On Being Pushy

A couple weeks ago I gave a presentation to one of my networking groups, to help educate them on what Grouvia is all about.  The purpose of belonging to this group is to expand my salesforce, so it’s important that these people recognize an opportunity for me when it comes their way.  In order for them to do that, they need to understand what problems Grouvia solves.

I haven’t been getting much in the way of referrals from this group, so I really worked hard to come up with some compelling content to present, and at the end of the presentation I gave them a 10-minute homework assignment.  I provided explicit and easy instructions on how to sign up for Grouvia, create a group, and add two small pieces of content.

Guess how many people got all the way through my step-by-step 10-minute assignment?  Go ahead, guess.

TWO.  Pretty pathetic, right?  Out of 25 people, I think about five people actually bothered to give it a try.  Three gave up without ever asking me a single question.  One of the people who completed the task is my business partner.  The other person who did it is the secretary of the group.  So here’s my public thank you to Betsy and Tom for showing some spunk and commitment.

I have come to the conclusion that people will not do *anything* unless you push them.  And I mean really push hard.  I think in my case it’s because people are afraid of new things, web applications in particular.

Many of the people in my audience are not best friends with the http://www.  I would be willing to forgive those people.  But I’m talking about the ones who DO have Facebook accounts and Blackberries.  This should be easy for them.

Why do they resist?

Have they been fed so many bad complicated ugly web applications over the past 9 years that they expect everything new to be bad, complicated, and ugly?  There are many new Web 2.0 apps out there that are outstanding.  The problem is they are not ubiquitous.  The vast majority of web sites still suck.  But when the tides turn, and people start having confidence in the web again, Grouvia will be right there waiting.

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Another Milestone Moment

This week we had our 6th release of Grouvia Beta.  This release marked another major milestone for us – all the 1.0 features are implemented.

That’s not to say they are all implemented perfectly, or even completely.  We still have some missing pieces and a few hundred bugs.

But I’m just sayin’…

For the next two and a half weeks we have to focus very clearly on launching http://www.  This means we will…

  1. FIX BUGS.
  2. Work on the SEO strategy.
  3. Fix more bugs.
  4. Post as many free ads and links as possible.
  5. Test bug fixes.
  6. Improve the site’s marketing copy and landing pages.
  7. Fix more bugs.
  8. Convert the static  marketing pages to Drupal content.
  9. Fix… etc.
  10. Build demos and how-to articles.
  11. LAUNCH.

I’m torn between having one more bug fix release to beta before the production launch.  But honestly I just want this thing in production.

I mean, Facebook has tons of bugs, and people keep using it!

I’m really excited.  We’re turning a corner.  And getting to the next phase is always fun.

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Link Building – It’s a messy job but somebody’s gotta do it.

I can’t seem to get through the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for Dummies book on my own, so my friend who is an SEO expert agreed to do some barter work for me.

Link building is a key component of any good SEO strategy.  Or so she told me and I had to agree because I didn’t know any better.

Link building is an ongoing effort, she says.  You do it a little bit every week, for several weeks at a time, and then repeat that over and over.  In a nutshell, it requires 2-3 people posting comments, blog entries, forum replies, answers to questions, etc, on high ranking sites a whole bunch of times, all containing links back to your site.

At some point, you will see your site’s PR (page rank) improve enough that your SEO effort takes on a life of its own and you don’t need the manual link building any more (or much).  At least that’s the idea.

So now that I’ve done a little research into how this works, let me tell you something: it is not as simple as it sounds.  Let’s go over some of the finer points of link building:

  • First of all, this work is BORING and I certainly can’t spend hours and hours every week doing this.  So I decided to get some cheap VAs (virtual assistants) to help.  I posted a very simple job opening on oDesk and within 2 hours had close to 50 applicants.  Whoa horsey!!!  I shut that faucet off as soon as I could chat the help desk to ask them how.
  • My personal ethics will not allow me to use black hat methods.  If you don’t know what that is, look it up on wikipedia.  Trust me, it’s bad.  But what it means is that I have to filter out any candidates who I think might use these techniques, because the last thing I want is for Grouvia’s reputation to be tarnished before we’re even one lap into the race.
  • You have to hit all different kinds of sites, from ebay and craigslist to blogs, article comments, review sites, and answer sites.  You have to hit the ones that have high PR, you have to hit them at different times of the day, and you have to hit them from different IP addresses and different devices and browsers.
  • Here’s a critical piece:  the things you hit have to be RELEVANT to your subject matter.  You can’t just hit anything — you have to hit stuff that means something to your site and your site’s audience.  For Grouvia I could hit anything group-related.
  • Finally, the things you say in these posts have to be relevant and valuable.  You can’t just put a comment on a blog post that says “thanks for the great post, signed soandso at http://www.grouvia.com”.  That would be spam and I get that all the time on my blog.  I trash them, even if it’s the only comment.  Especially the ones that are written by a non-English speaker.  Please.

My friend (the same one I talked about earlier) does this for a living.  She started doing it with stock sites when she was a day-trader, and according to her it works like a charm.

The whole thing seems really scummy, but everyone does it.  Apparently if you don’t do it your site is destined for Internet purgatory forever because nobody will ever find it.  Either that or you’ll have to pay for search engine advertisements which, when you have no money, is not much of an option.

[I just found this hilarious post called 101 Ways to Build Link Popularity.  Maybe he’ll see my link and link back to me.]

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    Usability is Still King

    As I mentioned in my last post, I have come up for air and started picking up the marketing tasks I abandoned last month.  I decided to take a look at Grouvia’s Google Analytics numbers, and I noticed we are getting a high bounce rate on some of the marketing pages.

    The marketing copy was originally developed based on what we were trying to deliver with Grouvia.  The initial surveys we did back in the beginning gave us insight into what people are looking for, and our initial feature set was based on that.  So the development of the marketing copy was based on feature-needs, not necessarily real-life needs.

    There’s a lot more behind this of course, but I don’t have the time or desire to write a novel-length blog post, nor would you have time to read it, so you’ll have to trust me that a lot of thought and planning went into all this.  But there’s only so much you can do without a huge pile of money to do market research.

    In an effort to root out what was causing the high bounce-rate, I asked a colleague unfamiliar with Grouvia to spend an hour with me so I could virtually observe her as she went through the web site.  We started on the home page while she pretended she was a user looking for a place to manage her neighborhood homeowners association (HOA), of which she is President.

    We talked through each of the pages she thought she might visit during her evaluation, and she told me everything that came to mind, both good and bad, without reservation or bias.  She was great at this, I could not have chosen a better person to do this with me at this point.

    The exercise both opened my eyes and confirmed what I thought — it’s time to re-write the copy.

    Now for an interesting twist:  last week I posted a job opening on oDesk for candidates with SEO/SEM expertise to help me improve the search engine rankings of Grouvia.  (I mentioned I was going to do in last week’s post.)

    One candidate wrote to me saying she would not be able to apply for the position because she was booked until February, but she was nice enough to spend some time looking at the Grouvia site, and giving me her opinion of the content, as well as some tips on how to find a good SEO person to hire.

    I was very impressed by, and grateful for, this gift.  What she said resonated with me, especially one thing in particular:  “Your sites [sic] content is currently on a very advanced reader understanding level and unless you are only trying to appeal to the college graduate, you may want to tone that down some.”

    Well knock me over with a feather.  So.  Like.  Duh.

    Fast forward to the pseudo-usability test with my colleague (who just so happens to be a Ph.D and probably in a  stratospheric reading comprehension level.)  I mentioned the candidate’s comments and she said she’d heard that you should always write your copy for an eighth-grader.

    Oh sure.  Like I know how to talk to an eighth grader, much less write marketing copy for one.

    I think I’ll need to delay my SEO tasks until I rewrite the web site copy.  Or maybe I need an SEO expert who can also write at an eighth grade level and then we will accomplish two things at once.

    Either way, I’m rediscovering that marketing is still way more fun than programming.

    * * *

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    How to Increase Adoption Rates

    I wrote the headline for this article hoping that it would inspire me somehow.

    The signups for Grouvia Beta have been slower than I had hoped.  If I sit down and think about all the reasons this could be, here’s the list I come up with.

    1. Hello?  It’s Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa, and people are distracted by many other obligations.  How many times have you said “I’ll do that after the holidays” in the past two weeks?
    2. The month-long break I took from marketing to do design and programming was a bad move.
    3. People can’t see Grouvia’s value from reading the marketing materials or looking at the web site’s front pages.
    4. People don’t trust beta software.
    5. People are wary of brands they’ve never heard of.
    6. The SEO for the site is bad and we’re not getting in front of our target audience.

    This list is not in any particular order.  But it seems to logically break down into things I can (3, 5, & 6) and can’t (1, 2, & 4) do something about.  So let’s just ignore the latter ones and focus on the former.

    People can’t see Grouvia’s value.

    Starting next week I will review all of Grouvia’s marketing content that exists out on the Internet (or as much of it as I can find).

    I’ll look at everything from the Groove blog posts to the emails I send out and the status updates on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I’ll make an attempt to look at it critically and take notes about anything that someone might not understand or care about.

    Also, I’ll try to find someone to sit down with me and just walk through the web site and help me figure out where the communications need improvement.

    People are wary of brands they don’t know.

    I’ve heard that people won’t recognize your brand name until they’ve seen it at least seven times.

    Someone told me recently that they advertised their product on Facebook and wrote the ad in such a way that people wouldn’t click on it.  When I first heard it I thought it was stupid.

    But the point here is that if nobody clicks on your ad you don’t pay anything.  So without much effort I could throw together a Facebook ad without a call to action, just to start getting the Grouvia brand some cheap exposure. OK, so maybe it’s not so stupid after all.

    The SEO is bad.

    I did some Google AdWords testing a couple months ago with decent results.  I wrote about it in a blog post at the time.  I decided after a few weeks to put it on hold because although people were clicking the ad they weren’t signing up.

    I decided back then that it was just too soon to advertise, because technically Grouvia didn’t even exist yet.  It’s possible that it’s still too soon to advertise.  I won’t know until I do another test.

    An alternative approach is to try to improve Grouvia’s organic search rankings.  I may need to pay somebody to do this.  I don’t have the knowledge and I think it will take a good deal of time for me to learn how to do it and then craft and execute a plan.

    So I think the bottom line is that both of these approaches (paid vs. organic search results) take either too much time or money.  The unfortunate result is that this particular item falls to the bottom of the list for now.

    I’ll do it after the holidays.

    * * *

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    Beta Success!

    Last week we launched the new beta site for Grouvia.com.

    It was a thrill and a relief. This is a major milestone for Grouvia and it was only a month late.

    There are 170 bugs in the application right now.  And that’s down from about 400 a month ago, so it’s actually not as bad as it sounds.  Only 19 of them are considered “major” and that’s just my personal assessment of their severity.  The vast majority of them are typos, layout issues, alignment problems, and missing “nice to have” features.

    So if you haven’t looked at grouvia lately (or at all), please go take a look.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

    I have made one huge sacrifice in the past month about which I am more than a little concerned.  I have completely let our marketing efforts go.  I have barely eked out these blog posts, and have done no posts to the Grouvia Groove blog.  I have stopped reading/commenting on other blogs, I have stopped reading/commenting on LinkedIn discussions, I have stopped all tweeting.  Basically the Grouvia marketing efforts are now in disaster mode.

    I’m not sure if I have made the right choices, but I do feel that the quality of Grouvia was too important to let slip.  So I have spent the last month testing, documenting bugs, retesting fixes, and doing my own light coding of the user interface.  I think these efforts have paid off, because Grouvia looks a thousand times better than it did last month, but at what cost I am not sure.  I may not know for a while, if ever, what price Grouvia will pay for this.

    I still have some cleanup work to do over the weekend, and then I can leave the developers alone for a while so they can implement the rest of the missing features.  They believe we can have the entire project wrapped up by the end of January.  I am cautiously optimistic but I’m not holding my breath.  There have been too many disappointments on this project so far to believe that sunny days will always shine on us.

    But today it’s sunny, and I intend to enjoy it.

    Begging for Users

    A few weeks ago I got a connection with the director of an historical society in the town where my sister lives.  According to their home page they were looking for someone to build their new web site.

    Aha!  I thought.  Grouvia is a solution they might want to look at, given that it’s specifically built for these types of groups.

    So I sent them an email with an overview of how I could help.  Given my background I could easily build them a nice web site for a good price if that’s what they wanted.  So I offered this options as well.

    The director emailed me and we set up a conference call.  The day of the call he canceled.  We set up another one, and he canceled that one.  We rescheduled again.  He just canceled that one also and we’ve rescheduled it for next week.

    So far I have already put about 2 hours of my time into trying to get this customer and I haven’t even spoken to him yet.  What I really would like is to understand what their goals are for their site, and determine if Grouvia would be a good fit.  Building a custom web site for them wouldn’t be bad.  It’s not our core business, but we’re a startup, it’s income, and I know he’d ultimately be happy with our work.

    Eventually Grouvia will sell itself.  However, I am starting to think that this Begging Process Begging Process is one of the things we will need to do to get early adopter groups to put their sites on Grouvia.  I know this really is marketing – a combination of digital public relations, outreach, blogging, micro-blogging, networking in the physical world and getting the word out there in as many different venues as is possible.  But sometimes I just feel like I’m begging.

    These early groups are the ones who will give us the best feedback on Grouvia’s features, help weed out the leftover bugs, and most importantly, provide us with testimonials,  references and case studies.  That is why spending all this time trying to get these early customers is worth it.  Each rescheduled meeting helps me develop my patience, gives me additional time to revise what I want to say, and brings us closer to an actual launch date after which there will *really* be something to sell.

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