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Lessons from Advertising Beanstalk

Beanstalk has been booming ever since we launched it. We’ve learned a lot in the last 18 months about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to promotion and advertising. I’d like to share some of our experiences.

Right after we launched paid plans in November of 2007, we prepared a bunch of advertising campaigns to announce it. Some of the resources included The Deck, Daring Fireball, and Smashing Magazine. We were most excited about The Deck due to the number of high-profile sites and targeted audience.

When the ads were placed, we started seeing the traffic come in. We made sure to setup conversion tracking with Google Analytics and we also associated referrals to each new account that signed up. The results surprised us a bit. While The Deck has the most reach, we noticed much better results from Daring Fireball. Check out the chart below:

Ad traffic

The first spike is from our ad on Daring Fireball. After that we noticed a steady increase in visitors from The Deck when the ads were posted in February. The second spike, however, is from a post on 37 Signals about our public site design.

What does this tell us?

We could probably conclude a bunch of things from this little bit of information. Overall, it made us realize two key distinctions:

  • Banners, no matter what site they are on, are still banners and people tend to ignore them.
  • Blog posts hit the readers directly, whether they are paid or not.

The Deck still brought lots of valuable traffic to our site over a longer timeframe and we can definitely recommend it for big announcements. What we learned is that instead of focusing on advertising, we should instead focus on making the product better and getting people excited about it. If people are excited about your product, they are more likely to post about it, giving you direct exposure to their readers. For example, check out this chart, which shows all of 2008:

Traffic in 2008

You can see a series of spikes. The first two are the same from above, which shows Daring Fireball and the 37 Signals post. The gigantic one in the middle is when Versions announced their release (I’ll talk about partnerships in later post), the fourth larger spike is from TUAW in October.

There are lots of little spikes here and there, all from blog posts, integrations, or partnerships. The main point to take away from this is that we have not spent a penny on advertising since The Deck, but continue to see the traffic pour in.

While it is nothing new, we’ve learned that good promotion just depends on the quality of your product and whether or not people are excited. So put your head down, improve your product, and get people excited about it.

I’d love to hear what others have experienced when it comes to promotion and advertising for a web product. If you have some thoughts, post a comment.