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We use Sitelink Extensions to drive highly-targeted pricing conversations to our chatbot. Learn how to utilize these Google Ads extension to create a highly relevant PPC experience for your prospective customers.Read More
Do you like what you are doing on an average Tuesday at 9:30am? If you do, it’s likely you have a job you’ll be at for a while.Read More
Employees who enjoyed long careers working with David Ogilvy would have heard him constantly re-enforcing the belief that the only way to survive as a company is to hire and promote great people. Ogilvy believed that teams were most successful when they hired employees that were exceptional and more skilled or knowledgeable than their peers/bosses.Read More
It seems like yesterday...
I overheard a conversation between my then-manager, Jon Davis, now Shape’s CEO, and the director of our PPC department discussing the need for our team to consider A/B testing. After several years of optimizing the same PPC campaigns, I was ready to learn something new. So, I rudely injected myself into their conversation (easy to do in an open office) mentioning my interest in the challenge.
Next thing I knew, the PPC director slapped a landing page optimization book on my desk. Soon I was attending Conversion Conference, where I attempted to hide my impostor syndrome while networking with the optimization elite.
The next years were filled with:
Testing PPC and optimization tools, software, and tactics
Using data to improve products, website designs, and marketing strategies
Training coworkers, clients, and industry leaders to think like optimizers
- Speaking at real estate industry conferences on social media, testing, and optimization concepts and techniques
- Internet stalking a CRO rockstar until he proposed and I moved from Bend, OR to Vancouver, BC
- Witnessing Shape grow from a twinkle in my former boss' eye to successful startup
That one interruption at just the right moment years ago changed my life.
Including now with the announcement of my new role as Optimization and Growth Lead at Shape (who wouldn’t want their title to include O.G.?!).
This O.G. Gives a Damn
Shape was formed out of needs we experienced at our former agency. Since most of us at Shape have PPC backgrounds, we empathize with the pain of day-to-day campaign management. I’m excited to join a team designing a product that improves the lives of digital marketers and I'm eager to learn how to make your life easier. My objective is to help you accomplish your goals more effectively.
In contrast to agency work, I now get to focus on a single brand where I'll be working with and for savvy digital marketers. Your technical knowledge allows us to develop in-depth content and useful tools. As we continue to grow, I look forward to sharing our research, learning, tips, and experiences with the community.
Curiosity Fuels My Passion for Learning
While I’m a bonafide (and successful) online stalker, I’ve put those days behind me. Part of my role is to ethically collect, research, and analyze user behavior and customer feedback to continue to improve and evolve Shape. I want to learn as much as possible about our users so we can mold our product to fit your needs.
Time is Our Most Valuable Resource
We aim to make you more efficient and more effective with your time. By automating your most repetitive tasks, our hope is to get you spending more time doing what you love - whether that is optimizing campaigns, laying on a beach, or both*.
*If both, please share where to buy one of those laptop sun screens that actually works.
Choose to spend your limited time wisely.
Most Importantly: Surround Yourself with Good People
Don’t get stuck in the mundane. Use your PTO. Trust yourself. Speak up. Take risks.
I'm proof it can lead to an unexpected journey of growth and an optimized life.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
Version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.
MVP is one of the most debated concepts in modern startup culture.
Designing a MVP is a core component of the Lean Startup framework. The goal of a MVP is to quickly get into the “build-measure-learn” feedback loop that is the lifeblood of a lean startup.
Creating MVPs is an art. Much of the skill lies in determining what to do/not do with time as your main constraint. Focusing too much on maximizing speed and minimizing effort can be dangerous if taken to the extreme. Some bugs and mistakes can ruin the trust of a potential customer forever.
A MVP Should ‘Do No Harm’
Ideally, an MVP is a well educated guess based on hours of interviews with potential or current customers about a problem they face. But it is still a guess. You don’t know if what you built will provide value until you receive feedback.
If you are going to send your MVP into the world you owe it to the people using it to not make them worse off than they were before.
Are you risking sensitive customer data by sending it to a Google Spreadsheet shared with 15 people?
Does your MVP have powerful features that when used incorrectly could cause major problems for your customers? Do you have a help section, tool tips, or support processes in place?
Are you wasting someone’s time by making promises on your landing page you don’t deliver on?
How We Tweaked the MVP Concept
We build business-to-business software. One of the core features of our platform controls the flow of millions of dollars of ad spend every month for our customers. If used incorrectly, this feature could cause a lot of damage.
Due to the potential risks of building software so powerful, our team decided early on to tweak how we used MVP internally when building new features and products.
Minimum Responsible Viable Product (MRVP)
Version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort and passes our ‘responsibility test’ questions.
In B2B, once you lose someone’s trust, it’s almost impossible to gain back.
To ensure we are launching new features responsibly, we ask ourselves these questions before every release:
- Are we ruthlessly protecting our customers’ data?
- Have we done everything in our power to ensure our customers use this feature correctly and can’t cause irrevocable harm through misuse?
- Does it do what our marketing materials say it does?
I believe you should take a deep breath after finishing development of your MVP and honestly ask yourself, “Is this MVP responsible to launch?”
Don't risk betraying the trust of or losing valuable customers by launching an irresponsible MVP.
We believe people are the most important piece of the puzzle in building a company.
The best part for us about generating revenue from happy customers is the opportunity to add great people to our team; people who can help us further improve the experience of using our software.
The internet is littered with advice about hiring and recruiting. For us it boils down to one question, “Given our circumstances, is the candidate the best person in the world for this job?” If the answer is “yes”, then any potential concerns fall to the wayside. We simply do whatever we can to get that person onboard.
We couldn’t be happier to introduce the two newest members of our team. Nicole and Hayes have a unique mix of digital marketing and SaaS experience that will allow us to better serve our customers going forward.
Nicole Mears, VP of Marketing & Communications
Nicole has an extensive background in the PPC industry working as an analyst, department head, and product manager.
Nicole’s focus is crafting our website, marketing materials, and support documents to clearly communicate how PPC professionals can benefit from our platform.
When she’s not working, she enjoys hiking with her husband and half golden retriever/half tornado (Parker), baking, and reading.
Hayes Nelson, COO
His focus is sales workflow creation, execution, and amplifying the message of how Shape solves key problems faced by digital marketing teams.
When he isn’t working he enjoys riding, fine craft beers and spending time with his friends and family.
It’s surprising, but Steve Job loved meetings. He actively scheduled times to talk with people throughout his career because he believed in the power of face-to-face meetings. Rethinking your organization’s attitude towards meetings (like Apple under Steve Jobs) can lead to creative solutions from collective thought.Read More
Quora Gets Into the Ad Business
In April 2016, Quora announced they’d begin testing advertising. The announcement post includes a simple ask for advertisers,
“If you are interested in advertising on Quora you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org”
It’s been a subtle rollout of the program. As of this writing in Jan 2017, there still isn’t a public landing page for the Ads beta. The announcement post and the Advertiser FAQ page are the only resources publicly available that reference the program and appear in top search results.
In November of 2016, we got curious about what it would take to launch a campaign on Quora and set up a small scale test.
Getting Approved as an Advertiser
Following the directions on the announcement post, I sent an email to email@example.com,
The autogenerated response from the Quora Ads Team,
The form you are led to takes about 5 minutes to fill out and asks basic information about your company and why you are interested in advertising.
They had immediate openings because we got this email 30 mins after submitting the form,
The email also has a 3 page attachment with details on what to do next, advertising guidelines and general advice,
Launching a Campaign
The interface is clean and easy to navigate. I have spent years of my life working with Google’s Adwords and it's quite a contrast. There are endless amounts of settings and options in Adwords because of the focus on keywords. Quora targets based on the ‘Topics’ they organize their site content by. This allows them to streamline the process and present a cleaner experience.
Our software is designed for digital marketers focusing on PPC. We decided to target the ‘Pay Per Click’ topic on Quora with 35K followers.
Here’s the flow for adjusting settings and creating ad copy.
The first step is to create a new campaign, give it a name and then choose targeting for an Ad Set,
Quora makes you write in complete sentences and is really strict on capitalization. This will be an adjustment for anyone used to operating in Adwords.
Here is an example of an ad that I tried that didn’t get approved because ‘PPC’ is viewed as over capitalization and does not meet the guidelines,
After making some adjustments, this is the copy for our first approved ad,
Minutes later we had our first sighting of the ad in the wild on a Quora thread,
Over the last few months we have seen our ad appear on relevant threads like, "What are the best paid tools for PPC?"
Working in the Quora Ad Manager Interface
I love the simplicity of the UI.
Here’s the main dashboard,
You can easily drill down into campaigns and ad sets,
Suggestions for the Quora Ads Team
If anyone from the Quora Ads team reads this, please consider
- showing the full ad copy on above view instead of having to click on each ad title to view the full ad
- adding the ability to duplicate an existing ad to adjust slightly for testing
But on a whole I really like working in the Ads Manager. Tweaking settings, daily budget and ad copy is easy and intuitive.
Performance We’ve Seen in First ~2 Months
Here’s how traffic from Quora has performed as reported in Google Analytics,
Not enough traffic yet to draw any major conclusions after two months and about $60 of spend but it’s encouraging. As always you’d hope for more volume but when targeting a niche market like PPC professionals it's not too bad. The quality of the traffic for the people that don’t bounce looks great and we did get 1 free trial sign-up. That 1 sign-up could turn into a $2,000/month customer.
So far this is our best performing ad,
Stats for this ad,
- 53 clicks
- 13,061 impressions
- $0.73 cpc
We’ll Be Continuing to Experiment With Quora Ads
From what we have seen in the first few months we are encouraged enough to continue our experiment by adding more topics into our targeting and increasing bids.
Quora doesn't give you any insights into quality score or average position. So it's tough to say if we can really grow traffic in a meaningful way by increasing bids. But, the cost is still pretty low and worth the experiment. The Quora audience is unique and many respected PPCers frequent the threads.
We are going to try to increase to 5 conversions over the next 60 days by:
- expanding to topics like 'Google Adwords' with 77k followers and
- experimenting more with ad copy
- upping bids 1.5-2x on all ads
Leaving 'Base Camp' and Getting Out of Our Comfort Zone
This post shares years of our marketing data from Google Analytics.
We've made a commitment on this journey to focus on our new guidelines. Not to focus obsessively on data or traffic stats. We want traffic and sign-ups to be a byproduct of creating great marketing. This does not mean we'll be ignoring data.
We'll be keeping an eye on how our efforts impact data in Google Analytics, like we always have. The big difference now is that we'll be sharing the ups and downs along the way to an audience of savvy digital marketers, our readers. People who work with this type of data everyday.
It's scary for us to put our marketing data out there. We've made mistakes and bad decisions with where to invest our energy. That's clear from this data.
Our mistakes will be especially clear to our readers who are trained to make sense of this data for a living. But, that also means our readers are uniquely positioned to learn from our transparency. That's why we are sharing despite our fears. Maybe there are some insights buried in the data that can help you.
Our Data Baselines
In May 2015, we began adding to our team of 3. We also switched from a free to a paid product. Before that, we've been actively trying to drive people to our website since 2014. But, a lot changes when you go from totally free to charging after a 31 day trial. Looking at data starting from that change in May 2015 we believe will make for the most relevant comparisons for our website.
Our blog has gone through some changes and has less historical data. But as you'll see, we are almost starting from scratch building an audience with this blog.
The KPIs that we'll be revisiting during our marketing journey are:
- new visits to our website/blog
- pageviews and total visitors to our blog
- sign-ups for our free trial
Here are the baselines for those metrics, followed by a gallery of screenshots from Google Analytics to provide more context.
New Visitors to Our Website and Blog
We have stalled out at ~1,000 new visitors a month coming to our website and blog combined.
We haven't had too many major peaks or valleys along the way. No channel has spiked other than last summer when we were featured on Product Hunt.
Pageviews and Total Visitors to Our Blog
Baseline engagement with our blog falls into the 'scary to share' metrics category. Here is what an average month of pageviews looks like, Dec 2016,
Most days our blog sees fewer than 10 pageviews and less than 3 total visitors. (This post will probably only get 5-10 pageviews in the next week, even after we promote it through social channels.)
Sign-Ups and Conversion Rates
We hope that this conversion data will be encouraging for anyone looking to start an enterprise software company. Over the last two years, we've been able to raise seed funding, grow to a team of 5 and reach cash flow positive by averaging about 1 sign-up a day.
Conversion data from the last 7 months of 2016 echoes what we have seen historically,
Conversion rate hasn't gone above 1.2% during any month. Seems lower than it should be, especially for a B2B product. We haven't found any definitive reason we can put our finger on as to why. We've done testing with our homepage's design through the years. Problem is it's hard to draw many conclusions from the little traffic we have through A/B testing. The low conversion rate is also confusing because metrics for new users like bounce rate, pages/session and session duration have all improved over that time span (see gallery below).
Recently, we added demo videos to our homepage. We need to continue to work on ways we can clearly communicate how our product changes a digital marketers workday for the better.
Gallery of Screenshots from Google Analytics
Here's more context on how new visitors find our site today and what they do when they get there.
- 86% of new visitors are on their computer, 11% are using a phone.
- 50% of our new visitors are from the United States.
- Traffic is down on weekends because people aren't at work.
- Bounce rate, pages/session and avg session duration are all trending in the right direction since May 2015 for new visitors.
- Google believes our audience is 75% male, 25% female
- Google believe 49% of our audience is between the ages of 25-34
This journey started because our data was telling us something we already knew in our gut.
We need to transform how we market our company and product.
The orange line is 'returning users sessions' going up and to the right. This line shows we are solving problems for our customers and they are using our software more. The orange line makes me proud because it proves we are delivering a product that aligns with our mission: to serve digital marketing professionals and the organizations they run.
The blue line is 'new users sessions'. It's pretty much flat since we moved from a free to paid product in May 2015. That's also when we started adding to the team and generating some initial marketing momentum. But since then our website and blog attract roughly the same amount of monthly engagement from new visitors as 18 months ago. The blue line shows we have failed to serve our community through marketing efforts the way our product has.
Moving From a Place of Comfort
Journey's often start from a place of comfort. That's where we are. Despite a flat blue line we are growing fast and adding happy customers. We just hit cash flow positive with plenty of money from our seed round still in the bank.
Writing more and publishing blog posts is not going to be comfortable. It's scary to create new things. But, these challenges must be faced to have the type of impact on the world we want to have with our company and software.
A few months back it became clear we needed to make some changes. I started researching. I read books and blog posts. Listened to podcasts from people working at companies with marketing we admired. Reflecting on everything it felt like we needed some guidelines to help us make decisions about our marketing strategy.
Making Changes Using Guidelines Not Traffic Goals
Goals focused on increasing traffic and new sign-ups felt shallow. Google Analytics data like at the top of this post is important to monitor. But using data alone to drive marketing strategy can lead to problems. The common theme I heard from top marketers is traffic becomes a byproduct of focusing on the process of creating transformational marketing for readers.
Reaching a certain number of new visitors a month for your website doesn't mean you can stop marketing at that time. Marketing journeys have no end. Guidelines to help us navigate a long journey feels like a more solid foundation to build from and focus on.
Here are the 6 guidelines we'll use to make decisions about marketing:
1. Focus on Transforming Our Readers
We want to create change within people through our marketing. The best marketing makes a person‘s life better by challenging their worldview and giving them insights they didn’t previously have. If we are able to transform our readers worldview, even in a small way, we believe that will create better marketing and writing. We'll be asking ourselves constantly, ‘How will a reader be different after reading? What will they learn by the end?’
Our best marketing work will come from focusing on our readers, not ourselves.
2. Write About Topics We Are Uniquely Positioned to Write About
We have firsthand experience growing digital marketing teams, creating software for those teams and building our company. We should probably stick to what we know. This will give us the best chance to provide insights to our readers.
The topics we believe we have unique perspectives on:
Relationships between humans and technology within successful digital marketing teams
Our journey building this company
3. Be Consistent
Marketing involves a lot of writing. Writing is hard. It takes time, thought and repetition. We’ve failed to generate great marketing on a regular basis and we believe that has hampered our ability to earn trust with readers.
Our goal is to create at least 1 piece of original marketing work a week.
4. Value and Invest in Design
Even if the copy of an ad or blog post doesn't connect with someone, the design aesthetic and images can have an impact. We’ve started working with artists and illustrators to create unique images to accompany our writing going forward.
The design of a lot of marketing and blogs out there makes it feel like the page is yelling at the reader. We are working with designers to ensure a clean design that hopefully feels more like it’s talking with you.
5. Be More Transparent
We know there are people out there thinking about ways to improve their company's marketing or starting a new company. By sharing more of our marketing data and personal stories about how we are building our company, we believe we can create marketing that transforms our reader.
6. Remain Flexible and Keep Updating the Plan
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” — Mike Tyson.
These are guidelines not rules. We can’t be afraid to change our beliefs when presented with new information.
We are excited to see where the journey leads.
Join us at blog.shape.io/our-journey.
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