The new Handcraft is here!

Building a promotional site is hard

The quplo homepage For the past few months we’ve been hard at work on the quplo promotional site, which has now launched along with our public beta. The entire process was rather difficult for us as we’ve never written in such detail about one of our products and certainly not with such a promotional, marketing-oriented approach.

Don’t underestimate the promo site

When we began working on quplo in February, we knew we had a lot of work to do in terms of creating the account environment, payment setup and rich editor experience we were gunning for.

We had built a prototype of the editor to show to management at Q42 in order to illustrate what kind of product we wanted to create, and as software engineers with years of experience developing web based software for clients, it wasn’t too hard to figure out how much work it would be to translate our prototype into a full-featured web application.

But that wasn’t all that needed doing. We knew we needed to complement the actual application with a lot of additional information and content in order to convince interested parties to use it (since we can’t have a one-on-one conversation with everyone around the world considering using quplo). We also needed to write documentation and consider answering frequently asked questions. And we needed to figure out the de facto terms of service and legal agreements if we were to ask customers to give us money in return for our service.

What we found was that we had to put in roughly as much time doing all the above as we did engineering the application. And that was surprising.

Figuring out what to sayWhat to say about quplo

As engineers, we’re used to describing our applications in terms of functional specifications. Quplo has an editor, a prototypes overview, an account screen where you can upgrade your plan, settings, etc. Each screen has several  buttons and links that take you somewhere else.

But when you want to tell someone about why they should use quplo over, say, Axure, and how it will benefit them, none of that matters. “Who cares what different screens there are?” the voices in our heads started saying. “I need to know why I’m going to give you my money!”

We realised we needed to think differently about our own product. And that was harder than it sounds, because we had already sold ourselves on the how and why. Now we needed to take a step back and try and put all that into words.

Talking to people turns out to be pretty important

Discovering the Why of quplo involved talking to people. When we talked to people about quplo, we noticed we were starting to develop a kind of elevator pitch: we could describe what it is, what problems it solves, who it’s for, and why you want to use it very quickly, and then respond to common questions people had.

On top of that, we also noticed that we were starting to use similar phrases and words more frequently as we explained it more often. quplo goes here We started writing those down, and that’s how we got our first start at a promotional site that makes sense, answering questions visitors and potential customers might have:

  • What is this and is this for me?
  • What problems does this solve and what will I achieve if I use this?
  • How is this different from wireframing applications?
  • What are some examples of how I can use this?
  • What are some key selling points I should know about?
  • What does this application look like?

Our new homepage tries to answer these questions and a few others and we think it does a pretty good job of that.

One more thing we learned was related to our prototype markup language, flow, which adds several tags to HTML in an attempt to make your life easier when marking up prototypes: some people were kind of afraid of it.

Power and flexibility can be a turn-off

Quplo is a very simple, lightweight tool – by design. All its screens follow a similar approach inspired by 37signals’ product suite, which loosely involves having a tab bar for navigation along the top, a large central area for content on the left, and an aside on the right for relevant but less important controls. It’s easy to understand and, all in all, we only have a dozen different screens throughout the entire application.Product tour

Meanwhile, the editor is where you’ll spend most of your time. It presents numerous different features that we tried to separate and outline in our product tour. Most of those surface as you begin using the editor more frequently, such as error handling, which pops up once you make a mistake.

The prototype markup language is a different beast. In an attempt to be upfront and transparent, we decided to expose its nine tags in an accordeon-style control that allows you to inspect the different tags, learn what they do, and look at examples in the editor. But despite there “only” being nine tags, we started getting feedback that flow was actually one of the most complex features of the application.

The wall of doubt

Depending on what kind of background you have, a new markup language can be either a fun challenge or a psychological barrier to entry. You start questioning yourself: “Wait a second, this tool wants me to learn a whole new language? Maybe I’m not cut out for this…” We learned that the psychology of part of our audience was something we hadn’t thought about enough yet, given that both Martin and myself have engineering knowledge. It could be a little bewildering to those who aren’t ready for “foreach” loops and variables.

This is something we need to solve in the future, but for now we’ve decided to look at how people start using quplo and decide on a course of action once we see some data. However, until then we’ve gotten started on some comprehensive documentation and a FAQ/support site to help people out if they get stuck. When creating a new prototype, we also offer the option of creating a tutorial prototype that gently guides new users through the various tags and options – and they can stop wherever they like without fear of not being able to create the prototype they want to.

Optimise for patient observation

We intend to watch the promotional site closely as we move into our launch phase for the paid, final version of quplo. To that end, we’ve integrated Google Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics and KISSMetrics to help us measure and analyse what people are looking at and clicking on. Building quplo itself was a lot of work, but building the promotional site was at least as much and felt a lot harder because we’d never done it before. It was a new kind of adventure and one that is likely only just beginning.

After all this work, it’s great to finally let the promotional site see the light of day. We hope it’s effective and we’re keeping an eye on things to improve and tweak wherever is needed as time passes. Take a look at it at http://quplo.com and – I can say this for the first time now – sign up to use quplo if it looks interesting!

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