How to Analyze Your A/B Test Results with Google Analytics

A/B testing tools like Optimizely or VWO make testing easy, and that’s about it. They’re tools to run tests, and not exactly designed for post-test analysis. Most testing tools have gotten better at it over the years, but still lack what you can do with Google Analytics – which is like everything.

When you run a test until you’ve reached validity (not the same as significance), you have to do post-test analysis to decide on the way forward.

Looking at a summary screen like this is not enough:


Use these at-a-glace views for a quick check to see what the overall status is. But you need to go beyond once the test is “cooked”.

Your test can really only end in 3 different ways:

  1. Control wins
  2. No difference
  3. Treatment(s) win(s)

Even when our testing tool tells us that that’s the final outcome, that’s not where our job ends. You need to conduct post-test analysis. And in most cases you need to do that OUTSIDE of the testing tool. Sure – Optimizely enables you to see the results across pre-defined segments, but that’s not enough either.

You need to integrate each test with Google Analytics

Both VWO and Optimizely come with built-in Google Analytics integrations, and data for each test should be sent to Google Analytics. It’s not only to enhance your analysis capabilities, but also to be more confident in the data. Your testing tool might be recording the data incorrectly, and if you have no other source for your test data, you can never be sure whether to trust it or not. Create multiple sources of data.

In Optimizely setting up the integration is under Project Settings:



You definitely want to use Universal Analytics instead of Classic Google Analytics. If you haven’t switched your GA tracker over yet, do it as soon as you can.

Not only will you be able to take advantage of new GA features, you can have up to 20 concurrent A/B tests sending data to Google Analytics. With Classic it’s only 5.

And once this is done on a global level, you need to pick a slot for each test:


Make sure that there aren’t multiple tests that use the same Custom Dimension (or Custom Variable for Classic) slot in GA – they will overwrite each others data, and you can’t trust it anymore. One test per slot.

Optimizely’s manual has a step-by-step instruction for this integration as well, including how to set up custom dimensions.

Once done, you’re able to look at any test result in Google Analytics using Custom Reports. You can make the report show you ANY data you want:


Some variation has more revenue per user? Why is that – well let’s look at average cart value or average quantity – those metrics can shed some light here.

Use whatever metrics that are useful in your particular case. Swipe the custom report used in the example here.

Note that Google Analytics won’t tell you anything about statistical significance (p-values), power levels, error margins and so on. You’d need to pull that data into an Excel / Google spreadsheet or something where you auto-calculate that. Don’t start the analysis in GA before the data is cooked. Make sure the needed sample size and significance + power levels are there.

Send variations as events to use advanced segments

Built-in Google Analytics integration is not foolproof. Sometimes the data is not passed on, there’s a 20% to 50% discrepancy – somewhere somehow part of the data gets lost. There could be numerous reasons for that, anything from how the scripts are loaded, in which order to script timeouts and other issues. I’ve dealt with a lot of different problems over the years.

My good friend Ton Wesseling taught me this “trick” that I now use for every test: sending an event to Google Analytics each time a variation is loaded.

All you need to do is add one line to the test Global Javascript (executed for all variations), plus a line of event tracking code as the last line for each test variation.

So this is the line you should add in the Global Experiment Javascript console:||function(){(||[]).push(arguments);}; Date();

This makes sure that the GA tracker gets all the information once it loads.

Here’s where you do it in Optimizely. First open up the Settings while editing a test:



And now choose Experiment Javascript. Add the code there:


And now you need to add a line of event tracking code at the end of each variation (including Original). You need to just change the Experiment ID number and the name of the Variation:'send', 'event', 'Optimizely', 'exp-2207684569', 'Variation1', {'nonInteraction': 1});

So what the code does is send an event to GA where the event category is Optimizely, action is Experiment ID (you can get that from your URL while editing a test) and label is Variation1 (can also be Original, Variation 2 etc). Non-interaction means that no engagement is recorded. Otherwise your bounce rate for experiment pages would be 0%.

Here’s where you add the code in Optimizely:



Now you’re able to create segments in Google Analytics for each of the variations.

Segment setup:



Create separate segments for each variation, and apply them onto any report that you want. So you could see something like this:


Illustrative data only. 

Same thing can be of course done with Custom Dimensions. Just make sure data consistency is there – compare thank you page visits, revenue numbers etc between your Optimizely result panel and GA custom dimension or event based report”.

No difference between test variations. Now what?

Let’s say the overall outcome is ‘no significant difference’ between variations. Move on to something else? Not so fast. Keep these 2 things in mind:

1. Your test hypothesis might have been right, but the implementation sucked

Let’s say your qualitative research says that concern about security is an issue. How many ways do we have to beef up the perception of security? Unlimited.

You might be on to something – just the way you did something sucked. If you have data that supports your hypothesis, try a few more iterations.

2. Just because there was no difference overall, the treatment might have beat control in a segment or two.

If you got a lift in returning visitors and mobile visitors, but a drop for new visitors and desktop users – those segments might cancel each other out, and it seems like it’s a case of “no difference”. Analyze your test across key segments to see this.

Look at the test results at least across these segments (make sure each segment has adequate sample size):

  • Desktop vs Tablet/Mobile
  • New vs Returning
  • Traffic that lands directly on the page you’re testing vs came via internal link

If your treatment performed well for a specific segment, it’s time to consider a personalized approach for that particular segment.

There’s no difference, but you like B better than A

We’re human beings, and we have personal preferences. So if your test says that there’s no significant difference between variations, but you like B better – there’s really no reason for not going with B.

If B is a usability improvement or represents your brand image better, go for it. But those are not good reasons to go with B if B performs worse in a test.


Don’t rely on a single source of data, and go deeper with your analysis than just looking at overall outcomes. You’ll find more wins and have better data to make decisions. Integrating your testing tool with Google Analytics is an excellent way to go about it.

The post How to Analyze Your A/B Test Results with Google Analytics appeared first on ConversionXL.

Bootstrapped, Episode 53, “$1000 join”

Download this episode, in which Ian and Andrey discuss names, getting punished for good deeds, fast-food burgers, Authorize.NET, HelpSpot mobile apps, making money from mobile games in the app store,  a decade of running HelpSpot and Antair, life checkboxes, HelpSpot 4, and making games.



Discuss this episode in the forums >>


“I’m in the US – what if I just ignore the EU VAT changes?”

The European online businesses are in pain. The upcoming Value Added Tax (VAT) changes are a nightmare and many European bloggers are crying out – but American bloggers are silent.


Because as soon as you open your mouth and admit that you know about the changes, you can no longer apply the default strategy to cope with this – by staying under the radar and ignoring the whole thing.

But there are questions you’d probably like answers to, like:

“What’ll happen if I ignore the changes?”

“How will this be enforced?”

“What’s the penalty for breaking the rules?”

“Are there any loopholes?”

It’s been a long time since I did accounting and taxes myself, so I interviewed a tax specialist and asked these questions for you.

DISCLAIMER: I cannot encourage you to illegal acts. The purpose of this post is to deliver information.

My official advice is to comply with the rules and do your duty as a tax-payer.

I’m describing the situation as it is now, so if you are reading this after Jan 1st 2015, some of the information may be outdated.

What’s changing and why?

Until now European businesses selling to digital goods and services to European consumers have charged VAT based on where their business is located. Now the VAT must be charged based on where the consumer of the service/goods is located.

Table for VAT changes 2015

The change was made because EU wants to get more money from American companies – or to force them to move more operations to EU to get VAT reductions.

The VAT percentage is different country-by-country, ranging from 3% to 25%. Here’s a full listing of VAT rates in different EU countries.

The lowest rates are in Luxembourg, so that’s where Google, Amazon, Apple and other large American companies have their European headquarters. It’s been a perfectly legal strategy to pay less taxes – but after the change it will stop working. It no longer matters where your business is, the taxes will get paid based on where the consumer is.

What happens to small online businesses is just collateral damage.

What’ll happen if I ignore the changes?

If you take a look at the table above, you’ll notice that this change affects only EU businesses. The same rule has been active in Non-EU countries already since 2003.

So in theory you can’t start ignoring this – you’ve already done so for over 10 years.

How is the law enforced?

Currently each individual EU country enforces the law themselves, via tax audits.

VAT is an ‘end-user-tax’ so EU companies get to reduce any VAT they have paid, which is why their book-keeping has all the information tax authorities need.

Consumers don’t keep books on their VAT purchases. Consumers do get tax reductions from certain goods, so they’ll save the receipts and send them to tax authorities. Most of those are physical goods like work clothing, but there are also some goods that could be digital, e.g. work literature.

However, there are small businesses which aren’t registered for VAT yet. They may keep books already, yet they are categorized as a consumer by this law. As a rule, if an EU company cannot provide you a VAT code, they are a consumer. Yet they’ll keep books, save all receipts and are a target to tax audits.

There’s also a separate enforcement system. You must register as a VAT payer in each of the countries where you have consumer sales. Another option is to register to VAT on eServices (VOES) system in one EU country. VOES is a similar system than MOSS (UK), but for non-EU businesses. Each country has their own system, but it’s enough to register just in one country.

When you are registered, the authorities can then follow up that you send the reports and payments on a regular interval.

But if you aren’t registered, there’s very little enforcement.

To really enforce the law in the US, EU would need help from the US tax authorities. At the moment US tax authorities show little interest in enforcing this – moving wealth from US to EU isn’t in their best interest.

However, there have been some rumors on EU tax authorities starting to use spiders and web bots to find law-breakers, but whether these exist is unclear. There’s some information about this in Taxamo blog, but their material seems to be a bit biased to increase sales.

What’s the penalty for breaking the rules?

Frankly, the rules are so complex and change all the time that EU businesses break the rules accidentally every now and then.

When you break the rules accidentally or just because you didn’t know, what normally happens is that the tax authorities calculate how much tax you have due and charge it afterwards. In some countries like Finland you’ll also have to pay overdue payment.

If you break the rules intentionally, that’s a tax crime and a court gig.

However, each country in EU has their own law. Even though Finland does not have penalties, some other countries may have them.

Are there any loopholes?

Overall, the law is pretty clear this time. If there would be holes, they’d probably get plugged pretty fast. There’s only one gray area.

All kinds of digital goods and services are included. All kinds of physical and customized/human services and goods are excluded.

So in principle I could offer for free, and then charge customers 1-2 times per year for support or metrics analyses – which are both manual work. I’ve also heard some speculations on automatically customizing ebooks, but the gist is in manual/human work, so I think that wouldn’t work.

It’s crazy, huh? What are you going to do?

If you ask me – YES it is crazy. There are 28 member states, new ones joining, old ones leaving. And there are over 75 different VAT rates – which I should all know and create different invoices for. And in principle you should too – since 2003.

Many small EU businesses are going to stop selling to European consumers, including me.

Starting from today, SaaS analytics will continue to be available for all American customers, but European customers don’t get in without a VAT code. Most of my customers are from US so this doesn’t change things much for me, but it makes me sad.

Many small EU businesses with their own shops are going to have to move their business under the wings of Amazon, just because they can’t deal with the bureaucracy. There’s no revenue threshold in the VAT law, so we will lose all those lovely sewing patterns from handicraft shops and ebooks sold directly from people’s blogs. We might still be able to buy – but we’ll lose the personal shopping experience.

I can’t ask you to share this post – but please share this other VAT post for EU folks which links to the petition for the small online businesses. Because sharing is caring.

The post “I’m in the US – what if I just ignore the EU VAT changes?” appeared first on Happy Bootstrapper.

EU VAT changes for online businesses – Act before Jan 1st!

If you run an online business in EU, there are important VAT changes coming into effect at Jan 1st 2015. I met with a tax specialist to get an up-to-date view to what’s going on.

I wrote another blog post on how this change affects US-based folks, which also explains why this nightmare is happening, so I’ll concentrate on practical issues for EU-based businesses in this post.


If the changes affect you, register to your country’s local MOSS-system NOW, before the year ends – it’ll save you a huge trouble later.

If the changes don’t affect you – please stand up and plead for the ones who are affected. Share this post, sign the petitions linked to the end of this post, take part in TwitterStorms, speak about this. We need a revenue threshold to this law to save the micro-businesses.

What’s going on?

What happens is that consumer sales will carry a VAT based on the consumer’s location instead of the seller’s location. The change affects only digital goods and services, not products or services which are just delivered digitally.

Below is a table that shows the change in red:

Table for VAT changes 2015

Not only do you need to know the VAT rates for your goods in all the 28 EU member states – you’ll also need to create invoices and receipts to match. If you are using Stripe, I believe ecosystem apps like Quaderno are already working hard to make your life easier on this.

But even then, you’ll also need to handle the sales separately in your accounting and tax reports.

Until Jan 1st 2015, you can register to your country’s ‘Mini One Stop Shop’ (MOSS) system. You can report all your EU consumer sales through that system.

But if you miss the deadline, you’ll need to separately register for VAT in all the countries where you have consumer sales, because the MOSS system adds new users only once per quarter (at least here in Finland). And that means you’ll have to file VAT reports and make VAT payments to each of those countries separately. Yes, this sounds crazy, but this is what the tax specialist told me.

In addition to all reports, you must collect two proofs of the customer location. Country information from credit card, address or IP address would all do.

How do I know if this affects me?

If the goods/services you are selling aren’t digital, but are just sold online, this does not affect you.

For example, if you design web pages and each design is custom-made, the changes shouldn’t affect you. But if you sell web page templates instead, you are affected.

If you provide pre-recorded learning material via internet, the change applies to you. But if you provide live webinars, you can ignore the change.

How much human touch there must be in the process is still unclear.

If you aren’t the official seller, the change does not affect you either. So if you are an affiliate, or sell your goods via Amazon, you aren’t affected.

If you are selling only to businesses, the change does not affect you. You don’t need to register to MOSS either. The only thing you need to do is to collect the VAT codes from all of your customers and continue to use the reverse charge 0% VAT.

What is Reverse Charge?

Reverse charge moves the VAT-paying responsibility from you to your customer in another EU country. The responsibility can only be moved from business to business.

You’ll write an invoice/receipt without VAT (or 0% VAT) and include a text “Reverse charge, VAT directive art. 44” and you are done. In practice the text is often missing, as people re-use the same invoice format they use for non-EU sales.

Why do I need to collect the VAT code?

If your customer cannot provide a valid VAT code, they’ll be considered a consumer – no matter what kind of business they have.

In theory, you are responsible of validating the VAT codes you get. There’s a handy service where you can do that. If you get deceived and book VAT sales as non-VAT sales, your local tax authorities will calculate how much tax you have due and charge it afterwards. You’ll also have to pay overdue payment.

In practice, I wouldn’t worry about the validation part too much. Giving an invalid VAT code when you don’t have one is a tax crime, resulting an extra fees that can be thousands of euros, having to pay the tax that you’ve avoided – and you’ll end up in the court too. So smart people don’t give invalid codes just to be able to buy stuff.

How will small businesses handle this? 

Now we are getting to the core of the problem.

Here’s what I’ll do. Starting from today, SaaS analytics will continue to be available for all American customers, but European customers don’t get in without a VAT code. Most of my customers are from US so this doesn’t change things much for me, but it makes me sad.

This is the only logical thing to do for a mainly B2B product like mine.

If you can’t do that, Rachel has written several good articles on VAT and how they are going to handle it for their SaaS which is a bit more B2C. ArcticStartup has a good article about VAT as well.

But lots of small online shops are just going to drop the digital products, if that’s not their main business. Some businesses are going to change back to physical products from the digital ones, and many of them will move to Amazon or some other marketplace that makes them legally non-sellers.

What I can do to help?

Please stand up and petition for the small ones!

Your grandmother selling sewing patterns will become a law-breaker when the year changes. We’ll see a lots of content just disappearing from online shops or becoming unavailable to us.

I enjoy visiting the colorful and quirky small online shops by hobbyists who want to earn money doing what they love. Many of these shops can’t handle the extra workload and costs of the VAT change. I may still be able to buy the same things – but shopping experience in Amazon isn’t the same than visiting the small shops.

This isn’t right. Killing small online consumer shops in EU or making them criminal overnight just cannot be in EU’s best interest. We need a revenue threshold to this law to save the small businesses.

So stand up, speak about this, share this post, take part in TwitterStorms and sign the petitions below to save our unique small business shopping experiences:

The post EU VAT changes for online businesses – Act before Jan 1st! appeared first on Happy Bootstrapper.

10 questions to ask in your next client interview

Proposals are fundamental to the success of any new client project. Without them you have no clear objectives. You also have nothing to measure your success against. Perhaps more importantly, without a proposal your client has no idea whether you understand their problem. But before you get anywhere near a proposal, you need information, and the only person who can give you this information is your client. So be sure to ask the right questions... In today’s post we’ll look at 10 questions you should ask in your next client interview. Your client’s success depends on it…And so...

La entrada 10 questions to ask in your next client interview aparece primero en Nusii: Proposal software for creative professionals..

How to Steal like an Email Artist

If you’re good at what you do, you don’t start from scratch with every single project.

Great work springs from what has come before it. As Mark Twain put it:

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.”

Even the best and brightest have their outside sources of inspiration. There’s even that saying: “good artists copy; great artists steal.” Along those lines, writer and artist Austin Kleon recommends that you “[s]ave your thefts for later” by keeping a swipe file.

What’s a swipe file? That’s where copywriters would collect clippings — successful ads, headlines, and copy — to spur creative ideas and insights. Also referred to as a “morgue file,” after the old practice of newspaper reporters of storing information in case a related story resurfaced — being able to stick ideas in storage to reanimate later also saves time.

Whether you see yourself as a creative type or not, and no matter your job or expertise level, collect raw inspirational material to work into fresh ideas fresh down the road.

Ask What Makes It Great?

For all the examples that get tucked away in swipe files, at the end of the day, a mere copy-and- paste job won’t be effective. You also have to understand why something works and then how to rework that into your particular context.

copy and pasting an idea

For entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss, the point of the swipe file is to gain understanding. He explains that copy editors saved ads that had “convinced them to buy something and they would take it, analyze it, and figure out why it got them to buy.” Tim even “swiped” TV infomercials:

I’m a sucker for good infomercials…. The ones that you see all the time [like Bowflex and P90x] are working because they’re expensive…. I would buy these products … I wanted to know the script they used on the phone, the up-sells, the cross sells, when it got to me, who it got shipped by, the follow up, and I would track all that stuff.

“good theft vs. bad theft”

A swipe file is like a collection of mini case studies — how did other people solve a specific problem? How do you take that insight and make it work for you?

Tools for Building an Email Swipe File

Perhaps you already keep a marketing swipe file, but there haven’t been many public resources that zero in on emails. So we thought we’d explore a few sites that have popped up recently, which focus on email marketing in particular.

If you’re interesting in starting or boosting your email marketing research and swipe files, take a look at these tools. (A caveat: these sites are new, so they can be wonky or feel unintuitive — but on the bright side, your feedback will probably make a big difference!)


MailCharts offers a way to “understand how your competitors use email marketing,” focusing on company tracking. Keep tabs on specific companies, research by industry, and dig into information such as email send times and frequency.

mailcharts send time analysis

The robust search function enables you to search a bank of emails by company, date-range, keyword, and combinations (like this year’s Target and Walmart “Cyber Monday” emails).

MailCharts’s best feature is its email viewing options, which load quickly and are easy to toggle. You can examine individual emails in an inbox context, with or without images, in plaintext, or a mobile view.

mailcharts email preview

On a company level, you can see a list of most recent emails, showing the sequence of subject lines and from addresses, or a Pinterest-like gallery view. You’ll also receive a weekly report of the companies you track.

How much? 30-day free trial; 3 pricing tiers $30/month, $99/month, $499/month Swipe File potential? There are shareable URLs for individual emails but no way to save emails within the site. Pair this with a link or image collection tool.

Email Insights

Email Insights also lets you track competitors’ email, declaring “We subscribe to and analyze thousands of newsletters, so you don’t have to.”

Browsing and following specific companies is more Email Insights’s strong suit, as opposed to search. Also note the focus on newsletters — emails here generally fall into two buckets of deals or content updates and will be most useful if you’re interested in retail or news/media (including lifestyle publications).

email insights tab view

The tab set-up is handy, so you don’t have to click around so much while exploring different views or filtering by various date ranges. Email Insights also shows you send activity as well as subject line analysis. I got a kick out of looking at the shortest subject lines. Here’s Warby Parker’s:

warby parker's short subject lines

One of the coolest features in Email Insights is “infographics,” essentially reports that summarize send details, subject word frequency, and a gallery of sample emails. Here’s a report of top online retailers for September 2014 (click here for the full report):

email insights infographic

How much? 30-day free trial; $47/month
Swipe File potential? You can favorite and save specific emails for your swipe file as well as favorite companies to track.


Emailium lacks quite the direction of MailCharts and Email Insights, positioning themselves plainly as a useful database: “Millions of email marketing campaigns at your fingertips.”

emailium homepage

With its Pinterest-like tile layout and bank of emails, Emailium is most useful for marketers at larger companies, designers looking for visual inspiration, and digital agencies. Their range of emails seems indiscriminate or rich, depending on your perspective — sourced from political campaigns to the MOMA Online Store to, somehow, the band, The Decemberists — and there’s no way to see an overall index of what companies (and musical acts) are in the system.

Search is available by industry, company, subject line, body text, color, date, and email service provider (ESP). The email viewing experience is disjointed, with the subject line placed below the content, though there’s a helpful option to view emails by source code.

How much? Free month with the coupon code FreeMonth; 3 plans at $69/month, $249/month, and $499/month.
Swipe File potential? You can only save searches, though there are shareable URLs.


SocialMail is aimed not at email marketers but on consumers who want to reduce inbox clutter.

SocialMail example

Signing up gets you a dedicated email address like you can use to subscribe to email lists. These emails will show up in your SocialMail account instead of your inbox. (You can also discover, search, and follow companies from SocialMail itself.)

The SocialMail inbox was rather wonky when I tried it. Still, this is an easy, free tool for finding emails from mostly retail-type companies that doesn’t require you to sign in or subscribe to anything.

How much? Free.
Swipe File potential? Only social share buttons to save, so you could pin individual emails.

Really Good Emails

Really Good Emails is a hand-curated collection of, well, “really good emails.” Combining a Pinterest and Tumblr feel, the site is simple and easy to browse.

Really Good Emails filtered by onboarding tag

The best thing about RGE is the availability of different kinds of email — from announcements to upselling to transactional emails such as receipts. With a focus on product emails, the range of RGE’s emails goes beyond newsletters and you can filter by email function or goal.

For example, if you’re creating or overhauling your lifecycle emails, you could filter by activation, welcome, and onboarding tags for constructive examples. If you’re hoping to increase customer retention, look at emails filed under customer appreciation, engagement, and re-engagement.

How much? Free
Swipe File potential? There’s no way to save emails, though there are Pinterest buttons.

Create Your Own

It might be your best bet to use a mix and match of the tools above. To save emails and subscriptions, create an inbox folder or dedicated email account — or take a look at collection and organization tools like Pinterest, Evernote, Trello, Gimmebar, and Kippt. Here at, we’re reviving our Tumblr, Great Email Copy, to collect and feature swipe-worthy emails from around the web.

If you use Gmail, Litmus’s Scope tool is super helpful for capturing, saving, and sharing emails. Scope creates a web-based version of the email, with desktop, mobile, and text views, and also has a code inspector that let you look under the hood.

Curiosity does make you a better marketer, but beware the potential rabbit hole of research and endless searches for inspiration.

Use the resources as a starting point to unravel questions such as:

  • Does subject line length have a noticeable effect on open rates?
  • What’s a good ratio of sales-y to less promotional emails?
  • What seems to be the trend of day, times, and frequency for sending emails? And should you follow the trend or try to buck it?
  • How are people using images vs fancy html vs plaintext? Does it depend on the email’s purpose?
  • What’s the deal with gifs these days?
  • Am I behind the game in mobile optimization?

Brilliance — or at least improvement — will strike more often if you are always curious, curating, repurposing, and learning.

How do you keep track of inspirational or model emails? Share with us in the comments!

10 Ways We Come Up With 15+ Blog Post Ideas Each Week

If you’re having trouble generating blog ideas, these ten tactics that we use will ensure that you never run out.

Every so often, I’ll get an email like this:

It’s no secret that content marketing has been the biggest driver of our growth for the last year.

But honestly, coming up with post ideas has been the easy part for many months now.

That’s not by accident. We use an organized system (and lots of tactics that we’ve refined over time) to generate far more ideas than we have time to write about.

Blog Post Ideas Blog Post Ideas

Here’s how we do it…

1) Read. A Lot.

I’ve written before about how much value I get from reading and learning everything I can about whatever it is we’re working on at the time.

But reading great books and blogs does more than help us run the business; it’s also the single greatest source of inspiration for new posts.

As an example, the idea for our popular post 14 Ways Our Remote Team Stays Sane Working From Home came from an Owner Mag piece I read about staying sane working solo.

If you read something new every day, you’ll never run out of ideas to write about.

2) Get Into the Habit of Taking Notes

We take notes on just about everything we see around the web. Different folks on our team have different systems, from Evernote to simple text docs, but everything gets dumped into our communal blog-focused Trello board.

Any time we get a post idea, we create a Trello card.

When we see something around the web that’s relevant to a post idea we’ve been thinking about, a note gets added to that card.

Taking Notes Taking Notes

This helps us think about different perspectives and ways to make blog ideas better, and sometimes it changes the idea completely.

3) Talk to Your Customers

Ultimately, we all write for our customers. Or at least for the people who might one day become our customers.

If you’re doing customer development and talking to your customers — and you absolutely should be — then you’ll probably hear a lot about the different problems and challenges they’re facing, even when those challenges aren’t necessarily related to your app.

For example, when I talked to our customers, a lot of folks mentioned that our homepage video got them interested in trying Groove. They wanted to know how we made it, and how they could create a good explainer video, too.

So I wrote about it.

By talking to our customers and solving problems for them — even if those problems aren’t related to Groove — we build deeper relationships with people and make them more likely to want to do business with us.

Our customers (and their challenges) will always be a huge source of content ideas for us.

4) “Copy” What’s Worked for Others

I don’t actually mean you should steal people’s work. That’s not cool.

But you can learn a ton from seeing what works for other blogs, and then putting your own unique spin on it.

I really like BuzzSumo for this. You can enter a domain, and it’ll show you what the most shared URL’s from that domain are.

So, for example, if you were interested in writing about content for startups, you might enter “” into BuzzSumo, and you’ll get:

BuzzSumo Results BuzzSumo Results

So now that you know that these topics resonate with people, can you offer an interesting, useful and unique take on any of them?

Now, what works for others won’t necessarily work for you. And simply writing about a topic isn’t enough to make a post a success.

But this is a great technique for building a list of vetted blog topics that you know people are already interested in reading about.

5) Do Keyword Research

To me, content marketing isn’t about stuffing keywords into a post.

I don’t like to play that game. First and foremost, content marketing is about delivering value to people, solving their problems and building relationships.

But doing keyword research is a good way to come up with ideas for the types of problems people actually want you to solve for them.

To do this, I sometimes start with a general topic I’m thinking of writing about. For example, remote working.

I head over to and type in the topic. The app spits out a big list of the different Google searches that people do that relate to remote working.

I scanned the results and found an idea that I liked:

KeywordTool Results KeywordTool Results

That turned into The Pros & Cons of Being a Remote Team (& How We Do It).

6) Scan Social Media, Forums and Other Online Communities

If you know your customers, you probably know where your customers hang out online. Who their influencers are, the types of forums they frequent, what communities they’re involved in.

Those communities can be gold mines for blog post ideas. All you need to do is look at the types of questions that keep coming up.

One trick that works well is to go to reddit and find a subreddit that’s relevant to what your blog is about. For us, an example would be /r/entrepreneur.

Next, do a search in that subreddit for “how do you” — this will bring up a list of posts where people are trying to learn new things or solve challenges.

Hacking Reddit Search Hacking Reddit Search

Instant blog post idea for a post about fear. Addressing those burning issues is a clear win, and it also gives you a great place to come back and share your content.

7) Do Stuff That Other People Are Scared to Do

People love reading about things that they’re scared to try themselves.

It’s human nature; before we try something risky, we want to know whether it worked for someone else first.

By taking those risks yourself and then writing about them, you get double the benefit: the upside from trying new things that could potentially grow your business, and the thought leadership that comes from writing about it.

Some of our most popular posts have come from doing things that scared the hell out of us at the time: turning down funding, killing big features, deleting our Facebook page and walking away from an acquisition offer.

In fact, this entire blog is focused around something that many people are scared to do: be transparent with their business.

8) Encourage Comments and Emails

Almost every single time we publish a post, someone comments asking for a post on a different topic.

I love this.

It’s a fantastic way to get blog post ideas that are already guaranteed to generate interest in a highly qualified audience: your existing readers.

9) Share Your Experiences (Even Small Ones)

There’s a misconception that you can only blog about big, significant things that you do.

That’s really not true at all.

You can literally blog about anything — and have people read and share it — as long as it’s unique, interesting and useful.

We get a lot of our blog ideas from very routine, pedestrian things that we do that we think other people and companies might want to learn more about.

Things like how we manage bug reports, A/B tests that didn’t work and why I write investor updates.

People like to read about these things because there’s a good chance they have to do them too. So if you can help people improve the way that they do things (even tiny things), or cause them to look at those things differently, you’ll add value to their lives.

10) Repurpose Existing Content Into Different Formats

Another big “myth” that I hear from a lot of people is the belief that once you’ve written about a topic, you file it away and never write about it again.

Sure, you could do that, but frankly, it’s wasteful.

And you’re doing your readers a disservice.

Different people like to consume content differently. Your Ultimate Guide to SEO might be really valuable to people who read it, but others who prefer lists and slideshows might never read it, even though they could benefit from it tremendously.

By taking a key point from a post and using it in other posts, you can repurpose existing content by simply reframing it.

For example, take our “You’re In” email that we send to every new customer.

“You’re In” Email “You’re In” Email

Because it’s been so valuable, I really want people to see and steal this technique. So I’ve used it in posts about customer development, product videos, onboarding, testimonials and more.

By discarding an idea every time you write about it, you rob yourself — and your readers — of massive potential value.

How to Apply This to Your Business

If coming up with ideas is what’s standing between you and executing on a content marketing strategy, I hope this post helps you overcome that barrier. Steal any — or all — of these and pretty soon you’ll have more ideas than you can write about.

And even if you’re already blogging regularly, I hope this gives you a new way to think about sourcing and coming up with content ideas to keep your blog fresh, interesting and effective.

How to create a USEFUL feedback loop after launch

With Just Fucking Ship, well, just fucking shipped, Amy and I have been focused on two main things:

1) Amy is finishing up the first pass of editing so we can send our customers a FINISHED copy of the book. As I write this email, she’s putting the last chapter through it’s paces!

2) I’m diligently reading through all of the feedback from those of you who bought a copy for yourself. And it’s been quite a pile to sift through: over 115 people replied to a couple of pointed questions that we asked…that means nearly 15% of the 850+ people who purchased a copy of JFS have emailed us back to tell us what they’ve gotten out of the book in less than 2 weeks.

So today I thought I’d share some of the observations we’ve made – the patterns that emerge naturally from hundreds of emails – and exactly how we got so much USEFUL feedback.

And at the bottom of this post…we’re announcing something special that we put together with a couple of our friends as a direct response to one of the patterns we noticed.

Most “feedback” is worthless. Here’s how you can turn that around. 

Amy has written at length about how most feedback is crap. I’m not going to rehash any of that here.

Instead, I’m going to take you through the steps – a mix of tools and techniques – that I took to set up a post-purchase auto-responder that helped us collect the kind of feedback that can actually help us improve JFS, and even come up with entirely new products.

Step 1 – Connect our sales system to our email list software

JFS principle #8 is “Shop the Shelf”, which means that we’ll do almost anything to avoid building new tools from scratch.

Launching JFS has been our first chance to use Gumroad, which is a dead-simple tool for selling digital products and even subscriptions. It takes 5 minutes from setting up a Gumroad account to having a product for sale. They handle everything for us – including the secure credit card processing and generating fancy graphs – in return for a small fee (5% + 25c per sale).

Well…almost everything. Even though Gumroad gives us the ability to send our customers updates via email, that’s about the only tool it gives us to contact our customers. That’s where Zapier comes in.

Zapier is another “off the shelf” service that lets you treat the different apps and services you use in your business a bit more like legos. The programmers who are reading this know that you can sometimes use APIs and webhooks to build integrations and automations between different pieces of software.

But with Zapier, it’s more like building with legos. You don’t need to write a line of code. You don’t even need to KNOW any code, or be tempted to build new things from scratch (which would violate principle #8 of JFS). Almost every email list provider out there has a Zapier integration – including Mailchimp, ConvertKit, Aweber, Drip, and others.

So with a Zapier account (which is free up to 100 automation tasks per month), I was able to set up a “zap” that connects Gumroad to our email list software. Every time someone bought a copy of JFS on Gumroad, they were automatically added to an autoresponder list specific to the book.


It’s worth noting that some Gumroad customers opt out of receiving emails, which we totally respect. Zapier makes it easy to filter them out when configuring the new Zap.

Step 2 – Set up an autoresponder that will email people at the right time

Autoresponders or automated email sequences are built into just about every email tool, but they’re also a bit different in every email tool, so I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty of HOW to set up an autoresponder itself. Instead, I’m going to share more of the thought process behind our technique.

Just Fucking Ship is an intentionally brief book – our writing constraints kept it relatively short and the narrative format makes it pretty easy to power through in one or two sittings (and, according to some of our non-native english readers, it’s noticeably easy to read through).

So for our autoresponder, my goal was to catch them in the middle of or as close to finishing the book as possible. I wanted to catch people while the book was fresh in their minds.

So I chose to send the first email 2 days after they purchased. 

That’s enough time for most people to have made SOME progress through the book. And for those who haven’t started yet…there’s a chance the extra poke will get them going.

Step 3 – Write an email that people will actually want to open

You’ve probably signed up for a product or a service and gotten an automatic welcome email.

And you’ve probably hit the “archive” button without even reading it. 

Because you already know what’s inside. The founder of the company thanks you, and lets you know that they’re available “if you need anything at all!”

These emails might appear friendly, but they’re nothing more than a time-waster. It doesn’t help the reader. And an open ended offer of “I’m here if you need me” doesn’t exactly inspire action, does it?

Instead, I made our automatic welcome email – which is already being sent on a 2 day delay from the previous step – ALL about the reader. Starting with the subject.

I wanted them to know that I respected their time, but if they had a few minutes, I had a couple of quick questions to ask them.

So rather than a subject like “Thanks for buying a copy of Just Fucking Ship” – which was admittedly the first thing I wrote when I sat down to sketch out this email – I used the subject line “can we ask you 2 quick questions?”

This email has an open rate of over 75%. Boom. 

Step 4 – Write an email that people will actually want to reply to.

Like I said before, people don’t read the emails they get get from the products they buy all have one thing in common: the email is all about the product, or the company, that sent it.

Think about it – when you get an email, do you read it all the way through? More likely you first give it a skim, looking for either something about you, or something you need to take action on.

So rather than bury those things at the end as afterthoughts, we START with the reader:

I open with a mention of Just Fucking Ship, to make sure that the reader connects this email to the purchase they made 2 days ago. But that’s it. I don’t drone on and one about how excited we are to launch it, or how excited we are that they bought it….because the reader doesn’t give a damn about either of those things.

Instead, I open with a question. “Have you read it yet?”

A question that doesn’t require a lot of thought. A yes or no answer.

And then I ask them two questions that will garner a bit more substance. A couple of things about the questions themselves:

A – Both questions are specific. This leaves very little room for people to wander in their answers. If you read the book, think back to JFS principle #5. “Crispy” is better.

B – Both questions give us answers to things that we KNOW will be valuable.  The first question will help us understand which chapters are most resonant and useful to our readers. The second question will help us think about who JFS could be useful for besides the mostly design/development/creative audience that it was written for.

More on this in a moment, I promise. :)

With these two questions, and the prompt to “just reply via email” (no forms to visit, which are likely to get lost in their open tabs), that’s it.

And since the email is automatically sent 2 days after a customer buys, we have a steady flow of replies to the questions rolling into our inboxes every single day.

And with lots of replies, we can start to notice patterns

That’s really the key to our Sales Safari technique – gathering LOTS of data so that you can notice patterns. No single data point on its own is worth enough to make a decision, but when you start hearing the same thing over and over and over…you can start acting on it.

Here are just a few of the patterns we’ve noticed so far, and what we learned from them.

1 – People WOULD be highlighting more if we made JFS available for Kindle. Yes, this is a bit obvious, but KNOWING this makes us feel really good about investing the additional time to format the book for Kindle.

2 – There are definitely a few standout chapters. While the responses are overwhelmingly positive in terms of “this kicked me in the ass just the way I needed”, getting even more specific helps us know which lessons people are getting the most value from. Backwards Planning and Shop the Shelf are two that stand out as crowd favorites, which means we can add even MORE value to those chapters, or split them out into additional guides. But we can also start to investigate why those chapters are more resonant, and see if that gives us clues for improving the other chapters as well. Double duty feedback is the best.

3 – For many readers, JFS provided a ton of value, and they want to share that with others. In a surprising (to me) number of cases, it’s a significant other or family member who has been toiling for far-too-long on a project. For others, it’s a boss/client/coworker. Or their teammates.

Which is helpful for us in more ways than “people like the book”, because it helps us think about how we could reach those KINDS of people and help them, too.

Which brings me to that something special that I mentioned at the top of this post…

Give the Gift of Financial Freedom

We teamed up with a few of our bootstrappy business friends – who there’s a good chance you’ve heard of – to create a holiday bundle of digital gifts for that person on your shopping list who has entrepreneurial aspirations.


These three books alone  – including our own Just F#*!ing Ship (which we’ve bleeped out to make it more gift friendly) – are worth over $100. But we’re going to be offering all three as a bundle (along with a couple of extras, which we’ll announce tomorrow) for just $49. That’s more than 50% off three of the best books full of the most actionable business bootstrapping advice you can get.

But to make your lucky giftee’s 2015 the absolute best, we’re also providing an even MORE valuable version of the bundle that includes additional tools and services that they’ll need to get productive, organized, and start building their audience. And to top it all off, we’re hosting as a live (web based) Q&A session with all of the bundle contributors later in January, JUST for people who get this as a gift.

Our mega bundle is worth over $400, but you’ll be able to buy for 72% off…just $109.

Both bundles even come with a “getting started” guide, introducing the giftee to the books and how they can get the most from reading them.

So here’s the deal – the bundle is going live tomorrow December 18th at 10am eastern time. If you buy before 5pm on Monday, December 22nd, you’ll save $10 on both bundles…after that, the price goes up to $59 and $119 respectively.

We know the holidays are a crazy time & it’s easy to lose track of your to-do’s. :) So head over to to get more information about the bundle AND to sign up for a reminder right when you can buy the bundle.

And if you don’t mind sharing that link around a bit, that’d mean a lot to us. Really, truly. Happy Holidays from us, to yours!

-Alex & Amy