Web usability / marketing intern wanted

Posted on April 23rd, 2013 by John Nicholson

We are seeking a web usability and marketing intern for the summer or longer to help with client projects and business development.

Roles will likely include:

  • Usability Testing: Analyze web/mobile usability test videos and capture highlights and findings
  • Social Media: Post on clients’ Twitter, Google+ and Facebook pages, and engage with followers
  • User Research: Analyze and summarize customer surveys, phone calls and emails
  • Business Development: Identify good client prospects by reviewing tech publications and company websites/apps

See the full job description and application.


What we learned at Lean Startup Machine DC

Posted on November 30th, 2011 by Karan Gill

John and I recently attended a Lean Startup Machine weekend bootcamp in DC. This was an opportunity to learn and apply Lean Startup principles to a real-world startup idea in a highly focused setting. There were about 60 attendees and over 15 mentors and speakers – including lean movement founder Eric Ries – so we received constant coaching and inspiration throughout the weekend.

Idea #1: Online Resume Builder

We came in to the weekend with an idea for a web app that would help techies write high-quality resumes. On Friday night, with the help of our newfound teammates Mark and Ryan, we identified what we thought was a promising target market and business model: sell the app to recruiters as a way to improve the quality of their candidates’ resumes and therefore help those candidates get interviewed or hired.

Before Lean Startup, we would have spent 6 months planning and building the tool, and then tried desperately to get anyone to use it. This is the typical “build it and they will come” approach to startups.

As a developer, it’s very daunting to commit to spending several months slaving away on a loosely defined product that may or may not work. Somewhere in the back of your mind you are aware that even if you build it right, there are no guarantees that anyone will want to use it.

By applying Lean Startup principles, we learned to first identify and validate the assumptions in our plan before building anything. We spent much of Saturday contacting recruiters and learned that our core assumption – that poorly written resumes pose a major hurdle in the placement of candidates – was false. Most recruiters told us that they focus more on building strong relationships with employers and job seekers, and through the strength of these relationships they are able to effectively place their job candidates.

It was a disappointing discovery, but one that we reached after only a day’s work, and not after several months of working hard on a product that was trying to solve a non-existent problem. We could then apply another aspect of lean thinking – qualitative observations – to pivot our strategy towards a better problem/solution.

Idea #2: eHarmony for the Job Market

Through our discussions with recruiters and hiring managers, we noticed a theme that employers care as much about a candidate’s personality and how well they might fit into the company culture as their hard skills. We also heard them say that it is difficult to quickly identify candidates that would be a good fit based on a resume alone. Phone interviews with job candidates are the typical technique to solving this problem but they are lengthy and inefficient. We now had a validated problem: employers do not have a quick way to tell which candidates will be a good fit for a job in terms of their personality.

We spent Saturday night brainstorming and came up with an exciting potential solution: a site that acted like an eHarmony for the job market, sorting candidates not only by their hard skills but also by their personality match with employers.

Minutes after coming up with our idea, we spoke with a co-founder of 2 major job board websites. One of his companies had tried to create – in his words – an “eHarmony for the job market.” Despite having plenty of resources behind it, it failed – largely because job seekers weren’t willing to spend time filling out personality profiles the way date seekers are. That job seekers would be willing to do this, we realized later, was a key assumption we’d taken for granted. And it was wrong. This quick invalidation of our solution was another disappointment, but we went to sleep Saturday night knowing that (for a second time now) we’d avoided investing in an unviable idea.

Idea #3: 5-Minute Interview

On Sunday we returned to what we learned through our interviews the day before, and picked up on two more useful themes, or problems. Hiring managers had told us that 1) they are overwhelmed by resumes and desperate for ways to “cut through the noise,” and 2) they could often tell within 5 minutes of a phone interview if the candidate was a promising match.

This led us to our next solution: a web app where job applicants submit 5-minute audio or video responses to open-ended questions posed by employers. Employers can then share, review, and rate those responses to quickly vet candidates – prior to spending time scheduling and conducting phone interviews.

In discussions with the mentors, we identified what we thought was a good market for this product: tech startups that recently received funding. With only a couple hours left to start validating this solution, we did two things:

1. We created a minimum viable product or MVP: a simple landing page (see below) that described the product and included a 1-minute demo video, along with a “request private invite” form. We then searched Crunchbase to identify potential customers and searched Twitter to find founders of those companies likely to be online on Sunday. Our plan was reach out to these founders on Twitter and drive them to our landing page. But as we were running short on time, we made a new discovery …

2. We found a well-credentialed startup that had built something very close to our idea – and attracted buzz in Silicon Valley – but then had suddenly stopped to pursue something else. We tracked down one of the co-founders and asked why they abandoned the video interview product.

Their target market, he told us, was the same one we’d identified: tech startups. But they struggled to gain adoption in this market because, given the low supply and high demand for programmers, tech startups’ pain point isn’t too many resumes from job-seekers; it’s too few.

We were able to leverage months of this startup’s marketing efforts to quickly invalidate another assumption. But we also learned something equally critical: their product had gained strong initial traction among a set of companies they weren’t targeting: those hiring lots of customer service reps and sales reps. This just wasn’t a market they wanted to pursue.

As the buzzer sounded Sunday afternoon – with our heads spinning – we’d arrived at a validated problem and initial validation of a solution. Unlike at most startup bootcamps, we’d spent almost no time over the weekend on design, code, or technology. Instead we’d learned a process much more critical for new business ideas.

Applying Lean Startup at Marketade

Not only has Lean Startup changed our approach to our own product ideas, it has changed how we work with our clients. Rather than jumping straight into designing and coding a web site or app, we’re helping clients first identify and validate their assumptions – quickly and cheaply – and then change course or scrap the idea when necessary.

As Warren Buffet says, “if something’s not worth doing at all, it’s not worth doing well.”


Lean Startup book review

Posted on November 29th, 2011 by John Nicholson

We’ve been drinking the Lean Startup kool-aid here at Marketade … and boy does it taste good.

Here’s my review of the book by Eric Ries.  Its ideas and stories are among the most inspiring and mind-altering that I’ve read in a long time.  I hope you’ll read it.

Please share your questions, reactions, and experiences below.

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How to respond to a negative review on Yelp: a quick case study

Posted on August 4th, 2011 by John Nicholson

A few weeks ago, one of our DC area clients received an extremely negative, 1-star review on Yelp.  This was worrisome because the company only has a few other reviews showing on its Yelp page — 2 of which are negative — and because its Yelp page ranks well on Google brand searches and gets a lot of traffic.

Within a couple weeks the customer of the 1-star review had removed it, and how this happened is a good case study in responding to negative reviews.  Here’s what we did:

1. Within a few hours we worked with the client company to craft and send a private response via Yelp.  The reviewer had gripes about the company’s lack of responsiveness to his inquiries.  The response, which came from a senior manager at the company, apologized authentically to the reviewer and thanked him for his feedback; this was in fact valuable feedback and we appreciated it.  The response then provided a number to call and requested that he respond with his number.

2. He responded within a day with his number.  The senior manager at the company called him a couple times and eventually connected, apologizing again and doing anything possible to help.  It turned out the reviewer didn’t need the company’s services, but he left the call with a much better impression.  The company did not ask the reviewer to change or remove the review.

3. We waited.

4. Within a day of the phone call, the reviewer removed the review and emailed the company via Yelp to say why he’d done so.

Notice that 1) in our initial contact, we did not respond publicly to the reviewer (as tempting as it was to do so), and 2) we did not push him to remove the review at any point in the process.  We first gave him a chance to decide to remove it himself.  What if he hadn’t removed it?  We might have reached out to him again via Yelp email after a week or two.  Or we might have replied publicly.  Or we might have done both.

For more on how to deal with negative Yelp reviews, see this blog post in the New York Times and this blog post on Yelp.


Lean startup article from NYT

Posted on July 27th, 2011 by John Nicholson

I’ve been going through my “Read Again” articles folder this week and was glad I’d held on to this NY Times piece from last year on “The Rise of the Fleet-Footed Start-Up“.  It discusses the efforts of Eric Ries and Steven Blank to encourage more “lean start-ups.”

Both are successful entrepreneurs; Blank also teaches at Stanford and Berkeley.  A key part of their philosophy, says Blank, is that “a start-up is a temporary organization designed to discover a profitable, scalable business model.”

Here was a section of the article I circled:

The concepts apply both to designing products and to developing a market, and emphasize an early and constant focus on customers. To be sure, the methods often build on the work of others.

In product development, for example, Mr. Ries is an enthusiast of so-called agile programming methods, which emphasize rapid development, small teams and constant improvement. But, he adds: “The agile practices have to be adapted, shifting the focus somewhat from generating stuff to learning about what customers will want. Most technology start-ups fail not because the technology doesn’t work, but because they are making something that there is not a real market for.”

So the lean playbook advises quick development of a “minimum viable product,” designed with the smallest set of features that will please some group of customers. Then, the start-up should continually experiment by tweaking its offering, seeing how the market responds and changing the product accordingly. Facebook, the giant social network, grew that way, starting with simple messaging services and then adding other features.

I also liked this comment from Ries’s partner in a social networking startup, about why they raised no money early on:

“I didn’t want us to have the freedom to go for years without customer feedback.”

Worth a read.  Blank also has a ton of great links to tools for startups on his site.


How to write online

Posted on July 21st, 2011 by John Nicholson

For our upcoming newsletter I’ve written an article on How to Write for the Web, which I’ve just posted on our site.  Here’s the intro …

Every week or so, I get an email from someone seeking recommendations for a social media coordinator, an iPad or iPhone developer, or an online video expert.  But rarely do I hear from someone looking for a good web copywriter.  Which is a shame, because despite all of the advances in Web technologies, words are what people focus on when they visit a site – and most business sites still have awful writing.

I go on to give tips under 3 principles:

  1. Make it scan-able
  2. Sound like a real person
  3. Emphasize how you’re different

Check out the article and then share your feedback and questions below.


Using persuasion science to improve your website

Posted on May 23rd, 2011 by John Nicholson

For the new issue of our newsletter I review Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, a book from 3 leading social psychologists, including heavyweight Robert Cialdini.  It’s a fun book and has applications for just about anyone.

Check out my review first.  If you want more examples from the book I’ve included 5 more below, along with a takeaway.  They may be hard to understand without the full story, but they’ll hopefully make the book more appealing for those among you who, like me, like seeing numbers.

1. How do you get more employees to enroll in company-sponsored retirement programs?

Takeaway: Test offering fewer product choices.  This paradox of choice stuff is fascinating but as I’ve written previously there are some questions around it.  Still it’s certainly worth testing fewer vs. more choices for your products/services.

2. How do you get more people to vote in a political election?

Takeaway: Consider adding a “labeling” section to your website like this that emphasizes traits that you want in your clients.

3. How does a waiter increase tips?

Takeaway: Give gifts that are unexpected and personalized.

4. How do you get more people at work to complete your survey?

Takeaway: Personalize important requests and communications as much as possible.  Handwrite thank you notes after job interviews.

5. How do you get homeowners to put up large “Drive Carefully” sign in front lawn?

Takeaway: Use trials and no-commitment monthly plans.  Get your foot in the door.

Have questions or reactions relating to the book?  Have other persuasion tips?  Share them below!


Urban Igloo case study

Posted on November 10th, 2010 by John Nicholson

DC apartment finder Urban Igloo was Marketade’s first real client, and we’ve had a great time growing with them.  We’re excited to share a case study that discusses some of the keys to success of our partnership. Here’s the summary:

Marketade worked with Urban Igloo, a DC apartment finder service, to implement an online strategy that drove a 900% increase in customer leads — in less than a year with no paid advertising. How? By acting like a partner, avoiding short cuts, engaging with outsiders, embracing metrics, and focusing on conversion.

Read the full case study here.


SEO giveaway for DC small businesses

Posted on September 30th, 2010 by John Nicholson

Today we are excited to launch a year-long SEO makeover contest for DC small businesses.  The full press release is below.  Please spread the word to your DC contacts!

Marketade Announces SEO Giveaway for DC Small Businesses

Consulting company to give away $15,000 in Internet marketing services to DC area small businesses and non-profits.

Marketade, a DC Internet marketing company, announced today that it will give away an “SEO Makeover” to one local organization every quarter for the next year.  Each winning company will receive $3,750 worth of search engine optimization (SEO) services that aim to increase its visibility on Google and other search engines.

The announcement comes as more and more small businesses use the Internet to level the playing field with larger competitors.  With over 80% of consumers using search engines to find local businesses, SEO is increasingly the tactic of choice.  Shrinking marketing budgets have further heightened its appeal; unlike most forms of advertising, SEO does not require major ongoing financial investment to reap long-term benefits.

“You rarely see a David beat a Goliath with traditional advertising … you see it often with SEO,” said Marketade managing partner John Nicholson.  “But a lot of small businesses lack the expertise and resources needed to do SEO effectively.”

Over the next year, Marketade will share the tactics and results of its makeovers via instructional videos on YouTube.  “The bigger goal here is to strip away SEO’s black box through real-world stories that inspire and educate others,” said Nicholson.  “It’s a rewarding way for us to help businesses who can’t afford a consultant, and a great tool for showing our expertise.”

The DC SEO Makeover contest is open to businesses and non-profits in the DC metro area that employ 10 or fewer employees.  Companies can enter the contest via the Marketade site.  Winners will be selected based on their SEO potential and the “wow” factor of their product or service.  Marketade will work with each winning company over a 6-month period, providing a range of services including keyword research, copywriting, and web traffic analysis.

About Marketade:

Marketade is a metrics-focused web design and marketing company based in Washington, DC.  Drawing on 8 years of combined experience leading Internet efforts at GEICO, Marketade helps small and mid-size businesses take advantage of Fortune 100 techniques in search engine marketing, social media, website usability, application development, and reporting and analysis.  Learn more at


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New press release for Aptaria

Posted on September 17th, 2010 by John Nicholson

We’ve been experimenting more and more with online press releases as a way to generate buzz and boost SEO for clients.  If you use PRWeb to distribute the release, you’re guaranteed to at least get some reprints of the release on various sites; Yahoo! News is usually one of them.  Here’s a release for a cloud computing client we helped write and distribute last week.