Episode 152: Strategies For Loading Up Your Pre-launch Email Lists
[00:00] Mike: You know I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the discussions around the NSA the past month or so but I have a conspiracy theory I want to share. I think that the NSA is single handedly responsible for unleashing both Perl and Php around the world.
[00:11] Rob: And tune in next week when Mike and I answer hate mail from all the Perl and Php developers in our audience.
[00:16] Mike: This is Startups for the Rest of Us: Episode 152.
[00:28] Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
[00:34] Rob: And I’m Rob.
[00:35] Mike: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, Rob?
[00:40] Rob: Things are ramping up there. They’re starting to get exciting. Drip, I’m doing another small launch this time to about 25% of our list. So just cranking out a few last minute things before we go live next week. How about you?
[00:54] Mike: Part of the good news and bad news today because we’re recording a little bit early. So the bad news is there’s not going to be a lot updates. But I do have some good news to share and I know it’s only been three days but I have my first confirmed paying customer for AuditShark.
[01:07] Rob: Congratulations man. That’s awesome.
[01:09] Mike: So we’re still straightening out, things with the credit card but the agreement’s already kind of in place.
[01:13] Rob: This is like a momentous occasion. You have your first pay. How does it feel?
[01:17] Mike: Good. It was nice to get the email because I asked very directly. I just said now that the remediation information is in there because you said that was going to be a problem before, now that it’s in there and you could take a look at stuff, what do you think and is this worth paying for? And kind of want to get his thoughts on whether he thought it was valuable or not and whether he still found a need for it in his business and he’s like absolutely. This is what I was looking for.
[01:41] Rob: That’s great news man. Now to find 500 more people exactly like him.
[01:47] Rob: Congratulations again.
[01:48] Mike: Thanks.
[01:49] Rob: So I was wondering what your take was on Brecht Palombo’s suggestion for scalable content marketing for Audit Shark? So Brecht Palombo runs – with Scott Yewell, he has a podcast called Bootstrap with Kids and in episode 23 he outlined scalable content strategy.
[02:05] Mike: Well I listened to the episode and it’s funny because at first I was like I don’t think this would really apply to me because the stuff that I’m putting out there is ultra specific and it’s all remediation information so I wasn’t thinking it would be terribly applicable. It just wouldn’t be stuff that people were searching for.
[02:21] And then I got an email from Patrick McKenzie who basically said the exact same thing but he phrased it differently and it really made me think about maybe I could do this? So one of the things that comes to mind, if you haven’t gone over and listen to Bootstrap with Kids, definitely listen to not just that episode but the podcast. His podcast is pretty good. I’ve been listening to it all along.
[02:40] He lays out the strategy where he has something like 15,000 pages that are published to his website based on information that he’s gathering as part of his product. I can basically do the same type of thing within Audit Shark where all the different security control points that I’m looking for and not just those but also the steps that you need to go through in order to remediate them, I could take those, dump them from the database, add some metadata around it in order to address some SEO concerns and formatting and things like that. And then publish them through the website and make them indexable by Google.
[03:13] Rob: Yeah, and that’s the basis of that whole scalable SEO content marketing rather content – it’s not really content marketing because I consider content marketing to be more viral and sharable stuff. But it’s getting into Google and getting a large foot print and then as soon as you have any type of website authority, those pages, they start ranking for those long tail keywords terms and those are the ones that someone’s searching for some really specific searches. They tend to be more likely to have that pain point and more likely to convert.
[03:39] We’ve seen Patrick McKenzie use it with success on Bingo Card Creator and we’ve seen Brecht use it. We’ve see some other examples of it. But I definitely think if nothing else, it’s worth line item in your marketing plan and at least a trial implementation. But the thing is with scalable content I think once you do a trial implementation you might as well scale it up. Right? Because if you go to the problem of kind of defining stuff for 100 pages you might as well go to 500.
[04:02] Mike: Definitely. I think there’s going to be some work around the formatting side of it but in terms of the content itself I don’t think it would be very difficult to just – if you’re going to do it for one page, what’s the difference between 1 and 500? Because you’re already kind of automating it for a couple of pages.
[04:15] Rob: Right.
[04:16] Mike: You almost need to do a lot of them in order to figure out whether or not that’s going to be boosting the traffic because most of them are going to be very long tail things that aren’t going to get a lot of hits but the ones that do are going to be fairly targeted.
[04:28] Rob: Right.
[04:29] Mike: So definitely thanks to Brett and Scott and Patrick McKenzie.
[04:34] Rob: You mentioned you’re having trouble with your Nexus.
[04:37] Mike: Yeah. So it’s only a week old so I’m fairly certain it’s not the hardware but it feels like it’s just buggy. Whenever I open the browser, occasionally it will just crash on me for no good reason and I’ve had it shut down on me just randomly. So I don’t know what’s up with that but you know, I’ve read around a little bit. It seems like the Nexus’ got some bugs in it and it’s more operating system related. And also a lot of the apps that I download, I feel like every single app wants an always on connection to the internet so that they can phone home. And if you don’t have an internet connection they just don’t work.
[05:11] If it weren’t for those apps, I mean I could deal with the bugs. Yeah, it’s a brand new tablet. It’s probably going to have some bugs here and there. They’re going to issue same updates. I’m not real worried about that. The thing that bugs me is the apps always wanting this constantly on internet connection. That’s the part that bugs me because if I’m using it on a plane or something like that, I’m not going to have that. And what’s the point of having a 32 gig flash drive if it’s not even going to be used.
[05:33] Rob: Yeah. That makes it tough.
[05:35] Mike: I mean I’m going to keep it and kind of see how things play out but like I said it was an experiment so just kind of dip my toes into other realms of technology.
[05:43] Rob: Sure.
[05:47 Mike: Today’s episode is called strategies for loading up your prelaunch list. We got an email from Jack over at collabinate.com. He says hi guys, love the show. I've listened to every episode and was inspired enough to come to MicroConf 2013 which was amazing. I’m building a service called Collabinate which provides an API for hosted activity streams. It’s really all for building Facebook or Twitter style feeds into your apps letting you surface information for your users without making them dig.
[06:10] I’m writing because of something Rob said in the last episode. You mentioned you had 1400 subscribers to the Drip mailing list. My question is how the heck did you get that many sign ups prelaunch? I’ve had my landing page up for a few months now with ad words and Facebook ads pointing people to it for last month and I still have under 50 subscribers. Do I just need to spend more on ads or do you guys have other better strategies for getting more people interested to sign up? Thanks again for the great content you guys put out.
[06:33] So today what we’re going to be doing is we’re going to be talking about some of the different options you had for helping to scale up and build that list and then we’re going to also talk about some of the things to keep in mind while you’re doing that or in some cases before you go about launching into some of these different options.
[06:46] So the first one is to find websites that accept startup submissions. There’s at least a couple dozen places where you can do this. I’ve used a beta list in the past. I’ve got a spreadsheet that I put together with a bunch of them. So you can just go to Google and search for like startup announcements or software betas, things like that. There are a lot of different websites out there including reddit. I think reddit has a couple of sub reddits where you can go in and you can – I think one of them was called rate my startup or something along those lines.
[07:12] There’s tons and tons of places where you can post links back to your website and not just get signups but also get people giving you feedback and comments on either design or the product itself. You do have to be a little bit careful about some of that feedback because if they’re not actually interested in buying it then you kind of want to take some of their suggestions with a bit of grain of salt.
[07:31] Rob: With Drip I was able to get on several of this kind of beta, these prelaunch sites because there are two different types of these. There are some that only accept startups that have launched. I think like killer startups is like that and a few others but then you mentioned beta list and there are just some that are pointing more to like landing pages or startups that are in beta or are going to be launching soon.
[07:52] And the beta list in particular I’m pretty sure I got almost 300 email signups when it appeared on that site. So this is definitely something that’s worth sending at least a little bit of time on. All of the sites are not going to list you because they do get a lot of submissions and all of them are not going to lead to 300 signups but if in aggregate, you can either spend n hour or pay a VA to spend a couple hours and do this. It’s certainly something in those early days doing the things that don’t scale to kind of get the momentum going. It’s definitely up there.
[08:22] Mike: One of the things I did was I complied this list of different sites and then handed it off to somebody to go through all the different sites and get all of the required fields that they were asking for and just build a spreadsheet so that I knew all the information that they were asking for. And then either I will go through it or I’ll probably have somebody else go through it and just paste in the answers to all the different questions that they were asking.
[08:43] So there’s definitely ways to kind of scale us out and form out different pieces of it. But there are things like the description, the sales pitch, things like that, those are things that you’re going to want to kind of craft a little bit and put a fair amount of thought into it. It’s not like you can just say oh well, I need you to go fill out all these different forms because things like the founders name and your website and things like that, those are very straight forward but there are other things like the sales pitches and the URL’s and stuff, some of them you’re going to want to use tracking mechanisms for that kind of stuff.
[09:11] Another option for building your mailing list is use social media like Twitter or Facebook. I’ve been using Twitter to build out the following for Audit Shark and I’ve actually started getting large enough following that people from that are filtering into my mailing list. So basically there are certain tweets that are going out, specifically mention Audit Shark, hey check this is out and I embed different tags and they’re from Google to be able to do the goal tracking and identify clearly whether or not somebody clicked through from Twitter and then onto the landing page and then actually submitted their email address.
[09:43] Rob: Yeah. I think that’s a really good point. If you’re going to do this you should absolutely setup goals in Google analytics so that you can see which sources are converting for you. Because it’s not just about driving traffic. It’s about driving actual emails. And the nice part about this is if you vet these traffic sources early then once you launch and you’re actually going after paying customers, you already know which traffic sources you are going to focus on. So I haven’t done much with the social media angle, getdrip Twitter account and Facebook page but they’re just place holders at this point and I haven’t use them to really to drive leads at all.
[10:15] Mike: Third option is to ask to be a guest on podcasts. There’s a couple different things that this will do for you. The first one is typically it will get you links back to your website and drives them traffic and SEO a little bit. But the other thing is it gets you in front of more people. Clearly you don’t want to just blast out an email to tons and tons of different podcasts and just ask if you can be a guest on their show.
[10:38] What you really want to do is focus on the podcast that you believe are going have an audience that overlaps with whatever problem that your podcast solves. So if for example for Audit Shark I would probably go on to tech oriented podcasts or anything that has to do with dev opts, security management, those types of things. I wouldn’t want to go on to a podcast that talks about marketing and say hey you guys should lock down your servers. It’s not really applicable to the audience and when you start making those pitches, I almost feel like it would make you look bad by making a sales pitch to somebody to have you come on their show when it’s just totally not relevant to their audience because they’re not going to get anything out of it.
[11:12] Rob: Absolutely. And the thing to keep in mind when you’re pitching podcasts is you’re not pitching your product. You’re pitching a story. So what is the compelling story that you can offer to their audience? What is the way that you can make their podcast look good? So when I go on podcasts, I always make sure that I’m not on there to talk about Drip or to talk about Hit Tail but I’m there to educate their audience on how to market. And then I use maybe Drip as an example.
[11:38] or I’ll go on to talk about how to support an app or how to scale something and again it always gets mentioned because that’s the experience. It’s kind of mentioned on the side and that drives people to the site just because they become kind of curious about what you’re up to. So I found that it seems like the podcast listeners, if you’re in the right niche and you do get a nice lock-in with your core audience, you provide a lot of value to, then that works really well. But as soon as you stay out of that one, Mike said the conversion rates go down.
[12:07] Mike: Something else to keep in mind when you’re pitching to podcasters is you don’t want to send out those blank emails. As Rob said you do want to tell a story and you want to make sure you tell them exactly how your story is relevant to their audience.
[12:21] Rob: Right. I think we’ll have better luck talking about your podcast after it’s launched unless you already have a story to tell before it’s launched. Right? You need something interesting to talk about. And when I’ve pitched podcast I typically start with the people that I know because they’re just going to be more likely to let me on. And then once I have a few of them then you can start branching out because you’ve gotten better about talking about your product and your pitch gets a little better.
[12:45] But I hand send emails to every single podcast. I would never do a bulk send because you really have to hand tune that pitch in order for it to be anywhere near relevant. I will also, if I don’t listen to the podcast regularly, I would go back and listen to the previous three or five episodes just to figure out if in fact my information is a good fit for their audience.
[13:06] Mike: Great points. The fourth one is to use paid traffic on some of the various ad network. I did a quick search for ad network on Google and on the first page there was a search result named 25 ad networks for online businesses. So these different ad networks are very easy to find. Google ad words is clearly not the only one. LinkedIn isn’t the only one. Facebook isn’t the only one. There are a lot of them out there. Some of them are very niche ad networks so you can find some that only cater to certain audiences.
[13:31] And if you can find out that caters to the audience that your products solves a problem for, then you’re going to have much better results with that particularly ad network than within some of the others.
[13:41] Rob: Yup. I’ve done this every time, every time I’m going to launch something and I did it with Drip as well. This is a great way to find out which ad networks are going to work for yours and I absolutely got – probably in the several hundred and it may even be a thousand signs ups from this approach.
[13:56] Mike: The fifth one is something that I’ve started doing recently is I subscribed to helpareporter.com and I’ve been looking for any reporters that are doing stories that are related to security. And if you’re not familiar with helpareporter.com they have a daily email that goes out I think three times a day and it will include all these different reporters and a summary of what they’re looking for in terms of a story. They’re generally looking for sources of information.
[14:20] I got one today that was specifically looking for the security practices that you educate your new employees on in small and medium businesses. And they tend to spell out exactly what they’re looking for whether they want to do an interview. Sometimes they’ll say exactly who they’re going to be doing the story for. Sometimes they’ll just say it’s just an anonymous source or they’ll say it’s a podcast or something along those lines.
[14:41] I’ve even seen other startups that are doing this because they are trying to find content for their blog and they’re looking for people to interview. So that’s another way. It’s more SEO related. It’s not necessarily related to loading up your prelaunch list but that’s another avenue for marketing your startup.
[14:55] Rob: I used to use helpareporter. It became too time consuming at a certain point. If you have a bit more budget than you do time, there is a service that I use. It’s called bitesizepr.com. It’s $89 a month and you enter a bunch of info and they monitor helpareporter for you and actually write the pitches for you. You approve them or reject them and then if a reporter contacts and obviously you talk to that reporter but they basically take a lot of the grunt work. The three emails a day was a bit overwhelming for me.
[15:24] Mike: So the sixth strategy is to setup Google alerts and let Google search for new pages which match your search criteria. And in some ways this could be a little bit overloading just like you said that you found helpareporter.com to be because you’ll get emails from Google all the time. And typically you setup these searches and what you’re looking for is anywhere where people are talking about something that relates to your product. You want to go in, take a look and see if there are any non-salesly ways you can comment n whatever the topic is because a lot of these things will come back from blogs.
[15:53] Sometimes you’ll see things that are sales pages of your competitors, those you can generally safely ignore because they’re not usually going to allow people to just randomly comment on their site. But any blog articles that come up, what you’ll do I you’ll put a signature into the profile that you setup and then put the link back to your website and that will help drive some traffic back to your site.
[16:13] You probably want to use a VA for this kind of thing to kind of sort through and filter the data. I would say this is probably not one of the best sources for loading your prelaunch list because 1) it’s time consuming and 2) you’re going to have to put a lot of time and effort into it and you’re relying on traffic that you’re getting. So you’re also going to have probably some issues putting in any sort of tracking codes in and the URL’s that go back to your website. I would definitely rank this lower on the list on a lot of these other strategies.
[16:41] Rob: But I actually think there’s more value here than just building your prelaunch list. If you really are getting alerts and you’re seeing blog posts come up or forum threads or stuff of that nature and you go in and participate, you’re going to learn a lot about that audience and you’re going to learn about whether they are interested in your product. And if you actually post it into a forum or comment discussion and you come back and see what people have said, that alone could help you hone your value prop, hone your headline, hone a direction that your product’s going to go. You could really get into almost that customer development type discussion.
[17:13] I think there’s potentially more value here than just building the list. It’s obviously not scalable but I have definitely done this and spent many hours kind of pounding the pavement in this fashion.
[17:25] Mike: So the seventh option is to ask bloggers if you can write guest articles on their websites. Something to keep in mind here is this is very similar to approaching podcasters and asking them if you can be a guest on their show. Make sure that you’re making individual sales pitches to these guys but also, save your best material for these blog posts. You don’t want to be putting your best material on your own blog. You want to be putting it elsewhere. So that will help drive that traffic back to your website.
[17:48] Rob: I mean this is an entire art right? Of trying to pitch in and get guest blog posts. I get pitched probably once or twice a week for people to guest post in my blog and anyone that I don’t know or haven’t had some connection with almost always gets a no. If you follow me, if we’ve interacted at least once and you pitch a compelling story, you’ll see there are a lot of guest posts on my blog recently because people are doing exciting things and since we met at MicroConf or we’ve emailed in the past or I have some buy in or some interest in their story, it just makes it so much more likely that I’m actually going to say yes.
[18:21] So to be honest, there are some pretty good stories like on hacker news and some other marketing blogs about how to market your app through guest post and like I said, there’s a lot to it, a lot more than we can cover in this episode so I would go to Google and search for that and do some research because there’s a right way to do this and wrong way to do it.
[18:38] So the eight strategy or loading up your prelaunch list is it use SEO. A lot of people think why would I do SEO so early because doesn’t it take months and months to rank for a term? Is it really going to actually play out before my launch? There’s a couple responses to that. A lot of people think that their app is only going to take 3 or 4 months to build and it winds up taking 10 or 11 months. In that time, you can do a heck of a lot of SEO. And even if you don’t get a number one ranking and time to build your list you’ll be way ahead of the game than if you wait until you actually launch. So that’s the first thing.
[19:10] Second thing is I have seen using tactics that go after long tail keywords or giving away some pretty specific templates that are related to your business like Bid Sketch, when Ruben first started, he gave away web design templates and kind of stuff. That was way in advance of his launch and that was a big reason that his mailing list grew. I have seen people give away email templates. I’ve seen people give away all types of stuff that’s landing page templates, all types of stuff that’s actually actionable.
[19:40] So if you plug those two together where you’re doing some SEO for terms that other people aren’t doing a fantastic job with, and you’re giving something away and letting them know hey, if you do this, we’ll also let you know when we launch so that they’re aware of it, you can grow your list a lot faster that way.
[19:55] Mike: Yeah. I’ve seen people giving away different white papers or eBooks or things like that on their websites. A lot of times I’ll see this as a strategy post launch but I think you’re right. You can definitely use this prelaunch in order to start building your mailing list and getting people interested in it. You can also use that to start discussion and help guide the product direction before you launch so that when you do launch so that you aren’t just listening to crickets while you’re trying to wait for sales.
[20:19] Rob: And the ninth and final strategy is to pick some strategic early access customers. One thing that’s happened with Drip is a lot of the early access customers that have been using it and have been happy with it, they are bloggers themselves. They have large Twitter followers. And I haven’t even asked them but almost all of them written a post, a link to Drip, talked about it on Twitter, mentioned that they signed up. They’ve started to create a buzz which I really appreciated.
[20:42] If you are able to strategically pick some people who actually have audiences, the odds are that they always need fresh content and they always want to talk about what they’re doing, new things that they’re innovating. And if so you’re building something interesting and you do have the potential to let in people with audiences, I would always opt to do that early on.
[21:00] Mike: So those are nine different strategies that you could use for loading up your prelaunch list. Now as part of these strategies, there are definitely some things that you want to keep in mind. The first thing you want to keep in mind is that you want to use landing pages as much as possible so you can test what text is and isn’t converting. Because if you’re bringing that traffic to your website, and it’s untargeted traffic and by untargeted I mean it’s not targeted at a specific page, you’re not trying to pitch them on some of other website and bring them in, there’s a disjointed experience between the other site that they were on and the one that they’re going to if they click on I don’t know, something that say peaches and you show them a picture of oranges, that’s a disjointed experience. It’s just not going to jive with what their expectations are and they’re probably just going to bounce off the page.
[21:44] Rob: The other thing, I mentioned it earlier is definitely setup goals and Google analytics is the way I do it. There are obviously other options but if you don’t know which of your sources are converting then you’re leaving a lot of data on the table.
[21:57] Mike: Another thing to keep in mind is do not rely 100% on the vendor’s conversion stackers for some of the different ad networks. One of the ones I’ve been using pretty extensively lately is Facebook and their conversion tracker sometimes works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s really kind of bizarre. Some things it does, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense and there are things that they do where they’ll count something and then I won’t see it on my website.
[22:21] What you really want to do is make sure that you’re using something that’s kind of a tried and true mechanism. I use kiss metrics. I also use Google analytics. But you want to use something in addition to whatever it it’s they’re offering so that you know that it’s working and you essentially get a double check on those numbers so that you understand whether or not they’re correct and you know whether or not to look for something else.
[22:41] Rob: Another thing I would do early on is install your remarketing pixels so there’s a bunch of providers for remarketing like perfectaudience.com or adroll.com I think Google does it as well. I have tried four different providers. And I found perfectaudience to be the best. It converted the best for me.
[22:59] But I have had the retargeting pixel installed on Drip since the first day I launched the landing page. Now the cookies only last I think for 60 days or 90 days so I won’t be able to retarget everyone who ever visited the site. But when I do launch I’ll have the previous 60 to 90 days worth of people who visited and didn’t give me their email address and I will be able to then show them ads and say Drip has launched or check this out because I know they’re at least mildly interested in the product.
[23:24] So before you start driving traffic to your landing page I would highly recommend it’s free to sign up for perfectaudience or AdRoll. Grab the tracking pixel and put it on your websites so that you can basically start cooking those folks as interested parties.
[23:39] Mike: And some of it kind of ties into that a little bit is if you are doing paid advertising to drive people through, if you don’t have time to manage and track that paid advertising campaign, shut it down because you’re basically just throwing money away, there’s a lot of little tweaks and stuff. You really have to be paying attention to these and put a process in place that allows you to understand whether or not it’s working and if it’s not, you either need to make the tweaks or just kill that particular one because there’s a lot of different things that you can try and if you’re not paying attention to those, you’re just basically flushing money down the drain.
[24:14] Rob: If you have a question for us, call our voice mail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startups or via RSS at startupsfortherestofus.com where you’ll also find a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. See you next time.