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Posts from the ‘Web Apps’ Category

Startups We Love: Video Rascal

Video Rascal enables non-technical users to create professional videos for their website for less than $100, not thousands that a typical agency charges. The system is simple. The user chooses a template, uploads a script, then selects audio options and the HD-quality video is now ready for use on a website and social channels.

Startups We Love: Flumes

Flumes provides snapshots of any conversation happening on social media. Right now, they’re focusing on world news, detecting and tracking keywords and removing spam to find the best images, videos, articles and analysis around sentiment, gender, volume and geography. Everything is automatic and in real-time.

Startups We Love: Moki


Moki is a recruitment dashboard that helps you attract great people. Moki keeps all your job vacancies & applications neatly organized, keeps track of how people find you, and lets you offer referral fees to employees & your Twitter network.

Tell your users where to click

Every visitor to your website is looking for an excuse to leave.

Don’t like the layout? Click the back button. Is the content not relevant? Click the back button. That button doesn’t serve merely as a way to leave the site. Rather, it acts as a lifeline to get users back to familiar ground.

Why would any website give users a reason to leave? Because it wasn’t built from the perspective of the user.

Here’s a website submitted to Mini Sprout. Users can choose from 40 different links in this screenshot alone. But since the layout of the website does not seem to guide users anywhere, I felt compelled to click my back button.

Compare that example to a few others. Dropbox asks visitors to watch a video, or download their app. Details like their privacy policy and support section are hidden below the fold, but someone looking for them can easily find them.

Square follows a similar set of guidelines; ask users to watch a video or sign-up directly.

Transmit from Panic asks users to download the app, buy it directly or find answers to their questions.

Even eBay, a website that struggled with clutter for years, helps guide a user. Users can search, browse a category or visit their deals.

Determining whether or not visitors like your website doesn’t need to be as subjective as critiquing your layout. Instead, use a web analytics tool and watch the bounce rate of your homepage.

Bounce rate can serve as a proxy for how satisfied your users are with their experience. If nearly 100% of your visitors are bouncing, it’s time to make a change.


The photo of this post is copyright (c) 2005 by StevenErat and made available under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license. 

How a simple design decision made Pinterest a household name

In the two years since launching, Pinterest has grown incredibly quickly to become the third most visited social network in the US, only behind Facebook and Twitter.

One of Pinterest’s most recognizable features is its layout. Photos seem to spread out like they were individually placed on a light board. But the layout is not the secret to their success.

So, what did Pinterest do differently? They featured social interactions.

On every Pinterest page, social interactions — repins and comments — take up just as much space as the content itself. Profile photos cover the website, showing conversations are alive and ready for you to join. It’s easy for users to contribute to the discussion as well, because users can log in using their Facebook or Twitter accounts. The design decision to feature the social interactions makes Pinterest feel like a vibrant community in a single glace.

Other networks choose to hide these interactions from the end user. Tumblr has plenty of social interaction across their network, but it’s not showcased. Take a look at the screenshot below:

This particular post has 154 likes, comments or reblogs. That’s a lot of activity for one photo, but the social activity is concealed. Users need to click-through to the post itself to see how readers are responding.

A recent report from comScore shows user engagement rate exactly equal between Tumblr and Pinterest, which means Tumblr isn’t necessarily doing anything wrong. The two networks serve different purposes anyway. Instead, Pinterest’s example shows how social media can be used to their advantage.

Where does social media belong? Front and center, not buried and hidden.

It’s rare to come across a business website that forgets to remind us to “Like” or “Follow” them. On many websites, the opportunity for social media has been compressed into a button. Social widgets are tacked onto web pages almost as an after thought.

It takes a truly integrated approach, like Pinterest, to do social media well. And when websites facilitate conversations, users respond.

Why Instagram’s app feels so damn fast

If you play with the Instagram mobile app on iOS or Android, it feels a little different. It feels significantly faster than other apps. Upload a photo to Instagram, and it seems to load faster than, say, the check deposit feature in your bank’s mobile app.

Mike Krieger from Instagram says the secret to a fast app lies in “not the code, but the experience.” That’s a great approach to app development — strong app performance is no longer a developer responsibility, but a shared responsibility. When everyone at Instagram thinks about how the app can feel faster, it leads to a more enjoyable experience for the user.

Take a look at his deck below:

How to Launch and Market Your Startup

Marketing your startup happens before you write a single line of code. A successful launch is more than just building and submitting to blogs. You need to recruit an audience of advocates before opening to the public.

This guide takes you through each step of launching and marketing your startup.

Let’s get started by building your marketing strategy. Most startup will drive both awareness and sales, and rely on both paid efforts or non-paid efforts. You’ll want to attract users who are most likely to become customers. If web visitors are unlikely become customers, you’re wasting efforts and need to think about how to become more efficient.

It’s possible to launch a startup without investing a dollar into marketing. Ultimately, things like your business model, your connections to the community, and the industry’s saturation will determine how much you need to spend on marketing.

Choose Your Audience

Let’s answer a few key questions about your business:

  • Who will use our site?
  • How will we reach them?
  • How will we cater to their needs?

Focus on what your target does and some of their relevant problems/concerns. Are they established in their careers, just starting out, or are they students? Are you going after parents, freelancers or businesses? You want a specific image of who these people are and what they value in life. In many cases, a part of yourself could represent your target.

Once you figure out who will use your site, it becomes easier to brainstorm how you can reach them.

Web app developers have the benefit of knowing their users will be online. They can refine their marketing tactics to the web and skip other media with high out-of-pocket costs until after they launch.

Think about the different types of websites your users visit online:

  • News & Community Sites: Make a list of them and what your target uses them for.
  • Social Media: Make a list of them and how they use them.
  • Blogs: Make a list of them and why your target reads them.

If you develop strong answers to these questions, you’re on your way to a strong media plan.

Beta Campaign

We’ll come back and talk more about awareness and driving sign-ups later in this post. But first, let’s talk about your beta campaign. In order to have a polished web app for a successful launch day, you need people to test the app and drive initial word-of-mouth awareness.

A few months before your launch, let people know you’re working on a new app. Upload a logo on the site, and write a little post on your blog. Tweet about it across your Twitter account. Stay vague in exactly what you’re launching, but let your readers know something is coming. Collect emails on your homepage for people who are interested. You want to woo the insiders; folks on the cutting edge. Let them know they’ll be getting an exclusive sneak peak.

A few weeks before launch, start previewing features in a blog. Let people access the site (to a select few from your email list). Describe the theme of the product. Post screenshots. Post your principles/manifesto for the app to get people talking. Still continue to collect emails so you have a foundation for when you launch.

Qualify Your Beta Users
Not all beta users will bring the same benefit as others. Look at potential users as more than just n visitors, because they actually are the first candidates to try your product and become paying customers.

I cannot tell you how many times I add my email address to a web app’s beta user recruitment form. A few weeks later, a beta invite will pop up in my inbox, prompting me to register. What’s unfortunate about this scenario is that a young site has extended an invitation for me to play with their tool, without actually knowing anything about me. I could register, but the probability of me returning is low, much less the probability of me upgrading to a paid account. After all, I may not even be in their target audience. They’re playing a numbers game: extend invitations to enough people, and you will eventually find a user willing to pay. That’s not the smartest way to market your app.

Case Study: Chargify Qualified Their First Beta Users


Billing support company Chargify didn’t hand out invites to just anyone for their beta. Before users were invited, they needed to answer questions, such as, “How much do you intend to bill per month?” Users were evaluated first, ensuring high-value prospects received invitations. You can follow Chargify’s smart example with a bit of planning.

Web app developers should try to recruit users with the best opportunity to become profitable. That process begins by recognizing that some potential beta users are more profitable than others. It’s nothing more than efficiency; increase the percentage of people likely to purchase your service.

Qualifying potential beta users is incredibly easy. Many popular web survey options, like SurveyMonkey or Google Docs, already offer this feature. For example, suppose you launched a web app to aid small businesses. You could randomly or sequentially extend beta invitations to people from your beta email list. Or, you could go another route; qualify them.

When you are considering your next batch of beta users, send out a mass mail survey with a few questions. Just mention in the email that you are distributing a brief questionnaire and would love their feedback. The questions could be, “Roughly how many customers do you have at the moment?” and “How much does the average customer pay per month/transaction?”

These questions help weed out the tire-kickers, people who may not own a business, or those who may never upgrade to a paid account. Now, you have answers tied to email addresses. You see the applicants who may pay for the service, so extend them invitations first. As for the other people on your list, you always have the opportunity to reach out to them later.

Use Personalized Invite Codes

A lot of web apps still launch in beta, and they distribute invite codes to larger websites. Web app developers use these codes to track which websites are best at converting pageviews into sign-ups, which may help choose which websites you want to include in an advertising campaign.

Case Study: Web Apps Give Mini Sprout Invite Codes

Sometimes you come across an app review, and we offer an invite code for you to get started. In these instances, the web app owners reached out to us directly and provided a unique code for us to share with our readers. The code could be as simple as “minisprout.” This way, the site knows, out of all the sites that they’ve given invite codes to, which sources have the best conversions.

It’s best to give one invite code to each website, otherwise people will begin sharing invite codes across sites, which will make it difficult to verify the best performing websites.

Launch Campaign

Answers from “Choose Your Audience” will help you craft your launch campaign. Once you identify tactics to target potential customers, you need to start asking some nitty-gritty questions.

Driving Awareness:  Non-Paid Media

Non-paid media is a favorite of a web app developer, mostly because any budget can support it. We’ll cover the basics below:

  • Press Releases:  Distribute press releases regarding your launch to major web app and social media websites (don’t forget Mini Sprout). Also focus on websites that feature your industry. For example, if you launch a bookkeeping app, you could promote your new service to web app directories and accounting websites. Make a list of which websites will be included when you send press releases.
  • Blog Posts:  Update both your personal account and your company’s blog.
  • Social Media:  Create a Facebook fan page and Twitter account. Encourage people to register and keep the conversation alive.
  • Email Marketing:  Encourage email sign-ups via your homepage and new user registrations. In many countries, users must first opt-in before they can receive your newsletter. Also, in the United States, users must be given the option to unsubscribe with one-click at the bottom of each email.

Driving Sales & Sign-Ups:  Paid Media

New web apps may receive the majority of their press coverage within the first week of their launch. It’s really up to the developer to keep customers signing up for their services. One option, which is definitely among the most effective, is using paid media.

Paid media is media that you pay to run, like how you may pay to run an ad in a newspaper. That doesn’t mean non-paid media is free; press releases are considered non-paid media because you don’t pay news organizations to run them, even though you may pay a freelancer for writing.

You have plenty of options, but let’s focus on a few digital options:

  • Display/Banner Advertising:  If you’re planning on advertising on websites, which websites are you selecting? Would your message resonate well with each websites’ visitors? You may also consider a premium ad network that targets web app audiences. Some websites may give you the option to sponsor their content. Keep in mind that sponsorships are usually great for driving awareness of your app, but you may not get many sign-ups from your sponsorship directly. If you use a sponsorship tactic, use it to balance out a heavily sales-focused campaign.
  • Search Campaign:  If you are using a search campaign to drive sales, determine which keywords and ad messages you will use. Search is best used for driving sales and sign-ups, so they may be able to offset your other initiatives that drive awareness.
  • Retargeting Through an Ad Network:  Retargeting is related to banner advertising, but we’re calling it out separately because it’s a relatively unused tactic with web app developers. For many websites, people will visit your site and never return. If you’re running an efficient marketing campaign and only driving potential customers to your site, you lost a sale. Retargeting campaigns place a code on your site that assigns a browser cookie to each of your visitors. Then, if a person leaves your site before signing up, he or she could see ads for your service across other websites. Users who leave your site have already demonstrated they’re aware of your service, so you can use a retargeting campaign to focus on driving sales by offering a 30-day trial. Any buys with ad networks usually require a minimum spend level (often between $10,000 and $15,000). For some, it may be best to focus on smaller efforts until you can afford to pay an expert to design your retargeting campaign.

When you launch, send emails out to those who signed up for beta, launch your full marketing site, and spread the word. Get blogs to link to you, post your progress (how many sign ups), what tweaks have you made. Overall, show momentum.

Sustainability Campaign

After initial buzz, how do you keep attracting and retaining users? Maintain a blog, and update it at least once a week with tips. A blog will make a company look alive and human. Include things like,

  • FAQs
  • How-tos
  • Tips and tricks
  • New features, updates and fixes
  • Buzz/press

Highlight the best blog content in a monthly newsletter to your opt-in customers and fans. For examples of some email marketing campaigns, we profiled a free email newsletter showcase called Emailium during one of our Mini App Round-Ups.

Focus on Your Vertical Markets
Advertising on web-focused blogs is a good first step for your web app, but those traffic sources are really nothing more than spikes. You’ll see a high bounce rate, especially if their audience does not align with your target. Your next step is to delve deeply into the industry that supports your app. If you built an invoicing web app, it’s time to look at the accounting and bookkeeping industry.

Case Study: Bootstrap Networked and Reached Out To Vertical Blogs

Back when Bootstrap, the online bookkeeping web app, launched, its founder identified blogs in the same industry. Then, he emailed each blog directly with a brief, concise summary. He opened his email simply with, “I was reading your blog post today and thought you might be interested in a new web site.” Then, he quickly touched on what made his service standout. That was it; simple and targeted.

Enter into these communities (if you haven’t already), and have a strong, supportive and straight-forward voice. These people are likely to be your best customers, so treat them like clients.

Measure Everything

Once you launch, you’re blind because you have no idea what’s going on with your app, like why people upgrade or cancel their accounts. Determine what data will you need to make business decisions, such as how many pageviews convert to signups. Use analytics, how many people actually sign up, how many people actually login (measure by recording how many people login at least twice), how many people are actually paying to use your service. Compare non-paying visitors with paying visitors to determine how much traffic is needed to drive to your site, which will help you determine if how much to spend on marketing. With this info, you can know make business decisions and determine whether to invest more in marketing or improve your product with additional features.

Record users’ last login. For those who have not logged in over a 30 or 45 day period, send them an email to bring them back (not so much that we miss you; more like tips you can use to improve your workflow/business/self). Otherwise, you’ll likely lose a customer.

Telecommunications companies use business intelligence software to identify the few thousand customers, among millions, most likely to switch to another cellphone carrier. They then create marketing messages specifically for them. For your startup, identify characteristics of a customer most likely to leave, such as has not logged in after n days. Make a list. Then track them and follow up with them through an email campaign.

Wrapping Up

We covered a lot of details in this post. Just remember to begin thinking about your launch and marketing strategy before you begin working on your app. Building a great product is crucial for your web app’s success, but a great product alone won’t succeed without support.

If you have any suggestions, questions or case studies, leave them in the comments.

Why it counts to share your business’ story

Everyone loves a great story. The film and publishing industries are based on stories, friends get together to share stories, and people remember events through stories.

For a lot of smaller businesses, the most frequently visited page after the homepage is the About Us page. So why do those businesses use words like, “largest” or “newest” to establish who they are? Why don’t they just tell their story?

When people ask about your business, don’t give them a description like, “we sell widgets to parents.” Don’t give them an analogy either, like “We’re the Netflix of posters.” Instead, tell them a story. Tell them how you got involved in your business and what you’re trying to accomplish. Show them a vision.

There are reasons why stories resonate so well:

  • Stories give context. Information that is not shared in a story is just a data point.
  • Stories reveal patterns and causes. Without a story structure, causes for wars throughout history would be lost.
  • Stories communicate ideas. Concepts are easier to understand and remember when told as a story.
  • Stories are relatable. People love rooting for an underdog.
  • Stories are comforting. Why else would we watch movies multiple times, or re-read books?

You will win people over significantly faster if you tell them a story.

Follow these guidelines to craft your story:

  1. Where were you when it started? Where you getting dinner with an old friend? Or, were you stuck at the office? Establish an environment people can imagine.
  2. What did you realize? What were you working on when you came across your idea?
  3. What was the catalyst? People have new ideas every day? What made you decide you could turn your idea into a business?
  4. How did you get started? Did you take $100 and run with it? Did you launch your idea out of your home?
  5. What is your vision for your product? What makes you think you’ve come across something big? What’s the potential? If people have followed your story up until this point, they could be mesmerized by the potential.
  6. What has been your success to this date? Have revenues doubled each year or quarter since launching? Are you hiring or growing a team? Are you getting recognized in the press? Are investors or partners contacting you to partner? Show success to establish credibility.

No matter what you’re selling, people are more interested in the stories behind the business and the people involved. They’ll be more engaged, and they’ll likely ask more questions. That could lead to more publicity, or more sign-ups, or more sales.

Love, refine and share your story. It’s among the easiest ways to market a business.


The photo of this post is copyright (c) 2011 by rubberdragon and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

One simple step to give your visitors exactly what they want

Website owners know less about their visitors than they think — and that’s even with web analytics.

Take one search for example, like “how to tie a tie?” A user could search that phrase and land on your site. Seeing that phrase appear in your web analytics dashboard gives some details, but it’s unlikely that user is searching how to tie a tie to practice in his home.

What if he is getting ready for a wedding? If you knew that info, you could guess he ultimately wants to know, “How do I look presentable for a wedding?” Then, you could offer him step-by-step instructions for how to tie a tie, plus how to match a tie to a dress shirt, which button on a suit jacket to button, and how to polish dress shoes.

Business websites should be just as accommodating for their visitors. Here’s an easy process for finding exactly what your visitors want from you.

Use a free online survey tool, and post a link to the survey on your website. It could even be something as simple as using Google Docs.

Ask these two questions:

  1. What were you trying to accomplish in today’s visit?
  2. Were you able to accomplish that task?

From this simple survey, you will learn more about your visitors than from even the most sophisticated and integrated analytics tools.

How do you give visitors what they want? Ask for it. Use your users’ responses to anticipate their actions, and then tailor your website to align with what they want to accomplish.

Conversions will increase. Revenues will increase. You’ll have more satisfied customers.

Photo by coriehowell

The One Step Every Entrepreneur Should Take Before Launching a Business

Entrepreneurs love their new business ideas. But it’s not worth poring the effort into launching a business that may not have a customer.

Many startups may be so invested in their idea that they cannot see flaws, like a smaller audience than would be able to support their business. Wouldn’t it be great if you could determine whether or not a business will succeed prior to launch?

A better way: Google Consumer Surveys

Last month, Google announced Google Consumer Surveys, allowing anyone to set up a brief, affordable market research survey. Create your survey with a few clicks, and Google will collect responses and compile results into beautiful charts.

Survey owners pay between $0.10 and $0.50 per response. Sample sizes can be as small as 500 and still provide statistically significant results. That said, Google Consumer Surveys isn’t designed to compete with full-service market research firms.

Entrepreneurs can use Google Consumer Surveys to spend a few hundred dollars upfront to see if their business will attract a customer. If the survey returns unfavorable results, adjust your idea and try again. It will save more money than relaunching a business.

Google Consumer Surveys in practice

Let’s say you are an entrepreneur with a business idea. You want to launch a business that sends subscribers a pair of new socks every month.

First, we’ll begin our survey by giving it a name.

Next, we’ll specify the audience. Google Consumer Surveys lets us choose between a nationally-representative sample, an audience based on particular demographics, or a custom screening question. Businesses aimed at the general market can stick with the default choice, “an audience representing the US internet population.” If you want to target a specific audience, such as parents or small business owners, you can create a screening question. Any type of filtering pushes the cost-per-response from $0.10 to $0.50.

For us, let’s say our business will target males, so we’ll set the survey to target males. Google Consumer Surveys does not actually verify whether only males answered my question, but they use a cookie pool to infer demographic segments.

Then, we’ll create our question. Let’s simply ask, “Would you pay for a service that delivers a new pair of socks to your home every month?” We’ll let respondents choose Yes or No, and we’ll give a third option of “Not sure” to prevent undecided respondents from skewing the results.

Take a look at how we phrased the question. We asked, “would you pay…” and not something like, “would you be interested in…” We want to craft the survey to determine if people both like our idea and would be willing to pay for it.

Finally, we can review our survey, select the sample size, and purchase. Google Consumer Surveys will recommend a package based on statistical significance. In this case, our survey will cost $250 for 500 responses.

Once your survey is ready, which can take anywhere from a half hour to a week depending on the audience, Google Consumer Surveys builds a report with decent data slicing tools. See your responses overall, or drill down by demographic target.

At the bottom of the data page, Google Consumer Surveys will show the sampling bias according to the current US Census population survey. It’s rare for research firms to show sample bias, and people may forget about bias when evaluating results. Consider it one of the benefits through using the tool. Even if you work with a full-service market research firm, they may not provide details about their sample’s bias.

If the Data tab shows the response totals, then the Insights answers the question, “So what?” Google Consumer Surveys will scrub the data and pull out the most interesting points, based on their indexes. It’s a great way to review unique findings in the data.

Just be careful

Running a market research survey can be a best practice before launching a business. As you saw in our example, paying $250 for a survey is significantly cheaper than launching a full business.

Tread carefully, though. Respondents are answering your question to the best of their ability, but it’s not a guarantee they will purchase from you, or like your execution of the product, or like your price point. Survey results are only one indicator whether or not your business will succeed.

Often, consumers will struggle to tell you if they would be interested in purchasing, especially in evolving verticals like technology.

Use surveys as a gut check whether you believe too strongly in an idea, and then follow the guidance from Steve Jobs — “It’s not the consumer’s job to know what they want.”


Photo by static416