Having trouble marketing software, or frustrated that your favorite developer isn’t doing it well? Read the second part of Mike Diegel’s look at marketing software for tips on getting the message out and converting prospects into customers. Also, Matt Neuburg reviews WorkStrip X, an interesting application launcher that groups related documents and applications into workspaces. Finally, some advice for anyone owning or using .Mac accounts.
Dealing With .Mac Trials Ending — Consider this a brief reminder to the Mac community. According to Apple, iTools accounts that were automatically converted into .Mac trial accounts will be going away in two weeks on 30-Sep-02. Our advice is to ask anyone in your address book using a Mac.com email address if they plan to keep that address or if they’ll be switching. If you have a Mac.com account that you’re planning to let lapse, we encourage you to change your mailing list subscriptions before the change happens (unsubscribe from your Mac.com address and resubscribe from your new address – look in the headers of every issue of TidBITS for links you can double-click) and let your regular correspondents know of your address change. Finally, search through your Web bookmarks and visit any at Mac.com to see if the owner is providing a forwarding page. On the flip side, if you aren’t planning to continue a .Mac-based Web site, we recommend putting up a notice informing visitors where your files have moved. If your site is purely personal, such as Web photo albums uploaded from iPhoto, it’s worth informing the people to whom you originally announced the photos of the new location. A little forethought can make this transition a lot easier for everyone. [ACE]
Back in the days of System 6, I couldn’t have managed without Now Utilities, and especially Now Menus – in particular, its capability not only to remember my recently used applications and documents, but also to associate each recently used document with the application that opened it. In Now Menu’s listing of recently used applications, the documents recently opened with each application appeared as a hierarchical submenu of that application. This was a wonderfully quick, easy, and natural way to find stuff I’d recently been working on. Apple later imitated it, putting recent applications and documents in the Apple menu; but Apple’s implementation lacked any interface association between recent documents and their applications.
To see why this association is important, think of the sheer numbers involved. The relationship of applications to documents is one-to-many. A list of my thirty most recently used applications might be useful, but a list of my thirty most recently used documents is likely pointless. A list of the thirty documents most recently used by each application is what I need! But a single indiscriminate list of these, shown alphabetically, would be disordered (since one often thinks in terms of applications first) and unwieldy (since it would contain 900 items).
The solution in Now Menus, on the other hand, was perfect; and I remained faithful through its transition into System 7, and then used Power On Software’s Action Menus to maintain the same functionality after Now fell by the wayside. The latter served me right up through Mac OS 9.
With the coming of Mac OS X, though, this functionality hit a glass ceiling. Apple’s own Recent Items in the Mac OS X Apple menu still doesn’t associate documents with applications, though at least in Jaguar you can increase the number of remembered items to 50. Action Utilities hasn’t made the transition. Proteron’s MaxMenus, the closest thing to a Now Menus clone on Mac OS X, presents the same Recent Items as the Apple menu, again with no application-document association. What to do? I was in a funk, until a Macworld Expo San Francisco glimpse of Softchaos’s WorkStrip running on Mac OS 9 gave me hope. If this utility could migrate to Mac OS X, I might be saved.
WorkStrip did eventually make the transition, but the first Mac OS X release was a background CPU hog, and the second had a buggy way of treating documents opened by browsers. However, Softchaos’s chief technical officer, Matt Gough, was extremely responsive with regard to these problems; and as of the recently released version 2.02, they are a thing of the past. WorkStrip X is now ready for prime time.
A Good Look — WorkStrip X is basically an application switcher and a launcher of applications, documents, and folders. So too, of course, is the Dock; and you can think of WorkStrip as a Dock supplement. It would be wrong, though, to describe it as a Dock replacement; a true Dock replacement is impossible, because the Dock possesses secret knowledge and capabilities to which Apple has allowed no one else access – the list of windows open in every application, the capacity to switch to a particular window, the capability to display a special application icon (such as iCal’s display of the current date), and so forth.
WorkStrip X is a background-only application, without menus or a place in the Dock. It’s represented by a row of icons at one edge of your screen; for each icon, what you see is a roughly rectangular white area (which I’ll call a "pedestal") butting up against the screen edge, and overlapping this and sticking further into the screen, the icon itself. The icon is not embedded in a rectangle; its shape is the icon’s shape, and this shape casts a shadow onto the white rectangle. The effect is like a row of little statues of the icons, each standing on its own white pedestal; it’s absolutely gorgeous. There are various modes for displaying and summoning WorkStrip; I particularly like the one where all you see is a single icon (which floats over all your applications, off in a corner somewhere) until you move the mouse over this, whereupon all the other icons appear.
A shortcoming of the Dock is that one row of icons functions both as a launcher (of items that you’ve dragged into it) and as a switcher (between currently running applications). WorkStrip operates the same way, but it overcomes the shortcoming by allowing you to define "workspaces." A workspace is simply a set of items you’ve dragged into WorkStrip. The combination of items to form each workspace is completely up to you; it might be a category of application, such as Internet programs or games, or it might be the applications and folders needed for a particular task, such as writing a certain book. WorkStrip always displays exactly one workspace at a time, along with a special "system-level" workspace whose items are always displayed.
The icons displayed at any given moment in WorkStrip X are: the main WorkStrip icon, to which you drag items to add them to the system-level workspace; the current workspace icon, to which you drag items to add them to this workspace, and whose contextual menu switches workspaces; the items of the system-level workspace; the items of the current workspace; and the currently running applications. Various colors and sub-icons tell you why an icon is being displayed – it’s part of the workspace, it’s currently running, it’s currently running and frontmost, it’s currently running and also part of the workspace, and so on. There is no way to tell by looking whether a workspace item is part of the current or system-level workspace; I regard this as a flaw.
The various things you can do with an icon are very much what you would expect. Click an application, document, or folder icon to open it or switch to it (with various Dock-like modifier keys). Control-click an icon to bring up its contextual menu. In the case of a folder, the contextual menu shows its contents hierarchically, but with a striking twist: at every level the items appear sorted, showing first folders, then applications, then documents – themselves sorted by type. Another nice thing about these hierarchical menus is that you can choose either a file or a folder. Once you’ve navigated into your hard drive this way, you may never want to do it any other way; it’s wonderful.
The Documents in the Case — WorkStrip X lists recently opened documents as items of the Recent Items menu, which is itself a hierarchical submenu that can appear in three places:
in the WorkStrip icon’s contextual menu;
in the workspace icon’s contextual menu, if that workspace was active when you opened the document; and
in the application icon’s contextual menu, if that application was visible in WorkStrip when you opened the document.
In the case of the Finder, whose icon is of course always present, its "documents" are folders; WorkStrip can thus manage recent folders as well as files.
Mac OS X doesn’t offer utilities like WorkStrip X any way of hacking into the system as Now Utilities did under earlier versions of the Mac OS, so WorkStrip X can’t "see" you open a document by double-clicking it in the Finder, or by using an Application’s Open dialog. WorkStrip X can "see" what you do only within WorkStrip X; in other words, the only documents WorkStrip X can track are those you open using WorkStrip X. This could mean dragging a document onto an application icon in WorkStrip X, or navigating down the hierarchical menu of a folder icon in WorkStrip X, to find and open a document.
WorkStrip remembers only the last 100 Recent Items that you’ve opened. This minor limitation is made up for, though, by the fact that a Recent Items document can be promoted from temporary to persistent status. The interface for this is ingenious; you click not on the application’s icon but on its pedestal, whereupon a drawer opens showing a list of the application’s associated documents, both temporary (Recent Items) and persistent. Here you can perform document management tasks, such as moving a document’s status between temporary and persistent, navigating its path, showing it in the Finder, removing it from the list, and even deleting it.
WorkStrip Conclusions — WorkStrip X is lovely to look at, and is a marvel of programming ingenuity. It comes with good documentation. I haven’t mentioned everything WorkStrip X can do, but what I’ve said describes the bulk of its abilities as a launcher and especially as a manager of documents in association with applications. That management can be very good indeed, but it will require some practice and some revision of one’s normal habits – such as remembering to open things through WorkStrip and not through the Finder. You may also have to modify your thinking a bit in order to appreciate WorkStrip’s strengths.
For example, you may find disappointing the restriction that WorkStrip doesn’t associate a document with an application that happens at that moment to be in a different workspace. I was disappointed by this too, at first. Then I started to understand. WorkStrip’s basic unit of thought, as it were, is not the application but the workspace. What WorkStrip is trying to help you do is to manage the applications and documents you need for some particular task. To see what I mean, think what should happen if an application, such as BBEdit, appears in two different workspaces, such as Writing and Programming. What should happen if a document is dragged onto BBEdit’s icon in the Writing workspace, and later a different document is dragged onto BBEdit’s icon in the Programming workspace? Surely the presumption is that these are two very different working contexts for you, and therefore BBEdit should be treated here as essentially two different programs. The documents associated with BBEdit the Writing program should thus not be allowed to mingle with the documents associated with BBEdit the Programming program. That is how WorkStrip behaves, and it makes sense. If that’s not how you wanted WorkStrip to treat BBEdit, you should have made it part of the system-level workspace.
I must admit that WorkStrip X is not my favorite interface for a launcher; I find it too mouse-oriented and clumsy, and somewhat restricted. My launcher of choice remains James Thomson’s DragThing. DragThing’s paradigm is superbly simple: any number of docks, each populated through drag-and-drop with any number of items, where each item can be an application, file, folder, or script, and supported by a full array of keyboard shortcuts and contextual menus. Frankly, if DragThing could remember documents opened in each application, I would probably have no desire to use WorkStrip at all.
But DragStrip doesn’t have that ability, and WorkStrip does. The result is that although I don’t use WorkStrip all the time, when I’m engaged on one or more particular projects, such as the Cocoa application I’m writing at the moment, WorkStrip is an absolute lifesaver, mustering and organizing the ever-shifting constellation of applications, documents, and folders involved. In short, even if this isn’t a program that uses the mouse and keyboard the way I do, it’s a program that thinks the way I do. At the same time, too, tastes vary; you might actually find WorkStrip’s Dock-like, mouse-oriented interface just your cup of tea. In any case, it costs you nothing to find out; a 30-day trial version is yours for the downloading (4.8 MB).
WorkStrip X costs about $40, varying with the current exchange rates for the UK pound. It requires Mac OS X; there is also a Mac OS 9 version which I haven’t tried, but which presumably offers similar capabilities, albeit with a somewhat different interface.
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Have you done your homework from last week’s article? In preparing to market your software, have you done the research, readied your product, and crafted your marketing messages? Good. Now, let’s talk about delivering the message and making the sale.
I’ll focus on online distribution and sales, because unless you’re prepared to make a six- or seven-figure investment, it will be extremely difficult for you to put your software in a box and get it on the shelf at CompUSA or Best Buy. So, you first need a Web site where people can learn about your product, download it, and purchase it. While a complete discussion of what makes an effective Web site is beyond the scope of this article, there are some guiding principles to keep in mind.
Simple and Effective — First and foremost, you need to establish the purpose of your site. Although the Web offers many possibilities, you want to do three things and three things only: attract visitors, turn those visitors into prospects, and then turn those prospects into paying customers. That’s it. Everything you do related to your site should contribute to those goals; otherwise, why do it?
Strive for a clean and simple site. A fancy Flash presentation on your home page will baffle search engine spiders and cause them to pass you by, wasting all the work you need to do to get included on Google, Yahoo, or other sites.
At the same time, your home page must state clearly what the visitor will find there, and how to find it. Make good use of your Web statistics reports to judge how well you’re accomplishing that goal. For example, I have a client whose site was clean and simple, but it wasn’t clear. When I looked at their Web stats, I could see that the home page was near the top of the entry page list, but it was also one of the top 10 exit pages. That’s not good. Combined with some other information, it meant visitors were finding the home page and going no further into the site.
Another important design consideration to keep in mind is scrolling. More than 90 percent of visitors never scroll horizontally to see page content, and about 30 percent won’t scroll down to view any content "below the fold," or the bottom of the window. A significant portion of your visitors could miss any important information or links located in those places – links like a Buy button, for instance.
Build Awareness — To get customers to your site, you must engage them in phase one of the buying decision-making process discussed last week: the awareness phase. At this stage, the mass media tend to be the most effective means of communication. That’s not to denigrate word-of-mouth. It simply means that word-of-mouth takes on more significance later in the process.
In most people’s minds, the three most common ways to drive traffic to your site are search engines, paid advertising (and here I include putting your URL on stationery, trinkets, etc.), and free media, otherwise known as press coverage. You can also learn a lot of other creative ways to drive traffic at sites such as Trafficology or MarketingSherpa.
The key to search engines is to make sure the keywords you select are the ones that your customers are likely to use. Too often, you can get caught up in industry jargon and assume that’s the language that everyone uses. Test your keywords by entering them in some search engines. Do your competitors appear? Are the results showing the types of sites you want to be associated with in a customer’s mind? If not, you need to examine your keywords.
Paid advertising online includes ads or sponsorships in newsletters like TidBITS, banner ads on sites, and pay-per-click ads, which also depend on keywords. For Sustainable Softworks, a Mac developer I consulted with for nearly a year and a half, the pay-per-click approach was the most effective form of paid advertising, with targeted electronic newsletters coming in second. Again, you must target and test for your audience.
If you buy a keyword on Google or Overture, you will likely drive Windows users to your site. If you’re a Mac-only developer like Sustainable Softworks, you’re paying for someone who might never use your product, but remember that many Windows users will download software at work for use on Macs at home.
Other than releasing updates, which I recommend you do every six weeks or so, the single most effective way I’ve found to drive traffic is media coverage. That’s especially true for online media, where a direct link to your site can be included. Every time we sent out a press release about a Sustainable Softworks product, we saw a significant spike in the number of software downloads, even if only one media outlet picked up the story.
The field of media relations is another topic in itself, but you should know that the Mac community is blessed with many Web sites and traditional publications devoted to informing Mac users about the latest and greatest products. Use that resource. (Start by checking out Adam’s "Hacking the Press" series starting in TidBITS-538).
Learn to write a good press release. You may have heard of the traditional five Ws of journalism – who, what when, where, and why – but more and more editors want to know the "how" of the story as well; and who’s better equipped to talk about it than you? You can take an inexpensive course in writing for the press through local adult education programs or community colleges. Many local business groups offer seminars in the topic as well. If you take the time to learn something about the journalism profession, and can show editors by your releases and by how you treat them that you respect what they do, you can see a tremendous payoff in coverage of your product.
Prospecting for Gold — Now that you’ve created awareness and driven visitors to your site, you’re ready to convert them to prospects. At this point, the customer is gathering information, evaluating the value your software has for him or her, and getting into the trial phase.
Here you want to emphasize any kudos you’ve collected for your work. Include links to press coverage and reviews, even if they’re for another product you’ve done. It’s also valuable to quote from beta testers (with their knowledge and permission, of course); with a new product, those quotes may be all you have available.
As you collect feedback from prospects and customers (a subject I’ll come back to in a minute), ask for their permission to post positive comments on your site. Psychologically, it’s critically important to a potential customer to know that other people have used the product and approve of it.
What form should your software take for these prospective users? In my experience, fully functioning trialware is the way to go. I have nothing against shareware – it’s a great idea and one that has led to the creation of cool software that never would have appeared otherwise, especially in the early days of personal computing. But as a developer, perhaps you want to maximize your selling opportunities so that you can afford to write more great software. Do a little social engineering and avoid the word "shareware." Too many people have come to equate it with "freeware."
Resist the urge to cripple the trialware by disabling some features. Give your prospects the chance to download a full version of that terrific software you wrote. After all, why would you not want a prospective customer to see everything your product can do? Instead, build in a time limit of three to four weeks, after which the software quits working unless the user purchases a registration key. Alternatively, consider limiting the number of times prospective users can launch your program – that eliminates a potentially stressful or irritating deadline while still making sure that people who want to use your program purchase it.
From Try to Buy — Now that the software is installed on the prospect’s hard drive, how do you convert him or her to a paying customer? Follow up. At Sustainable Softworks, we created a system in which we asked for customer information – on a voluntary basis – and stored it in a database. Each day, I would go through the records from seven days before and send those people a follow-up email.
The message was low-key, simply asking if the software was working properly and if there was anything we could do to help (even if the customer hadn’t yet paid). We included a reminder about the trial period expiration and a link to our registration page.
After sending out thousands of email messages, the feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive. Comments such as "I am impressed at the focus on customer satisfaction," and "This is the first time I have ever received email from a software publisher that had a helpful and friendly, instead of nagging, tone" were proof that the system enhanced the company’s reputation for good customer service. It was also the best way we found to collect quotes from users that we could use for promotional purposes.
But the system’s real value was in the conversion of prospect to buyer. We increased those conversion rates from 25 percent to 40 percent, depending on the product. In addition, we achieved conversion rates much higher than the typical one percent. Those numbers contributed directly to the bottom line.
We also devised a similar system to follow up with customers who tried to register products, but for whatever reason didn’t complete the process. We were able to save a number of sales that otherwise would have been lost.
When It Works, Keep Working — Now you have a broad outline of an integrated marketing and public relations program that cost-effectively produces sales. There’s just one more thing – once you’ve gone through this process, do it again and again. Question your assumptions. Study your results. And be sure to keep up with the market by consulting additional resources, such as Trafficology and MarketingSherpa, mentioned earlier, and the AdMarketing discussion list and resource section of Netpreneur.org. You can also email me at <[email protected]> for a free copy (in electronic format only) of "Media Relations Made Simple," a short publication I created discussing low-budget ways to achieve press coverage.
Make this process an integral part of your business. The market changes constantly, and if you want to be successful, you must change along with it.
[Mike Diegel is a strategic marketing and public relations consultant specializing in helping small businesses and other organizations to more effectively use the Web. He can be reached at <[email protected]>.]
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