Spotting Early Engagement for Startups

I fish around many ideas and work with people on their own startups as well and the number one question on our minds is, “How do I get people engaged and interested?” Sometimes I feel like people give up too soon or are unwilling to adapt their idea or chase their audience. It’s also difficult to spot because at first traffic is quite low.

Help, I’ve ran ads but I’m not getting any signups!

Of course, that’s typical for ads. Ads drive traffic. Beyond that there is no guarantee. However, you can’t expect an ad network to tell you that you won’t get any sign ups. That wouldn’t exactly convince you to advertise with them, would it? No, they need to tell you that ads will be successful for you.

They can be of course. You just need to do a little more than put some up. You need to test various ads differing in copy and imagery. Try different messages. Personally, I would never run ads (especially from search) without several landing pages. You need A/B testing so you can test out content and messages.

About those signups…

Try to gather some demographic information from your users. Make it completely optional of course. You don’t want any friction in a registration or e-mail sign up form. However, you’d be surprised to discover that you can get some really meaningful data if you ask just one question from a multiple choice list.

On my newsletter sign ups, I ask people what kind of person they are or why they are interested. This gives me an understanding of who they are and from there I can work on how to adjust my product and messaging to fit their needs.

For example; if I was sending out a newsletter for sports and thought that baseball was for sure the most popular sport over hockey and basketball…I’d be foolish of course. You have your own opinion and everyone reading this right now would give you a different answer as to which sport they felt was most important to talk about. However, this is what we do with startups and products. All the time.

Don’t assume anything. Let your audience guide you and this starts with sign ups. Don’t let those e-mail addresses and names be anonymous. You don’t need background checks on all these people of course, but you can be getting just a single, small, piece of information that could make a dramatic difference in your engagement.

Anonymous data

It’s still useful. You can’t always know everything about your visitors. You can still watch the behavior of visitors despite not knowing anything about them. When it comes to Google Analytics, try not to have tunnel vision. Look deeper into the metrics. It’s important to see how much time is being spent on your most popular content and it’s important to follow navigation paths.

You may discover visitors coming from social media are spending more time in certain areas compared to visitors coming from ads. In fact, this is quite common. The reason is usually because the content consumed is of higher quality. A blog post for example is commonly sent out across Twitter to announce it to the world and to drive traffic. However, ads rarely link to blog posts. Typically ads (especially from search) take visitors to landing pages.

So a blog post has a higher value than a landing page. Yes that does sound weird, but it’s true. A landing page has a higher value to you but not to a visitor. You need to start thinking about creating value for your visitors and not just you. I know you want sign ups and those are critical to a startup. They are critical to validating ideas and raising capital. They are critical to converting interested visitors to paying users. However, it’s ultimately you asking for something from the visitor.

Keep track of broad behaviors and keep an eye on what creates value for visitors. Even if you don’t know everything about those visitors. It’s still important and you can take those lessons and apply them in cases where you do have more visitor data. Then you can really start to build a user demographics profile for your product, blog, or startup.

User testing

There is a wealth of data to be had here and it’s very direct, but be careful with this one. Ensure you do user studies in person. There are some services out there for this, but those people tend to over act in my experience. To a comical degree.

Let’s face it, these people are pretty darn good at using applications and web sites. It’s what they do for money. No matter how bad your UX may be, they likely know what’s going on. So they think they are doing a better job by “simulating” what an average user would do. They speak their “thoughts” out loud for your benefit and really come off sound dumb. The problem is, it’s just not accurate. These are pre-recorded so you can’t ask questions during the testing that would help you get more (and more honest) information from the tester.

Focus groups and user testing is going to be more genuine when done in person. You also get a better dialog going and you could even walk away with some new passionate users if you’re just lucky enough. A person walking away from a good experience with you, at your company, could really mean a lot in terms of word of mouth marketing. It makes your users feel more important and it lets them know that you really are listening to their needs. Plus, an in person meeting is going to provide far better engagement than a service if we are still talking about engagement here.

Shake it up, but don’t shake too hard

Try using multiple social networks instead of just the one you think is most popular or best suited for your product/site. You just might be surprised. Some people say exhaust one before moving on to the next, but I like trying to use multiple at once. It’s not always easy, but I find it helps build a brand better and provides a better sample of data when you go to measure.

Try various tools out there for growth. Be careful, you don’t want to nag people with some of those that pop up from a corner on your web pages. You don’t want to have some live chat on your site where you are pestering people. Don’t make them close or minimize a panel for “help” because that’s actually the opposite of helping. Let them easily get in touch with you when they need, but keep that engagement on their terms instead of taking the role of a pushy sales person. If you try to force the engagement then not only is it less genuine, but it can even nag visitors to the point they don’t return. Remember you get more bees with honey.

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