Marketing a Web Application

I'll be straight. This isn't a how-to on marketing your application. I don't have any answers. What I do hope to do is tell you what I am doing and what I plan to do. Over time, we can revisit this topic and see what worked and what didn't.

Web site

First off, is the domain registration and setting up the web site that describes what the project is all about. Back in September, I registered and left it parked. Who knows how far the project will go but I got to have the domain name. It's become less and less of an issue but I still think a .com is important (as opposed to .net, .biz, .org, etc). At least, I feel it's important for a global company, which is what I'm aiming for.

A number of open-source projects host their sites through SourceForge. It's important, however, to have a site seperate from SourceForge to really demonstrate what your application is all about. As great as SourceForge is, it's got an interface that is confusing.

Anyways, today I created a home page. It isn't much yet but it will be. You can expect to see more info and more design over time. (I'm hoping before Christmas!)

For any product, there should be certain information that should be available: pricing, screenshots, features, and a demo. What amazes me are companies who fail to present any of that and instead offer generic marketing hype with no real substance. How much harder do they have to work to make a sale?


I've mentioned him in the past, but Tony Casalena is a great example of this. Not only does he have his own personal blog but also has the corporate site and the corporate blog for Squarespace.

Tony suddenly has three ways (and thus three approaches) to generate interest in his product. Likewise, with GainCMS, I hope to accomplish the same.

On here, my personal blog, I can talk about various topics that I run into day-to-day and, of course, talk about my ideas behind building a web application. I certainly have more free reign.

With the corporate site, I can present general information that's more polished. Not that it has to be marketing hype. Quite the opposite. The site should still be friendly and approachable but it presents a more structured view of what the product or project is about.

Finally, with the corporate blog, the information that is provided is developed over time (like any other blog) but is geared more towards ideas related to the project. Things like project status, application updates, or application ideas could be presented. It's probably best to stay away from the more generic personal banter on the corporate blog.

Beta Programs

Beta programs were originally meant for one clear goal: fix any bugs before the product went into full release. It was quickly discovered to be a fantastic way of generating initial hype and word-of-mouth interest in a product. Now, it seems to be more popular to release something in beta than it is to release a full version of your product. (*cough*Gmail*cough*)

Once I reach a stage where I can beta-test the program, I will be offering a beta program. It will probably be more limited as I will be really focusing on bug-fixing before the final launch.

Referral and Reseller Programs

Referral and reseller programs can be a phenomenal way of attracting new customers. Essentially, you let somebody else do the hard work of getting the sale for you and reward them for their efforts.

With a referral (aka affiliate) program, a user creates a link to your site along with a bit of code that identifies that person. You can then reward that person per clickthrough and/or through each sale that is generated as a result of that clickthrough.

With a reseller program, the end customer does the transaction through the reseller. I will likely extend this such that a reseller will be able to attach their own branding to the GainCMS application. By doing this, the user does all the sales and support interaction through the reseller. I'll only have to deal with the reseller to resolve any issues they may be having. I get the advantage of only having a single point of contact for what could be dozens or hundreds (or thousands? I could only be so lucky!) of customers.


With any marketing program, it's always important to set goals. That way, you'll know if you've been successful.

My goal is to receive 10 e-mails from the GainCMS site by the end of January. I based this goal on the feedback and interest I've received so far. We'll have to wait and see how it goes!

Got any ideas?

One of the best ideas I've heard so far has been this great comment from Gary. Offer a limited number of "shares" to generate income and interest for the development of the project. While I haven't decided whether to offer something similar, I still think it's a fantastic idea. What ideas do you have to market a web application?

Published December 10, 2004 · Updated September 17, 2005
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Mark Wubben said on December 11, 2004

Well, surely the website idea is good, as is the blogging etc. But isn't the best way to market your web application to build the best one out there? Show off, get a few people to notice it, to like it, and you're golden.

At least, that's the plan ;-)

Gary said on December 13, 2004


Just some thoughts off the top of my head, feel free to tell me were to go!

I have a few questions: Who is your target user? How are you going to position GAINCMS in the marketplace? If your not sure, here is my idea.

It seems to me that there are two types of CMS'. The Article based CMS' like Wordpress, MT or Textpattern and the enterprise versions like vignette. Both are missing a important market, small businesses. You can walk up and down any commerical street in the US or Canada and see small businesses that need a good website. They need a website that pulls people in with pertinent information on products, pricing, packaging, specials, news etc... What they usually end up with is a sloppy static site made by a friend or a hacked wordress site that cost too much and they can't update. Both are bad business decisions.

The biggest drawback is the statement that "these companies will never sell products online, so the don't need a CMS." THEY DO! The market is screaming for a blend of a blog and business CMS. Businesses need a way to put products, sku #, discriptions, features, benefits, packagig, price on a page even if they don't sell online (and these features are only found on shopping carts). They could always take orders online! What a selling feature for your GainCMS.

Speak their language.

GainCMS is a Web-based Content and Product Management System for small business that will offer functionality commonly seen in more enterprise-level systems!

With GainCMS you'll:

1. Bring more people to your website with changing content.
2. Have the ability to increase profits with online ordering.
3. Lower web costs with a system you or your technical savy employee can manage.
4. Lower startup cost with GainCMS' Modular design. You only buy what you need.

I'll shut up now.

I really enjoy reading your articles on this process,it really makes me think!



Jonathan Snook said on December 13, 2004

Gary: first, thanks for your thoughtful insight.

I touched a little on what I felt my target market would be in The Idea. Like you've indicated, I plan to focus on the small to medium-sized organizations, although more focused on content-driven sites as opposed to product-driven sites. Not that I'm ruling out that functionality, but rather that it won't be the first module I develop.

I definitely agree on the "marketing language". It really has to speak to that market. Along with everything else, I'm really trying to develop the site to get the message across effectively. Easy to use, cost effective and etcetera, without being watered down and having it sound like any other CMS out there.

John Lewis said on December 13, 2004

Mark: Building a better (or the best) mouse trap doesn't guarantee anything when it comes to marketing nor can it be thought of as a sustainable competitive advantage.

I feel the whole Microsoft vs. Apple thing to be a good example. Apple has the better mouse trap and continues to make them better. Yet MS still has massive market share. The reason Apple does as well as it does, and I think there is a big lesson in this, is because people love them. They love Steve Jobs, they love their iPods, they love Apple.

While it might seem a little odd to talk about love and CMSs in the same sentence, this is what Jonathan needs to do. If he nurtures it so people love him and his product then he is going be a lot further down the road to success than if he focuses on building the best CMS.

Don't get me wrong. To get people to love you, you have to focus on innovation and product quality, but they can't be the only things you focus on.

Now I need to shut up... :)

Mark Wubben said on December 18, 2004

(Okay, I'm a bit late to reply here, don't know if John will read this, but whatever...)

John, that's exactly what I meant. Markets are conversations, yag yag yag. Spread the love!

Okay, now perhaps I need to shut up..... ;-)

(Jonathan, could you please maintain notification status when previewing?)

Ryan Thrash said on January 12, 2005

Love the screenshots and look and feel. You really should check out for their CMS. It's the most flexible CMS I've found to date with and you could find a lot of the functionality you're planning already in it. Your management side comps are clearly superior to Etomite's though.

Ever think about rewriting a management interface for an existing, tested (open source) system?

Jonathan Snook said on January 12, 2005

I'm glad you like the look and feel! I had thought of using or joining an open source project. Granted, I didn't think too hard. I felt that it would be easier to build from scratch rather than to add functionality and design to an existing system.

It's one of the downfalls of applications and frameworks: you usually have the option of making it easy or making it powerful. My goal is to get as close to both as I possibly can.

Ryan Thrash said on January 18, 2005

Etomite is a really interesting little app... regarding their home page, They're using a lot of IPB for forums, etc. Regarding the validation, what you put in it is what you get out... GIGO. The lead/sole developer wasn't a standards advocate when the site was created, ergo, validation fails. I imagine that will improve over time as the next version rolls out.

Eto's functionality is indeed similar to other solutions, but its implementation and ability to get up to speed (from a non-coder's standpoint) is better than anything I've found. For example, it can easily take less than 30 minutes to go from HTML prototype to a multiple template-driven CMS'd site (including dynamic email forms, caching, Search-Friendly URLs and whatnot). Extending the API is simple, too, which is nice and there's some activity starting to take place there, too.

From a documentation standpoint, though, it stinks quite honestly... you learn the most from digging into the index.php file at the root of an Etomite Install and perusing some things in the forums. It seems (and is) very simple at first, but it can also be very robust with some extra custom "snippets" plugged in.

In short, Eto is a very decent platform for building simple web applications that take advantage of Web Standards. Eto is really about managing content and is definitely not YAPS (Yet Another Portal System). That means it doesn't ship with Calendars, Polls and other such community-focused code pieces, but they're available if you want them (or if you want to integrate other existing solutions). The holy grail of frameworks? No... but what is?

At any rate, I can't wait to see what you come up with as it sure sounds and looks great. Maybe you'll come up with the Holy Grail!

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.