Episode 102: Fear Not. Forge ahead.

Brecht and Scott grabbed buck a schuck oysters for his final farewell - to the Northeast! He's hitting the road back west, find out where he'll be settling for the near future in this week's episode.

Everyone knows somebody in their lives who is the nay-sayer, the hater, the fear everything because it isn't what they want type of person and it's annoying. Matter of fact, you know what you should do - forget about it!

So, you want to hire someone new but it's a somewhat confidential position that has sensitive information. How do you measure the risk? What do you trust them with?

There's a solution! Hear what Brecht and Scott have to say after their experiences using Upwork (formerly oDesk) and the positives and negatives that come with hiring someone online.

How to Succeed at The Most Critical Point in SaaS Sales

If you’re like any other SaaS marketing maven, you want to drive more sales in the best way possible.

And if you’ve given it any thought, you realize the epochal importance of the free trial.

Everything about the free trial is important. I would argue that the free trial is the most critical phase in SaaS sales. Most SaaS sales models place an enormous amount of emphasis on the trial, because, taken broadly, it’s the only marketing method that makes sense.

But that’s where a certain amount of distraction sets in. We obsess over all things free trial, completely missing the whole point of the trial — to get users to use the product!

My goal in this article is to clear the table on the free trial period, and get our heads screwed on right so we can understand how to capitalize on the most important point in SaaS sales.

Let’s Describe What’s Going on Here

Most SaaS sales processes go like this, generally:

  1. Customer is aware of a need.
  2. Customer considers alternatives.
  3. Customer zeroes in on your product.
  4. Customer starts a free trial.
  5. Customer converts into a customer.

At point four in the list above, the customer is already deep in the funnel. The funnel diagram included below expands it a bit. You can see that the customer is there — starting the trial. They have just a couple microsteps to go until they are a full customer.

marketing-funnel-6-phases

Source

Let’s look at another diagram of this point. This time, I want you to see just how critical it is based on what comes after the purchase point.

customer-engagement-funnel

At the nexus of those two triangles is the transition from free trial to paying customer. You can’t experience the benefits without moving them on from the active use/free trial phase.

And that’s where we need to focus on — getting the customer over the hump of free trial and into the utopia of a closed deal.

Understand What Motivated the Customer to Begin With

One of the best ways to figure out how to get the customer to buy for good is to figure out why they started the trial to begin with.

Let me explain.

Why is a customer going to buy your product? Think through the answer, because this is kind of the whole point of your SaaS, right? What does the customer want to achieve, do, or experience?

That’s the reason why your customer started a free trial. The motivation should be no different.

If you are able to satisfy the customer’s need during the temporary trial, then you can compel them to remain a customer by continuing to satisfy them in the future. SaaS isn’t a one-and-done deal. It’s an ongoing process of serving the customer.

The cause for conversion into free trial and the motivation for conversion into a full customer are one and the same. Problem: solved.

Use the customer’s free trial motivation as the tool to drive engagement beyond the trial.

Map Your Customer Journey

To drive further into the reasons and motivations for attracting and retaining customers, do yourself the service of mapping the customer journey.

customer-journey-model

Source

Why? Because you’re going to experience an epiphany of sorts. Every customer is going to follow a path that takes them from awareness to completion.

One of the most valuable insights from a customer journey map is that you will find out what customers do and see when they sign up for a free trial. You’ll discover whether it’s encouraging or demotivating. You’ll learn what obstacles they may experience when they move through the process.

Look at it From a Long-Term Perspective

Pictures or diagrams are so much better at explaining things than I am. So, here’s what I want you to do. Look at this diagram for at least ten seconds.

revenue-comes-from-upsells-and-renewals

Source

What do you see? I see that you’re going to gain 5-30% of a customer’s revenue at the initial sale point. I see that a whopping 70-95% of the revenue is going to come a week, a month, or a year down the road.

What does this tell you?

  • To me that says that I need to take a long term view. Customers don’t prove their maximum value until some time has passed.
  • It also tells me that customer retention is killer.
  • Finally, it tells me that none of that revenue will materialize unless I close the sale. Forget 95%. I just need 5% right now!

Even a longview of sales informs me that this is a critical point. So let’s get into some of the tactics.

Get a Perspective On Your Goal: Engagement

If you’re honest for a second, you’ll realize that you can’t make the customer do anything. You can, however, coax them to do something.

That most important “thing” is called engagement.

Engagement can be a slippery term, so let me explain what I mean by it. I agree with Lincoln Murphy from Sixteen Ventures who explained that “Engagement is when your customer is realizing value from your SaaS.”

You see, the customer will only want to buy the SaaS when she actually experiences the value that it can provide. Engagement happens many times in multiple scenarios, but it all boils down to the same experience — value for the customer.

In the critical pre-purchase stage, you must drive engagement. The entire free trial period should be designed around engagement — getting the customer to smell, taste, and feel the value of the product.

Without engagement, there will be no purchase.

Know What You Want the Customer To Do

Engagement is meaningless unless you actually understand what action causes engagement.

A customer can’t realize value from the SaaS unless he is doing something with the SaaS.

Doing what? What do you want the customer to do? That depends on your product and your customer.

For Mention.com, as an example, that could be compelling their customer to create an online alert. So, what does Mention.com do with their free trial? They force customers to engage.

The word force sounds all cruel and violent, but it’s actually quite kind and compassionate. Why? Because they want their customer to actually experience the value of the product right from the get-go. There’s no better way to do so than to engage and launch the trial simultaneously.

Here’s how they do it:

mention-trial-engagement

Now, let’s talk about that little engagement action.

Make Your Customer Do the Engagement Action

Once you’ve decided what you want the customer to do, it’s time to make them do it. I used the word force in the preceding point. To divest the term of its negative connotations, let me provide a more cohesive set of suggestions around this concept.

Emphasize This Action in Your Email Marketing

Email message play a critical role in this critical point in sales. How you say it matters. So how should you say it? Beg, wheedle, whine?

No. Command them. Get them to do the action you’ve selected. Here’s an example of such an email. This email sample comes from Autosend.io, which provides an upsell schedule dashboard for SaaS. They want their trial lead to first log in. Makes sense.

emphasize-action-email-example

Source

Put Dependencies on That Action

What do I mean by this? Show the customer that they will only experience the usefulness of the software if they do the specific action.

Mint.com compels users to add a bill or an account. These two actions are presumably Mint’s engagement action, which will draw the user in to experience the value of the software.

get-started-two-options

It’s kind of like a game. The user has to unlock the next level, so she needs to do a certain action.

Reward the Action

When the user does that action, give them a pat on the back. They’ve earned it. By applauding their action, you can drive them deeper into the experience and engagement of the SaaS.

Remember, it’s all about action. The user needs to do.

Trial users who stay active are more likely to convert. Notice how Totango sketches out the condition. Trial users are 4x more likely to convert when they are using the SaaS for three days. The opposite holds true, too. A user who cancels is a user who’s not using the SaaS.

totango-customer-analysis

Source

By encouraging activity through a variety of methods, you will improve your success at engagement and sales.

Be Sure to Send a Welcome Email Right Away

According to MIT and InsideSales, the odds of calling to contact a lead decrease by over 10 times in the first hour. You need to be calling them within an hour of them becoming a lead. If you don’t, the chances that you’ll connect with them drastically decrease.

And you should automatically email the free trial user immediately.

The customer doesn’t know what to do after they start the trial. You have to tell them. The way you do that is by sending them an email.

What you say in that email is just as important. There’s a misconception that you need to send them an elaborate letter, complete with details, metrics, motivations, instructions, and all the other things that make for a warm-and-fuzzy welcome experience.

Not quite. The shorter your email, the better.

Here’s an example of a free trial expiration email that I received.

free-trial-expiration-email

Am I going to read that? No. It’s way too long.

Will I read a short message like this?

great-trial-expiration-email-uberflip

Yes.

Short messages are important. You have several days and multiple emails to communicate with the customer – introduction, action, motivation, etc. The free trial is a process and a sequence, but you don’t need to give them every bit of information all at once.

Shorten that email. No, shorter. Shorter…There.

Send Them More Emails

Email is the communication method of choice for the vast majority of SaaS providers. Use email frequently in order to give the user all the information that they need to…

  • Start using the SaaS.
  • Complete the engagement action.
  • Sign up for the product.
  • Your emails should follow a logical series of actions and activities that push the customer to full conversion.

Conclusion

The better you get at converting customers past the free trial, the better you’ll get at SaaS marketing as a whole.

Once you bring customers past the free trial, you can enjoy the massive revenue opportunities, upsells, retention, and awesomeness that follows.

But first, concentrate on getting past that initial hump.

What have you discovered as the best method for converting trial users into full customers?

About the Author: is a lifelong evangelist of Kissmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.

When should you kill a product? 17 founders weigh in

Founders have the unique opportunity to create something for the world. There’s nothing quite like envisioning a new thing, making it, and getting it into user’s hands.

The fact that you can make something in the first place implies that you’ll always have the choice to change directions. This freedom is good, but one pitfall of freedom is that it’s paradoxically stressful. For better or worse, founders are never truly locked in.

One of the most difficult decisions an entrepreneur can make is whether to kill a product or not. (CLICK TO TWEET)

Because killing a product is such a stressful decision, we thought it’d be interesting to tap 17 founders of varying backgrounds and experience levels to ask them one simple question: “What circumstances would lead you to kill a product?”  

Featured here are people with backgrounds in marketing, software development, sales, consulting, and creative.

I’m confident that if you’re grappling with the decision to kill or not kill a product, you’ll be able to find a viewpoint here which gives you a bit of clarity.

One more thing – at the bottom of the post we recap 4 major reasons to kill a product that entrepreneurs here mentioned over and over. Stay tuned for that.

Until then, over to our spotlighted founders:


Noah Kagan: Founder, AppSumonoahkagan

My rule is simple: If you don’t make any sales in 48 hours, kill the product.

@NoahKagan

 


Jimi Smoot: Founder, Octavius Labsjsfour

I originally worked in the ad industry as a buyer doing a lot of repetitive work.

So after selling my first company, I created a platform called Prosperio to disrupt the ad buying industry.  We ended up receiving a large investment from a top accelerator, however our team ran into founder disputes.  We also realized that our investors had a much different vision for the company than we did – there wasn’t great alignment on that front.

In life one should always consider hidden costs. Its easy to look at a situation and think ‘I should stick things out’ but is that really true? Often times the value lost from not taking advantage of other opportunities is higher than the potential upside of the situation. Wisdom is knowing when you are right, when you are wrong, and having the balls to take action accordingly, even if it makes you unpopular.

This is especially true for startups because the clock is always ticking. A year spent contributing to project A means loosing the revenue from project B. This is why its smart to always be working on the best idea even if that means that its time to throw in the towel on the current one. The trick is just to make sure that you are not hallucinating.

@jsfour


Dan Norris: Founder, WP Curve

I worked on http://inform.ly for 12 months and at the end only had about 10 paying customers. At the time I needed it to be my main money making channel so there was really no chance it was going to work. We kept it open to existing customers for about 12 months after closing it down to new customers.

If I was to do it again I would be careful starting a freemium or low price software app as my only source of revenue. It’s very hard to build up enough business quickly when compared with other options like services.

@thedannorris


Elisa Doucette: Founder, CraftYourContentelisadoucette

Killing a product depends on two things for me:

  1. Is it profitable (often pretty easy to answer- if it costs me more fiscally and mentally to maintain than it makes, then it is no bueno)
  2. Is this product serving the voice & vision I have for the company. This includes questions like “Am I excited to work on this, or excited enough to get my team excited to work on it?” “Am I attracting the type of customers I want to work with?” “Am I doing this just to make money, and could I do something else that would make as much, if not more?” “Am I going to be proud to have my (or my company’s) name on this?”

If the answers to these two questions are resoundingly no, then I know it might be a great product, it just isn’t a great product for me.

@elisadoucette


Matthew Newton: Founder, TourismTigermatnewton

There are ideas which fail completely and they’re ones that take off: it’s the ones that are limping along which are problematic.

The time to kill off a product is when the return on time or money invested is simply not worth it, AND where there’s no clear path to any solution. We killed a product last year for this exact reason. My business partner was losing half of every day on it and we were making less than 4 figures per month with tepid growth. So despite our investment in the product, we opted to kill it off.

@himatthewnetwon


Rob Walling: Founder, Drip

If your product is early-stage (before you know if you’ve built something people want) you should kill it if you’ve tried everything you can possibly think of, and still can’t find anyone who wants to pay for it.

Do this only if you’ve already tried all the angles – niche-ing down, talking to every customer who walks through the door and leaves to find out why they left, adding features, etc.

This part is a long slog. Plan to brute force it until you’re completely out of ideas. This will take months if not a year+.

Once you’ve built something people want (aka product/market fit), things would have to go very poorly for me to kill it. At this point you have created a ton of value; anyone with marketing chops should be able to grow your product at this point. This is when you begin to scale up revenue, and even if you don’t have exceptional marketing chops you could bring someone in to assist. Getting here is the hardest part of the journey, in my experience.

@robwalling


Mads Singers: Coach, MadsSingers.commadssingers

I believe that pretty much all products can be successful, however the key thing is focus and time. For most businesses it takes 3-5 years to really get established and it’s key to have the focus to continue and push things for a lot longer than you expect.

That said sometimes you deliver products, where there’s huge surprises in the likes of shipping/availability and other factors which make the margins lower than expected.

If the above case rings true for you there are two options: raise prices or let go of the product.

That said, don’t be the guy that kills products every 3 months because they didn’t do a home run on the first go!

@madssingers


David Hehenberger: Founder, Fatcat Appsdavidhme

You should kill a product if it has no traction (few users/customers) and you failed to find a marketing channel that works. You should avoid falling into the sunk cost fallacy – if it looks like the product isn’t succeeding despite your best efforts, kill it.

It’s also worth considering killing an existing (successful) product if you launch a new product which outperforms it drastically. In this case, you’ll be better off selling the product instead of killing it outright (both to make sure customers continue getting support, plus so you’re not leaving money on the table).

@davidhme


Michael Erickson: Founder, Search Scientistsmichaelerickson

I think you should kill a product when a certain number of factors are met, all of which have to do with looking back at the initial reasons your product was created in the first place.

The first: If you started building the product for the wrong reasons. Making money or achieving your personal goals is not a reason to build a product, it will taint every action you do, and you’ll be destined for failure. Build things that help people solve a real problem.

The second: If your product is so similar to the competition, and you haven’t given customers a unique reason to shop with your business, then it’s probably time to kill, revamp, or improve your product. Additionally, if your product doesn’t add more value than a competitor’s product, then it’s time to seriously reconsider your product.

The third: This one relates to the founder’s mindset. Everyone I know with a truly successful product lives and breathes their brand. They’re not creating a product to create a product, they’re moving forward with the goal to change a piece of the world. If you find yourself just going through the motions, someone with more passion and drive is going to blow right by you.

@searchscimike


Will Swayne: Managing Director, MarketingResultswillswayne

I suspect the standard answer is when you run out of “cash runway”, you run out of passion or you don’t have a plan to make the product viable.

Another case which justifies shutting down is when the product reaches a plateau and is no longer teaching you new things or stretching your abilities.

I have a couple of e-book businesses that have been running on autopilot for a few years. They make a bit of income but I’m not passionate about taking them to the next level. That’s why I’m in the process of preparing them for sale to let someone else experience the next leg of the journey.

@willswayne


Greg Gibas: Founder, OfficeGoblinsgreggibas

The time to shut down a product is when you can’t even give it away for free!

@greggibas

 


Michael Michelini: Founder, GlobalFromAsia

Shut down a product when you’ve exhausted your lean startup map, the problem isn’t big enough for the target customer to pay, or it’s hard for you to be passionate enough about the product/service to sustain the internal drive required to make it a sustainable business.

@michelini


Brandon King: Founder, SmartInternChinabrandonking

You should kill a product when it is killing you. If you go through an extended (longer than 3 months) period of time working on a product that you hate building and that drains your energy, that is a good sign that it is time to move on.

We all lose motivation sometimes, but when a lack of motivation morphs into more extreme emotions that might be a signal that it is time to move on to building a product that gives you more energy.

@expatskaterat


Kevin Dewalt: Founder, Allaboard.iokevindewalt

Kill a product if you realize you don’t love your customers. Products change. Team members change. Investors change. But your customers are the people you will be working with most for the next 10+ years. Going to their conferences. Taking 1 AM support calls. Solving problems they don’t yet have.

Don’t lie to yourself. Sometimes we discover the customers who buy our products are not the customers we wanted to serve when we started. If you wake up and realize you don’t love the people that are paying you … quit. Kill your product and do something else because you’ll never rise above mediocrity if you don’t love them.

@kevindewalt


Tim Conley: Executive coach, TimConley.cotimconley

Sometimes a product should be killed while still an idea. Most companies come up with an idea they think is cool without considering how it fits within their business model.

Some product ideas don’t enhance a current product line, or may even cannibalize sales without positioning the company for future markets.

Some products that could be innovative don’t have the internal support in the company from money, personnel or leadership to make it a viable competitor.

If a product won’t be a good fit in your current product lines, or no one will take ownership of an innovative product that doesn’t fit in the company, then the product in question should be killed early, so as to not divert precious time and resources needed for existing products.

@timconley


Eric Siu: Founder, GrowthEverywhereericsiu

Kill a product when you no longer think that you’re able to put your best effort into it.

Poker pro Phil Ivey always talks about quitting for the night when he’s no longer at his best. Business is the same way.

If you don’t feel like you’re at your best consistently, it’s time to move on.

@ericosiu


Josh Jones: Founder, Chunkhost

As a software developer, I say kill a product as soon as you’ve got another product that obviously deserves more of your limited resources.  But don’t give up unless you’ve got something more promising to focus on!

Josh-Jones on AngelList


Conclusion

As mentioned above, having the freedom to create something new introduces a paradoxical new stressor – questioning whether to move on from your own product.

Taking stock of the responses here, you’ll notice four common themes:

  • Kill a product if there is a lack of sales – you have to pay the bills.
  • Kill a product if you lack of passion for it – if you have the option to choose what to make, don’t continue making something you don’t love.
  • Kill a product is that it’s not doing okay but well enough.  Opportunity cost is high for founders.
  • Kill a product is for strategic considerations.  Products need to fit into the big picture of your entire businesses and also what you’re best at.

So what should you as a founder do?  How do you decide whether to kill a product or let it live, given your unique situation?

I offer one recommendation – break this problem into two parts, depending on how far along you are.

I’d chunk lack of sales and lack of passion together as “low level” problems you’re likely to face early. These issues should force you to decide whether or not to kill the product before you’ve invested a ton of resources.

Lack of sales and lack of passion are two compelling reasons to kill a product. (CLICK TO TWEET)

Now if sales are fine, and passion is sustainable – then think about whether you’re doing well enough to justify the risks of entrepreneurship, and consider the greater strategic picture.

Did you enjoy this article?  Please share and leave a comment or question for our influencers.

The post When should you kill a product? 17 founders weigh in appeared first on WP Curve.

The Five Elements of a Perfect SaaS Support System

If you’re a SaaS business, chances are support is one area of your business that you want to be flawless. Providing great support is the key to your growth and success. According to an Oracle study, 9 out of 10 customers have abandoned a business because of a poor customer support experience. You don’t want to be that business, do you?

At the same time, customer support can be the most time-consuming (and expensive) activity in your business if it’s not handled correctly. Hence, the way you provide support can make or break your business. It’s not one of those things you can do “quick and dirty” at first and then improve later. Well, you could, but that would be a very risky decision.

I’ve been running SaaS companies for the last 15 years. In the early days, support meant email, and that was not very efficient. Then came the help desks, the chat solutions, the knowledge bases, and a lot of tools that made support optimization possible.

In 2015, it’s much easier to build a top-notch support system, but despite all the available solutions and content on the topic, I still stumble upon SaaS products that are not doing it right. I’d like to share my experience with you so you can optimize your support process, too!

1. First and Foremost: Make Support Easy to Find

When an app user needs support, she’s already entered into “frustration mode.” In most cases, she’s trying to figure out something or trying to do something with your app and cannot do it intuitively. Maybe your product is too complex to be 100% intuitive, or maybe certain features are not user friendly enough. She may have encountered a bug or is missing a feature that is key for her. Whatever the reason, as soon as she needs an answer, she tries to locate the “support” link. And if she can’t find it within 5 or 10 seconds, her frustration grows.

I’ve lost count of the number of SaaS apps I’ve used that have hidden access to their support resources so well that it took me a full website audit to find it! We use Recurly to handle our subscription payments; look how well they’ve hidden their support link in the footer, in small print:

1 - Recurly-support-link

If you use our app, on the other hand, the support tab is much more obvious. It’s right there under your eyes at all times:

Agorapulse-need-help

Hiding your support resources or, worse, contact channels is NOT the kind of mistake you want to make. And there are no excuses, as the solutions to fix the problem exist and are not difficult to implement.

Ideally, your support contact form and your support resources should all be accessible via one very visible support tab or link.

Products like Zendesk, UserVoice, or Support Hero will do that for you. That’s an easy win that won’t take more than five minutes in most cases.

2. Make Sure Your FAQ Does a Good Job Helping Your Users

I don’t know about you, but most of the time, when I have a question about a SaaS product I’m using, I’d much rather find the answer on my own, in five minutes, than have to send a support ticket and wait on an answer for two hours or, worse, two days!

I’m not the only one. A recent study recently conducted by Zendesk showed that 67% of users prefer self-service support over speaking to a company representative. And a whopping 91% said they would use a knowledge base if it met their needs. No wonder all the major help desks offer a knowledge base along with their ticket management system.

But here’s the problem: if you ask any support person if they know how well their knowledge base is working, the answer you’ll get every time will be, “I have no idea.” I used to have the same answer with our own knowledge base. We had one – it took us days to build – but still, we had no idea if our investment was paying off.

We tried to leverage the statistics provided by the tools we were using, but, at best, the only stats we got were the number of times FAQ articles were read and the keywords users entered when they searched for answers. That didn’t really help.

These are the insights we were looking for:

  • What keywords our users were searching for when looking for answers
  • Whether we had content matching those keywords
  • What content users read or watched after searching for keywords
  • Which queries were successful and which ones failed to provide the answer sought
  • What ticket was being sent after a “failed” search

The software we finally decided to use was Support Hero. It had the advantage of giving us the information we needed in order to understand how well our self-help knowledge base was working and how we could improve it!

Thanks to these insights, we reduced our incoming support tickets by an astounding 50%. As you can see on the graph from our Helpdesk’s statistics, below, our inbound support ticket volume was becoming unbearable despite the existence of a knowledge base (hosted on UserVoice at the time). We gathered insights about the performance of our knowledge base, and, after two months of fine-tuning, we got back to a level we could manage.

Helpscout-ticket-volume-annotated

Basically, if you want to better deflect support tickets with your self-help knowledge base, you have to understand how well it’s working and use that knowledge to improve it.

For example, we had a FAQ article explaining how to add other admins to an account on Agorapulse. That article referred to the word “admin.” But looking at the data we gathered through Support Hero, we quickly realized that our users were typing in a whole range of different words to search for this. For example, they used “team members,” “users,” or “managers.” For those three keywords, no article was showing up, leading to a support ticket every time. All we had to do was add those keywords to the FAQ as shown below and, presto, no more tickets on that feature!

add-team-member-faq

3. Understand Why You Get Support Requests, and Fix the Cause (When You Can)

Support requests usually fall into three major categories:

  • Bugs
  • Missing features
  • Confusing or hidden features

Bugs are the first problems you need to get rid of. But, honestly, having been in SaaS for years, I can tell you that you’ll always have bugs, especially if you’re building new features on a regular basis or making changes to your existing code. An optimized support process will not prevent bugs from happening, and the corresponding support tickets will come in. There isn’t much you can do here.

All SaaS products are, by definition, not finished. There’s no such thing as being done when you build a software application; there will always be features missing from your product. But if a missing feature keeps showing up in the support requests you get, adding that feature is probably not a bad idea. Not only will you receive fewer requests from your customers about it; but, more important, you’ll make them happier, and they’ll stick around longer.

If you decide that a feature should not be built (let’s say it doesn’t fit in your midterm roadmap), at least create a FAQ entry explaining why and offering alternative solutions. The last thing you want is a frustrated customer left wondering why you wouldn’t accommodate her.

But if you really want to get fewer support tickets, the category you need to pay the most attention to is the one of confusing or hidden features. A confusing feature is a feature your users were able to spot but couldn’t figure out. A hidden feature is a feature you actually have but users couldn’t find.

Both are problems, and they can be big problems. A good support system should help you quantify how bad the problems are.

Let me give you an example we experienced firsthand. We recently had an internal debate about how our team feature was working. We were not agreeing on whether we were doing a good job of letting users manage their social media accounts as teams. So I called our support data to the rescue! I looked at our most-read FAQs, and guess what? The articles on team features were among the ones most read by our users:

most-viewed-articles-faq

Let me put it this way: if one of your features requires your users to read your knowledge base every time they want to use it, it’s definitely not doing a good job. A great product should be intuitive. I don’t know of any perfect product, of course, but if you look at your support data and identify a feature that requires your users to check your knowledge base all the time or search for answers, then working on making that feature more intuitive will definitely help. You will get more users as well as fewer support requests. Win-win.

Some support tools will help you spot the most-read articles or the most common search queries. To name a few: Help Scout, Groove, and Support Hero.

4. Make Sure All Support Requests Go To One Place

These days, communication goes in all directions – email, chat, in-app messages, Twitter, Facebook, and so on.

Your users don’t care what channel you prefer for support; they’ll use whatever is easiest for them at the time. Since most questions will arise as people use your product, you need to make sure that the way to contact your support team is very easy to spot (see above).

But you’ll always get emails from your website, Facebook messages, tweets, and even chat messages if you’ve decided to respond to your users in real-time. It can be totally overwhelming. Things start slipping through the cracks, conversation history is lost, and the list goes on. This is not sustainable. What you really have to do is concentrate most, if not all, of your support conversations in one place.

To communicate with our users, we’re using five different channels:

  • Email
  • Chat (Olark)
  • In-app messages (Intercom)
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

I have to say it’s challenging. And while we haven’t found any solution that would centralize everything, at least most of it goes to one place.

Our tool of choice to group all support requests is Help Scout. Thanks to its third party integrations, we are able to get all the Olark chats forwarded to Help Scout, so if we need to follow up on a chat conversation later by email, Help Scout does the job.

Apps-used-Help-Scout

We receive very few support requests on Twitter, a few more on Facebook. But compared with the 20 or 25 requests we get daily by chat or email, the 4 or 5 requests we get every week on our social channels do not create a real problem. And we use our own tool to handle those social messages – “eat your own dog food,” as they say!

The main problem comes from the conversations we have via Intercom. Intercom is our tool of choice for in-app user communication. But Intercom is far from being as versatile and comprehensive a support tool as Help Scout. Ideally, we should switch everything to Intercom, but given the disruption this would create for our support process as of today and the fact that we’ve based that process on existing Help Scout features, it’s a hard move to make.

Now that Intercom provides real-time chat (it didn’t when we decided to start with Olark) and better support features (it was beyond poor two years ago when we started using it for in-app messages on top of Help Scout for support), if I were starting from scratch today, I would go all-in with Intercom and wouldn’t use Olark or Help Scout.

Help Scout and Olark both offer features that we like very much and would miss, but having discussions with users across several channels is a bigger problem. And we could replace Help Scout and Olark with Intercom, but not the other way around.

However, Intercom is missing a key feature when it comes to providing top-notch support: a knowledge base! Without a knowledge base, my support team would end up in the nuthouse! Fortunately, the solution we use for that, Support Hero, has an API connection with Intercom, and using both together does a perfect job.

5. View Support Differently in Your App and On Your Website

Most SaaS CEOs think about product/technical support when they think about their support framework. They see support as a way to help current users understand how their product works and to help them solve bugs and technical issues.

It’s true that support in SaaS has always been primarily focused on helping current users of our products. But, limiting your support efforts to your current users is a big mistake.

There is actually a much larger population that expects support from you, and it’s a critical population for your business – your prospects. Actually, you probably have more prospects (i.e., website visitors) than current users, and ignoring them can be a very bad idea.

Your prospects will visit your website and check a couple of pages to get a general idea of your product. Maybe they’ll watch your video. If you’ve done a good job with your website, they’ll probably start becoming interested. But that’s also when they’ll start having questions pop up in their minds: Does your product connect with Salesforce? Is it available in Italian? Can we export our data in .csv? Is there a discount for nonprofits?

Most of the time, the answers to these questions will not be on your website. The goal of a website is not to address every potential question a prospective user has about how your product functions; its only goal is to sell the unique value proposition to convince them it’s worth their time digging around.

If you’ve succeeded in capturing the interest of prospects with your big value proposition, kudos to you. But don’t stop there; make sure they can also easily find all the cool features you have to offer.

To give you an example of that, I was recently looking for a new application to run NPS with our users. After a bunch of research on Google, I identified two potential solutions: SatisMeter and Promoter.io. They both had well-designed websites that conveyed their value proposition clearly.

But I needed answers to two important questions before making a decision:

  • Which one(s) will allow me to run a survey “in-app” instead of by email?
  • Which one(s) will connect to Intercom (my CRM of choice) to make sure I can correctly record the responses and leverage them?

Guess what? After scouting the two websites, I couldn’t find my answers. If the one(s) that were offering these features had allowed me to figure this out very quickly via a knowledge base, things would have been much easier and faster. Even more important, I would probably have ignored the competing solutions that were not responding to my questions!

Most important of all, I decided to eat my own dog food a couple of weeks ago and installed the Support Hero knowledge base widget on our website. So I verified all of the above: prospects are not looking for the same answers as current users; their questions will relate to your pricing, the languages you offer in your app, and all the nitty gritty options that you may or may not have (and, of course, which they badly need).

Now look at the screenshot below. Five users wondered if we had a white-label option. We actually do, but as you can see, no content was showing for those requests. I probably lost five customers because I didn’t do my job properly.

Support-on-the-website

Key Takeaways To Make Your Support Work For You (And Not the Other Way Around!)

First, you need to accept that support is not a “set it and forget it” kind of thing. Like everything else in SaaS, you’ll need to constantly iterate, analyze and improve. You’re being lean about your marketing? Your product development? Your pricing? Support is no different.

Second, make sure it’s easy to find support. This really is the most common mistake and it’s easy to fix.

Then, invest in self help support and keep in mind that more than two users out of three will rather find her answer on her own rather than contacting support. There’s a common misconception among startup founders that they need to talk to customers and support is a good way to do that. It’s actually not. When users get frustrated enough to contact your support, knowing that they’ll have to wait more than they’d like to get the help they’re looking for, they won’t be in the right mood to chat with you. Yes, it is a good thing to talk to customers. But it’s not a good thing to force them to do so by not providing them with self help answers.

Finally, understand that support is not a stand-alone activity, it is deeply entangled with everything else you’re doing: product design, missing or messed-up features, marketing and customer success. Make sure you include what you learn from support in everything else you do for your SaaS business.

Your turn. What’s your experience with support? What have you learned that I’ve missed in this post? I’d love to benefit from your experience too!

About the Author: Emeric is the CEO and co-founder of agorapulse, a Paris and San Francisco based Social Media Management Software launched in 2011. Agorapulse is currently being used by more than 5,000 businesses across 180 countries. He is a regular speaker at Facebook Marketing conferences such as the AllFacebook Marketing Conference, Facebook Success Summit, iStrategy and the Online Marketing Institute.

Join Me and Adrian Grenier, Aaron Levie, Aaron Ross + More at Salesforce Start-Up Summit

If you are in SaaS you should go to Dreamforce.  The simple reason is it’s the largest SaaS gathering on the planet.  The SaaStr Annual will be a distant second in ’16 (and the largest non-vendor gathering).  But you need to go to Dreamforce if you can.

There are a couple of ways to do it, including one new one:

  • There’s a full ticket, where you get to go to all the sessions.  Worth it, especially if you are in Salesforce ecosystem or might be.
  • There’s a free Expo pass, and this is the most amazing deal in SaaS, especially if you work in the Bay Area.  Yes, you get to go to basically no sessions.  But you can go to every booth and learn and see every major vendor in SaaS.  And you can see what it’s like running your own A+ event.  And you can meet amazing people.  And sneak into parties.   It’s FREE.  Do it.  Even if you never plan to do a Salesforce integration or care.  Because Salesforce is the largest SaaS company on the planet.   By far.  So — copy what works!

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 3.23.24 PM

It’s the first year but it looks pretty awesome and I’ll be speaking and there all day, the speakers are A+, and first time events are always interesting and fun.  More on the event here.

Please come — and come by.

The Beginner’s Guide to Technical SEO

Did that title scare you?

I’m not sure what it is, but as soon as people see the word “technical,” they start to get squeamish.

In this case, technical SEO just refers to any SEO work that is done aside from the content. Essentially, it’s laying a strong foundation to give your content the best chance it can have to rank for relevant keywords and phrases.

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Just like they have for on-page SEO, technical aspects of SEO have changed as search engines have become more sophisticated.

While there isn’t much you can do to “game” search engines from a technical standpoint, there are some new factors in 2015 that you need to consider if you want to improve your or your clients’ rankings.

If I were to cover this subject in depth, I would have to create another advanced guide.

Instead, I’ll go over the most important aspects of technical SEO from a beginner’s perspective as well as give you a few specific tactics and next steps to fix common problems in each area. 

To get fast rankings, you need a fast site

This fact isn’t new: if your website loads slowly, a large portion of visitors will quickly leave.

What you need to know from an SEO standpoint is that a slow website can harm you in two ways.

First, site speed is one of Google’s ranking factors. First announced in 2010, it started to affect a small number of rankings at that point. We now know, the “time-to-first-byte” (TTFB) correlates highly with rankings.

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TTFB is exactly what the name suggests: the amount of time needed for a browser to load the first byte of your web page’s data.

If that was the whole story, we’d only focus on improving TTFB. But there’s more.

We also know that 40% of people will close a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. Further, 47% of polled consumers expect a page to load within 2 seconds.

Google may not take total page speed into account, but users do. Even if your TTFB is good, if it takes 3-4 seconds for your full page to load, many visitors will leave without waiting.

The worst part is that they’ll click the “back” button and choose a different search result.

This is known as “pogo-sticking,” and it’s one of the most important signs that a user isn’t satisfied.

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If it happens too often, your rankings will drop in favor of a competing search result that doesn’t have the same issues.

Finally, while it isn’t a strictly SEO point, consider that just a one-second delay in loading time can cause conversions to drop by 7%. Even if site speed didn’t affect search rankings, you’d still want to optimize it.

Not all site speed problems are of equal importance: While there are hundreds of factors that affect site speed, some are much more common than others.

Zoompf analyzed the top 1,000 Alexa-ranked sites for site speed and found that the following four problems were the most common (in order from most to least):

  1. unoptimized images
  2. content served without HTTP compression
  3. too many CSS image requests (not using sprites)
  4. no caching information (expires header)

Keep in mind that the sites in that analysis were some of the best on the web. They fixed many basic problems that may affect you, especially if you use WordPress:

  • excessive plugin use
  • not using a CDN for static files
  • a slow web host

Don’t guess your site speed problems; diagnose: You very well may have one of those issues that I just listed, but first, you need to confirm them.

There are a lot of great tools out there, but I always recommend starting with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. Enter a URL, and let the tool do its thing:

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Any score above 80 is decent. That being said, higher is better, and improving Quick Sprout’s speed is on my long list of things to do.

If you’d like a second opinion, use a tool such as GTmetrix.

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Notice that some tools will give you different scores. That’s because they weigh problems differently.

The following are the two most important things you need to ensure: that (1) your page loads quickly (under 2 seconds) and (2) your page is as small as possible with the least number of requests.

The Google tool is the simplest and a good place to start. It will give you the most important issues to fix (in red). Fix the orange ones if possible, but they don’t usually cause too much of a slowdown in your loading speed.

I do recommend using another tool to get more details. With GTmetrix as an example, you can click on the “waterfall” tab to see the exact amount of time each request took to fulfill.

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This lets you see if your hosting isn’t up to par (a lot of waiting) or if one request on your page is taking way longer than another.

Once you know what your problems are, fix them. As I said before, there’s no way I can go into everything in this guide, but I’ll show you what to do if you have some common problems.

Start with your images: If you do nothing else, compress them. Most types of images have unnecessary metadata that take up space, which can be deleted without causing any harm.

Use a tool such as Optimizilla to compress pictures beforehand, or use a plugin such as WP Smush to compress any pictures you upload to WordPress automatically.

In addition, pick your file size carefully. JPEG files are usually smaller once compressed although not as high quality as PNG files. If possible, use vector images (SVG is the most popular format), which can scale to any dimension with no loss of quality.

Next up: Combine images into sprites.

A “sprite” is simply an image file that contains many small images. Instead of having to make a separate request for each image, you only have to get the one. Then, you use CSS to tell the browser which area of that image to use.

Sprites should include often used images such as navigation icons and logos.

Here is a complete guide to CSS sprites if you’d like to do it manually.

An easier way to accomplish this is to use an online sprite creator. Here is how to use it: create a new sprite, then drag as many appropriate pictures as you can onto the canvas:

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Next, download your sprite (button at the top), and upload it to your site. It’s much easier than coding it from scratch.

I’ve also collected some of the best guides to other common problems:

You don’t have to fix 100% of the problems that tools highlight, but be careful when you ignore one. Just because one page may have a fast loading speed doesn’t mean that all your pages do.

I suggest testing at least 10 pages across your site, preferably the ones that are the longest or largest (with the most images usually).

How do mobile visitors see your site?

The biggest recent changes to technical SEO have revolved around increasing the importance of mobile friendliness.

On April 21, 2015, Google released the “mobilegeddon” update. While it was hyped up as a huge update, it only had a slightly higher impact on rankings than normal:

image00

But don’t dismiss it: Google has made its opinion on the importance of mobile-friendly content very clear. And this is just the first update of more to come; think of it as a warning shot.

The good news is that even if you lose some rankings, it’s not a permanent or even long-term penalty once you fix it:

“If your site’s pages aren’t mobile-friendly, there may be a significant decrease in mobile traffic from Google Search. But have no fear, once your site becomes mobile-friendly, we will automatically re-process (i.e., crawl and index) your pages.”

Test your website’s mobile friendliness: The first and last place you need to test your site is on Google’s mobile friendly checker tool. Enter your URL, and the tool will show you exactly what Google thinks of your page:

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Additionally, you can check all the pages of a verified website in Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) by navigating to “Search Traffic > Mobile Usability.”

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In a perfect world, you’ll have no errors either way.

However, most sites do have mobile issues. In fact, 44% of Fortune 500 company websites are not mobile-friendly.

So if your site is not currently mobile-friendly, you are not alone. But, it’s something you should fix as soon as possible.

To start with, you can choose from three different approaches to mobile-friendly design.

Approach #1 – Responsive design: This is the best option in the vast majority of cases. A responsive design shrinks and expands according to the visitor’s device.

Instead of setting widths for elements, you set a percentage.

image08

For example, this is non-responsive CSS:

#body {

width: 600px;

}

It could be rewritten for a responsive site as:

#body {

width: 50%;

}

With this responsive code, the body section will always take up half of the visitor’s screen, regardless whether they use a phone or laptop.

Although those simple changes solve most of the problems, there is more to mobile design.

You can also use media queries so that you have different CSS values, depending on the screen size.

For example:

@media screen and (min-width: 600px) { CSS code here… }

The CSS you enter there will only be active when the screen is at least 600 pixels wide.

To learn more, read this guide on responsive design.

Approach #2 – Separate URLs for desktop and mobile visitors: This method has mostly died out in favor of responsive design.

image29

This approach involves creating at least two different versions of each page of your website: a mobile one and a non-mobile one.

If the functionality of your website changes a lot depending on the size of the screen, this can be a good option.

But for most sites, it doesn’t make sense. Not only do you have twice as many web pages to update but you also face so many sizes of phones, tablets, and laptops that responsive design usually makes more sense.

Approach # 3 – Serve different content based on the visitor’s device: Finally, you can have a single URL for each page, but first check for a mobile user agent. If a visitor is on a mobile device, you can load a specific page, but if they aren’t, you can load the default page.

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It’s similar to Approach #2 in that you’ll have to code for two different pages. The one upside is that all backlinks will point to a single URL, which will help content rank better.

Common mobile design mistakes: Making a site mobile-friendly really isn’t that hard. In most cases, it’s much easier than optimizing page load speed.

That being said, there are seven fairly common mistakes to keep an eye out for:

  1. Blocked JavaScript, CSS, and image files: access is controlled by your robots.txt file (more on that later).
  2. Unplayable content: don’t use flash videos, which aren’t playable on many mobile devices. HTML5 videos are a better option.
  3. Faulty redirects: don’t just redirect mobile users to your home page. Redirect them to an equivalent page they were looking for.

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4. Mobile-only 404s: if you’re serving dynamic (separate) URLs, make sure they both work.

5. Avoid interstitials and pop-ups: Pop-ups are always a controversial subject. While they’re annoying to some on desktops/laptops, they are much more annoying and often difficult to close on mobile. If you can, don’t have anything that blocks your content on a mobile device:

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6. Irrelevant cross-links: If you have a separate mobile version of your site, always link within that. Don’t make the mistake of linking to a desktop site page from the mobile site.

7. Slow mobile pages: Remember that most mobile users are on a slower connection than desktop users. This makes optimizing your load speed crucial (see above section).

A strong site architecture will get you noticed

Google sends its search spiders to almost every website on a regular basis. However, the spiders need help to discover new pages or updated pages.

Having a clear and simple site architecture will help your pages get indexed and ranked faster. This isn’t new. All the rules and best practices in 2015 are the same as they have been for years. However, this is really important, so don’t skip it just because you haven’t heard news of a new algorithm.

There are four main components to creating a site that Google loves to crawl:

Step 1 – Create HTML and XML sitemaps: It starts with a sitemap that lists URLs on your site. This is the most basic way to direct spiders.

There are two types of sitemaps: HTML and XML.

HTML sitemaps are designed for humans, but search spiders can also use them to find pages on your site. These are typically linked to in the footer of your website, so the links don’t have to be prominent.

An XML sitemap, on the other hand, is essentially a text file with one URL per link. Humans shouldn’t see this—only search spiders. If you have an especially large site, you’ll need more than one XML sitemap. A single sitemap can’t be more than 50,000 URLs of 50MB.

You can (and should) also make separate sitemaps for each type of content (video, images, articles, etc.).

While you can have both, you need at least an XML sitemap. It will serve as the starting point for most spiders.

You have a few options to create your sitemap. First, you can use the Bing plugin to generate a server side sitemap.

The most popular option is to use a WordPress plugin to automatically create and update your sitemap. You can either use a specialized plugin like Google XML sitemap or use Yoast’s all-in-one SEO plugin, which has the option to create a sitemap.

Next, submit your sitemap in both Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.

In Google Search Console, go to “Crawl > Sitemaps,” and add all your sitemaps (one at a time), using the “Add/Test Sitemap” button in the top right.

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Similarly, in Bing, go to the “Sitemaps” navigation section, and enter your sitemap(s):

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Here’s the part that most site owners forget: you also have to add sitemap locations to your robots.txt file. This tells other spiders where to check. Plus, Google would check there if for some reason it had problems with your submission.

Your robots.txt file should include a section like this, with a line for each sitemap:

User-agent: *

Sitemap: http://website.com/my-sitemap1.xml

Sitemap: http://website.com/my-sitemap2.xml

You can even look at Google’s own robots.txt to see its sitemaps:

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Step 2 – Silo content as much as possible: Another major way Google uses to crawl sites is to follow internal links. In addition, this is partly how it assigns relevance to a page and website.

Siloing involves breaking up your content into different categories. For example, since the Crazy Egg blog covers conversion optimization, email marketing, etc., there are different categories for each:

  • http://blog.crazyegg.com/category/conversion-optimization/
  • http://blog.crazyegg.com/category/email-marketing/
  • http://blog.crazyegg.com/category/blogging-for-business/
  • http://blog.crazyegg.com/category/ecommerce/

Each category page links to the posts in that category. The point of this is so that Google’s spiders could land on the homepage (or any post), navigate to a category, and then visit all the most recent posts on the category page.

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Because of this, no post is more than a few clicks away.

Of course, there’s a problem when your site gets too big or you sell too many products as you can only fit so many per page.

You still want all parts of your website to be within 3-4 clicks of each other to ensure they get crawled. The most popular option is faceted navigation, which lets you filter results:

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The right filters can take millions of results down to several in just a few clicks.

I also talked about one other bonus of having a simple site architecture. With a silo structure, it’s clearer to search engines what your site is about.

Instead of having a bunch of posts and pages on your website in no particular order, arrange them all in categories to make it clear to search spiders which content goes together:

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One of Google’s main goals is to provide the most relevant results. The easier it can determine the topics you write about, the more search traffic you will get.

Step 3 – Get rid of crawl errors: The final part of optimizing your site for crawling is to get rid of anything that prevents Google from identifying or crawling your website.

Head over to Search Console, and navigate to “Crawl > Crawl errors”.

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If you have a large site, you might see thousands of errors if you haven’t addressed them. That’s okay—you can often fix large batches at the same time. Here is a complete guide to fixing common crawl errors.

Stop confusing search engines

Redirects are necessary to keep any site up to date, but you need to do it the right way.

Use the wrong codes, and it will not only hurt your visitors but also affect your search engine rankings. I’ll explain how in a moment.

A brief overview of page redirects: There are many good reasons to redirect a page. It’s usually because there is an updated version of it or you no longer cover that exact topic but would like to preserve some “link juice.”

There are two popular types of redirects:

  • 301: a permanent redirect
  • 302: a temporary redirect

When you tell a search engine that a page has permanently been moved to a new URL (301), it will transfer most of the old page’s authority to the new one (90-99%).

However, if you do a 302 redirect, the search engine knows that the redirect will be gone soon and won’t transfer the authority of the original page over. If the redirect stays in place long enough, you will lose at least part of your traffic (usually).

Simple rule: If you no longer need a page, create a 301 redirect to an updated page.

The file not found page (404 error): Another common browser code is the 404 code, which means the page could not be found.

It’s important to create a custom 404 page even if it’s simple. If not, it’ll look like this to your visitors:

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Most visitors will obviously close the page or return back to where they were.

Instead, creating a custom 404 page, like this one on Quick Sprout, can invite a lost visitor in:

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Just below that llama, there are two clear links to important parts of the site. While some visitors will still leave, many will explore, which is great.

There are a few different situations where a 404 error will come up:

  • You moved a page: You should 301 redirect the old page to the new one (it’s easy to forget).
  • Someone linked to an incorrect URL: Either 301 redirect that URL to the correct one (if the link is strong), or create a custom 404 page.
  • You deleted a page: Redirect it if it has links pointing to it (or significant traffic) and you have another highly relevant page to redirect to. Or just have it go to your custom 404 page.

The easiest way to find 404 pages on your site is with Search Console.

Once in your Search Console, navigate to “Crawl > Crawl Errors.”

This time, we’re specifically looking for “not found” pages:

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The most useful thing here is that you can click any of these individual URLs. When you do, a pop-up will appear with more details. There’s also a “linked from” tab so you can see which pages link to it (you could correct any incorrect internal links).

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Fix the link on those pages, and then mark the problem as fixed.

Another option is to use Ahrefs to find broken links. This is probably the best tool you can use for this in order to correct off-page links (controlled by someone else).

Type in your site in the search bar, then highlight the “Inbound Links” dropdown menu, and click on “Broken Backlinks.”

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You’ll get a list of all the sites linking to your main domain, but with links that result in a 404 error. Usually this is because the other party made a typo.

If the link is strong enough, you can go to the linking page, find contact information, and give them the correct URL to replace it with.

Or, as I said earlier, you can 301 redirect the broken URL to the right one, which will preserve some link juice.

Get rid of thin or duplicate content

Pandas aren’t just adorable animals—they are also one of Google’s most famous algorithm updates.

The first Panda update was in 2011, which affected 11.8% of queries (huge). After that, there were a total of 26 more Panda updates in the following three years.

The Panda update was targeting low quality or duplicate content. Sites that had big issues were punished severely.

Curiously, there hasn’t been a Panda update since September 23, 2014 (as of July 2015). I’m not sure if we’ll ever see one again.

Why? Recently, Google released a “phantom” update. This update involved Google changing its core quality algorithm. There’s a chance that it incorporates part or all of Panda. After all, Panda was a filter that had to be run periodically. Google would rather be able to monitor quality constantly.

So that’s where we are now: Google is getting better and better at detecting duplicate content, and you will lose search traffic if you have a significant amount of it.

Duplicate content is bad for visitors, which is why search engines don’t like it. In addition, it can confuse search engines because they don’t know which page is most relevant.

Note: Even if you don’t get a penalty, you can still lose traffic.

Luckily, it’s pretty easy to take action to protect yourself against being penalized for duplicate content.

Step 1 – Find duplicate content: It’s pretty simple to find any pages with duplicate content. As is often the case, Google Search Console is the best place to start. Go to “Search appearance > HTML improvements” to see if you have any issues:

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Click the number to see specific cases of duplicate content.

Alternatively, you can use a tool such as Siteliner. Enter your domain, and the tool will find any duplicate content, plus sort it by percent match:

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Note that the free version only covers 250 URLs, so large sites will have to either upgrade or rely on Google Search Console.

Step 2 – Get rid of duplicate content issues: There are three main ways in which you can solve your problems:

  1. Delete the duplicate content
  2. Add a canonical URL to each version
  3. Reduce the amount of duplicate content

The first solution is trivial—implement it if you can.

Mostly, duplicate content issues are caused by URL parameters. For example, visitors could get to the exact same page with the following URLs:

  • http://www.quicksprout.com/2015/07/06/the-100000-challenge-june-update/
  • http://www.quicksprout.com/2015/07/06/the-100000-challenge-june-update?source=organic/
  • http://www.quicksprout.com/2015/07/06/the-100000-challenge-june-update?ref=email/

If all pages are indexed, they will be considered duplicate content. Your only option here is to include a canonical link on the page, if you haven’t already.

A canonical link tells Google that you realize there are similar pages on your site, but there is one preferred version that is the best version for readers to go to.

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On this page, I have a canonical link to the original URL. Even if a visitor comes to the page with the parameters in their link, that same canonical will tell Google what it needs to know.

Finally, if you’re getting duplicate content errors because of your “read more” descriptions, you can reduce the number of words you show on your blog and category pages. Alternatively, write a custom description for each.

Describe your content like a pro with structured data

Modern search engines are pretty good at putting together what your page is about just by looking at the on-page content. However, you can make it even easier for them by using structured data markup.

While there are multiple libraries you can use, stick to schema.org, which is a project created by all the major search engines.

Structured data isn’t new, but it’s still heavily underutilized. Usually, it’s because an SEO hears the term and gets squeamish, just like with “technical” SEO.

It’s actually really simple, and I’ll show you how to use it for your site in this section.

What schema is – the simple version: The schema vocabulary is just a way of describing content to search engines. You can insert schema terms into your existing HTML.

While Google doesn’t use schema markup as a direct ranking factor, it can use it to help categorize a page and to create rich snippets.

Rich snippets are those things you see in certain searches, e.g., star ratings, pictures, and anything else besides the plain text:

Rich snippets can affect your search rankings. They almost always the increase click through rate, which could tell Google that your page is more important than the surrounding results, leading to more traffic and better rankings.

image21

You can add schema terms to existing HTML code to describe a section of content. For example, the following common term—“itemscope”—tells search engines that the entire “div” section is about the same topic:

<div itemscope>

<h1>Avatar</h1>

<span>Director: James Cameron (born August 16, 1954) </span>

<span>Science fiction</span>

<a href=”../movies/avatar-theatrical-trailer.html”>Trailer</a>

</div>

But there are thousands of other terms you can use. Here’s the full list.

Knowing which ones you’ll use most often takes time to learn. Instead of looking through that colossal list, you can use Google’s markup helper. It takes you through the process step-by-step for the URL you enter. You simply highlight text on the page, which will automatically open a small menu, and then pick which attribute the text describes:

image30

There are only a few steps to the process. At the end, you can view the structured data incorporated into your page’s source code with the changes highlighted:

image02

From there, you can either manually copy and paste the changes onto your page or click the download button to download the entire page code.

If you’re using WordPress, you could also use the Schema Creator plugin by Raven. It allows you to type in a limited number of important schema values into the WordPress page editor.

image11

Whether or not your code is generated by Google, it’s still a good idea to test the code. Copy the entire code into the structured data testing tool, and click “validate” to see if there are any errors:

image27

Conclusion

Ever wonder how some SEOs charge tens of thousands of dollars per month for their services?

This is why. Consider that this is just a beginner’s guide to technical SEO, and we haven’t really scratched the surface.

Expert SEOs learn as much as they can about all these individual elements and practice their skills for years to master them.

For now, you don’t need to do that. Instead, pick one or two of these technical SEO aspects. Then, see how they apply to your site, and fix any errors. Track your work and the results so you can quantify how much the mistakes hurt you.

I realize that there are some fairly complicated topics in this article, so if you need any clarification or you have some experience with technical SEO that you’d like to share, leave a comment below.

How, Exactly, Am I Supposed to Make Something People Want? (FS121)

It’s stupid how simple it should be. If you want a successful business, make something people want enough to pay you money for it.

Duh, right?

In practice, however, it is dubious and complex, requiring enough art, science and faith that we might as well call it alchemy.

Here’s a 45 minute conversation about that very topic. If you listen to it, you’ll know how, exactly, you’re supposed to make something people want. Enjoy!

It’s better to listen on the go!    Subscribe on iTunes 


For anyone who’s ever thought ‘how, exactly, am I supposed to makes something people want?’


Paul Graham on the very best startup ideas:

“The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they’re something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing. Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook all began this way.”

Paul Graham


What we’ve seen is this: blazing your own trail as an entrepreneur requires a lot of faith in yourself, and sometimes that faith backfires.

We get tunnel vision, we get precious about our ideas, we stop letting in the feedback of the world out of a need to protect ourselves and our idea.

It’s true that starting an independent business requires a ton of self confidence, but the lesson here is that you can’t get stuck too deep inside your head.

You’ve got to make sure there’s actually a market for your idea. Don’t make the mistake of getting stuck too far inside your own head; make something people want.


blazing your own trail as an entrepreneur requires a lot of faith in yourself, and sometimes that faith backfires.


Show Notes

Entrepreneur on Fire with Stephanie Crowder — (Be sure to check out the other Fizzler episodes of EOF from last week: Chase, Barrett, Abby, Andrea and Andy.

Smeagolling.biz — Preciousize It™

Friday Q & A: Do You Need to Own the .com for Your Startup’s Name, Should a Remote Team Hire Full-time Employees or Contractors, and Should You Pitch Guest Posts to Big General Publications or Smaller, More Targeted Ones?

Every Friday, we’re answering your questions about business, startups, customer success and more.

Happy Friday!

In our new Groove Friday Q & A segment, we’re answering any questions that you have about, well, anything.

A huge thank you to Mike Laha, Lincoln Parks and Yakov Karda for this week’s questions.

Check out this week’s answers below, and jump in with your own thoughts in the comments!

Do You Need to Own the .Com for Your Startup’s Name?

In my experience, this matters a lot less than people think.

Companies that didn’t own the .com for their name for quite some time after they launched include Dropbox, Grasshopper, Buffer, Basecamp and Bitly.

The litmus test used to be that someone should be able to remember your URL when they hear it so that they can remember it and visit your site later. But for many markets now, URL’s are shared less and less through actual conversations and more and more via email, social media, SMS and other channels where there’s nothing to remember.

So being a .co or a .net (or appending an HQ at the end of your URL) isn’t nearly as much of a handicap as it once was.

If you have a name that works fine with a URL that isn’t too clunky, I’d forget about renaming and focus on building a sticky, shareable product, and then buying the .com when you can afford it.

In the Beginning, Should a Remote Team Hire Full-time Employees or Contractors?

I actually did neither when I first started Groove. I hired an agency to build the first iteration of the product.

After that, I began building out our own team. First with part-time contractors, and then I hired those that fit best as full-time employees.

The answer to this question isn’t really one-size-fits-all; it’s more about what you can afford, and who you can find.

If, at the very beginning, you find an amazing developer who’s only willing to work on a project basis, you might consider hiring them to build your product.

If you can’t swing a full-time salary just yet, then obviously you only have the contractor option available to you.

If you have the luxury of being able to choose one or the other, I’ll say that I prefer the trial-to-full-time model, where a new employee does a trial project with us for a couple of weeks (or a bit longer if they’re already employed and need to do the trial project on nights and weekends), and if they’re a fit, we bring them on full-time.

Ultimately, I’m not sure there’s a right or wrong answer here in the beginning. Once your business is validated and you begin to build your team, then culture begins to play an important role in your team structure, and I think full-time is the way to go. You can’t grow a successful and sustainable long-term business with a team of mercenaries. Not that I’ve seen, anyway.

Should You Pitch Guest Posts to Big General Publications or Smaller, More Targeted Ones?

I’d encourage you to narrow down your target market from “SMB’s and startups,” of which there are 76 million around the world.

Rather than thinking about the entire market of companies that could get value from your product, think about who, specifically, will your product be the most amazing solution ever for? For whom will it be a complete no-brainer to buy?

Get as specific as you can with the challenges they have, the experience they have, their backgrounds, ages, genders, etc…

That’s your target market.

A lot of this insight comes from doing customer development and seeing trends in who your most rabid fans are.

Once you have that, it’s a lot easier to target the exact publications those people read.

So, to answer the question, especially in the early days of your content strategy, I’d target much smaller publications with more active, engaged readers who will be a better fit for your product.

You may have to do a lot more posting to find the perfect audience, but it’s worth it; you’ll learn a lot about which messages work on which people, and what your real audience actually wants.

Send me weekly updates about Groove’s Friday Q&A

Thank you for subscribing!

Your Turn: Ask Groove Anything

I’d love for this new weekly segment to be successful, and provide a valuable repository of answers from our entire community for entrepreneurs everywhere.

To do that, I need your help.

Here’s what you can do to get involved:

  1. Ask questions. Post them in the comments of this post, or Tweet them to us at @Groove.
  2. Answer questions. Every Friday, we’ll post a new Q&A segment. If you have anything to add or share regarding any of the questions asked, jump in! Many of you are far more qualified than I to speak on some of the topics that people ask me about.

The Top 3 Ways to Get Your SaaS Customers to Open Your Emails

Quick poll question: How many of you have signed up for a free software trial and then cancelled it after getting the welcome email?

Most people have at least once. Mainly because the welcome email was just so awful that there’s no way the software could have been good, right? For SaaS companies, this can be a big problem. Emails are the lifeblood of many SaaS providers, so losing subscribers (and by extension leads and customers) can be the difference between hitting a sales target and not.

Let’s take a look at the top 3 ways you can craft better welcome emails for your SaaS customers.

1. Clear & Tidy Headlines

Recipients know what they’re getting, so don’t worry about cluttering up the headline of the email. It sets up the expectation with customers that you’ll give them what you say you’re giving them. The welcome email is truly a welcome email, no more, no less.

What to try: A simple “Welcome to [company name]”.

Example: Vero

Vero, an email marketing software company, does exactly that in their first email after signing up to their blog. The subject line is “Welcome to the Vero blog!” Recipients are reminded about what they signed up for (updates from the blog), who it’s from (Vero), and that it’s the first email from Vero (the “welcome” is a pretty big sign.)

vero-welcome-email

Source

2. Clear CTAs Throughout the Email

Many welcome emails just repeat information or contain so many links that readers stop reading after the first couple of lines.

What to try: A single CTA in your welcome email.

Next time, try adding a link for readers to log in to their new account, or a reminder about a feature that solves a pain point for the reader, just keep it simple.

For example, if it’s a free trial of collaboration SaaS software, a CTA to “add coworkers to your account” may suffice.

Example: Vero

You may have noticed that Vero’s welcome email goes against this idea and has a few CTAs in it. But they’re all very simple ones that readers can choose to see or ignore.

  1. The first CTA is a link to Vero’s About Us page. It’s hyperlinked so readers can check out the page, or continue reading.
  2. The second CTA is a list of some of the blog’s more practical posts. Again, they’re linked very simply, and the reader can choose to read them now or save them for later.
  3. The third and final CTA is a set of email addresses readers can send messages to if they have immediate feedback.

Sure, there are three CTAs in the single email, but they’re all pretty simple ones, which is the key thing to keep in mind in your welcome emails.

vero-email-ctas

Source

Example: Tictail

Here’s a better example of the one CTA per welcome email – It’s from Tictail, another ecommerce software solution. After signing up , readers are invited to visit their dashboard right away. Simple and clean, with good visuals to invite readers to click it.

tictail-welcome-emails

Source

3. Consistent Look and Feel

To avoid the spam filter of today’s email accounts, it’s important to craft a welcome email that doesn’t look like spam. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore your current branding to the point that the recipient doesn’t know who you are and why you’re in their inbox.

What to do: Colors, logos, fonts, company name, etc. all should reflect what’s on your website right now. Ensure that someone’s always looking at your emails whenever you change your branding.

Example: Buffer

Buffer does a great job in their welcome email, using their logo, font, and colors really well.
Here’s their main website:

buffer-homepage

And here’s their welcome email:

buffer-welcome-email

Source

Example: Shopify

Shopify’s welcome email does the same as Buffer, but also includes their quirky, casual tone they use with their audience, who are mainly entrepreneurs.

Here’s their main website:

shopify-homepage-2015

And here’s their welcome email:

shopify-welcome-email

Bonus Tip: Delay Sending That First Email

You’ve probably got your email signup form hooked into software that sends out responses as soon as someone signs up, right? You want to make sure that the lead doesn’t go cold. Yet doing so gives off a negative impression of your SaaS company.

Why? Because it just screams “automated email”. Especially if you’re located in a different time zone. There’s just no way that you’d be sending a personalized email at 3am your time.

What to try/do: Send out a quick email right away that acknowledges the signup and that’s it. Just a short “Thanks for subscribing. Look for our welcome email in your inbox shortly” kind of message. Then, send your welcome message during YOUR business hours [Author’s note: link this to the other article I submitted on personalizing emails], regardless of where the customer is located.

You’ll give the appearance of having someone manually composing and/or sending the email to the customer, even though it’s another automated email. Your SaaS customer’s perception of you goes up, increasing their chances of converting into a long-term paying customer. (Even if they really know that the welcome email is coming from an automated system, it gives the appearance that it’s not, which they like – actually, we all like it. That’s why personalized emails do better than generic ones.)

Conclusion

Welcome emails are a tricky thing to do well. Some SaaS companies cram them so full of information that customers run away immediately. The successful companies welcome them simply and directly, and keep them as customers by sending out a well -written and –timed email that provides useful information to them.

Use these four tips to set up better welcome emails for your SaaS customers. You’ll look more professional, appear more successful, and earn a spot on their vendor shortlist more often.

About the Author: Julia Borgini helps Geeks sell their stuff. A self-proclaimed Geek & writer, she works with B2B technology & sports companies, creating helpful content & copy for their lead generation and content marketing programs. Follow her on Twitter @spacebarpress to see what she’s writing about now.

My 5 Favorite Business Blogs

Reading good blog posts is one of my favorite ways to learn about business.

There’s a lot of noise out there, lots of blogs are not worth reading. When your time is limited, it’s important you get to the good stuff quickly.

Here are the blogs I get solid, actionable business advice from consistently.

Groove

Groove blog

The Groove blog is written personally by a successful founder, my favorite kind.

Alex Turnbull got my attention with their Journey to $100K/mo. Groove is support desk software, and they have since surpassed $100k/mo and changed the goal to $500k/mo. They say their blog is their #1 customer acquisition channel, so along with great information, it’s a study in content marketing itself.

Alex has done an incredible job releasing great content consistently, and he is also a master promoter. There is a ton to learn, I would recommend starting at the beginning of their Journey to $100K a month, and going from there. (Their newer posts are good, but not as good as those)

A Smart Bear

A Smart Bear

Jason Cohen is the founder of WP Engine, and definitely a smart one.

He’s built more than one business successfully, and he has a lot of great insight on scaling, hiring, SaaS, and more. He hasn’t been keeping very current on this blog, but it’s got a treasure trove of posts that are well worth your time. Here are some of my favorites:

Quick Sprout

Quick Sprout

Quick Sprout is a blog by Neil Patel, a content marketing genius.

I’ve learned a ton about how to write great content, promote it, and get more traffic. This post, for example, is a gem. There are also amazing guides for pretty much everything, like this Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking.

Some internet marketers are full of hot air, but Neil is the real deal. He’s built Crazy Egg and Kissmetrics to multi-millions mostly using content marketing. He walks the walk, and tells you how to do the same.

Baremetrics

Baremetrics

Baremetrics is a new startup that focuses on Stripe analytics for SaaS businesses.

It’s a cool product, and the reason I like this blog is because it’s not by a multi-million dollar company. Josh Pigford, the founder, takes you on his journey building his business. For example, this post on Maker to Manager: what a startup founder does was especially inspiring to me.

They also provide some practical examples, like this one on how they reduced churn. It’s a good blog to keep an eye on.

Moz

Moz

Moz is the best SEO blog you’ll ever read.

They are always on the cutting edge (which is super important for SEO), transparent, and even entertaining. I don’t keep up with SEO as much as I used to, but Rand’s Whiteboard Friday videos are my favorite way to keep up with the latest news.

If you don’t know much about SEO, their Beginner’s Guide is a great place to start.

What are your favorite business blogs?

Reading great blogs is an excellent way to absorb information from smart, successful people. These are some of my favorite blogs, but what about yours? Let me know in the comments.

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