Conversion Details with Brecht Palombo

I posted an interview with Brecht over at Keepify. He started and runs Distressed Pro, a sales intelligence tool for real estate brokers. The interview is a deep dive into the details of how he acquired early customers and what he does now to make conversions happen.

Also, check out the Bootstrapped with Kids podcast where he and Scott Yewell discuss the progress of their online business pursuits each week.

Pre-Launch Email List Building With Directories

I’ve recently been looking for directories that allow you to connect with prospective customers, build some links, and add exposure to an app pre-launch. I have found some similar lists elsewhere, but typically a lot of the sites in the list are spammy or gone forever.

This is a current list of sites I’ve found for building an email list before you launch. Leave me a comment to add or remove a site and I will keep this list current.

Some of these sites require your app to be launched or in beta, but most could accept it in either state. Quite of few of these sites will accept small to medium sized payments in exchange for an expedited review or posting. A few of these sites are explicitly about advertising.





Beta or Launched

  7. (French)
  26. (leans toward launched)
  36. (Canada)


  1. (or your local one)



Automate Submissions


MicroConf 2013

Jason Cohen led off the conference with a talk about building a “money machine” that brings in $10,000/mo. Jason crushed it. Rob closed the first day and spoke about taking HitTail from $1500/mo to well beyond the “money machine” mark in 20 months. Rob burned it down. Multiple tweets showed people changing pricing strategies, making sweeping copy changes, and saying the conference had already paid for itself within minutes or hours. Welcome to my retro-diary for MicroConf 2013. As usual, I’m going to cover material that most closely resonated with me and where I am.

Immediate Actionable Takeaway

  1. Use CPC = MRR/25 to work backwards from the CPC I can achieve in available channels and arrive at a pricing scheme for Keepify.
  2. Use money back guarantees and incentivized annual pre-pay from day one.
  3. Meet weekly with the family to plan work and leisure time. We have informal understandings, but planning would be an improvement.
  4. Plan out a marketing component that doesn’t scale and execute.

The Money Machine

Jason’s talk was a great look at the math and constraints behind building a business. He explained how you could piece together a cash machine from first principles similar to his recent post on CPC for bootstrapped business. He left it as, “Predictable acquisition of recurring revenue with annual pre-pay in a good market creates a cash machine.”

Giving incentives to customers to purchase annual pre-pay plans allows WPEngine to advertise with a much higher CAC and CPC. You can spend $300 dollars to acquire a customer that is prepaying for 10 months @ $49  per month right now.

Free trials can be eliminated in favor of a 60 money back guarantee. Use multiple plans and raise prices.

You need 150 customers to pay $66 / month on average. You can get 50 by scratching and clawing (see things that don’t scale) and 25 more with guest posts and social media. The final 75 can come from basic marketing all over a period of months.


Rob’s talk emphasized that it took him a period of 5 months building and 6 months learning before he began to scale the business. All that time learning was improving conversion rates, retention, copy, adding features, and increasing customer understanding. He is planning for similar learning period in the future and it is instructive to hear. I’ve experienced similar (but smaller scale) things recently with PPC ads. You have to be willing to spend a little money and stick it out through many revisions to be successful.


Nathan Berry, Brennan Dunn, and Hiten Shah all reinforced the necessity of using educational marketing as part of the customer acquisition process. Somewhere, Chet Holmes is proud.


Joanna Weibe of Copyhackers gave a great talk about copywriting. She said to minimize the visibility of free offering, use email, long-form sales pages, and start testing.

One point she made seemed particularly relevant to the audience. “Stop treating marketing as an experiment” which I understood to mean that you need to view things in the long term. Don’t give up when an initial ‘experiment’ in marketing doesn’t work.

Plugging Holes

Rob touched on his Operation Retention where he improved conversion and retention throughout the funnel for HitTail. He only resumed his marketing activities when those numbers became healthy again. He gave healthy numbers as 8% or less churn and 40-60% Trial to paid conversion.

Things that don’t scale

Rob, Josh Ledgard, Erica Douglass, Hiten Shah, Jason Cohen, and Patrick all stressed the importance of talking to customers. Especially early or after cancellation.

Erica included some case studies of offering one-on-one consulting for early customers and emailing 1000 people in a few months as examples of doing things that don’t scale to learn and market. Those 1000 emails were from Leo  Widrich of Buffer and converted into hundreds of guest blog posts and Buffer buttons on blogs.

Creating Channels

Hiten talked about creating your own channels to reach customers because established channels get crowded quickly. He gave examples of Nathan Berry, Brennan Dunn, Ruben Gamez, and KISSInsights which used a ‘Powered By’ link on the surveys to connect with customers.


I was part of an interesting hallway conversation about how to go from a job and working on your side pursuit into working normally. Many of the attendees spent some many years working 60 hour weeks that they didn’t know how to stop and enjoy freedom they had earned. It’s a an interesting subject that needs more direct treatment.

Sherry Walling gave a good talk that detailed how she and Rob made it through rough times and built relational systems and communication that evens out the ups and downs of entrepreneurship in a relationship. Another subject that became a topic of conversation in the hallways. Kids are common among attendees and everyone is looking to build a better future for their family.

Golden Handcuffs

Reflection on some of the conversation at MicroConf and a talk with my friend Evan forced me to consider the how a growing income and a growing family have changed the equation for what my minimum “money machine” looks like. Sherry’s talk included a quote about how cleaning services were cheaper than therapy and therapy was cheaper than divorce. I agree. I spoke with others about paying others for cleaning services or lawn care, but where do those things trade-off with growing expenses and lifestyle that tighten those golden handcuffs? It’s something for me to ponder.

Thanks to Rob and Mike for another great conference. I barely scratched the surface of the value available from attending MicroConf. There is simply too much for a blog post. You’ll have to join us for the 2.5 days next time.

You can wait for MicroConf 2014 or check out MicroConf Europe in October.

Pre-Launch Marketing

I’m thinking a lot about pre-launch for Keepify these days and I thought I’d organize it all here. There are a lot of different ways to try to collect traffic, attention, etc. Some of it is more effective before launching that others. Much of it depends on your product and market. Peldi from Balsalmiq has a famous and excellent post on launch marketing, but pitching bloggers on Keepify is a bit different than a mockup tool.

To demo and feel out the product requires data, time, and perhaps even effort. It’s hard to create a great experience without critical mass to show. The point is that what I decide to do may make no sense for you to do. Jason Cohen has a great post where he records honest thoughts on getting your first few customers. He points out that there is no formula. Every route has a champion and a detractor. You have to try a bunch of things and learn what works for you.


I sat down recently and wrote a list of things I could do as marketing activities. I wanted to start by brainstorming before I cut things from the list.


  • Guest post
  • Long tail SEO
  • Pillar Post Big SEO
  • Video
  • Infographics
  • HN/Reddit/similar placement
  • Testimonial or writeup
  • Squidoo/Hubspot
  • Webinars
  • Press Releases
  • Article sites
  • Craigslist Ads or Requests
  • Quora, Forums
  • Case Study Articles
  • Podcasts
  • WordPress Plugin

Permission Marketing

  • Mailing List
  • Lifecycle Email

Social Media

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Discount for sharing


  • LaunchBit
  • InfluAds
  • AdRoll
  • BingAds
  • Facebook Ads
  • LinkedIn Ads
  • BuySellAds

I reexamined 8 Ways to Build Pre-Launch Mailing List Episode 72 of Startups for the Rest of Us and I built the notes below.

  1. Use your audience (blog, podcast, etc.)
  2. SEO
  3. Infographic/Viral Content
  4. HN or equivalent
  5. Facebook Ads (affordable and working)
  6. Social Media Network
  7. Niche Ad Networks
  8. AdWords (last because it ain’t cheap)

I also checked in on 7 Catastrophically Common Launch Mistakes Episode 121 for the reverse perspective.

  1. No landing page before coding.
  2. Not tracking key metrics from the start (traffic sources, conversion rates)
  3. Relying on Word of Mouth (it isn’t really there)
  4. Open betas (be direct with early leads)
  5. One single launch email (do a sequence)
  6. Free plan or low price tier
  7. Slow growth (loss of interest)

My last stop for the podcast was Episode 122 4 B2B Strategies.

The strategies are Inbound, Outbound, Paid, and Partnership. Inbound is SEO, guest posts, infographics, and podcasts. Outbound is phone, email, direct mail, etc. Paid is various forms of advertising. Partnerships are joint venture deals. If you don’t have a big network or mailing list to trade, offer a revenue share.

Rob Walling also has a post on why you should start marketing on Day One which ties into the 7 Mistakes podcast above.

Pre-Launch Effectiveness

You don’t have anything to sell yet, but you want to get attention. You need beta users. You would like to have a list of people pre-purchase or at least sign-up for a launch list. You need to collect emails for people that come by and learn about you. It’s the most essential activity you can do for marketing right now.

You need a landing page with an email signup form. You probably also want a list to connect to on MailChimp or similar. You should install Google Analytics and at least use click tracking for conversions. This will really help when you have multiple traffic sources and you want to know how well you converted and from where. It also lets you compare ad network numbers to a baseline (though they may legitimately disagree).

Your landing page should probably be using some form of A/B testing. I found Optimizely to be affordable and easy to get started with. They do a very nice job of on-boarding and engineering the first-run experience. It’s almost worth signing up just to experience.

In the past I have resisted A/B testing for a simple landing page collecting email addresses with small amounts of traffic, but in reflection it was a catastrophic, arrogant, silly mistake. Don’t be me. Be the guy A/B testing. You can absolutely learn from A/B testing small traffic loads and you’ll be surprised how quickly executing these techniques can change your traffic outlook. So start now.

Most of the things listed above drive traffic to your landing page. It’s important that you do well with those activities, but the landing page is really critical. If you don’t know how to write copy it’s probably worth reading some good resources on copy. I’ve also read Ogilvy, The Copywriter’s Handbook, CopyBlogger, a headline book, and more. I’m starting to get a good feel for what should be in my copy, but I still frequently write tremendously bad copy. It’s a process. Every time. I’ve changed my conversion rate from < 10% to 33% with copy changes and A/B testing (It’s still not as good as it could be). Some variants are more than 50% better than an alternative. Would you like 50% more signups? Yeah. Do that.

You might be wondering what is working best for me. Some niche ads are doing well, but content has performed admirably and I’ve yet to really focus there. The truth is that I’m going to keep trying things up until it’s Launch Marketing. Many things only work after a launch (like joint venture deals) and I’ll have a better idea of what to keep doing, what to try, and how to structure my copy or content. I’ll write more on traffic strategies as I pursue new ones. Happy hunting.

How I Doubled Organic Search Traffic in Two Weeks

You want more traffic. You want it to be organic. You want it to be targeted. And you want to use a strategy that will scale to bring you more. Me too. This post details my recent success at that exact goal.

I read Patrick McKenzie’s blog post on Scalable Content Generation [SCG] an embarrassing number of times without ever understanding how to make it work for me. A couple months ago, what he was saying really hit home with me and I developed an SCG experiment.

There were two key insights from that post that propelled me forward. Only top ranking pages for a keyword get traffic and only long tail terms are easy to rank near the top for without a lot of work and calendar time waiting periods.

I had previously outsourced some keyword research (key component here is difficulty of ranking) and I identified a few potential keyword phrases that I could pair with other keywords to build a scalable content strategy around. The problem with most of them was that I didn’t have a library of content to push out 100s of pages. I also didn’t want to spend the cash to get 100s of custom articles written. It’s not really scalable content generation if I need to pay $50+ per page I can create.

Patrick uses bingo cards for this purpose and the reason struck me: he already has them, and more represent an asset. Yes, this really never occurred to me before. This meant I needed to look for keyword terms that match assets I already have and would like to grow. Now only a couple keyword terms fit the bill and I grabbed the most promising one, “cold calling scripts.”

I created a template with an image, call to action, 300+ words per page, and sharing buttons. I wrote a script to generate a list of unique industry names from some sample lists I found with some searches poste. I planned to create pages for every combination of “cold calling scripts <industry>” I could possibly target.

My template included a slot for some text that was unique to the industry I was targeting. I outsourced a paragraph of text on that subject to TextBroker at about $1 per paragraph. This was an affordable way to create the pages. Each template also had a space for scripting tips or a breakdown of a good or bad call script. I created a Jekyll plugin that would randomly assign one of a small library of the scripts I formatted for this task to each page. I plan to add to this library as I go. More on this later.

Using this methodology I generated an initial run of 83 pages each detailing a different industry. Jekyll generated the whole thing including categories/tags and index pages. Jekyll is quite suited to this task.

After I published the pages and linked to them from the footer of my site, I sat back and waited for Google to re-index. I think it took about 10 days before I started seeing organic search results that sent people to these pages. The keyword research paid off. The vast majority of my new pages rank of the first SERP and most rank in the top 3. After another 5 days this experiment had paid for itself in book sales.

Orange is December and Blue is January.

GA traffic compare

Screen Shot 2013-01-30 at 10.41.03 PM

Screen Shot 2013-01-30 at 10.41.16 PM

My organic traffic actually increased by 169.84%. My time on page, bounce rate, and pages per visit are essentially static, but I have seen an increase in return visitors. This is all the result of some keyword research, content generation, and content repurposing stitched together with various scripts and Jekyll.

My conversion rates on those pages are worse than the rest of the site. The site average is 14% and those pages run closer to 11%. I have more exits from those landing pages than others, and some of them have a dismal bounce rate. This isn’t really unexpected. Those pages generally have more visitors that have never heard of my book or me and the traffic is less targeted than referrals I might get from my blog or guest posts.

That said, the TextBroker content is lower quality than I would like it to be. Some of that is my fault for failing to give clear instructions, being impatient with results, and being cheap. I also have a fairly small set of script breakdowns and tips that are randomly placed on the pages. There are some significant page quality issues I need to tackle.

The nice thing about tackling those issues now is that I can measure which pages get traffic and how they convert. I can prioritize which pages I improve and even A/B test improvements to the overall template. None of this would be possible without validating the idea or without the traffic the experiment brought. If I had started with a really small set of pages (instead of 83) I might have picked ones that were harder to rank for or didn’t see substantial traffic in a month. It wouldn’t be a very good experiment.

I’m currently improving the template, working with better writers, editing some existing content, and adding more script breakdowns to improve the pages. I think these types of improvements are a worthy investment in light of Panda and Penguin. Patrick’s Bingo Card pages have no more unique content, but continue to rank well. Those updates are focused on down-ranking pages people don’t find useful and those pages that are intentionally duplicative. I want these pages to be valuable to people. I’m not interested in a demand media business.

I added 179 more pages on 26 January, but there is nothing to report yet. While I work to improve quality, I plan to experiment with some new ideas and keywords.

Don’t expect to build something people want

Customer Development is great. It can really reduce your risk and save you years of misery. One misconception about the methodology that I myself fall prey to is a promise that building something people want is enough. It’s not enough.

You hear a lot of talk about pain killers versus vitamins and the logic is sound, but how many of the things you buy or your business buys would you really call a pain killer?  If I look around, I don’t honestly see that many. Sure, some of them save me time or money. I like having them around. Tedium is reduced, but pain killer? It’s not a compulsion. Few of these things are absolutely necessary and most of them have reasonable alternatives.

How many things that you buy happened simply because someone built something to solve a problem you had? Wait, none? Zero things flashed into your mind and wallet because they were constructed to solve your problems?

How many of the products you buy are ideal solutions for your problems? Does it feel like someone understands you and your specific context? I doubt it. I am often delighted by the smallest improvements in design. If the benefit of using the product is there, I’ll put up with a lot of hassle.

Do you always buy the best or most feature-ful option? Most expensive? Cheapest? Wait, it might be too complex or error-prone with a lot of features? And you think it would be crazy to pay $X for that, but also that there has to be something wrong with the cheapest one?

How do you make your purchasing decisions then? I’ll tell you. You get marketed to because someone else has studied you. you belong to their targeted segment. They are trying to understand you. To speak to you. To talk like you. They want to help you succeed because then you’ll both succeed. It won’t be perfect, but it will be better. They want you to buy.

Don’t expect to build something people want and have a sudden success on your hands. You have to understand your market. Speak like them. Talk to them. Find where they hang out. You have to market something people want.

Magical Dwarves and Marketing a Product

I had a friend long ago that joked about how the laws of physics were the happy accidental result of the actions of many, many,  tiny, magical dwarves you can’t see. The theory has some merit. Quantum phenomenon are a sign of their sense of humor. It’s a cosmic wink and a nod. This was essentially my understanding of how sales were related to marketing as of 2008.

In a recent podcast, Rob Walling mentions that he doesn’t believe people with successful businesses actually thrive on “word of mouth” and that some other activity is actually responsible for their success. This is a connection that wasn’t cemented for me until I actually created a product I could sell online and went forward with the mindset that each sale would be a direct result of some marketing action by me. People won’t appear because your product or book is a better mousetrap. Your customers will only help promote it if there is some compelling reason to do so.

Traffic is a result of my SEO, content, guest posts, blog comments, and podcast appearances. Aggregate traffic is what enters the “funnel”. If you have high quality traffic, the people already know a bit about you or your product and are primed to buy or sign up. My first month of traffic into the funnel for my book converted to sale at 26.7%. About another 22% signed up for the email list by requesting a free sample. As I understand it, that is pretty spectacular and bound to decline.

I can see the decline coming. My analytics reports that I have a lot of organic traffic spinning up from a content campaign on my book site, but it isn’t converting very well. My copy isn’t that great and some of the keywords are going to pull traffic from outside my niche audience.

The conversion numbers aren’t the point. The point is seeing the world in a new way. I knew how it worked before, but I didn’t grok it. I started seeing all content as someone working a sales angle a while back. It doesn’t bother me (but a younger me is angry about it). People create great content because it gets attention and attention drives sales. Without the sales, there is no reason to create the great content. Churchill’s quote about democracy comes to mind.

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Sir Winston Churchill, Hansard, November 11, 1947.

Physics and calculus changed the way I viewed physical phenomenon around me. Selling a product online has changed the way I view marketing, commerce, and sales.