I’ve written before about how over the last few years my wife and I have written several small sites (you can see some of them listed in the sidebar.) It’s been an interesting experiment in creating stuff tightly targeted for certain readers. Since all startups have to have an internet presence, and since having people come by to see what you’re doing is an important thing, I’m very interested in how to reach people with a targeted message.
As part of that, we have a site called paycheck-stub.com. It’s nothing special, just trivia about stuff you can find on your paycheck stub.
Over time, however, we’ve been getting more and more visitors — over 5 thousand per month now. With that many people, I’ve been very curious if I could help them in some way besides just displaying information and ads. What the heck do these people want?
So I popped up a list of buttons and hooked them all into Google Analytics. Do you want to print fake paychecks? Access our online payroll system? Verify that a paycheck is legitimate? Download hundreds of paycheck stub images? I brainstormed a dozen reasons and made each one into a button.
The button didn’t do anything, just reported to me how many times it was clicked.
I found that 2-3 percent of visitors want to make fake paychecks. For what reason, I don’t know, but I’m obviously not going to be able to help them. Another 2-3 percent wanted to access the “free online payroll system” — which, of course, didn’t exist. .5 percent wanted to know if a paycheck stub was legitimate, and the rest of the buttons didn’t get much pushing at all.
So what to do with that information? I did some research and found a vendor who offered free online payroll, of course — at least for the first month. This was nice because I already knew that this was something 2-3 percent of my visitors wanted.
I took down the buttons and put up a plain text link to the paychex site. It simply says “Make your own paychecks online (free first month)” No flash, no graphics, no sales copy. Just “Here is what you want. Click to go get it”
It’s nice to realize that once your audience is qualified enough — once you know what they want — “advertising” is just providing them with a simple text link.
Eight days later, and I’m $250 bucks richer. Woo hoo! Even now, as you read this, people wanting payroll services are finding my site, getting some information, then clicking over. I could be cynical and ugly and say I hear the sound of cash registers ringing, but what I really hear is the sound of people finding what they were looking for, which is even better. After all, it’s not like you have to trick somebody into getting a payroll system. These were folks who wanted a payroll system all along, perhaps they started out by looking for an example of a paycheck stub, then realized there’s a lot more to it than simply filling out a form, then realized what they really wanted was an online payroll system. I’m just helping them do that — for free.
For the other 95% of visitors, the site looks mostly the same. Time on site is still great — lots to see and read — and we get a fair chunk of return visitors. (I still think the site sucks, but that’s a story for another day.) And the Google AdSense ads are still getting as much action as they were before the site upgrade. It’s not like adding one thing decreased something else. In fact, since the click-through from AdSense stayed the same, adding the link increased the usefulness of the site. More folks who were looking for stuff found it.
A couple of good lessons from this. First, figuring out what your visitors want want — getting inside their heads — is really, really tough. Anybody who says they can do this based on gut feelings is probably lying to you. But if your traffic is high enough? Ask them! Make some buttons and let them click them. Visitors are really good at clicking buttons, and if nothing happens usually it doesn’t piss them off too much. This means that having a site that’s related to your startup that gets thousands of visits or more a month is a key asset — like having a gold mine in your backyard. This is why everybody says startups are supposed to have a blog.
Second, explore new partnerships! By reaching out and doing some poking around, I found a business that was very happy to provide free payroll for a month. This helps both the reader and the business. Very cool.
With ten or more people clicking over for free payroll each day, I’m actually in a pretty good spot to start an online payroll company, if that’s what I want to do (it isn’t.) Over a year, I’d get 4 thousand people coming by to check out my product. People I didn’t have to pay a penny to have visit.
And that’s why this stuff is both very cool and is a generic skill applicable to all kinds of startups.If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.