Jean MacDonald, SmileOnMyMac

jeanI met Jean MacDonald and the crew from SmileOnMyMac at a developer gathering at Chaat Cafe in San Francisco a few years ago during Macworld Expo. She is a partner at the company and primarily handles marketing and PR.  Prior to joining the SmileOnMyMac, she operated Well-Tempered Web, an independent web design and online marketing firm. She also taught web design and online marketing at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon and as a member of Geekcorps in Ghana, West Africa. Smile is one of the few indie companies that I know of to have somebody on staff dedicated to marketing, so I thought it would be useful to pick her brain for how they do it.

DW: What kind of marketing activities do you handle?

JM: Our website is the locus of our marketing efforts. We are continually refining and enriching it so that it's easy for site visitors to learn how our products can help them. We work hard on driving traffic to our site, via search engine optimization, advertising, and PR, but we also know that it's not enough to get lots of traffic. We constantly ask ourselves "Is it easy to find what you need on our site?" We have things like Feature lists and FAQs, but we also have video screencasts: different people need different things to give them a compelling reason to click the Buy button.

We do most of the conventional marketing activities to get attention for our company and our products: press relations, Google ads, email marketing, print advertising, podcast sponsorship, trade show participation, Mac User Group engagement, Twitter, blogger outreach company blog, cross-promotion with other Mac developers

DW: How does your company approach marketing?

JM: We are pretty holistic as a company: we don't see marketing as separate from software development. My partners, Greg Scown and Philip Goward, are software developers, sure, but they are also very savvy about what potential customers are looking for. I spend a good deal of time surveying users and talking to customers to help us plan the optimal software development path. 

I also write a lot of the product documentation, which helps me really understand the products and do a better job of selling them. It also helps us have more user-friendly documentation, which in turn is better for selling our products. If people don't understand how to use the software, they are not going to buy it.

Over time, we have grown to have a serious budget for marketing. In the beginning, we were very cautious about any spending on marketing, which I think most small Mac developers are. But we've grown that budget, little by little, into something fairly substantial.

DW: What are some marketing activities that are fairly easy to do and are pretty effective, that other indies might want to try?

JM: I would start with email marketing. In particular, I recommend that you create a series of tip emails for your product that people can sign up for when they download your demo and launch it. So often, people download software and then never use it, which means they never buy it. A regular email, with a helpful explanation focusing on something that can be accomplished with your software, also reminds people that they downloaded the software and, hey, there's something they want to use it for. The added benefit has been that our current customers have also signed up for these tips, and they love them because they learn something new. That helps your customers be better evangelists for you.

I also highly recommend that developers partner with one another to cross-promote their products. We have worked with a number of other Mac developers that have products we think our customers would be interested in and vice versa. It hasn't always worked out, but it doesn't cost much to try it. When it does well, it can be fantastic. A great success story has been partnering with 1Password: it's an obvious fit for TextExpander, but we've also found that 1Password customers have also been very interested in buying PDFpen. You just have to test and find something that works.

I'd also like to encourage other developers to sponsor podcasts. We started out small in 2006, and we've just kept adding new podcasts every year, because we've found them to be very cost-effective for reaching a serious and influential segment of Mac users. Podcasting is still quite new, and new shows are appearing all the time. I'd say pick one you like that has an sponsorship rate you can afford, and then grow with it. Don't treat it like an advertising blast, but rather a long-term relationship with a community of users.

Screencasts are a must-have, in my opinion. We get a lot of great feedback from potential customers and customers alike.

DW: How do you measure success of your marketing activities?

JM: We use Google Analytics to track our website traffic. Everyone should be using at least that. We also use another service called Conversion Ruler to specifically measure the conversion rate of our Google ads. In our store check out, we ask "How did you hear about us?" as a multiple choice question to get a sense of the response to our print ads and podcasts.

DW: So if you are using Google AdWords, they must be effective for you. How do you maximize the likelihood that somebody who sees or clicks on your ad is actually a potential customer — in other words, a Mac user? Any advice for a Mac developer who's interested in trying out AdWords?

JM: You have to use the word "Mac" in the headline of your ad and you should only bid on phrases that include the word "Mac" in them. We did a lot of testing in the beginning, and it was obvious pretty quickly that this is the basic rule of targeting the Mac market on Adwords.

Make sure to opt out of the Google Content Network. That's the program that places your ads on third-party sites that Google thinks will be relevant. Mostly, those sites will be software-related, but not Mac-focused, so most of the people who click on those ads will be PC users and you will get lots of worthless clicks that way.

I found Andrew Goodman's Google Adwords Handbook to be very helpful when I first started working with pay-per-click campaigns in 2005. It's out-of-date now though. He's written a 40-page white paper on the current state of Google Adwords strategy and that's probably worth reading as an overview. 

Another great source of information for search engine optimization is High Rankings. If you are interested in SEO (and everyone should be), Jill Whalen's weekly email newsletter is gold. I've subscribed to it for 10 years now! The HighRankings forums are very lively, and include topics like PPC in addition to SEO.

Prompted by your question, I did drill down into our stats and found that the percentage of PC users coming from Adwords is about the same as the percentage overall, around 8%. The number of clicks you get from PC users shouldn't scare you away, if you have good tracking and know you've got a good ROI from your advertising spend. Paying for some irrelevant clicks from non-Mac users is part of the cost of advertising online.

I personally feel that everyone should try Google Adwords. You learn so much from seeing what people are searching on and clicking on. As long as you are not losing money on the ads, i.e. your sales cover the cost of the ads, it is worth doing. I've seen studies that show that searchers are much more likely to click on your organic search listing if you also have a PPC ad on the same page. So even if you aren't seeing click-throughs on the ads, you are encouraging click-throughs on your organic listings, assuming you've optimized your site and have decent rankings!

DW: You mentioned Mac User Groups — What kind of things do you do with them?

JM: I try to visit a few of them each year (I'm in Austin right now for a presentation), and I always respond to their requests for review licenses and door prizes. This is a great audience for independent software — MUG members do buy software, and they really appreciate the support from Mac software companies. They tend to be power users who influence a lot of other Mac users. You'll find quite a few members of the Apple Consultants Network in the MUG membership, and those folks are highly influential.

I really like meeting the MUG people in person. It's easy to forget in this heyday of social networking that nothing builds connections like face-to-face time.

DW: How about special promotions (coupon codes, etc.) — do you have a strategy for that?

JM: We do coupons for special events: Macworld, Mac User Groups presentations, other events like NCMUG's Mac Computer Expo in Petaluma or MacForce's Summer Blast in Portland. We'll participate in some of the developer-organized promos like MacSanta, Give Good Food to Your Mac, and One Finger Discount if the timing is right. We do a couple of MacZOTs and MacUpdate Promos each year as well. Used judiciously, a discount is a great vehicle for generating awareness and excitement about your products. 

DW: What marketing activities have you found were actually not that beneficial?

JM: We put together a promotion called the Mac Switcher Bundle with TextExpander, 1Password and Witch, along with a package of introductory screencasts by ScreenCastsOnline's Don McAllister. We got some nice press for it, but it never met our sales expectations. On the other hand, it's in the top 10 search results for Mac Switcher, so I consider it to have been worthwhile.

DW: Thanks so much for taking the time for contributing to this new blog!

JM: Maybe you should do a podcast, too. (In your copious free time...)

DW: Nooooooooooooo!!!!! (runs away, screaming)

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