6 ways to get honest user feedback on your product

 

Building a successful product is all about repeating this cycle as many times as possible :

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“Speak with your users” is one of the most common pieces of advice you’ll hear. The problem is that it’s not that easy. You’ll usually hear back from users who had a really good experience with the product, or from those on the other side of the spectrom – users who experienced technical issues. However, the most important segment are the ones in the middle – those who tried out the product but didn’t buy, who thought it was just OK. How do you get these users to tell you what they don’t like about the product?

Over the last year, thanks to the amazing work of Ophir, Chen and Alex, we were able to increase the percentage of users who communicated with us and to get their feedback: we went from around 10% to over 50%. Here are the main changes which led us there:

Getting users to reply your emails 

 

1. Best subject lines :

  • Personal subject lines – One of the best performing subject lines we use is Iris from Takipi reaching out  or just “Iris from Takipi” (or any other name among our teammates, of course). A very common approach is to add the user’s name in the subject line:  for example, “Hi David, we have some updates for you.” From our A/B tests these user’s name emails haven’t received a much higher reply rate, likely because  everybody is using this method today and people don’t associate it with personal emails any longer. However, using our name in the subject line increased the number of replies.
  • Add the company name to the subject line – While adding the user’s name to the subject line didn’t perform well, using the company name led most of the recipients to open and reply to the email. “Takipi @companyname” is one of my favorite subject lines.
  • Contextual subject lines – One of the worst performing subject lines was “Welcome to Takipi.” That was a huge surprise. We were sure that users who had just signed up were looking to get more info about the product. We were wrong. From tests on different emails we learned that users are likely to ignore ‘general’ emails, but will open up emails they think they need. We changed the subject line to “Your secret key is ready” and had an increase of 25% in the open rate. Here is a great post by KissFlow: Ditch your Welcome mail. By changing their welcome mail to a more contextual one and changing the subject line to “KissFlow is *not* for everyone” they managed to increase engagement by 10X.

kissflow

  • Interesting subject lines – One email we struggled with a lot with was asking users who stopped using the product what had led to their disinterest. The subject line which worked best was “Did we do something wrong?”. Most users opened this email in order to understand what we we’re asking, or if we had done something specific which was wrong.
  • A/B test your subject lines – A/B testing subject lines requires minimal effort and can make a huge difference. For our main emails we run at least five tests on the subject line. We use intercom.io for the test; its metrics are great and it’s super simple to create the tests. The only caveat is you can run only two tests at a time.  Here’s an example of an A/B test we’re running this week, and how easy it is to track the different stats (open, click, reply)

ABTesting

Here’s a great video illustrating a part of Daniel Pink’s book To Sell Is Human, which deals with picking the right email subject line. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found the top two subject lines categories users are more likely to open:

http://vimeo.com/67907476


2. Keep it as personal as possible

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I’m a strong believer that marketing is an integral part of product and company strategy. Therefore, it can’t be done by agencies or third parties. I don’t believe someone else can write our posts, manage our blog or plan our campaigns. That is why we try to outsource any generic task. I want my marketing team to focus on creating unique content and ideas, rather than working on tasks that don’t require knowledge of our product/domain. Our average monthly outsourcing budget is around $300. It enables us to publish more posts, create better content and increase our conversation rate. Here are the top tasks we outsource and best practices for doing it:

Research based posts generate more traffic. Use oDesk for the research

When I planned our blog strategy, I researched many different blogs to understand which kind of content becomes viral and attracts a large number of readers. One of the most popular content types was research – interesting data backed by numbers and facts. Posts like:

  • We Analyzed 30,000 GitHub Projects – Here Are The Top 100 Libraries (link) (48,000 unique visitors)
  • The Dark Science Of Naming Your Post: Based On Studying 100 Blogs (link) (12,000 unique visitors)
  • The Anatomy of a Great Stack Overflow Question (link) (11,000 unique visitors)

Such posts tend to become viral and receive lots of referral links. To generate this kind of content, you usually need to sort and analyze data for a few days or write a script to do so. We managed the research in-house for the first data-based posts and then started outsourcing the research. Once you have a solid idea for a post and detailed instructions as to how to analyze the data, you’ll be able to get great results for a relatively low cost in a few days. Note that we used outsourcing just for the research itself; one of our team members was in charge of planning the research, double-checking the results and writing the post.

Cost: $50 – 150 ($100+ if you’d like someone to write a script to analyze results or pull data).

Where: We use oDesk for these tasks. Elance is also a good option (usually costs a bit more).

Tip: the key for getting high-quality data is writing a super-detailed description. My main criterion when we need to choose whether or not to outsource a task is how easily it can be explained.

Here’s a sample description for our oDesk offers :

odesk

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Writing great content. Choosing the right headline. Getting people to read it. What’s next? Sometimes we tend to neglect the last and most vital part of content marketing – converting blog readers to users.

Think of it this way: increasing the conversion from your blog by even 10% gives the same result as raising the traffic by 10% or writing 10% more posts.

With small tweaks, it’s possible to double or triple the conversion rate, which is the end target. Most of the time, increasing the conversion rate can be done easily by adding a certain button or the right link.

First of all : choose one call to action.

When we first started our blog, one of the major call to actions was “subscribe to our newsletter.”

We found out that users who subscribed were unlikely to check out the homepage and sign up for the product. Therefore, we decided to remove this call to action and focus on converting more users from the blog to our homepage. Removing other call to actions increased the conversion to the website by 10%. Another interesting thing we noticed is that using less clickable items hardly reduced the number of total clicks. Don’t lose potential users by choosing the wrong call to action.

We have over 50,000 monthly unique visitors to our blog (tech blog for developers). These are the changes which led us to a 6% conversion rate of the blog readers to the website. It means over 3000 monthly visits of developers to our website which resulted in thousands of users.

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Unfortunately, writing great content is not enough in order to build a successful blog. Here are 11 channels to use so people will actually read your awesome posts.

What makes content marketing successful?

In my opinion it’s 50% about the content, and 50% about distributing that content effectively so people will discover your posts. There’s a tipping point where enough people follow your blog and new posts will gain a momentum without you doing anything. It’s usually around 10,000 monthly visitors. However, most people who choose content marketing as their main strategy fail to get there. This post’s goal is to help ensure that your great content is discovered by more people.

Voting websites

Before practicing content marketing, I used blogs/ PR as our main marketing channel. I think the thing I have liked best since switching to content marketing is that it’s a democracy. You don’t need to develop a ‘relationship’ with bloggers, try to hunt them down at conferences or pay an expensive PR firm. It’s the people’s choice: if you have good content and know how to distribute it, you’ll get the traffic. There are numerous “democrat” websites which offer users the opportunity to upload posts and let the readers upvote/ downvote this content. On the large sites, if you get to a high rank you’re likely to get thousands of visitors to your blog the same day. The main rule to follow on all sites is simple – make sure to publish content and not write about your product. People go on these sites in order to discover interesting content, not to purchase new products. Users are super sensitive to promotional content and it’s very likely to get downvoted fast.

Let’s cover the main ones:

Reddit:

The largest voting website, it covers a huge variety of subjects. In order to get started you need to choose a subreddit (= a group), create a user profile and submit. There are tens of thousands subreddits covering every topic you can imagine.

How to find the right subreddit:

  1. Make sure there are enough people in the group. If you post to a group of 300 members, you’re not likely to get much traffic. I try to target subreddits with over 10,000 members.

  2. Make sure the content really matches the subreddit. Check out the leading posts and see if your content is aligned with them.

  3. Here’s a cool trick to discover the right subreddit – you can see all the submissions coming from a certain domain. So, if you type in a successful blog that is similar to your area you’ll be able to see in which subreddits they post and where they get good results. Type “www.reddit.com/domain/” and the domain name. Here are the results for my company’s blog for example :http://www.reddit.com/domain/www.takipiblog.com

reddit

Searching on which subreddits KissMetrics blog is submitted

HackerNews:

If you write about entrepreneurship or programming, HackerNews is a must. The downside – it’s very hard to get onto the front page. The up side – if you get there, you can expect 1,000-50,000 visitors. I reached the #1 position once and received over 20,000 visits in one hour(!). No groups or sections like on other voting sites. Tip: submitting your content during the ‘slow time’ – weekends or nighttime in the US – gives you a better chance of getting to the front page as you’ll need fewer votes.

I haven’t had a chance to work with Dig or StumbleUpon since my main focus is B2B, but if your focus is consumer products definitely check them out.

Visually: If you have an infographic, this is the place to post it.

Other places I like: DZone (programming), GrowthHackers (Marketing), Product io (new Products).

“Cool! I’ll ask some my friends to vote and get to a high place!” This strategy  doesn’t really work. We all ask for 2 or 3 votes from friends but it’s almost impossible to “cheat” with more.

  • All these sites track IP addresses so you can’t vote from the same place (yep, your colleagues are useless).

  • Most of the sites make sure that the same users don’t upvote the same users over and over. On HackerNews for example, the third time you upvote for the same user, your account dies.

Newsletters

The first time I even thought about this channel was when one of our posts was featured in a newsletter and we received great traffic, over 1500 visits with a good conversation rate. This channel usually brings very high quality leads. What do you have to do to get into these newsletters?  Pretty much like with bloggers, I email the person who runs the newsletter (it’s usually a one-man show) once we publish a post which is aligned to the content they usually publish. If you’re included in a newsletter, don’t forget to say thanks later. Many newsletters also suggest a paid channel and offer a sponsored post.

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Can a team of hard-core backend developers do marketing?

One of the main marketing challenges I faced over and over again was how to do effective marketing with a minimal or nonexistent budget. I always relied on the people I worked with, getting them to write, design and help me build creative campaigns. This didn’t prepare me for my next marketing challenge, though:  no marketing budget and 5 out of 6 team members being developers––everyone but me. I decided to build our marketing strategy around the thing my team does the best: coding.

Here are some of the techniques we used in order to get from a few hundreds to 100K unique visitors in three months (to our website, blog and mini sites). It’s a proof the new marketer is techier than ever.

Coding content

You don’t need great writing skills (or any at all) if you have exclusive, fascinating data. One of the first companies to use this technique for content marketing was OKCupid, which mined its database to answer important questions like “Do taller guys have more sex?” You can find the answer here. The first time we published content that relied solely on developers’ work was pretty random. When we had to choose in which Amazon region we wanted to store our data, we ran some tests and found out there was a big difference between the regions. Sounded like an interesting story. We spent an extra day improving our script and making sure we got the data right. The output was super interesting––the AWS Olympics. The results were featured on VentureBeat and published on our blog, bringing massive traffic of our target audience––over 15,000 unique visitors.

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And why I stopped asking for intros

 

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Let’s start with the results – Takipi went into public beta about 5 months ago. Although most of our users reached Takipi through different publications and our blog it was also very important for us to get to some large companies and brands. As Takipi requires installation on production servers, you can imagine it’s not an easy sell.

To get there, I used both cold emails and intros. The results – cold emails produced 7 meetings at Twitter, Klout, LinkedIn and more – 5 installations. Intros – 9 meetings which led to 2 installations. I’ve been using mostly cold emails ever since and I’ve learned that with prospects, bloggers and advisors I get much better results.

Why cold emails work better than intros

  • Find the early adopters – using cold emails flushes out the people who are really interested in trying out a new product. Some of the people I met through intros really liked what we are doing but the last thing on their mind was to start using a new tool, their hands were already very full. I learned that people you approach through intros will probably meet with you as a favor to someone else but they won’t use a new product unless they have a good reason, time and will. If they don’t have the time and will, they won’t answer your cold email, so you can save some valuable time for you and them.

  • Reach exactly who you need – by using cold emails I was able to reach exactly the right people in the organization, and that usually made a huge difference. You need to reach  certain people, not companies.

    When I started out,  it felt like I would be able get to any company I wanted. “Oh, sure, I know someone at Twitter/ Dropbox/ Evernote/ Foursquare” – I heard this from every other person I talked to and was sure that getting Takipi to those companies was just one step away.

    • C level intros,“I know the CEO/ CTO/ CIO of X” – unless it’s a very small company these intros usually consume lots of resources and don’t lead to the right person. You have a great meeting with the CTO, he refers you to someone else, who refers you to someone else who is usually, well, mmm, how to put it, not the busiest guy in the company. Or, in other words, after 3 meetings you get to someone who is not your ideal user but is basically someone who has the time to meet other companies.

    • “I know someone at finance/ UX/ sales” intros – I think you have better odds with cold emails. The tech guy (in our case, can be the marketing/ biz-dev or any other position) doesn’t see the person who referred you as an authority, so you go back to “I’m meeting you as a favor to someone”.

Who to write to and how to find them

I start out by making a list of companies I’m interested in. Although LinkedIn seems like the first logical place to start looking for contacts inside these companies, I actually prefer to first search other social networks. I found out that people who are more active on Twitter, give talks at meetups, blog or contribute to open source projects are more likely to answer cold emails and more importantly – more likely to try out new products.

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Reverse engineering marketing

Getting a peek at successful companies’ Google Analytics is probably a secret wish of most entrepreneurs and marketers.  Where does most of their traffic come from? How much is paid traffic? What type of content works best for them?

After co-founding Takipi, one of the very first steps I made was to research (like crazy) how other companies, which target the same audience as we do, get their customers. This is not to say that you shouldn’t do new and creative stuff, but if other successful companies are doing something right you should definitely learn from it.

The main question I asked was – what works for them? Which are their most read blog posts, their best campaigns, the most tweeted and liked content? When we started working on our blog we ran a script on 100 different blogs (particularly of other companies that build products for developers). The script sorted all the posts by the number of likes/Tweets/G+ and LinkedIn shares. The results were amazing. After a week someone had to almost forcefully pull me away from the 100 Excel-sheet results. Following this research it became clear to me which direction I should take with our blog, and today we’re enjoying the fruits. There’s an amazing variety of tools that helped me optimize our marketing and to reach more users.

OK, let’s get started:

 

How to choose the right content for your company blog – the advanced way

Understanding which are the ‘greatest hits’ of other company blogs is a great way to pick content and find good topics. I use ‘Open Site Explorer’ to get this data. You’ll need a pro version in order to get better results; use this link to get a free pro account for 3 months. Open Site Explorer lets you explore a domain and sort all of its pages by inbound links and number of shares on different social media networks. Perfect for blogs! For example, here are the results of the KISSmetrics blog. The posts are sorted by page authority but you can easily download the result in CSV format and sort it as you’d like. My favorite is by tweets.

OpenExpolererKissMetrics

Sorting blogs by their most popular posts is also a great way to learn more about other blogs you wish to be featured on or to write guest posts for. You definitely want to align yourself to other successful posts and write about topics which brought nice traffic for this website in the past.

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