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How I built a successful SaaS product using microdata

How I built a successful SaaS product using microdata

TL;DR By scouring the web and collecting microdata, you can use clues left by your competitors’ customers to build your product around their weaknesses. Their weaknesses, your UVP.

One year ago my friend Massimo Giacchino put me on microdata. I merged that with what I know best, competitive intelligence, to rebuild and relaunch a product I already had in my portfolio.

The product I’m writing about is Treendly, which was originally launched in 2019

It allows you to discover and monitor rapidly growing trends.

With the relaunch, I reached position #2 on the Hacker News front page and #4 on ProductHunt. I’ve also received my first “All-Seeing Upvote Award” on Reddit.
 
In addition in 2 days, I’ve brought Treendly from ~300 users to over 1,000! A ton of businesses signed-up to receive rising trends in their industries. Including, people from GE, Uber, Accenture and a ton of venture funds.
 

Beginnings

When I first built it, the tool allowed users to track trends and receive email reports about peaks and downs. Technically it was a very simple software, just a wrapper on Google Trends.

It added the ability to monitor trends over time, that Google Trends is still kind of missing.

The tool also sent you really nice email reports at your preferred frequency, but didn’t make money and got very little traction in terms of sign-ups. 

Enter microdata

What is microdata? Generally, microdata is data collected from surveying consumers or by conducting an experiment (for example, an A/B test). 

But, in this case, I’m referring to microdata as clues (reviews, feedback, anything!) left by consumers online.  

Basically, you don’t need to survey your customers because you can get the same kind of micro insights from this wonderful place called, the internet.

In fact, I didn’t have any customers, so I dug up everything about my competitors’ customers.

Then, I used those insights to build a great (IMO) product that the target market is already asking for, as well as coming up with new marketing angles for the product, and write copy like a veteran. 

Basically, collecting microdata allows you to copy-paste everything out of your competitors’ weaknesses. Their weaknesses, your UVP (unique value proposition).

Where do you get microdata?

Treendly has a few competitors.

These are mainly paid newsletters that expose customers to new trends.

One big competitor is powered by The Hustle, and a viral podcast called “My first million”. They are also in Silicon Valley, so they have way more access to resources than me. There are a few others that are just newsletters. 

Then, there are tools. The main one was made by an indie maker like me, and it was recently acquired by SEO guru Brian Dean. 

Of course, there are other competitors in the market, especially targeted towards enterprise (come on, I’m not revealing all of my cards).

To find data about their customers I looked at:

  • their Product Hunt, HN, Reddit launches
  • posts in relevant online communities
  • Medium articles
  • Youtube videos
  • Interviews on podcasts
  • Ads (including comments below the ads)

Again, while doing this I didn’t pay attention to how the founders were phrasing things, but I did pay attention to how their target market (users and customers) where phrasing things.

At the end of this process, I had reverse-engineered their success and I had a list with all the good and bad of my competitors in the words of their potential users, or customers.

Let’s analyze some of the data together.

Product microdata
Here is a selection of feedback straight from the mouth of my competitors’ customers:

  • Would love daily insights. Also would be cool if it was a tool instead of a newsletter.

     

  • Is there a Pro version where I can get alerts and manage my keywords etc and have a dashboard?

     

  • This is awesome, would be cool if it was a tool rather than a newsletter. Would love to see all of the trends, but at $39/mo it’s unaffordable for my curiosity.

     

  • So I like the idea but do agree it would be nice if this was an app and not a newsletter I hate email so prefer to consume content when I choose via logging in...

From here we understand a lot of things:

  1. Not all people in the target market like the newsletter format. They would like an actual tool they can use. From my perspective, I already had a web app. The beauty of this is that a web app can very much also be a newsletter because you can quite easily email your user base. But, a newsletter can not become an online tool as easily because building a tool requires some kind of technology, and tech costs money, resources, and time.

  2. They want an active role. They want to manage their own keywords, instead of passively consume the content.

  3. They want options. Some people would love to receive insights as often as daily with just-in-time communication, while other people would like to consume the content at their own pace.

  4. In their mind, they value having an online tool more than a simple newsletter. The guy says: “is there a pro version..”. Keyword: pro (you didn’t pay attention to that, did you?)

  5. The target is curious people. Pretty easy.

  6. There must be a very low entry point. Your foot-in-the-door can’t cost $39 dollars. 

But that’s not all, I also built features by collecting microdata.
Again, here is a selection of feedback straight from the mouth of my competitors’ customers and potential clients:

  • You just need to add a way to for users to predict trends and incentivise those who discovered it first and X will become my new addiction.

     

  • Add links to Ahrefs Keyword Explorer + SEMrush’s Keyword Overview on topic pages.

     

  • I wouldn’t recommend it just because I can’t see any country or region differences. I need more filters.

     

  • Filter by category and change the time frame makes it even more useful.
     
  • I love how it uses different colors to show which topics are doing what.

From here we understand a lot of things, as well:

  1. This tool could be very powerful for SEO users. Like all users, they are lazy, or productive, depending on how you see it (I found this to be true empirically, btw). They want the tool to link directly to the tools they use for search engine optimization. That’s exactly what I did.
  2. They want filters. They want to search specific trends in certain countries. Guess what I did? I built those filters.

  3. They value having a good UI. This was consistent across all of my competitors: they have good user interfaces. I don’t usually do, but this time I’ve put extra care in designing a good interface.

  4. They want a way to predict trends. Guess what I did? I built a forecasting feature in my product. We are now using the latest technologies to analyze 5 years of data on any trend and predict how it will perform 6 months ahead of time.

  5. They might be incentivized to spot trends. I’m working on a way to increase WOM exactly through incentives.


As you can see, it’s like having your target market LITERALLY telling you what it wants. And, you can see that it showed up:

 

Marketing microdata 

As I mentioned, microdata was also useful to come up with new marketing angles, as well as writing great copy. 

Making the product better was all about the “what”. Marketing was all about understanding the “why”.

Let’s take a look at this customer’s words:

In fact, I would say that 50% of the copy on the website is made up of words straight from the target market.

English is not my primary language (as you can probably tell). That’s why I built my personal vault of words and phrases I could use in marketing and copy, on Trello:


With this, I went ahead and created another piece of copy, which is featured on the homepage. I called it: “You don’t know what you don’t know“.


I’m so proud of this copy. 
I’ve received a lot of compliments like: 

But, the thing that makes me proud the most is that this copy travels:

Let me also stress one other not-so-obvious reason why microdata is good for marketing: handling objections. 

By reading real feedback from my competitors’ posts I noticed a lot of questions like:

  • How does this compares to X?
  • How is this different from X“?

X could be anything from a similar tool, like Google Trends, to one of my competitors.

For similar tools, I just wrote a reply and put that into a F.A.Q. section in the about page of Treendly.

For competitors, I prepared a reply beforehand and saved it into a swipe file on Trello. Then, I went to battle! 

I launched on Hacker News, Product Hunt, and Reddit. 
These are communities of, basically, tech lovers. They want to understand how you built something, why you built it and all the technicalities. How you phrase your message matters a lot.

You can have two outcomes from posting to these communities, one good and one bad: either they grill you (bad) or they give you great feedback (good).

Luckily, some of my competitors had successful launches, so I tried to mimic their launches.

Thanks to my Swipe file I was able to overcome objections like a Jedi: 


You can see how my competitors’ weaknesses are now my differentiating factors. 

Aside from handling objections, I also received a lot of praise and confirmation that what I did was right.

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see how one visitor mentioned that he had to leave my competitor’s website to see the trend in Google Trends. I had encountered that problem by analyzing microdata and I had put a button into my UI for that.

Of course, while launching, I had my fair share of technical problems but all and all, I received very good feedback. Because I had developed the product by analyzing microdata related to my competitors and I had already solved all of their issues, I now was receiving feedback that was new and not obvious to me.

More microdata 

Thousands of people visited Treendly’s website and turns out you can collect even more microdata using something like Hotjar.

Hotjar is a tool that allows you to track what visitors do on your website and where they click the most.

Here are some insights I gained by analyzing some heatmaps.

First thing first: above the fold.
A lot of visitors used the search feature and a lot of visitors changed the country from “US” to whatever country they wanted to search in. Good to know.

In addition, a lot of visitors went to the about and technology pages. Knowing this, I moved the “technology” page before the “blog page” in the navbar.

I was also surprised that a lot of visitors checked the changelog widget we have. 

Secondly, cards.
A lot of people were clicking on the title of the trend in an effort to learn more about that trend, and not on the button that is on the bottom of the card. Thereby, I made that title a link.

Thirdly, the footer area.
I’m glad that the last call to action button was receiving some clicks. Judging from where they clicked, a lot of people were interested to know more about pricing and our company. I then moved “Pricing” into the navbar, replacing the blog post link which wasn’t getting enough clicks.

After I did this change, my conversion rate had a big bump. 

What’s next 

I hope you have enjoyed this article and I hope that you have realized how microdata can inform and improve your product and marketing. Microdata gave Treendly a new life.

There’s no end to the optimization phase. In fact, I’m implementing more changes as I write this blog post.

Now, I’m even more excited to use microdata to drive the business forward. I will report back on that.

Thanks for reading.

For the love of (micro)data,
Mike Rubini