Stories about Software


Offering Client Trials: Prototypes vs Auditions

(Editorial note: I originally published this one over on the Hit Subscribe blog.)

Do you offer a trial?

I’ve run Hit Subscribe’s sales for five of our seven years of existence.  And this is by far the most common question I field at some point during discovery.

The simple answer to the question is “sure, we can do that.”

We don’t bother to set any minimums on the amount of content you can commission.  We’re not selling automobiles; economies of scale on content are marginal.  You can buy as little as a single blog post if that meets your needs.

In fact, if you read our client bill of rights, you’ll see that we encourage you to de-risk.  If you’re worried about doing something at scale, I view it as our obligation as a vendor to help you prototype success ahead of a large-scale commitment.

Where things get nuanced, however, is around the question of which risk you’re minimizing for when you ask about a trial.  And that’s at the core of what I want to document here reference for future prospects.  We’re happy to start small, but there’s a good chance we don’t think of a trial the same way you do.

Auditions vs Prototypes: What Risk Does Each Reduce?

To get specific about this, we view small batches as prototypes, and, importantly, not auditions.  Consider the difference.

Auditions and Prototypes

  • An audition is a subjective evaluation that de-risks against the judge having a large commitment to something they don’t care for.
  • A prototype is an objective evaluation that de-risks against an engagement not achieving a goal or outcome.

A simple, if mundane, example of an audition is a wine tasting.  Before purchasing an expensive bottle of wine from a winery, it makes sense to run a trial (audition) of “do I, the judge of wine, like this wine?”

In a professional context, auditions tend to, or at least should, move beyond simple aesthetics.  The judge of a piece of content (ideally) isn’t evaluating whether they personally like it but rather acting as a proxy for others’ opinions or perhaps as some kind of designated expert in the medium.  But the subjective, “do I approve of this” evaluation remains at the core.

A prototype, on the other hand, involves a measurable big-picture goal and a smaller experiment designed to provide fast feedback on an initiative’s ability to achieve that goal.

For instance, let’s go back to the winery.  But this time, let’s say you have a goal to fill your small wine cellar with 200 bottles of wine, for less than $5,000, with wine that you feel good about serving to guests.  Here your tasting becomes less important in favor of concerns like whether the bottles are in an acceptable price range, will fit in the cellar’s slots, and will appeal to unknown people.

In this world, a prototype might involve buying five bottles of wine within your budget, then confirming they fit in the cellar and guests seem to like them.  If the run of five goes well, you can scale up your buying from the winery.

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Generative AI And Main Character Syndrome Fatigue

(Editorial note: I originally wrote this on the Hit Subscribe blog.)

Yesterday I was wasting a little time on LinkedIn between calls.  I ran across this post by April Dunford which resonated heavily with me and introduced me to a term I’d not previously heard: main character energy (or syndrome, I guess).

I rolled up my sleeves and waded into the comments as a thought-follower, offering a threat to steal the term (with attribution).


And today, I find myself making good on that threat sooner than anticipated.  While jogging this morning, I was listening to a podcast about how agencies can help their clients prove the ROI of using generative AI.  Begging the pardon of host and guest, I promptly spaced out and started to think instead about the last eighteen months of generative AI mania and just how much main character energy the entire zeitgeist has inflicted upon the world of commerce.

And today I’d like to riff on that a little and use it as food for thought for carving out a differentiated approach to marketing strategy.

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Where Did My Traffic Go? Hint: It Wasn’t an Algorithm Update

(Editorial note: I originally published this on the Hit Subscribe blog.)

If you were to take a stroll through Hit Subscribe’s offering page, you’d see that we now have a first-class “traffic recovery” offering.  We added this because of the frequency with which we field the question, “Why is my [usually organic] traffic declining?!”

In fact, we field that question so frequently that I’m writing this blog post to distribute to friends and prospects to help with self-diagnosis, potentially saving you some money on a possible engagement.  So if that’s what brought you here, sorry about your traffic.  But don’t worry.  We’ll get it sorted.

In this post, I’ll discuss the most common reasons we see for lost traffic, describe the decline pattern you would expect to see if these things were happening, and explain how to start remediating the issue.

First Things First: Forget About “The Algorithm”

One of my all-time favorite books is Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, wherein he amuses the reader with assorted, specific paradoxes.  The military grounds “crazy” fighter pilots and allows sane ones to fly, and they evaluate craziness by whether or not the pilot wants to fly.  Anyone who doesn’t want to risk their life flying is non-crazy, and therefore must fly.

Of course, paradox exists beyond the novel.  Probably preceding it and in a nod to the importance of status illegibility, Groucho Marx once quipped, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

I’ll offer one another paradox for your consideration:

“The algorithm” only punishes those who go out of their way to avoid punishment.

In less quippy terms, if you’ve been generating content in good faith without thinking about “the algorithm,” you’re safe.  Hit Subscribe, for instance, has managed analytics for more companies than I can count at this point.  And we have never seen an algorithm update have any impact on anyone.  We honestly don’t even pay attention to them.

Scumbag and Non-Scumbag SEO

I personally divide the SEO world into two camps: scumbag SEO and non-scumbag SEO.  Our non-scumbag SEO methodology consists primarily of two steps:

  1. Figure out what questions people are asking the search engine and answer those questions.
  2. Do it on a site that doesn’t suck to visit.

Luckily, if you’ve been creating content in good faith and earning search traffic, you have, yourself, been executing this process.  This is, almost without exception, the case for everyone that asks about traffic declines.

Scumbag SEO, on the other hand, adds various additional steps to the process:

  1. Spam comment sections with nonsense that talks about your site.
  2. Stuff keywords into your prose until your reader thinks they’re having a stroke.
  3. Pay an “SEO firm” $5 per hour to do things you’d prefer not to know about.
  4. Hack into abandoned WordPress sites and add links to your domain.
  5. Conduct “SEO heists” using generative AI.

Scumbag SEO is a constant game of taking cost shortcuts and avoiding punishment, always staying one jump ahead of the breadline.  And scumbag SEOs are who Google punishes with its algorithm updates.

If you’re doing scumbag SEO, trust me, you know it, and you know the risks.  You don’t do that kind of thing by accident.

(As an aside, a lot of SEO conusltants will likely take issue with what I’m saying here.  But they do so from a position of extreme motivated reasoning.  Their livelihood depends on you believing the only way to avoid Google’s wrath is to pay an SEO consultant to execute an endless punch list of billable minutiae.)

So if it wasn’t the algorithm, where did your traffic go?   Let’s take a look.

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Getting Above the Brief: How to Improve Your Developer Marketing Positioning

Recently, I wrote a post about changing Hit Subscribe’s positioning, which I intend to distribute to clients and prospects in appropriate situations.  I shared it to DaedTech as well, assuming that an audience of (I think, still) largely engineers might find the positioning insight interesting.

What I didn’t expect was the traction among developer marketing folks, including a bunch of people reaching out to me for direct discussion.  But since that’s what happened, I reread that post through the eyes of a developer marketer.  And doing that, I realized my explanation of why developer marketing made for terrible positioning was unsatisfyingly hand-wavy:

It’s terrible positioning because it’s all about the labor and not at all about the client, what they’re looking for, and what kind of transformation they’re hoping to achieve.

That’s true.  But there’s not a lot of meat on the bone if you’re a developer-marketing freelancer or small shop.

So, even though it has little relevance for either Hit Subscribe’s prospects or my historical engineer audience, I’m going to unpack this a little more.  I’ve spent almost fifteen years blogging about whatever is on my mind, so why stop now?

Let’s look at the positioning problem with “developer marketing” in detail.

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How We MVP Organic Traffic as a Lead Gen Channel

Minimum viable product (MVP), as defined by Eric Ries in the Lean Startup, is a fascinating term.  It has a specific meaning in the context that he defined it, but it also has a highly-inferable, slightly-wrong meaning if you simply happen to know what each of those three words mean.  I imagine a whole lot of people have inferred the definition without reading the book:

A minimum viable product is the earliest, feature-poorest version of your product that can survive in the market, right?  Right!?

Turns out, not exactly.  According to the source:

The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.

I’ve always thought of the Lean Startup as a book about applying the scientific method to business. And so I’ve thought of an MVP as an experiment rather than a product, myself.  How can you form and then verify or disprove a hypothesis as quickly and cost-effectively as possible?  This is the core question of the MVP.

(As an aside, if legibility and lifecycle of buzzwords is a topic that interests you, I once spent a whole blog post musing about this.)

Against this backdrop, I’d like to formalize an offering we’ve been doing more frequently of late: our organic traffic MVP.

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