Software Marketing – What are your downloaders looking for?

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.

When you think about the various tasks involved with software marketing, finding targeted traffic might come to mind. You may even think about how to entice that traffic to your website and get them to download your software. Even if you were successful, your software marketing job is not over. Now it’s about your software’s first impressions.

Few users will be impressed by the icon appearing on their start menu; the impression begins to form when they first use the software. The jump from a user installing to actually buying your software depends on many factors other than the quality of the software itself; factors that are often overlooked.

Before going any further, bear in mind that there is no such thing as a typical user – different types of software will have different types of users, and the explosive surge in use of the PC in the home and workplace has opened up many new markets that never before existed. While the growth of the internet has meant that competition between program writers has never been so abundant, it also allows for higher-quality software to excel and stand out.

Make Sure It’s Easy 
Down to the nitty gritty. For many, the first hint of your software’s standards will appear in the installation – in the past we have tossed out software because of a poor installation, and I’m sure we’re not alone in this. Keep it clear – we have had a huge number of people who write to us not understanding what the ‘your system has a newer version of this file’ message means – if you lose them, you may lose a paying customer.

Let the user decide what’s going to be on their desktop and in their start-up menu, and make it easy for them to change their mind later. It’s also a lot better to have the registration option appear later – not as part of the installation. Few people stay online when they install new software, and even fewer wish to register before even trying it! Also, make sure that the registration is easy to access from within the software – don’t hide it away in the ABOUT section of HELP.

Look through the user’s eyes wherever possible – personally I really appreciate sample data being included (where applicable) and having a Quick-Guide or Quick-Tutorial is far better than poring through a long help file. If this can be printed on a few pages for quick reference – even better still. Many users won’t read the majority of your help file, and while good software might well be intuitive, there are bound to be features that might remain hidden if you don’t point them out. These could make the difference between registration and uninstallation.

What About The Start Menu? 
Another item that often seems overlooked is what you put in the start menu. Have all relevant files accessible – not just the application itself. Include the README text file, the help file, and preferably registration-info as well. It can only help. But make sure that your registered version cleans up after itself – don’t leave order forms scattered around the start menu for paying customers.

While we’re on the subject of the start menu, it’s sometimes a good idea to include within the software the ability to have the program startup automatically with windows. Some of us can figure out adding a shortcut to StartUp, but others can’t. Again – the idea is to show the user how useful your program can be for them. Example – a diary program that the non-advanced user can set to start automatically every time he/she turns on their computer is bound to be more impressive that one he-she forgets to use after the first time.

The next big one – the help file. An endless source of debate, I’m not going to get into the format here. One definite no-no though – don’t give them the only help file in a format they can’t use. You may be able to read a PDF or DOC file, but they may not. Make sure that above anything else the help file’s clear – and have separate sections for what the software is and does, troubleshooting and/or FAQs, how to contact you, your website URL, minimum system requirements… these are things that users and especially new users look for. Don’t leave it to chance that they’ll be patient enough to look through the whole help file, readme file and everything else… they might just as easily give up on the application. Two other hints – include a separate page for keyboard shortcuts, and where possible make the help file printer friendly; keep the pages a suitable length, and don’t rely too heavily on popups.

In general, keyboard shortcuts are a must; and if you can display the actual keys in the pull-down menus, better still. Try and make them fit in with Windows standards too – people are more likely to use them if Open, Save and New are the ones they’re used to. Something else that I really like to find is the ability to backup data. I myself will not use and rely on a program that might freeze up tomorrow, taking my data with it. Very often I save the files myself – but many don’t know how to. Example – ever tried backing up your Eudora data? Fiddly and confusing – very messy. A few golden hints for the toolbar – I really like being able to customise! Let me choose which buttons appear where and I’m already interested. And if you have an undo feature – please make sure it’s on the toolbar – and CTRL-Z is much appreciated too. Want to add icing on the cake – redo. Lovely – and it’s not bad for your teeth.

Good Software Should Look Good, Too
The appearance of your software is critical – personally I dislike big and clunky buttons, but don’t forget people with vision problems. True story – one woman wrote to me asking about ANY software that I knew that you could set your own colours and font sizes – her vision is terrible, and she claims that most software is unusable. As far as she’s concerned – let her alter the sizes and colours of as much as possible, and she’ll buy it! Think she’s alone? Nope! Same goes with audio signals – these can be useful but please, please let us turn them off as well! And a polite ‘tring’ is infinitely more bearable than the siren, chainsaw or Homer Simpson laugh… except maybe for the last one.

Last few hints – let us choose whether we want the reminder or warning screens; they may be useful at first, but once we’re used to your software, we don’t want a confirmation every single time. And the sacred of sacred? Never let us exit without saving, but do not, under any circumstances, do this automatically. Some of us hit the shut-down button when we realised we’ve messed up!

When you plan your software marketing steps, don’t forget about the product itself. Your software’s good – you know that. Now you have to take every possible step to ensure that the trial-users see it too. Few users have the ‘grin and bear it’ attitude to evaluating software; the majority need convincing. Don’t let a few mistakes cloud their judgement. Above all, make sure that even though they’re only installing it because they can use it for free for 30 days, they’ll quickly see just how good this software is, how easy it is to use, and how much they can use it. Then you’ve got them! Be seen, be sold.

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.