How to advertise software effectively – part II

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.

The previous article examined some of the basic ideas involved in advertising software. We looked at why a company may want to advertise, the factors involved in choosing a suitable venue and the costs and time involved. We also explored some of the practicalities to consider and how to research your potential venue.

Once you’ve chosen where to advertise your software, the next critical factor will be how well you know the target audience. The more information that you have to hand, the better you can tailor your content around their needs and expectations.

You need to make sure that you speak in their language, try to give them what they’re already used to, or grab their attention with something new. But be warned, these are pushy and innovative times. Whatever gimmick or spin you use to stand out may well have been tried many times before, so don’t over-rely on it.

Like a good informative web page, the ad needs to first of all catch their attention, and then compel them to click on it. And your ad will do this through tapping into the searcher’s needs – not by pushing features at them. A common mistake when advertising software is to focus primarily on features, but the potential user is looking for specific benefits or trying to find solutions to problems.

Bear in mind that like any strategy, your advertising will only be as strong as its weakest link. Don’t spend thousands of dollars on good placement, only to use some awful home-created banner that you knocked together with an ancient version of Paint Shop Pro.

If graphic design is not your strong point, then get a firm to design some decent graphics for you. The same goes with writing the ad copy. Most people can write, but few are writers. Try to make sure that someone with more than a thesaurus-dictionary gift set writes your copy for you.

Aside from the wording, the basic market principles apply. Grab their attention, tempt them, and compel them to act. “50% discount” is eye catching, as is some form of “only valid today” type of offer.

But when the potential customer clicks on your ad, you’re only half way there. You now need to make sure that the page they land on carries on the good work. Realistically, many will click on the ad out of idle curiosity, and very few (if any) will have made up their minds to purchase already.

You should therefore use a separate landing page, as opposed to your regular main website page. It should contain the same information and use the same language, tone and focus of the ad, but now you’re not restricted as to what you can do, or how much space you have to work with. Here, you have all the space you need to go all-out with the sales drive.

On a technical level, make sure that your landing page is not linked from anywhere in your website, so as to ensure that everyone coming to this page has been driven there by the ad.

If you’re sharing a landing page, then at least make sure that you use a unique referral string. To be able to evaluate the success of the ad, it’s critical that you can distinguish these visitors from the regular site visitors.

This brings us neatly onto the subject of tracking, without which you are effectively deaf, dumb and blind to the effects of the ad. A unique landing page on your website is ideal, and if possible, make this point to a separate payment page as well. You can also use cookies or referral strings in order to sharpen the accuracy of the tracking.

Usage of decent web log analysis software should let you see how many people came to the landing page, how long they spent there, which links they then clicked on, who downloaded from there, who purchased, and perhaps even who came back to the website later.

The analysis and follow-up of the campaign is surprisingly often completely overlooked. This is a great loss, as in some respects this is one of the most important stages of the whole process.

When it comes to gauging the level of generated sales and registrations, you need to take into account the final date of the ad, plus the full length of the trial version and then add a little extra time. Some may view the ad, click, download the software, but may not install it for a few days or even longer.

As an example, a company may choose to run a series of ads in a newsletter that is sent out from Monday to Friday of a given week.

Some people may not respond to the ad until the following weekend (or later), and only then download your thirty day trial. So we’re already looking at 35 days after the ad was first run, and that’s assuming that they install the software as soon as they download it. Some people may even register after the trial has elapsed. So don’t go writing it off as a failure on day two of your advertising campaign.

To accurately evaluate the success of the campaign, you need to go back to your original goals.

If your primary goal was to achieve a higher level of sales, then it should be reasonably easy to see how many were generated by the ad. As with everything related to advertising, your data won’t be 100% accurate, but it should give you a good idea.

If the primary goal was increased exposure, then you should be looking at how many people were exposed to the ad, how many viewed the landing page content and website, and perhaps even downloaded and purchased the software.

At this point, there are four possible scenarios.

(1) The ad appears to be successful.

Your goals have been achieved as a direct result of the ad, and more advertising with this vendor may be considered for the future. Even with this success, don’t rule out the fact that your figures can be further improved, but don’t forget that they can worsen too.

You should also be careful not to immediately engage in a long-term contract with this vendor. Not only because there are other advertising options out there, but also because any ad has a certain lifespan until it reaches its saturation point. At the very least consider trying different products, wording (or graphics) or even a different type of offer or discount.

(2) The ad doesn’t appear to be successful.

There has been little generated in terms of exposure or sales, and you can’t help but feel that the venture has been a failure.

The first thing you have to do is to try to determine the reason for this.

It may be the product itself, the ad copy, the ad, or perhaps the targeting was off. It may even be as a result of the ad placement, or the offer or discount not being generous enough.

If the ad failed, it is very important to ascertain exactly why. Don’t just dismiss it as a failure, or a “bad” place to advertise, and don’t be afraid to go back to the vendor for feedback. If you explain that you’re interested in making this work, as opposed to complaining that they didn’t deliver the results you expected, you’ll usually get a positive response. See what they can do to help, after all, it’s in their interests that you walk away satisfied by your experience.

(3) The ad appears to break-even, but little more than this.

Go back and read number (2). Not being a success counts as a failure.

(4) You’re not sure whether the ad was worthwhile or not.

There has been some response, but it’s difficult to see whether it was a worthwhile experience or not.

It’s very important that you get to the bottom of this. Go through your statistics again, and filter through your logs to see exactly what the visitors did, where they clicked, and why they behaved as they did.

It is extremely important that at the end of the process, you know whether it was worthwhile or not. Failure to do so will result either in a wastage of money or a wastage of opportunities.

It’s all too easy to throw money away on bad advertising. It’s just as easy to be scared-off by risks, or for that matter throw potential opportunities away. Like any form of marketing, there are no guarantees that you’ll achieve the results you hope for. But by failing to try, you’re absolutely guaranteed never to reach them. The best you can do is to prepare the ground and cover all options as thoroughly as possible, take a deep breath and then take the plunge. Be seen, be sold.

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.