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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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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The Grouvia Signup Drive

My brother’s father-in-law passed away on Monday morning. That put me in a funk, as I had to weigh hopping in the car and driving seven hours to Connecticut to be with family, or staying home to focus on business. I admit I do tend to be impulsive, and driving under pressure and exhausting myself would not have helped anyone so I’m glad I didn’t do it.

Jacque was a great guy, and we’ll miss him at family gatherings. So Jacque, this blog post is for you.

I’m behind on everything this week. My blog posts are late, I can’t keep up with my email much less my daily reading. My To Do list is getting longer instead of shorter. I think I might be at a saturation point where every task seems daunting, if not overwhelming.

I wake up in the middle of the night and think about where I am with Grouvia and how much further we still have to go before we’ll see results.

Why is it that everything seems more scary and uncertain at 3 am?

I much prefer broad daylight. I tell you this so you understand that this is my state of mind as I write this. I’m generally an optimistic confident person.

My big challenge at the moment is this: How to drive Grouvia signups.

There are several ways to tackle this. You know by now how much I love making lists, so here’s my list for Ways to Drive Grouvia Signups.

  1. Google AdWords: We did some testing with different keywords, ads, and landing pages and while the ads got a respectable click-through rate (see my Sept. 3rd post about this test) the actual sign up rate was not great. The presumption here is that the landing pages failed to get people to take action. So, we’re learning from this experience and working on improving the landing pages.
  2. Direct Selling: This is a lot of effort for very few signups. However, the signups we do get are of very good quality. I am currently trying to get the Yahoo group moderator for my networking group to move at least part of the group’s site to Grouvia.

    A side benefit of this exercise is that I’m finding out what messages work and don’t work. For example, no matter how many times I say “Grouvia is a free tool…” people always ask “How much does it cost?”

  3. Social Networking: While I do post blurbs and links to my blog posts on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, I have not asked people to sign up yet using these venues. I think it’s still early and I want to have something more concrete to show with the application before pushing into these channels.
  4. Email Sales: This is a bit dicey because some people might think this crosses the Spam line. Personally I don’t think it does and I am very intolerant of Spam. The concept here is that we search for people who run clubs or organizations and send them an email about Grouvia. There’s a lot more to this than what I’m describing, and I’ll probably write a post specifically about this topic at some point.

    At any rate, the process of finding these group organizers is tedious, but we’ve got a pretty long list compiled already. Did you ever notice how many organized groups there are? It’s probably in the seven figures. (Incidentally, *that* is the main reason I believe so strongly in Grouvia’s ultimate success.)

    (By the way I want to state unequivocally and for the record that Grouvia does not practice Spam techniques, and we are very careful to comply with the CAN-SPAM act of 2003.)

  5. Create Listings: Here’s another dicey one and there are certain risks involved. The idea is to create directory listings of clubs that we find are active online. This is a basic group listing consisting of the group’s name, topic, location, email link, phone number, and maybe a short description — whatever is available online. Then we email the organizer, tell them we’ve created this listing for them, and ask them to log into their account and create a password so they can enhance their listing and start adding their members.

    Honestly I’m not sure about this one, I think we’ll do a test and see what happens. If there is a negative reaction we’ll can it. The risk I mentioned is about creating stale content. The listings that don’t get validated somehow by the group’s owner would have to expire to make sure they don’t create a bunch of stale content.

So there you have it – the five ways we are trying to get sign ups. Are you using any of these approaches? Are you using any other methods that you want to share? Please let us know, so we can all benefit from each other’s experiences.

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Twitter Schmitter (or “Tweeting Frenzy” for the non-New Yorkers)

I have to talk about Twitter. It’s everywhere and it’s driving me nuts.

Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY is pushing me to get a Twitter account. Apparently my life will continue to have no purpose without it, my business will fail, my marriage will fall apart, Republicans will take over, and on and on.

Hogwash.

I have read lots of articles and blogs (but, happily, no tweets) on how great this little tool is. But I have yet to find a compelling argument for why I should spend my limited time “following” dozens (or hundreds) of people’s stream-of-consciousness rants about their pet peeves and kids’ poop schedules, and broken household items. Oh, I know there are useful bits of information being tweeted, but honestly folks, I’m trying to start a business here and I really do not have the time to sift through it all waiting for that pearl of wisdom to drop into my crackberry. I already spend several hours a week keeping up with LinkedIn, Facebook, and a dozen or so blogs I subscribe to. I’m sorry, I have better things to do with my time, and I have to prioritize. And yes dammit — I need at least 7 hours of sleep.

The only hope I have is that those who will be my ultimate competitors are spending half their days twittering and not getting important business-related tasks done. That will give me another edge over them.

I’m OK with that.

P.S. Here’s a salient interview with by Jakob Nielsen (one of my favorite authors) about the value of Twitter. Hear hear.

[Update: You might notice that I actually now have a twitter account (see nav links). As a startup, I’m trying to maximize exposure for grouvia and one reputable source says having a twitter account is crucial. So for the love of my business, I got one, but I have no idea what I’m going to do with it yet and I am still skeptical.]

Group Tools Revealed

I finished crunching all the survey data. What it all boils down to is two major findings…

1. What features people believe would be most useful to them.
2. What tools people now use, or have used in the past, for their own groups.

Features

Item 1, the prioritization of the list of features, is interesting but not very exciting. We generally found that most people didn’t care much about personal blogs, circles of friends, external calendar entries, anyone can join type groups, and carpool support. So all of these items have been removed from the 1.0 feature list.

There were a couple of other features that fell just above the line, so we have added those to a “Possible Descoping List” to consult if the project starts to run over and we need to reduce effort.

Tools

Item 2, the tools people use, was quite an eye opener! For the past few months we had been planning on gearing our marketing materials on comparing our features to our major competitors’ features. We did a competitive analysis a while back and found a handful of web apps that support clubs, teams, families, and other groups. Most of these sites are ones we had heard of but didn’t have much personal experience with. The list included sites such as Wild Apricot, eTeamz, Active.com, ClubExpress, etc. These are the big players for the most part.

After extracting and analyzing the complete list of tools people used, it occurred to me (it actually hit me over the head like a brick), that we have been focusing our competitive marketing efforts in the WRONG PLACE! Here are the top ten mentions from our survey:

Email – 50%
Group web site – 25%
Yahoo Groups – 19%
Facebook – 19%
Meetup – 13%
eVite – 13%
US Mail – 13%
Telephone – 6%
Outlook – 6%
Forums – 6%

Facebook? REALLY?!?! Ok, yeah I’m dramatizing but I was truly astounded. Now, email makes a lot of sense, and can actually be an integrated part of another tool, so I have no intention of trying to compete with email. People love email and it won’t go away any time soon. Email will be a big part of the grouvia solution.

I think the biggest WOW here is more relief than anything. Not one single “big player” web site was mentioned. Which means… I think… that we don’t have to compete with them – at least not at first. They are not in this space. I also believe that Yahoo groups, Facebook, group web sites, Outlook, and Forums will be relatively easy competition to beat. Meetup could be a little harder. Mail and telephone I won’t even try.

Can you tell I’m excited?

Next week, a new topic! I’m sure you’re as tired of survey results as I am, so I’m happy to get on to something new.

Happy Independence Day!