Raphael is the brains behind the fantastic user testing service Feedback Army. He shares how he started and continues to market this amazing service that we at WCB have used and benefited from in the past.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself Raphael
I live in Washington, DC USA. I served in the US Air Force for four years. After I finished that, I wanted to write software that helps people (and possibly work for myself). After several project attempts, I created Feedback Army. Around the same time I was also developing After the Deadline, an intelligent grammar checker, that I sold to Automattic (think WordPress.com) in July 2009. Right now I work full-time for someone but I’m doing something that really interests me. I plan to start another business once my current work is complete.
What is Feedback Army and why is it important?
Feedback Army is a website usability testing service. It’s important because everyone who has a website can benefit from knowing what others think about it. It also came as a shock to the user experience community who saw someone offering services similar to what they brokered for such a low price. I was also the beneficiary of timing as Feedback Army was in the first group of services to offer usability testing using crowd sourced means.
How and who started the site?
I started the site in November 2008. I regularly read http://news.ycombinator.com and one night someone asked if anyone knew of a website feedback service. Someone else posted that they used Mechanical Turk from Amazon. I noticed a whole thread of conversation developed around people asking this guy how he did it. I looked at Amazon’s API and said, I could build something around this. So I seized the opportunity and built the initial site in four hours. It was very ugly though and I was teased a bit online for the design. 🙂 I waited about two weeks to launch and in that time I absorbed what I could find on usability testing, including Steven Krug’s excellent book: Don’t Make Me Think.
Who are the testers and how do you find them?
I use Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service to hire and pay testers. Mechanical Turk is an anonymous market place run by Amazon. It’s a very interesting community.
Why do you think User Testing is so important?
User testing is a way to see how people really experience your site or product. I once read a story about a big e-commerce site and how a UX consultant helped them add millions to their revenue by one simple change. What was that change? First time buyers didn’t like signing up for an account. Their reaction: I shouldn’t have to make a relationship with you to buy something. So many people left right before they finished paying. A “pay without an account” option helped them keep these customers. User testing will help find situations like this. For Feedback Army customers, I recommend asking “would you buy from this site? Why or why not?” How a Simple Change Increased Revenue by Millions
Are there any success stories that have come from people using your service?
Yes, there are many. One of my favorites. I was reading a LinkedIn group and saw someone posting about how much he liked Feedback Army. I followed up and asked him about his experience. He recounted to me how he had a customer that wouldn’t change their site, despite his advice to do so. He went to Feedback Army, bought several responses, and the reviewers said the same thing he kept telling the client. The client immediately agreed to the changes.
Do you have any new projects that you are working on?
I have this strange career path. Website usability, grammar checking, and now… hacking. I’m working on a project called Armitage. It’s a graphical user interface for Metasploit, a tool that is extremely popular with penetration testers. My goal is to make it easier for security professionals to understand how network attacks work so they can better defend against them. It’s really had a lot of interest so far and I’m having a lot of fun with it.
What online marketing methods do you use and which are most effective
The single most effective marketing method is keeping my customers happy. Word of mouth is huge for me. Many of my customers come from recommendations. I once had a phone call from a customer who said he’d heard about Feedback Army during a “mastermind retreat”. One of the leaders of this business retreat was talking about Feedback Army and how it could help folks with their business. I don’t know when this person was my customer, but I do know that anyone I work with could become a big promoter.
Number two is keeping up a good blog and writing interesting pieces. In 2010 I had a stint where I was writing about my experience running Feedback Army in an open way. I also wrote about novel things I saw people using Feedback Army for. One person used Feedback Army to populate a Frequently Asked Questions file for their not-yet-launched site. That was neat and turned into a popular blog post. Not all of my posts were hits, the ones that were though led to a spike in sales. I wrote up my other marketing adventures at: How I Market Feedback Army
What websites do you use every day and can`t live without
http://news.ycombinator.com. I’m not very active on the site any more but I still skim it each day. This site is a great community and it’s really helped me connect with mentors and peers with similar goals in real life.
Can you please give our trainees some advice on making their sites a success like Feedbackarmy.com
I’m a terrible designer and it took me awhile to realize that my designs are not passable. I recommend that any small business invest in design and have a “unique look” ready when they launch. Your potential customers/investors will respond positively to this. I followed this advice with my latest project, Armitage, and it made a big difference to how people responded to it. A solid design makes people feel like they’re dealing with a polished product. If you don’t believe me, you can ask Feedback Army. Try this question: “Is this site professional? Why or why not?”
Thank you Raphael
We used Feedback Army at Web Courses Bangkok and with the fantastic feedback we received it enabled us to make our readers and customers much happier. The new site was a massive success thanks to Raphael and his team.