How to Use KISSmetrics to Improve an E-commerce Checkout Funnel

One of the great things about KISSmetrics is that it helps you continually optimize your business. From revenue reports that tell you which ad campaigns bring the most customers to cohort reports that track critical metrics like login retention over time to many other insight-driven reports, KISSmetrics delivers pretty awesome tools for any marketer or manager.

We couldn’t possibly cover all the benefits of KISSmetrics in one post. We would have to write a book.

So, in this post, we’ll concentrate on one key feature of KISSmetrics – the funnel report.

Specifically, we’ll focus on improving your e-commerce funnel. We’ll begin by viewing a funnel report and finding areas that need improvement. Then, we’ll form a hypothesis setting out changes that might improve conversions. We’ll run a test. And, then, we’ll close by viewing the hypothetical results.

1. View the Data

Our company, Acme Widgets, sells home goods. We’ve grown steadily over the years, but the bottom of our funnel (sales) hasn’t done very well when compared with our traffic. We want to get into the nitty-gritty to understand how each step performs and find the bottlenecks we can improve.

We’ve installed the JavaScript tracking code and created our events. Now, we need to set up our funnel. To do this, we go to the Reports section of KISSmetrics, click on Create New Report and select Funnel Report:

create-funnel-report-kissmetrics

We’ll name our report “Checkout Funnel”:

setup-checkout-funnel-kissmetrics

We want to track a month’s worth of data, so we changed our date range to June 1 – 30, 2014.

We’ll start with people who have put at least one item in their cart. The name for this event is “Cart Page”:

checkout-funnel-step-one-kissmetrics

The next step of our checkout funnel asks visitors to enter their shipping address, along with their name and email address.

This event is called “Address Page.” We click on the + sign in our funnel, add this event, and hit enter:

step-two-checkout-funnel-kissmetrics

Once we enter the Address Page event, KISSmetrics runs the report. We see that 62% of people who placed an item in their cart went on to the Address Page. That means that a good percentage of people who place an item in their cart have the intention to buy (or at least want to see what the next step is).

The next step of our checkout asks users to enter their billing information. This event is called “Billing Page.” We add this event to the funnel:

step-three-kissmetrics-checkout-funnel

We see that there is a drop-off of people. We’ll continue creating our funnel to see if it’s our major bottleneck.

After our billing page, there is a confirmation page. It’s a summary of the order and a few forms for ordering, as well as a gift wrapping option. We’ve named this event “Confirmation Page.” We add it to our funnel and see our results:

step-four-checkout-funnel-kissmetrics

The last step of our checkout funnel is the “Placed Order” page. After the user confirms their order, they are taken to a webpage thanking them for their order. As the last step of our funnel, we add this event:

step-five-kissmetrics-checkout-funnel

We see that we have about a 91% conversion rate from Confirmation Page to Placed Order. When people get this far in the funnel, few exit. The biggest drop-off in our funnel is our Billing Page. People see the page where they enter their payment information, get cold feet, and bounce.

Overall, our conversion rate from Cart Page to Placed Order is only a little over 5%. We think there is room for improvement.

We also want to see the big picture and get our overall site conversion, so we’ll set up a report for that as well. We’ll track people who visited our site, made it to cart page (triggered when a product was put in their cart), and placed their order:

conversion-rate-funnel-setup-kissmetrics

conversion-rate-funnel-setup-kissmetrics-cart-page

conversion-rate-funnel-setup-kissmetrics-placed-order

Out of the 6,545 people who visited our site in June, 1.2% converted to purchasing a product. We think we can do better than this. We’ll start by focusing on improving our checkout funnel.

2. Form a Hypothesis

When conducting a funnel analysis, we need to pay special attention to those who decided not to purchase from us. Learning why people chose not to make a purchase can provide us with actionable insight for overcoming those barriers to purchasing.

We decide to run a survey to get a better understanding of these barriers. We’ll use Qualaroo and ask our visitors, “If you did not make a purchase today, can you tell us why not?” It’s an open question. There are no pre-set multiple-choice answers.

The survey displays after the visitor has been viewing a page for 20 seconds.

Many people stated that they didn’t feel comfortable purchasing. They had doubts about the security and lack of general information about the company.

The first thing we’ll need to address is the doubts around security. To make visitors feel more comfortable with purchasing on our site, we’ll be adding a few security elements throughout our website and on our cart page.

Our Hypothesis: Adding Security Elements Will Improve Checkout Conversions

Each page of the website will have the “Norton Secured” symbol in the bottom footer. This will provide visitors with reassurance that their data is safe because the website is protected by a known internet security company.

We’ve also recently become a Google Trusted Store and will be embedding that symbol in our bottom footer.

We’ll have both symbols on our cart page, along with a message stating that we’ve shipped over 5,000 orders since our founding just 3 years ago. Also, the following message will appear on the cart page:

“Our website uses a 256-bit AES encryption to protect all your information. Your credit card will be processed through PayPal, which has handled well over $1 billion in transactions. Click here to learn more about our security practices.”

The link takes visitors to a newly created webpage that outlines the security measures we’ve taken on our website.

We believe adding these elements will provide reassurances to customers that our site is secure and our business is reputable.

3. Run the Test and View the Results

Our test will go live for every person who visits our site. We’ll let the test run for a month, and afterward we’ll see if our hypothesis proves correct.

When testing changes to your website, you can either eyeball your data or run an A/B test.

When you eyeball your data, you make changes to your website, all visitors to your site get the change, and you view your data to see if the change increases conversions.

There are a few cases where you want to eyeball your data:

  • If you’re a young company that doesn’t have a lot of traffic. In this case, it’ll take too much time to run an A/B test. Keep your focus at the top of the funnel and earning more traffic before you A/B test. Until then, eyeball top-of-the-funnel conversions, such as sign-up rate.
  • If you’re a high price / low volume sales company. If you get only a few sales annually, keep to eyeballing your data.
  • If you are, as in our case, responding to overwhelming feedback from visitors. For us, they’ve made it clear that they do not trust making a purchase from us.

In some cases, you’ll want to set up an A/B test. The following situations generally warrant an A/B test:

  • If you have enough traffic to run an A/B test. More traffic will allow you to get much more reliable results.
  • If you’re making small changes that may not result in big conversion changes.
  • If you’re expecting less than 30% improvement. Small changes need an A/B test in order to see an impact. Otherwise, the small improvement just gets lost in the noise of the data’s natural fluctuations.
  • If you want to find wins more quickly. You can detect smaller wins.

If you fit the A/B testing criteria, you’ll want to sign up for a service like Optimizely or Visual Website Optimizer. KISSmetrics has an A/B test report that integrates with these services, and you’ll be able to view those results in KISSmetrics. The benefit of using the A/B test report is that you can view actual people who did or didn’t convert in an experiment.

Going with our eyeball test, we come back one month later, and we view our funnel report. We select July 2014 for our date range. Our report loads, and here’s how it looks:

one-month-later-funnel

one-month-later-part-two

Here are a few initial impressions:

  • The number of people who placed items in their cart was lower than in June. This is because of less traffic to our site, which we’ll soon see in our main acquisition funnel. In the future, we may want to add the “Visited Site” event to our checkout funnel. This will show us how our checkout funnel performs relative to our traffic.
  • Every step of our checkout funnel had an improvement in the percentage of conversions compared with last month, especially in the last 2 steps.
  • Despite lower traffic, we still had many more customers place orders with us.
  • Our conversion rate quadrupled. About one in every five people who placed an item in their cart completed their purchase.

This is awesome news. It appears that our hypothesis was correct and the changes we made to our site instilled confidence in visitors, who were then more likely to buy.

Now, we’ll run the report for our overall site conversion. Remember, in this one we’re tracking total people to our site, then people who put an item in their cart, and then those who proceed with their purchase.

second-ecommerce-funnel-report-kissmetrics

At the top of our funnel, we can see that we had less traffic in July than in June. But, a larger percentage of the visitors put items in their cart and placed orders. We got more customers on less traffic! Throughout our funnel, larger percentages of people converted to the next event step, especially in the last 2 steps.

We have the essence of our main conversion funnel. It gives us a bird’s eye view of how well our website converts. If we want to further understand what’s driving it, we can segment these people in this funnel by properties. Properties are various characteristics about the people.

A common example of a property is “returning,” which tracks whether the person is a new visitor or returning. Also, if someone came to your site via a search engine, the property “search engine” will display which search engine the person came from.

Segmenting the Data

For this funnel report, we’ll segment our visitors by the property “channel.” It categorizes traffic into referrer segments. Here’s how it looks:

kissmetrics-funnel-channel-property

For more information about the channel property, check out our article on Channel Definitions.

This report shows us how each channel performs, not just in bringing visitors, but throughout the funnel.

We see that one of our strongest, top-of-the-funnel channels is organic. A lot of people find us by search, and a fair number of them convert to place an item in the cart and then purchase.

A high-converting channel is Referral. These include sites that link to us. Since it’s successful for us, the more links we can get, the better.

We see that our paid efforts bring us visitors and some of them place an item in their cart, but none of them place an order. We may want to consider some remarketing efforts for the people who abandon their cart. If we don’t want to add to our costs, we may want to cut off paid acquisition. But before we do, we’ll have to view our cohort report to see if some of these visitors make purchases later than those from other channels. We’ll get into the cohort report a little later.

Email appears to be a strong channel for us. We may want to promote our email newsletter more. Here are some ideas for how to do that:

  • Offer 5% off for new visitors who sign up for our email newsletter
  • Place a modal on our homepage offering our newsletter
  • Once customers place an order, have a message suggesting that they may want to sign up for the newsletter

Throughout all messages, we need to explain the value of our newsletter, as well as how often subscribers are emailed. We could mention the tips we provide, exclusive deals, and new product arrivals.

Cohort Report

Up until now, we’ve been using the funnel report to tell us how our website converts for a specific date range. Moving forward, we’ll want to set up a cohort report. A cohort is a group of people who share a common characteristic or experience within a particular time span.

Here’s how a cohort report looks in KISSmetrics:

cohort-logged-in-retention

This report ties together two events: Signed up and Logged in. We first track people who signed up, and then we see the rate at which those people logged back in for the first time over a span of 12 weeks. This report keeps people separated, based on the time they signed up. This allows us to track how each group’s behavior changes over time.

We can set up this report for any event. For our example of tracking conversion rates over time, we would want to tie the Visited Site event with the Placed Order event. Here’s how we would set that up:

setting-up-cohort-report-two-events

The first step in creating a cohort report is to select the two events you want to track. We want to track the people who came to our site and ended up placing an order, so we are using Visited site and Placed Order as our events.

cohort-advanced-options

Under Advanced options, we can split people into groups by minute, hour, day, week, or month. We’ll set up weekly buckets. We’ll track people by when they visited the site, and we’ll group people by week.

cohort-visited-site-placed-order-kissmetrics

We run our report and get our data. It appears that the majority of visitors place their orders within 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, there is a low chance visitors will place an order. As time goes by and we get more data, we’ll split people into monthly buckets.

Most cohorts are broken down by time (month, week, day, etc.) In a KISSmetrics cohort report, you also have the ability to segment your cohort by any KISSmetrics property. In our case, we’ll want to view people by channel. This will show us if any of our previously unconverted paid visitors ended up placing an order. To set this up, we track the same events, but this time group people by channel property:

cohort-report-by-property

And we get our data:

cohort-report-channel-property

Grouping people by channel is useful for tracking how these channels perform at converting visitors over an extended period of time. We aren’t looking at a simple funnel report that sticks with a date range. We’re viewing our visitor behavior and how well our site performs at converting visitors.

In our example cohort report, we see that nearly every channel, with the exception of paid, brings us the bulk of our customers within 2 weeks. Our paid customers are more hesitant to purchase within the first week, deciding instead to hold off and complete their purchase at least 1 week after visiting our site. The number of paid customers is still small compared with other channels, so we’ll have to check our marketing expense to see if it’s profitable for us to keep our paid acquisition running.

As time goes on, we’ll continue to rely on these cohort reports to track how our conversion rates change over time and how each channel performs at converting visitors into customers.

Before we go any further or conduct any more tests, we first need to move on to the next and final step of our test process.

4. Repeat

After we’ve run the test and gotten our results, we’ll move forward with our next test. We can pat ourselves on the back for this test knowing that we found the main bottlenecks in our funnel and made changes that positively impacted our conversion rates. Going forward, we’ll want to sign up for a service like Optimizely or Visual Website Optimizer to run our A/B tests.

Finding the Variables That Impact Your Audience

You probably have hundreds of ideas for tests you can run on your website. The bad news is that most tests you run won’t move the needle much. In light of that, focus on running tests to identify the variables that do impact your audience.

To get started using people data, login or sign up for a KISSmetrics account now.

How to Screw Up a Google Acquisition

Jason Roberts, serial entrepreneur, one of the first developers at Uber and host of the TechZing podcast shares some great stories about his experiences on both sides of the funding table. He also talks about how he screwed up a potential Google acquisition for his product, Prezo, and why he turned down the CTO position at Uber.

Show Notes:

  • Jason Roberts
  • TechZing Podcast
  • MV Code Club
  • Uber
  • Preso
  • Intro Song by Alex Koch of Digital Dust Studios
  • Outro Song: Jon Bellion - "Munny Right"
  • Preparing your WordPress site for content marketing success

    I’ve written a lot on this blog about content marketing. However I haven’t put together a specific post about how to get an existing WordPress site ready for a content marketing strategy.

    In this article I’ll go through that in detail looking at design, speed, navigation, conversion and must have plugins.

    1. Website Design

    You’ve heard that content is king right? Well design is becoming an increasingly important way to differentiate your site. Without great design your exceptional content may not be consumed! I know when I go to a blog these days the design of the site has a big impact on whether I stay or bounce.

    There are 3 companies I’d like to highlight here as best practice.

    Medium

    medium

    My posts in Medium constantly do better than my posts on other sites. I would say design has a lot to do with it, with Medium boasting:

    • Beautiful full width images
    • No-distraction, thin-width design
    • Large fonts
    • Nice typography

    Medium is designed to help people read your content. It even includes ‘Reads’ as one of the few metrics it tracks.

    Here is a list of some Medium Inspired WordPress themes. However I think you can create a similar impact with some design tweaks on an existing site.

    Groove

    groove

    Groove’s content always does really well. Partly because of the great posts, but also because of how integral the design is.

    Their posts feature custom illustrations, thinner page width and no sidebars. They also use a lot of high quality images, short paragraphs and lots of white space.

    Their blog homepage is especially cool and makes you want to click through to check out some of the content.

    Help Scout

    Again the Help Scout blog is effective both because of the great content, as well as the design. It’s clear that each post is well thought out and a designer is involved in getting each post right.

    helpscout

    It features bold colours, custom illustrations, a big beautiful header, large fonts, editorial style typography, nicely designed quotes and other areas inside posts and beautiful images throughout. The design makes it enjoyable to consume the content and makes it clear from the start that this is a serious company.

    Designers are expensive and very hard to find. I get by as best as I can doing design myself using this trick. Other than that, if you can find a great designer and have the budget, you should definitely get them involved in the content process.

    Responsive, mobile-friendly design

    Another consideration in terms of design is how well it works on mobiles. A few really simple changes you can make here include:

    • Check Analytics to see how much mobile traffic you are getting. If it’s over about 15% it’s probably worth looking at a responsive design.
    • Test your blog to see how it goes on mobile.
    • Use responsive CSS to remove all optin forms or sidebars on mobiles (or place them under the content).
    • Don’t use external scripts like email optin boxes that aren’t mobile responsive.
    • Increase the font size and spacing a little bit on mobile.
    • Check how your plugins work on mobile. For example we just stopped recommending Digg Digg in favour of Floating Social Bar because of how it performed on mobile.
    • If you are super dedicated, use a retina script to use high resolution images on mobile.

    Related: 5 social sharing plugins reviewed.

    2. Speed

    Speed impacts a lot of important factors on a website. including SEO, conversions and yes content. I’ve written in detail about WordPress speed here, but here are some specific considerations for content marketers.

    1. Your host is crucially important as a content marketer. A good managed WordPress host will not only speed up your site, but they will also protect you against big surges of traffic (which are inevitable since your content is so awesome).
    2. Make your blog homepage fast. We do that by removing external scripts (social sharing for example and opt ins), having small optimized images and no sidebar.
    3. Reduce your plugins. Content marketers are notorious for overindulging in plugins. If you can live without it, exclude it.
    4. Remove all of the crap in your sidebar. Again most of the blogs I go to now have very little in the sidebar. That is if they have a sidebar at all. But some blogs are still loading it up, distracting visitors and bogging down the site.
    5. Optimize all of your images you include in posts. If you aren’t sure how, then learn this skill if you ever plan on producing images for a website.
    6. Be careful with related posts plugins. These can put a big drain on your blog. We handle this by using Disqus which does it offsite. But plugins that run on the site can be quite slow.

    Related: How to reduce your load time to under 1 second.

    3. Navigation

    Navigation can also play an important role in how effective your site is as a content marketing vehicle. I’ll run through a few ideas that can help.

    Menus

    The trend these days is very much towards fewer options. Gone are the days where top blogs were filled with hundreds of menu items. Content marketers now realize that it’s their job to present the best options to the visitor. They also have to do it in a way that reflects well on the brand and is easy to consume. Here are a few ways you can do that:

    • Less sidebars or no sidebars
    • Less menu items
    • Lots of white space
    • Designing around conversion points like email opt in
    • Big, high quality featured images

    You’ll see these features in blogs from Vero, Zapier, Groove, Hubspot and others.

    Your best content

    Another smart thing to do is make sure more people visit your best content. You can define this in a number of ways, but for us we choose the content that converts the best. We use our free Smart Top Posts plugin to automatically show our highest converting posts over on the right.

    The other thing you can do is have people convert around an email optin which runs an email series linking to your best content. You can see that in action with Noah Kagan’s OK Dork blog below.

    kages

    Related content

    Another useful thing to do is to point visitors to related articles on your site. When you know someone is interested in a particular article, that’s powerful data you can use to keep them on the site.

    Here are 4 ways you can do it.

    1. Use ‘Related:’ links on new lines inside your blog posts. You see these on news sites and I’ve included a few in this post.
    2. Use a related posts feature at the bottom of your posts. I use the Disqus related content feature for this for the reasons stated above. I also like the way Disqus shows the comments on the post to increase the social proof a bit which also wouldn’t hurt with the click through rates.
    3. Make sure you interlink to other articles you’ve written. I do that a lot, you can see plenty of examples in this post.
    4. You can use a scrolling sidebar box to show related content.

    related

    4. Conversion

    Converting occasional or first time readers to something more is a big priority for content marketers. Generally the approach is to get readers signing up for emails.

    I’ve written a long, detailed guide on Creating content that converts. There are 8 things I would suggest as the highest priority here:

    1. Give away something of value to get people on your list. Some people give away ebooks, we give away email courses, books and plugins like the Smart Top Posts plugin which always converts well.
    2. Use landing pages for specific initiatives, coming soon events and offsite content. We use our own plugin ConvertPress for simple landing pages like this one, or OptimizePress for more advanced landing pages.
    3. Add a different opt in bribe to the end of each post. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and it gets great results. Again we use ConvertPress for this, you can see an example further down in this post.
    4. Send people to your highest converting content. We give away a free plugin Smart Top Posts, which automatically lists your highest converting blog posts in your sidebar.
    5. Make your content insanely valuable, but also keep the ‘useful’ component as a download. For example this post talks about conversions, and the opt in is a Google doc that helps you improve your conversions.
    6. You can also use more aggressive ways of getting emails like welcome gates, homepage feature boxes, pop-ups or scroll boxes. I tend not to use them too much because of the impact on the overall experience and brand. However they are effective, at least for getting people’s email (whether they stay is another matter).
    7. Use social proof. People are reluctant to hand over their details. Things like the total tweets on the page, total comments on the page, mentioning the size of your list etc can ease their concerns.
    8. As mentioned above, design is critical with content and it’s no different with conversions. If your site is well designed, people will be more likely to treat you like a serious business, and hand over their email address.

    Related: The ultimate guide to creating content that converts.

    5. Must have plugins

    I know I said to reduce your plugins, but there are some that I’d regard as essential for content marketing.

    Yoast WordPress SEO

    yoast

    YOAST SEO makes it really easy to make sure your content is optimized for Google. It’s a must have for any content creator.

    Related: The practical guide to content driven SEO (with Yoast WordPress SEO)

    Disqus

    disqus

    Disqus provides a great commenting system with a bunch of features. The critical ones for me are:

    • I get virtually no spam.
    • I can reply and moderate via email.
    • There is a tiny barrier to entry for commenters (registration) so you tend to only get good comments.

    swifttype_searchSwift Type Search

    The WordPress search is quite average. Swift Type solves that problem and also adds instant search so people can go straight to the posts rather than to a search screen.

    It’s free for those features but you can add some more advanced features like customizing what people see in the results for a low monthly fee.

    Floating social bar

    Having people share your content is critical. It’s also more and more important to have sharing buttons work on mobile these days. That’s why we’ve chosen Floating Social Bar as our preferred sharing plugin. They key reasons it wins out are:

    1. It’s fast
    2. It’s simple
    3. It scrolls down as the user scrolls down
    4. It renders a simple non-scrolling version on mobiles.

    ConvertPress (or another email optin plugin)

    We use our own plugin ConvertPress for adding email optin boxes to our blog posts. We get high conversions by using post-specific opt in bribes without being too aggressive with looking for the email.

    Here’s an opt in built with ConvertPress.

    [convertpress id="11857" replacetheme="false"]

    There are lots of other options for getting email addresses. Here are some well accepted tools:

    1. Optimize Press
    2. Sumo Me
    3. Optin Monster
    4. Scroll Trigerred Box

    C Metrics

    We also have a simple tool for getting key metrics for your content. It’s a free plugin called C Metrics. I wouldn’t regard this as a must have but it’s a handy tool particularly for sorting content based on key stats like tweets and conversions (from Google Analytics).

    Final Thoughts

    If you’re looking to get the most from your content marketing efforts, keeping these points in mind when designing your website will yield the best results.

    Here are a bunch of additional posts we’ve written that may help.

    If you have any questions, feel free to reply in the comments. 

    The post Preparing your WordPress site for content marketing success appeared first on WP Curve.

    5 Quick Pointers for Email List Segments You Can Use Right Now

    You’re short on time, but not on projects, right?

    Email segmentation can seem like just another task on a long list of low-priority items. Maybe you’re segmenting your email list, and maybe you have no idea what that means. Perhaps you’re under the impression that segmenting your email list takes too much time and isn’t worth the effort.

    You may be ignoring an action that increases engagement and, eventually, return on investment (ROI).

    There are many merits of email segmentation, and there are plenty of statistics floating around the digital marketing world proving them. But I’m not going to get up on a soapbox about this because you’re probably aware of the numbers and the fact that you should be segmenting your email list.

    I’d rather just get down to practicalities. That’s why I’m going to tell you about five segments that are so easy to set up you can start using them today. Also, I’ll point you to some brands that are employing segmentation well, so you can see the process in action. My goal is to send you on your way, not burdened with the thought of adding one more item to your to-do list, but inspired by the simplicity and power of email segmentation to drive ROI.

    1. Birthday Month

    You’re probably collecting date-of-birth information from customers when they purchase a product or sign up to receive your emails. It’s time to start using that information. During subscribers’ birthday months, shoot them a discount, freebie, or coupon code. Create your branded “happy birthday” email and automate it to send once a month to subscribers whose date-of-birth month matches. Urban Outfitters gives subscribers a sweet surprise on their special days.

    urban outfitters ad

    2. State or Zip Code

    Since you obtain location information from customers during the online checkout process, send them location-based emails. Create a segment based on subscribers’ state or zip code information. Then, use it to send timely, relevant emails. Cookies by Design takes another route with location-based segmentation: It sends customized sports team bouquet offers to customers in the states that love those teams. This one went to subscribers in Massachusetts.

    cookies by design

    3. Gender

    If you sell gender-specific products, segmenting by gender is a must. Subscribers are smart. If they’ve purchased gender-specific items from you before, they expect you to send them only appropriate gender-specific emails. One exception is that sometimes customers buy gifts for the opposite sex, which makes it beneficial to ask subscribers to identify what types of emails they’d like to get. You can do this by including a field in your opt-in form or preference center that links directly to a segment you’ve created.

    4. Click-throughs

    Pursue and reward customers who enjoy your content! Click-through rate is a concise measure of subscriber engagement, and you can establish a segment that targets subscribers who have clicked your messages a certain number of times. These subscribers are obviously interested in what you do, but may not have converted. Seal the deal with an offer they can’t resist.

    5. Conversions

    Returning customers have double the impact on revenue as first-time customers. Why not target subscribers who’ve converted on an email campaign to encourage them to purchase again? Simply set up a segment that selects subscribers who’ve spent over a certain dollar amount during a specific time period. Take a hint from Sports Authority’s email content to send these subscribers a thank you and a discount toward their next purchase.

    the league by sports authority

    One last note: Today’s consumers are more selective than ever. They want to see smart, personalized messages from marketers. But just because people want to see targeted messages doesn’t mean marketers have to make themselves busier trying to create these messages.

    Segmenting your email list based on different factors – the simplest of which are birthday, location, gender, click-throughs, and conversions – is an ideal way to create the relevant, timely emails consumers adore.

    Maybe you’ve brushed off segmentation as too difficult and time-consuming, so you continue to blast emails that don’t create value for subscribers or revenue for you. Let me encourage you to wake up and smell the value of segmentation: It’s easy to set up, beloved by customers, and beneficial to the bottom line.

    About the Author: Joy Ugi is the digital marketing coordinator at WhatCounts, where everyone loves email. She enjoys working with email and content and social marketing on a daily basis. She’d love to touch base with you! Just shoot her an email at Jugi@whatcounts.comor follow her on Twitter @ugigirl.

    5 Myths About App Store Optimization

    Hang on to your brain. I’m going to throw some numbers at you.

    Apps are a big business. Really big. App sales are a $25 billion industry, as reported by WSJ. This doesn’t account for the broader revenue generated by other industries that are part of the app economy. VisionMobile estimates that the global app economy will be soaring at $143 billion by 2016. With growth rates at or exceeding 30%, the app industry is one hot area right now.

    Plus, it’s growing. App creation and purchasing is on the rise.

    huge markets in 5 years

    Graph from Moz.

    With a billion smartphones in the world, people are buying apps.

    That’s why app store optimization (ASO) is red hot for marketers and search optimization experts. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of mythologizing going on, and a lot of mythbusting that needs to happen. We’re dealing with a subject that is as serious as it gets; we can’t afford to screw it up.

    In this article, I’m going to set a fuse to five inane myths about app store optimization, light the fuse, and blow them sky high. Along with each myth, I’m going to deliver a dosage of truth that will help you dominate the ASO game.

    How Important is App Store Optimization?

    First, let me drive one important point home: ASO is really important.

    Why? It’s not only because apps are big biz, but because customers are searching for those apps. Apptentive reports that 63% (iOS) of app customers report browsing in the app store to discover new apps.

    new app discovery methods

    There are a variety of different ways that customers find new apps — media, websites, friends, etc. But far and away, customers are searching for apps. Nielsen’s data parallels that from Apptentive:

    percentage of app users

    Graph from Parisoma.

    According to the head of search and discovery for Google Play, Ankin Jain, a full 12% of all daily active users are looking for apps on a daily basis. And a whopping 50% of these DAUs (daily active users) search for apps at least once a week. Over the course of a month, Google Play processes six million unique search phrases.

    We need to respond to ASO by getting better at it, and by getting rid of the following myths:

    Myth #1: Change your title often to adapt to high-ranking searches.

    Truth: Pick a title and stick with it

    There’s no argument that the title is the most important single element of app store optimization. As Jain, the head of Google Play’s search, stated in the Inside Mobile Apps report, the title is the ‘most important’ piece of metadata.

    In response, some ASOs took to switching up the title to better adapt to top searches. They would create different variations of the title on a daily basis, changing keywords, adding keywords and renaming their product. Doing so, however, does not help your ranking. In fact, it could hurt it. In our previous article on ASO, Robi Ganguly states:

    “Changing your title often to include different keywords can be detrimental. As your app begins to rank higher and gain more reviews, news of your app will begin to spread by word of mouth. Changing the title can make it difficult for word to spread about your app.

    Once you pick a title, that’s it. You’re done. So you better make it good. Here are four tips for doing just that.

    1. Make it short — 25 characters.

    A short title is one that users can read in a single screen. Lengthy titles will get cut off. For the single most important piece of search metadata in the app store, you don’t want it to get chopped.

    The app below — Productivity Wizard — only has part of their title featured in the screen. They would be better off not producing such a lengthy title. Because I can’t see it from my app browse screen, I’m less likely to download it.

    productivity wizard in app store

    2. Make it creative.

    Why creative? Jain explains that searchers are either categorical or navigational. A user who has heard of or seen your app will be conducting a navigational search to access it. If this title is creative, it is more likely to be remembered — and thus to be successfully searched for.

    A navigational search is something like “Angry Birds” or “Evernote” as opposed to categorical queries such as “bird game” or “note taking app.”

    3. Make it unique.

    Unique is similar to creative, but with a twist. Creativity is something that will stand out to the user. You don’t want your app to get lost in the morass of bandwagon apps like Flappy Pig, Flappy Wings, Flappy Fall, Flappy Hero, Flappy Monster, Flappy Nyan, etc. ad nauseam. Bandwagon apps are rarely as successful as the titan they were following.

    A navigational search for a “flappy” app produces 2,193 results. Lack of a unique titles means you’re going to get lost in the crowd.

    search for flappy

    4. Use a keyword, but don’t keyword stuff.

    Keyword stuffing is as much as sin in SEO as it is in ASO. Apple reports that “Repetitive and/or irrelevant use of keywords in the app title, description or promotional description can create an unpleasant user experience and can result in an app suspension.

    repetitive keywords in app store

    Remember, you only have 25 characters to play around with. A short title plus a short keyword is all you have room for.

    Myth #2: Keywords aren’t that important.

    Truth Keywords are important.

    As the myth goes, keywords are for SEO, rankings are for ASO. Because ASO is such a different game from SEO, many optimizers dispensed with the importance of keywords in title creation and description writing.

    The truth of the matter is that keywords matter…quite a bit. Keywords are important enough, to place in your title and in your description. Again, to reference my point above, don’t stuff it. But use keywords.

    MobileDevHQ’s study of keywords in the title produced these results:

    keywords in the title

    App titles that contained keywords had a 10.3% higher ranking than those without it. 10.3% doesn’t sound like a lot. However, if it’s as easy as popping a keyword in the title, why not?

    Let’s go back to the data that I surveyed in the beginning. Remember how many users search for apps?

    app discovery

    Graph from Apptamin.

    App Store and Android Market have algorithms, and those algorithms use traditional methods of search — keywords. Don’t neglect keywords.

    Myth #3: It’s all about the ratings.

    Truth: Ratings are important, but not the end all.

    There is no arguing with the fact that ratings are important. Judging by the amount of push notifications and near-begging from apps, you’d think that ratings were one of the most important features in the entire universe of app store optimization.

    Ratings, as one of the lead listing features in apps, do have an impact upon a user’s likelihood to tap through or download an app:

    evernote in app store

    The truth is, while app ratings are important, they aren’t as significant as most people think in affecting an app’s rankings.

    To uncover the truth behind the impact of rating, Inside Mobile Apps conducted a study. They first examined a random sampling of the easy search terms (1-25 results), medium search terms (26-100 results), and competitive search terms (101+ results) to see how each app ranked based on the ratings.

    Here is what they came up with for iOS rate/rank comparison:

    average rating by position iOS

    Graph from insidemobileapps.com

    The ratings on these apps takes a nosedive after position eight. Also interesting is that the rating doesn’t seem to have a huge impact on the first eight positions, fluctuating both upward and downward. In the “easy” search term, researchers discovered that a 10th-ranked app may have a rating as low as 1.09, which, frankly, sucks.

    Here’s Google Play ranks the apps. Unlike iOS, there’s less fall off toward the end of the spectrum. Researchers suspect that “Google Play’s search algorithm seems to take a more meritocratic approach to app discovery and visibility, letting higher quality apps rise to the top.”

    average search rating by position google play

    Graph from insidemobileapps.com

    There’s more devastation to the myth of rating-is-everything. Even some of the highly competitive apps in the Top Charts aren’t backed up by high ratings. Look at some of the rating levels of iOS’s top charts. No one wants a rating between one and two stars, but that’s what’s going on, even with a Top Chart listing.

    top charts average rating by position

    Graph from insidemobileapps.com

    The takeaway is simple. Sure, ratings are good. Higher ratings are nice. And for users, that nice four or five star status makes a good impression. However, in terms of ranking, it matters less than we might think.

    Myth #4: As long as it’s on the store people will find it.

    Truth: It needs a lot of downloads to get recognized.

    There are some ASOs who believe that an app, as long as it’s in the Google Play or App Store will get found, will get downloaded, and will get desired revenue.

    Let me show you some stats.

    Regardless of your niche, that’s a lot of apps. In order to successfully compete, you need more of a differentiation than just some smart keywords in your title and description.

    We need to modify this borderline myth with a healthy dose of algorithmic reality.

    You need downloads.

    I showed you in the point above that ratings have a less-powerful impact than we might think. But the impact of downloads is usually underestimated.

    It’s a tough deal, because in order to get more downloads, you need more downloads. Let the data speak.

    how downloads correlate to search rankings

    Apps with more downloads simply rank higher. That’s all.

    Download velocity depends a lot on how your app does from a marketing standpoint. As SEW reports, the high ranking apps have wildly differentiated velocity, depending on their path to popularity:

    ASO charts

    Image from Search Engine Watch.

    In order to increase app downloads organically, it’s often best to go the route of traditional marketing — social media, content marketing, PPC, mailing lists, etc. Once you accrue a trickle of downloads, you should be able to increase your ranking, then gain more downloads, higher rankings, more downloads, etc., until you reach a tipping point.

    Don’t go down the path of the scammers who artificially build up junk downloads simply to boost their rankings. The algorithms are programmed to identify automated methods of downloads, such as robotic or inorganic viral download spurts. Furthermore, it’s reported that the algorithms are even able to identify spammy methods of download upticks caused by emailing huge lists of potential customers.

    Myth #5: Description is not very important.

    Truth Description is very important.

    I’ve heard of ASO attempts that fall short of awesome, because they failed on the description.

    Here’s one report that claims to train you to become an ASO ninja:

    Description doesn’t make a difference.

    They qualify their carte blanche statement by saying:

    From a pure ASO perspective, the description field does not have an impact on search rankings in the App Store. On the other hand, the Google Play algorithm takes into consideration the context in your app description for ranking.

    From my study and research, description is important for both Google Play and App Store. Even if description quality and keyword inclusion had zero impact upon the ranking algorithm, it unarguably has the potential to compel users to download the app. Those download stats, in turn, have a powerful algorithmic impact upon rankings.

    Search Engine Watch reports that the number two relevance factor for app store ranking is, “app description,” ranked directly after title as number one. Among their “tips to help you rank better in the App Store,” number one is “focus on natural incorporation of keywords in the title and description data.”

    AppTweak, similarly, explains the principle of keyword inclusion in descriptions:

    Keywords have a huge importance in ASO (App Store Optimization). Indeed, whether on your title and/or keywords field for iOS apps and on your title and/or description for Google Play apps, keywords have a strong impact in the App Store algorithm. Therefore, they need to be wisely chosen in order to give your app the maximum visibility and the chances of getting found.

    Conclusion

    Part of app store success is simply avoiding pitfalls, or in this case the myths about ASO. You may not be creating the world’s next Flappy Bird or a billion dollar Instagram. However, with sufficient effort and enough savvy, you can create an app that will get found, will get downloaded, and will make you successful.

    What myths — or truths — have you discovered about ASO?

    About the Author: is the Chief Evangelist of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.

    Why we have a core value of transparency at our startup, and why the reasons don’t matter

    Since the beginning of Buffer, we've always shared all of our learnings and failures. Over time this developed into a more defined goal and principle as part of the values of the company.

    Since we defined our value of transparency within the culture as "Default to Transparency", we found many things within the company that we weren't being completely open about, and we put them out there for the world to see.

    We've generally found that we are sharing a lot of things which are somewhat taboo or at least unusual to be shared publicly. As an example, here are some of the current numbers and things we share:

    • 1.7m users have registered for Buffer.
    • 165k users are active on a monthly basis (shared at least one post).
    • We have 28k paying customers on the Awesome or Business plans.
    • Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) is currently $4.35m. We're generating around $360k a month.
    • The team is 24 people, spread all across the world.
    • We have a strong focus on culture-fit and sometimes it means firing great people who have different values.
    • That means Revenue Per Employee is around $181k.
    • All our SaaS metrics (LTV, churn, etc.) can be seen at our Baremetrics dashboard.
    • We share the salaries of the whole team in this spreadsheet. My salary is $175k.
    • We've raised $450k in funding and investors own around 14% of the company.

    Why be so transparent?

    For us, transparency came quite naturally. Myself and Leo always felt very comfortable and excited to share our learnings. It helped us get more feedback about decisions and it was a way to help others who are getting started.

    We weren't always as transparent as we are today, our openness grew as the company expanded. We had a vision to continue becoming more open and we've been lucky to find people to join the team who encourage more openness rather than warning and being hesitant about potential downsides.

    In the recent months, I've been asked many times why we would choose to be so transparent. If I'm completely honest, it's not something I had given all that much thought. I think being transparent is a little like creating a startup: if you focus on the downsides, you'll probably just never do it. At the same time, I wanted to have good answers and it felt responsible to give it real thought.

    Here are 4 benefits I've seen for transparency:

    1. Transparency breeds trust

    One of the business books that's had a large impact on me as I've started to grow a team is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It's a leadership fable which explains five dysfunctions that often exist in teams, and how to solve them in order to become a more effective team.

    The first of the five dysfunctions is "Absense of Trust":

    In the book, the author describes it as follows:

    "Trust is the foundation of real teamwork. And so the first dysfunction is a failure on the part of team members to understand and open up to one another. And if that sounds touchy-feely, let me explain, because there is nothing soft about it. It is an absolutely critical part of building a team. In fact, it’s probably the most critical." - Patrick Lencioni

    Lencioni goes on to explain that being vulnerable amongst teammates and being comfortable having debate and conflict is critical to building trust.

    For us, we've found that transparency is another great way to build trust in a team. If all the information about everything that's going on is freely available, that helps everyone to feel completely on board with decisions.

    Based on my learnings from the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, I believe the following to be true about transparency in relation to trust:

    Transparency breeds trust, and trust is the foundation of great teamwork.

    This trust extends to customers, readers of our blog and anyone who interacts with us on any level. We believe that being open helps us to build trust and share our reasoning for the features we have, our pricing, what we blog about, and many other choices.

    2. Transparency helps with innovation as a company grows

    One of the interesting (and exciting) consequences of growing from a few founders to a 20+ person team and beyond, is that the innovation and decision making has to become distributed. It is both a challenge and a joy for me that I will most likely not be the one who figures out our next biggest product improvements and innovations.

    That's where transparency comes in. As you grow and you expect your team to make the same decisions you would, they need to have all the details that you have. Keith Rabois put this really well in an article on First Round Capital:

    "if you want people to make the same decisions that you would make, but in a more scalable way, you have to give them the same information you have" - Keith Rabois

    3. Transparency leads to greater justice

    Another key benefit we've seen, which wasn't necessarily our reason for transparency, is one which Whole Foods cares deeply about: eliminating unfairness and inequality.

    We have a formula which determines the salaries of everyone in the team. It has a number of factors such as your role, experience and location. As an example, one factor the formula doesn't have, is gender. When you determine salaries in a more ad-hoc way or through negotation, I think a lot of inequality could creep in.

    John Mackey, co-founder and CEO at Whole Foods said that with transparency "any kind of favoritism or nepotism is seen".

    4. You open yourself up to more feedback

    By practicing transparency, we've found that we get much more feedback on our decisions. For us, we try to take in all that feedback and make adjustments based on it. For example, when we shared our salary formula, we had a lot of comments from people mentioning to us that we weren't paying high enough salaries for people in the San Francisco Bay Area, so we made an adjustment to the formula. Now we're in a much better position to attract new team members in the Bay Area.

    It's great to get this feedback. It can be a challenge: we've tried to work on ourselves and grow a team which enjoys and embraces the feedback we receive. As we grow, the feedback has increased too, which will become an interesting aspect to handle. It's one of the reasons we have a large customer happiness team and strive to provide great customer support.

    In truth, we don't have a reason for our transparency, it's just one of our principles

    One of the most interesting business books I've recently read is Joy at Work by Dennis Bakke. Bakke was the co-founder and CEO of a large US energy company called AES, which reached $8 billion in revenues and 50,000 employees. They operated in a highly unusual, decentralized business model and they had a core value of Fun. In his book, he argued that it is dangerous to tie benefits and reasons to your core values.

    "I kept saying that our values were not responsible for the run-up in our share price and should not be blamed for any down-turns in the future." - Dennis Bakke

    Bakke explained that as soon as you tie your values to performance, it means that you will question them when you hit a tough patch of your journey.

    For us, we believe that transparency at its core is honesty, and it's a value that we want to live by no matter what.

    It seems that it is very important that you determine good values if you choose to take this approach. For example, your methods should change a lot. Your principles or values should rarely need to be altered.

    All that to say, despite all the benefits we see, those are not reasons that we are transparent. They are nice side effects, and there are downsides too, and we are happy with both aspects.

    I'd love your thoughts on our approach to transparency. Drop me a note in the comments and I'll try to respond. Also, if you are striving to build a company in a more transparent way too, get in touch! I am keen to surround myself with people who are also embarking upon this adventure.

    Photo credit: Farrukh

    Four Words of Ecommerce Wisdom That Will Waste Your Time

    A lot of ecommerce advice is useless. I’ve experienced an uphill battle trying to persuade ecommerce retailers to forsake these cherished bits of “wisdom.”

    You can take these bits of advice, and toss them to the winds. I predict that once you do, your conversion rates will increase.

    1. Provide coupon codes.

    Actually, don’t provide coupon codes.

    Coupon implementation is expensive, complicated, and time-consuming. Worst of all, the end results is a clunky UI that mucks up the conversion process with unnecessary friction.

    Here’s why coupon codes are a problem:

    • When the user sees a coupon code form, they might leave the site in order to find a code.
    • When a user sees a coupon code form, it causes the user to feel like they are not receiving a fair price. This may, in turn, cause them to search for a lower price elsewhere.
    • Coupon codes add a layer of complication to the shopping cart process, which increases the risk of shopping cart abandonment.
    • Coupon codes attract a customer type that is fickle or erratic, and who produce a time drain for customer service. These customers are unlikely to be motivated by product quality, and are unlikely to have high lifetime value. Their primary concern is with pricing.

    In a study sponsored by PayPal and comScore, researchers discovered that 27% of customers abandoned their shopping carts because they “wanted to look for a coupon.” The average value of those abandoned shopping carts was $109.

    A coupon code form in your checkout is a dangerous thing. It is a signal to the customer to flee the page and scrounge for a code. And once they leave, they’re very unlikely to return.

    Often, coupon codes are outdated or broken. Because they are often mismanaged by an in-house team unfamiliar with the process, it’s easy to forget to update things.

    1-cppoker-coupon-code

    Image from everypoker.com.

    Unfortunately, coupon codes are also the realm of black-hat spammers and virus-laden websites.

    Retailers often attempt to mimic the offline world of coupons, using a redemption model to process coupons. The problem is, there’s not a direct apples to apples correlation between offline couponing and online couponing.

    real life coupons

    Image from ringcentral-coupons.com

    Coupons work. Sometimes. But you’ve got to be extremely careful.

    coupons that are orange

    Image from sixt.com.

    In one study on coupon codes, Eric Graham of Conversion Doctor discovered that one ecommerce retailer was losing a million dollars a year by leaving a coupon code form on their checkout page. Graham also reported that one of his clients improved sales by 70% simply by removing their coupon form.

    You can try coupon codes, but make sure your execution is flawless. Couponing your product requires that you pull off a seamless onsite experience coupled with outstanding offsite promotion. Otherwise, you’ll have a coupon experience that leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

    2. Give your customers lots of options.

    Actually, give them only a few.

    This is one of the most common landing page mistakes:

    4-pen-website

    This landing page is one of the top three paid results for “buy pen online.” It is displaying 701 product choices.

    What’s the problem? Option overload.

    Too many choices actually paralyzes the user’s mind. Instead of making one of the many choices, they make no choice at all.

    Customers will choose the path of cognitive least resistance. If it is difficult to choose from 701 pens, they will find an easier way to achieve their goal of buying a pen. Usually, that involves leaving the site to purchase from a competitor.

    The most famous report on overchoice came in a 2000 study by Sheena S. Iyengar (Columbia University) and Mark R. Lepper (Stanford University). The results of their “jam study” was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In the study, they offered customers free samples of jams for tasting. They tested the response of customer’s who were presented with six flavor choices, and the responses of customers who were presented with 24 choices.

    30% of the customers who sampled from the small selection purchased jam. But only 3% of the customers who sampled from the larger section purchased jam.

    pots of jam

    Image from sivers.org.

    The hypothesis of the study was that “choice is demotivating.”

    It’s not just low-cost products like jam where this holds true. WSJ reported that “Auto makers [have] learned the risks in offering seemingly infinite option combinations.” One of those risks is that the customer expects to find an exact combination of a preferred option. When he can’t find that option, he chooses not to buy a car rather than to purchase one that does not meet his expectations.

    It happens in the financial world, too. Customers who are presented with too many choices for their investments actually participate less.

    more fund less savings

    Image from BusinessInsider.com.

    Barry Schwartz has become an evangelist against option overload. He has found that too many choices leads to a loss of happiness, and can even produce symptoms of anxiety.

    Give your customers more choices is not the path to success. It is, to quote Schwartz, “a recipe for misery” — not to mention, less conversions.

    I did not end up choosing any one of those 701 pens.

    3. Run a promotion.

    Actually, call it a “giveaway.”

    Marketers love their promotions — methods of generating leads, increasing conversions, and boosting their sales.

    Often, these are exciting. They work. They generate buzz. They increase revenue.

    like us for a free bag

    Image from smithbrosagency.com.

    The problem with “promotions” however, is the word. “Promotion” is jargony and inward-focused. It suggests that the event is focused on the company — promoting themselves — rather than the customer.

    Unbounce tested three different terms when they ran a “promotion.”

    • Control word: “Promotion”
    • Variation 1: “Sweepstake”
    • Variation 2: “Giveaway”

    The results, calculated in conversion rates, were surprising:

    • “Sweepstake” performed 40% better than “promotion.”
    • “Giveaway” performed 50% better than “promotion.”

    incentivibe helps marketers

    Image from Unbounce.com.

    Feel free to go ahead and run your “promotion.” Just don’t call it that.

    4. Focus on the product.

    Actually, focus on the user.

    Ecommerce marketers have a myopic focus on their product, often to the detriment of their customer.

    This effort sounds good, looks good, and feels exciting, but it leaves out the most important part of the process. Take this example. All the technical aspects are there, but one thing is missing.

    technical gibberish

    Image from Noesissolutions.com.

    Once you’ve selected the product to sell, it’s time to shift your focus away from that product and on to the customer. You will only see limited improvement by optimizing the product pictures, listing the benefits, and sharpening your value proposition.

    By contrast, you will see a huge improvement if you focus on your user — building your audience, creating a tribe, expanding on social media, and targeting buyer psychology.

    “But,” the argument goes, “people come to buy my product!”

    Yes, but what should come first? Let me change the emphasis in that statement: “People come to buy my product!”

    What happened when Zappos started selling shoes online? Did they create a new shoe? A better shoe? A more durable shoe?

    No. They created a raving, frothing-at-the-mouth mass of fans, because they focused on customer service. There was nothing particularly outstanding about the product. This was your typical shoe store of Nikes, Converses, and Asics.

    They focused on the user. And look where they are now.

    Conclusion

    Unfortunately, you could go wrong by following all the “right” advice.

    Watch out for these four bits of worn-out wisdom. They’ll hurt you.

    About the Author: is the Chief Evangelist of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.

    Episode 69: Living Intentionally and Finding a Path

    Peak trail Life happens to us.

    You grow up, start exerting your independence, push away from your parents and leap into the big world. And it's friggin big and overwhelming. So you cling to defined paths.

    Maybe you go to college, maybe you take a job.

    You unintentionally follow the guideposts and examples around you, trying to get a grasp on "life"... Hopefully you end up somewhere good.

    But what if you lived intentionally? Who made those guideposts anyway? What if there's a better fit somewhere else?

    In this episode we touch on Brecht's family's plan to live intentionally, discover alternatives, and pick from a broader palette of possibilities. Also Scott talks about his recent experience in Brennan Dunn's Consultancy Masterclass.

    Stuff

    Learn Online This Fall

    Guest post by Lisa Regan, writer for The Lean Startup Conference.

    Boost your entrepreneurship skills withoutgetting out of the building this fall. With an online course from Stanford and a series of webcasts from the Lean Startup Conference team, you can learn a lot from your desk in the coming months.  

    First up: We’re excited to announce that Bob Sutton is joining as a speaker at this year’s Lean Startup Conference. Perhaps best known for his book, The No Asshole Rule, Bob was a terrifically popular speaker at Office Optional, and he’s written a number of best-selling business books. His latest, Scaling Up Excellence, addresses a theme of this year’s conference: How do successful companies grow?

    Bob and his co-author, Huggy Rao, are hosting a free online class this fall, Scaling Up Your Venture Without Screwing Up. The course lasts five weeks, and the first session was a few days ago—but it was designed for viewing any time, and you can register for the class through this week. In addition to featuring entrepreneurs like Clara Shih and Michael Dearing, the course also includes a session with Ben Horowitz, another speaker we’re pleased to host at this year’s Lean Startup Conference.

    In this preview of their course, Huggy talks about the anatomy, psychology, and physiology of scaling your company without screwing it up. An excerpt:

    The anatomy of a scaling organization: Achieve the right level of flatness.
    Most of us have a love-hate relationship with hierarchies. On the one hand, they can stifle innovation and make people feel powerless. On the other hand, power and status differences within an organization enhance collective effectiveness in many ways. Consider a failed experiment by Google's Larry Page, who got rid of all the company's middle managers and then had to reinstate the old system after trouble erupted. One hundred frustrated engineers were reporting to one overwhelmed senior executive.

    The challenge is to weave complexity into a system in a way that does as much good and as little harm as possible. You could take a lesson from an innovative system adopted by Salesforce that struck a balance between placing too much accountability on the shoulders of a few senior executives and spreading accountability too thinly and evenly, as if it were peanut butter. Each of Salesforce's software teams was expected to complete a new software demo every 30 days, but every engineer was free to move to a new team without getting permission, which encouraged leaders to treat people well.

    Where else can you learn online this fall? A consistent bit of feedback you gave us last year was that you wanted more webcasts. Heard. We’re lining up a series for entrepreneurs this fall, going in-depth on Lean Startup methods and applications. The first three webcasts start rolling out next week, and we’re keeping our popular format, featuring a meaty conversation between experts, followed by substantial live Q&A with attendees.

    The webcasts are free, and you can register for them individually. Here's the initial lineup: 


    Next week’s webcast, Lean Startup 101, is a chance for people new to the ideas to get a leg up. Sarah and Janice will explain the terminology of Lean Startup (What’s an MVP? What’s customer development?) and how it translates into practices (Who should use innovation accounting? What’s the story with pivots?).

    Sarah is Lean Startup Conference co-host and CEO of Lean Startup Productions. Janice is a leading expert in new product development with Lean Startup techniques. She’s advised hundreds of startups, including founders at companies like Task Rabbit and Lyft, and she’s trained members of the presidential administration in innovation practices. (At this year’s Lean Startup Conference, Janice will give a full-day workshop on Lean Startup 101, with hands-on exercises.)

    As a preview of the webcast, here’s Janice giving a basic intro to Lean Startup, including an analogy between creating a startup and choosing a wedding cake:


    We also invite you—or your coworkers who’ve wondered what all the fuss is about—to take a look at “Lean Startup 101: The Essential Ideas" an article by Sarah answering a few basic questions about Lean Startup. (As a reminder, we’ve talked before about how you can get buy-in from an organization to implement Lean Startup.)

    To catch Janice and Bob in person, join us at The Lean Startup Conference, December 8 – 12 in San Francisco. Our fall sale for conference tickets is the last price break for this year, and it ends on October 31st. Now is a great time to buy, before you loose track and miss the sale price. Register today.