Things I learned developing Search Software

Most software starts with someone who is frustrated and is looking for a solution that does not currently exist or or of it does, does not easily solve the problem.  The following insights are from 18 years of developing tools to do the analysis necessary for SEO.  

During a presentation at SMX Advanced last year I showed a list of some of the nearly 70 custom tools I have developed. I just had someone today ask me if they can try one of them they saw on the list.  

Is there really a market for it? 

A big SEO challenge for web site owners are site refreshes and migrations with many sites loosing as much as 80% of their traffic post launch.  With such a negative impact on their business you would assume that the market for a set of tools that mitigate this loss would be in huge demand.  That is not the case, even SEO’s that help with migrations have little interest in it.  I will have to write another article on why this is the case.  

My Site Migration Suite only had about a dozen subscribers.  It was not a waste of time to develop it since it makes fixing migration disasters after the fact much easier for us.  As you would expect, we get paid significantly more to clean up problems than we make licensing software to prevent them.   All the signals showed there would be promise for a set of tools that makes migrations and refreshed disaster proof there was/is little to no interest from either the search or the development community.  

The best approach is to create that MVP and go out and test it to see if people will adopt it.  If you don’t get people lining up and raving about it most likely the market won’t adopt it.  

People want an easy button 

I guess it is not unexpected that people want tools to do everyone automatically.  Many don’t want to think or interact with them just want them to do everything and just puke out a result.  

Of the last 100 emails related to HREFLang Builder the words that appear most are “automated” “no effort” and “set it and leave it” as what people are wanting to know about the tool.  We get asked almost daily why we have not added AI into the set up to detect the various formats that a site uses for their URL’s.  We do have it but the vast majority of users have complex set ups that require human intervention.   

People don’t want to login 

Along with “easy” people really don’t want to use tools or log into them.  A number of years ago when I showed him DataPrizm, Conversion Expert Bryan Eisenberg told me that do anything I can to eliminate or reduce the need to login to the application.  With DataPrizm using the tool is what it is made for and just sending reports diminishes the value.  

He was right, nearly every user we have now just wants us to push reports out to Domo, Google Data Studio or some internal system.   We have a client currently paying us to develop an API so they can customize their exports.  

People refuse to look at help and user guides 

Setup and on-boarding has to be painfully simple and as few steps as possible as people will not spend the time to learn how to do it.   We are rebuilding the entire set up function of HREFLang Builder since nearly 100% of those that subscribe do not read the “read me first” documents and have problems getting set up.   This requires us to spend a lot of time hand holding people to get even the simplest of sites set up.  

It seems to be such a problem that my friend Dan Weingrod has built a successful consulting practice using Design Sprints to help identify problems with on boarding and getting people to successfully set up tools.  

People don’t actually use the features they request

I assumed this one but until we added tracking to the tools we could not prove it.   We have done a lot of customization to a few of the tools based on customer feedback.   We have at least one report in each of the main tools that has been requested by multiple clients that has never been used by them.  In one case it was deemed mission critical to have it but they have never even clicked the link to generate it even though they wrote the specification and approved the final live version.  

People care about pretty over function 

Not surprising but people care about the user experience. Not really what you expect and we love feedback on workflow, button placement etc But the things people complain about have nothing to do with the actual function of the tool.  

We often roll our eyes at people on the house hunting shows that walk in and decide not to buy the house due to the color of a room or the carpeting. Nothing to do with any function, price etc but the easiest and least expensive things to change.  

We have had people tell us that they would not sign up unless we changed the color or removed a logo etc.   We had someone that said they had 3 basics account clients but before he would sign them up he required a custom URL and his logo and  in the tool since he was showing it to clients. Sure for $75 a month let me get right on that.  

Who will you upset?  

This has been an interesting learning curve with all the tools. In many cases you would assume people would embrace tools that made their work or lives easier.  It comes down to who and what process will you disrupt.  The more you change a process and highlight inefficiency the more people will reject the technology.  

We have had some negative comments from various consultants and agencies that did not want to use automation especially for HREFLang functionality that they were doing manually.  

One of our biggest detractors for HREFLang Builder was an agency team that was spending between 20 and 100 hours a month doing them manually for clients.   They just did not want to loose those billing hours.  In most of the cases the client wanted them to do something more constructive with the time and just license the software. 

Getting paid for it 

In the agency example above, you might assume that a tool that costs less than a quarter or the labor hours would be an easy sell to agencies. From my time at Ogilvy and WPP getting agencies to pay for tools has always been a problem they just cannot convert billable hours into tool expenses.

Most agencies live in a world where they have to bill everything to a client. If it was not budgeted or cannot be directly billed is nearly impossible to get adopted.  

Most clients think like rational people, if you go to get your car serviced by a mechanic you don’t pay to use their tools.  You expect them to have the right tools to do the job as part of the price you pay for the repair.  This creates a challenge for everyone.  

You need to have flexible payment options either billing the client yet letting the agency access the solution creates a challenge for most subscription and login applications.     

If you can crack some of these key challenges when you launch your application you will be be ahead of the curve and have a better chance of success.