Rethink Commerce Blog

Increasing software conversions Part 2: Ask a few questions

Posted on June 2nd, 2009 by

This is part 2 of a 5-part series: How to convert more software trials to purchases.

There are three camps about asking for contact info before a trial starts:

A.  Ask for nothing – Maximize number of downloads; minimize barriers.
B.  Show 1 – 4 fields Make them optional. Get what you can, then get out of the way.
C.  Show 14 fields – Get their street address. Only serious people will download so you don’t waste your time with crap trials.

Allow me to convince you that B is the way to go.

Let’s first dispense with C.

If the world of free social media has taught us anything, it’s that invasion without permission” is dead. You haven’t earned people’s contact information so they won’t give it.

Most people will give you crap data. No, scratch that, most people will roll their eyes at your marathon form and close their browser, moving on to your competitor’s website they have on hot standby in the adjacent tab. Besides, what do you need with all that data? Mailing address? Really? You’re going to send them a holiday card?

Oh, you need lead-routing info for your sales reps? Fair enough, but consider this: If you just ask for postal code and country, you can fill in city, state/province, and all that other stuff. Why accost your potential customer with something you can do yourself?

Don’t make your trial a chore; you’ll just fulfill your misguided goal of having as few downloads as possible while simultaneously starting the trial experience on a sour note.

Now let’s consider option A.

The idea of remove all barriers to trial makes sense, and certainly this extreme is better than C. I used to believe A was the only way to go, but let me tell you the story of trial downloads at my company, Smart Bear. For years, downloads were freely available with no form to fill out. Life was good; no one complained.

Why B (1 – 4 optional fields before a trial starts) is the way to go?

We did a little experiment. What would happen if we introduced just a few, optional fields? Who cares if people skip them, who cares if people fill in crap – as long as we get some good data from people who want to share it and there’s no drop in the number of downloads, it’s a win.

While we’re at it, let’s make it easy for existing customers to skip the form completely. To further err on the side of convenience, let’s not even care if trial customers skip the form too!

Here’s what we built:

skip-reg-form

Click on the image to enlarge

The result? There was no change in the number of downloads! In fact, every month since starting this in Jan 2008 we’ve seen a steady increase in number of downloads. (Of course the subsequent increase is attributable to marketing efforts; the point is that the presence of the fields has never been a deterrent.)

The “optional” nature of the fields is crucial. If people don’t want to tell you – and most won’t – that’s OK and you don’t want to stop a download. Better to download in silence than to not download! But you’ll be surprised how many do want to talk to you.

But this is just half the story. The other half is the hidden fields that we include in that form. All automatic, nothing evil, nothing that would bother a user, but really useful stuff.

1. The first trick helps us with marketing.

When a user first comes to our site – on any page – we give them a cookie that stores the referring link. We don’t change that cookie as the user navigates the site or even closes the browser and returns later. Then in the download form we stuff that “initial referring page” into a hidden field. Now for every download you know which website originally lead this user to your website!

2. The second trick helps us with sales.

Remember those sales reps that needed routing info? You can (more or less) do that with IP address geo-coding.

Now before you protest, yes I agree that you can’t always determine someone’s location from IP address. There are firewalls, proxies, corporate networks, and other reasons why IP address isn’t enough to pin someone’s physical location. But for general information, for an initial attempt at lead-routing, it’s good enough.

And most importantly, it’s free to collect it without bothering the user.

I don’t want to endorse any particular service, but some ways to do it are the Google API and various commercial offerings. In any case, you would query the info using Javascript/AJAX and populate hidden fields with city, state, and country.

3. The third trick is to appreciate returning customers and help them out.

Sure they might notice the “returning customers click here” section, but they might not (or you might not like the idea of having the choice).

To help them, give each user a cookie containing the field values they typed in last time, and pre-populate the form with that cookie when they visit the page again. This also makes it easy to see when someone downloads multiple times, especially if you also generate a GUID in a hidden field and repeat that as well.

So the bottom line is:

Collect some data, in a way that doesn’t disrupt the user, and collect as much data automatically as you can. You won’t stop downloads and you’ll get a ton of useful information.

0.00 avg. rating (0% score) - 0 votes
Vote:
0.00 avg. rating (0% score) - 0 votes

Jason Cohen

CEO at Smart Bear Software

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.

Comments (15)

  • Adam says: June 3rd, 2009 at 4:40 am

    I have a question. You say that the current form is optional, but it looks like an e-mail address *is* required. Did users have to enter an e-mail address before or is that also part of your change to ask questions?

    Thanks.

  • Jason Cohen says: June 3rd, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    @Adam — Good observation! We eventually moved to a system where the link to the downloads is emailed to you; this means an email address is required.

    Of course most people have throw-away email addresses nowadays so this still isn’t a big barrier, but it is indeed a barrier.

    Also we only did that recently. I’ve found a good strategy is to make small changes like this and let it run a few months to make sure it’s not negatively impacting number of trials. Some day you’ll do something that really does throw up a brick wall; then of course you just undo it.

  • Adam says: June 4th, 2009 at 12:04 am

    @Jason — Thanks, that clears it up. We used to use an e-mail like you do now, but we dropped it once we saw how many people hit the trial page but didn’t fill it out. It wasn’t a massive amount, but enough to concern us.

    We did try asking for optional info like you do, but we asked for it after they downloaded the software. Not one person filled it out. Maybe we’ll try something like you’re doing here.

  • Delton says: June 7th, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    I’d just like to suggest the coupon option…offer a discount coupon, in exchange for name and email…

  • Jason Cohen says: June 8th, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    @Adam — it also might depend on the market. What works well for us (developer tools) might be completely wrong for something else. Which of course is why all you can do is try things and test for yourself! Thanks.

  • Adam says: June 9th, 2009 at 12:15 am

    Thanks, Jason. I’m looking forward the rest of the series.

  • Tips for increasing software conversions, parts 1 & 2 « Austin Entrepreneur Network says: August 10th, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    […] Collecting Data from the Download — why collecting a tiny amount of data at the point of download is better than none (contrary to popular wisdom), how to make a form that isn’t a barrier to download, what hidden information to collect, and what you can do with that data. […]

  • Michelle Greer says: August 10th, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    B is good. As a sales rep on the other end of the lead, I always liked having some information available. I just wanted information like industry, company size, name, URL and email address. It gave me context as to who I was talking to and made it easier for me to give them a positive sales experience.

  • Oleg says: August 22nd, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    When you fill “initial referral page” into a hidden field to track referral of the download – isn’t it what Google Analytics is already doing for you?
    Pre-filling user street data based on her IP address is cool, but it would scare hell out of me if I saw my location pre-filled. I would run away from that site for good.

  • Jason Cohen says: August 24th, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    @Oleg — You have a few facts incorrect. Understandably so, but let me fix it:

    1. No, Google doesn’t give YOU in YOUR DATABASE next to your lead data what initial page the person came from. You can indeed get that information from within Google’s interface, but it’s only possible to see thing in aggregate, not associate a particular lead with a particular referer.

    2. In my opinion you should COMBINE initial referrer (which is invisible and automatic) with a “How did you hear about us?” field which is manual. Use regular expressions and a little code to take those two inputs and convert into a normalized value that you can use for reporting.

    3. It’s not street-based data, it’s just city/state/country.

    4. It’s NOT displayed to the user. Use hidden form fields. No one gets scared.

    5. From a security point of view, you can buy IP address -> location databases. People (who know anything about it, which is very few) already know that you probably log their IP address, therefore you could do this location inference on the backend anyway. I’m just suggesting a way to do a decent job for free.

  • Convert more Software Trials to Purchases | Avangate Blog - Software Business Blog says: September 7th, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    […] Increasing software conversions Part 2: Ask a few questions […]

  • Tips for increasing software conversions, parts 1 & 2 « Austin Entrepreneur Network says: September 23rd, 2009 at 12:13 am

    […] Collecting Data from the Download — why collecting a tiny amount of data at the point of download is better than none (contrary to popular wisdom), how to make a form that isn’t a barrier to download, what hidden information to collect, and what you can do with that data. […]

  • Find what’s blocking sales with under a day of work » Checkbox Blog - Checkbox Survey Solutions, Inc. says: October 1st, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    […] 1. Add a short, optional form before your download/eBook/whitepaper so you can follow up. “But forms are a barrier to downloads,” I hear you cry. I know this argument, but if you don’t have feedback you can’t fix your product, and if a hundred people download in silence and don’t buy, it doesn’t matter that they downloaded. Besides, if you do it right, adding the form doesn’t necessarily mean fewer downloads. I didn’t used to believe that sentance I just wrote until we did it at Smart Bear. Sure enough, no impact in the number of downloads. None. So how do you “do it right?” I wrote a nice, long article with specific tips, learned by experimenting in the field, that you can put to use in less than a day. Read it here on the Avangate blog. […]

  • Find what’s blocking sales with under a day of work | Igniting Startups - nPost says: October 6th, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    […] So how do you “do it right?” I wrote a nice, long article with specific tips, learned by experimenting in the field, that you can put to use in less than a day. Read it here on the Avangate blog. […]

  • Austin Entrepreneur Network » Find what’s blocking sales with under a day of work says: November 25th, 2009 at 5:54 am

    […] So how do you “do it right?” I wrote a nice, long article with specific tips, learned by experimenting in the field, that you can put to use in less than a day. Read it here on the Avangate blog. […]