I used to work for a marketing company, and as a programmer/database administrator, spent 2 years developing exactly these kinds of systems. They were an ad "marketplace"- linking publishers and advertisers on a pay-per-action (usually sale or lead) basis.
Frighteningly- most of the time was spent battling fraud. I built systems that automatically adjusted how much publishers and advertisers would pay (and get paid) based on how likely the source was to be providing fraudulent traffic, and how likely the destination was to attract it. As the middleman, we usually ate the costs of fraud, so we were especially adept at curbing its affects. There’s so much fraud out there, that tools that would track this fraud and pinpoint it would be immensely valuable. Unfortunately, it is insanely difficult to track down clickfraud. I had it easy, in comparison- action-based fraud is much easier to spot.
On a pay-per-click basis, it'd be good to have fine-grained detail on conversion rates based on source- not just "Google", or "Email", but on a per-campaign (or keyword) basis. This is not particularly hard to implement, but I have not seen a good tool to track metrics from multiple marketing sources. Once you have these metrics, figuring out how much to pay is pretty straightforward.
Really, at this point in time, there's not really a substitute for being really damned good at SQL. If, 6 months ago, you wrote a blog post pimping your mailing list, and wanted to see if anybody who signed up that day ended up completing a sale through the mailing list, writing a SQL query is pretty much your only hope. There's really no possibility that a tool could provide that kind of fine-grained information while still being accessible (in both time and money) to small businesses. At that point, any tool would essentially just be a GUI for assembling SQL queries, and would cost tens of thousands of dollars.
I have a pretty firm grasp of this area, but I have trouble synthesizing my thoughts at the moment. I apologize for not providing a more insightful comment, given my background.
I think blogs are a particularly hard one to determine the ROI on. Beyond conversion rates you need to look at how the linking effect of blogs may increase your SEO. The changing nature of the content may improve SEO. Blogs may help keep existing customers because of the increased intimacy it creates with your customers. The feedback from customers or potential customers will feed into making a better product.
You would need to look at the type of blog you have. If it is a faceless company blog with no real personal identity with a post every 4 weeks by "admin" with some marketing guff then tracking pure conversions is probably valid. But this a poor use of the blog opportunity.
But hey, will a startup like HubSpot you obvioulsly realise this, just your post seemed to sideline this aspect of blogs.
I am curious about marketing strategies for bootstrapped early startups. What are effective ways to get the word out about a prototype one has put out there, how does one reach out to the influential bloggers, who/ what else would be a valuable ally in getting first users to try the product?
Any insights? Thanks!
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