Powering Business Sites with WordPress

I’m going to tell you a story you’ve probably heard before and it goes like this:

You have a friend who has a shop, a restaurant or a yoga studio. He has heard about the wonders of the Internet and one day, he asks you to help him set up a website for his business.

This is how it plays out in the beginning of your career, but the truth is, nothing really changes and soon enough, you have a new client.

It doesn’t matter if you do it as a favour or for money, you are going to pour your heart and soul into this project because you want them to succeed.

So what do you do?

  • You install WordPress.
  • You find a theme.
  • You paste some content.
  • You tweak the template here and there.
  • You make the client validate the site based on his aesthetic taste.
  • You listen to the client’s meaningless feedback.

The result? The site is online but not really making a difference for the business. The client will never be happy with the website and will say things like:
– “Why didn’t you create a Facebook page? Everybody is on Facebook!”
– “Why am I not the first hit on Google?”
– “What do you mean with which keywords? All of them!”
– “That green is not green enough.”
– “Why isn’t it as cool as this other website?” And then proceeds to show you Amazon.com.

I told you before this was a classic scenario and I’m sure that many of you have experienced it at least once.

A Better Approach

In order to succeed we need to change our attitude and our process. We must be mindful to never detach the business goals from the online presence. This happens way too often and it’s a source of frustration for many businesses that try their hand at online channels.

Let’s take a step back, take a pad of paper, a sharp pencil and let’s work old school:

  • Define reasonable goals.
  • Identify checkpoints and metrics.
  • Measure and improve.

First thing’s first – Business sites

Business site are websites designed to support a traditional business. These businesses primarily serve local clients in the area and they can afford investing a little bit of money in online marketing activities.

Define the goal

The first thing you should do when you acquire a new customer is to ask a simple question: “What do you need the website for?”

Let’s try it all together, repeat after me: “What – Do – You – Need – The – Website – For?”

This is where you’ll get the most surprising answers: To get new clients, to get visitors, to save money on advertising, to sell stuff, to have a URL for the business cards, to compete with Facebook or I don’t know, they told me I needed one!

Your first job is to clarify the goal of the website with your client. It won’t be easy, life isn’t easy. Life is simple, not easy, right? So, the first step is to help your client find out what the primary goal of their website is.

Define checkpoints and metrics: The Growth Funnel
The Growth Funnel is a business tool that serves as a framework to break down the entire relationship businesses have with their customers. It helps us identify where our weak points are and how we can improve our business. It’s a simple 6-step funnel that goes as follows:

Awareness

As soon as people know the shop is open for business we have met this goal. How do we do this? We could, for instance, put flyers up in the neighbourhood. Would that make people aware? Yes. Would that scale as the business grows? Not really. What is the equivalent of flyers in the online world? Display advertisement, local directories, Chamber of Commerce sites, Yellow Pages, Google AdWords, Google Search.

Acquisition

Can we consider people acquired when they visit the website? This is a classic mistake. It’s true if you have an online business, but not when you have physical business location. People are acquired when they call a phone number, they send an email or even better, when they walk into the shop.

Activation

People are activated if they become customers. They can buy something, take their computer in for repairs, lease a big copy machine.

Retention

People are retained if they come back and purchase again. Some people may sign a service contract for support, they may simply take another computer in for support and so on.

Referral

Customers are so happy about the service they tell other people and bring in more customers. They can also be invited to do so by a well-designed referral program.

Revenue

The final goal of every activity is to generate revenue in a sustainable and long-term way.

WOW, I though this was about websites and WordPress and we are all business here. As I said, first thing’s first, there is no business site without a business. Never detach your online strategy from the business you are trying to serve.

Now that we have all our steps in place, what do we do?

Landing pages 101

Imagine you go camping and you are looking for a pocket knife. You go to a shop and what do you ask for? A pocket knife, right?
Good, so the man at the counter shows you this knife, a luxurious kitchen knife, extremely well-designed and well-balanced. Wow, it’s an amazing knife, but would you take it with you to go camping? Of course not.
Oh, sorry, says the guy, you’re going camping, right? Then he shows you a top-of-the-line pocket knife with every tool under the sun and then some.

So why do you always settle for the first two options when you set up a website: A site so beautiful that it is basically useless or a website so packet with features that you can barely find what you are looking for.

Websites are tools, they need to be useful. Then they can be beautiful and eventually full of features. But first of all they need to be useful.

A business site, to be useful, needs to do one job and one job only: Get people through the door. How? By providing enough information, trust and reliability to the visitor and we do that with powerful landing pages.

100% of the traffic we care about comes from another site. They can be coming through display advertisement, directories, partners but most of all from Google AdWord or Google organic search. Direct traffic is not so important for conversion because if someone knows how to reach your website directly, then they are already willing to walk in the door.

In order to convert visitors into customers we need to have killer landing pages, each one of them sharply refined down to the very last pixel.

What do we need on every landing page?

A phone number
Big, easy to spot and clickable. Don’t shake your head, this is the most valuable thing you can put on the site. People trust phone numbers and will call. The phone number must be marked up in the code and clickable.

The address of the shop
Make it prominent. Don’t put a map, put an address and eventually a link to Google Maps. Maps slow down the page and nobody will ever use that map. People can click on the address if they need to.

Opening hours
It’s very important if you want people to show up. Phone numbers, addresses and opening hours must be marked up so Google can pick them up and show them on maps and local business listings. There are plugins that can do the job for you. For instance WordPress SEO by Joast does all of this.

Basic information about what people are looking for.
If you have a set of products or services, every product must have a dedicated page, with a clear call to action, like call or send an email.

These are basics, but just try to remember how many of the sites you visit do these basics right.

It should go without saying you need a responsive theme because if you cut off your mobile visitors you are out of business in no time.

A clear call to action
Define your call to action and put it on the landing page. It must be one and one only. Don’t pack landing pages with links and stuff. Just tell people what to do to contact you. It can be a phone call, or sending an email.

Measure all things

You cannot improve anything if you can’t measure it. So let’s start by measuring things. A few metrics are easy to measure, others are very difficult. We are dealing with a local business so we just need to focus on those easy-enough metrics that can be leveraged and make a real difference. Who is the king of online metrics? Exactly Google Analytics. We are going to see Analytics a lot here.

Acquisition

How many people call, send emails or walk into the shop and more specifically how many of them are coming from the website?

Three ways to have a pretty accurate estimate:
– Ask new clients how they found out about you.
– Have a full event tracking on Google Analytics. When people click on the email address or the phone number, track it.
– The hook: If you mention a special discount on your website, have people who walk in mention it.

Retention

One of the best ways to keep your customers engaged is to offer them a newsletter. Email marketing is really powerful. WordPress offers many ways to engage your readers via email:
– Jetpack offers email subscription to your content.
– Mailchimp for WordPress is a powerful plugin that integrates Mailchimp with your website, allowing you to have powerful email campaigns.

Once again, it’s very important to measure not just how many emails you send, the open rate and the click rate. What really matters is how many people come back to the business. Measure everything!

Design – Test – Verify – Improve

Here comes the most powerful advice of all: Test your assumptions. I know you are skilled developers, talented designers and amazing code poets but don’t take anything for granted when it comes to business sites. You know your audience but most of the time you know nothing about your client’s clients. Try different designs, different flow, and most of all iterate often on landing pages.

Design – Test – Verify – Improve – Iterate Fast.

Rethink business sites. Next time you have to deal with a business site remember these three things:

  • Define reasonable goals.
  • Measure all the things.
  • Online and offline go together.

One more thing…

Don’t be afraid of offering seemingly old-school solutions to your clients. The only thing that matters is offering valuable support for the business they’re running. Most of the time, they’re still stuck in the 70s. Taking them to 1995 with a solid email marketing strategy connected to their site can be a real game-changer. You don’t need ello for that!

Author: Luca Sartoni – Copy editor: Andrea Zoellner

How to Design Growth: Growth Hacking 101 at Seedcamp in Rome

Introduction: this presentation was performed on the 5th of June 2014, at Seedcamp in Rome. I want to thank Seedcamp, the organisation, Nicola Mattina, Giuliano Iacobelli, Carlos Espinal and my company, Automattic, for giving me the opportunity to speak in front of such a great audience.

Growth Hacking 101

Good afternoon! My name is Luca Sartoni, I work at Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com and many other products and today I’m gonna introduce you to Growth Hacking.

How many of you are from Rome, the eternal city? A couple of hours from here there is a lovely town called Assisi, where many many years ago San Francis used to shock the system with his unorthodox approach to religion.

Many of you, know this prayer, attributed to him:

“Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

How many of you knew this prayer before?

So, it turned out that this prayer was mistakenly attributed to San Francis, while in reality it was written by Reinhold Niebuhr, an american theologist about 700 years after.

You know, Abraham Lincoln was right when he said:

“The problem with quotes found on the internet is you have no way of confirming their authenticity.”

If the Internet tricks us on simple attribution of quotes, how can we make good decisions as entrepreneurs?
How can we focus on what matters and make the right choices if we don’t know what is right and what is wrong?

How many of you are entrepreneurs? How many of you have a startup?

So I have a question for you: what is a startup?

Paul Graham, Co-founder of Y-combinator seed capital firm defined a startup as a company designed to grow fast.

How to design growth

Adaptation

There are things that we can’t control. We have to deal with it. I know that it’s difficult to accept it as a fact, but this is how reality works. We cannot change how people behave, how people nurture and cultivate their interests, how they interact with devices and interfaces. Of course we can come up with interesting elements of design, we can dramatically change people’s life. Just imagine how Apple impacted our world since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. But they just didn’t show up one day out of the blue. There were years of research and development, a strong vision and hard work.

In a single sentence: “Growth is a matter of culture”.

Culture

So first element for a strong growth by design is education. Hire diversity and focus on all the abilities that as a technical team probably you lack of.

At WordPress we say: “code is poetry”. That wants to be an inclusive statement. Everybody should be included in your developmentm process. Every single diverse input is precious and you cannot even imagine to start a global project if you don’t have those elements of contamination in your company’s DNA.

Hire anthropologists, philosophers, artists. Give them a technical platform and education. Teach them code, let them contaminate your company and you’ll have much more chances to succeed. You cannot a afford to have an solid technology company if you just rely on pure technology, you need people to resonate with other people.

Make sure that everybody understands how growth is relevant to their sigle contribution to the company and how they can deliver a better product.

A common misconception is that growth is all about user acquisition or all about revenues. This is dead wrong. It depends and it’s a case to case deal. There are projects that make sense to focus on acquisition only, other project are focused on revenues, other on more strategical indicators. This is something you need to define and then be honest to yourself.

If you jump from one metric to the other depending on what is good this week, you are not going very far. It can work for a few months but it’s not gonna work on the long run. Be honest with yourself and define your key metrics. They can change, but only as a result of a pivoting, not as a consequence of the weekly performance report.

In order to design your growth you need a scientific approach, contaminated with all the possible diversity you can. But the core of your approach needs to be mainly scientific.

Which tools we can borrow from science and apply to growth?

Tools

Let’s have a look at three must-have tools for growth: A/B tests, usability tests and sliding windows.

How many of you are familiar with A/B tests? Very simple: given a population, we randomly assign them to groups (bucketing) and we try different design elements or flows according to the groups they belong to. We analyse the results and we determine which element or flow worked best.

There is an entire universe behind A/B testing, and there are many cognitive traps you can fall into. So please study and improve your A/B testing processes. But let me give you three quick tips on how to avoid the classic mistakes: seasonality, meaningful measurement of impact, micro optimisation fallacy.

Weekly seasonality: it does not matter how much traffic you have, people on monday afternoon behave differently than on thursday morning. I always run tests for a week, at least. This helps me to have more complete sample of the population and helps to reach the statistical significance.

Meaningful measurement of impact: let’s say you have a complete marketing funnel like this, from awareness to revenues. Let’s say you run a test on the signup interface in order to increase activation. If your test involves a specific point of the funnel, use a relevant metric within the same segment of the funnel. If you measure revenues, for instance, there is a high chance to have meaningless results because many other variables are able to influence that metric.

Micro optimisation fallacy: this is a tricky one because it is a direct consequence of the previous step. If you do it right measuring within the same step of the funnel, there is a good chance that one day or the other you fall into this fallacy. This happens when you reach points of relative optimisation and you don’t realise that there are better opportunities just because you have a short sight. How to overcome this? Strong vision, bold decisions and experience.

Usability tests are big helpers on this. Are you familiar with usability tests?

They are easy to explain, very difficult to perform correctly.

You simply take real people and you ask them to try out your product. You ask them to perform key tasks and you study how they behave. Is sounds simple, right? Well, it’s not THAT simple but with a few tips you can get good results from the very first test.

Usability tests help you to find roadblocks and major fails. So, when it’s the right time to run usability tests?

When your site is ready for going live? NO
When your producs is almost ready for shipping? NO
When you MVP is almost ready? NO

The sooner the better! Ask people to try out stuff as soon as you have the idea. Ask them what they think of it. Gather costructive criticism as soon as you can.

As soon as you have a piece of interface, let them go through it, and keep looking where they get stuck. And then ask them why they got stuck.

The big advice I want to give you here is: don’t listen to them when they tell you how it should be done. I know, it sounds awkward but it’s true. If they were able to make it better, they probably would have made it better before you. They are not your engineers, they are your testers, so listen to them carefully about the problems they had, but most of the time their solutions are simply not good enough and they are not the right people for that.

Judge them by facts, not by their words. So if they say that something was easy to perform, don’t trust them. Measure how much time they spent on it and compare it with other people’s performances. When they find a major roadblock or say that something is broken, ask them questions to understand why they find it broken, not on how to fix it.

The third and last tool it’s important to know it’s very trivial. But very tricky at the same time: sliding windows.
Always compare metrics on a 28 days basis. This way you always include 4 weeks of data, you don’t have longer and shorter months and the comparison is always normalised.

Just to wrap up, let’s have a look at the serenity prayer, with a modern growth twist:

“Grant me the ability to adapt to the things I cannot change,
the culture to change the things I can,
and the right tools to know the difference.”

Thank you very much, if you have any question, drop a comment.

Remote Working: One Does Not Simply Spend a Year Without Pants

My name is Luca Sartoni, I’m a Growth Engineer and I work at Automattic. Automattic is the company behind WordPress.com, Akismet, Polldaddy, Jetpack and many others. Our company is fully distributed and my 237 colleagues work from home, cafes, lounges, airports, coworking spaces.

Remote working is not unusual in our industry, most of the time is already happening in your organisation, you simply do not realise how remote people are, even when are sharing the same office space.

How many of you have a traditional office environment? Can you tell me what do you do when you are at work? You stare at your computer, you send emails, you chat on skype. Why do you need to be sitting at the same desk? Almost every activity you do at the office is already remote, just a few meters apart. We do exactly the same, amplifying the distance between us.

You can find a great book about remote working and in particularly about Automattic in “A year without pants” by Scott Berkun. Scott worked at Automattic for a year and took the chance to crystallise his experience in this book, it totally worth a reading.

I live in Vienna but I was born and raised in Ravenna, a small town on the coast of the Adriatic sea, a hundred kilometers south of Venice, Italy. When I visit my family I don’t need to take vacations, because my job is not impacted at all by my geographical location.

The common understanding of work makes things a little difficult to explain. People tend to think that not having a clear separation between work and private life is impossible, unpleasant, dangerous. I see many of my friends waiting for their holidays for months and then being depressed when it’s time to get back to work.

This feeling is totally unknown to me but it does not mean that I work all the time. I just have a relationship with my job that allows me to travel, have a good time, contribute to the well being of my company and enjoy my life to the fullest.

But as a computer scientist, marketing manager and reasonable person I’m always sceptical and every time things are too good to be true, I start looking for the catch. Is there a catch in remote working? Yes of course. More than a catch, there are a few issues that can spoil the dream of being delocalised.

Lack of productivity is the most common threat and it’s the most popular question i get about my job: if everybody works from home, how can you make sure people are not just watching TV all the time?

The second question is order of popularity is: “how can you make sure people know what to do and how to do it?”. Communication and project management.

The third question I get all the time is: “don’t you feel alone?” Socialisation.

So we have: productivity, project management, socialisation.

Productivity is the easiest one: office spaces and productivity are opposites of each others. Ringing phones, other people chatting with each other, limited personal space, corporate equipment, office hours. All of these are more limits to productivity than helpers. They tend to limit us more than enhance our potentials.

Project management is a matter of communication, and we all know that we are super good at communicating. Being in the same room does not help for sure.
Imagine a team of four have to build a wall. In the best case scenario they don’t have to speak a single word. One person will carry the bricks, the other one will prepare che cement, the other two will line up the bricks and carefully make sure the wall is straight. Every time they stop and they talk about how to do it, it’s a signal of bad planning.

Every time there are people spending a lot of time discussing how to do something, there is a lack of knowledge, a lack of planning or a lack of management. It’s never a lack of presence. Usually it’s the opposite.

Socialisation is the real biggie. It’s true that people can feel lonely and it’s very important to keep them socialising. In our company we encourage people to meet up on a regular basis and tighten up their relationships, this way becomes easier to trust each other when remotely located.

This three issues: productivity, project management and socialisation can be considered at two different levels: structural and personal. The company needs to make sure people are productive, organised and connected, but each of us experience that same issues at personal level.

So, we have to develop a set of good habits to make sure that each of us is productive, organised and social. The following tips are my personal techniques that I refined in the last few years. I don’t think they are absolute winners, but they work for me. My hope is they can help you as well, but remember you have to develop your own personal habits.

I clearly separate planning and acting. There is a time during my day where I carefully make a list of things I have to do. The list has short, medium, long time goals. It’s very crucial to separate the planning time from the operational time. If you fail at planning you’re planing to fail. I do that on my field notes, on my text editor, on SimpleNote, on EverNote.

I don’t want to depend on anything. The less dependencies I have, the more productive I can be. So I always have my bag with me, my tools and my essential kit includes: my phone, my laptop, my field notes, a pen. Then of course I have all the accessories: chargers, cables, headphones and so on. Most of the time I also have my camera with me. But my rule is that not a single piece in my bag is strictly needed. If I don’t have my laptop I can keep up with my phone. If I don’t have an internet connection I spend my time writing down ideas to process as soon as I have a reliable connection. I prepare email I have to send since forever, I do the planning.

When I work, I work. This means headphones on, time boxing and total isolation. I invested a little bit of money in my anti-noise headphones and I can isolate myself in any situation. Over time I trained myself in being able to isolate myself even without any headphone, it’s a useful exercise.

Many of you may know that Automattic’s internal communication is based on O2, a special theme for WordPress. All our work is well documented on our internal blogs. This routine helps me a lot to keep things together. I don’t have to remember details and I can always restore a project which has been put aside for a few weeks. It also helps other people to pick it up, in case it’s needed.

I’m sure you noticed I did not mention any particular tool during this presentation. I didn’t focus on anything in particular and there’s a reason. Usually people think that a distributed company depends on the tools they are using to get things flow smoothly. This cannot be further than true. The tools can change all the time, what needs to be in place is the right attitude.

Always think about productivity, project management, socialisation. No matter which tool you use to keep this three things rolling, they need to be the focus of your effort.

The final tips I want to share with you are on how to make sure you can get the most out of working in cafes and lounges. I tend to avoid chains like Starbucks or MacDonalds. They usually offer you connectivity but I don’t like them too much. I prefer local coffee shops where you can develop a more personal connection with the staff. If you show up a few times and leave a decent tip, they understand you are working and they don’t try to sell you more than necessary. You also learn quickly which is the best spot in the house, where you can plug your power adaptor and so on.

For this reason, Paolo and I, started a project called nomadworking.org where we try to review all the places we hang out at from our perspective of nomad workers. We quickly review the wifi connection, the availability of power sockets, the staff and so on. We already have a strong community of Nomad Workers and the site is growing fast. If you want to join us and contribute, you are more than welcome.

Just go to nomadworking.org and help us!

I presented “Remote Working: One Does Not Simply Spend a Year Without Pants at WordCamp Slovakia on the 26th of April 2014 in Bratislava

2014 – new year, new life, new job: growth engineer at Automattic

2013 was a blast. So many things happened during the summer and even before! Professionally it was the busiest year ever and I had so many gigs I cannot even remember all of them.

At the end of 2012 I started Heisenberg Media together with Dan Taylor. We spent the past year kicking really hard to take the photographic experience of tech events to the next level and so we did. Check out the wrap up post by Dan to see how many world-class events we covered in just 12 months. I put a lot of effort into this adventure but Dan was the real key to success. His dedicated passion allowed HBM to grow significantly and I’m so happy to step back now and leave the entire project in Dan’s hands. After more than 10 years of photography and a year of semi/pro activity I decided that photography has a very relevant importance to me and it deserves the right spot in my life: a hobby.

As a trainer I had wonderful clients and events in 2013. I was in many different cities, helping out accelerators, incubators and private companies improving their presentation skills. I helped people overcoming the fear of being on stage, getting investments being more confident. I also had the opportunity to meet amazing people in the industry and contribute value to their projects. Last month in Paris I also spent a few days with my role model and great friend Carmine Gallo. If you want to learn how to present and how to stand out in the tech industry when on stage, Carmine is the master.

As a marketing manager I spent large part of the year at kompany, which absorbed more than 18 months of my time since we started it in february 2012. I contributed to build the team and establish the good practices in terms of marketing and growth. I had wonderful business partners, colleagues and more than that friends. I loved every single minute there, even during the lows, because we knew that the ups were going to come soon. And so they did. Back in September I had to take a painful decision and leave the team, wishing them all the best. It was very difficult but I felt it was time to move on.

So I got at the end of the year 2013 with a ridiculous amount of adventures, travels, pictures, contacts, dreams, hopes and with a little more maturity regarding my future and what I actually want to do.

I spent the first part of my career jumping from one project to the other, looking for the excitement of the moment but already distracted by the new gig coming up. I also travelled a lot and every time I was landing I was already getting ready to take off again. Being stuck at the same place for too long was just not part of the lifestyle I wanted to have. I also enjoy working with small teams on ambitious projects. I love diversity and global ventures.

Today it starts the second part of my career with more focus on a single project and less distractions. It happens at the right time and at the right place, in a way I could not believe even though I saw all the pieces of the puzzle falling together in place before my very eyes. Maturity also taught me that there are things I cannot change and honestly I cannot see myself working on a 9 to 5 office job at all.

A couple of months ago I decided to take a challenge and apply at Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com and many other mind blowing products. I had a few chats, I went through a trial period, completing an amazing project and finally after this “try before you buy” round I’m very proud to announce that of today I’m a Growth Engineer at Automattic.

I want to thank all the people I met in the last few years who contributed to make me grow professionally, all the friends and family who supported me and the people who I know are always there for me as much I will always be there for them. I don’t need to say names, you perfectly know who you are.

So, with no more further ado, let’s welcome this 2014 and let’s get started!

LAUNCHub long weekend: my tips on pitching

LAUNCHub is a 9M Euro Seed & Acceleration fund, based in Sofia, Bulgaria, supported by a mentor-led program that invests in startup companies, mainly from the ICT sector from Bulgaria and the region. Our investments range from EUR 30K to 200K per company and we also provide guiding mentorship.

Last January I was invited but LAUNCHub to present “Work Hard, Play Hard, Pitch Harder”, my interactive workshop about public speaking and idea pitching. I went to Sofia and spend an amazing long weekend mentoring excellent startups.

Enjoy the video and checkout the complete video gallery of the event!