[xplorer²] — Sales pulled by gravity
home » blog » 13 October 2010

All enterpreuners, both online and bricks-and-mortar types, despise persistent drops in sales. You wouldn't lose sleep over an unexpected increase in sales, but your whole day and night are pretty much ruined when sales are down. I am not sleeping very well recently so I went out looking for an explanation for my dry spell in xplorer² sales.

Profits always go up and down quite naturally, we don't know why, but they do. So one doesn't worry too much if for a day or two there is a blip in the wrong direction. But last week as a whole was half of my recent average, and the trend persists in the early days of this week. Not very good considering my recently increased expenses. If I was living a couple of thousand years earlier I would be rushing to slaughter half my goats to appease the unexplained wrath of almighty Zeus.

Fortunately for the livestock we are living in the age of reason, so I turned to the website logs to gather some statistics. You can see the trends of most important metrics since last May in the figure to the right. For an online business like xplorer² the idea is simple. To buy the software people have got to download it first, which means that they must visit the online store, referred by another website. These are the parameters plotted against profits to the right. A problem in either of these check points, means reduced sales. What can we read in the data? statistics for the past few months

There are lots of ups and downs. Some of them I can explain, e.g. the increase in traffic around early August coincides with the release of xplorer² lite v1.8. Big news announcements always boost traffic and sales. I can't explain other big ups and downs though, and more importantly I can't explain the sudden sales crash of last week. There are unmeasurable influences like some magazine publishing an article or a competitor releasing a new and improved version.

For statistical completeness, the table below lists the correlation coefficient of the various traffic sources plotted against the income. Correlation coefficients vary from -1 to 1, where 0 means uncorrelated and 1 means strongly related. According to the numbers the strongest indicator of sales is the amount of organic searches sent in by google—but it is a weak relationship far from 1.0. It would be a miracle if a complex market behaviour could be explained with a simple linear correlation rule. The true relationship is nonlinear (affected by older time periods) and unknown.

traffic sourcecorrelation
with sales
rss feeds -0.069
total refereers0.361
confirmed installs0.421
total pages served0.423
main page hits0.455
google search referrals0.478

Hypothesis 1: bottleneck in sales pipeline
If the main website is unavailable, or the download link is broken, or the credit card processor cannot be reached, then there will be no sales. All the website and the downloadable installer is controlled by me and the sales by plimus. I monitor continuously the availability of these URLs using a tool called uptime scout, and I didn't see any problems last week. I have also checked with friends living in the USA and they didn't have any access problems either. No problem in the pipeline then.

Hypothesis 2: AV false positive
Sometimes antivirus software get confused and mis-report legitimate software as virus, trojan or malware in general. This has happened to me a couple of times in the past, and as you can understand it will affect sales. If you download some unknown software and your AV engine barks at it, the last thing you will be doing is buying the 'malware'. But I checked with virustotal and xplorer² was totally clean on all AV engines.

Hypothesis 3: Quality of traffic
Last week there was a clear drop in the website visitors and all the relevant metrics. Visitors were 20% down on the period average and program installs 15% down, but sales were 50% down. There usually is a constant sales to downloads ratio for each software product (rangin from 1-5%) so something wasn't right last week. This got me thinking that there could be something wrong with the quality of the traffic, like the visitors were coming by accident without any interest in a file manager.

How can you assess the quality of the visitors? Something that I at least didn't examine in the past was the issue of refereers, or other websites that send traffic to zabkat.com. That can be a forum post about file managers, some review in lifehacker or an organic search result in google. You can see the refereer plots in the first figure, or in the focused figure to the right. You can see that the % of traffic sent by other websites is a little under 60% on average. Approximately half of this is google search results. The 'inspiration' I had in my last night of unrest was that perhaps google was sending less visitors to my site somehow and that would say that the quality of the visitors suffered, and hence the low sales. But as you can see on the right the last week there were more people sent in through google. Another conjecture down the drain. refereer data

A google dip would be a fascinating discovery, if backed by the data. I am no SEO black belt but google will list your site in top position only if it finds your content and keywords relevant to whatever the user is searching for. It also favors websites that have live frequently updated content. In the past few months I have been working on a new project so I didn't have the time to blog about things file management, so the zabkat website was stale for a couple of months. Could google penalize this? That was what I thought would explain the sales dip. But as we've seen it doesn't hold water.

Conclusion: I still don't have a clue about the freak sales drop
After the number crunching I feel at a loss, similar to people trying to figure out the ups and downs of the stock market. Over the long term there is a steady slow drop in visitors and sales. Everybody in the mISV business knows that if you don't update the software regularly, sales will suffer. A version upgrade for xplorer² is overdue (I am working on it).

As for the sudden sales drop, I hope it will prove a fluke... or an animal sacrifice to the gods will be inevitable <g>

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