January 10, 2008
Like many online businesses, we use Google's AdWords service to reach new customers. We've been pretty happy with it, but we're always trying new ways to get our traffic up and our costs down, and we were intrigued by Google's new Pay Per Action beta.
We tried it in December. Wow, what a difference. We got twice as many trial signups as we'd ever gotten from a single campaign, and at half the price per signup we'd been paying with Pay Per Click.
Only, the demographic we were reaching was a little unusual. For example:
- About 85% of our PPA signups came from India and Pakistan, with almost all of the remainder coming from Southeast Asia. None of them were from North America or Europe. For reference, India normally provides about 10% of our traffic. That didn't change in December, it's just the trial signups that went through the roof.
- Nearly everyone (90%+) that was signing up from PPA seemed to use a free email service - mostly Yahoo, sometimes GMail or Hotmail. A large percentage had emails of the form email@example.com. Invariably, they would also use jon123.dabbledb.com as their subdomain on our service, rather than a company or organization name. That's highly unusual for us, since most of our customers are using Dabble DB for work.
- As far as I know, none of these users logged in a second time, and none have become paying customers. Many of them still have time left on their free trials, but I have to confess that I'm not exactly optimistic this will change.
So, what's going on here? I'm not worried about the money we spent on this campaign, we run adwords experiments all the time and many of them fail. None of them have failed this spectacularly, however. I'm also not worried if a small percentage of our adwords clicks are fraudulent, because I believe that market forces will just drive the price of a click down to balance things out. But Google might have a problem if, as I believe is the case here, none of the clicks are legitimate. Maybe we just had bad luck, and of course the service is still in beta, but it made me think about the whole PPA model and whether it might be easier, not harder, to game than PPC. On the one hand, PPA is difficult/impossible to game with bots; these were real people sitting down and filling out forms to try out our service. On the other hand, we're paying enough per signup that if someone is getting a significant cut of that, it's economically worthwhile to use real people - and on our end, it's much more difficult to detect these people than it would be to detect bots. At least, it would be if they put just a little bit more effort in than they already are.
We're suspending our PPA use for now, obviously. We'll probably try the experiment again later this year, and see if we get different results. Has anyone else given it a try?
January 8, 2008
We're big fans here of incremental improvement. That's why we make it so easy to evolve your views, forms, and even the structure of your data smoothly over time. It also guides our approach to the product: rather than saving things up for a big release, we roll out one feature at a time, as soon as it's ready (and usually not before then), week after week. All of those little features add up, however, and when I started compiling a list of the changes we've made in this last year, I was truly amazed by how far the product has come. So here you are: release notes for Dabble DB, version 2007. Everything listed below has been rolled out in the last 12 months by our awesome team. We hope our users have enjoyed discovering these features as much as we enjoyed building them.
We've always been puzzled that most databases only support dates, numbers, and text as basic data types. At Dabble DB, we're always trying to enrich the kind of data you can work with:
- Location fields understand what continent, country, and sometimes state and province an address is in
- Attachment fields let you store documents and images (complete with thumbnails), and organize them by size or kind
- Duration fields show you timings in days, hours, minutes and seconds
- Currency fields keep your dollars separate from your pounds and pesos, or combine them as of today's exchange rates
- Whichever country you're in, dates and numbers can be entered and formatted the way you're used to seeing them
- Email fields let you mass mail your entire contact list, or a carefully filtered selection of them
Your data is only as good as the answers you can get from it, and Dabble DB's querying and calculation features got some tweaks in 2007 our power users loved:
- Our easy point-and-click formulas can now include constants (e.g., current sales tax) which can be adjusted on the fly
- Grouped reports can now be sorted by subtotals and other calculations, to get your reports just right
- Flipping a filter from "is" to "is not" is now a simple click away
- Text searches are now more powerful, and allow "*" wildcards anywhere in the keyword
- Search for multiple values at once by separating them with semicolons
Storing data, searching data - the next step is viewing data, and we've got lots of new ways to do it. Dabble now includes:
- Line charts for showing time-scale data, with smart daily, monthly, quarterly or yearly axes
- Multicolored bar charts for making sense of complex grouped reports
- Pie charts when you just want to see how big your slices are
- Maps derived from your address data at the level of continent, country or state
- Beautiful paginated PDFs in any size or orientation for printing or sending to your boss
Having your data in Dabble is great, but first you have to get it there. 2007 saw a total revamp of our import tools, including:
- Automatic detection of data types like date, number, and currency
- Automatic orientation (row-based or column-based) of pasted-in data
- Scheduled, recurring imports from a URL to keep Dabble in sync with external data sources
Some of the biggest changes in 2007 came in how you can share your data and applications. To boot:
- The new Commons plan lets you use Dabble DB for free if you agree to freely share your data with the world
- Dabble Pages gives you total control over who can see each view in your database, in a streamlined and customizable interface
- A drag-and-drop form builder lets you take your sharing to the next step by collecting data from colleagues or the public with custom forms
- Everything can be branded with your own uploaded logo, and Dabble will pick a color scheme to match
Here's to more great features in 2008!