1. "Marketing Mondays"
Every Monday the whole team works on nothing but marketing. Nobody writes any code, no one touches the servers. No hacking, no debugging, no database tuning... Just marketing. Brainstorming on new ideas, staring at Google Analytics numbers, reviewing conversion rates, running A/B tests, working on website design etc. I
2. "Metrics Day"
Every 1st day of a month the whole team works on nothing but our SaaS metrics. Since our flagship product (hosted help desk) is a SaaS app we've set up an epic Google Docs spreadsheet that calculates all the key metrics. We enter some of the numbers manually (monthly visitors, signups, cancellations, new customers etc etc) and the spreadsheet calculates the rest - the conversion rates (visitor-to-trial, visitor-to-customer etc), the churn rate (percentage of cancelling users), the engagement rate (how many users have tried "feature X"), growth/drop factors for all the metrics and many many other things. We spend the whole day figuring what's worked and what's not, what should we try next, and where there might be a problem.
3. "Content Obligation"
Every week every team member has to write at least one article for the website, targeting one specific "long-tail" keyword. This hack worked well for many months and it's the one I wanted to dive into details about.
Catching the long tail
You all know what "long tail keyword" means. 80% of the search traffic comes from the long tail. To get that traffic, your website requires a content-creation strategy that needs to be both continuous and scalable. That's why we first came up with the following strategy: once a week every employee finds a longtail keyword and writes an article on it. Not just some spammy keyword-stuffed text, but a short human-readable article like this one: "Cloud help desk" - not exactly an extraordinary piece of writing, but a nice and readable article targeted at humans, not just search engines.
This works wonders when you're bootstrapping. But this strategy is not scalable, nor it is continuous. Not every team member has the required SEO skills to find the right keywords. Not every team member is a good writer, some of them spend hours trying to come up with an article - wouldn't it be more effective to simply let them write their code instead?
We decided to outsource both the writing part and keyword suggesting to third-party services. And while working with freelance-writers is a well known business (we quickly built a CMS for our freelancers where they can log in, pick a keyword from the list, read hints from us and submit an article) outsourcing the keyword-discovering part was not. Until I found Hittail.com.
Hittail.com is a keyword-suggestion service that analyzes your traffic and discovers some easy-to-rank-for keywords.
To use HitTail, you first need to install their tracking code on your website. HitTail will take it from there and start tracking the keywords people search to find your site across all search engines. These search hits are displayed in real-time (30 seconds refresh-rate), and the most popular longtail terms are added to the suggestions section. The idea is not new, I blogged about Lazy SEO back in 2008.
Hittail doesn't have many competitors, it's simply the only service like this. So let's go straight to pros and cons.
- Easy to use - the interface is well-designed, the realtime "search hits" page is fun to watch, the actual referring links is something I miss in Google Analytics. Nice.
- It works - despite of all the cons below, I was able to find dozens of new keywords and write some new content for it. I got about 5% visitors increase in a week. Not bad.
- Built-in article writing service is a nice touch. Just click the "write an article" button next to a suggested keyword, and 3 days and $19 bucks later you get a custom article on the topic. You might find this useful if you have no experience in managing a team of freelancers on your own. Hittail's service is more expensive than hiring a writer yourself, but trust me - if you don't have any experience dealing with freelancers, don't have a proven screening/interviewing process to filter good freelancers from the bad ones etc. - it is cheaper to use Hittail's service. Outsource that headache (oh, that is a headache).
- Simple and neat. And I miss that these days, when every little twitter-scheduling app out there has a ton of features and a dozen of checkboxes in the UI
- Poor performance on "multi-product" sites. If you have multiple products on one website (if you're Adobe, Microsoft, Apple or... well, Jitbit) you're in trouble. Say, you want to discover longtail keywords for just one product. In other words, only a part of your website will have the tracking code installed - the pages that start with "site.com/product/*". And that's where Hittail goes crazy. It keeps complaining it can't find the tracking code on the homepage (of course it can't), it doesn't show any suggestions, it throws errors when you fill the "URL" field (because it is actually a "domain" field), etc.
Obviously Hittail is targeted at small startups, where "1 company = 1 product" is a typical case. Don't they want to go after big companies - banks, car manufacturers, software giants? Even tiny software shops like us choose this business model sometimes.
UPDATE: Hittail's support was kind enough to contact me on this issue and said, that though the app does show the error message about not finding the tracking code, other systems work just fine. And I can confirm that - keyword suggestions are coming in.
- Unintiutive signup process (not really a "con", just a small glitch). After the signup you're presented with a "Login" dialog that prompts you for a username and password, along with the "register" link. But you have no idea what the password is. There was no password in the confirmation email, no "password" field on the signup form... Clicking the "register" link takes you back to the sign-up form. I spent several minutes searching for a password until I realized that this "login" form - is actually a "pick yourself a username/password" dialog. Not very obvious. I bet that's where their funnel loses a lot of potential customers.
- No "new" keywords. As far as I can see, the service suggests keywords you already have some traffic from. This is disappointing, I'd rather see some new non-obvious keyword opportunities. The algorithm should be something like this: first, get a ton of suggestions from online keyword tools (AdWords keyword tool, Ubersuggest etc) then check the SERP for this keywords, and if the top 3 websites in the SERP are weaker than yours (in terms of Google PR, Alexa rank, trust-rank, etc) - then go for this keyword. If not - move on to the next keyword. Who knows, maybe some day I'll create a service like this myself...
Overall, Hittail is definitely worth trying. It almost certainly will give you some new long tail keywords you can go after.
I've been using them for only a week now, so I will get back to this after a couple of months of usage to let you know how they performed over time.