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Ask HN: How do you go about spreading the word about your product or service?
42 points by pkc on Nov 18, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 19 comments
How do you go about spreading the word about your product or service? I am more specifically interested in website or desktop application?

Also what are the usual mechanisms for you to get contacts of sites/bloggers who can review you app?

I think people around here fall into a thinking trap regarding "reviews".

The average user perceives no value from the opportunity to review your application. That sounds suspiciously like work! They perceive value from using your application (one would hope, anyway). I think folks here say "I need folks to review my app" because you think that that gets you "You will, naturally, publish that review somewhere which is visible", but this is sort of putting the cart ahead of the horse. Get the use first and you will get the talking later, rather than the other way around.

(This is one place where TechCrunch et al distort our perception of reality. TechCrunch et al will use any application just because it is new and shiny. New and shiny iPhone-enabled social network for blind dog walkers? Whatever, we'll give it 45 seconds just so we beat ReadWriteWeb to the first post about it! Conversely, TechCrunch et al will not use an application just because it is old, despite the fact that it actually provides value to Actual People. Actual People are not a constituency of TechCrunch et al.)

Bootstrapping your way into users isn't necessarily a fun place to be. I really can't pound the organic SEO drum enough -- it is cheap and anyone can do it. Write stuff which solves the problems of your target market. Bonus points if the stuff you write recommends they try your app for more of the same pain relief.

Incidentally, SEOMoz has a few oldie but goodie articles about "linkerati". Study carefully the factors which make content easy to consume and the factors which make content easy to recommend. (They're not co-extant. Content which is easy to consume but not easy to recommend, such as a lolcat picture, is not a high priority for you if you have no users.) This should inform what sort of stuff you build to ramp folks up in the early day. If it is too hard to recommend the trial because it takes hours of setup before you start seeing value from it, write a whitepaper. If the whitepaper takes too long for the average customer to "get", condense it into a blog post. Keep reducing the barriers to having your new best buddy in the world tell his friends/peers/readers about you.

You could encourage normal people who are using the app (via early-access or whatever) to 'review' it by a twitter, facebook or other social media campaign. Sure these things sound cheesy and old hat even to me now, but they can work. 'Tweet about us to get a free upgrade to Premium'/'free 500MB disk space'/whatever incentive you can provide once users have already got the app.

Go offline.


Find a list of bloggers in your niche.


Find their contact details. (Either their contact page, or their whois.)


Send them a snail mail letter explaining your offer.

This seriously gets more high profile bloggers to review your products - because it cuts through the clutter. Its more work, but a lot more effective than email.

Sorry, that's a 100% plain not true. Snail mail gets through OK, but it's a real pain to execute from. If I get a letter I throw it away, because a) I can't easily put it into my process queue to action later and b) I can't easily click through to a website link without laboriously having to key it in manually.

Don't use snail mail. Use email but with a) A superb subject line which lays out the differentiator of your product and b) a clear concise intro para which lays out the proposition in one easy glance.

That's all. If it's any good, we'll take a look at it. And yes I'm a journalist/blogger.

Depending on the 'class' of blog, sometimes snail mail seems way too stalkery. If it's a TechCrunch or a VentureBeat, snail mail can really work, but the whois address is a restraining order too far.

+1 for the snail mail letter, it worked for my last startup :)

Shameless plug: If you're serious about snail mailing people, check out my latest project, SnailPad (http://www.snailpad.com). Pretty soon, you'll be able to upload a PDF and blast it to anyone you want, etc... my contact info is in my profile if you're interested in checking it out.

Just a quick critique on roorky.com, you should make it more obvious how many books are available there. As far as I can tell there's only two books mentioned on your site, which are the 2 free samples linked to from the front page. Are there any other books available? Having the same short attention span as any typical web surfer I did not dig into your site any further than 2 or 3 pages to find out what other books you had, so then I left. And no, I will not create an account and login just to find out. If you have more books then I should at least be able to browse the titles and table of content without logging in. If the focus of your offering is online books then you should jamming your catalog in my face bragging about how many books you have and teasing me with titles and sample pages from each book. And if these books are all over the web, then still your site ought to feature a centralized index of other iPUB books and where to find them.

Also make sure the content of those books is being indexed by Google even if there is a paywall to read them.

Hi Snorkel,

Thanks a lot for feedback. That's correct. Unfortunately we have only 2 books as of now. Talking with lots of authors and publishers to get more books on the store. Soon we should get some books and users should be able to browse through them.

What is your opinion about core idea/product? Feel free to write to us at support@roorky.com.

Try following some (if not all) DIY marketing ideas listed at http://www.sitepoint.com/blogs/2009/06/30/43-do-it-yourself-...

-email a bunch of bloggers, the more the merrier, Even if you don't really think you got a shot, do it anyways. Also email regular media, you never know, they might want to cover you. It's only 5 minutes of your time, and a single hit will make it all worth it.

-hold a launch promotion, give away some ipods, or something along those lines.

-build something your users would want to talk about. It's all about going viral.

for finding bloggers, you can do 5 things:

1. Technorati 2. Alltop 3. SEOTools to see who linked to your competitors. 4. If you are going for any niche outside of tech, there'll always be blog rolls. Use that to jump from one blog to the next. 5. Delicious and other bookmarking sites.

Watch this! I think its going to be worth while! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1KNkqgq3eo&feature=playe...

This is a very good video. Thanks a lot.

I don't have an answer but I am hoping this will lead to links or discussion of things like building website traffic and SEO. I have been pondering starting such a discussion myself but a) I suck out loud at starting discussions and b)I just haven't gotten around to it.

Not trying to high jack your discussion. I would be perfectly happy to be given the link to some previous discussion about the topics I listed, as I imagine it's been so very done before.

Back to your regularly scheduled programming (with apologies, if that is appropriate).

Found an interesting app - http://listorious.com/. The directory of awesome lists on Twitter.

I started a social news site devoted to cute cat/dog pictures and videos earlier this year. I worked pretty hard on it for a couple of months, only to realize, that I couldn't stand looking at cute shit every day for months on end. So, I took the site down. I got 700 uniques in 3 months, and had 5000 page views.

I learned a few things along the way. I got quite a few initial users off of Mechanical Turk. I submitted a request asking for users to test my application out. I paid them a nickel a piece to have users visit my site, click through a couple of links and post a comment on something cute. I ended up paying around $1 a day, and I got some great feedback from them. It was also fairly low pressure for me, too. I didn't have to worry about things breaking and losing users. The Turkers expected things to break, because I was asking them to test the site out. I recommend trying spending $5 to 10 on the Turk. It's really hard to go wrong.

I also tried advertising using adwords. That was a mixed bag. Initially I got a decend click through rate on my ads because the Westminster Dog show was going on, and people were interested in seeing pictures of cute dogs and cats. So, I got a bunch of decent traffic from that for around $0.10 to 0.20 a visit. But, as I continued advertising on adwords, I started noticing a pretty big bounce rate. So, I cut back on adsense and focused on other channels.

I also spent quite a bit of time emailing bloggers who had cute blogs. I got some traffic from them.

I also spent quite a bit of time posting good comments on other people's blogs. I actually got a couple of clicks a day from people clicking through my signature link on icanhazcheezburger.com.

Probably my ROI was from a comment that I posted on a cute pig video on the LA Times website. I got several good referrals a week for two months off of that single comment.

So, I just put up http://newsley.com which is a business/economic social news site. Right now, I'm just talking to friends and family and getting feedback from them, so I can make changes to the app accordingly. My next step is going to get some feedback from Mechanical Turk. It's a cheap and easy way to elicit good feedback from users.

This time around, I'm going to work with twitter a lot more. A friend of mine developed some decent twitter bot software that categorizes twitter users by value to me and handles the following/unfollowing bit while avoiding spamming people. I think that if you can find twitter users that are interested in your niche, they could probably help out a lot.

I don't really know if I'm going to user adwords or not. It ended up being pretty expensive. My customer acquisition cost using adwords was about $1-2.

I'll still post comments on news stories and articles. I can sleep at night as long as I'm not spamming the comments thread, and I feel like I'm adding something to the discussion. Finally, I'm probably going to go out and press the flesh quite a bit more on this one. I'll probably do a lot more meat space networking for this site.


That's a great insight from a person who already tried the things. Can you please tell me the name of the twitter app.

My friend built it and sold it this past spring. He didn't have a name for it. But, at one point, I think he was managing around 40-50 twitter accounts and had close to 75k followers.

I've got some desktop Mac software. Today, I've got an application of mine on MacUpdate Promo. We discount my app, they promote my app, I tweet and post on my blog, they take a cut of the sales, I take a cut of the sales, and with any luck at the end of the day we'll both be happy.

I try to do 1 or 2 promotions a year. Any more and your app is 'always on sale'. Results vary for me. I find my business app outsells my 'geek toy' app most of the year, but during promotions the toy gets good sales. Business users don't tend to hang around looking for cool toys at promotions. Geeks do.

Generally I find out about these promotions by keeping my eye on the Mac developer community. In todays case I got an email out of the blue about a month ago saying they were interested. (There's some sort of mechanism where users vote that they'd like to see a piece of software on their promotion.)

I don't think I've ever spent more than an afternoon setting one of these up. These people do this constantly, and I'm more than happy to let them play to their strengths.

That's one way you promote. Instead of getting your app in front of reviewers, you get it in front of actual customers.

That being said, I also:

- Send out a lot of personal emails to various editors, bloggers, etc. when release time comes around. Give them a little advance notice.

- Make sure you're listed on major directories. For me, this is the Apple Downloads page and sites like MacUpdate or VersionTracker. Most of my traffic comes from these kinds of sites. (That being said, I really need to improve my sites Google ranking for certain keywords.)

- Get to know the salespeople at your local computer stores. I'll admit, I'm biased on this one since I used to work for one of my local computer stores. These are people who sell things all day to your potential customers. If somebody complains "I keep having to switch my SMTP servers when I bring my laptop home from work" when they're in the store, I want the sales people to know that there's something they can point the customer to. Some people also have the same reaction to 'local developer' that they do to 'locally grown lettuce'. Somehow it's better, even if it's the same.

- Show your app to everyone you know. As a bonus, they might even start to understand what it is you do all day.

Those are the strategies I use myself.

Here are a couple of videos from the C4[1] conference that I found fantastic on the subject. They're long, but they're worth it.

Wil Shipley: Monster Marketing (http://www.viddler.com/explore/rentzsch/videos/4/)

Adam Engst: Hacking the Press (http://www.viddler.com/explore/rentzsch/videos/12/)

Hey, you should check out my app! http://looklookbuy.com

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