The personal website of Chris Coyier

Archive for June, 2011

What Little I Know About Marketing

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

I didn’t go to school for marketing. I don’t have 20 years of experience in marketing. In fact, marketing has never been officially a part of any job I’ve had. However, I have created stuff that has required marketing and now I have some opinions on it.

Instead of being vague, let’s get specific. A guy named Jared Polivka emailed me about a new WordPress theme he and a friend (recent college graduates) created called Victory Framework. It’s a “political” theme, so aimed at web designers who are creating sites for political candidates. It’s a paid/premium theme which costs $75.

The challenge Jared faces is: how do I market this theme? The goal being, if marketed well, web designers building political websites will be aware of this, some portion of them will buy it, he’ll make money. Sweet.

Jeff Starr and I were in a similar position when we wrote our book on WordPress, Digging Into WordPress. We made the thing, now if only we could get people to know about it, some portion of them will buy it, we’ll make money. Sweet.

Jeff and I had one significant advantage though, we both had sites that already had fairly large audiences of people who on some level were “fans” of our work and were likely to be interested in the topic of our book. The day we released the book, we sold a bunch of copies. That is the “Thank You Economy” at work. Whatever you think about Gary V, I think he’s dead right about this one.

As far as I can tell, Jared doesn’t have the existing audience Jeff and I did. He has 43 followers on Twitter and no personal website that I can find. That’s OK. These things can come. Perhaps the Victory Framework will help grow Jared’s fans and his next product will have that luxury. I’d recommend working on either a personal site or a company site though. In the footer of the Victory Framework website it says “Created by Warnock and Polivka.” If that linked away to another website that was different yet beautifully designed, my level of trust for this theme would skyrocket. It would serve as proof these guys do good work in everything they do.

So now were do we turn for marketing? Another form is word of mouth. Make a product that is so good that people can’t help but share it with others. Design a website so beautiful that all the galleries pick it up. Designers share it amongst their peers. I work for Wufoo, which has now been around six years and is safe to say that Wufoo’s massive growth can be attributed to impassioned word of mouth by users. I feel like the Victory Framework isn’t quite there. It’s a pretty decent looking theme, but it doesn’t quite have that spark, that touch of a really great designer. I can’t see the theme nor the sales homepage getting much attention just by virtue of design.

Another place we could turn is paid marketing. Jared said he used $100 on Google AdWords to try and get a bit of traffic. I think that’s an idea worth exploring. I’ve seen campaigns on AdWords go both ways: total flops, and rather stunning successes. If a way can be figured out that you spend $100 on AdWords and sell $200 worth of themes, that should be cranked up as high as it can go. I have some doubts though. I feel like if you were selling kitchen countertops you’d have better success, but WordPress themes sell to web-saavy people, the kind of people that don’t click on Google Ads. Another approach would be to try and buy some targetted display advertising from BuySellAds.

SEO marketing is another avenue that should be thought about. I think doing whatever you can to make sure you are #1 for “political wordpress theme” (and similar stuff) would go a long way in getting your product in front of the people who want it. SEO is tough though. I’ve never been any good at it, just not something I have any passion for. But it’s doable.

Jared himself had an idea:

I think the best strategy would be to contact bloggers so they can review the theme and link to us online.

Yeah… I mean he wrote to me and I’m writing about it. It certainly can’t hurt. But it might not be terribly effective either. I get emails from marketers pretty frequently wanting me to blog about something or another and it’s generally a serious turnoff. If you want it to work, you need to give something to the blogger and give something to the blogger’s readers. Give away the theme to the blogger for free, and give them a discount code for their readers. That’s damn cliche though, you can do better than that. Don’t offer to write a post either, that’s also kind of a turnoff. I keep getting these email from people who want to make an unique infographic for me to post, as long as I put some stupid keyword link in the post. No quicker way to lose credibility and trust as a blogger.

After all that, here’s where we ended up. Jared, keep on keeping on. Look into SEO for Victory Framework. Email some people but be real about it. After you’ve made some sales, sink some of that into AdWords and see if you strike a vein. Maybe buy a few ads on BuySellAds and see how they do. Make another theme. See how that one goes. I bet it’s better. Get your personal site going. Build a portfolio. Engage with folks on Twitter and Facebook so when your next theme comes out, more people will care about it out of the gate. You’ll kick ass, I guarantee it.

Making a Tedious & Thankless Task Feel Good

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

If you have a blog with comments you get comment spam. Fact of life. There are various ways to fight it, but my favorite is Akismet, which is a web service which determines if a comment is spam or not at the time the comment is made and acts accordingly. That means no stupid captchas which can be a serious turn off for quality human commenters. Just right there, that’s genius.

But some spam is going to slip though. Another fact of life. The bad guys are always at war with the good guys trying to find chinks in the armor.

So when a spam comment slips though, it’s your job to go in and remove it. That job, going in to clean up Askismet’s failures, is tedious and thankless. It could make you downright mad. You specifically use a tool to handle this for you, but here you are doing the dirty work yourself.

This is where I think Askismet really knocks it out of the park. It turns that awful job into a a feel-good job. It does this in three ways:

  1. Marking a comment as spam means that commenter (based on IP) cannot ever comment on your blog again. So you get that awesome “You’ll never work in this town again!” feeling.
  2. Marking a comment as spam reports back to Akismet, so the service itself learns from it’s failures. This gives you the feeling you are helping the greater good as well as yourself.
  3. The UI of marking a comment as spam (specifically in WordPress) is a very satisfying flash-red-and-disappear effect.

The lesson here is that any time there is a task a user must perform that is tedious, thankless, and overall negative experience, anyone concerned with user experience should try and find ways to make it less tedious, more thankful, and hopefully make the task experience feel positive.

Bottle Episode

Friday, June 10th, 2011

I found this term particularly hard to Google for, even knowing pretty much exactly what it meant. So, I will blog it, and thus add it to my external brain.

A “Bottle Episode” is an episode in an episodic television series that is intended to save money, so that that money may be used for more expensive season openers or closers. Money is saved by:

A cliche version of the plot of a bottle episode would be where there is a tornado outside and the characters all have to sit in a dark gymnasium and tell stories. If it’s a good show with good actors, a bottle episode can be amazing and showcase the talent of the actors. If it’s a shitty show, well, yeah.

I first learned about this while watching Breaking Bad. There was an episode called “Fly” where the entire episode was inside while the main character tried to catch a fly that was pissing him off. I was trying to find the word this time because I was watching The Killing and there was an episode “Missing” which I’d definitely call a bottle episode.