How to drastically improve the copy on your site, even if you only have 5 minutes.

May 2, 2013 in An idea, Business Intel, Expert Advice, Landing Pages, Tips

First, let me tell you a little story involving butterflies and bladders. 

I've spent the past few days at MicroConf. Just a phenomenal conference, full of like-minded folks, loaded with actionable content. Not to get too carried away, but it was a life-changer. I'd go on some more, but I don't want you competing with me for tickets next year.

On the second day, Joanna Wiebe from Copyhackers selected a handful of sites from the audience to do a public "tear down" of in front of these 200 folks. 200 folks I admire and respect. I had submitted my baby, my brand-new, just launched site ( ahead of time as a candidate to be selected.

As soon as she took the stage, an angry mob of butterflies started attacking my internal organs.

She opened the first site and started working it over and providing some great, if slightly brutal feedback. Really good stuff. After she moved to the next site I could see in her browser window that she had about 12 tabs open. It dawned on me that she was working her way through these open tabs, and that the open tabs were the sites she had selected for tear down. About eight tabs in, I saw the favicon for my site. The angry butterflies grew teeth. Sharp ones. And they pulled out pitch forks. And chainsaws. And congregated in my bladder.

I figured 7 tabs was a lot of ground to cover, so I would have the time to address the sudden urge, and from where I was sitting in the very front row I quickly slinked out the back of the room to the bathroom. What a baby, I know. I emptied my bladder and the butterflies relocated to my stomach and heart. I hurried back to the conference room and what to my wondering eyes did appear as I walked in the room than my site, my baby, my precious up on the big screen. She had already started. The moderator was looking for the site owner to hand the microphone to. I pulled a hamstring sprinting to the front of the room, groping for the microphone like the final runner in a relay race. 


So here's what I learned, and how I dramatically improved the copy on my site in 5 minutes (and how you can too):

After she said some nice things, Joanna pointed out the main problem with my copy - the language was all focused on me, and it should instead be focused on my prospect. I was selling myself, when I should be focusing on what's in it for them.

In Joanna's own words:

Talking about yourself -- even thinking about yourself -- when you write your copy will only do one thing: get in the way.

It will shut down the sale.

Which means that you are the biggest roadblock to better communication with your customers.

This is the foundation of great copywriting: People don't care about you. They only care about themselves.

You care about you. But no one else does. (Except yo' mama.)

Your visitors want what they want. They do not "want" what you're trying to sell them.

Your job then, is not to "try" to sell your visitors a product. You're trying to sell them themselves.

Ok, so here's a fun little exercise, take a look at the version of my site Joanna (and everyone!) saw and see if you can spot the problems. To make it easier, I've color-coded my stupidity.



So as soon as I got home, I spent 5 minutes (and I'll need to spend more, we're not perfect yet) and turned those sub headings around. Check out the difference below (or see it here in the wild).


Notice the difference? Yeah. Serious improvement.

My humble thanks to Joanna for the help.

I hope this gives you some ideas for your site. 

I highly recommend Joanna's email list, by the way. The first lesson she sends out addresses the same topic I've addressed here in even more depth.


The most important entrepreneurial lesson I've learned.

March 28, 2012 in Expert Advice

I've enjoyed recreational fishing since I was a kid. Over the years I've had the chance to fish and associate with some top anglers, and I've noticed something about them - they don't waste time in an unproductive location. If the fish aren't biting, they quickly move to a new spot. 

This applies to startup ideas too. Finding out if the market will respond positively has to be as early in the process as possible, and you should move on if it's not a fit. 

I've poured emberassing amounts of time into terrible ideas that I thought were brilliant, so please learn this principle from me, it will save you unspeakable time, money and shame if you do:

The market does not care how long you worked on something or how well you did it. Effort is not rewarded. The market cares only if what you've done is a fit for their needs.

This can be a crushing truth, especially for a craftsman. We take our startups very personally, and the more time we invest in them, the more personally we take them. But if we're serious about turning our venture into something that pays the bills, and grants us freedom, we have to accept and embrace this truth. There is no reward for sticking to something for a long time, if it's the wrong thing. If it's the wrong thing, if there is not a market fit, you fail. And unfortunately, there is no correlation between time invested and market fit.

And very often we have no idea what's going to resonate, and what's not, even when we think we do. This is why building an MVP, and validated learning are so important. Before we get too carried away, we have to find out if the market wants what we're building. 

I leave you with a multimedia nugget for thought from the great Derek Sivers. (Incidentally, I highly recommend his book. Short and sweet, and full of similar insights, including the one shown in this video). 


Side note: An interesting benefit to the KickStarter (and similar) phenomena is that folks are pumping out ideas, and using KickStarter not just to raise money, but to validate their idea. This seems like a big deal, especially for hard goods that require a larger capital investment to get started. 

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Answers on Startups (a Stack Exchange site)

May 17, 2011 in 4 out of 5 stars, A community, A website, Business Intel, Business Planning, Expert Advice

What is it? A question and answer site focused on Startups and Entrepreneurship.

Who makes it?

Stack Exchange (with a dash of clout from Dharmesh Shah)

Why is it the killerest?

Stack Exchange (the company behind this) have built a highly effective Question-and-Answer gamification format offering. They started with the absurdly successful Stack Overflow which is focused on answering software development questions, and applied the model to various other topics, including startups.

All of us have questions as we venture into these challenging startup waters, and Answers OnStartups is a productive place ask them. Because of the reward system built into the site, you will typically get high quality, and varied answers from experienced folks who know what they're talking about.

It also skews heavily toward online and software startups, which is where my own passion lies (as it does for many of you).

What could be improved?

I've been watching and participating for a few weeks now and I've had a great time, but two things could be improved:

1) The number of participants. What it has now is great, but I would love it to reach the level of some of the higher volume Stack Exchange sites. I know a bunch of you reading this have valuable insights to share, so get over there.

2) Some repetition in questions. Equity splitting, marketing, and funding questions occupy a large percent of the questions. That said, there are still interesting and helpful questions posted frequently.

How much does it cost?



Reviewed by Carson McComas

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Stanford University's Entrepreneurship Corner

March 13, 2009 in 5 out of 5 stars, A podcast, Expert Advice

What is it?

ecorner Stanford University's Entrepreneurship Corner: A collection of short, potent videos and podcasts by very well-known successful entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerburg, Larry Page and Michael Dell, as well as some less well-known, but still inspiring and successful entrepreneurs. They've been doing this for a few years, and new additions are added regularly.

Who makes it?

Stanford University

Why is it the killerest?

Well, because it’s bite-sized nuggets of inspirational goodness and expertise that we all need.

I like as well how it’s broken out by topic, by speaker, or by date.

How much does it cost?



Reviewed by Carson McComas

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Discussing Website Conversions

March 4, 2009 in Expert Advice, Tips

Reading through this (quite long) discussion about conversion rates and found these nuggets inside:

They recommend having a refer-a-friend program.

Aaron: What type of traffic converts best?
Karl: Existing customers convert very well, as do visitors from refer-a-friend programs.

I’ve had mixed success with this myself, it’s very audience dependent (and works better with women than men), but it’s not hard to set up and when it works, it’s free traffic. I’ve had the most success with a program of incentivizing the referrals. It’s a bit harder to set up, but can be significantly more productive. An example I’ve had good luck with is: “Refer 5 friends and be entered in a drawing.”

They also touch on the value of giving your site extra credibility by using press mentions.

While working on a weight loss website that generates $5 million/year, we noticed that the company had a fantastic press testimonial that wasn’t prominently displayed on their website. By moving this information “above the fold”—and reformatting it—we managed to create an overnight 67% increase in sales.

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Failure is an indication of progress

February 16, 2009 in Expert Advice

Maybe I just needed it right now, but I really enjoyed this. Love how they frame failure.

“You’re constantly on the brink of crashing… because that’s the fastest.” – Danica Patrick

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20 Ideas for an Excellent Podcast

February 10, 2009 in A podcast, Expert Advice

20 ideas for a great podcastI originally wrote and posted this list three years ago. I was new to podcasts then and there were far fewer of them. Since then the number of podcasts has gone up dramatically, unfortunately the quality has not (well, for the ones which aren’t produced for radio or TV, that is).

I’ve revised the list a bit based on three years of experience enjoying podcasts, and I present the updated version now. As I contemplate wading into the podcasting world myself I’m probably going to deeply regret bringing this up again, but here goes.

  1. Podcasts should be short. 30min is the maximum. Seriously. Unless it's just jam-packed tight with goodness, life is too short and listening requires too much attention. Keep it short. Nothing wrong with a 20 min podcast. I may fudge on that one, but honestly, unless you're interviewing Osama Bin Laden or Steve Jobs, 30min. Most hour long podcasts I listen to could very easily trim out 30min of happy-talk fluff and be much, much better for it.
  2. Break your podcast into chapters. This is a nice feature for your iTunes listeners. Especially if you disobey #1. 
  3. Have fun and be real. I've noticed something about the best podcasts... they're having fun, and it shows. Bring your enthusiasm, passion and enjoyment for what you’re doing to the podcast, and let us feel it with you. But be real – go easy on the hype, hyperbole, veiled self-promotion, and other repellent over-the-topness.
  4. Be chunky. Make segments short, diverse and put an audio bumper between your segments. It can be music, a sound effect, or at least a voiced transition. This keeps it interesting. A single droning line of ramble can really make the eyes glaze over. You need variety, we're an MTV generation, like it or not. We like it fast, varied, pithy and fun.
  5. Don't ramble, be organized. This should seem obvious, but some podcasters just flip on the mic and ramble for an hour or more. Horror! If you are interviewing, prepare the questions ahead of time. Send them to your guest so they can be coherent. Don't stick to it slavishly, but let it keep you from ad-hoc preparation on my time during the podcast. If you aren't interviewing, take the time to prepare exactly what you'll be talking about. Write down an outline with talking points and notes. Move quickly and coherently through them.
  6. Cram, cram, cram as much good stuff as you can into the time. Our minds move quicker than your mouth, so do your best to pack your podcast full of goodness and move quickly.
  7. Be regular, but only if you've got quality. I'd much rather listen to an excellent quarterly podcast, than a mediocre weekly one.
  8. Get decent audio! Seriously, the tin-can-and-string / Houston-to-Apollo-11 sound really kills things. A little effort and investment in a decent mic, and a little work on post production not only makes you sound better, but it's not as hard on the listener. When I listen very long to a poor audio quality podcast it gives me a headache, hurts my ears and wears me out. Make a pop screen, that helps too.
  9. Get a buddy. If you can, get someone with whom you can riff, someone who brings another layer of experience and expertise. It helps you be chunky. Two have an easier time than one keeping things moving, plus it's just usually more interesting. Don’t add someone just because you’re too scared to do it alone or because they are your friend, however. A good rule of thumb – if they aren’t smarter than you, keep looking or do it alone.
  10. Have show notes on your blog. If you mention something, make a list of links to explore your topics in more depth. It also helps you move quickly through your podcast – don’t spell out web addresses and carry on at length about stuff you can just put in the show notes.
  11. If you're doing interviews, don't be Charlie Rose. In other words, shut your stupid face and let your guest talk. That doesn't mean sit there and let them ramble. Provide regular engaging questions and guidance to keep things moving, but don't spend time trying to be smart yourself, be a master facilitator in helping your guest share great stuff.
  12. Don't interview Jason Fried. And I don't mean Jason specifically of course. I'm saying come up with someone fresh to interview. Jason has been interviewed dozens of times. I love Jason and I love listening to him riff as much as the next guy, but at some point we need to be more creative. There are many topics, interview subjects and approaches that have been done to death. Give us something fresh.
  13. Don't be scared to throw a show away. It happens. You get a crappy guest, you do a crappy job, your audio blows, whatever. My advice is to use podcasts to put your best foot forward. Because podcasts demand so much attention, they really need to be high caliber. If you write a mediocre blog post (for example: this one) your readers can skim, skip and move on. With a podcast, they're trusting you with very precious attention for that period of time. Treat it with the utmost respect. If in doubt, toss it.
  14. Do some editing. Take a note from NPR or other audio documentary style programs. You don't necessarily need to give us every single utterance made during a period of time. Just like you might prune copy from a rambling blog post to tighten it up, tighten up your podcast. A little post production work goes a long way toward making an excellent podcast.
  15. Use music. Music really softens a podcast up. I don't want an MP3 of your favorite songs, don't waste my time. But as part of an intro, as a little background on occasion, and as transition material, music can really polish things up.
  16. Tighten up that intro and keep moving. Honestly, if I have to listen to one more podcast with too many participants where they all ramble and introduce themselves and plug themselves and congratulate each other my face is going to bleed. If you need to warm up, do it off-air, don’t put me through it. I’m warm, fire away.
  17. Go ahead and advertise. We want you to make some money for your hard work, but at least try to make it interesting, and always keep it concise. Plus make it clear if you’ve been paid to mention something. We trust you not to praise something just for money, respect us enough to be honest about it.
  18. Verbally identify your podcast at the start of your podcast. Be quick! But tell us date, issue number, topic/guest, etc.  We need this meta data to give it context. Someone may listen out of sequence or even years or decades later. Take a few seconds to lay it out at the start.
  19. Don’t make me your third wheel. My time is precious, and I’m giving you some of it. I don’t want to  listen to you laugh at each other’s jokes and carry on a jovial conversation with each other about nonsense. You may think you’re very interesting, but you’re probably wrong.

Well, I've just set the bar impossibly high for myself. Ok, let me say this: doing a good podcast is hard. It takes equipment, production, planning, and good editing. These things take time, effort, money and expertise. So let me add one final one to the mix.

20. If you have something important/valuable to say, get something out there. It may not be perfect, but if you've got great content, some omissions from the above list are tolerable.

There, I'm covered.

The gold standard for podcasts, of course, are the This American Life, and Radio Lab on-air radio shows, turned podcasts. You don’t have their resources, talent or experience, so don’t be too discouraged when you don’t reach it, but for our sake, please at least try.

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Advanced Google Analytics: Conversion Goals Wrapup

June 5, 2008 in Analytics, Expert Advice

Intro_small_new If you're not using Google Analytics, you're missing out. It's ridiculously powerful, informative, easy to set up, and it's free. If you're serious at all about your web efforts, you need to be using it.

I just finished up a series teaching you how to take Google Analytics beyond the very basic setup. In it I cover the use of Conversion Goals that help you go beyond tracking page views, to tracking desired visitor actions like making a purchase, filling out a form, signing up for an account, joining an email list, etc.

Here are quick links to the full guide:

  1. Part One: Basics of goal set up. What they are, how they work, how to set yours up today.
  2. Part Two: Setting up Funnels. Learn how many people start the goal conversion process, how many finish, and where the stragglers stop progressing.
  3. Part Three: Tracking goals with no distinct associated pageview. Let's say you want to track a software download, or your goal doesn't have a unique page at the end.
  4. Part Four: Tracking income from your goals. Beef up your analytics with information about exactly how your web traffic is impacting your bottom line.

My hope is that you'll utilize this valuable resource to improve your chances of success. Best of luck friend.

p.s. I've had a couple people ask, and if this is all overwhelming and you'd rather just hire me to set it all up for you, drop me a note.

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Advanced Google Analytics: Conversion Goals (Part Four)

June 5, 2008 in Analytics, Expert Advice

In part one of this series I covered the basics of setting up goals in GA (Google Analytics).
In part two I covered setting up funnels.
In part three I discussed tracking goals with no distinct associated pageview.

Today, in the final installment, we'll be discussing how to track the income from certain goals.  Google calls this "goal value tracking."

It's for those of you selling something. It allows you to track the income you make from a given goal. Having this extra information in your web analytics is very powerful in helping you make the right decisions.

Tracking income from your goals

Ok, there are three common scenarios where you want to track goal values.

Common Scenarios:

1) You have a lead generation form as your goal. You know that you typically convert 10% of your leads to a $100 sale. For your Goal value when you set up your goal, you'd put $10. You're done.

Like this:


2) You have a store, and you sell a $25 eBook, and you only ever sell one at a time. Put $25 as your goal value, and you're done.

3) Let's say you have a store where you sell any number of items and your final ticket value is unknown.

First - make sure you website profile in GA is set to be an E-Commerce site. To do this, login to your GA account, click Edit next to the website profile in question, then on the next page (Profile Settings), click edit in the upper right corner (on the "Main Website Profile Information" panel). Then look for this radio button and change it and your currency as appropriate:


Second, we'll be diving back into some javascript code as we did in part three, but if you follow along carefully it's not hard. It will, however, require some programmer intervention to get it right as the sale values must be dynamically loaded into the javascript below.

Before we go any further, you need to make sure you're using the latest version of the Google Analytics code on your site. To find and make sure you've got the right code, do the following:

  1. Load up GA.
  2. Click edit in the settings column for the website profile in question.
  3. In the upper right corner of the edit page, click the "Check Status" link (dumb, I know).
  4. Make sure you grab the "New Tracking Code." This should be the code you have in place throughout your site (not the legacy code).


Next, as we've discussed previously, set up your goal.

Here's an example:


Note I have 0 in the Goal value field, don't worry - we'll be creating that value dynamically in a moment.

Now - on your receipt page, in the code itself, you're going to need to call some javascript to register the sale with GA.

Warning: this is decidedly technical, so if this is mumbo jumbo to you, your programmer will need to help.

On your receipt page, below the GA tracking code, you're going to need to make three javascript function calls.

  1. pageTracker._addTrans() to register a transaction.
  2. pageTracker._addItem() to add the item(s) (you can call it multiple times, once for each product purchased).
  3. pageTracker._trackTrans() to send it all to the mother ship.

The parameters for these functions are outlined in the example below provided by Google. You or your programmer will need to populate in the values for each of those items when the page is rendered. In the event that you don't have (or want to record) a value (like, for shipping) you can put 0, or leave it blank.

That's it! I hope this little tour of the power of goal tracking in Google Analytics has been helpful to you.

<script type="text/javascript">
    "1234",                                     // Order ID
    "Mountain View",                            // Affiliation
    "11.99",                                    // Total
    "1.29",                                     // Tax
    "5",                                        // Shipping
    "San Jose",                                 // City
    "California",                               // State
    "USA"                                       // Country

    "1234",                                     // Order ID
    "DD44",                                     // SKU
    "T-Shirt",                                  // Product Name
    "Green Medium",                             // Category
    "11.99",                                    // Price
    "1"                                         // Quantity


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Advanced Google Analytics: Conversion Goals (Part Three)

May 29, 2008 in Analytics, Expert Advice

In part one of this series I covered the basics of setting up goals in GA (Google Analytics).
In part two I covered setting up funnels.

These are both straightforward techniques that everyone should be using because you can do them without ever touching your website (assuming you have the GA code installed on your site, of course).

Today, I'm going to cover a more technically advanced topic. Namely, tracking things that don't have a distinct page view associated with them. This one will require some web page editing know-how, and a little bit of programming savvy, but not a ton if you carefully follow along.

Tracking goals with no distinct associated pageview

Remember that goals are really just a pageview that you've specified as being a goal inside GA. To track a goal without a distinct pageview associated, we're going to simulate a pageview using simple javascript.

First, let's define what we mean.

Here are a couple examples:

Let's say you've got a software download you offer, but visitors just click a download link to get the software. There is no specific pageview, just a link someone clicks to download a file.

Or, you have a registration form that when filled out - doesn't go to a specific unique page you can enter into GA. Maybe it goes to their new profile page, but that's not a page that only constitutes the completion of a goal because this same user (and others) will return to that same page many times in the future.

Here's how we handle that:

It's simple and brilliant really, you just use a snippet of javascript code (provided by Google) which simulates a pageview.

When the action you desire has taken place (say, they clicked the download software link, or they filled out the form), you use the little javascript call to simulate a pageview.

Let's walk through an example:

First, set up your goal as before. This time pick Exact Match, and for your Goal URL, you can make it anything you'd like. Start with the slash, (/) and then use a fairly descriptive name, no spaces. It can be anything you want. This is the pageview we'll be simulating in a moment. For the Goal name, this is how it'll appear in the report, so put something meaningful. (Only you will see it.)


Define a funnel if you wish, these would be the pages leading up to the goal. Perhaps you have a product screenshot tour, followed by the download link. Put the steps to the tour in the funnel.

Now comes the technical part.

Move the original GA code to the top of the page

First - On the page where the goal happens (from our example above, the page where the software download link is) you're going to need to move the original GA code to the top of the page instead of the bottom (which is where they initially tell you to put it). The safest place to put it is right after the first <body> tag. It must appear before the new snippet we'll be using below to simulate the pageview. If needed, you can do this for every page, not just the ones where the goal happens.


Make the pageview simulation javascript call

Don't get freaked out! This sounds complicated, but it's simple. All you need to do is have the following javascript where your desired action takes place.


So, for our example above, on the software download link, I'd do the following:

<a href="" onclick="pageTracker._trackPageview('/DownloadSoftware')"> Download Software!</a>

The part in red, is the part I added. the "onclick=..." mumbo jumbo says, when someone clicks this link, make this javascript call which simulates a pageview. Note the value I have in the parenthesis and single quotes matches the value I put as the Goal URL above. These values must match.

Ok let's do another one with our second example, someone is filling out a signup form.

Here's how we'd define our goal inside GA.


You have two options with simulating the pageview. You can either trigger it when the form is submitted this way:

Option 1:

Put the part in red in the form tag on your signup form.

<form action="..." method="..." onsubmit="pageTracker._trackPageview('/NewSignUp)">

Option 2:

Or, you can use your backend code to show the following on the profile page, only after a signup happens. I'd put this at the bottom of the page just before the </body> tag:

<script type="text/javascript">

And that's it!

This tip requires a bit more technical savvy, but if you have a scenario where you need to track a goal without a distinct pageview associated, it's the best way.

Hope this helps.

In our next, and final installment, we'll discuss how to track track the income from certain goals (goal value tracking).

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