I’m preparing for the BaconBiz conference as we speak.
Brief plug: BaconBiz is one of my two favorite conferences for small software/etc companies (roughly similar to mine), the other being Microconf. You’re too late to get a ticket for 2014, since they’re sold out, but I’d highly advise coming to it if you have the opportunity in the future, if this sort of stuff interests you. You can sign up to get a reminder email about it for next year.
My talk at BaconBiz 2013 was all about conversion optimization for SaaS companies. Most of the time when I do a talk like this I end up talking either in generalities or about one of my own products, since consulting clients very rarely let me spill all of the beans. This time, though, Amy and Thomas of Freckle let me walk through, effectively, a mini-consulting engagement with the deliverables crammed into 30 minutes.
Amy and Thomas subsequently made changes to the Freckle marketing site partly informed by the advice in this presentation. Ask Amy how that worked out, but suffice it to say the improvement pays for an awful lot of bacon. My quick eyeball on their numbers is that Freckle has grown monthly recurring revenue by more than 20% since the redesign, which I would partly attribute to organic growth and partly to the redesign. (Incidentally: I think their hybrid “standard SaaS”/long-copy page is a style which more SaaS companies should experiment with.)
Brief plug the 2nd: If you’d like to get some free advice from me about conversion optimization for SaaS companies, and also hear when my course on that topic finally ships, you can get that here. Expect about two emails a week for the next few weeks. (Aside: About 10k people separately get an update once or twice a month about eclectic topics about making and selling software. If that is interesting to you, get it here.)
What You’ll Get Out Of This Talk
- Practical advice for conversion optimization at a SaaS business.
- Examples of front-page H1 copy to help you beat your main business adversary: the back button.
- How to redesign a pricing page to continue the sales conversation and overcome customer objections.
As usual for talks, I’ve had it transcribed, which you can find below the video and slides. Hat tip to CastingWords. I just discovered you can give them a e.g. Vimeo URL and they’ll slurp the audio out of it, which saved me from doing my usual hack around not having a usable MP3 file, which was to push Play on my computer and then record the audio output.
Conversion Optimization in Practice (Video)
Conversion Optimization in Practice (Slides)
Conversion Optimization in Practice (transcript)
Amy Hoy: Has everyone heard of “Bingo Card Creator“?
Amy Hoy: OK, great.
Patrick McKenzie: No.
Amy Hoy: For the few of you who did not raise your hand and go, “Yeah,” this is Patrick McKenzie, who came from Japan to be here with us today ‑‑ and also his friend’s wedding which must not have had anything to do with it ‑‑ who started his independent software selling career with a bingo card creating tool for teachers.
Because that was such a tough market, he became an absolute wiz at SEO, automatic content marketing, all aboveboard types of stuff, and conversion optimization. Now he’s using that to help all kinds of other people also earn more money, including himself.
What was the quote that you had about your lifecycle emails that someone said how much did one email make them?
Patrick: There are a few different quotes I could give there. One company used not my lifecycle email course, but the marketing material for the lifecycle email course, forwarded it to his director of biz dev, and the biz dev guy closed a $500,000 sale two days later.
Amy Hoy: From the free content you gave away to promote your course?
Patrick: From the sales pitch, yeah.
Amy Hoy: That should give you an idea of the expertise this man presents. Give a warm welcome to Patrick McKenzie please.
Amy Hoy: Thank you.
Patrick: Hideho everybody. Thanks for having me. I want to start with the question, “Why are we here?” There are a lot of ways we can interpret that question. There’s the classical theological one, but I only have 40 minutes, and I’m not going to rewrite the previous 2,000 years of western civilization in that time, so we’ll go to two smaller reasons. One, is what incredibly unlikely series of happy events happened such that I am able to come here today?
I want to give a shout out to a gentleman named Brian Plexico. Have any of you ever heard of him? Brian Plexico, back in 2006, released a skeet‑shooting score application that none of you have ever heard of. It required you to take a laptop out to a…Where do people do skeet shooting? I don’t know. It’s illegal in my country…out to the range.
You take your laptop out. You project things that look like birds, then project things that look like bullets towards the birds, and if they hit the things that look like birds, you get points. Apparently it’s difficult for people to count on one hand and shoot shotguns on the other, so they needed skeet‑shooting scoring software.
Brian Plexico released this skeet‑shooting scoring software. He sold $2000 of it, which the world did not long note or remember, but Brian Plexico wrote a blog post about this that I read in 2006.
This was the first time it pinged onto my consciousness that wow, you could actually run a software business as a side thing, not have to quit your job, not have to go to the Valley and get venture capital, and not have to be the super uber‑genius that Joel Spolsky is. (I’d been reading his blog for a while.)
A real normal person, just like you, could do this. So why do I come all the way from Japan to BaconBiz to talk to all of you guys? Because I feel indebted to that one blog post, and also because I think that we can all help each other realize that this is an achievable thing. Amy builds me up as some sort of Internet celebrity, or genius, and I won’t lie, I am kind of intelligent but this is…
Amy Hoy: Humble too.
Patrick: Right. This is absolutely something that all of you guys can be doing. I think there’s two audiences in this talk, well, one audience, but there’s people at different stages of your business career inside of it. Some of you might not have launched your product yet. Some of you have businesses at varying levels of success and are looking for what gets you to the next level.
We’re going to start the talk with a bit of the background of my business to give you guys who think that if you haven’t launched yet, you might not think you can do this, to tell you that you absolutely can. We’ll go into the practical stuff for those of you who have businesses that you can turn around and use in your businesses tomorrow.
Most of it’s going to be specific to SaaS businesses, because that’s really where my heart and soul is, but for the info product stuff, we had that talk earlier, and we might talk later about it in that little interview thing.
Anyhow, if you want to follow on your phones that you aren’t using, it’s #baconbiz on Twitter.
Bingo Card Creator. Who knew, right? Bingo Card Creator has several hundred thousand users, largely gathered out of the United States, three million or so elementary school teachers.
I’ve gotten several thousand paying customers over the years, and it all started with a one thousand line of code Java Swing app back in 2006 that I put together in seven days of work, and a budget of $60, of which I spent $56.83. [Patrick notes: I think it was actually $57.83. Ack, the tyranny of arbitrarily precise approximations!]
Largest single line item on the budget was faxing a contract to eCelerate in America. The 7‑Eleven charged me $17 for that. If any of you are thinking that you don’t have enough money to start a business, you totally do, but if I was going to redo it again, I would spend a little bit more money on getting a professional web design, rather than trying to hack it together myself. That’s neither here nor there.
The reason I want to talk about Bingo Card Creator very briefly is to show that I absolutely did not start out as overwhelming Superman. You can see this is my…Is this the red button, green button? Green button does not flash onscreen. All right.
Patrick: [laughs] Laser pointer view 1.0. You can see salaries in Japan are not so awesome. [Patrick notes: The algorithm for most businesses near Nagoya for full-time engineers works out to, essentially, $100 of salary per year of age per month. Thus, if you’re 30, you can expect a salary of roughly $36,000 a year, plus the usual white collar perk suite. This is slightly complicated by the fact that Japanese salarymen often receive biannual bonuses of approximately 1.5 times their monthly salary, but that’s immaterial relative to the difference between Japanese pay scales and e.g. Silicon Valley (or Chicago) ones.]
The first year of Bingo Card Creator, I was planning on eventually selling as much as $200 a month. I blew through that thing in the first month, but it basically did not move the needle at all.
I just started trying things out. I learned about A/B testing. I learned about search engine optimization. I learned about AdWords. Over the years, as a part time, little five‑hour‑a‑week hobby, I had to quit World of Warcraft to run this hobby. I used to run a raid guild of 60 members or so, which is the largest enterprise I’ve ever been in charge of.
Patrick: It was a whole lot more work for much worse loot, let me tell you. [Patrick notes: After approximately 3 years of 20 hours per week I think my main WoW character would have been worth about $2,000 on the open market. Don’t go into video games for the money, kiddos.]
Patrick: I just gradually grew it to the point…Some time in here, my day job transitioned from a very cushy job at a prefectural technology incubator…where I was expected to translate English for people who never needed English translations done, so I spent a lot of time reading on the Internet…to working as a Japanese salaryman, which means that the company owns you body and soul and you spend 12 to 16 hours a day, crash overnight, and then do it again the next day.
I was really not feeling it. Then about 2009‑ish, I had a big insight one day. I had spent something like 19 hours at the office. I got out of the office at 2:00 AM, ate dinner at the all night Denny’s. I checked my email, because Bingo Card Creator emails could happen at any time, on my Kindle because we didn’t have iPads back in those days.
I went to sleep for five hours, woke up the next morning and checked my email again prior to heading out to the office for another 7:30 meeting the following day. I realized that I made more while sleeping with Bingo Card Creator than I had at the 19 hour day at the office, even counting overtime.
I was, “Why am I still in this day job anymore?” I couldn’t come up with any good reason for that, so I quit.
What happened since then? In 2010 I launched a new product called Appointment Reminder. I made one big mistake about this, which I want to tell you all about.
Everybody knows Peldi, right, the gentleman behind Balsamiq Mockups? Peldi and I have been Internet buddies for a while. I knew him before he was Internet famous, and he knew me before I was Internet famous. I told him about my idea for Appointment Reminder which makes appointment‑reminding phone calls and SMS messages and emails to the clients of professional services businesses.
He said, “Is it your passion in life to optimize the scheduling of small doctors’ offices?” I said, “Oh, heck no, but it’s going to be a great business.” He’s, “Dude, stop now, stop now. Do not go forward. You will get bored, and this will be much harder than it needs to be.”
I did not listen to Peldi. I encourage you all to listen to Peldi.
Patrick: Find a community. Find a problem space. Find an industry that you are really passionate about. We just discussed this in 4 minutes and 14 seconds, several years here, but if I had not been enthralled with a certain aspect of the business, that’s a lot of time.
I’ve been doing this for eight years now. If you get bored of it, then the business dies effectively. Pick something that you can really sink your teeth into. The thing I sunk my teeth into in Bingo Card Creator, I used to be a teacher. I love teaching. I love helping teachers, but it is not my passion in life.
The thing I became passionate about with Bingo Card Creator was the mechanics of optimizing the business. That’s what we’re going to be talking about a little later today. Find something you can be passionate about. I really recommend it.
Since quitting the day job…by the way, I don’t show Appointment Reminder numbers on these graphs just because I nurse “maybe I will, maybe I won’t” ideas of someday taking investment for Appointment Reminder and it’s better to keep it under your belt. That’s not English, is it? Sorry, I’m from Japan.
Patrick: Anyhow, Bingo Card Creator grew while I was still at the day job. After I quit the day job, people who had heard of me on the Internet, because I had been blogging over this entire course of time, said, “Hey, all that stuff that you’ve learned about marketing software products for Bingo Card Creator seems to be pretty generalizable. Why don’t you try it with our products?”
Joel Spolsky memorably said, “Oh, Patrick’s become something of an SEO guru, learning about bingo cards. Now that he’s applying it to a product that isn’t totally bullshit, it will be pretty useful.”
Patrick: Soft spoken as always, right? I did a little work for Fog Creek, and that seems to have worked out for both parties. I did consulting work for a few other well‑renowned software companies and the WildBits folks among them. Anyhow, I had a few pretty good years of it. 2012 was the best year of my life for one major reason. I got married to Ruriko McKenzie over there.
Patrick: This is a totally self‑indulgent slide, because that is the best I will ever look.
Patrick: I always want to take a minute out of speeches like this, especially I think it will connect to this audience as bootstrappers. One of the reasons we get into this versus doing the corporate wage slave job or trying to go to Silicon Valley and roll the dice is that we want to be able to construct the life we want to be living.
Your business will be important to your life. Your career will be important to your life, but it isn’t nearly as important as the rest of your life, as your family, your friends, being involved with your community, et cetera. Definitely do keep a balance there and remember that it’s a means to the end. It isn’t the end itself.
The more boring part about 2012 was, while I took three months off of work and did nothing but answer emails once every three days or so to plot the wedding things because when you do weddings in two continents it’s kind of blech.
If you have to do that, you have to do that. But if you don’t have to do that, I strongly suggest not doing it. [laughs] I took three months off work. I stopped development, stopped answering requests for proposals. I stopped anything other than routine email support and sales exploded.
Why? There is “a season to sow and a season to reap.” The previous years I had been sowing automated systems that worked without my involvement. In 2012 they started clicking together through some efforts of my own but mostly just natural growth. We’ll talk a little about them later.
2012, pretty good. By the way, not the main focus of this point, but you can see the main ingredient in the revenue mix last year of these three products was the consulting. My current revenue for consulting in 2013 is zero dollars. I quit it recently.
Ask me why later, but at the party when I’m not on camera, because the consulting client that drove me out of consulting has a legal department which is better funded than the North Korean military and twice as vicious.
Patrick: I think there are three stages for a bootstrapping business. Some of you are probably in all of them right now. There’s the stage where you don’t have a product or customers yet. You don’t really have an audience. You might not even have an idea of where you want to take it.
Then there’s the point where you’ve got a product, you’ve got some customers, but it isn’t quite hitting your financial goals yet. If a goal in your own business is to quit the day job and transition into your product full time, you might be getting, say, $2,000 a month of sales. If that’s not enough for you to live on, you want to get it to the next stage.
Then the third stage of a bootstrapping business is where it’s achieving all of your financial goals and the big question for you is, “Where do we take it from here?” My advice is largely going to be specific to the people who are in stages two or three.
If you don’t have a product yet, don’t worry anything about A/B testing. Don’t worry anything about conversion optimization. Your only two tasks are to talk to customers and produce something for them.
If you don’t have 3,000 visitors a month, I will tell you, your entire A/B testing strategy is throw out everything you ever read about A/B testing. Don’t even bother reading blog posts about it. Talk to customers. Ship stuff to them. Sell it one copy at a time until your teaching and your email lists and your publishing content have gotten you to 3,000 visitors a month of recurring traffic. Otherwise it’s just a waste of your time.
For folks like the WildBits, with large amounts of traffic or even folks who just have modest amounts of traffic, you can get a couple hundred visitors to routinely come to a blog post, then you can start thinking about your conversion optimization strategy.
I was going to talk in very hand‑wavy ways about, “You should improve your calls to action and then you can improve the colors of your buttons and whatnot.” But I’ve been at the presentation a lot before whether it’s delivered by myself or other people, and it feels boring without an actual business to focus on.
I’ve presented on my business probably about 30 times over the years, and, honestly, I’ve said almost everything I’ve ever cared to say about Bingo Cards. I thought I’d pick another business and show you what we would do with that business to optimize it for them.
Amy and Thomas were graceful enough to volunteer Freckle, so we’re going to be using Freckle as a way to dive into the meat and nitty‑gritty of optimization. What are we optimizing for? We’re optimizing for a formula which I miscopied. Sorry.
The Fundamental SaaS Equation
Patrick: This is the fundamental SaaS equation. Traffic, your revenue, your profits, whatever you want, but the main driver for the business is the sum over any space you want to think of, like over all the customers, over all the marketing channels, over all the whatever.
The amount of traffic you get times your conversion rate through your funnel times…This is the bad part…your average revenue per user, which means what you charge the average person on a given period of time. I wrote one minus churn here. It’s actually one minus survivorship which equals churn. You can copy down that one if you need to.
The agony and ecstasy of running SaaS businesses is, if you can easily manipulate traffic, that excuses everything else. If you are really good at search engine optimization, you need absolutely no other skills to successfully run a SaaS business, as Bingo Card Creator might prove.
That one is really hard to explain, so we’re going to be talking more about the conversion rates and the other aspects here, a little less about churn in this presentation. Unfortunately, conversion rate, while it is easily within all of your capabilities to optimize, it takes a couple months to see the results from.
There is something that you can do to average revenue per user which tends to produce easy and obvious results, so I have to put it in every presentation. It is “Charge more.”
When I was flying from Nagoya to Philadelphia…to Detroit, there was an intermediary stop…my iPhone ran out of batteries. I told my wife, Ruriko, “My iPhone is out of batteries.” She looks over at me and she’s, “You should charge more.”
Patrick: [laughs] Man, I’m a broken record on this one, but I’m a broken record because it works so well. This is the launch pricing for Appointment Reminder. It launched at $9, $29, $79, and an enterprise plan which was basically “Call me,” because I couldn’t actually provision that account.
I changed that later to $29, $79, $199. I got rid of the $9 plan, because, like we talked about earlier, your lowest paying customers are pathological. They have higher churn rates. They have unreasonable expectations for your product.
No lie, I had a dental office which was on the $9 plan which asked me to cut them a refund check because they hadn’t used 60 percent of their quota. So I could please send the dental office a check for $5.40.
I asked the office manager, “Has the dentist ever written a check for $5.40 to anyone for any reason if they were unsatisfied with their teeth?” She was, “No, that’s crazy.” I was, “Yes, that is, indeed, crazy.”
Patrick: I no longer solicit the business of anyone who wants to pay $9. Something that I was routinely hearing when I was at the $79, $79 corresponded to 300 appointments a month. A lot of people said, “Wow, it only goes up to 300 appointments a month. It can’t possibly handle 500 appointments a month,” which is the way non‑software people think of software.
Everyone else in the room is, “That’s clearly a variable he has hard coded somewhere. He can bump it up to any number he wants less than like a million without changing anything else.” You are correct, but you think in a way that non‑software people don’t think.
Just adding the $200 option that went up to $1,000 did this to my revenue. Here’s the month before I added it. Here’s the month where I added it. Here’s the month after. This is arbitrarily scaled to $1 equals my revenue back in May of 2011.
It added basically two full increments of my revenue with just that one change. That was in a two month period where I was doing literally no other work, because it was during my wedding/honeymoon. I was not even checking my email that month.
My designer just pushed that to the page, and then, bam, revenue exploded. It even exploded because…Actually, August 2012 was the purge of August. I went through my accounts and closed the account of anybody who hadn’t actually used the system in a year because I hate taking money from people who aren’t getting value from things. It lopped off 25 percent of the accounts.
By the way, non‑use of SaaS services is a real thing. Any of you who run SaaS companies are going to have to deal with how you want to treat that. My thought was, “I’ll close the accounts and then reinstate them if anyone complains.”
Surprisingly, some people did complain. “Whoa, dude, why did you go closing my account like that?” “Because you hadn’t logged in in 16 months.” “Well, I was getting around to it.”
Conversion Optimization for Freckle
Patrick: We’re going to do the 25‑minute consulting engagement for Amy and Thomas’ Freckle product. Time tracking used to focus on freelancers. These days it’s focusing more on firms.
Amy Hoy: You could run over time.
Amy Hoy: Free consulting. Keep talking.
Amy Hoy: Yes, but also I’ve been his friend today. We love you. Keep talking.
Patrick: The first thing we do prior to digging into what we can optimize is to get a clear sense of what the funnel is for the business. The funnel for their business is the same as the funnel for virtually every other SaaS business.
There’s some notion of getting the prospects into the free trial, “pre‑signup stuff” we often call it, getting the trialers onboarded into the product, which means getting them to the point where they have successfully used the core interaction once. For Freckle, they’ve actually logged time at least once.
Getting a trialer, they’re not just onboarded, they’re engaged with the product, where they’re actually getting value out of it in their day‑to‑day business life. For Freckle that means they have transitioned their sole source of truth for time tracking into Freckle, and then turning those trialers into customers.
Everybody knows what funnel means, right? There’s some big pool of prospects at the top and then, as each step goes on, you’ve got less and less people that survive through the funnel. Then you get some happy event at the bottom called conversion.
Each of those stages in the funnel is actually a little funnel in isolation. The pre‑signup step, where people are not in the free trial yet, there’s multiple stages that they can go. They can go to the front page, look at the plans page, and then go to the signup for the free trial page. Only if they click through that are they in the trial so there are funnels within funnels.
We’re going to be looking at those funnels within funnels in a bit of granular detail. Why do we do this analysis of what the funnels are like prior to digging in and getting started working? Because if you don’t, you can waste your time doing stupid things.
Here’s a thing which is stupid in Freckle’s instance but will work for a lot of B2B companies. I do it with almost every B2B SaaS company. There’s a point in the B2B SaaS where, after you’ve signed up for the free trial, you have to invite your team into using the product.
Typically B2B SaaS, there’s some sort of collaborative thing involved, and it gets more useful the more people you have using it. If you don’t invite your team into it, it’s highly likely that you’ll stop using it at the end of the month.
You have to be careful about the copywriting for sending out an invitation. If you have copywriting like, “You’re invited to Freckle,” that seems, from the perspective of an engineer working at the company, if they just get an invitation out of the blue saying “You’re invited to use Freckle,” they’re like, “Well, that doesn’t mean anything to me,” and just delete it.
But if you said, “Your boss, Bob, requests that you use Freckle for time tracking,” then they’re going to feel, “Oh, I sort of have a social obligation towards the guy who signs my paychecks to actually do what he tells me to on a fairly frequent basis. So I’m actually going to click the signup link and start using Freckle.”
That’s an easy, automatic win for almost every B2B SaaS company. I was about to say, “Amy and Thomas, you should get on implementing that right now.” Then I asked Thomas, “How many people who receive this email don’t actually act on it?”
That wasn’t a number we tracked anywhere, but we ran some arbitrary SQL queries, and it turns out the answer is 1.5 percent. 98.5 percent of the people who get this email actually sign into Freckle and use it so trying to optimize that number is a total waste of time. Versus we can look at other places where 30 percent of the people are going through the funnel and try to get that 30 up to 40.
Since things are multiplicatively effective, that’s like raising the revenue growth rate by 33 percent rather than trying to, “Oh, God, we’re going to work for weeks and craft the best invitation email ever and get 98.57 percent to survive through that step.” Don’t waste your time. Look at the numbers first.
Here’s the pre‑trial signup flow for Freckle. You go to the home page. It’s nice. It’s pretty. It sends you to the pricing page. You pick which plan you like. You put in your details. As soon as you hit “Go,” which is somewhere off the bottom off the screen here, you have a Freckle account.
Everybody probably has a very similar thing. This is quite standard in the SaaS industry. We’re going to dig into each of these steps and see what we can do better. When we look at the numbers, these numbers, by the way, are from KISSmetrics. I like KISSmetrics.
It’s a bit on the expensive side for bootstrappers who don’t have revenue yet. You can do it all with arbitrary SQL queries or MS Excel if you want to. But it produces nice, beautiful graphs that I can use in presentations, so I always suggest it.
Of people who visit the home page, only about 15 percent or so get to viewing the plans page. That’s a very low number relative to many other companies I’ve worked with. Improving that, as long as we get the same caliber of customer to get to the plans page, is pretty much an automatic win for Freckle.
Even if we double it, that doesn’t necessarily double sales. Just getting people to the plans page doesn’t move the needle at the business, but, in general, things that get people longer in funnel will tend to have some sort of increase later down the line, in general. There’s exceptions.
Just to give you a comparable for this, by the way, Appointment Reminder, I filed the serial numbers off, but 38 percent of the people who go to the home page actually get to the plans page. The main reason is different design things that we do. I’m going to go into what Freckle does design‑wise that I would do differently.
If they were to move their “View the plan page” conversion up to where mine is, it’s a 250 percent difference, my guesstimate from finger‑to‑the‑wind of having done this at a few companies, is that probably increases their sales growth rate by between 20 percent and 100 percent, which is, obviously, very worthwhile to do.
Amy Hoy: Understatement. You’re a master of understatement, but that’s the most understatementy understatement…
Patrick: I went into one company once and was reporting to their CEO. “I thought I was going to increase gross revenues by 100 percent. I’m sorry. I failed.” He was, “Define failure.” “I only increased gross revenue by 15 percent.” [laughs] He schooled me on the way business actually works, because that’s normally what they do in a year.
Patrick: Anyhow, we’re going to look at the front page and see what we can do about the front page such that we get more people onto the plans page. We’re going to pick high value targets.
What is a high value target? It’s something that a lot of people see and they interact with and it’s likely to influence their decision on whether to go to the next page or not.
For example, what is not a high value target? There’s some wonderful copy down here, but we know nobody reads on the Internet. That’s not actually true, but statistically speaking, only 20 percent of the audience or less is going to actually read everything on this page.
If they’re making the decision after five seconds to hit the back button and not go onto the plans page, it’s probably not because they didn’t love this line “Kiss configuration goodbye” that’s down here in normal font way down on the page.
They’re probably responding, overwhelmingly, to the headline, H1 here, to this image, and to the actual mechanism for getting to the plan age. We’re going to go through those, in turn and see what we can do. At this point some people might say, “OK, we can A/B test headers against each other,” and just start. “Give me two sentences. We’ll throw them out there and see which one wins.”
I don’t love doing that, because that’s a great way to chase down a rabbit hole. Before you start throwing things at the wall, you should try to get into the head, build a mental model of the mind of your prospective customer and figure out, “I’m trying to put myself in your shoes. Why aren’t you giving us the time of day to at least see how much it costs or see what the plans are like”?
Maybe my hypothesis is that you don’t understand what Freckle is. You don’t understand Freckle is time tracking. Why might you think that? Because “Goodbye Administrivia” doesn’t necessarily tell you in the first 10 seconds you’re looking at it that it’s time tracking.
If that was the problem, if Amy was hearing that sort of feedback from customers or she was shoulder surfing people and they clicked back and she said, “Pst, pst, why?” “I don’t really know if this is for me. I don’t know what it does,” then what would we do headline‑wise to address that?
Here’s some we could test. We’d probably test them against each other using A/B testing or something. “Online time tracking with Freckle.” It’s simple. It’s to the point. It’s very obvious what it does then.
You’ll find that “simple, to the point, and obvious” beats the heck out of more florid copy.
Goodbye administrivia sounds like something that a director of marketing might really love. The director of marketing gets ROFLstomped by 17 year olds with a decent senses of the English language a lot in my experience.
Also you note that one has pretty nice SEO benefits. If you have online time tracking in the H1, you’re much more likely to rank for online time tracking. That might or might not be effective for your business. It probably wouldn’t move the needle at Freckle, to be honest.
Their primary customer acquisition strategy is people who come into the Amy/Thomas ecosystem and then, at some point, they look for Freckle by name because they’ve heard such great things about it. Another thing you could offer, frictionless time tracking, which both says what it does, time tracking, and gives them something to catch their attention with.
If I say that it’s frictionless or any other very descriptive adjective that gets your mind thinking, you start to think of all the painful things that you have done in time tracking in the past, how it’s a waste of your time, boring drudge work.
You might be intrigued enough to think, “Frictionless, why is it frictionless,” and then actually read the rest of the page where they tell you. Here’s another thing, “Time tracking with 42 percent less suck.”
Apparently in all of the classical marketing texts that are taught at colleges, they tell you to beat the heck out of any sort of personality that you put in your advertising copy. Unfortunately, [laughs] that doesn’t work very well.
I ran a World of Warcraft guild for a couple of years. I’m a geek. I own it. I often talk like a semi‑immature geek when I write copy, because it generally tends to connect with my audience.
Find out what works for your audience, whether it’s informal diction or the more classical stylings of a Harvard‑educated professional or whatever works for you. Try to get that feeling for the company, the vibe, your voice, off early and often in the copy.
By the way, if I just told you this product is more effective than the time tracking you’re using right now, your perception of how credible that claim is is probably less than if I told you, “It’s 42 percent less suck,” because numbers, for some reason, are trusted more than claims that don’t have numbers about them.
If you think about this for five seconds you might think, “Wait, wait, there’s no objective measurement for how many units of suck a time tracking tool might have.”
Patrick: You can even play with that in your copy like asterisk, a “according to our Mom”, whatever. If you surveyed people with the before and after, their perceived trust would go up with the “suck” headline. That’s a thing you should always keep in mind about numbers.
Another thing about numbers, for some reason, numbers that are not round, not 10 percents or 5 percents or 25 percents, but like 43 percent are perceived as more credible than numbers that are rounded.
It’s like, “Oh, if you know how to understand a rounding function on your calculator, you must be an evil, educated scientist trying to trick me. But if you just pick a number out of thin air and end it with a seven, then clearly you’re on my side.” I don’t know why that works, but all the marketers will tell you that it works.
Don’t make up numbers out of thin air if they’re going to be consequential numbers, but if you do have a number that you can say, “People who use our tool spend 47 percent less man‑hours on this task,” don’t round that to 50. It’s against your interests, even though 50 percent sounds like more in isolation.
What else could be going wrong with the headline? Maybe the problem isn’t the customer doesn’t know what Freckle is. They just don’t understand what Freckle does for them. “Time tracking, I get it. I do time tracking. I don’t know if I spend the next week of my life learning how to use your tool, how doing time tracking with Freckle makes my business better than it is right now.”
If that’s our hypothesis, what do we tell the customer? Early, at the very tip of our relationship with them in the H1, that they should be giving Freckle the time of day. One option.
Bill more hours in less time. There are always two benefits that you can sell to any business you’re selling to, and, by the way, sell to businesses, not to, say, teachers because teachers have no money and have very unreasonable expectations. Businesses have lots of money and very reasonable expectations.
Businesses have one reasonable expectation in particular. It’s anything that increases their revenue or reduces their cost, they’re happy to pay money for. If you can credibly promise that you are going to increase their revenue or reduce their cost, the sale is almost already made.
If you are, say, a consultancy and you have to do time tracking because you bill your clients on an hourly basis, bill more hours with less time.
That’s a direct correlation to revenue for the consultancy. That’s a win for them. You have a direct correlation to revenue to reduced costs in your business. Put that front and center.
Earn more money freelancing with less pain. Again, we’re targeting the money thing. We’re getting people to select here. This, actually, is a selection that’s a bit against their interests because they’re trying to move from freelances to multi‑member firms who can afford to pay more, but just throwing this out there as an idea.
“You earn more money as a freelancer…” If you are a freelancer, this sort of phrasing lights up your snyapses with: “Oh, I’m a freelancer. The rest of this might be relevant to me. I’ll actually read the copy.”
“Less painful?” Honestly, that’s a little overused these days.
A lot of people say their software “It’s less painful and easy to use.” It’s been overused to the point of death now that we’re no longer all using MS Office and every SaaS company says, “We are easier to use than MS Excel.”
The smallest little clap, guys.
It’s a benefit that you could potentially offer to them.
Here’s something. One of the things I love about SaaS businesses is after you’ve run it for a little while you have more data on your users than the Orwellian Minitrue. You can use that data to help out your own businesses. For example, in my business I had to increase people’s no‑show rate. I have a very good idea of how much I need to increase their no‑show rate by.
Without telling any sort of lie whatsoever, you can credibly claim something in your H1 saying, “Bill 15 more hours next month.” Again, it’s a number, it sounds like a credible claim to the reader. If it sounds like an incredible claim, you can justify it in the first paragraph.
“Our customers tell us they bill 15 more hours the month after they start using Freckle, because they rescue time.” How do they rescue time, because right now you’re not charging all of the time you actually work and move into your sales copy. We’ll go into more thoughts along that line later.
“I understand what Freckle is. I understand why someone might want to use Freckle, but I don’t know why I, in particular, would want to use Freckle. How does this connect to me?” Ramit Sethi has an awesome quote. He says, “We’re living in a world of infinite choices right now.” In a world of infinite choices, if something isn’t made exactly for me, then I’m gone.
In a world of infinite choices with 42 different time‑tracking tools you could try, why would Freckle be the best time‑tracking tool for me specifically. How do you connect to them on a very visceral, emotional level early?
Headline like “Too much free in your freelancing,” Then you can use a subhead like, “Freckle helps you actually bill every hour you actually work.”
You know there are freelancers in the audience who think, “Oh man, there was that 42 minute conversation that I had with Dave last week, but it never made it onto the sheet. If it never makes it onto the sheet, it never makes it onto the invoice, and if it never makes it onto the invoice, I don’t get paid.”
That sort of time recap happens all the time in my business. That’s noxious, and I’m losing money because of it. So we connect to them on that emotional level about this thing they’re missing.
Another option. “Freelancers and firms find Freckle fabulous.” I know alliteration is discouraged after about sixth grade or so, because everyone is, “Oh, sixth graders use that technique.”
But if you look at the data, people use this technique because it tends to draw attention really well. If you want, you can put a lampshade on it. For example, as a subhead: “Time tracking doesn’t start with an F? Dang, we had something good going there.”
Carry on with the jokey, kind of semi‑informal copy with the rest of your marketing materials or sales copy. We’re not exactly proposing marriage with the headline. We’re just trying to get them to not click the back button.
I think Paul Graham said that “The biggest enemy is never another startup.” It’s very rarely another company. Generally the biggest enemy of every company is the back button. Again, in a world of infinite choices, I need to make early and often the case for paying more attention to you.
Another way to get people to qualify it for themselves, “Do you bill at least $25 an hour?” Put any number you want in there. The people who do will be like, “Oh, yeah, that’s exactly for me.” The people who don’t might be a little defensive about that. “What, I’m not good enough for your thing just because my billed rate is $24 an hour?”
It will get them reading, and then you can make a ROI focused calculation on why they should start using your thing, which they actually do on the pricing page, which I think is a very good tactic.
That’s all we’re going to talk about with the H1 here, but I hope you’ve gotten some ideas that you can apply to your own businesses.
Amy and Thomas do many things very right in Freckle. The design of the front page, not one of them. Fair?
Amy Hoy: Fair.
Patrick: If you remember back…looking at the design of the front page here…If you click this, all of the color that is not pink, you get taken to a product tour.
The product tour is actually a video. There’s some very catchy music. I encourage you to all watch the video. The catchy music is catchy, and it shows off the various features of Freckle. But it doesn’t really make a case for buying Freckle. The video is like, [sings] “Da, da, catchy music stops,” and this is the screen it stops on.
We’re smiling at Amy’s wonderful mug, and we don’t know how to go forward in our relationship with Freckle at all.
I went to Thomas and I’m like, “Was there an encoding problem? Where’s the rest of the video?” My expectation is that videos stop with a call to action or they stop with some notion of what I should do next, and it just didn’t.
My guess is that a lot of people are clicking on that very visually engaging element on the front. They go to the tour. They play the video or they don’t play the video because they can’t play the video at work or whatever, and then, boom, that’s the end of the relationship. They hit the back button, and they’re gone.
We wouldn’t do it that way. You should generally avoid poking holes in the funnel. Give people…Always give them a clear next step that you want them to take in the relationship. On the front page, the clear next step is ideally you would send them directly to a plans page, but if you want to send them to the tour, make sure the tour transitions directly into a signup afterwards.
If they’re not ready for the signup, transition them to an email newsletter. Get them within your ecosystem such that you can get in touch with them rather than losing them to the demon back button. The convergent element on the front page is this big pink arrow.
The first three times I looked at this page I thought there was actually no button to go to plans and pricing, because the arrow looked like a visual kind of filigree rather than anything I could actually click on. Many things about this arrow are wrong, the placement of it, the color of it, the shape of it, and probably the call to action, “See plans and pricing.”
Nobody woke up this morning and was, “Do you know what I want to do today? I’m going to work, and I’m going to see plans and pricing.”
Patrick: Let’s talk about how we can make that button a little better. First, buttons should look like buttons. When I was doing this slide, I looked at my buttons and was like, “Oh, my buttons are terrible, but at least they look like buttons.”
This is a test you can do with any website you ever make. Put on a blur filter in Photoshop or whatever you use. I use Paint.net. See if you can still find the buttons on it, what’s clickable. You can find them here. It must be these rectangular looking things.
We’re socialized to think that rectangular things that have high‑color contrast with surrounding regions must be buttons and must be clickable.
Be nice to your users, too. Some users who might not be quite so familiar with the Internet might not know that that is a thing yet. They might click on things like, “Oh, pretty lady. Click on pretty lady.”
Patrick: We can infer something about their state of mind from, “Click on pretty lady.” They didn’t click on pretty lady because they love hearing the mouse‑click sound. They wanted more information about how they can be like the pretty lady who is succeeding with Appointment Reminder. I just dropped them to the plans page anyhow.
Patrick: No lie, that actually works. [laughs] If you put on the motion‑blur test, can you find the button on this page? My first thought for the button would be this big blue thing. You might click on the big blue thing and then get taken into the tour which does not advance your relationship with Freckle, the product. You totally missed the pink bar.
Make your buttons big and easy to click.
Patrick: Somebody with a limited familiarity with the English language told me in 2007 “Patrick always goes for the big orange pancake buttons.” I love that, because I always do go for the big orange pancake buttons, because they work so well.
[Patrick notes: Example of Big Orange Pancake Buttons:
Generally a big button looks like a button, nice and easy to click, and good on the copywriting. Let’s talk about button copywriting.
There’s a formula for buttons. It works for almost everybody. I encourage you to use it any time you’ve got an action. Ready? It is verb plus benefit plus, if you’ve got the space for it, some mention of immediacy.
I’ll show you examples of that. “Get started now.” Classics are classics for a reason. A lot of people use things like, “Create account” or “Sign up now” or whatnot for the button. “Get started now” promises value rather than pain. They’re going to get started on whatever they’ve learned from the rest of your website is presumably a valuable activity for them.
If you focus on the account or the signup, you’re focusing on the fact that, “Yeah, charge your money now. Give us money now or get into this bureaucratic relationship that you don’t perceive as value‑added yet.” Ignore that part of the offering and focus on what they’re getting out of it rather than what you’re getting out of it.
“Start tracking your time now.” That’s very benefits focused.
“If you’re not tracking your time, start.” This only really works if they know they have a problem with it. Do what’s appropriate for your audience and, again, test the heck out of this.
“Try Freckle for free.” Free is kind of a magic word in marketing. It works very well on button copy. If you have a free trial, don’t hide the fact that you have a free trial. That sounds obvious, but a lot of people do it. I occasionally got emails for years saying, “Hey, can I try that for free”? That’s what the big “Try now” button is on the home page. “It didn’t say ‘free.’” I’m like, “It’s been free for the…”
You aren’t telepathic. That is not how things work. Make it very clear to your customers when you have a free trial or something, that is indeed the offer. Start tracking your time. There’s no reason that, just because you have to have a nice snappy copy for the button, that you can’t have some sort of elaboration nearby it.
That sort of elaboration is called microcopy. 37Signals often doesn’t mean a hand drawn front where they put the little arrow and say, “It takes only 60 seconds” or something. You can do it however you like. Since I have no graphical skills and my handwriting looks like chicken‑scratch, I usually just put it directly under the button in a small restrained font.
The microcopy for this button might be, “No, really, if you use Freckle you will actually track your time. 45 percent of our customers tell us that Freckle was the first thing that actually got them to start using it.” Maybe give them a little bit of elaboration if they want to do it. People will say, “Oh, credible claim. I will click this button to see the next page.”
Let’s talk about the plans and pricing page. I know we all have one of these. I would encourage you, when you’re talking about it to customers, not to call it “The Plans and Pricing Page.” Plans and pricing does not make sales.
If this page was an employee of the company, he’d be one of your most important employees. He’s the sales manager that is bringing, if you are doing a pure SMB business, 100 percent of the sales. This guy would be getting a massive commission.
Make sure when you’re designing this page you treat it like the important business‑lifting page that it is, which means important in terms of what you refer to it elsewhere on the sight, important in terms of how much time you spend optimizing it, important in terms of how much time you spend testing it.
“Try Freckle for free,” totally good in terms of an H1 for it. Although, if you didn’t remember from the front page that Freckle did time tracking, you would find that information nowhere here. If you didn’t’ remember any of the sales points for Freckle from the front page, you would find none of them here. It’s totally feature‑focused. Features don’t sell software. Benefits sell software so put the benefits on this page as well.
See these little buttons? These are obviously the buttons we want people to be clicking on to sign up. Again, you don’t want to use the word “sign up,” because signup is, “Oh, bureaucratic stuff. Am I going to get charged for this right away?”
Many customers have a very interesting understanding of how the world works. All of us who have used SaaS before understand that we’re going to click the signup button and there’s going to be a page where you get a little time to think about it, type in our credit card number, and then hit “go.” As long as we don’t hit go, nothing happens.
Many of your customers don’t have that background knowledge. They think as soon as they click “Sign up,” a lawyer is going to show up at their door with an invoice that they have to pay. Ease them into that transition if they need to be eased into it by telling them, “Yes, there is value behind this button, not immediate pain with a lawyer hounding you down for collection calls.”
Here’s a good all‑purpose button to use. “Start with this plan.” Starting is something they want to do right now. Also, remember the “Kill Objections” talk from earlier? I like that. Here’s one objection somebody could have. “I don’t know what plan to pick.”
Make that either. Totally remove the choice. One thing Wildbit did recently was had one plan that you start with and they’ll pick one for you later. Or, “Start with this plan.” You can get started with any of the plans, and it’s a reversible choice that has no consequences. If you decide you want a different one three days later, great, wonderful. You can explain that with copy and very, very succinctly.
Another problem with this page, analysis paralysis. There are five different signup buttons I’ve got here. As the, perhaps, user who is not as acquainted with this product as Amy, I don’t understand which one is the best choice for me. Because I do not have that SaaS background, I might think this is a consequential choice that I have to get right or my relationship with Freckle is ruined.
In lieu of picking a choice that might be wrong, I might decide to choose nothing and just go to the back button. To get somebody over that hump, what do we do? One thing we could do is present less choices. You can have all the choices available. Just show a few of them.
What I did here…This is a pre‑existing page, I just did a little bit of tweaking to it. I just show their most expensive plan, their most popular plan, which is the freelancer one that’s low and then a medium plan that covers most of their clients. If you wanted, you could put a little text thing in here. “Were those plans not right for you? We have other ones. Click here.”
The overwhelming majority of people will not actually click that, but it will give you an option. Another thing you can do is if people get in touch with you via email, “Yeah, I didn’t see one that worked for us,” just give them a link straight to the right sign‑in page. Say, “Sorry, we’re testing stuff. We’re a small company.” Nobody ever gets mad at that.
I’m leaning on this too much.
Another thing this pricing page does not so wonderfully is the right‑hand bar. Take a look at the right‑hand bar. You’re going to get five seconds. One, two, three, four, five. Can anyone tell me anything that was on the right‑hand bar?
Male Audience Member 1: “Don’t forget every plan.”
Patrick: Was that on the right‑hand bar?
Man 1: Yeah.
Patrick: OK, “Don’t forget every plan.” There was a big list of features, and none of them mattered to anybody here. You don’t recall any of them. They don’t help drive that decision, “Do I proceed to the account screen button or not?”
In general, less is more. Rather than a feature list, stomp the heck out of your most common objections.
Objection, “What if I don’t like it?” Answer, “We have a money‑back guarantee. We don’t want your money if you’re not totally thrilled with this product. We’ve never accepted a penny from someone who wasn’t satisfied.”
Objection, “Can I trust you? I’m going to be putting my data in this. It’s data that my company relies on. What happens if you are a fly‑by‑night Internet thing”? “We’re not a fly‑by‑night Internet thing. We’ve been doing this for years. We have 6,000 happy customers including the likes of ‘logo, logo, logo.’”
Objection, “Is it worth the cost?” “Yes, you’ll receive easy, obvious ROI, and if you don’t, we’ll give you your money back.” You can link in an ROI calculation which they have elsewhere on the page. Say something from your user’s experience, like “Most of our users on the medium plan charge more than 300 times what the medium plan costs,” which is probably accurate.
Objection, “Will my team use it?” No. If I’m somebody in a business and I need to bring my team onto something, it is not just a software problem you’re solving for me. There’s also a social problem of onboarding my team and getting them to change the way they currently do things and adopt this thing and if they don’t, I can’t use it.
You should say something like, “Your team will love this.” You can even pull out stats that you have from the product like, “98.5 percent of team members who start using Freckle actually start using it. Why? Because the experience is awesome. Let us tell you more.” Give them a link that most people won’t click.
The next and last page in the pre‑signup funnel is the signup screen itself. How many people have mocked this up once in Ruby on Rails or whatever their thing of choice is, and as soon as you tested the stripe integration you can actually charge the credit card? That is the last thing that you have ever done with this page.
I see hands going up timidly. You are not alone. [laughs] I was looking at this like, “I’m going to compare and contrast my page with Amy’s and show what I’m doing better.” I’m making the same bloody mistakes!
Female Audience Member 2: Yay!
Patrick: Again, we’ve got whiteness over here. We’re not making any sale for Freckle on this page. Continue telling them, “Here are your objections. I’m stomping all over your objections.” Anything that is on the page that does not stomp on an objection does not need to be on this page.
For example, “You will receive an email receipt each time your credit card is charged. We do not accept other forms of payment like PayPal, IPOs, or check…POs or checks.” They probably don’t accept IPOs either.
Patrick: Does that need to be on this page? Is it going to make a sale for this? No. It might prevent an email once in a blue moon to the customer support team, but answering emails is cheap, so get rid of that.
“Enter password again.” Is somebody’s objection to adopting Freckle, “I think I might type in my password wrong. I’m kind of scared about that.”
No customer in the entire world thinks that, so never ask for a password confirmation. If they get it wrong, they can click the easy “Resend password” feature that you’ve all implemented.
Other than that, much of it is pretty good. That’s just the first free sign‑up funnel. We could talk in a lot of detail about other funnels, but unfortunately I can’t be here for the entire day. I would encourage you to look at one thing that Freckle does really well. It’s their first run experience, also called the onboarding process, where they’re taking a user, they’ve just signed up for the free trial.
It’s like, “OK, here’s what we do, and here’s why it matters.” Freckle does a really good job at explaining “Here’s what we do.” They walk you through, “Here’s how you can track time in it. It’s very easy. The UI is wonderful. You’ll love it. It’s very quick to use.”
They actually have you push buttons and see the results in the UI. That’s called an in‑application tour. I really recommend them, they work very well for me and my customers. Unfortunately, Freckle doesn’t tie that to the next step, which is after showing what you do, tell them explicitly in the tour while you’re guiding them why it matters to them.
This is something that, if you’ve ever taught before, you’ll realize this. When you’re in teacher‑student mode with someone, and you’re guiding them, maybe hunched over the laptop, or whatever it is, they tend to trust anything you tell them in teacher‑student mode, because that is our default method of interaction with teachers.
After you’re teaching them about the things that you certainly know, like what buttons to push on your interface, you should tell them what changes it’s going to make in their business as a result of that.
When they’re in that teacher‑student interaction with you, they are more likely to trust that representation than the exact same representation made by the exact same people, but on the marketing site. One of my consulting clients phrased it as, “People always trust engineers more than marketers and salesmen.” Who knew?
So that’s that. Take a run through that if you want to see how it works.
Many of the better‑put‑together SaaS companies…I have one these days, Fog Creek has one these days that I wrote. I think 37Signals probably has one. Take a look at it. For those of you who are doing B2B SaaS, one little micro‑tip for tours.
At the end of a tour, always ask people explicitly, we’re always giving them the next step of their relationship to us, and to B2B SaaS, the next step of your relationship, after you’ve figured out how to use the product, is almost always onboarding your team.
Explicitly ask to get their team members on there. Why? They’ll typically churn if they don’t have their data into the system, and making actual changes to the business within the first month, in many cases testing your business, because this isn’t the law of nature.
In many cases, the best way to get their data in the system is to get their other team members into the system, because often SaaS is bought by somebody in the organization, but used by other people.
Get the people who matter to the use of it into the system. Makes it much more likely that the data will come in, and then you’ll actually get that sale. If it’s just the team leader, who doesn’t actually do time tracking, sets up a Freckle account, and then he forgets to tell his team, or he doesn’t know how to tell them how to log into Freckle, because he might not be a very technical person to begin with, then they probably don’t get that sale at the end of month.
If on the other hand they’re, “Great, you got their account, copy/paste in a list of all of the email addresses of your team members, and we’ll send them invite codes right now,” then that is much more likely to get done.
We could talk about consulting clients here, they might not appreciate that. I’ll say this, a consulting client, you’ve all heard of them, implemented the copy/paste in email thing, and tied up to the end of their tour, and the change to the business from that one afternoon of coding exceeded the change to the business of entire years of their entire team working on the product.
It’s not an obvious change, but it’s an easy change for you to make. You should probably make it if you run a SaaS business. Explicitly ask to onboard the team.
Here’s my contact information. Again, I owe a deep debt of gratitude to other people who have helped me get my business to where it is.
I love talking to people. If you ever have a question about anything, and want to run the idea past me, please drop me an email. [Patrick notes: Seriously. My main email address is patrick at the domain you're reading.] I can’t promise a response back to all of them, but you’ll never offend me or anything. Thanks very much.
If the above was interesting to you, you can get a one-month free mini-course from me on conversion optimization or get my thoughts on making and selling software in your inbox approximately once every week or two. (And yeah, I know, I know, I haven’t written anything to you guys in a month or three. Working on it!)