Archive for the ‘business’ Category

10 common Adwords mistakes by business owners

Sunday, December 10th, 2017

A few months ago I decided to get back into experimenting in Adwords advertising for both my day job and Observu website monitoring. I quickly learned that Adwords is very good at letting you pay for low value traffic and making you believe you are doing a good job.

1. Mistake clicks for success

Clicks are traffic to your site and this can only be a good thing, right? Yes, if you weren’t paying through the nose for it. If you are paying EUR 2,00 for a visitor that spends 5 seconds on your site and then hits the back button that is just throwing away money.

To start, you need to monitor conversions (pretty much everyone uses Google tag manager to set it up) such as submitting your registration form, buying a product, etc.

Make sure to add the ‘number of conversion’ column to all your adwords reports so you can see which clicks get you conversions

2. Not check actual search terms regularly

Another way to see the value of your traffic is to religiously check the actual search terms visitors used before they clicked your ad. You may think you are getting clicks for interesting keywords, but Google may be fooling you with their reports. e.g. I advertise on a broad matching keyword: website monitoring. What Adwords sends me traffic for is someone that searched for: compare monitors online. It’s highly unlikely that this is someone interested in my product.

To deal with this you can either change a broad matching keyword to a more narrow match or add it as a negative keyword.

3. Pay for irrelevant traffic

This is a refinement on point 2. If you watch it closely you will notice that Adwords will send you traffic on people search for URLs .e.g. queries like: http www somewebsite com your keyword Often it’s very unlikely to be relevant, I therefore suggest to add the following negative keywords to every campaign that is not your own brand campaign:


4. Overpaying for mobile clicks

In my experience there is far less value in mobile clicks, because on mobile Ads look even more like search results and people are very quick to (maybe accidentally) hit the first result they see. I therefore urge you too adjust your bid for mobile devices with 50% to 90%.

5. Use automated / enhanced bidding

Although these options sound great, what I’ve seen in practice is that Adwords most of the time just raises your bids to the maximum CPC you’ve set. With manual bidding you have much better control over what you are willing to pay. I suggest adding the [top of page] column to your keyword reports to select a proper price to bid.

6. Combine multiple keywords in a single ad group

An important factor in how well your ads are displayed is the Quality score. One part of this quality score is that your Ad text matches your keyword. Now when I first used Adwords I assumed that Google would match my keyword to the most fitting Ad I had in the group. This does not seem the case. Adwords converges to the best performing Ad in a group, independent of how well it matches the current keyword. Therefor the only way to force a relevant ad, is to make sure a group has a very narrow scope in keywords and use the keyword in the ad text. By doing so, the quality score will improve and the display likeliness and position of your ad will improve.

Further improvement can be made by creating a landing page for the ad group and making it highly relevant to your keyword.

7. Adding broad matching keywords

As I already mentioned at point 2. and 3. if you use broad matching keywords, Google takes a lot of liberty to show your ads. Now this has it’s advantages, such as also matching searches for competing products. But it also triggers a lot of irrelevant traffic. It is therefore strongly suggested to only use broad matching keywords to discover more specific relevant keywords. In my case, instead of just using: website monitoring I use:

+website +monitoring
“website monitoring”
[website monitoring]

Phrase match (second item) is the closest to what you would normally expect Google to do. Using all three variations allow to bid more for people searching for the exact keyword.

8. Forget checking the quality of conversions

If you followed the recommendation to track conversions, it’s easy to assume every conversion has a value. That’s not the case. e.g. if someone fills out my signup form, but never confirms their e-mail, is there any value? What if they sign up, but then contact support and you figure out they intended to do something else. (e.g. sign up for a different product with a similar name)

Ideally your signup/buy process should capture the adwords campaign it originated from (e.g. using the __utmz cookie) so you can identify which campaigns result in these bogus conversions.

9. Mixing low and high cost keywords in a single campaign

One of the struggles with Adwords is getting to a CPC that is low enough so it works for your business. Once you found some low cost, high volume keywords they can provide a steady stream of traffic. Some keywords may be more relevant and you are willing to pay more for it, that’s fine. However, if you combine these two in one campaign under a single budget, this means that that one EUR 3 click, just cost you the 10 30 cent clicks you would normally have.

10. Not using a dedicated campaign for your brand name

If you need to advertise on your own brand name (e.g. a competitor is stealing your clicks by advertising on it). You need to do so in a separate campaign. First, someone searching for your brand has very different characteristics, this will skew your conversion metrics. Second, this is easy, highly relevant traffic, you don’t want to miss out on this because you ran out of budget due to other keywords.

I’m by no means an expert, but just checking your account regularly for these mistakes can drastically increase the value you get from your Adwords budget.

Why developers should do customer support

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

As a developer, I don’t particularly enjoy customer support. Questions are either about things that are obvious (or should have been) or about things that I don’t have a clue about either and need a lot of investigation. Some customers are just plain rude with “it’s not working” in the subject and nothing else.

At first sight it seems to be a huge waste of your expensive developer time to spend time on this. However, I strongly believe you should. Not only do developers bring value to the customer by providing more knowledge and understanding about the product. Providing accurate support is a guaranteed way to turn dissatisfied users into your most loyal customers. It also helps improving the product thus reducing support requests and increasing customer satisfaction.

Read all 5 reasons why in the full article

Obsessed about monitoring

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

For the past two years, I’ve been working on one of our products: Observu,  a site and server monitoring platform.   The last year we’ve applied it to our existing sites and customers and now we feel it’s ready for others to see and use as well. It took a bit longer than anticipated, due to other projects and responsibilities taking up time, but we’ve always kept determined to get Observu ready to launch.

If you are interested in improving your availability, response times and quality of service in general, check it out at

I definitely do not feel like we are done now, having it out in the open now is just the start to find out which direction we should go.  We’ve got so many ideas, but we can’t execute all of them right away. Your feedback will be greatly appreciated and help us guide further development.

Startup/Product Blog Inspiration

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

It has been common practice for years now for startups to blog about their new product and its development. It’s one of the key methods to keep your future customers informed. However, as soon as you find yourself in the situation to blog it can’t hurt to have some inspiration.

First, I’ve selected blogs that seem to post regularly and have some traction. The blogs I choose are: kissmetrics, pingdom, flattr and joelonsoftware. After some reading I extracted the following topics from these blogs.

  • Press coverage, if you’re product was reviewed in a paper on an important blog, this can validate your product in the eye of the reader. You are not just an anonymous product, but a serious contender.
  • Jobs, listing job openings shows that you are growing, this can be interpreted as a sign of success, people don’t want to buy from someone that is loosing.
  • Important News, besides the obvious point of informing your users, posting news on your blog will also provide reference for those interested in spreading your news even further.
  • Development Progress, especially if there is not much happening on the outside, it’s good to show that you are still committed to the product. People hate to invest effort in something that’s dieing.
  • Development process/tools, if your target audience is also in the developers arena, blogging about the process and tools can be the start of a relationship. You’re not just a company trying to sell them something, you are a colleague, with the same problems and challenges. JoelOnSoftware mainly focuses on this and is great at it.
  • Niche Related Articles, becoming a resource for your potential customers, without directly selling your product by posting articles related to your product niche is a great way to gain a bigger audience. Kissmetrics does this exceptionally well.
  • The same goes for Best practices/tutorials. Especially if they become easier by using your product, but do not require it.
  • Infographics are very effective link-bait, again Kissmetrics is very strong in this area.
  • Reports/Research based on your data or questionnaires may get you press coverage when executed correctly. Pingdom is regularly featured in mainstream newspapers as a source. A very smart form of promotion.
  • Industry News could also widen your reach, but it will probably require a very very persistent approach to become an authority in your niche.
  • Repost stuff from the internet is a very common tactic often in the form of round ups like: “the best 5 SEO tools” or “10 must visit design resources”
  • Interviews can come in a lot of different ways, you might interview your team members, important customers or an industry bigshot.  Of course the latter is more likely to get you some extra audience.

I hope this listing will inspire you to post more regularly, it certainly inspired me.

Competition Anxiety

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

If you start a new product/website/service  it’s wise to know your competitors.  Find out what they offer at what price and quality. There is nothing wrong with that.

However,  it’s easy to fall in a different trap: get the feeling that you need the same features as your competitors have.  This leads to three problems:   you loose the big picture,  the grown feature set feels like a burden and you’ll get a me-too product.

Instead of focusing on features,  focus on marketing and positioning. Are there gaps?  Untargeted niches,  untried approaches? Only after that,  look for those key features that will attract those customers you want.

Power of Quora: Pick Your Own Crowd

Monday, January 17th, 2011

In my initial review of, I wondered how it was going to cope with the masses. The current value of quora is largely in the crowd that is on there. There are top-level founders, CTO’s, etc giving valuable insight into their way of doing business and the current use of technology. So what will happen to that when the masses come? On most forums, the experts leave or quality topics get buried by loads of trivial ones.

However, I now believe I figured out the power of quora: you can pick your own crowd.  By following the right people, you automatically select the quality and topics that you are interested in.   In time, generic topics like ‘webdevelopment’ will probably be swamped (at least, without heavy moderation), but brilliant people, will stay brilliant and will keep giving high quality answers: you just need to find them.

Freemium and Bootstrapping

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

These last few years the Freemium business model has gotten lot of attention and examples.  Basically it’s to offer free accounts to your service with an option to upgrade to a paid pro account. Key is to create enough benefit and goodwill to get those upgraded members.

Another interesting development is the notion of ‘Bootstrapping a company’. Which comes down to  starting a company self-funded, with minimum means. This is nothing new, most businesses in the past centuries have probably been started this way.

What I am interested in is the combination of using a freemium model for a bootstrapped (online) business.  It seems natural to create a free site first, as a side project, and add the paying part later, when it gets some traction. You would think that’s perfect for bootstrapping, as at first you can just focus on the idea itself, instead of building the whole business. It’s just going to cost you some time as there is no need to invest heavily in sales: free sells itself.

However, I believe this is generally a bad idea. First of all, free accounts create volume. This means your costs will grow and development will become more complicated with the larger scale.  Furthermore, it’s hard to pay for promotion,  when you are unable to determine returns on the extra users you gain. What if those expensive clicks just lead to more free money-draining signups?  This disconnection between scale and revenue involves risk, that you may not be able to take without an outside investment. It could take a while before you find the right balance to turn a freemium business into a profitable one.

A perceived advantage of a free version is that lots of users will get you a lot of feedback to improve your product.  However, feedback from users that don’t pay, does not necessarily say anything about the reasons users are not upgrading.

If you are going with a freemium model, I do have some advice:

  • Put very strict limits on the free account from the very start. If you have to put up limits afterwards, this will only get you angry users;
  • Add new features to your paid version first. Make sure that those members that are paying feel valued;
  • Think very hard about the cost of a free user, especially over time. For example, starting a freemium video site is probably not a very good idea without a stack of money;
  • If possible, make sure free accounts generate content  (unique content can potentially get you traffic)
  • Develop the paid version first, make sure it is worth the money and only after that add a free version to help promotion and to convince new customers.

All in all, using a freemium model complicates things in a way that makes it hard for a bootstrapped company to really follow it through.  In the end you are partly creating your own competitor, available for free.


Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Last week I was introduced to . It’s a smart Q&A on almost everything. The crowd is currently very tech oriented, thus so are the questions.  The most notable difference to existing forums and Q&A sites is the way you select the content you are interested in.   You can follow  people, topics (tags)  or specific questions.  All together building a feed of questions and updates tailored to your interest.

I see some relation to asking a question on Twitter, however with Quora your other followers can actually see the responses. Currently, the quality of answers is one of the big selling points. The people answering are CTO’s, founders, etc. making it a great place to read up on new trends.

Although it took a while for me to figure out the search box,  it works very very well and incredibly fast. It can find people, topics and specific questions as you type.

As with every new service,  there are still a few things in there that are not as smooth as desirable. First of all, it is hard to see what has been read. This has been a standard functionality in almost every forum out there, not without reason. Furthermore, the homepage feed is structured a bit weird. For example to me it would make more sense to group   the ‘new question added’  and ‘answer added’ on the same question  together, instead of having them at multiple points in the time-line. Especially annoying is the fact that new items are added to the homepage at the top, while you are reading, moving you away from what you were reading. Finally, on the homepage it some times it shows topic suggestions on the right, but not always. If it’s not showing there, I find it hard to figure out where I can get those.

There are some other things I wish there were in there:  for example a way to ‘archive’ certain questions, so they don’t appear anymore, even though they are on a topic I’m following. I would also very much like to see a global feed with all questions, that does not look like a diff screen.

In general it feels very promising, however the big question is: how will it cope with the masses? As soon as this goes beyond the early adopters, will I still be able to cope with the large amount of questions on the topics I’m interested in?  Or will I have to wade through batches of unanswered and uninteresting topics?

Rethinking Corporate Twitter Accounts

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Twitter is great for networking as it, contrary too all other social networks, allows you to connect and communicate with random strangers with exactly those interests you are after. That’s one of the things that makes Twitter a great tool for business. For one-man companies, it is easy: the company is almost equal to their person and so can be their Twitter account. They can just sneak in a few business related tweets now and than.

For larger operations, there is a catch: Do you follow business accounts? I don’t. If I’m interested in a business I try to find the founder or an important developer related to it. I might follow a business account if I’m a customer, or are really really waiting for them to launch, but other than that? Nope.

Now let’s look at why this is:

  • News from the company itself is obviously commercial. We don’t like to read commercial messages.
  • Without a real person attached to it, it is much harder to identify. Most people I follow are selected on some kind of commonality: maybe they are into design, maybe they are developers or in a start-up. I don’t have anything in common with your company, except if you are the competition or when I’m already your customer.
  • It is hard to tweet regularly. Without day to day stuff to tell about, it is hard to keep something interesting going. It can quickly slide down to the RSS feed level. Without regular tweets you will not be remembered and get the attention you aspired.

So, company accounts on Twitter can’t work?  Yes, they can.   Let’s look at @Kissmetrics. They are obviously commercial, their twitter account is for a service, nothing personal about that. If you scan their time-line,  there is no  cooking, cleaning, traveling or complaining.  Still,  their feed doesn’t feel unpleasant. Although you are aware of their business interest, they provide great content at a fairly high rate.  Let’s break their strategy down a bit:

  • Great content – Their blog posts are high quality, relevant to their niche, without being an advertisement
  • Great linked content – All relevant links, closely related, but not about their product
  • Good retweets – Again relevant links, without much effort to create content.  It does take a knowledgable person, involved in the business to pick out that quality
  • Smart Quotes – It allows them to put out a message on how they operate and their vision, without resorting to sales speak.

All of this results in:

  • Regular tweets, showing up in the timeline frequently
  • Lots of retweets, that further increasing visibility

What it comes down to:  Publish content your customers want, instead of promoting your product.  Finding a good balance between your own content and linked content can reduce effort and improve continuity.

5 Reasons to delay your product launch

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

We strongly believe in  release early and often. However when you work with other partners or customers, they may not think the same. So in a few years we have had experience with opposite ends and we have learned from it:  Although I still believe it is bad to delay your launch just to get more features in there, there are very good reasons that should stop you from launching your product.

1. You’re product is not clear. If you can’t summarize in a few sentences what users get out of your product and what action they need to take to get that, you might be in trouble.  If you can,  make sure that this message is also supported by your homepage. Not only the ‘what’ but maybe even more important:  the action users need to take.

2. You’re marketing is not in place. There is really no point in releasing a product without a plan on how to gain customers. If you are not able to start promoting your product, what’s the point? Nothing feels more disappointing than releasing a product and getting no feedback at all.

3. You can’t even use it. Aiming to release early does not mean delivering a barely working product. Attention for usability must be included in the most basic version.  So if you’ve got low quality instead of  less quality features go back to the drawing board.

4. It’s not that impressive. Expectations on design and usability have grown quickly over last few years. Users are no longer impressed by just a good look, you need to impress them with your product, but not just the product: the whole experience has to ooze the quality you deliver.

5. You did not review and test the code. Especially if you have outsourced development, I think you need to closely examine the quality of your product internals. If you can’t do it yourself, hire someone.  Even the best developers make mistakes and take shortcuts once in a while.  Even if you have tested everything, you are still going to find lots of bugs and flaws in the first weeks, so the more you find yourself, the sooner you will get real feedback.      If you believe you can rely on bugreports by users:  you can’t.

It all comes down to attention to detail. Some product make it because they are game changing ideas, others are just lucky. However most products only make it because there is someone that is obsessed by every single detail, even when running into unwilling designers, developers or marketeers.