Archive for January, 2006

DNS Suckiness

Posted in Daily Entries on January 31st, 2006 by Mike Taber – 4 Comments

Well, I spent more than my fair share of hours over the past week or so trying to get a domain name transferred into my name from someone else. It was registered at GoDaddy.com, and I’m more than certain that their prices are rock bottom for a reason.

It all seemed to be going far too smoothly after all. The transfer into my name was in and of itself not a big deal. After that, I needed to point the DNS servers to my web server that I have hosted on my business DSL line, compliments of Verizon. The unfortunate downside of my business DSL line is that I don’t have direct access to my DNS entries. Most of my domains are registered with a company called Active Domain and it works pretty well. I know enough about DNS that I can create a new Address record for any new sub-domains that I happen to think I need. The MX records for mail are similarly pretty simple.

I was hoping to have that sort of access with GoDaddy, but apparently not. It turns out that unless you’re hosting your domain name with them, they won’t give you access to their DNS in any way, shape or form. They wouldn’t even accept requests. The web provider at Gear Host was similarly unhelpful. They wanted me to get the username and password for the hosting account from Rob Walling, whom I bought the domain from. Since he had other domains under the account I certainly wasn’t going to ask for them, so instead I asked if he would place the request. They weren’t willing to make the entries either, since the domain wasn’t hosted with them.

The domain is paid up until 2009, and I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of plunking down cash to transfer the domain to Active Domain for the sole purpose of creating DNS entries, but it seemed like that was my last resort so I did it. And of all the times for the registrar safety nets to kick in. It turns out that you can’t transfer a domain from one registrar to another unless more than 60 days have passed since the contact information on the domain was last updated so my request was denied because the contact information had been updated with my info not 3 days before.

I certainly wasn’t going to wait for 2 months to transfer the domain. I wanted it hosted on my server, and I wanted it there three days ago. Then I remembered something. There’s a ridiculous number of DNS servers out there. There’s got to be at least one of them that’s free. In fact, I found two of them. Granite Canyon and Zone Edit. I tried Granite Canyon first. After about 3 days of fighting with it and no updates appearing in their domain servers (yes, I checked with nslookup as well…) I tried using Zone Edit. GoDaddy might not let me make entries in their DNS servers, but I can update the DNS servers for my domain to my hearts content. Within an hour, Zone Edit had my changes propogating through the internet and they were visible on my own machine.

Within two days, it appears that traffic to my server for clickcess.com has picked up, and people are checking things out. For less than 5 zones, Zone Edit gives you these services for free. For people who need direct access to free DNS servers, these guys have definately done things right. If GoDaddy’s giving you a hard time transferring a domain name fast, give Zone Edit a try.

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Google AdWords update #2

Posted in Daily Entries on January 26th, 2006 by Mike Taber – Be the first to comment

The last time I looked at my AdWords campaign was last Thursday. I suppose I should probably keep better track of it while the impressions are flying fast and furious since I’m getting charged per click. To be honest, it’s all pretty confusing.

I’ve noticed in my web site log files that some hits have been coming in from Google, and it’s definitely the advertising, not the search side of things. After looking through the reports, I appear to have noticed something odd. For one thing, last week I increased my maximum cost per click from 75 cents to $1. It appears that in quite a few cases, my average position for keywords stayed the same (at best) or got worse. And of course, these are the important keywords. Some which I didn’t consider particularly important and still aren’t seemed to have received a better ranking, but no clicks. It’s all very strange.

I’ve always been a bit leery of these ‘click through’ counters and pay per click advertising, for any number of reasons. A long time ago when I was running Game Thoughts, I signed onto the Games Banner Network. It’s essentially a banner advertising program designed exclusively for gaming web sites and shareware authors who sell games. The idea is that you can create banners for the games you’ve made, and upload them to this web site. Then, you add some HTML they have generated to your web site. When someone visits your web site and this extra HTML loads, it shows someone else’s banner for their game. This gives you one credit, which is worth an impression somewhere on the network.

Over time, say you have 1,000 visitors to your site every day. Every month your banner is theoretically displayed on 1,000 other web pages as the scripts load banners for people in the network. Sounds like a great deal, right? Everyone is getting more exposure, and for a tiny bit of screen space, banners for your game are loading on other web sites. If someone thinks your banner looks cool, they click on it and are redirected to your game site. They were advertising click through rates between 3-4%. So, did it work for me? No. Not even close.

While I was not banned outright, I was asked to remove the banner script from my web site because it seems that the click through rates on my web site were not high enough. I was averaging click through rates of about 0.5%, well below their advertised average of 3-4%. This, I was told, was messing up their statistics for everyone else, causing overall click through rates to plummet, and presumably devaluing their entire system. I was rather amazed that a single site, especially one like mine, could devalue their entire system. So, I retired from the Games Banner Network and called it a day. It certainly wasn’t worth fighting over. The interesting part was that my own banner which should have been attracting this 3-4% click through rate was garnering less than 1% as well. It all seemed a bit fishy to me.

In any case, I’m still not convinced of the effectiveness of the Google AdWords program. My total impressions in their syndication network has surpassed 200,000. And yet, a mere 14 clicks total there. Still not enough to warrant a 0.01% click through rate. This little experiment has cost me less than $20 so far. That’s far less than the $250 I set aside for the experiment. Google seemed to think that I’d spend somewhere around $3 per day which was a bit of a high estimate. I put a cap of $5 per day so I wouldn’t blow through all of my budget in under a week, but that seems to have been unnecessary.

I’ve got some other things I’m working on, and if things continue with the AdWords the way that they are, I’ve got an idea to help kick start the program a bit. More on that later.

Interesting Sidenote: Since doing the web site redesign for Moon River Software a few weeks ago, I forgot to update the link in the footer of this website to reflect the new URL where the Milestones trial was located. Whoops!

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Wrapping up a release isn’t easy

Posted in Daily Entries on January 23rd, 2006 by Mike Taber – Be the first to comment

For nearly the past two weeks, I’ve been alternating between two pretty major tasks. The first is the next release of Moon River Milestones.

It’s pretty amazing that in just a few short months, I designed and implemented a product that people are already using, and finding to be quite useful. On one hand, it would be great if I could get a huge amount of publicity for the product. On the other hand, there are quite a few features that are simply lacking that exist in the products being sold by my competitors. Getting all of that publicity on a version that doesn’t quite compete with the big boys really would seem like quite a waste.

My list started at roughly 50 issues to be resolved for this version, and after pushing some of them off to the future, I was left with 37. Of those 37, I have 11 left and half of those are very tightly coupled together into what is essentially one huge piece of functionality. The others are somewhat smaller tasks, amounting to no more than 2-4 hours of work each. Unfortunately, the huge piece of functionality is well… huge. It’s very time consuming to do, fairly complicated, and involves a lot of ‘what if the customer does x’ scenarios. Those are the most complicated problems: determining what the user is going to want to see.

Whenever I get stuck, I alternate back to my other major task, which is finishing the design of my next product code named Aurora. The high level design is mostly completed, and I just finished speaking with a potential client about whether the current design will meet his needs or not. That’s an important step that a lot of people tend to overlook when designing software. Software is only as useful as the problems it solves. In speaking with him, I uncovered a few areas where it could certainly have used some minor modifications, and uncovered some features that were never in the original specification that needed to be.

I have another potential customer whom I’ll be speaking with hopefully later this week to get his feedback. Once that is done, I’ll start filling in some of the more mundane details of the design specification. Once the next version of Milestones is released, work can begin in earnest on Aurora. More on that later.

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Google AdWords update

Posted in Daily Entries on January 19th, 2006 by Mike Taber – Be the first to comment

Well, so far the traffic from Google’s AdWords has been minimal, at best. Looking at their statistics shows two sets of numbers. The first is for the impressions that I’ve had via any number of syndicated sites. Those are the Google Ads that you see when you visit a website that generally isn’t making a lot of money, so they throw in Google Ads, hoping to make a few extra bucks. The numbers say I’ve had more than 100,000 impressions, which I think is probably higher than it actually is. And the clickthrough on those has been abysmally low. Roughly 15 or so.

By any stretch of the imagination, that’s pretty bad. (How bad is it?) It’s so bad, that Google doesn’t even calculate the click through ratio on it. As in 0.0%

The second set of numbers show that my targeted ads via keywords are actually picking up a little traffic. Not a lot mind you, but certainly better ratios than the syndication ads have been doing. I’ve been trying to spend as little as possible while I test the waters. It would be easy to burn through $500 worth of a budget in under a month. I just don’t know as it would do a whole lot of good.

I spoke with someone else who has been using Google AdWords pretty effectively, and he puts his limit around $5 per click. That’s really high. But he also uses highly targeted material in the text of his advertisement. For example, if I bid $10 per click for “FTP Software”, and in my text, I stated “Low prices, great deals”, I’d get a wildly different set of people clicking on it than if I entered “RFC959 Protocol .NET component”.

Your average user searching for an FTP client would click on the first, but not the second. If you’re selling a .NET component that does FTP and adheres to RFC959, the people clicking on the second link are by far more interested in your product. This means that even though you’ve got a very high bid per click for a pretty common term, the people who actually click on your links are probably well qualified users and know that you have what they want. Meanwhile, Bugs McKenzie who has no idea what .NET components are, let alone RFC959, won’t click on your link.

The high bid per click will get your advertisement to show up a lot, and the specific nature of the text will turn away people who aren’t technical. You get the best of both worlds. High exposure, and low click through. The click throughs that you do get, are very interested in your product and will probably give it an honest shot. So far, I’ve been loathe to boost my bid per click into the stratosphere. I’ve read rumors that seem to indicate that once you raise your bids, Google’s system reacts in a way that discourages you from spending less money. If I find the article where I read that, I’ll post a link to it.

Back to tweaking my advertisements.

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Milestones First Advertising Campaign

Posted in All Articles, Moon River Software on January 10th, 2006 by Mike Taber – Be the first to comment

“If everything’s under control, you’re going too slow.”

- Mario Andretti

For someone like myself, it’s a somewhat terrifying experience to be out of control. Airplanes freak me out a bit, and only half the reason is because I know a lot about engineering. The other half is that I don’t feel like my destiny is in my hands.

It’s a difficult feeling to put into words, but I think the best way that I could relate it is to describe it in terms of a video game, since that’s probably where most people would encounter it. The other place people experience it is during a high speed chase on “Cops” and that never turns out well.

Imagine, if you will, a racing game. Doesn’t matter which one. I always liked “Pole Position” as a kid. On the straightaways, you’re barreling down the track at 180+ mph with the pedal to the metal. “The brake is for amateurs” you say in your best German accent. Then a car nudges the side of your rear end. Just like on “Cops”, the rear wheels are nudged, you now have no control and head straight into the guardrail, exploding into a giant fireball. A dozen cars whip by you, and your car reappears on the track, ready to rock and roll again.

Other encounters where you can feel a bit out of control include downhill skiing, snowboarding, sledding to some degree, ice hockey, and the luge. Notice the winter theme. It’s cold in New England this time of year. The basics are the same though. When you exceed a safe speed, you start to get out of control. Your mistakes are magnified, and your successes are generally not. While taking a risk may net you a 1% overall time difference, one mistake can set you back by 10% or more. Is it worth the risk?

In short, yes. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do additional planning and take additional precautions. This week marks the first advertising campaign for Moon River Milestones and I’m feeling a bit like Mario(driver, not plumber). Things are happening fast and the only thing I even have time to do is follow my plan. I think that without that plan, I’d probably be in trouble.

And lets not forget that you need to plan for failure the same as you plan for success. What if my sales don’t come through? What if I lose sight of my goal? What if I put my underwear on backwards because I’m too busy looking at the target to realize what I’m doing? I’ll tell you what. Insta-wedgie. It won’t be comfortable, but it’s not going to kill you either. And the easiest way to cure that discomfort is to slow down enough to put your underwear back on straight so you can keep going. Not so bad, was it?

If you feel like you’re in complete control during the entire product launch, then chances are that you could be wildly more successful and you aren’t being aggressive enough. Don’t mistake this as an invitation to throw caution to the wind. Personally, I think it’s a very bad idea to take an initial product launch and try hyping it to everyone on the planet at the same time because version 1.0 generally sucks. What will happen is that you tell everyone about your product, it ends up posted on slashdot, and your website grinds to a halt while it struggles to keep up.

You must scale your product launches at a measured rate. Being in control and growing at a measured rate are not quite the same thing. Trains in the old west, for example, ran on coal. The more coal the conductor pumped into the furnace, the hotter it burned and the faster the train travelled. But in Colorado, where the mountains are very steep, it was easy for trains to go out of control. Many areas had alternative tracks for trains which were deemed to be moving too fast. These alternative tracks had inclines which helped to slow the train down to prevent it from going off the tracks.

Ideally, you should strike a balance where your product launch is progressing just slightly faster than you are comfortable with. If things are going too slow, you’re probably not meeting your payroll or your sales objectives because most people overstate their projected income and understate their costs. If your’re going too fast, your customers are going to suffer from poor service because the additional load wasn’t properly planned for. This happens more often with established companies whose products are very well liked, and the customer base is already there. When you don’t yet have a customer base. Well, you’re probably not going to create much of a splash.

The advertising plan I’ve put together for Moon River Milestones is fairly simple. I have some advertisements running through Google AdWords right now, and I’ve paid for some advertising on a couple of key websites that I think have the right audience of people who could use my software. I’ll monitor the traffic all week to see how things are going, and adjust my advertising next week to either increase, or decrease traffic, depending on where I am in relation to where I want to be. Chances are that I’ll be making adjustments to increase traffic, rather than decrease it. I’ve never been particularly adept at getting huge amounts of publicity. Tune in about a week from now to see how things are going.

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Happy New Year

Posted in Daily Entries on January 8th, 2006 by Mike Taber – Be the first to comment

Oh wait, that was last week. I’d claim insanity, but after the fifth or sixth time, people start to ignore you.

The new Moon River Software web site is out, complete with a new logo. It looks 3.14159 times better than the old one. It’s easier on the eyes in every way, closes up a lot of the open space that used to be there, and puts in writing what the company is really about. If you haven’t tried Moon River Milestones out yet, you should take 2 minutes to give it a try. We’re not even asking for an email address anymore, so if you’d prefer to remain completely anonymous, that’s your choice. Why are we doing this? I know of a marketing person who is likely to email me about this as soon as she sees it and tell me how I should be requiring more information, asking for more than just an email address and generally doing the marketing thing a bit harder.

I’m not really sure it’s necessary though. People like, more than anything, to have options available to them. They hate being forced to do things, and they hate registering their email address on web sites just to try out a stupid demo. They don’t have time for it, and I certainly don’t have time to go through the incoming email addresses to check out their web sites, make phone calls, and see if they really want our software, or if they’re just idly curious about what it does.

It’s certainly possible that it could be a competitor checking out the competition, but is an email address requirement even going to slow him down? Of course not. Given the choice of two identical applications, if you need to register to demo one of them, and you don’t need to register to demo the second, which are you going to choose? Placing obstacles in the way of our customers trying out our products is a bad idea, plain and simple.

While I would certainly appreciate it if people provided me additional information, if by not requiring it I can increase the number of people who try it out, then it’s well worth it. Being in the dark never hurt anyone. Just ask a politician.

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