Dual purpose marketing

Marketing is in many ways a necessary evil. We all know that to survive in business your marketing has to be effective. To thrive it has to be exceptional. There is no way around it. The question is what is your overarching philosophy about marketing? If you’re like me, you view most traditional marketing as hype-based lying. Not exactly a healthy attitude for somebody who needs to be effective, wait, exceptional at marketing. Yet if we’re really honest about it, nearly every form of marketing is some combination of intrusive or annoying. There is a better way, and I call it “dual purpose marketing”. See I can’t stand putting time into marketing on it’s own. I’m not excited about writing ad copy, or making a marketing plan, even designing marketing elements is not my cup of tea. But I love to consult, deliver projects, and to share knowledge. S0 I base my marketing around those things. These happen to be the things that actually provide value to my customers and anybody else visiting my website. We could call it “value marketing”. What makes it “dual purpose” is that while you’re driving business and acquiring new customers, you’re also delivering real value to everyone you meet along the way.

Dual purpose marketing isn’t just about delivering value to customers through your marketing work. It’s also about process management, and building the foundation of your business. Take GoldHat’s new Project Showcase, effectively our portfolio, but so much more. First off unlike a portfolio, each active project is continually updated. We use the snippets of code and story of building the Project Showcase (developed with our Clay Framework plugin) to engage with the audience. It becomes a source for tutorials and other education. The projects incorporate documentation and serve as a central hub for projects that don’t warrant their own website. Along the way we build up a back-end system that actually helps us keep our projects organized, though it’s far from a project management system at this point.

Remember that we’re in the “knowledge economy”, where sharing knowledge is vital to positioning yourself as an expert. People want to buy from those who demonstrate their skills via delivering knowledge. Teach somebody something about SEO, and when they think about hiring help for SEO they’ll remember you as a viable expert. People also buy from people they know. You’re far more likely to be in a position to sell once somebody has learnt something from you. No advertising is going to build trust and confidence. An online course that your company delivers can do that and more.

Upwork the fascist approach to managing freelancers

Let me set the tone for this post by saying I was selling on Elance nearly since it’s beginning. Combined, over 10-years of working with the Elance/Upwork business as both freelancer and buyer. Truth be told, I had less success as a buyer than as a seller. Rarely finding the quality of talent that I’d hoped for despite paying far more than the average offshore rates. In fact I no longer think of Upwork as even worth the time to post a job. Because I can predict who and what is going to bid – an arms length stream of “dear sir and madams, we are the best options for your solution” messages from India. If I want to teach ESL students from India and Pakistan how to do coding, I think I’d want to charge them or at least trade language and coding skills for free work. Not pay and hope my project will somehow come together. Anyway this is not meant to be a rant about the buying side, but to focus on how Upwork’s policies have become ever more draconian, and dare I say even fascist.

Let’s talk for a moment about the blatant censorship within Upwork’s Community section. A sort of propaganda platform where only pro-Upwork messages are allowed. It may sound outrageous if you’re not familiar with Upwork, that they would even try to silence dissent about their policies and business methods. Yet I’m not kidding you when I say even mild criticisms of policies or the platform result in both the messages being removed, and even warnings against the poster. I left a range of different messages in the Upwork community relating to such policies as their “forced 1-way video recording” that their using to verify freelancer identities. And even the tamest “suggestion” that the policies were invasive or unfair, or poorly executed, was immediately removed by the ever-diligent Upwork gestapo patrolling their community forums.

What’s left in those community forums are threads like “Upwork’s fees are actually quite fair”. And this kind of blatant slap on the back post is followed by a dozen or so replies chiming in “yes it’s so fair, their not raping the freelancers at all with the 20% fees”! And the thing that is so comical about this blatant censorship, is I just imagine that in reality for every positive post their is likely 20 freelancers posting “are you kidding, why would you defend this disgusting greed pig of a company”? And all those posts are removed.

Upwork is like the bureau of bad decision-making at some totalitarian regime. A legion of minions roaming around spewing out legalese try to contain the ever-growing sentiment of unrest among the population. Yet the bottom-line is, by all accounts Upwork is:

  1. Not as good as Elance. I think this is a fair and relatively mild critique. Simply put Elance as a website was stable, if a bit outdated in terms of design. Yet in years of working on Elance, I cannot recall ever seeing an error page. I saw at least 1,000 error pages in less than 6-months of working on Upwork. That is not a exaggeration for dramatic effect, I literally would see errors ever few page loads for months and when you’re working on projects and bids and logging in 10+ times per day, you can quickly reach that number.
  2. Higher costs, less value. Part of the “value” of a marketplace like Elance or it’s competitors Freelancer.com for instance, is that they provide a fast way to hire and reliable way to sell. And overall I’d say there is no going back to older, more costly, slower traditional hiring methods. Freelancer market sites, and other styles of sites for contractors and buyers to meet are going to continue! And hopefully vastly improve. But what we have right now is a “market leader” that is winning more because of trends than because of quality. Upwork being a merge of oDesk and Elance, concerned many freelancers including myself given that oDesk was always more of a junkpile of lower quality jobs, and attracted a mass of lower-priced and lower-quality sellers. Today Upwork is a mixta of these platforms, but with a lot more of the oDesk approach in that mix. Average job quality and budgets are so low that it is now much costlier for a freelancer to place 10 bids. The time cost makes one wonder, would it be efficient to just knock on doors like a 1950’s vacuum cleaner salesman? How much worse can it be than declining a stream of “can you build me a website for $25?” projects?
  3. An arrogant corporation with no sense of community. The very idea of Upwork using words like “community” is laughable. It’s a bit like North Korea’s dictators talking about the warmth of their community. Upwork has chosen a long time ago to make it’s voice, the voice of a lawyer vehemently defending a vicious sex predator. Smug, arrogant, condescending, that’s the corporate tone from Upwork in all it’s messaging. And while this tone could be more easily tolerated if it was paired with sensible and fair policies, the rampantly anti-freelancer policies Upwork continues to implement have destroyed any sense of community that might have been there. All that’s left is a small circle of defenders who are choosing to promote Upwork and hold a positive view of it against the revolt. Yet the revolt continues. And rather than promote a community sense by addressing concerns, Upwork just focuses on censoring freelancers, silencing critics anywhere it can and using corporatist language to defend it’s blatant money grab at the expense of it’s customers.

With any rant of this kind I suppose I should stop to defend the view that opinions might be formed from a limited experience or that I caused my own misuse of the platform. First off my agency and myself personally have the highest possible rating on Upwork under the new rating system. We were being frequently invited (mainly to junk jobs because that’s 99% of what Upwork has listed) to many different projects on the platform. Previously on Elance, my rating was usually in the 4.7 – 5.0 range. As far as bidding success, I’ve actually helped multiple freelancers and people working with me to learn how to win jobs using effective proposal writing. Over my career I would say I’ve won in the range of 5% of all jobs bid on, despite bidding at $30 – $40 per hour which is often the highest bid and well above averages of $10 – $15 per hour. I’d say while anybody can improve their skills and approach in business, I’m a veteran at all aspects of selling via freelancer markets. From identifying good clients and projects, to making compelling carefully thought-out proposals. When it comes to Upwork, I feel confident in saying it’s them, not me!! And you should too, if you’re having some of the same misgivings about Upwork, be confident if you previously had good experiences with Elance, you’re not alone at all in feeling this way.

I’m going to put it on record now that it’s our goal to close our Upwork account. Let me clarify that statement. One of Upwork’s corporatist tricks to inflate it’s numbers and keep shareholders excited about their sinking ship, is that they make it difficult and nearly impossible to close freelancer accounts. Their stated policy sounds reasonable, you just need to have all contracts closed says one of their help guides. The truth is you must also individually go through and withdraw any previous proposals that were never declined or otherwise answered. Thanks for using my time Upwork, where can I send you the invoice? What Upwork’s stated policies obviously never say is, that when you go to cancel it just won’t work because their website is a piece of garbage floating in a toxic sea. Nonetheless we are determined to never buy or sell with the platform again, and if possible force Upwork to close our account. We’ll be returning to Freelancer.com and other trying other platforms.

Will the future bring a shift to these type of markets? I hope so. I feel like the idea of a freelancer marketplace is so much better than the current implementation. I would especially like to see a marketplace that has minimum standards for the jobs posted. It may lead to a much smaller pool of jobs, but that’s okay. Weeding out junk jobs, unqualified buyers and other problematic posts should really be part of the service that the marketplace offers. I want real opportunities that are worth the opportunity cost of placing bids, not the illusion of a large number of jobs that Upwork provides.

Let me finally state for any new freelancers that might be evaluating Upwork and freelancer sites in general, that yes if you are successful on these platforms you can find clients there. It does “work” in that sense. It is not however, a replacement for good inbound or referral based marketing. If you’re planning to make 100K per year through Upwork where you might pay in the range of 15% once you add up the commissions and monthly fees, think about what you could do with $15,000 or a portion of that to boost your profile on social media, professional sites, to build up your own site, to provide incentives to buyers with discounts or paid referrals. Think about the full spectrum of marketing and don’t get into the habit of relying on Upwork or anybody else to do it all for you. After all while it’s never happened to me, some freelancers have had their accounts suddenly blocked for weeks and months while working on the site through no wrongdoing. Imagine if you’re travelling, expecting a payment, and suddenly a heartless corporation like Upwork freezes your account? It will hurt less if you’ve still got your own clients outside the platform that you can invoice. So at the very least keep your options open.

Alternatives to BuiltWith.com

Some time ago we subscribed to BuiltWith.com in order to get a list of all the websites that run WooCommerce. And we got what was promised, a spreadsheet list. It cost a small fortune, just for the 1-month subscription that we immediately cancelled. I can’t recommend BuiltWith, mainly because of the ridiculously high cost. Though clearly for larger firms, who view a few hundred dollars a month as nothing, it’s considered the leader in this niche industry. As far as the data we got in that list, well our biggest challenge was how many of the sites were down. It didn’t seem like they did a good job of filtering out downed websites, we would have expected at the high cost that they keep the lists well updated. Mainly the problem was that because we couldn’t afford to keep paying for the service, we had to download the full list we had access to, some 120K sites, as a single report. It would have been better to download segments using their filtering tools. Of course after we cancelled our subscription, and long before we knew what filters we might want, we’d already lost access to the BuiltWith.com site and were not able to get any segmented lists. Bottom-line, buying a BuiltWith.com subscription really didn’t help us at all so it was a waste of money.

In the search for an alternative, to get a list we can segment by region, or a service we can afford to subscribe to continually, we found there are lesser-known competitors in this crawling and analyzing market. A notable option is Allora, https://allora.io. They work on a credit system, with a single credit cost of $45, and a sliding scale that reduces the cost of multiple credits. A single credit means a single report, which could for instance be “all shopify websites”. Again when it comes to segmenting, my understanding is if we wanted to segment lists, we’d be burning 1 credit per list downloaded. For instance if we wanted every WooCommerce website in Denmark, and another list of every WC site in Canada, that would cost us 2 credits. We could go through a lot of credits dividing by region, or industry, or other list segments.

List segmentation is important to consider based on our experience. It may sound good to have a massive list, but if you have to filter it yourself (which is possible) that’s not quite as easy to work with and will increase your time in getting started on your campaign.

Another niche we’re interested in is sites that use WP Pro Quiz. We’d like to reach out to them to offer them our addon for WP Pro Quiz, and our support services for this plugin (which is largely unsupported by the original developer). Sales of our WP Pro Quiz Completed addon have been weak, because there is no existing marketplace for WP Pro Quiz addon’s, site owners don’t realize any are available and are not searching for them. Building a web scraper that could identify WP Pro Quiz sites isn’t cost-effective for us, so we’ve asked Allora if they would add it to their technology’s list. They’ll definitely have a sale from us if they do!

Let us know in the comments if you know of other BuiltWith.com alternatives we should be aware of that are affordable!

Why proven digital marketing strategies fail

The other day I was working on our site, goldhat.ca and being a developer first and foremost, I was coding and adding/configuring plugins and thinking heavily about the next features of the site. Then the marketer in my head sat up and said hey you idiot (he’s a bit of a jerk!) what’s the point of continually adding features if you’re not driving traffic or converting visitors to leads? He had a point, and I started thinking well maybe instead of rushing to build more site features, I needed to step back and regain some balance between the resources put into dev, and the resources put into marketing the site. But I couldn’t just leave all these potentially helpful features half-built, or “lose my place” in development. That’s when I realized I needed to address something I’d skipped over. The blessing/slash/curse of being a developer on your own site is that while you can save time in planning and design, and build directly based on your vision, is that you do that and fail to prioritize and focus. This led me to revisit website planning and how to write a website plan. What came out of that research/planning session was a blog post that is now ranking for keywords like “website plan writing” and “how to plan a website”. Heavily competitive keywords where that blog post is now on page 2 or page 3, and with just one post we reached hundreds, and possibly thousands of prospective clients who are within our target market – site owners, project managers and digital marketing consultants.

Now that you’ve read the story, what’s the point of it? Well aside from the bit about balancing dev/marketing for a site, and the importance of planning… there is a couple of key realizations that I want to share with you centered around why proven digital marketing strategies fail. Almost anybody with even the most casual appreciation of digital marketing or inbound marketing strategies, knows that blogging is a proven effective strategy for driving traffic to a website. Yet thousands of sites never effective utilize this strategy. They fail at something that is proven to work, and resort to tactics that have higher costs, lower rewards, and are less commonly effective, or less proven. And I/we at GoldHat Group have been guilty of this at times also, overlooking the obvious and simple, and trying more complex and innovative methods. The key to utilizing proven digital marketing methods is understanding why they work and following the principles that drive their success.

We’ll stick with blogging as the proven digital marketing strategy example, but this principle can be applied to dozens of other marketing methods like building an email list, offering ebook or whitepaper downloads, free trial offers.

Reason #1 why proven digital marketing strategies fail

Lack of frequency and consistency

Proven digital marketing strategies fail when you don’t use them frequently enough or consistently enough. Their is a threshold of frequency to many digital marketing strategies. One blog post per month probably isn’t enough. At that pace starting with a new site, it takes 3-years to build up 36 posts. A whole year goes by and you’ve got a mere dozen. That lack of volume probably won’t help convince GoogleBot to make regular visits, why visit daily when you’re only posting monthly? Readers will forget about your brand before the next post comes out. Your social audience sees a new post so infrequently they don’t build up the association between you and the content matter, or developer respect for your brand as an authority on the topics you cover. And then simply put, you don’t generate enough traffic/leads and customers to make a measurable return, and blogging begins to look like time/money wasted. Which it is, because you could continue blogging for 10-years, never building up momentum, and your costs would most likely be greater than your returns. In this case, blogging that infrequently is more harmful to your business than not blogging at all, at least from a strictly ROI standpoint.

The point about consistency is that studies have shown that an audience develops habits around the delivery of your content. There is a measurable benefit to having clockwork delivery of at least some of your content. And the flip side of the coin is that if you have large gaps in publishing, following catching up by publishing a larger volume later gives you less effective reach. To help plan your publishing schedule and quantity the effect of consistency think about how many days in a year your blog publishing meets one of these criteria:

  1. You published a post today (blog updated day). This is obviously the numbers of days you publish new content in the year, so if you publish twice weekly and never more than 1 post per day, then the total is 104.
  2. You have a very recent post (3-days old or less). If you publish 2 posts per week and spread them out consistently you might have only 1-2 days per week without a recent post, meaning you hit this criteria around 275-days per year.

Consistency isn’t just about publishing schedule, it’s also applicable to the topics, the style of writing, even the length of your posts. The way you approach topics and how you develop your content. You can vary these things, but do so in a way that reflects a strategic choice. Randomness is not your friend, and will showcase a lack of consistency that leads to failure.

Reason #2 why proven digital marketing strategies fail

Your digital marketing strategies are not supported

Individual digital marketing strategies have to be supported by a conversion strategy. If the goal of blogging is to attract visitors, what’s next? Conversion to leads via CTA’s (Calls to Action), newsletter subscriptions etc. And what actually comes before blogging? Well you can’t really focus on blogging until you have a blog, and it meets some basic quality guidelines. If you’re publishing good blog posts on a site that isn’t responsive, and readers land on the post from a Twitter link while eating lunch, they can’t read it easily on their mobile phone. You’ve got an unsupported strategy. Another way to put this is get your ducks in a row, put the horse before the cart… the reason so many old adages apply to this is because it’s a pretty common habit people have of wanting to skip steps.

Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Your overall plan and strategy for digital marketing should be comprised of strategies that work together and support each other. And consider this from the view of your audience/prospect, who goes from being a stranger to discovering your brand for the first time. What is their experience from that first interaction? Are they being guided through a series of steps that make up your conversion cycle? Are their needs being met at every stage in the this process, is one strategy that you’re implementing flowing into another?

Reason #3 why proven digital marketing strategies fail

You haven’t identified audience pain

We could make the larger point about not knowing the demographics, not having clear persona’s for your target audience. Yet as much as other factors are important in this area, let’s get really clear about an important bottom-line. If you know what causes your prospect pain, and you have a solution, then you can keep things very simple and focused. How you get there, well it’s a topic that takes a number of directions because there are different methods. There is the older/traditional ideas about market segmenting. There is the more modern and trendy idea of persona’s. Learning about different techniques and how to apply them is often time well spent. But you could also just sit down with pad/paper, or fire up a brainstorming app, and start thinking about what other customers have said. Think about what customers have self-identified. In our main area of service (website development) we’ve had conversations with prospects and customers that often included the following pain points:

  1. Time pressure. A scheduled launch for a site, marketing campaigns starting on a given date, a project that failed with other developers and is now behind schedule, investors nervous because of delays. Other time pains include a hacked site, or buggy site from a recent update. This prospects wants to know do you have the resources to start quickly, and can you deliver results quickly?
  2. Overwhelmed by options, can’t decide on a direction. A common pain that prospects might not identify themselves but is expressed in what they say. They talk about options rather than decisions. They talk about lacking confidence in a direction. They want to know what we think is the best option. These prospects want advice, consulting, direction, leadership. 
  3. Communication problems with developers. Many of our prospects either mention this directly or speak about it indirectly having had previous developers that didn’t meet their communication requirements. This pain is a bit vague, communication is a broad topic, but it can be things such as not notifying the project manager about options. Not being able to communicate important information about the project. Sometimes it’s a language issue, inability to understand direction in English. These prospects want to know we’ll understand them, communicate effectively.

Footnotes on why proven digital marketing strategies fail

The points in this post should give you fresh insight into why many of the most effective digital marketing strategies can still fail. Remember execution is key, hope these tips help you avoid the most common reasons for failure. Share your stories or ideas on this topic in the comments below.

Content marketing strategy for dummies

The difference between a Content Marketing Strategy and content marketing, is the STRATEGY part… let’s repeat that so you can wrap your head around it… no strategy, and you’re just “doing stuff”. And doing stuff means spending time, spending money. It takes strategy to get the results, and make it all worth it. If you landed here asking yourself “do I really need a plan” the answer is simple, only if you want to win.

Freelancer Site Research

Preamble Slash Rant About Upwork

What is the state of freelancer websites today in early 2016? That’s what I wondered today after a visit to Upwork raised another question – why is Upwork the buggiest major site on the web today? Now in fairness and in terms of full disclosure we built a freelancer website over the past couple of years (FWW, freelancerworldwide.com). Still I’m not exactly biased against Upwork, having worked years on Elance before the merger and choosing that platform over Guru.com, oDesk and Freelancer.com. I’m starting however to question whether it might have been better to diversify, the focus on a single site leaves us vulnerable to mergers, outages and anything else Upwork might do. It’s been fairly well reported already by freelancers and buyers, that Upwork is down almost as much as it’s up lately. Over the past 3-months, logging in several times a day, I’ve personally seen at least 3 different errors every single day. Yes, every single day!! It’s quite common to be navigating through the site, and finding yourself suddenly on an error page. Issues have range from pages just suddenly loading error messages, to weird stuff like no contracts listed in a bid form. Or projects just suddenly not on a list where it was a moment ago. These issues usually disappear after awhile. Still it’s been quite disruptive to our freelancers who are tracking time, frequently not able to run their trackers. And if you’re in the habit of setting aside some time to reply to messages, make bids, well you better adapt to the Upwork schedule of being down randomly throughout the day.

The Freelancer Site Landscape, Lots of Options and More Specialization

Stepping back from Upwork I wondered if this unstable shipwreck is the world’s leading freelancer marketplace site then what else is out there? How are Guru, Freelancer.com and others faring? What are the trends? The first revelation was that there are more freelancer sites than I ever realized, this article ranks the top 75 freelancer sites. According to their list, Guru has dropped to 6th behind “PeoplePerHour” which until today I’ve never seen or heard of. Meanwhile Envato Studio they have ranked 3rd. Right behind them at 4th they have 99Designs.com. Two specialized sites for designs, creative in the top 4. Interesting! Is this a trend I wonder, to have more sites dedicated to specific types of work instead of the big generic freelancer parties at Upwork/Freelancer.com/Guru? At least I thought this until I peeked further into Envato Studio and realized they did have some other categories including programming and development at https://studio.envato.com/explore/websites-programming.

What are Freelancer Sites Really Providing Anyway?

The most basic concept of a freelancer site is quite simple. It’s like a dating site for companies, meet cute and do a tango. Except here we expect one side to pay for everything, so it’s more like SeekingArrangement. The idea is it’s a meeting place, freelancers go because there is work for them, clients go to get jobs done without having to do their own recruiting. It’s a win-win, but we do have to step back and ask sometimes who wins the most? Without any real data to back this up I’d say there is a fairly low level of satisfaction among clients of freelancer sites. I’d rank myself as a mildly satisfied buyer at Upwork. I’ve found some great contractors that are now part of a long-term team. Some are like employees. I do wonder sometimes though for the amount of bad freelancers I’ve met along the way, is it worth it? Could we have gotten the team we have now through some more traditional recruiting effort?

For the freelancers the question is often is it worth the commission. And usually the answer is yes. Because 90% of something is better than 100% of nothing or a lot less. Yes we do have to wonder, what do we really get for that cost. And could we be more effective in selling directly to buyers if we saved the time pouring through hundreds of project listings on freelancer sites.

My Biggest Freelancer Site Pet Peeves

  1. Buyers are still terrible at planning websites and related projects. It unfortunately but so many jobs on freelancer sites have almost no planning or clarity. It’s hard to them seriously, let alone make a useful bid. It’s time consuming to skip past these kind of jobs. Sure would be nice to have a freelancer site that was “serious jobs only” where there was some analysis of the project plans to see if they met a professional standard. Despite the obvious cost of manual review and the upset it might cause to some buyers, I think that kind of dedication to quality project planning would make a site stand out. Freelancers would feel they are using their time more efficiently.
  2. India, Pakistan and other countries are bombarding freelancer sites with ESL students. No matter how we setup our jobs with English requirements for fluency or stating clearly “don’t bid on our job if you don’t speak clear, fluent English” most bidders on Upwork would not have working levels of English. And sometimes the bidders are good enough at hiding this with template bid text or by having an English speaker place the bids that you really don’t find out until you award the job. And then it becomes quickly apparent that all communication is hopeless. And then you’re left with what, lost time, maybe some lost payment if it’s an hourly job, and the joy of explaining to somebody (who is really not entirely to blame in the situation) who doesn’t understand you very well that you must fire them because you need communication to get things done.
  3. Rating systems on most freelancer sites seem a bit sketchy. Though far be it from me to say exactly what a good rating system would be, because perhaps it’s not easy to balance the needs of buyers and sellers. The perception on many sites is if you’re not perfectly rated as a freelancer you won’t be able to compete. Upwork is quite sophisticated now in it’s ways of rating, but what is lost is any ability for freelancers to predict or understand their own ratings. It’s not clear exactly how the total is calculated. Other sites are much more simplistic with just basic star ratings. In some cases one bad rating can really ruin a freelancers hopes for competing, and this can put a lot of power in the hands of buyers allowing them to manipulate freelancers under the threat of a bad review.

Highlights (and Lowlights) from Touring Freelancer Sites

task-army-no-bidding-madnessTaskArmy claims a “no bid war” strategy. I find that interesting. It’s true that the competitive nature of freelancer sites has driven down costs and become some would say a race to the bottom. Though personally I think quality freelancers can rise above that by sticking to their price points and focusing on delivery. Yet what do you do when even the quality providers are fiercely price competitive?



envato-studio-devEnvato Studio which seems really tailored to design work does have categories like programming and development, but the listings and format do not seem to make any sense. It’s not clear what exactly the developers are offering, is it time or doing this same/similar job they mention? Are the filtering, is it relevant here? Seems like a failure to adapt the platform to fit something other than design.



Best Keywords for Website Design

Keyword research using the free Google Adwords keyword tools. Looking at website design keywords in general but also focusing around WordPress and Drupal CMS. The grade rating is our own quick evaluation of the keyword in terms of competition factors.