Jumping hurdles

When I was a young fellow at secondary school we had to jump hurdles in the physical education class. I have to tell you I was petrified every time we had to do this. I was short and the hurdles were these obstacles I had real difficulty getting over. Most of the time we both ended up horizontal on the ground.

These days there are still plenty of hurdles around. Sometimes programming seems to be all about getting over one hurdle only to reach the next one all too quickly. And sometimes the hurdles seem to be more like brick walls! In the end though we always get to where we want to go, even if by a circuitous route.

A far bigger hurdle for me these days is getting more people to know about Surfulater and to understand and appreciate how useful a tool it can be for them. You have no idea how frustrating this is. If Surfulater was just another piece of poorly designed, poorly implemented software that didn’t meet any reel need, then there would be good reasons why folks weren’t interested in it. But that isn’t the case at all. Our users think Surfulater is a truly wonderful product, and of course they are right. Now this is great news and, as I wrote to a new user Sidney Whitehead yesterday, it is a great motivator which helps keep Surfulater on a steady growth path.

This is an excerpt from yesterday’s e-mail from Sidney:

Congratulations on creating such a well thought out and useful product.  I was so thrilled to find precisely what I needed in Surfulater that three days was enough to convince me to purchase the product.  Anyone accustomed to filing clippings from magazines and newspapers should now be relieved that they can do the same thing with added functionality in an electronic format.  I just happened to stumble across your product after doing a Google search on “saving web pages”, in which Surfulater appeared as the tenth entry at the bottom of the page.  I’m convinced that if more people were aware that such a fantastic piece of software existed, they would convert immediately.

I’m convinced that Sydney is absolutely correct in his assessment. And therein lies the problem – getting more people to be Surfulater aware.

In my mission for Surfulater success I’ve been trying to find solutions to my marketing problems. I’ve talked to and communicated with various marketing people and companies, but so far haven’t found anyone that could make a real difference, well at least not in a cost effective way. One person that has been helpful is John Seiffer who is a small business coach. Our discussions inspired John to write Marketing, Sales & Dating on his blog. I’ve replied with a comment which elaborates on the issues I’m facing. I was going to re-post that here but decided it would be best read in context with John’s article.

Marketing is hard, no doubt about it. It is something you need to devote a lot of time and energy to, to get anywhere. Occasionally luck is on your side, or you happen to know someone that knows someone that …, well you get the idea. And things get in your way, like the need to continually improve the product, fix problems, provide support, talk to your spouse, eat and sleep. And if you think marketing is hard then try programming.

Ok, let me wrap this up. Go and read John’s blog post and my reply. If you know someone that knows someone, please put me in touch. If you have any ideas that can help with spreading the word about Surfulater, please do let me know. And finally if you know someone who is good at marketing or at least is up to a challenge let’s talk.

12 Replies to “Jumping hurdles”

  1. “If you know someone that knows someone, please put me in touch.” I have two referrals for you.

    First, Jason King (jgk at silentcow.com) from Sydney. I guess that his schedule is tight but maybe you and he can work something out. We worked together on a SuDoku Pro clone once and his copy was fantastic.

    Phil Wright at ComponentFactory recommended Chris Cardell from the UK:


    I’ve not worked with Chris (yet) but his free newsletters are just the right read to get into “marketing mood”. He just launched some kind of “affordable online seminar” in addition to his consulting services.

  2. Hi Philipp,
    Thanks for the referrals. I have to say that I’m trying to cut back on reading (not very successfully) and turn all these words into actions that will hopefully produce results.

  3. Neville:

    There really is a simple solution to your marketing problems. I’ve studied Internet Marketing for years for the genealogy software I’m developing. You are a bit ahead of me since I’m still in alpha development, whereas your program has been in production for some time.

    But it’s as clear as day to me what you’re missing. Since you already get superb reviews from your users, all you really need is more interested people to find out about you. What you want to do is drive more people who may be interested in your product to your site.

    There are many sources of information on this on the web. The number one tool you need to use is Google Adwords – but learn how to do it properly or it can backfire.

    The resource I like best is the book “Search Engine Marketing, Inc.” by Mike Moran and Bill Hunt. Find it at Amazon or wherever and go from there.

    I’d wish you good luck, but its really not a matter of luck. It’s a matter of learning what to do and then doing it.


  4. Hi Louis,
    I agree that I need to get more people finding out about and interested in Surfulater.

    I really, truly wish the answer to my dilemma lay in Google Adwords, which by the way I’ve been running for quite some time now.

    Most people don’t even realize programs like Surfulater exist, let alone that they may have a need for one. But lets for a moment assume they do, what do they search for?

    This is from a post on another forum yesterday which sums things up nicely:

    “How would you search for a software tool to make your life easier to conduct internet research? What would that tool be called? What type of keywords would your customers punch into Google? I tried thinking about that for a few minutes, tried it on Google but did not get Surfulator’s website. In fact, the keywords I thought of were so general that I got lots of unrelated results. If I were a customer, I’d just give up.”

    In your specific case it is much easier as you have a very well defined group of people to get in touch with and setting up “effective” ad-word campaigns is straight-forward.

  5. So, for those keywords you tried, are you bidding on the Google Adwords? Have you put Google Adwords on as many as 500 different sets of keywords organized into groups to see which groups give the best click-through rate and which keywords give the best revenue to cost ratio? Have you used negative words such as “-free” to eliminate people less likely to buy? Do you use broad match, phrase match, and exact match phrases for all sets of keywords to maximize your exposure but minimize your cost? Have you started split testing to see what ad text works best, and have you then tried a few landing pages different than your home page to see if you can get better conversion rates than you currently do? Even changing one word in an ad may double your click-through rate or conversion rate?

    In other words, there’s a lot you can do easily even with just Google Adwords to increase your sales by a huge amount.

    You must to try to get those searchers who are looking for your product but don’t know it. Look in your weblogs and see what searches they did to get to your site. Then use keyword tools to find what similar searches they might be trying. Find out what keywords your competitors are bidding on. Get rid of the keywords that don’t pay off and explore in more detail the ones that do.

    Then you must ensure that your website (or maybe a landing page for each ad group would be better) is tuned to enable the person who clicked the ad to realize within a few seconds, that this may be the product they want – or else they’ll just leave. If nothing else, first and foremost push them to download and try Surfulater, and try to get them to sign up to some sort of mailing list or download registration or whatever, so that you can contact them again when new info about Surfulator comes out.

    My case is no different than yours. I’ll have to target my “well defined” group of people the same way. In fact, for me it may be more difficult than you because I’ve got only one-tenth the number of potential customers that you have and I have 10 times the number of competitors that you have.


  6. Hi Neville:

    Marketing is important in all its various methods (AdWords, cover disks, etc) but I think enabling your users to be your salesmen by giving them the resources to distribute is very powerful. Some of these resources are at our disposal (emailing out from SuL for example), but also: SuL Reader, Export formats, integration tools, gives them something to show.

    You have heaps of happy and satisfied customers who use your product extensively. Enabling them to display their work is the best advertising.

    I’d be interested to know who your target groups were?

    – Perry
    What about T-Shirts? 😉

  7. Louis,
    I’m running 15 AdWords campaigns for Surfulater at present. Each one has 10+ keywords including phrase/exact matching plus the usual negative keywords. And yes I’ve tried various different ads. I haven’t tried different landing pages though and don’t spend as much time analyzing the results as I could (should?).

    Many (most) people rely on seeing you in the search results, not the ads and that’s a challenge in itself as I’ve previously written http://blog.surfulater.com/2005/05/25/on-google/

    AdWord prices have increased over 400% since I started and will no doubt continue to rise. Advertising and other costs seriously erode profits from low price products.

    The problems remain. Most people don’t know programs like Surfulater even exist and don’t know how useful they can be. A person with far better marketing skills than me told me the other day that it is very difficult to educate a market.

    And then we get back to my earlier quote about what keywords will folks use when they search for a product like Surfulater. Looking in logs is of limited help as that only tells you what people who’ve “found you” have searched for, not all the ones that haven’t found. And they are the ones of most interest!

    Let me tell you the two most popular search terms: surfulater & surfulator. 🙂

    I’ll be interested in your experiences with Adwords when your genealogy program hits the streets. I have no doubt you’ll do a better job than me though.

  8. Hi Perry,
    Users can indeed be great evangelists for your product and this is something I push. But so far it has only been effective in a small way. You telling your next door neighbour how wonderful Surfulater is, probably won’t result in a new customer. I’m waiting for the snowball to grow though.

    Using Surfulater as a tool to market itself is also very worthwhile and adding capabilities such as the talked about Web Publishing and Free Reader will surely help.

    “I’d be interested to know who your target groups were?”

    Me too. 🙂

  9. Neville,

    I hate to say this, but I think your product could use a name change. “Surfulater” sounds like a detergent. Yes, for those who take the time to think about it, “Surf you later” does sort of tell the story of your software, but most people aren’t going to take that time. You need a name that instantly relates what your product does — something like Web Wrangler, or Data Catcher, or NoteBoat, or NoteTamer or Note Gallery (I know those suggestions are not exactly great — it is easier to criticize a name than to create an effective one).

    Look at your successful competitors:
    Net Snippets
    Zoot (okay, this one falls outside my theory of having a descriptive name, but it’s punchy, fun to say, and memorable)

    The other thing you should work toward is getting a high profile endorsement. That’s what put Zoot on the map… when journalist James Fallows wrote about it (and continues to write about it). So, even with a name like Zoot, the product thrives…

    So that’s the commentary from these cheap seats.

  10. Steve,
    We wanted a name that was a bit light hearted and fun, which is where Surfulater came from. My good friend Susan Robinson actually came up with the name during a brainstorming session one day. At the time it was easily the best name any of us thought of.

    But with hindsight it has turned out to be less than ideal, for a variety of reasons. I hadn’t thought of the detergent angle though.

    We’ve had a new name waiting in the wings for a few months now, which is along the lines of your suggestions.

    I’m working hard to get to Version 2, at which time we’ll likely have two products. The new one with the new name and a higher price and Surfulater with less features and the current price. I’m very keen to get this done.

    A high profile endorsement would be great. For now I need to settle on lots of low profile ones. But stay tuned!

  11. The quirky name certainly does not capture the professional product: but thank goodness the products sells itself very easily.

    Getting people to trial it is the issue (do you think the name is a barrier?)

    Like the pub band called “Free Beer”: I’m not sure that hotels were keen to put them in adverts!

  12. Hi Neville,

    You may have already done most if not all of the ideas below. If not I hope something below is a help or spurs a new idea angle. I am an prior Onfolio user who was looking for a replacement that supports firefox, is portable, automatically imports ‘favorites’ form IE and Firefox (a key feature in my book for new users).

    Try to get Walt Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal to review it…that’s a major event that gave Onfolio a huge boost. “The Mossberb Effect”, as stock analysts call it is real. Decide on the name change before you send him a free copy. (maybe Surf-U-Later?)

    Perhaps ‘Onfolio replacement software’ or ‘The next Onfolio’ as a subject line will get through the screening process.

    In the body mention portability on flash drives, multiple browser support and open database standards. These are all things that will appeal to him. He has a sympathetic heart to open standards and non-proprietary strategies.

    Also, perhaps a reverse profile of Onfolio’s marketing history, trace all the old reviews of Onfolio and send out free copies to all the reviewers, or even all their staff. If a PC mag staff were to adopt it you would be in the gold circle. It costs you time for huge potential marketing benefits. In spite of technology and the web much of the world still functions via direct relationships, reviewers review stuff heard of from people they know, trust or just like – influencers. Hope this helps.


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