Indianapolis Web Content Management

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Matt Zentz
Founder/CEO of Marketpath, Inc.

I founded Marketpath in early 2001 with an old desktop computer and a few months of free rent. I have a background in software development which puts me in a unique position to understand my business at a very granular level. This is a blessing and a curse and this blog is about the lessons and expertise I have learned along the way.

How to Build a Company When You're a Programmer

Posted 12:47 AM by

If you've read any of Michael Gerber's books you'll know that one of his paradigms is to work on your business, not in your business. This simple statement escapes most programmers who one day stumble upon a great idea and believe they can build it. And build it they do with great fervor! They stay up late, night after night, avoid going out with friends and family, and dedicate a silly number of hours to their hot new endeavor.

And that's how it continues, week after week, month after month, until the programmer wakes up and realizes they are never going to actually sell anything. Not because they can't or because they don't want to but because they are stuck in an increasingly addictive cycle of innovation. In their highly technical mind, the product is never quite ready. "If I add this feature" they say, "then it will be perfect." And sadly, just one failed sales attempt triggers a longer continuation of this cycle. Programmers aren't built to be salespeople by default. Programmers are built to solve technical problems and leap over insurmountable obstacles in software.

It's Me

If you read the overview of this blog you may have made the connection that I am included in this group. I'm a programmer and I've been building my business for the last 10 years while I lived what I described above. In 2002 I started building a SaaS e-commerce platform for small businesses named NetEmporium. This stole away approximately two years of my life. I worked diligently every night and day to build it. In the end, I sold it to four companies and made a whopping $5,000 before scrapping it altogether. Hardly worth the effort.

Around that same time I built a SaaS collaboration tool that included email, calendaring, contacts, tasks, and more. This was one of the first SaaS collaboration tools available (besides Outlook for the Web) but again, I failed to sell it and only saw a return of a few thousand dollars. Shortly after that I built a SaaS web content management tool named WebTools. This is the grandfather of our current web content management system, Marketpath CMS. I made a few thousand off of that one too.

Needless to say, I learned this lesson slowly, always thinking I could build a great product and it would sell like hot cakes! Truth is, I did build a great product - some features of NetEmporium have yet to make their way into Marketpath StoreFront, our current e-commerce module for Marketpath CMS. But my problem wasn't building software it was selling it.

Incremental Development, Marketing, & Sales

One of our salesmen has mentioned multiple times that he wished he could code (develop software) because he wants to help out with our never ending list of feature additions and bug fixes.  Each time I've told him it's a curse and to stay away. The reason is simple - software will always have new feature requests and bugs but unless we have people that sell and market it well, there will be no reason to develop those features and fix those bugs. 

So, for those of you programmers dying to know how to be successful developing and selling a software product, take the following points to heart. They are simple, straightforward, and lack fanfare - which is what you need before you kill off a couple of your best years.

  1. Prove the Market Need: Build software in small stages. You don't need to solve every problem with your software on the first push to production. You just need to solve one problem better than your competitors. Build that one feature really well and start selling it. If you get bites (and you won't need a great deal at this stage) then move on to the next round of development.
     
  2. If you can't sell the early version, dump it.  You have to know when to kill an initiative before it drags you down too much. My grandfather once told me if you don't make any money in a business after a year, then find something new. Now, with software, if you can't make any money after a few months then that's the time to dump it. Don't get hung up on your own stubbornness.
     
  3. Ignore the Feature-Creepers: Don't let would-be customers over-prescribe their own medicine. Every other customer will ask for a feature addition to your tool. Listen, but don't operate on the assumption that you need to build that feature. Your goal is to prove your product has a market. Once you do that then you can add more features. Find the customers that can use your tool as it is or else you'll be spending all your time adding features for that one customer (even though others might be able to benefit too, but this distracts you from your goal to sell, sell, sell.
     
  4. Hire a Replacement. When you have increased your revenue by building your software logically and in small chunks, hire a developer to replace yourself. If you've made it this far (you're making enough revenue to hire a developer) then outsource that portion of your job to someone else. This allows you to focus on planning, marketing, and selling. Or, alternatively, bring on a partner who has experience building similar companies. Just know your strengths and weaknesses and hire people who are smarter and more skilled than yourself. If you can't lead the company yourself, you need to be very sure the person you bring on can. They should have a proven track record.  Don't fall for the "I understand the job and can do it" responses. Track records are worth their weight in gold.
     
  5. Look for Investors. If you've proven that your product has legs then don't hesitate to look for investors. Capital is the life-blood of every business and without it your growth will likely trickle. I can attest to this. I've seen other local firms in my area excel with the proper capital resources while my own company grew much more slowly. 
     
  6. Find Advisors. Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on and a helping hand when questions get to big. You can't always look to your staff for help (they might be the problem). Having a network of advisors who have "been there, done that" can be a tremendous aid to your venture.

The biggest thing to keep in mind, as a programmer and new entrepreneur, is that you cannot code your way into a profitable business. There are flukes to this rule, for sure. But 999 times out of 1,000 it holds true.

For the last ten years I've received my GMBK MBA, that is, the "Getting My Butt Kicked" MBA. I've learned the hard way many, many times. This is not the easiest path, though. When resources are stretched, I still sometimes jump in and do a little development. This is partly for my own enjoyment because every now and then, it's nice to hole myself up and escape for a bit. But I realize this adds almost zero value to the success and growth of my company. So I try to limit it as much as possible.

As you dive into your new venture, your million dollar idea, keep in mind these simple tactics. You'll thank yourself later.

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Focus on Content

Posted 3:44 AM by

When you first launched your website, you may have won new visitors by performing some basic on-site search engine optimization and you may have interested a few readers to complete a call to action. But at some point, you hit a plateau where new visitor counts and conversions never rose above a certain threshold. This is what I call "flatline marketing."

Return on website - It's all about contentAt the beginning, you had so much energy, excitement and passion for the new website launch. You committed to always improving the site and figuring out how to maximize its return. But that excitement and passion quickly waned when day-to-day fires and floods crept back into the spotlight. The website was left stranded without a captain, without a champion, without a chance - flatlined.

This is where content is king. Without content, your visitors have little to engage with and little reason to return. Content's purpose is to attract readers, viewers, or listeners and ultimately get them to convert into customers, donors, members, etc. Here are four questions to ask yourself when planning content creation for your website.

Why?

Why will people want to digest what you write? Is it because you are the foremost expert on the subject? Is it because you are witty? Is it because you are providing an answer to their questions or solving a particular set of problems? The important thing is to always remember who you're writing for.

Who?

You are asking for people to give you a slice of their extremely valuable time and attention. Make sure you are targeting the right people and make sure what you are providing benefits your readers.

What?

Content can take the form of blog posts, white papers, case studies, videos, podcasts, infographics, articles in industry publications, and more. Will you stick to one or use more than one? You might try them all and see which ones give you the best engagement scores.

When?

How often will you generate content? Stick to a schedule you can keep and don't overpromise. Sending out a weekly newsletter might be too much but sending a monthly or quarterly newsletter might be more achievable. Because blogs are often conversational in their tone, writing a new post each week should be considered. Videos are expensive and time consuming but generally have higher engagement than other forms of content.

 

Whatever plans you put in place, put a captain at the helm. You need someone to stick to a schedule and rally the troops. Without a captain, your efforts will surely flatline.

 

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Raise Your Glass Parody by the Techpoint Community

Posted 12:50 PM by



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Your Website is Not drudgereport.com

Posted 7:30 PM by

"All you have to do is throw up a few pages, pretty up the images, and plug it into your CRM. Bada Boom! Done." I've heard comments similar to this a lot. Then the person who said it motions that they're wiping the dirty work off their sleeves, which, in fact, they did before they made the remark. In their mind, there's the idea and then the finish. The rest of us have to worry about the details of implementation - that fat, middle chubby area of website development.

Website development and design is not simple, Marketpath Inc.This post is for those inviduals who plan and build websites and this brings me to the point of this post. Your website is not drudgereport.com because drudgereport.com is incredibly simple. They have a couple images and a bunch of links that point outside of their website. The only thing they have to worry about is making sure that the page is highly availlable - the one, single, ridiculously light on content page. And as far as website design, development, and implementation goes that's about as simple as it gets. Sure, they may have had a billion visits this past March but that's about infrastructure, and not about building a website.

Now, let's move up the difficulty scale. Your website has many pages, perhaps it  plugs into some external systems, and maybe it has e-commerce. The level of difficulty in planning and implementation just increased by 100.

If you have those people who love to oversimplify complex scenarios and state all that has to be done is "bada boom", ask them how. They won't be able to answer you. With this in mind, do not, under any circumstances, allow them to have a part in setting the timeline. And don't let them bully you into comitting more than you are comfortable with. It's so easy to simply get the bully off your back by saying "sure." Because once you say "sure", in their mind you're comitted. Instead of saying "sure," explain to them the real world timeline and what it takes. Then, if they still try to oversimplify that, ask them once again the magical question - "how?" And don't stop asking "how" until they give in to your timeline.

You're the expert. You know what it takes. You're job is not just building the site but managing expectations and if you set expectations too high, you'll pay for it later.


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The Challenge of Rapid Growth and How a Multithreaded Publisher Saved the Day

Posted 5:49 AM by

When we launched generation 3 of Marketpath CMS in 2007 we didn't have a huge number of customers making simultaneous updates to their websites. As time went on and our user base continued to grow rapidly we ran into problems. The publishing mechanism for our web content management system was built as a single-threaded publishing service. This means only one page (or other asset) could be published at one time - a bottleneck. This was fine 98% of the time. And it was fine as long as users were only publishing one item at a time. The problem came about when we had multiple users (usually developers) republishing entire sites. This caused a delay for anyone publishing and began to happen more and more frequently.

Single Threaded (one at a time)


The diagram below shows a single-threaded publishing model. There are four users and three sites. User 1 publishes three files. Users 2 and 3 publish one file each. User 4 publishes 2 files. Users 1 and 2 publish to separate sites. Users 3 and 4 publish to the same site. All four users and all seven pages form a line and then get published one at a time. Imagine a site with hundreds of pages gets publishes first. With a single-threaded publishing agent, everybody must wait at the back of the line until all those pages have been sent.

Web content management - single threaded publishing

Multithreaded (one at a time per user)

Now, take a look at the diagram below. This is a multithreaded publishing model. Each user gets their own thread. Think of a thread as a line or queue. If we have four queues instead of just one, publishing is much quicker. The user who publishes an entire site of pages simply has to wait for those pages to complete before anything else from their queue will be published. But she can keep adding items to the queue without affecting other users. Those other users just publishing one page at a time don't wait for the first user's site to be published. They only have their own pages in their own queue.

web content management - multithreaded publishing

Other Challenges with a Rapidly Growing User Base

This is one of the many challenges of a rapidly growing user base. There are technical challenges with software. This post touches on both scalability and availability. Some others are load balancing, load testing, usability, and security. Then there are operational challenges, such as sales, support, bililng, etc. We have a great team here at Marketpath and one of the basic rules of thumb for measuring great employees is how well they perform under stress (i.e. rapid growth) but also how well they perform when the work is predictable. Luckily, we don't have too much of that! We like to keep it interesting here.

Since we're very near the month of May and the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough.

- Mario Andretti

 

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Benefits of the High Rent District

Posted 6:07 PM by

Wow! Today we were greeted by one of our property managers who came bearing a happy anniversary cake. We've been here a full year now. If that's not good customer service, I don't know what is!

Happy Office Anniversary Marketpath

We certainly pay more for our space than we used to. For three years, we previously paid about $10.50 per square foot with $80/mo/person parking. Now we pay about $18 per square foot with free parking and a whole slew of other benefits. When things break they get fixed quickly. We have nightly cleaning (with vacuuming, dusting, etc). We have a great workout facility and mile long running path around the lake. And we have a fantastic lakeview where we can plop a chair, grab a beer, and smoke a cigar.

Now, I can appreciate and relive the startup workspace where everyone is cramped into a small space together, rent is dirt cheap, and the close quarter smells begin to make their way home with you. But I have to admit. This is pretty nice!

Office with a View - Marketpath, Inc

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The Three Pillars of Website Marketing

Posted 12:05 PM by

The three pillars of website marketing - Marketpath IncI wrote about the three pillars a couple years back and thought I'd rekindle the importance of them. The basics of each have not really changed. At its core, your website marketing efforts consist of three primary pillars - Visibility, Engagement, and Conversion. Every marketing initiative serves these three foundational elements in some way and I am constantly reminded how important each is.

The most import element, however, is the conversion. This is where you get the lead, the new advocate, or the sale. If you are not providing a conversion mechanism on your website you are wasting your money and your visitors' time. Visibility and Engagement are great, but they only support the goal of the conversion.

Take a look at your website and evaluate it on these three pillars. Below, you'll find a few questions for each pillar. Your answers should provide a clearer idea on where you need improvement.

Visibility:

  1. Do you regularly insert carefully chosen keywords in your website pages and blogs?
  2. Do you syndicate new content to social media sites (e.g. Twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)?
  3. Do you practice cross-channel marketing? That is, do you have links to your social media profiles on your webiste, in your emails and do you have links back to your website from those?
  4. Do you attempt to get other organizations and associations to link to your website, when possible?
  5. Are you monitoring your visitor analytics? How many visitors do you get? How many are new vs. returning? From what part of the world do they live? What are the most popular pages or areas of the site? What other sites are sending the most traffic? These are all questions you should review on a monthly basis. Where are users abandoning your site? What is your bounce rate?
  6. Do you monitor what keywords are most used to get to your site and then optimize content based on those? 

Engagement

  1. How long do visitors stay on your site? Do they read pages or watch videos in their entirety?
  2. Do you monitor what sort of content is consumed the most? Do you have best practices in place for producing more of it?
  3. Do you monitor how deep into a site the average visitor travels?
  4. Do you regularly review your website layout and navigation to see where you may need improvement?
  5. Do you practice A/B or multi-variate testing to find the most effective content?

Conversions

  1. Do you at least have a contact us form on your site that is accessible from every page?
  2. Do you maintain relevant calls to action in different areas of your site? For example, do your pages about a particular service have a call to action that is well targeted for that service?
  3. Are your calls to action simple and inviting for an interested buyer/prospect?
  4. Do you have a lead management plan in place once a conversion has occurred? That is, what happens to the lead once you receive it? Does it go to Salesforce or some other CRM? Does it sit in a seldom-checked generic email account? Is someone responsible for responding to each and every one in a timely manner?
  5. Do you have maintain a database of all conversions?
  6. Do you ask visitors who have filled out a form if they would like to be contacted with other information or offers?

 

Answering these questions will help you shed light on your overall website marketing initiatives and how well you've built your foundation. They are at the very core of all things website marketing.

For more information, refer to my articles on each pillar:

 

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Dumpster Diving for Quality Online News Articles

Posted 4:12 AM by

Ten years ago online articles would be mostly about the article. Depending on the source, there would be a few ads here and there. But today, the content on those pages have pushed the boundaries of what's tolerable - at least for me. Banner ads, related articles, banner ads, never-ending navigation, sponsored links, social media sharing tools, most popular articles, more banner ads, latest videos, most commented articles, recommended stories, another banner ad, etc. You get the point. Article driven websites just have a lot of garbage.

I read all the time that the way we consume information is changing and it's no wonder why. We are forced, more than ever, to visually target the content with which we have an interest. We have to cut through all the clutter and distractions to find what we want. It's sort of like dumpster diving. We know there's a lot of trash to sort through but surely there are a couple good items within!

Take a look at the example below (my inspiration for this post). This is an article from MSN Money. The black areas are ads. This site only has two. The blue areas contain links to other (possibly related) content. The grey is just a logo banner. The yellow, though, is the content. And if you look at the article navigation just below that, it shows this is page 1 of 14. Are you kidding me?! Each page has about one paragraph before the page break occurs. Does that really need a page break? I don't think so.

Example of the clutter on a typical news site

 

One of the goals we always preach to our customers is to limit the number of clicks required of their visitors. The more clicks there are the more visitors drop off. It's a simple formula. But many news sites just don't seem to get it. I suppose it is ingrained from their history in print, that is, the "story continued on pg 31" mindset. The idea is that the more pages they can direct a reader to the more ads they will see. More impressions = more ad revenue. That's a simple formula too but it shouldn't share the same revenue formula as on the web.

We also preach about design and clear separation of content. On any given page, you have two main pieces of content. The article (or post, instructions, description, product overview, or other informational tidbit) is one piece. The other is the call to action. Both should be well balanced. Granted, I understand a news site is all about driving readers to consume more news and to click on the paid links, so it is a bit different goal than most. But that doesn't mean they have to break up a page into 80 different parts.

My whole point here is to show the content in full. Don't break it up. If your ads, sponsored links, social media sharing functions, and peripheral navigation all take up more than half of your page then you should rethink what actual value you're delivering to your readers. A Choose Your Own Adventure book does a better job of engaging and directing readers.

Here's an exercise similar to my image above. Take an article or post or product page on your website and overlay all the non-essential elements like I did above in black. Overlay the relevant areas with yellow. Does your page look balanced? Will your reader get distracted or confused and then leave, increasing your bounce rate? If you have more than half the page in black, then you should rethink your arrangement. You want to keep readers, not push them away.

 

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What is Web Engagement Management (WEM)?

Posted 12:12 PM by

Every few years marketers coin a new phrase that starts to stick. The next thing you know you're throwing the phrase around like an old dodgeball (the old kind that was made of hard rubber and really hurt when it smacked you in the face). If you know the phrase, it doesn't land hard, but if you don't, you look a little silly nodding your head like you understand while your brain tries to decode it. Today's phrase is "Web Engagement Management."

In a nutshell, if web content management was Barry Bonds before "supplements," web engagement management is Barry Bonds after. Web engagement management (WEM) has web content management at its core but extends on that core by adding measurement and personalization. It also ties in social media, lead generation, and testing best practices. CMS Wire has a nice article about it: The 5 Pillars of Web Engagement Management. What does this all mean? It means your job as a marketer is about to get harder and more confusing... at first, anyway.

Web engagement  management - Marketpath, IncWEM is about observiing, measuring, and responding to your website visitors' behaviors. It is about knowing them and targeting content that is highly relevant and gets them to convert more often. But that's fairly standard stuff when it comes to website marketing. We've been doing that a long time, so what's different? WEM, as a tool, brings together previously disparate technologies to capture and manage the distribution of leads, personalizes the visitor experience by pulling external profile data, and manages the new two-way, three-way, or X-way conversations from outside social channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc).

This is where website marketing has always been difficult. Plugging into external systems is expensive, difficult, and often takes a great deal of time to build. In addition, having the broad vision and understanding of how all these puzzle pieces fit together is not typically in the standard marketer's toolbox. The great direct marketing folks (whether snail mail or email) get it and don't have much trouble making these connections. Those who have more focused or single channel roles, though, will have a harder time seeing this large marketing maze in their minds. So, there is a lot of learning to do.

The bad news is that web content management toolsets who claim to be evolving into web engagement management don't make it easy... yet. There are tools available that offer these types of integrations but they are typicallly reserved for the big guys with deep pockets and they are still separate tools. If you are one of these big guys, then good for you. For the rest of us, we'll probably just need to wait a bit longer until the tools have caught up with the need or jump in, get your feet wet, and start learning now.

The goal to all web content management software companies, inclluding Marketpath, is to build web engagement management into the core of their systems and to simplify the difficulties of execution. It willl take a few years before all the kinks are worked out and the systems operate in a standard simplistic fashion. But if you wait until then, you will very likely be leaving money on the table. Get started now and work with the tools available. Your early adoption now will mean experience and better decision making later when all the other marketers are just getting started.

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Understanding the Bounce Rate

Posted 12:00 PM by

The bounce rate is the percentage of people who visit a single page of your website and then leave without venturing further. Every website has a bounce rate, including yours. It is an inescapable facet of website marketing. How you keep your bounce rate down, though, requires an understanding of why people bounce, or leave, in the first place.

Let's use an example. Marketpath has a front page with a blog feed, a few calls to action, and the usual site navigation and miscellaneous links. If a visitor arrives at our site, quickly scans the home page, and then realizes we are not what he was looking for, then he will leave and add one more tick to the total number of bounces. On the other hand, if he hits the home page, sees a link that pertains to his interests and clicks on it, he is no longer a bounce. The moment he visits that second page he is an engaged visitor and our bounce rate goes down.

Example of a High Bounce Rate

Understanding the bounce rate sampleThere are certain conditions, though, where you may not have a choice but to endure a higher bounce rate.  Look at the example on the right. The bounce rate is horrendous as far as bounce rates go. But this is the bounce rate of a bank that receives 400-700 hits per day. They have a very high bounce rate because they have the link to an external banking portal right on the home page. Most people visit a bank's website to log into their banking portal.

To improve this the bank could move the portal link to an inner page. Visitors would then have to click through and would not be registered as a bounce. As website marketers, though, we are supposed to eliminate clicks, not increase them, so this really isn't the solution. Another possible fix is to have the link open in a new window. Then the bank's website would still be open below and the visitor could jump back to browse through it. Think about the visitor, though. They just want to check their bank account and have no interest in browsing the site. So, most of the time they will just close the window after closing the account portal window. A better, more difficult solution, is to educate their customers on the "portal URL" so they stop increasing the main website's bounce rate. If the portal URL is long and difficult, a vanity URL could easily be created to redirect them and they will never know the difference (e.g. "www.mybankportal.com").

Lowering a High Bounce Rate

Most organizations don't have an external link on their home page; therefore, it's easier to interpret the data. Here are a few things to consider when trying to lower your webite's bounce rate:

  1. Review your copy. If you haven't had your website reviewed by a professional marketer and copywriter in a while this is probably a great first step. If budgets don't permit then buy a copywriting book and apply its principles to your site. I recommend Robert Bly and his book The Copywriter's Handbook. The point here is that your copy needs to sell your visitors to keep them moving along through your site. If you don't engage them and entice them to learn more then they will bounce.
  2. Review calls to action.  This also falls under the copy item above but is a little more specific and important. Everything matters on your home page or landing pages. Every element is important but few are as important as calls to action. For example, simple calls to action are "Buy now," "Call us now," "Sign up," or "Enter to win".

    Every page has a headline or a title with supporting copy. Home pages usually have several headlines that are meant to catch the visitor's eye and lead them in the direction they are most interested. These headlines and supporting copy provide a foundation of trust before visitors hit any calls to action. Imagine landing on a page that has just two words, "Buy Now!" or more words "Sign up for our organic newsletter" . Both are valid calls to action but without any supporting material behind them the chances of getting conversions are slim to none.

    The wording of your calls to action also matters a great deal. Make them simple, concise, and motivating. Once clicked, these should lead to some mechanism that converts those visitors by them signing up for a newsletter, buying a product, or providing some bit of information to you to begin the next stage of your relationship.
  3. Website bounce rates and conversion flow - Marketpath Inc

  4. Don't trick people into visiting your website - or at least know the consequences. Many organizations use unrelated keywords to drive people to their website. For example, a Nissan automotive dealer might target keywords for Toyota and Honda in his area. The thinking goes like this: "if someone is looking for a Toyota and clicks on our Nissan link (which really says Toyota), they might stay for a bit and change their mind about the Toyota." See the trick? It's used in search marketing all the time. You could also use this but you have to realize that you will have a very high bounce rate. When those tricked visitors hit your site most will become annoyed that it's not a Toyota site and will leave. Your bounce rate will suffer accordingly by going up.

  5. Monitor referrers and search terms. If you don't know where your visitors are coming from then how do you write targeted content for them? If 50% of your visitors come from search traffic and the majority of those find you with one particular search phrase (your analytics package will tell you this) then your home page or landing page copy should sell to those individuals. Lumping everyone into one large bucket will lead to a watered down effect. The more specific you can be in your headlines, copy, and calls to action, the more success you'll have resulting in fewer bounces.

  6. Test. If you can narrow down your headlines, supporting copy, and calls to action, then you can test. A/B testing or multi-variate testing are both great ways to measure the results of multiple content versions to see which performs better. You should always test before making big changes. But, if you are a small company with limited time, or you are a "ready, fire, aim!" type of marketer (like me), then be sure to make smaller incremental changes to your site so you can properly measure the impact. If you make a bunch of changes at once without any testing you'll be left wondering which of those changes made the difference in your improved results.

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