of the Group. Whether it’s jumping in a pool when you’re seven years old, being politically active, or buying a product most people most of the time favorably respond to being explicitly identified as part of a group of people, rather than a single isolated individual. The advertising industry has known this for about a century – you should too.

Online, groups are far more intangible – and we rely far more on reputation rather than experience. That’s why I – and probably you – give increasing credence to testimonials the more specific, the more explicit the identity of who is offering the testimonial is. Put another way, it’s far more of a “reputation loan” if a testimonial is attributed, with a link back to that person’s online presence (web site or blog).

Testimonials serve another function – they help you identify the group of people who have bought a product and whether you see yourself as part of that group. Let’s say you run a small IT department that relies heavily on Open Source apps to get the job done, but you have this problem: you need to customize half a dozen of them to show admin updates specific to the app and or your company. Which would get your attention: 5 testimonials from 5 IT managers just like you, or a testimonial from say Tom Cruise. Even if you actually believed that Tom Cruise does IT on the side, the 5 testimonials from IT managers just like you, especially if they include last name, Company URL and geographical location are going to be more persuasive.

How does a new micro-ISV get testimonials? You do a public beta, or you give away your software one license at a time by reaching out to members of your market and begging them to try it. Did I say beg? Yes, I did. Because at that stage of the game, the people who you convince to try your software and who will provide testimonials for it if asked nicely are lending you their reputations – something far more expensive and valuable than the price of your software.

However, while the lack of testimonials hurts NewsInjector, it’s the secondary problem. The primary problem is identity and the lack thereof.

Credibility Markers

NewsInjector’s biggest issue right now is the complete lack of credibility it has with potential customers because it has no identity. Outside of a tiny copyright line at the bottom of each page, there’s no information whatsoever about the company, its location, or the person or persons behind it. Just how many IT people are prepared to buy software that does something to their in production applications from an anonymous source? Zero.

NewsInjector needs a business identity: A business name, a logo of some sort but most of all an About Us page with specific information about this micro-ISV, who is Vilmantas, and his contact information (phone number, mailing address and personal email address). Now, I have no idea how hard it is setting up a small business in Germany – and I’m hampered by my lack of German. But, given what I could gleam this morning from this site, and this site and this site, it looks doable.

An anonymous company is an oxymoron, and any effort to sell software in general, let alone enterprise/business/corporate software as an anonymous company is a nonstarter.

Tech Support

Tech support is very weak – just three generic email addresses – and reinforces the lack of identity. Pull from other parts of the site info into an FAQ at the very least.

Blog

None. Normally, I’d jump up and down on my blogosphere soap box about this missed opportunity, but NewsInjector needs to focus on establishing its identity and credibility first.

Overall

The bad news is until Vilmantas and his micro-ISV have an identity, NewsInjector has no hope of getting off the ground. The good news is this something fixable. Once fixed, then Vilmantas can start taking specific steps to garner testimonials, customer success stories and the like.

+++

The Weekly Site Review is a regular feature of MyMicroISV.com. (Although I missed last week – sorry!) Please add your comments, rebuttals and opinions. If you’d like to volunteer your micro-ISV’s web site for a free public review, email me at bobw@safarisoftware.com. Micro-ISV’s only need apply!

Technorati Tags: Micro-ISV, Weekly Site Review

Going to Mix07 – how about you?

I’ve never been one for trade show or tech conferences, but I’m trying the opposite thing this year, starting with Mix07. I’m going for a host a reasons – rave reviews from people I know of Mix06, looking for micro-ISVs and others to interview for The MicroISV Show, a keen desire to see what people have been up to with WPF and Silverlight.

How about you? Are you going to Mix07? If so, comment here or at BOS and maybe we can get some sort of microISV thing going; you might also want to add yourself to David Winer’s list.