Pete talks to Dan Norris, the creator of the Inform.ly service — an online data-gathering and reporting service — about website and business metrics. They discuss useful and unuseful data, and talk about the lessons Dan learned in starting Inform.ly.
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Conversation with Dan Norris of Inform.ly
Dom Goucher: Hello everybody, and welcome back to this episode of PreneurCast with me, Dom Goucher, and as always, him, Pete Williams.
Pete Williams: Hi everybody. How’s things?
Dom: You’re far more reliable than me these days. It’s quite shocking, Pete.
Pete: The little one’s into a four-month routine. And knock on wood, I don’t know what we’ve done. But chloroform on the pillow clearly works because he goes down to bed about 9:00, 9:30, and sleeps through to at least 6:30, mostly at 7:30 every morning without a wake-up or a feed, or anything. He’s just a little champion. He’s been like that since about eight weeks. I don’t know what we’ve done, but we are very blessed.
Dom: For the international audience, just in case. Pete was joking about that.
Pete: About what?
Dom: The chloroform on the pillow.
Pete: Oh, yes. Yes, sorry. I thought you meant joking about the sleeping. He sleeps well, but the chloroform was a joke, yes. But we’re doing something right. I’m not quite sure what it is, or if we won some baby lottery that I’m very lucky for.
Dom: Okay, so as always, as is my job really, we will move swiftly on from that and change the subject. I’ve been really busy this week. Do you remember a couple of weeks ago, we talked to Wayne [Breitbarth] about his LinkedIn [The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success] book?
Pete: We did, absolutely.
Dom: Excellent episode. I learned loads. It really lit a rocket under me. I know it lit a rocket under you. I talked about it at the time, how these mysterious things were popping up connecting me to you on LinkedIn and things like that. But I’ve gone through the book, and there’s an excellent part in the book which is a six-week plan to basically sort your LinkedIn profile out.
So I’ve started that, and it’s, as he says in the week, it’s hard work sometimes to overcome these certain things and get these things done, but they’re valuable things. And I’ve started to see things happen as well. It’s interesting. Anybody that’s not listened to the thing with Wayne, as he says in his book actually- the introduction to the book is very good.
He says you’ve got to at least have a look at LinkedIn, even if you look at it and decide it’s definitely not for you. You need to have an intelligent look at it and understand it. That’s what I like about Wayne’s book. It’s not a step-by-step, this is what this button does. It is, like we always say, when you’re presenting something to somebody, it’s a ‘what’s in it for me’ kind of book.
Pete: Yeah, I’ve had a huge uplift in the people who are connecting with me on LinkedIn. So anybody who listens to the show, feel free to come find the Pete Williams LinkedIn page and connect together. Some really good contacts and conversations happening there.
I was talking to a consulting client that I work with yesterday, off the back of Wayne’s conversation. He updated his LinkedIn profile, and he said he’s getting now about 10 or 11 views of his LinkedIn page everyday from people. He’s working that really, really well.
Dom: The silly thing for me is it’s increased my workload because I’ve got to think about what I’m writing. He expresses the importance and things anyway. But folks, go back and listen to that if you haven’t listened to it.
Do look at LinkedIn. Do look at Wayne’s book, highly recommend it. As always, we are doing what we’re talking about on the show. This is not like somebody trying to sell the book who’s turned up.
Pete: That’s the reason I wanted to do the interview, because I had a LinkedIn profile which was, as he said, B-minus at best; he gave me a rank on originally. And I went to investigate LinkedIn for our businesses and what we’re doing, hence the conversation with Wayne.
But something really cool that hopefully you’ve seen, maybe you haven’t. If you’re new to the show, welcome. But we’ve got a bunch of Wayne’s books to give away to listeners of the show. We’re doing this now with all authors. I thought well, given the size of our little community here, it’s not even little anymore.
It’s quite large really. With the amount of downloads and listeners, we get to through our collective weight around a little bit. So with publishers who approach us, almost on a daily basis, with guest ideas for their authors, we’re becoming a bit of a go-to place for authors to launch books.
Heather [Smith], who we had on a few months ago, sent me a tweet yesterday saying that she’s been amazed by the response she’s had from people who’ve bought the book and contacted her for work, off the back of being on the show. But with this collective weight we’re throwing around, we’re basically now saying if you want to have an author as a guest on our show, you have to let us have some books to give away for free.
So we have Wayne’s book in our current contest, so to speak. If you head over to www.PreneurMarketing.com/Win, you can enter to win a copy of Wayne’s book. Super easy. This contest finishes on the 6th of June 2013, for those listening to the back catalogue. But still, no matter when you listen to his episode, go over to www.PreneurMarketing.com/Win.
Because as Wayne’s contest ends, we’ll have a new contest with a new author and their book. There will always be stuff being given away. You have to re-enter every time there’s a new contest, because the platform and the tool we’re using to run these contests separate them out.
So, make sure you keep going back there. Throw it in your OmniFocus as a fortnightly reminder, maybe, if you’re that way inclined to come back. And just keep re-entering because at some stage, if you enter enough, consistently, you’ll win a book.
Dom: Yep. So that’s www.PreneurMarketing.com/Win. And as Pete says, the competition is not going to go away. If you’re a fast responder, you listen to this and you go, “Wow, I’d really like to enter for a copy of Wayne’s book,” then dive in there now. But if you’re listening to this in the future, a lot of people are joining us now. And maybe later on somebody else will join us, and they’ll listen to the back catalogue.
If you’re listening, whenever you’re listening, go to www.PreneurMarketing.com/Win. There’s going to be something there interesting to see. I’m going to say, there’s going to be something interesting to see and maybe we’ll talk about that a little bit more in another show.
Pete: You intrigued me with that too, dude. Interesting. All right, what else has been happening? It’s been a crazy week. Had some really cool feedback from listeners.
Dom: Yeah, I was going to say. I really wanted to bring the feedback to the front. We’re using the marvels of modern technology. Folks, if you go to PreneurMedia.tv, you may or may not notice (hopefully, you have noticed; otherwise, we’ll have to make it bigger) that as well as leaving comments for us and sending us e-mails, there’s a little button on the side of the site where you can leave us an audio message.
Now, as with most people who produce media, appear on TV, radio or whatever, when they say send us your feedback, a lot of people think you don’t listen to that, do you? You don’t read it, you don’t do anything about it. We regularly do try and show you that we’re listening and paying attention to the things, the feedback that we get, the ideas for shows, and things like that.
Pete: We respond personally to every single e-mail we get. People who have done that have experienced that.
Dom: Yeah, exactly. Anybody who has, please, we mention the e-mail address because we want you to e-mail us. We will e-mail you back, personally. And we’ve mentioned this in the past.
But recently, we had an audio message that we were really excited about because it was from a chap called Henry Reith, I believe that’s how you say it. Well, Pete, I’ll let you talk about it because it’s right up your alley and it’s a topic that you are very passionate about.
Pete: Yeah. Henry’s been a listener for a while. We’ve had some e-mail dialogue back and forth a few months back. But recently, he took on some of the tactics and tools, and stuff we spoke about on a previous episode around publicity, which is something I’m very passionate about, as you just said, Dom.
He had some huge success, got some great exposure in some Australian media, and I don’t think he’s even based in Australia anymore. He was, but got kicked out for overstaying his visa. But he still was able to use some of the tactics and stuff we speak about and get some exposure for his business in The Age (business section), I think the Herald Sun as well.
These are two huge newspapers here in Australia. He got some really cool exposure and some great positioning that he can then now take and use in his other marketing, and say ‘As seen in,’ ‘As written about in,’ position himself even more as an expert in his direct response to marketing as well.
So we should play that audio and encourage anybody else who wants to leave some feedback and stuff like that, about what they’ve been doing and some success, we’ll feature on the show and insert your audio clips. So, here’s Henry.
Henry Reith: Hey Pete, I hope you’re well. E-mailed you a couple of months ago; you asked for business stories and I told you about how I got banned from Oz. I overstayed my visa by mistake. That wasn’t cool, but hey, it happens. But I really just want to say cheers.
Cheers for your encouragement around publicity, back around about Podcast 30 and your MCG [Melbourne Cricket Ground] story. Just got topped off last night really, because irony of irony, I’ve appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and Age as a business expert; photo printed, quotes, the lot.
Just couldn’t ask more really. Feel really quite honored, and that’s all from you guys at the PreneurCast and all your good work. So cheers, mate. Thanks very much, and keep it up.
Dom: So yes, folks, just pop on to PreneurMedia.tv. Drop us a line in all the different formats, but please, we love to feature you on the show. If you’ve had success with anything that we talk about, whether it’s just a personal feeling of success and growth in your business, or you’ve got the tangible examples like Henry had in that little recording there, we want to feature you.
We love to know that we’re helping out. That’s really why we’re looking for these comments and the feedback. We want to know that we’re helping, because that’s what we’re doing this for.
We’re not in it for the money, as it were. So, with that said, Pete, should we dive into what this week’s show is about, which is a conversation between you and a chap called Dan Norris from a service called Informly.
Pete: Which has been really cool. I’ve been playing with Informly as a user for a couple of months now. So I thought we should get Dan on. He writes some amazing blog posts, and have a chat about what he’s up to and all that stuff.
Dom: Now, just to lead into this, because as your kind of intro into this one was— because I know Informly is about data. And numbers, tracking numbers, tracking data, measuring things in your business, it’s something we talked about a lot. We did a whole show on it a while ago.
So as soon as I heard that you’re going to talk to Dan, I thought this is right up Pete’s street. But folks, seriously, I have listened to this now two times. Seriously, I have listened to this two times and I have got so much out of this interview. So enjoy this conversation with Dan, between Pete and Dan.
I recommend listen to it, if you are out jogging, walking, whatever you normally do, washing the dishes, listen to it. But listen to it again with a pad and paper. Or whatever your preferred note taking device is. Because there’s some gold in here, some really solid advice. So, without any more, I’m going to hand over to Pete and Dan.
[Pete's interview with Dan starts]
Pete: Dan, thanks for joining us on the show, buddy.
Dan Norris: Cool. Thanks for having me, I’m looking forward to it.
Pete: It’s good to have another Australian on the show. We have a lot of overseas guests and stuff. It’s good to have another Aussie accent.
Dan: Yeah, those Americans are boring. You don’t want to get too many of those on your show.
Pete: Yeah, they use weird words like ‘trash’ and stuff. So, the main reason I want to get you on is just to talk about data in a fun Aussie way. Something that we rattle on about on the podcast so often is the importance to know your numbers and know your data.
And the 7 Levers, which is our framework we talk about so often on the show, is all about knowing your numbers and continually working those. And with Informly, which I’d love to talk about in a moment, you’re very much all about the data. Is that a fair judgment of you? You’re all about the data?
Dan: Yeah, I am. I put together a lot of content on my site about this. And you say you want to have a fun conversation about it. That’s going to be hard work. But trying to do that, I try to help people understand some of the important things and try to ignore some of the stuff that isn’t important. And I think that’s a big challenge for people in business.
Pete: Yeah. One of the things that you wrote about, which I remember reading recently, was I think you called it ‘vanity data,’ or ‘vanity analytics?’
Dan: Yeah, vanity metrics.
Pete: Vanity metrics, that’s it. So many people are out there looking at stuff that makes them feel good about their business but doesn’t really help the bottom line. Is that a fair comment?
Dan: Yeah. Well, it’s not that it doesn’t help the bottom line, it’s that it’s not actionable. I’m a huge fan of vanity metrics. Every month I put a monthly report up on my site. If my traffic’s going up, I put that bad boy right at the front. Every Friday on Facebook, I post up a bunch of vanity metrics about how much traffic I’m getting and how many likes I’ve got on Facebook or on Twitter, and all that.
And it’s all good, but you can’t make decisions based on that. And I think so many people do that. They basically look at how much traffic they’re getting and, wow, my traffic is going up, therefore I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.
Or it’s going down, therefore I’ll stop what I’m doing. But things like traffic volume and vanity metrics like that aren’t things you should be making decisions on, because they just don’t contain actionable information.
Pete: I want to dive into that in a moment. But is there a reason you give so much of your own transparent data away? Is there a marketing and content reason behind that? Because so many people are so protective about their own data that A, don’t even look at it because they’re scared of what they see; but B, would be very reluctant to share it like you do. You’re very transparent in that, which I do love.
Dan: Well, for one thing, I’m not a funded company so I don’t have anyone telling me what to do. I can post whatever the hell I want up on my blog. And I put some fairly inappropriate videos that you can check out as well. But I think it’s a mindset thing like we were talking before the show about some people just love teaching and love sharing.
I just really like sharing all the information that I know about my business, what I’ve learned. My monthly reports basically say how things are going well, what things aren’t going well, what things I’ve implemented for the month that have worked, and which ones haven’t. And it makes for very, very good content because people don’t just want to see all the stuff.
They don’t just want to see the vanity metrics of things that are going well, but they want to know things you’ve tried. I get some good advice on there as well, ideas from people on what I can try. And it’s just a good way to engage people, and it’s content that people really like.
Pete: Yeah, I love it. You’ve got like your download stats and your conversions; and even to the point where you’re showing your revenue as well, like how many paid clients you got last month and stuff like that.
Dan: Yeah. The precedence being set with that, with people like Pat Flynn, people have been doing that for a long time. But startups are a little bit more cagey with that thing because they’re kind of trying to impress investors.
They’re more focused on sign-up numbers and vanity metrics like that to impress investors. And I’m just in the fortunate position where I don’t have to impress anyone, at least for now.
Dan: It’s good content for people because a lot of people just don’t know. They don’t really know how successful these startups are, they don’t know how much traffic they’re getting or whether they’re making any money. So I think it’s good for people to know how much effort someone’s putting in and whether or not it’s resulting in money and all this finer detail.
Pete: Yeah, I think it’s really valuable on so many levels. To give some context to this as well; you mentioned you’re a startup and you’re not funded. Do you want to give some context to what Informly is as a service and how it came about, and start with that?
Dan: Yeah, so there’s probably two slightly different versions of Informly. The backbone of it was that I had a web design company that I sold last year. And as part of that company, I used to send my clients monthly reports. Originally, I started putting them together myself.
And if I have to do anything for more than one or two times, then I just get so bored to the point that I just can’t do it anymore. So I quickly outsourced that. But even outsourcing it wasn’t a solution, because I’d get a whole bunch of human errors and it would take us two weeks to put these reports together.
And by the time people got them, it was kind of two weeks before the next month. So that wasn’t a solution either, so I built a system to automate a percentage of it. I kind of pulled in data from analytics, and we kind of tweaked it and put in comments and whatnot.
We used that internally, and that became the agency version of Informly, which effectively does exactly what I said but does it all automatically. It goes off to Google Analytics, and goes off to Google rank tracking, and MailChimp, and places like that.
Pete: PayPal, AWeber…
Dan: Yeah, so a bunch of different places, and pulls all those stats into one report and includes your logo, and sends them an e-mail every month.
Pete: So it’s primarily targeted towards web design agencies and marketing agencies who want to be able to give these reports to their clients. But if you’re on the coal face and want to keep your finger on the pulse as a small-business owner, you can use Informly to get stats sent to you on a regular basis. Is that right?
Dan: Yeah. The sort of, I guess, small-business version doesn’t enable you to add in a bunch of different clients, but it does everything I’ve talked about. It enables you to add in your charts and it’ll send you an e-mail every day if you like, and show your charts within the e-mail.
You don’t have any attachments or anything. It’ll just send you an HTML e-mail with your revenue and your visits, and all [those types of data]. But in addition to that, it’s also its own analytics software. You can install it on your site and it will track how people are converting on your site.
It’ll track your content, it’s got a particular focus towards content marketing, because that’s my passion area, and I think where the web is going, which is people want to know what content they’re putting out that’s getting them the best results and what content is driving leads to their business, and what people on their site are engaging.
So it shows you who’s converting on your site, and it tells you where they hang out online. It’ll give you their Twitter information, Facebook information, so you can connect with these people as opposed to just getting data from Google Analytics.
Pete: Are people having to opt-in, as in the actual visitor having to opt-in before you can track them down to their Twitter and Facebook, or are you getting creative with how you pull that data?
Dan: No. So it connects with your opt-in form. So if you put the tracking code on your site, and if someone opts in on your site, just like it would automatically add their e-mail address to MailChimp, it also adds it to Informly and then we use social APIs to get their social data records if it’s available.
So it’s publicly available data, if we can get it. A lot of the time, we can’t get it. So maybe 50-60% of people, we get the information and then we can return their Klout Score so you know when influencers have signed up to your content and all that kind of stuff.
Pete: Very, very cool. That’s awesome. That’s part of the service I wasn’t even aware about myself.
Dan: Actually, I only just launched it yesterday.
Pete: Ah, nice. Fingers on the pulse right here on PreneurCast. That’s very cool.
Dan: That’s it. And you knew that too, didn’t you?
Pete: Awesome, man. Let’s go high level next. I think Informly is something people should definitely check out, but let’s give some content. Because as you said, you’re all about content marketing. I really want to talk about the need for knowing this data and the vanity metrics you spoke about.
What are some of the things that you think people should be tracking that they’re typically not when it comes to this vanity metrics and essential core metrics that people should be worrying about? Are there some key things that you think that people should be focusing on when it comes to tracking the data online?
Dan: One way to think about it is that there isn’t a set of metrics that everyone should be focusing on, because the whole point of paying attention to different metrics is that you can change your behavior based on what you learn. So if that’s the case, then there isn’t one particular number that every single business owner should be looking at to work out what changes they need to make in their business.
It’s more about what information do you need for your stage of the business, like what is really important to you right now, what assumptions you’re making about that, and what metrics suit that. At my stage of business, I’m still really searching for the product that really gets people converting well, and using and retaining use, and signing up to paid. That’s the stage of business that I’m at.
What I’m measuring is a whole bunch of metrics around software usage, I’m measure conversions on my sales page to work out what kind of appeal it has to people, that kind of stuff is important to me. But if your business is a different stage, then you’ll be measuring something totally different because you’ll want to be making different decisions.
Pete: Absolutely. And that’s very important. I think something that you wrote about in one of your posts recently as well, which kind of ties into that to a certain extent, is this whole thing about everyone knows they need to be worrying about their analytics.
But I guess some people stick their head in the ground like an emu and just ignore it. Or not really claim ignorance, but just don’t do anything about it, which I think is very counterintuitive but seems to happen so often.
Dan: Yeah. It’s kind of hard. I think a lot of people will use something like Google Analytics, which really defaults to vanity metrics. You log into Google Analytics and you get this massive page with so much information on it, and these trend charts that really just tell you nothing about whether or not what you’re doing is having an impact.
And you really have to delve in. You really have to know Google Analytics to get any value out of it. I think a lot of people hit that hurdle. But yeah, every business is different and everyone has unique challenges. I was listening to Startups for the Rest of Us this morning and they were talking about a unique advantage that you could have as an entrepreneur.
They included tracking metrics as one of those advantages. And maybe that’s just one thing that if you’re not particularly good at that and you’re not doing, then maybe there’s something else in your business that you are good at. I do feel this stuff is important, but there are so many things in business that are important. And people just can’t do it all. So I think that happens as well.
Pete: It’s interesting that you’re talking about saying that if the ability, or I guess ‘the habit’ is the term I would use there, of knowing your data and working your data can be a unique selling proposition [USP] almost. It’s interesting they’ve use that because that data technically is available to everybody.
Whereas, some businesses, based on their skills or the business they want to build, the USP is generally you have to manufacture that’s unique to you. But just knowing your data as a USP is a very interesting kind of concept, I think.
Dan: Well, it’s not so much a USP that their audience is solo entrepreneurs and their whole message is what have you got about you that enables you to do something that other people can’t do. But what I will say is the data’s not available to everyone, because generally there’s a level of effort required to set up things to get the data.
Vanity metrics are available to everyone. Most businesses can tell you whether their revenue is going up and down, or whether their traffic is going up and down. But getting the really detailed stuff often requires a leap that a lot of business owners don’t take.
Pete: I remember reading somewhere too, recently, about most people still use spreadsheets as their data source and stuff like that. They’re not using proper software and analytics, whether it’s Google Analytics or other services like Informly, to give them that deeper dive.
Dan: In the business intelligence crowd, spreadsheets are still the Number One BI [business intelligence] tool. I think the error rate is something like 66% in a spreadsheet. So there’s that. But yeah, I think that’s still got a role. I still use Google Docs.
If I’m doing little experiments, if I change something on my homepage, if it’s not like a split-test-type change, if it’s just a little change or I change something little about the app and it doesn’t really require a scientific study of whether or not it’s improved, then I’ll note it down in Google Docs and then come back a week later and check it. And that’s better than doing nothing.
Pete: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. Something is always better than nothing. Having some progress, or some analysis or reporting, on any level, is better than none. Because it starts to build that muscle that is the data analysis which makes so much of a difference.
But it’s interesting that so little time that people spend doing this stuff. One of the blog posts you wrote about as well recently, was saying that most people spend most of their time still connecting the actual service of the business with less time, or almost the second last thing they use of their time is to doing analysis of data, which I find bizarre.
It should be the other way around. The actual giving of your service is very mechanical. That’s what staff and processes are for. Whereas, marketing and analytics, and data and sales is what everyone should be spending their time on as an entrepreneur, and marketing it.
Dan: Yeah, I agree with that. I think a lot of business owners, and especially if they’re kind of traditional business owners, they’re doing what’s working. And I think your goals in business have a big impact on it as well. A lot of people are just in business to generate a living.
And they’re happy enough doing that. If you’re in business to build a really high-growth, scalable company, then there’s not too many people building companies like that that aren’t fanatical about their metrics.
Pete: Very true. And I think there’s probably a big disconnect between what people see and read in the magazines about Zuckerberg and all these people who are building really good business, and what those people are really doing. They are very anal about doing analytics and their data.
And so many people who aspire to that level of business aren’t aware, are ignorant, or just plainly ignore what it takes to get there, like this level of granular dirt that you have to continually shift through to get where you want to go.
Dan: Yeah. But I think it’s also the fact that it’s different paths can get you there. Depending on who you listen to, creating a great product has gotten plenty of people there; but measuring your analytics and making sure you notice trends, and making sure you make the right decisions based on that, has got people there as well.
And there’s a whole bunch of ways to get to the one place. So I think if people are modeling off someone else, then using their particular skill might be something totally different.
But if they’re modeling off like a really high-growth startup— startups are fanatical about this kind of stuff; if that’s the kind of business you’re building then, you’re probably doing this already, or you’ve kind of read The Lean Startup and you’re into this kind of stuff already.
Pete: Yeah, exactly. This is where I slightly disagree; I don’t think there’s been that many products that have been so good that they’ve sold themselves. There’s always been some tipping point that’s been manufactured somewhere.
And it could simply be that the entrepreneur did a really good product and just knew a really key influencer who just got the word out, and the product went viral on its own right. I think a good solid product will always build itself, but I don’t think a good product will ever hit the tipping point by itself.
It’s got to be manufactured in some way by a savvy entrepreneur and marketer. So there’s that tipping point and that balance again between a great product, but still people need to know about it some way, and by doing content marketing or marketing of any form.
Dan: I disagree with that. It’s probably not the best message for people to tell them if they create a good product, then that’s all they have to do. Because I think that’s going to send a lot of people down the wrong path. But I do think there are plenty of examples of companies that really just have created a great product.
Just during the week I was listening to the Pagemodo guy on Mixergy, and there was another one I listened to. I can’t remember the name of the company, but it was the same kind of product that was creating Facebook forms and apps for Facebook.
They basically created a product. As part of the product, their customers are automatically putting a link on their Facebook page back to this product. And just that alone, in both cases, was basically the cause for the product to grow exponentially, because people would find out about it and it would just kind of feed itself.
Pete: I’d say that is smart marketing, not a great product. That link back to their own site is not a core feature of the actual product, of the deliverables, so to speak. It’s a very smart marketer who said, “Hey, we can do this to get exposure and generate leads back.” It’s a slight picking hairs on a definition; but for people who don’t really get that differentiation, that’s how I would see that.
Dan: It’s possible. But it’s possible it was just accidental too.
Pete: True. Hey, there’s plenty of accidental geniuses out there, that’s for sure.
Dan: Yeah. If I had thought of it, then it definitely wouldn’t have been accidental.
Pete: Absolutely. Claim that on the first page of the autobiography, “I’m this much of a genius, this is where it all came.” Okay, if you’re starting out, you’re a startup, you’re starting your business. And you’re kind of getting overwhelmed with all this, “Hang on, there’s all this data.
There’s so much data. It’s growing so quickly. There’s so much opportunity out there.” What’s your advice of where to start? What are some of the key metrics you should be tracking and starting with today?
Dan: Well, again, it has a huge impact on what kind of business you’re running. So if you’re running a kind of bricks-and-mortar business and your goal is to stay in business, then it’s going to be fundamentally different to if you’re running a startup. But if we’re just going pull some general rules out, I think like you mentioned before, everyone’s got access to this data.
That’s where I would start. If businesses are still using old school accounting packages like MYOB [Mind Your Own Business] and they’re using systems that are just sitting on people’s computers, and spreadsheets, then there’s a fundamental problem there that they really don’t have access to the data.
And they can’t do smart things with the data because it’s stuck on people’s computers. So getting your data into the cloud and using cloud-based systems is the first starting point.
Because once your data’s in the cloud, you can use systems that pull the data together that help you make sense of it. You can have your systems talking to each other, which helps you make sense of the data as well. So that’s probably a good starting point.
Pete: So like the Xeros of the world, and the online CRM [customer relationship management] packages; rather than old, clunky MYOB-style or Quicken-type solutions?
Dan: Yeah, exactly. That’s just accounting, but it could be anything. It could be a CRM, it could be the way you’re e-mailing people. If you’re sending out an e-mail from Outlook, then you really have no data on the people whether they’re engaged with you. I just had a chat with Trent [Dyrsmid] from Bright Ideas on my [Web Domination] podcast about Infusi2onsoft. I don’t know, do you use Infusionsoft? Have you seen it?
Pete: No, we use Interspire E-mail Marketer. We were using AWeber, MailChimp and couple different places for different parts of the business. We’re moving a lot of it across to a self-hosted scenario so we have a lot more control, not only of the data but also what’s happening with that.
We’re in the process of writing a huge report. It’s going to be about 45 pages about why we made the move, how we made the move. It’s going to be up on the blog probably in about, I’d say three or four weeks’ time.
Dan: That sounds interesting. Yeah, I used to use that in my agency. I used to have an installation of it and we’d on-sell that to clients. The infusion stuff will blow people’s mind of what it can do. That’s what I mean about the data.
Once you’ve got your purchases, your customer data, your e-mail data, your website visits, all of this information all in the one place, or even just online, then you can do amazing things with the information. If you don’t have that data there, then you can’t do anything with it.
Pete: Yeah. You’re absolutely right. So that’s the first thing, is to start at least tracking it somewhere, somehow, for sure.
Dan: Yeah. The other thing I’d say is one of the biggest takeaway from a book like The Lean Startup, if you can manage to get through it, which is a challenge in itself, is just this mindset around thinking about things in little experiments. And so many people do this.
I see people kind of sitting around, spending hours debating whether or not they should make this particular change on their website, or whether they should produce this video or whatever the case may be.
This kind of stuff can be so easily tested, and this is the whole message out of The Lean Startup. Do what is absolutely minimally to give you the data that you need to make an informed decision, rather than making so many assumptions about it.
So rather than talking about whether you should have a video on your page and debating it for three weeks, and then putting it up and just hoping it works; then just put something up that’s quick and that does the job. Then measure it and if it does improve, then you know, then it’s the right decision. If it doesn’t, then you’ve measured it and you can change your mind.
Pete: Absolutely. This is something that we do in our Simply Headsets, the e-com site. The way that site is right now, and we’ve got a new site coming live in about a week and a half, hopefully; just about to finalize it. Making a big move from platforms, from Joomla to Magento, and a whole other discussion about that.
But if you look at the evolution on something like Wayback Machine, of the site over the years, you’ll see it’s completely changed. Some of the color schemes changed, the layout’s changed. And that’s just been purely based over a number of different split-tests we’re continually running on the Product page, on the Category pages, on the Home pages, to increase conversion and stick.
It’s one of those things; it’s like if we internally did what we thought, the site would be a completely different beast to what it is now. We don’t care about that. It’s about the people at the end of the screen with their wallet and their credit card in hand wanting to do transactions. What makes them motivated to move? Not about what we think is pretty or what we like.
Dan: Yeah, that’s a good point. When it comes to website stuff, there’s amazing tools out there that you can use to measure all this stuff scientifically. I guess there’s two points I’d make about that. One is you’re right when you say, when they take out their wallets.
That’s one of the problems with the vanity metrics is you’re measuring a whole bunch of people coming to your site, if you’re looking at traffic. But if they’re not buying anything, then they’re totally useless to you, if they’re not performing actions on the site.
That’s where I think people fall down is making assumptions about what people will do— even if they tell you they will do it, is the wrong way to go. I’ve made that mistake in my own business, with Informly. With basically launching a product that people didn’t pay for, even though people told me they would pay for it and I thought it was a good idea.
But this is what happens to people; you kind of think of these things and think they’re going to work. But until you measure it and until people have to take their wallet out, that’s really when you find out whether or not what you’re doing is valuable.
Pete: Absolutely. The thing that I continually laugh at and love so much, is Jimmy Kimmel has like The Tonight Show [Jimmy Kimmel Live], one of the late night talk shows in the US. He has this segment where they basically go out to things and ask people questions that are basically lies and get people on camera to agree to it.
So recently, they went to Coachella, the music festival, and had this reporter go around and ask just random people at the festival, at the event, “Are you here to see the artist Y,” a fake band’s name. People are like, “Yeah, I can’t wait! I love them, their album’s awesome!”
People were just saying stuff to agree with the interviewer to look good on camera, and just making absolute fools out of themselves saying they heard the band, they’ve got all their albums, they love their set, and these bands didn’t play, don’t exist. It just shows you that people, when you ask them stuff, are going to say whatever they think they should say, not what they mean.
Dan: Yeah, well, in that example, they’re probably incentivized to comment because they’re getting on TV.
Dan: But yeah, you’d be amazed how much this happens for no incentive. I don’t know what it is. I think people are just bad predictors of their own behavior. I think that’s what it is. Also, I think people try to be nice, and people try to be encouraging. But it’s a really powerful thing, once you put up a button that makes people pay for something.
I went from formerly being a free to use and a premium, basically free version and paid version, and went to paid only, because I just could not work out how to get people to pay for the product. Forcing people to pay is a very, very good way to get information on whether or not they find the product valuable.
It forces you to make changes. The other thing; I wrote a post on this. This might be interesting. This talks about my journey with traffic and changes I made and whatnot. So I’ll give you a link to that post. It was on ConversionXL, which is a blog about conversions.
But the other thing I was going to say about the split-testing thing you mentioned, that’s one thing that people can do fairly easily not because there’s a feature in Google Analytics called Content Experiments where you can pretty easily do a split-test.
You can basically put in and have two versions of your homepage and run a split-test within a couple of minutes, and just direct people to one version, then direct them to another version. You don’t have to decide when one wins because it will tell you when you’ve got enough data to make that decision. You don’t have to pay anything for this, it’s quite easy to use, so no excuses.
Pete: Yeah, I completely agree. It’s awesome. So when it comes to content, this split-testing content, we’re talking about split-testing sales elements, but you’re a big proponent of content marketing and using content to drive traffic. And this is a big concern for a lot of people in that obviously, what do the heck do I write about?
But what converts for me? What you were saying before is that more traffic doesn’t necessarily equal more engagement or more sales. And there’s so much stuff people can be doing to increase traffic on their site, but that won’t necessarily help the bottom line of their business.
So Informly is doing some stuff to help people be aware and get a finger on the correct pulse there. But what’s your take on content marketing as a medium, as a marketing tool, and things like that?
Dan: That’s a big question.
Pete: Huge question.
Dan: I think a lot of people are going about this wrong. I think a lot of people are going about it with the kind of blogging mentality. They see advice that says if you blog more, you’ll get more traffic. Which of course if you blog more, you’ll get more traffic.
But that’s not useful advice because there are other things to consider. If you blog more, you’re writing something every day, then the quality of what you’re writing probably isn’t that good. On my blog, I’ve had one day where I’ve written 13 articles and I’ve got another article that took me about 13 days to write.
I know which one I would pick because the really in-depth quality content that people want, that’s really structured to get people to convert, that’s got an opt-in that relates to the content that drives people to convert, that talks about other experts in the industry, and that they comment on it and they share it with their audience.
That kind of content that is relevant to my audience is worth a million times more than any blog post listing the 10 WordPress plug-ins to install or whatever you feel like blogging about.
Pete: Yep. So it’s all about really knowing your audience and then writing something that’s valuable to them, not just creating more noise on the web.
Dan: It’s knowing your audience, but I think people make this mistake as well, which is they’re only listening to their audience. I was talking to a guy the other day who said video goes very well for me, because I get lots of people commenting on those posts and people tell me they love the videos.
Well, that’s good if your goal is to make the people on your site happy. But if your goal is to grow your business and get more people to your site, then that’s not the only thing you should be looking at. What you should be doing is appealing to other people. You should be doing two things.
One, you should be creating content that people share, not that people comment on. Because if they share it, it will be exposed to new audiences. The other thing you should be doing is creating content that appeals to your ideal customer you don’t have yet, not just the people who are on your site commenting.
Pete: Absolutely. Is there anything around that, that from your experiences and your data analysis, either different type of video or the language that you use, or anything that creates sharability as opposed to engagement?
Dan: Yeah, there’s a bunch of things I do. One is the software in Informly tells you which ones of your blog posts have higher share ratios. One little trick that I do on my site is rather than having like a lot of people have a recent post widget on their site, which is kind of pointless because people know they can go to your homepage and find your recent posts.
But one thing I do on my site is in the widget on my site, it won’t have my recent posts, it’ll have my top posts. It’s not some plug-in that automatically determines my top posts, it’s a text widget that I’ve created that has links to the posts that I know have high sharing ratios and that I know have high conversion rates.
Informly tells me which posts of mine are more likely to get shared and it tells me which posts of mine are more likely to drive conversions. They’re the posts that people see in my sidebar when they go to my site.
Pete: That’s very cool to have that control. And it’s not about making it all automated too, sometimes. There’s room for doing stuff manually. But something else that I’ve seen and people discuss, and I love your take on it, is comments or no comments?
Pete: Comments? You’re for comments?
Dan: Comments! Yeah, one of the things I talk about in a lot of my content is, and Informly is kind of set up this way, I almost hesitate to use the word ‘analytics’ for the product because what it really does is it tells you who is on your site. And it’ll also tell you if they comment.
If you’re using something like Disqus, we can find out if they comment. It can tell you if they share it. It can tell you if they click on a link in an e-mail. These are the people who are in your audience who probably want to pay for your products and services if you’ve done your job right and you’ve got the right traffic to your site. They’re people that you want to engage.
So you want to know who these people are, and you want to engage with those people and give them what they want. Comments are a good way to do that. I don’t see any argument for no comments other than bloggers are too lazy to respond to people in their audience. And if you don’t want to talk to people in your audience, then what are you doing in business?
Pete: The alternative to that, which there’s always an exception to the rule, is the whole Seth Godin school.
Dan: Seth Godin is the worst example anyone can ever use about best practice, because he’s Seth Godin.
Pete: Yeah, he’s that obscure 1% of 1% who is just out there. Just because you’re out there, you shouldn’t always model off him.
Dan: He’s a freakishly brilliant guy and there’s a lot of stuff you can learn from him. But don’t model his approach of putting content out there, because he’s probably one of the busiest people in the world. He’s doing it his own way, which is a good thing to do, I think, is to do it your own way. But don’t copy his tactics. Copy the strategy but don’t copy the tactics.
Pete: I think that’s a huge thing, because strategy and tactics are two very different things. So many people, what they’re doing as they’re trying to grow their business and their marketing, is look at what someone’s doing and all they see is the tactics and they make assumptions about that strategy. And then just go and copy it.
Dan: It’s a huge mistake. My strategy is basically to create content that appeals to people in my target audience, and also content that I know I can do a really good job at creating. So if you look at the content I’ve written on my site, that’s the best I can do. That’s my skill set. I have tried to do videos and I’m just not very good at videos. And I do podcasts and I’m just not that good at podcasting.
But I’m quite good at writing, so that’s what I do. If people are trying to copy what I’m doing, then don’t just start writing long blog posts because that’s the tactic. But the strategy really is to do what appeals to people, learn what appeals to people, and also to do what I’m particularly good at.
Pete: You absolutely play to all of your strengths and tie those strengths into your strategies so they can be the tactical implementation of that strategy.
Pete: Very cool. Well, let me ask you one final question, Dan. This is a question I ask most guests on the show. What’s the one question I haven’t asked you that I should have?
Dan: Okay. I wasn’t prepared for that question.
Pete: No one ever is.
Dan: I guess I would probably ask guests what they’ve done that didn’t work, which would probably be one thing I’d ask them. And I’d probably ask them how much money they’re making.
Pete: Very cool. So obviously, from your perspective, both those things are very transparent on your blog posts. But is there any one particular thing over the last few months that you’ve written about that has failed, that you’ve shared on one of those posts that you think is worth sharing here as well?
Dan: If you’ve got people in your audience that are software startup-type businesses, then one thing that I found really hard to make work was having a free version of the product. I think the reason is it’s very, very easy to measure if someone pays versus if they don’t pay.
Whereas, it’s very difficult to measure how useful something is if it’s free. And it kind of works at scale. It might work for MailChimp or Google, or something, but it’s very, very hard to do as a small, solo founder. You can measure retention, but again, it’s just not a very good measure of whether or not the software’s going to be successful.
So I would say if I was going to start again from scratch, I would not offer a free product, and I would probably rather than build a product that was free and I charged $9 for the paid version, I’d probably set out to build a $50 product and not have a free version. That’s probably the big change I would make.
Pete: Was the hardest part for you getting someone to ascend from the free solution to a paid option? Was that the hard part, or getting them to make a decision of which way they wanted to go to start with?
Dan: Well, that was the hard part. But I think reason behind it was the product wasn’t enough for people to want to pay for. I found that out very quickly once I forced people to pay for it. But prior to that, I was going off what people said. And people told me they thought it was good.
I had 3000 people sign up for the free version of it a month after launching. I had probably about 1000 people opt-in to the e-mails, I had about 1000 beta testers, and I had about another 1000 after I launched. So after about three months of working on it full time, I had 3000 people who’d signed up to use it.
And these were all things that were looking pretty damn good to me. I was very happy with all of this. But when I started to try to get people to pay for kind of the better version of it, I couldn’t do that. And the problem wasn’t that my systems for getting people to upgrade were faulty.
The problem was the product wasn’t something that people wanted to pay for. So that’s what I learned, and that I could have learned a whole lot quicker if I had have just started with a paid-only product.
Pete: Do you think that had anything to do with the nature of the actual solution though? As you pointed out earlier and you’ve written on your blog posts a few times, that people claim ignorance of data, they don’t want to know about their data. Do you think that had anything to do with it as well?
Dan: Yeah. I think that fundamentally if people are going to pay every month for something, then it needs to do something more than tell them information. The way I designed Informly originally was, this is like the analytics package for people who don’t like analytics. It was like super simplified information.
It will tell you what’s happening this month versus what’s happening last month, and whether things are going up and down, and that’s it. It was basically trying to simplify analytics for people. But the problem for that is the people who want to pay for analytics software are people who are really, really mad into it. Everyone else doesn’t want to pay for analytics software.
They want to pay to have problems solved, and I’m doing that now with the current version because I’m helping people increase conversions and create better content because they better know their audience, and that kind of stuff. That’s solving problems for people doing content. But just giving them data isn’t really enough of a solution for people to pay for.
Pete: Yeah, I think it’s a very huge distinction. Information is one thing, and you can see that online today with news. We were having this discussion in the office yesterday. It’s similar, but it’s definitely different.
Information is free, fundamentally, even to a certain extent, the data you were producing was somewhat free in analytics in other places. The value is going to be in the analysis of that data, the actual advice that comes along with it. And that’s the switch you made only a couple days ago, which is very cool.
Dan: What people want is solutions to problems. And I get asked literally, I would say close to every day, can I provide this particular service? And I don’t want to provide services, and that’s why I’m building a software business, so I have to say no almost every day.
But I know that’s what people want. People want people to fix their problems. But everyone wants a higher conversion rate, everyone wants more customers. A lot of people are prepared to pay for that.
But I need to find a software solution that basically gives those people what they want, which is kind of tricky. But it’s easier now that I’m making people pay for it because I know if I get 100 people to sign up and none of them pay for it, then my product’s not good enough.
Pete: Absolutely. That’s very, very cool, man. Well, Dan Norris of Inform.ly, I appreciate your time and being on the show.
Dan: Awesome, it’s been good fun. Thanks for having me.
[Pete's interview with Dan ends]
Dom: Well, as I said before, folks, I had seriously listened to that thing twice. And I’m probably going to listen to it again, actually, and make some more detailed notes. I wasn’t expecting the range of information and topics that you got out of Dan there, Pete. I thought it was going to be a bit of a love-in, you and a data geek.
Pete: The son of a maths teacher and a data company engineer, could have been very scary.
Dom: That’s right. But no, it was great. And the thing is, this is really important. Maybe I should have even said this upfront, but there’s stuff in there that was relevant to any type and scale of business. That’s what I thought was the most valuable takeaway from there.
You both talked about general concepts that we’ve talked about before— about the idea of what you measure gets managed. It came back and oddly enough, it was Dan that said it, not you. Something that we raised in our Numbers episode, which is that it’s no good just measuring things or just having numbers, you’ve got to know what the numbers are for or what they mean, and what to do about them.
Pete: Yeah, absolutely.
Dom: And I mentioned this a couple of shows ago, what I found interesting was listening that interview, having read the book that Dan talks about- he just makes an offhand comment about it. He mentions a book called The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. It’s something that I read a long time ago, and I read it again recently.
It was fresh in my mind when I listened to this interview. And I was keying off of ideas that are in The Lean Startup. And listening to Dan speaking, you could tell- just before he even mentioned the book, I heard him say a couple of things, including the term called vanity metrics, which is something that you picked up on as well. And that’s a big feature in The Lean Startup.
Pete: We should try and get Eric onto the show.
Dom: I would love to do that, but I’m going to have to say something, Pete.
Dom: You will have to read the book before you get him on.
Pete: That’s true. Of all the books I consume, that’s probably the most popular ones of the last two years that I haven’t read yet. It’s sitting on my shelf like about 95 million other books that I’ve been sent or bought.
There was a great quote; what was it? I’m going to really screw this up because I don’t know who it was from, but I really love it. And it’s something along the lines of I was smart enough to buy the book, I just have to be intelligent to read it.
Pete: So, there you go. It’s a deep, deep statement to end the show on.
Dom: Folks, seriously, I wholly recommend the book. Pete, I wholly recommend the book. But that was an excellent, and totally unexpected but excellent conversation that you had there with Dan, with so many big things to take away. I’ll be on for another 10 minutes if I list them all.
And maybe, maybe we might have a little bit of a chat about this and get Dan back on and focus in on some of those points, because it was just great. Folks, if you didn’t get value from that, I’d be shocked. Seriously.
Pete: Awesome. So let’s wrap it up today. Let’s remind people to take action in a couple of ways. As we said at the top of the show, www.PreneurMarketing.com/Win is where you can enter to win a whole bunch of books from various authors that we have on the show. So check it out.
Right now, there will be some contest going on. The one at the time of recording, if you are listening along live, is Wayne’s book, The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success. But there are other books that are going to be available once this contest ends.
And also, head over to PreneurMedia.tv, which is the home of the podcast itself. PreneurMedia.tv, and you can leave us a voice message and we’ll feature that on the show. So any small or large win you’ve had from anything we’ve spoken about on any of the past almost 100 episodes, and we’ll give you a call out, give you a little bit of exposure, and say thank you.
Dom: Yeah, it’s amazing actually. This is Episode 98 you’re listening to right now. Couple more episodes and we’ll be at 100. And folks, heads up. The 100th episode is going to be special. That’s all I’m going to say right now, but look out for an announcement coming to you soon about the 100th episode of PreneurCast.
Pete: All right, guys. See you next episode for Number 99.
Dom: See you soon, folks.
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