Everyone knows that Google is king when it comes to generating traffic for your website. In fact, many webmasters practically disregard Yahoo and MSN altogether in their SEO efforts. And software download sites? Their time has passed, right?

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t agree with those statements. I look at my stats everyday, and the traffic from Google dwarfs all other sources. And download sites? I barely see a trickle from them. But most of the time when I look at my web stats, I’m looking at daily or weekly snapshots. I hadn’t run any long term numbers in a while, so tonight I decided to look at the year-to-date stats then slice and dice the data. What I found surprised me:

Traffic, downloads, and sales

Looking at just traffic and purchases, I assumed there was a gap in the data because Google visitors came back at some later point, after trying the software, and then made the purchase. But when I added the Download stats to the chart, the equation changed dramatically. MSN and Yahoo remained consistent between the three metrics, but Google dropped off significantly. This is a complete reversal of my last long term stats look-see.

And what’s the amorphous blob called “other”? Google Analytics doesn’t let you track external referrals for downloads, but luckily the stat package provided by my web host does (SmarterStats, in case you’re interested). Surprise, surprise. In the Downloads data, “other” is made up mostly of download site referrals and the rest is direct traffic.

I’m not going to jump to any conclusions yet, but I thought the data was interesting enough to share.

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There’s a basic concept in Six Sigma called Voice of the Customer. When you’re defining a project, you need to identify the critical-to-quality (CTQ) elements in your process that matter to the customer. Too often though, the voice of the customer isn’t heard until _after_ they become a customer. What about potential customers?

Taking a step back for a second, here’s a worthwhile quote from Jack Welch…

“One thing we have discovered with certainty is that anything we do that makes the customer more successful inevitably results in a financial return for us.”

Products and services sell because they solve people’s problems. They make customers more successful. And the only way you can solve their problems in the first place is if they become aware of your product, understand your product, and see the benefits. So the voice of the customer needs to start with marketing.

In his recent post on MicroISV.com, Dave Collins touches on this. He makes the point that software vendors should sell the benefits, not the features:

“Customers get freaked out by features. We don’t like them, they sound intimidating, and they do nothing to make us smile. But we love benefits. Save time, save money, use more for less. Lovely. Music to our ears.”

Stepping back into the voice of the customer mode, want do customers really want to know when they visit a site? It’s simple really, they want to know:

  • What the product is.
  • How it will benefit them.
  • How much it will cost.
  • How credible the offer is.

Notice that I wrote “How it will benefit them”, not just “the benefits”. It’s a fine distinction, but an important one.

When you get into the business of running an online company, “sell the benefits” is one of the mantras that get chimed over and over again. Emotion sells more than logic is the copywriter’s motto. Dave’s a smart guy and runs a successful software marketing firm, so I’m sure he knows what he’s talking about. But the problem is it’s a concept that gets misconstrued and taken to the extreme.

I’ve seen too many software sites that get so focused on the benefits that it’s hard to tell what the product actually does. Microsoft’s Silverlight page is a perfect example of this. Most enterprise software websites are even worse.

In any product genre, you can find numerous product sites all claiming to “save time, save money, use more for less.” But that’s not enough. What you really need to do is connect the dots between the benefits and the features in order to be credible.

Do customers really get “freaked out by features”? Not me. In fact, they’re typically the first thing I look for. When I’m buying a product to solve a problem, I need to know whether the product has the capability to do so.

Sure, I’m an engineer, so that may seem like a quirk. But the majority of my support time is spent on pre-sales inquiries. Are these people emailing me about the benefits? No, they are asking if the software supports one feature or another. That’s real data that proves to me that customers don’t get freaked out by features.

So the next time you work on your company’s marketing, put on your Jack Welch hat and think about how your product will make your customers more successful. Drill it down to how each of the features in your product will benefit your customers. The end result should strike a nice balance between “sell the benefits” and “sell the features.”

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