Transparency Report #37 – How We Built, Launched and Promoted Our Latest Project

Welcome to the 37th edition of the monthly transparency report (for February 2018). In this series, I do my best to share everything that’s been going on at CodeinWP and ThemeIsle – from a business point of view. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Click here to see the previous reports.

After publishing the previous transparency report, I realized that the past couple of reports lacked specific insights and raw marketing numbers, mainly because this hasn’t been my focus for a while. This month, however, I finally have a lot of goodies to share in that department!

1. How we built, launched and promoted our latest side project ๐Ÿš€

Last month, we released our latest project out of beta and into the wild! Domain Wheel is our smart and efficient domain name generator. It works fast and has a slick UI.

domainwheel

Here’s why we decided that creating it was a good idea, what makes it so cool and why you should check it out:

More than a year ago, we featured a post on the ThemeIsle blog listing the top blog name generators in the market. In few months after that, it became the most popular post on the blog. Looking through some ahrefs data, I saw that the main keyword had a decent CPC, which meant that the niche is valuable. However, looking at the solutions existing at the time, most of them were quite bad – both in terms of results and UX.

Me being me, and without having any time to explore new ventures on my own, I proposed the idea for our next hackathon. The rest is history, as they say.

But why did it seem like a valuable enough idea to pursue anyway?

Let me tell you a quick story:

A while back, we wrote (and then rewrote) a post for our ThemeIsle blog teaching people how to build their own blog from start to finish. That post has quickly become one of the most popular posts on the blog, so we’ve been trying to keep it on top ever since.

In the last month alone, we spent a few thousands of dollars on Facebook ads alone to bring more people in to see it. However, similarly to the themes and hosting niches, reaching your ideal target audience proves to be rather hard, and that’s even despite having a 1M+ Facebook audience in our retargeting lists.

If you’re still following me here, you might be starting to realize why Domain Wheel is so important from a strategic perspective. It’s basically the same reason why companies like Google and Facebook are so interested in “helping” less developed countries get online. Or, on our local WordPress scale, why WordPress.org is such an important asset for Automattic.

Competition and user acquisition costs keep growing all the time, and especially if you’re big enough already. Acquiring new users is close to impossible, thus going back to the beginning of the funnel makes a lot of sense. In our case, that beginning is reaching people who have just an idea for a website, no domain, no hosting, no knowledge of WordPress necessarily.

  • You can still market to those people and sell your products.
  • You have a better understanding of who those people are, what stage they’re at, and what they’re trying to build.

So with time, if you help those people right from the very beginning of their journey, you might be able to cash in on it later down the line.

At first, we launched a pretty basic version of Domain Wheel as a result of the hackathon. But then, Andrei and Marius put in another week of work into it, leading to the open launch.

It was time for promotion!

My approach was simple:

Since I knew most of the people who rank for the keywords relevant to the topic, I pitched them our newly launched tool.

But the key here is in how I did it.

I think I wrote about a similar concept when I talked about Revive Networkย a while back. Basically, I believe that it’s better to help another business out in other way than just by giving them money in exchange for what you want them to do for you. In our case, through the work that we do across all of our blogs, we send quite a bit of traffic to other businesses. We do this for free in most cases, since we monetize the blogs in very narrow areas.

Now, because of all that traffic that we send to other people, it makes my outreach much more effective when I go out door to door asking for favors.

Most certainly, it’s much easier now than it was when we first got started.

So the lesson here is this: before reaching out to somebody asking for help, or for a bit of their time, think what you can give back or how you can help. You might not have money, but that’s okay, there are plenty of ways to help. And I’m not talking about things like “I help you, you help me.” What I mean is helping people genuinely without expecting anything in return.

For example, are you a developer trying to pitch us your product so that we’d review it on our blog (I know there’s at least a handful of you out there)? First take a look at our GitHub profile, the open source work that we do, and raise an issue, do a small code review, fix something, I don’t know, DO SOMETHING before emailing me out of the blue asking for help.

Again, this is how we have been doing things, and it really works!

Anyway, back on topic. We didn’t only promote Domain Wheel via direct outreach. I also follow various “tech news” communities online so I knew this type of project would be interesting for people at ProductHunt, DesignerNews, or HackerNews. So we submitted Domain Wheel and it got us few more thousands of visitors and great feedback.

After the initial launch period, the project has entered pretty much a learning phase where we try to figure out who the audience is exactly, get feedback, understand the monetization potential better, and so on. All this will help us get a better idea on how much work we can realistically invest going further. Will keep you posted. ๐Ÿ‘

Again, in the grand scheme of things, and even for our company, such initiatives aren’t the next big thing. Same for my thinking behind it. I’m mostly trying to put this in context when it comes to user acquisition and how this can be tackled in the WordPress products market.

A month ago, I mentioned another side product of ours – Bizarro Devsย – our tech newsletter on the bizarre side. Chris runs that one.

I also did some marketing work on it the last couple of weeks. Despite the early doubts around the name itself, structure, work needed on a regular basis and so on, I now see some interesting metrics along with good acquisition channels.

bizzarodevs

With all the great work that Chris has been doing over there, we’re seeing open rates at 60% and CTRs at 30%.

It might be a small initiative, but it’s a great way to let team members explore their interests and skills, while also building up new acquisition channels for the main business.

Despite my main task here being to keep the core business running, if one of our team members walks up to me and says they want to execute a genius idea of theirs, I feel that it’s my responsibility to at least help them get their first users. I guess I know how rewarding it is to see your work actually being used by other people and not thrown away or ignored.

2. How A/B testing and deep traffic analysis leads to engagement

Around a month ago, we did some small changes to the design of our blogs. Nothing drastic, no overall design change. Just small things like +2px on font size, different fonts overall, new line heights, etc. I assumed those would improve readability and engagement.

A week or two later, I looked at the results… To my surprise – not much changed at all. Whether this was a good or bad direction wasn’t immediately apparent. But later on, I split the stats by device and immediately realized that our mobile engagement went down 50-100%. (One of the ways to measure engagement is to look at the percentage of people who follow an external link when only design changes.)

Time for another round of updates … this time only for mobile: -2px on font size, lower margins and paragraph padding…

Engagement went up by 100%.

My thoughts on this? We are a generation that discovered the internet mainly on big screens, desktops/laptops, and lots of us neglect mobile a lot. I would have never imagined that such a small change could make such a huge difference.

Even though that’s just one scenario, similar problems can pop up all the time if we’re not careful.

The main takeaway is that you should always split your analytics results by source of traffic, device and browser. For example, you might find that some seemingly underperforming product of yours isn’t actually underperforming at all. It’s just constantly being hit with a not relevant traffic source, which is muddying up the data.

It can be the same thing with a certain device or browser. For instance, if users of a certain browser tend not to convert as well, you might have a bug there.

Also try taking other stuff into consideration. For example, some lower converting countries might be using a certain browser or screen resolution that affects your data. In other words, there might not be any problem with the country itself.

3. The problems of a modern-day SEO

Google is both your no.1 friend and no.1 enemy. It’s the one friend who always has your back until he steals your girlfriend.

Specifically, every year, Google is on the path to providing search engine users with more and more answers right on the results pages – so that they don’t have to click through anywhere.

You generally cannot do much about this. Well, you can of course block Google from picking up data from your site entirely, but that would backfire rather quickly.

Here’s what I’m talking about – this is what happens when you look up a question like what’s the best WordPress hosting:

1

Here is what happens when you click on a result:

2

If you didn’t notice, that’s Google taking parts of the page, converting them into an answer and not even sending you over to where that info came from.

And you can’t really blame them. In most cases, they are doing what’s in the user’s best interest. They figured out that there are questions that don’t need any follow-up. Sometimes presenting just a simple list is enough, so Google delivers just that based on what they can scrape from other sites.

My guess is that most of you reading this would be rather happy to be that site from which Google creates the rich snippet, as opposed to blocking Google. Here’s how you can aim for that:

  • If your article offers a step-by-step guide or analyzes a list of solutions, in order to make it easier for Google to pick up the info, use a simple HTML structure when building your post. Ideally, use ol when listing summaries or intro-summaries, and use h tags for subheads.
  • In those subheads, number each solution on the list. Like:

    3. Third tool

     

    Google is likely to take those subheads and turn them into a list for the snippet.

  • To check if Google can create the snippet correctly, you can look up something like, YOUR KEYWORD site:YOURSITE.com. If you’re lucky, you’ll see your snippet there in all its glory.

4. Time for even more transparency and a different type of content

Even though we’re at the fourth edition already, I totally forgot to mention Revive.Social’s own transparency report!

That one is focused entirely around social media and the experiments we’ve been doing to grow our followings across all our products and sites.

It’s written by Chris, who shares everything he does to put us on the social media map, along with all the campaigns, results and numbers. No punches held!

Here are all the episodes until now to get yourself up to date:

I guess this is all, no more personal stuff or any other product updates this time.

I’m writing this heading to WordCamp Miami, so if you are around and wanna chat about any of these topics, let me know on twitter.

Okay, that’s all I have for you this month. As always, thanks for reading and for supporting us! Stay updated and get new reports delivered to you by subscribing here:

All edits and witty rewrites by Karol K.