You should always be honest with your customers because transparency is the foundation upon which good customer relations are built. So when several people have asked about my newsletter sign-ups, I have been honest about it. The bottom line is, I’m trying to convert clicks into sales. Clicks don’t always convert into sales immediately, so sometimes you have to settle on converting clicks into leads.

Shocked? I didn’t think so. Most people know when they sign up for a newsletter that no matter how useful the information is, there’s still going to be some pitch made.

When I originally started writing articles for my web site the goal was to attract visitors who would then click on through to the rest of the site and discover my wonderful product. Fat chance. This is the internet so most people (like me) are just interested in free content. My article-to-site click-through rate was about 5%. The conversion to sales was even worse. In the first 4 months after FlowBreeze was released, only 1 sales could be tracked back to someone who entered the site through an article.
So I decided that I would try to (1) improve the click through rate, (2) generate sales leads, and (3) make money off the articles through ads. Many people think (1) and (3) work against each other, but I can always remove the ads at a later date to test that theory.

  1. I improved my sales copy in the About the Author section of the articles and my click-through rate is now about 10% – double the previous.
  2. I added a newsletter sign-up a month ago and have gotten a 0.4% subscriber rate. Not huge, but each article I add to the site generates between 100 and 2000 visitors per month. So the more articles I add, the more subscribers I’ll get.
  3. I added Google AdSense to my site. I’m not getting rich, but I’m making more in AdSense than I spend on Google AdWords. I don’t know why, but I get a perverse sense of satisfaction out of that.

If you look again at the title of this post, you’ll notice that there is no “How To” at the beginning of it. No. This is an open declaration that anyone who signs up for my newsletter is a sales lead. There, I said it.
Does that mean I’ll bombard you with spam? No. I will send out occasional emails consisting of…

  • Diagramming, quality and/or documentation tips
  • A listing of recent articles published on the site
  • Product announcements – new product releases and version updates
  • Once in a while, special deals just for newsletter subscribers

Not such as bad deal, is it?

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I started using Google Sitemaps several months ago to ensure that my site was getting fully indexed by the Googlebot. Aside from the obvious indexing advantages, Google Sitemaps also offer a few other insights to your web site. One of the more interesting ones is the Page Analysis feature.

Page Analysis has a Common Words section with 2 parts – words used in your site’s content and in external links to your site. The second part, words in external links, is the topic of this post.

The first time I glanced at this page I was surprised to see my name (Nick) show up as one of the words in external links. I can understand Nicholas Hebb being used to link to my site, because I use my full name when submitting FlowBreeze to software download sites.

I only used Nick Hebb in a link when posting to the Business of Software forum. Most forums I just use nhebb. The interesting thing is that Business of Software forum uses both a robots nofollow meta tag and the rel=”nofollow” attribute in links to avoid forum spam, just like Google recommends for Blogger users.

So I decided to do a test. For the last month, I changed my signature from Nick Hebb to Flow Chart Geek. The result: Geek now shows up as a a word used in external links in my Sitemaps Page Analysis.

I don’t know if this is conclusive evidence that Google is ignoring the nofollow attribute for non-Blogger users, but it seems to point that way.

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I have a back log of articles I’ve written that mostly just need screen shots and some final polishing up. So once again, I’m blogging about new Excel flowcharting articles I’ve posted.

The first article is How to Make Flow Charts in Excel. It provides a good overview of the basics to creating flow charts in Excel – even if you’re a FlowBreeze user. It also has a a few good tips on editing flow charts, including the easiest way to insert and delete flow chart symbols. The following is a listing of all the article sections:

  1. Enable the Drawing Toolbar
  2. Create a Flow Chart Grid
  3. Enable Snap to Grid
  4. Set the Page Properties
  5. Create Flow Chart Structures – e.g. Swim Lanes and Title Block
  6. Add a Flow Chart Symbol
  7. Add Text to a Symbol
  8. Add a Connector (Flow Line) Between Two Symbols
  9. Add a Callout
  10. Move a Flow Chart Symbol
  11. Resize a Flow Chart Symbol
  12. Align and Distribute Flow Chart Symbols
  13. Delete Flow Chart Symbols
  14. Insert Flow Chart Symbols
  15. Change a Flow Chart Symbol Type
  16. Format Flow Chart Symbols

The second article is How To Add Text to Excel Flow Chart Connectors (Flow Lines). It’s a simple and straightforward piece on how to …

  • Get the text boxes centered on the flow lines.
  • Not have the line running through the text.
  • Hide the text box border and a few other formatting tips.
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Hyperlinks are one of those things you love even when you don’t realize it. Click a link and bam! – you’re there. Open a document, browse to a web page, or launch your email. Did you know you can even use them to hop around an Excel flowchart?

You can and it’s pretty easy to do.

This article explains all the ways you can add hyperlinks to Excel flowcharts. Plus it explains how to link parent and child flowcharts to easily document a process at a high level and a detailed level in the same file.

Posted in Uncategorized.

A flowchart is a great way to visually depict a process, but if you want to analyze it, step it up to a process map. What are process maps? They’re a Six Sigma version of flowcharts that add attributes to each flowchart process step. Typical attributes include cycle time, defects per unit, delay time, ownership and responsiblility, etc.
In fact, that’s why creating flowcharts in Excel is such an effective analysis tool. After all, Excel is one big and powerful analysis tool. And, apparently I’m not the only one who thinks this way because at least a dozen people have asked whether FlowBreeze will be available in a Business Process Mapping version. The answer is yes, but not for several more months.

In the meantime, you can create a lightweight process map using this Tutorial to Create a Process Map from a Flowchart. Enjoy.

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Inspired by a new Excel add-in developer, I’ve decided to create a list of Excel developer resources. It’s sparse now, but I will update it periodically.

Books

I’ve only found 2 that are even worth mentioning.

Sites

  • This blog has Office version survey results from FlowBreeze users. The 2008 data is here and the 2009 data is here.
  • http://www.fontstuff.com/ also has a useful MS Office version survey. The survey is skewed by the nature of the people who visit his site, but it’s useful nonetheless. Bottom line: don’t jump through hoops to support Excel 97. It’s just not worth the effort.
  • Sign up for kbAlertz. As the names implies, you get Microsoft Knowledge Base alerts for selected products.
  • There are a number of decent forums. The best are:

Listing on Directories

FlowBreeze in the Excel search results for Flowchart
  • You should get listed on Microsoft Office Marketplace. The site gets 50 million unique visitors per month and can be a considerable source of traffic. You can list on their the international sites as well.
  • It’s also worth it to get listed at download.com. Products listed at download.com show up in the Windows Catalog faster. You may never have noticed the Windows Catalog in your Start menu before, but it’s there at the top of the All Programs menu. Note: Since the time this post was first written, Windows Catalog has changed entirely and is not what it used to be.
  • Cool tip: choose your product description carefully. If a user types in one of your keywords in the Excel help search box, your software will be listed in the results, as shown on the right. To be honest I’m not sure whether it’s being in the Windows Catalog or Microsoft Office Marketplace that gets you listed in the help file, but do both anyway.
  • Most specialty directories for Excel add-ins do affiliate sales and require that you have an account setup through RegNow. Based on past experience with RegNow, I have opted not to go that route. Are they worth it? They might be. A lot of them get a fair amount of traffic. Ozgrid.com delivered about 3 sales/month in the four months FlowBreeze was listed on it. But I had so many problems with the RegNow tracking wrapper, that the headaches easily outweighed the slim profits. By contrast, a non-RegNow affiliate spreadsheet-solutions.com has provided less than $1000 in sales over three years, but setting it up was just a matter of a few emails. So hunting around for specialized directories may be more worth it for Excel add-ins than most other software products.
  • Some download sites do not allow add-ins. If it makes sense for your application, you might consider a standalone application that launches Excel.

Rules of Thumb

  • Develop in the oldest version of Excel that you plan to support.
  • If you plan on using late binding, develop using early binding and switch to late binding for your build.
  • If you’re doing COM and sinking Excel events, you must use early binding.
  • The earliest version of Excel that supports COM add-ins is Excel 2000.
  • For most functionality, testing Excel 2000, XP, and 2003 is the same, but Excel 2007 requires separate testing.
  • If you develop in Delphi or .NET, consider making your life easier by using Add-in Express. It simplifies ribbon/toolbar creation, eliminates the PIA headaches, and lets you create Task Panes. I’m not making a commission off this, so enough of my salesmanship – go see it yourself.
  • Use Excel’s VBA Editor (aka VBE) to do Unit Testing. Most code that interacts directly with the spreadsheet can be broken out and setup as a Sub or Function in the VBE. I keep a test development file with any necessary support code, and I typically create three methods: (1) the Sub or Function in development, (2) the test function to call #1, and (3) a Sub to restore the spreadsheet to its original condition. The first two are obvious, but the third one may not be and is a real time saver.

Downsides

  • Because you are playing in someone else’s yard, you end up having to scoop their poop. Because your program operates within Excel, the customer is likely to view any Excel-related problems as a support issue to contact you with.

[revised: 10-1-2009]

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Here are 3 easy to do PAD file improvements you should make because they will increase your download site traffic, bump up your sales, and give you a nice little SEO boost.

#1 -Add Keywords to Your Product Name

This is so simple and obvious that if keywords aren’t already in your Product_Name field, you should walk over to a mirror, slap yourself in the forehead, and shout a few expletives. Then shout a few more at the Lhasa Apso that just peed on the floor [or is that just in my house?].

Browsing through download sites you see a lot of undescriptive product listings like:

BlaBlaBla 2.3

Visitors need to read through the BIG BLOCK OF TEXT below to see what the product is. Es no bueƱo muchacho.

But … changing the Program_Name field to:

BlaBlaBla ShortDescription 2.3

will let people see what the product does immediately. Here’s the key: I changed mine from FlowBreeze to FlowBreeze Flow Chart Software, and viola!, my average download rates went way up from the same sites (yes, as a matter of fact, 2 x 0 = 0 does count as doubling my download rate).

#2 – Make Your Descriptions More Readable with Ellipses

Most people don’t like to read on the internet, and when they do, they prefer bulletized text. The problem with PAD file description fields are that they are just BIG BLOCKS OF TEXT. Internet readers like to scan, so the solution is to break your descriptions up with an ellipsis between each fragment. Here’s a before and after of the 450 character description field for FlowBreeze Flow Chart Software.

Before:

“FlowBreeze Flowchart Software is a 100% MS Office integrated tool for making flow charts the fast, easy, and affordable way. FlowBreeze Flowchart Software lets you Just Type the Text. FlowBreeze Flow Chart Software converts the text into flowchart shapes, adds flow lines, and formats the drawing automatically. It lets you generate flowcharts in Excel, then easily copy and paste them into Word, PowerPoint, and other Microsoft applications.”

After:

“FlowBreeze Flowchart Software … a 100% MS Office integrated tool … lets you make flow charts fast and easy because … it lets you just type the text … converts your text into flowchart symbols … adds flow lines … formats the flow chart symbols automatically … lets you generate flowcharts in Excel, then easily copy and paste them into Word, PowerPoint or other Microsoft applications … affordable Business Process Improvement software”

You can see 2 differences between the Before and After. First, each feature (sentence fragment) stands out a bit more. That’s the goal. Second, the copy has changed. When you go through and add the ellipses, odds are you’ll push that upper limit for the field length, so you’ll need to shorten the text in other places. But the other thing that happens is, you’re forced to make your copy more bullet-like. And for the purposes of scanability, that’s perfect.

#3 – Use It For Its SEO Power

When you’re just starting out as a software company, you’re site isn’t going to be ranked well and your product will linger on the back of the search engine result pages – that no one ever goes to. But, BigTrustedDownloadSite.com and OldDownloadSite.com have good page rankings. So if you make sure your product’s keywords are featured prominently in your PAD file, odds are that one or more of the top download sites will be featured on the first page of the results.

Also, is the link back to your product page something like www.mysite.com/product.htm? A quick thing you can do is add keywords to your directory structure, so the URLs linked to become www.mysite.com/keyword/product.htm and www.mysite.com/keyword/product_setup.exe. Most download sites generate links dynamically, but there are still some that list plain text links to sites – some with the url as the link text.

SEO is a brutal game that most of us don’t like to play. There are a lot of sleazy SEO players on the internet, and most likely you’d rather be programming. But if you want your product to be noticed by potential customers, it’s a game you have to play.

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