Post in trade association forums and newsgroups
Word of mouth advertising works. Find ways to get people to talk about your programs or other computer gear. Post useful information on well-targeted message boards.
Determine where your prospects post messages. Don't forget newsgroups and forums where software buyers and purchasers of computer peripherals and accessories lurk and read, even though they may not post.
Many developers choose an approach to forum posting that is doomed to failure. You shouldn't visit forums and announce that your software solves everybody's problems. This technique makes the newsgroups' loud-mouthed members attack you immediately, while the quieter members become silently offended. It's simply bad software marketing.
Instead, you have to join the community, make helpful suggestions, and only mention your products when it's appropriate. Include information about your apps in your email's signature file, so people can find your web site easily. People will visit your web site, and some will buy your software.
Get magazines, newspapers, and blogs to talk about your software
You can get editors to write about your software by sending them news releases. Magazines are scanned, studied, referred to, and enjoyed by readers who need help making their software-buying decisions. Tell the editors about your software, and these editors can tell thousands and thousands of their readers about your programs. Blogs, newspapers, and magazines will drive prospects to your web site.
Increase your search engine effectiveness
Tune your home page and product pages so that search engines will index you meaningfully, and search engine users will find you. Don't guess at the keywords that your prospects might use. Find out what keywords real people really use.
Build content-rich web pages that will attract web site visitors.
Look into buying keywords and key phrases on the huge search engines, and on the search engines that people in your target audience use.
Manage your software on the download sites
Update your software regularly, and submit it to the download sites. Higher visibility in the download sites will result in more people visiting your web site. Being in the "What's New" sections of download sites increases your visibility.
Look into advertising on CNET, Tucows, and the other large sites. Try to determine if it's cost effective to advertise in your market.
There is no such thing as a software market. There is a market, for example, of novice PC users who want a mathematics drill program to teach their home-schooled 10-year-old the basics of arithmetic. Don't assume that the best place to buy advertising is the huge download site. Look into advertising on smaller, well-targeted download sites, and on non-download sites that reach your target audience.
Don't base your advertising-buying decisions on another developer's tummy-feel of the cost-effectiveness of their advertising campaign. And don't base your decision on the experience of a developer in a different market segment. Either talk to somebody who is trying to reach the same folks that you're selling to, or stick your toe in the water and try a modest sales campaign of your own. Try to find a way to measure results before you pay any money.
Buy advertising on relevant web sites
Find the web sites that your prospects visit, and see if they sell pop-unders or banners or text links. Too many developers assume that the "best" place to launch an advertising campaign is on the mega-download sites. This is not necessarily true.
For example, look at the magazine business. Few software companies buy advertising in the million-plus circulation magazines like PC World. But if you look at the smaller, specialized computer magazines - the ones with circulations in the 40,000 to 100,000 range - you'll find dozens and even hundreds of ads for software. Bigger isn't necessarily better. "Targeting" will whoop "bigger" every time. I think you'll find that the same is true for online advertising, too.
If you're selling computer books, tech training, computer peripherals, supplies, or accessories, then find the right websites to advertise on. Similarly, if you're trying to increase traffic to your SaaS website, create partnerships with other site owners.
Develop meaningful link exchanges
Link farms don't drive traffic to your site, and will actually hurt you in the search engines. Similarly, you're not going to generate meaningful web site traffic by being listed on some third-level page in a friend's web site, along with dozens of other on- and off-topic links.
You need to find a way to convince high-traffic, highly-rated sites to link to you from one of their on-topic, highly-rated pages (Google rates pages, while Alexa's ratings are at the web-site level).
Links from off-topic web pages won't drive a lot of traffic to your site. You need to make arrangements with other businesses in your field - ones that don't compete directly with you. And you need to offer them something in return. If you don't have a highly-ranked web page to offer in return, then develop a plan to create one (or more) of them, and try to swap based upon your 6-month plan to create a traffic-generator for your trading partner.
Postal mail your message to well-targeted prospects
I often read that post cards are a cost-effective way to send a message to potential software buyers. I don't agree. Catalogs produce more bang for the buck.
For 13 or 14 years, before I moved my advertising to the Internet, I postal-mailed 80,000 16-page, 2-color, 8-1/4-by-10-3/4 inch catalogs every year. And the cost of printing and postage was less than the cost of sending post cards.
The two key reasons for the low price were
(1) By using 11-digit ZIPCodes, known as delivery-point barcodes to the US Postal Service, you can save a fortune on postage.
(2) By using a web-press printer, you can save a fortune on printing costs. Unlike the quick-print companies that feed individual sheets of paper into their printing presses, a web-press printer can create tens of thousands of catalogs from a single sheet of paper (a rather large, rolled sheet of paper that requires a specially designed forklift to mount the roll onto the printing press). Finding a web-press printer is easy - just visit the folks who print your town's weekly newspaper or the weekly ad-sheet that you can pick up at retail stores around town. Finding a good web-press printer might take two or three visits to various print shops. You're not going to have a serious conversation with these folks unless you're talking about printing at least 10,000 pieces.
As a quick aside - I've always wondered why 10 developers don't get together and create a 16-page catalog. The catalog would have 6 pages of "overhead" - front cover, back cover, order form, big-picture sales pitch about high-quality, user-friendly software. And there would be one page for each developer's software.
Nearly every magazine and trade association rents its mailing list, so you'd have no problem finding a fresh, well-targeted list of prospects. And the total price would be surprisingly affordable.
Make your web site name memorable
Create a unique URL, with or without hyphens, that is easy to remember and easy to spell. If English isn't your first language, then ask for advice from colleagues. Radio and TV news directors won't be inclined to mention your web address if their listeners and watchers won't remember it.
Try other software marketing ideas
Try everything - Work with the computer user groups, bundle your software with hardware manufacturers' products, cross-market your software with other developers' apps, exhibit and speak at relevant trade shows, and write magazine articles for well-targeted journals. Try everything. It's all about marketing!
Start selling more computer gear. Now!
As I've said so many times, the software marketplace is not homogeneous, and there are no "one size fits all" answers to marketing issues. There aren't enough hours in the day for every developer to thoroughly address every one of these ways to drive well-targeted traffic to their web sites. You have to pick and choose.
If you're selling unique software into a strongly vertical market, you can achieve an enormous payback by finding your small but motivated audience, and providing them with a lot of information. On the other hand, if you're marketing a general-interest Windows utility or game, then you should work on press releases, search engines, and download sites, because these three areas represent your greatest potential for generating sales.
Try, measure, refine, and try again. Over time, your software marketing efforts will get stronger and stronger.
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