Robosoft for Beginners

4

Posted by Cynic | Posted in Online Marketing, OpenCandy, PAD, Robosoft, Software, Solutions to Problems, Super Simple, Web Sites | Posted on 29-09-2012

Software Marketing with Robosoft

For years RoboSoft has been the single most effective 1-stop way to promote software. If it isn’t already a part of your software marketing, it should be. If it is a part of your software marketing, there are most likely areas where you can squeeze quite a bit more juice out of it.

In this article I explain what it is, issues surrounding it, and how to use it to effectively promote your software.

This article is aimed at RoboSoft “beginners”, though there are some good tips for intermediate users as well. For highly advanced usage, you can refer to some of my previous articles on Robosoft here.

What It Is

RoboSoft lets you either automatically or semi-automatically submit your software to hundreds (or thousands) of download sites, news sites, and other software-related sites.

It works by having you enter information about your software, then automatically submitting that information to its large database of sites via web automation. Not all sites can be done automatically, so you can go back and submit to those sites that it “missed”.

For semi-automated submissions, RoboSoft automatically fills in all the forms with your software information, e.g. the product name, download URL, descriptions, etc.

What It Can Do For You

Used properly, RoboSoft can significantly boost your position in search engines, and consequently, increase your sales.

It’s that simple. RoboSoft increases sales. Period.

What It Costs

The cost of RoboSoft is insignificant compared to the value it delivers. A standard lifetime license is $99.00, while database updates are sold on a subscription basis starting at $8 / month. A full year of updates can be purchased for a discount.

About PAD

PAD stands for Portable Application Description. It is the industry standard way to communicate information about software, and is maintained by the Association for Software Professionals (ASP).

PAD files are simple XML files. Each bit of information is contained in a descriptive node. Nodes do not have any attributes.

RoboSoft, and most download sites, use the PAD standard to communicate your software information. You can either create your PAD file inside of RoboSoft, or you can use an external PAD authoring tool like PADGen to create your PAD file then import it into RoboSoft. See below for more information on this.

For more information about PAD, see the official PAD site here.

For more information about PADGen, the official ASP PAD file generator, see the official PADGen page here.

The Download Site Controversy and Why It Doesn’t Matter

Skimming through various developer forums, you will at some point encounter the download site debate, with many authors poo-pooing download sites. Don’t buy it.

The typical “controversy” goes on about how there are thousands of download sites, and how they have no value, and how submitting your software to them is a waste of time.

I beg to differ.

When digging deeper, it usually turns out that somebody submitted their software to a very small handful of sites (maybe 30) once then came to the conclusion that it’s a complete waste of time. Well, duh! That is a waste of time.

Follow the advice below, and you will not waste your time. You will see significant results.

But don’t throw a handful of sand on the beach then claim that you can’t make a sand castle with sand because you tried and it didn’t work.

The “Real Deal”

RoboSoft is an SEO tool.

Let me repeat that just in case…

RoboSoft is an SEO tool.

By submitting your software to a LARGE number of sites, you create backlinks to your site. This boosts your site in search engines even if you never get a single download from any of the sites. Even if you never get a single download directly from a download site (yes, I’m repeating that because it’s important), having your software listed and linked back to your site tells the search engines that the content on that page that links to your site is relevant to your site, and that translates into higher search engine rankings for you. Not all download sites post direct links to you, but they do post links to your software installer, which still translates into a link that search engines can follow.

So, your goal isn’t to get downloads from download sites. Your goal is to get better search engine placement, because the new download site is Google.

That means that you need to do some SEO work on your PAD file… Which is beyond the scope of this article. There’s lots of information available on SEO out there, and you can find an excellent article about on-page SEO here. Many of the same principles apply. Don’t worry about download sites out-ranking you. That may happen, but eventually it gets corrected.

In the past, I’ve had up to 95 out of the top 100 results in Google pointing to products that I was promoting, albeit 94 were on download sites. Still, that’s only room for 5 competitors inside of the top 100 results. Those days are done and gone though, but the tactics used still work to get your site up in the SERPs and are still very much worthwhile.

Entering Software Information

As space is short, we’ll forgoe the PAD SEO discussion, and get on to the simple mechanics of entering information…

If you have a PAD file, click “Import…” under “Company tasks” in RoboSoft to import your company information from your PAD file:

Import PAD info for Company

Follow the instructions and click the “Save and exit” button when you’re done:

Importing company info from PAD - save here

That will create your company info inside of RoboSoft. You will see your company info listed similar to as shown below:

Company is now listed in RoboSoft

Next, select your company as shown above, and do the same for your product information by clicking “Import…” under “Product tasks”:

Import product info from PAD

You may be prompted with the company info screen again; click the “Save and exit” button again to continue on to the product import screen:

Product import screen for RoboSoft

You can edit information in there, just as with the company import screen. However, make certain to click the “Save and exit” button to save your product into RoboSoft.

When prompted, make your imported product the selected/active one by clicking Yes:

Make product active

RoboSoft will now look something like this:

Product has been imported into RoboSoft

Before you submit, you must ensure that there are no errors. In the screenshot above, click the “Validate now” link, or in the Product tasks, click the “Validate…” link. This will check your software information for problems:

Validation errors

Walk through each error and correct them all. This may require uploading files, such as your PAD file, to your server and making certain that the information in RoboSoft accurately reflects the newly uploaded files.

You can resize the screen above to go about fixing the errors. If this is the first time you’ve used RoboSoft, you WILL have errors that must be corrected. This is perfectly normal as some fields are RoboSoft specific.

Correcting validation errors in RoboSoft

To correct the errors, click on the error then in the left pane, correct the error. Rinse. Repeat.

Correcting validation errors

!!! IMPORTANT !!! — For your contact and login information, do NOT use your normal email address, i.e. DO NOT use support@ or info@ or yourname@. Use addresses that are used ONLY for submissions. Use email addresses like pad@ or padsupport@ or padsubmit@. Your PAD submissions will generate a lot of email that is only relevant for your PAD submissions. You will also get automated PAD polling information from download sites to tell you that they’ve polled your software and that it has been added/listed or that there was a polling error (which is often because the download site PAD validation is not PAD compliant). So… To avoid filling up your inbox with all that, use another email address. Really. Trust me. I speak from experience. Lots of it.

When you’re done, click the “Save and exit” button.

!!! IMPORTANT !!! — Critical errors must be fixed, however, you can ignore some warnings. Try to fix everything that “makes sense” for your software, but don’t worry if something that is irrelevant to your software still throws a warning, e.g. Your PAD file may not have a press release in it, so you will get warnings there. (Press releases can be added through the press release PAD extension. See here for more information about PAD extensions and here for the PAD extensions repository.)

Before you continue, back in the main RoboSoft screen, double-click your newly imported software to edit it. Walk through each and every field and verify that it has been entered (if required), and is correct. There is a description of each field at the bottom of the screen when you click each field.

Enter or edit information directly in RoboSoft

That should take you several hours (or days) if you do it properly. Why? Because you should have a press release, and you should have site information, and it takes several hours at a minimum to write a draft-quality press release. Don’t overlook that. Remember, this is about SEO, and the more you submit, the better you will perform in the search engines. Take the time to do it properly. Don’t be lazy.

If you don’t have a PAD file, you can simply create a new company and product and enter the information exactly the same as in the screenshot above.

So… by this point you have taken the time to do things right, right? Good! It’s time to submit your software and open the floodgates of traffic!

Submitting Your Software

Before you start submitting, make sure that the database is up to date by clicking Site List > Update. Follow the directions.

Filter Sites That You Submit to

If you have an Excel utility, there is no point in submitting to games sites, and if you have a non-mobile game, there’s no point in submitting to mobile sites… So… Filter them.

Click the Sites tab. It should look something like this:

RoboSoft Sites tab

Click the “Site Rank” column header to sort by site rank. The ones at the top are the most important ones. You will want to do those sites semi-automatically, and not automatically.

In the lower right, check “Use filter” to enable the options there.

Filter the sites you submit to

For Category, uncheck any category that isn’t relevant. e.g. It’s unlikely that you’re a CAD developer, and more likely that your software may fit into the Multimedia category. Be honest. Checking them all is counter productive. If you don’t have a screensaver, don’t submit your software to screensaver sites. You will want to submit to news feed directories, search engines, press release sites, and web directories though.

For Language, you can submit to all of them. You don’t need to uncheck anything. Some non-English sites accept English software, while other non-English sites don’t. Cross that bridge when you get to it. However, if you want, you can check only one language and do your submissions by language, i.e. do multiple sets of submissions. That’s a solid tactic that can help you focus on specific language markets. It may or may not be applicable to you though.

The Flags options let you hide entire categories of sites. For example, some sites require that you pay to be listed, while other sites require that you link back to them. Show or hide the sites that you want to submit to.

HINT: For sites that require a link back, most of these will crawl your site to see if the link is on the home page, and if not, they will decline your submission. A small minority of sites will accept any page, even if it is not linked to anything in your site. I would recommend not bothering with these sites at all. You don’t want to link to them as it does not add enough value to your efforts to warrant it.

I would recommend hiding all sites that require payment or a link back.

For Status, leave that at ALL for the time being. Later on you will want to know where you have submitted, where you are listed, and where submissions failed or were skipped. Before you actually use those functions though, you should use the RoboSoft crawler to update the status by clicking Tools > Track Listings (Batch Search).

When you’ve finished filtering, click the “Apply” button. The status bar in the lower left will update to display something like this:

Filter results

You have now chosen the subset of sites that you will submit to. It’s time to get started…

Starting Submissions

To start submitting, click the “Auto…” button on the RoboSoft toolbar (or click Tools > Automatic submission…) and choose “Submit”:

Click autosubmit to start

RoboSoft will update the database:

Updating database

Once the database is updated, you must complete the automatic submission wizard:

Automatic submission wizard

Next, verify you have the right product that you want to submit:

step 2

RoboSoft then validates your software info:

PAD validation

Next, verify and test your SMTP settings as some submissions are done by email, and others require an account that RoboSoft can automatically create for you:

SMTP settings

Next, verify your site selections:

Verify site selections

Next, RoboSoft will check to see if your software is already listed:

Autosearch

In step 7, check or uncheck individual sites that you want to submit (or not submit) to. To change a category, press CTRL + click the category. If you need more categories to be available to choose from, click the “Edit possible categories” button and follow the direction in the dialog there. A green check mark means that the software is already listed at the site. Check these sites if you have an updated version. Also, make certain to check the account information in the Account tab on the right. If you don’t know what something is, mouse over the question marks (?) for more information.

Category and site selection

It is important to make sure that you get things right in step 7. Take a few minutes to go through the list and verify that everything is correct. Uncheck irrelevant sites and correct any category problems. Not all sites support all categories, so just try to get as close as possible. If you can’t get close, uncheck the site because it’s a waste of your time and a waste of the site owner’s time if your software isn’t relevant. e.g. You have a photo resizing application and the site is for network administration software.

In step 8, RoboSoft does all the submissions. Take special note that it has anti-CAPTCHA built in as you can see in the screenshot:

Submissions

The various panes in the submission window detail what sites are being submitted to, show a screenshot of the submission process, give real-time statistics on the submission process, and show CAPTCHAs being cracked.

The anti-CAPTCHA feature in RoboSoft is highly effective, but not 100% of the time. At the end of the submission process, you are given the option to go back and process those CAPTCHAs that RoboSoft missed:

Process CAPTCHAs

It’s a very simple and easy process, so just click the “Process CAPTCHAs” button.

Missed CAPTCHAs

Click in the Value column and type the CAPTCHA. You can see a screenshot of the actual web site in the lower right.

If you get one wrong, you’ll be promted again. Some CAPTCHAs are very difficult, while some sites are just broken. If you can’t get one, forget about it. The chances are that the site itself is broken.

Step 9 is the “YAY~!” stage:

Success rates for software submissions

RoboSoft keeps track of all the submissions for you, including success and failure rates. Don’t worry about failures though. It’s common for a site to go down, or for a site to have internal errors, especially when you submit to hundreds and hundreds of them. RoboSoft also keeps track of why there were errors, as you can see in the screenshot above. Just make certain that you aren’t the source of the errors through some silly oversight like bad account information.

Step 10… Hmmm… Step 10… How about I let my sadistic side take over. You know… Slide on over to the Dark Side… and leave step 10 as a mystery by not telling you what it is and not posting a screenshot. Muahahahaha~! You’re tortured now, aren’t you? It’s eating you up inside, gnawing at your very soul… You must know what step 10 is… And so… You must go out and get RoboSoft and do your own submissions to find out! (You’ll be very glad that you did.)

But You’re Not Finished Yet…

That’s just the automatic part. There’s still the manual part.

Go to the Sites tab and double-click on a site that you’ve not submitted to (or one that you want to resubmit to). That will open up the site on the Browser tab. There, click the “Submit” button and carry on your submissions semi-automatically. Each site is different, so you’ll need to just roll with it. However, many sites run off of the same download site engines, and after a while, you’ll begin to recognize them. That makes submissions faster for you as you’ll know what to expect within a few seconds of visiting a site.

The important things to know are:

  • RoboSoft will automatically fill in fields for you.
  • You can use the “Autofill” button to fill in fields if RoboSoft doesn’t.
  • You can right-click in an input and choose what information to enter from the context menu.
  • This is a very important part of submissions, and if you skip is, well, you might as well throw a handful of sand on the beach and then complain about not being able to build a sand castle.

If you are diligent and aggressive, the entire submission process should take you about 2 or 3 days. That assumes some learning curve. Once you know what you are doing better, submissions are much faster; plan on a set of submissions taking a day to complete. The manual/semi-automatic portion takes the longest, as you would expect.

Again, it bears repeating: Do not skip the semi-automatic submission process. It is critical to your success. There are some very good download sites that you’ve likely never heard of, and if you skip them, you are missing out on some valuable exposure. See my praise for Softoxi here.

After You Finish Submitting…

The process doesn’t end with submissions though. RoboSoft can keep track of what sites your software is listed at, so you should periodically go back and run the batch search: Tools > Track Listings (Batch Search).

You can add in new versions, submit, and keep track of it all.

DynamicPAD

DynamicPAD is how you can turn RoboSoft from a raging 800 lb gorilla, into a fire-breathing, 800-foot high, Tokyo-smashing Godzilla. (BTW – Your competition is Toyko.)

However, DynamicPAD is well beyond the beginner or intermediate scope of this article. If you want more information about turbo-charging RoboSoft with DynamicPAD, see my articles on that here (part 1, 2, 3, 4). It’s not for the faint-of-heart, but if you really want to get some fantastic results, try it out. The articles include source code that you can use as well.

NOTE

This article has been sitting around for almost a year, but is still as accurate as the day it was written. Originally, it was written for another company, but, they simply sat on it for too long, so, I’m publishing it. I know it will be useful for someone.

Cheers,

Ryan

 

TrialPay Integration with IPN.NET

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Posted by Cynic | Posted in C#, DotNetNuke, Online Marketing, Software, Solutions to Problems | Posted on 22-09-2011

Tags: , ,

TrialPayI’m slowly closing in on being able to release the new Photo Resizer Social Edition. It will feature 1-click photo uploading to Facebook, Flickr, and TwitPic/Twitter, but all that has been the easy stuff so far. The licensing and marketing side of it is where the real work is.

Building on how I integrated ILS and IPN.NET with DotNetNuke, I’m now adding in TrialPay to the licensing process. For those that don’t know TrialPay, it’s a fantastic idea from Alex Rampell, Terry Angelos and Eddie Lim who founded TrialPay in 2006. I first met them at SIC 2006 in Denver. (I think that was the last CoffeeCup party there as well.) I’d blogged about it here, and shortly thereafter got an email from Alex joking about how he was pissed that I was beating them in the search engines for “trialpay”. We got a kick out of that.

Anyways, TrialPay lets you present users with an option to purchase some product or service, and in return, give them a license for your software for free. It’s good for everyone all the way around. I’ve recommended it to other developers, and they’ve come back with positive stories about increased revenues.

TrialPay has a very good interface to integrate with different styles of licensing systems. As I’ve already got IPN.NET and ILS in place, it’s just a matter of hammering things around a bit to get things working right.

My last round of DNN/ILS/IPN.NET integration is running smoothly, and adding in TrialPay has had noadditional  impact on DNN, though it does have a significant impact on IPN.NET.

While I’ve tried to minimize the impact, I also need to spend my time wisely. As such, there’s a higher impact on IPN.NET than I would really like, but the time it has taken to do it wasn’t very much.

To integrate TrialPay with IPN.NET, there are a few things that need to be done. All of the integration-specific changes and set up from the TrialPay side are done on the “Product Delivery” page in the product configuration:

TrialPay Product Setup MenuOnce there, under “Activation Method”, choose the “Provide a unique key that I will generate” option. You need to have your IPN.NET URL ready for that as well.

TrialPay Activation Method - Unique Key I Generate

Most of the other settings are pretty straight forward, but you’ll want to make certain that you set up the parameters that TrialPay will POST to your IPN.NET instance. (Don’t use GET. That’s just a bad idea.) So, for example, you could have these parameters:

payer_email=%email%
first_name=%fname%
last_name=%lname%
item_number=ACME123

TrialPay gives you a huge amount of freedom to set up whatever you like. However, it is CRUCIAL that you pass a value for your item number (item_number) back to yourself. It MUST be the same as an existing item_number that’s already set up in IPN.NET. This will be the same as the item_number that you enter into License Tracker. (See my article on entering large numbers of products into License Tracker.)

The item_number is used by IPN.NET to create licenses, so, it’s just kind of a little bit important. ūüėČ However, see below for how to quickly hack this with the testing tool…

Once you have that set up, you can then move on to customizing your IPN.NET installation. You can get away with only 4 real changes:

  1. Add in a string member variable to contain the key for TrialPay
  2. Add in a ProcessPurchaseItem > ProcessTrialPayItem method
  3. Add in a SendNotificationEmail >SendTrialPayNotificationEmail method
  4. Add in some custom logic for TrialPay at the top of the Page_load method

IPN.NET has a huge amount of error checking, and even posts back to PayPal to verify license purchases. Now, you can work with this, but it’s a significant amount of effort, and has a massive impact on IPN.NET, so it might not be worth it to you. Instead, you can filter for TrialPay POSTs and then just run some custom logic and end there.

You can do that with minimal impact by adding that to the top of the Page_load event in IPN.NET. You can simply use an IpnData object to pull in the POST variables, but you’ll need to modify the IpnData class if you don’t use the same variable names. As such, it’s simpler to use the IPN.NET/PayPal variable in TrialPay, as you can see above.

The “ipn” IpnData variable is a member variable, so it has a global scope in Default.aspx.cs. You should set it something like this in the Page_load event:

ipn = new IpnData(Request.Form);

That then lets you reuse the “ipn” variable for TrialPay, and alleviates any need to rewrite basically everything.

Now, you’ll probably want to rewrite/tweak the ProcessPurchaseItem() and the¬†SendNotificationEmail() methods. The “log” variable is a member variable as well, and you’ll need to do a lot of rewriting if you want to use it. If you want to work with License Tracker for TrialPay purchases, then you’ll need to do a lot of that work as the log creates a logfile that gets emailed to you in IPN.NET normally. However, if you cut out the logging, it won’t get created, and you won’t be able to import it from Outlook with License Tracker. Yuck. That’s pretty complicated. So… Might as well take the quick and easy route…

Notably, IPN.NET does a POST back to PayPal for verification, and you can’t do that while using TrialPay. This happens in the Page_load event just before the¬†ProcessPayment() method call. The¬†ProcessPayment() call contains the¬†ProcessShoppingCartItems() and ProcessSinglePurchaseItem() method calls, which is where the actual licensing “work” gets done.

For TrialPay, I’m only interested in selling 1 license at a time, so I’m only concerned with the¬†ProcessSinglePurchaseItem() method. It contains the¬†ProcessPurchaseItem() method call, which as I’ve mentioned above, I’ve tweaked for TrialPay.

So, I’ve simply created a¬†ProcessTrialPayItem() and a¬†SendTrialPayNotificationEmail() method from the 2 mentioned above, then tweaked them for what I need, i.e. to send people their licenses and send me a quick and dirty email notification. You can open up the source code to see inside them. From what I’ve written here, it should be very simple for you to modify them similarly to what I have, or perhaps even more extensively, depending on your requirements.

Modifications for the¬†ProcessTrialPayItem() method basically boil down to commenting out the log calls, and the tweaks I’d previously made to integrate IPN.NET into DNN. Actually, this entire block can be deleted:

if (item.IsUpgrade)
{ … }
else if (!CartHasPrerequisiteItems(item))
{ … }
else if (BlockCustomerEmail())
{ … }

However, it doesn’t matter whether you delete it or not. None of those conditions will ever be satisfied except possible the BlockCustomerEmail() method call. However, there I would strongly recommend either deleting the entire contents of that file, or very carefully editing it. If you’re selling consumer level or professional level software, the chances are VERY high that many of your customers will have email address that would get blocked there. Not good.

Modifications for the¬†SendTrialPayNotificationEmail() method boil down to nothing. There’s a log check to see if it is null, but that can stay in.

Now, if you want to hack things up while testing with the Infralution IPN Test Tool, just set the product item_number something like this:

item.ItemNumber = “ACME123”;

You can add in some logic that draws on data from the TrialPay POST (if you have more than 1 product pointing to the same IPN.NET instance), but that’s not very hard to figure out. You just need to keep it straight with the Infralution IPN Testing Tool.

The issue there is that you can end up with “item_number1” when you’re expecting “item_number”. It can be remedied, but I’m quite frankly too busy/lazy to get on top of that one when I have zero reason to right now.

I can’t post much code as that is not a part of what I am allowed to do according to my Infralution source code license, but I can post a little bit. The following is some very brief logic for what you want to stick up at the top of your IPN.NET Page_load event:

// If we have a Trial Pay sale...
if (isTrialPay)
{
    // Recycle the "ipn" member variable:
    ipn = new IpnData(Request.Form);
    // Create an item for the TrialPay "purchase"
    PurchaseItem tpItem = new PurchaseItem();
    // Hack/fix the item number for the InfralutionIPN Testing Tool
    tpItem.ItemNumber = "ACME123"; // Used below
    // Now, get the item from your existing IPN.NET settings:
    tpItem = GetPurchaseItem(tpItem.ItemNumber);
    // Call the tweaked method to process the "purchase":
    ProcessTrialPayItem(tpItem, 1);
    // Send the license email to the customer:
    SendTrialPayNotificationEmail();
    // Clear the HTML body response but not the headers (should be 200):
    Response.ClearContent();
    // You must return the key to TrialPay in the HTML body.
    // "tpKeys" is a member variable that you set in the ProcessTrialPayItem() method above:
    Response.Write(tpKeys);
    // HTML markup is not valid for the response to TrialPay, so end the response and send it back:
    Response.End();
    return;
}

Now, you’ll need to figure out how you want to verify a TrialPay POST, as I’m not going to do that here. Just read their documentation and you’ll figure it out quickly enough.

You will also likely want to add in a bit more error checking and whatnot. I’ve cut things down there to the very basics as described above.

That’s about all there is to it though. I hope that serves as a good starting point for anyone that wants to integrate TrialPay sales into their Infralution IPN.NET system.

Cheers,

Ryan

P.S. If you want to find out more about TrialPay, click the button:

TrialPay Referral Program

The Licensing Experience with Infralution and DotNetNuke

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Posted by Cynic | Posted in .NET, C#, Databases, DotNetNuke, Online Marketing, Software, Solutions to Problems, Super Simple, Web Sites | Posted on 20-09-2011

Tags: ,

I don’t think that I’ve ever done a licensing or purchasing flow exactly the same way twice. Well, a couple times, but mostly I experiment with both major changes and minor tweaks.

This time around for the Super Simple Photo Resizer Social Edition, I’m doing things more or less right. There are a few things that still could be improved, and a few things that I’m not really all that happy with, but like my friend Nick Longo says, “Release at 80%.”

However, overall, I think the current functional set that I’ve got mapped out for Photo Resizer Social Edition are pretty good, and will deliver a solid user experience. My goals on the user-experience side are:

  1. Make it easy to purchase
  2. Make it easy to get and enter the license
  3. Make it easy to get a lost license back

Each of those has a real upside for users, and an upside for me as well (respectively):

  1. I make more money
  2. Fewer support emails
  3. Fewer support emails

But I also have some other goals.

  1. Cut down on piracy
  2. Cut down on piracy
  3. Cut down on piracy

For a little guy like me, piracy hurts. Badly. It also hurts users, because it removes the financial incentive to continue development. You’d be surprised at just how many people like to get paid for their work, and how much they enjoy having food on the table and paying their bills. ūüėČ

I recently got an email from someone who purchased some other software that I write. This is part of that email:

I could have pirated the software if I wished as it is easy to crack which is something you need to work on, but I thought the software is so good that I would pay you the money for a genuine copy and support its future development.

I’m glad he bought a copy! It quite literally puts food on the table.

However, I don’t want to get into piracy here. Instead, I’d like to go over some of the things I’m doing with the new licensing scheme…

The flow looks something like this (click to zoom):

Super Simple Photo Resizer Social Edition Licensing Flow
Now, I’m leaving out a lot there because it would just be boring details, but that’s the basic flow.

The user gets 2 emails:

  1. PayPal receipt
  2. License email with account information

Now, in the past I’ve done licensing manually, which has been in many ways pretty easy, but it’s not been without its pain as well.

I’ve previously mentioned that I’m using the Infralution toolchain for licensing, but nothing is perfect “out of the box”, so I’ve done a good amount of customization. Having been burnt very badly in the past, I tend to purchase source code licenses whenever I can afford to. This leaves me the freedom to get down into things and tweak, fix, or just pimp-out stuff. Infralution offers source code along with their various products, which is another reason why I strongly recommend them to people whenever the topic of software licensing or payment integration arises.

I’ve also raved about how much I love DotNetNuke. It’s a fantastic CMS/portal written in ASP.NET (VB.NET in the past and now in C#), and comes with a BSDish license. However, I’ve been hesitant in the past to do much integration due to time constraints and other factors. However, this time around, I’m aiming to get things done more or less “right”.

Neither the Infralution ILS nor their IPN.NET integrate into DotNetNuke, so all of that is goodness that I need to take care of. Luckily, DotNetNuke is very well designed and integration isn’t really much of a problem. It’s really only a matter of getting it done and testing things out to make sure that they work. The trick is to try and make certain that I don’t step outside of the framework, and don’t create potential future issues for when I upgrade the DNN version. (Moving from DNN v2.1.2 to v3.x was a NIGHTMARE.)

ILS and IPN.NET take care of all the license generation and authentication, so the only thing needed is to get that into DNN. The relevant user-portion of the database is (click to zoom):

DotNetNuke Users Roles Database DiagramTo get ILS and IPN.NET working there, I needed to create 2 new entries in the database:

  • A Role for licensees
  • A ProfileProperty to store licenses

No new tables needed to be added, and no table modifications were needed. So, everything fits into DNN nice and cleanly.

A Note About the Database: When installing DNN, I would highly recommend using object qualifiers. These are prefixes for the database objects (tables, stored procedures, views), and will help to guarantee that well written modules that use them do not have conflicts. IPN.NET and ILS do not support object qualifiers, and have table names that could be used by other modules. As such, I’m very happy that I always stick with the wisdom of using object qualifiers because it’s made things much safer, and has allowed me the freedom to use the DNN database for the IPN.NET and ILS Authentication Server. Later on, this will let me create custom modules or do additional programming that let me access all user data in 1 place. The advantages here are never-ending.

When a user purchases a license through PayPal, PayPal then securely contacts my IPN.NET instance, and I then process the transaction by either updating the user’s existing profile, or creating a new user profile for the user and updating it with their new license information.

Since IPN.NET has no DNN integration, everything needs to work around that, and consequently, needs to be done at a low-level. Luckily,¬†the DNN community is quite large, and there’s a lot of code out there to help with very low-level stuff like this.

The first step to integration is to create a user, and there’s some existing code out there that helped me get jump started:

Creating a DotNetNuke User via SQL

So starting from there, I’ve got a new account for the user and it has their license securely stored.

Next, there’s a password problem there… I certainly don’t want to use a known password, so that needs to change. Again, thanks to the DNN community, I’ve got the solution:

Updating a DotNetNuke User Password via SQL

However, what password do I create? What I wanted to do initially was to create a pass phrase instead of a password. However, being the grammar-Nazi that I am, and being constitutionally incapable of generating icky passphrases, I realized after some investigation that any decent passphrase generator would take me far longer than I was prepared to spend. So… Thank you again to the .NET community, I have a ready-made password generator that creates strong passwords of an arbitrary length:

Strong Passwords in C#

So that problem is also solved, in more detail that I’d care to bother with too! It creates passwords that look like these:

  • a+7P9A*rp6F&
  • So5={9WsM+g7
  • Ax8$+3JwD=a2
  • Ky8-i?H6Dw3&9%sS$rX54Q!f{2eLPp_7

The nice things about that password generator are that it

  • Leaves out ambiguous characters, e.g. I vs. | vs. l vs. 1 or 0 vs. o vs. O
  • Lets you choose the length of the password
  • Mixes in upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols

As far as being able to remember them? Bah! Not going to happen. Which is why I wanted to have a pass phrase generator, but, you do what you can with the time you have.

Now, code-wise, there are a few points where things need to get done:

  1. MS SQL Server stored procedures
  2. The IPN.NET project
    1. Default.aspx.cs
    2. Add in the RandomPassword.cs class
    3. Add in the “DnnLicenseIssuer.cs” class
    4. Modify the “Keys.htm” file

The MS SQL Server stored procedures won’t have any impact on DNN if done right. The prerequisite PropertyDefinitions and Roles need to be there, but that’s simple enough.

The RandomPassword.cs and DnnLicenseIssuer.cs classes won’t have any impact on the IPN.NET installation, so there’s a lot of freedom there.

However, changes to the Default.aspx.cs file will break across IPN.NET upgrades unless care is taken to migrate those changes to any new IPN.NET version. Luckily, everything that needs to be done can be done in this method:

private void ProcessPurchaseItem(PurchaseItem item, int quantity)

However, if you’ve actually sold a license, and the payment is successful, there’s only 1 spot that you need to modify, which will look something like this:

DnnLicenseIssuer dnnLi = new DnnLicenseIssuer(ipn, item, keys, false);
if (dnnLi.HasExistingAccount)
{
// Do stuff for license email
}
else
{
// Do stuff for license email
}

So you can easily minimize the impact there and make future upgrades very easily.

The “Do stuff” part contains customizations that I’ve written for the license email. If users have an existing account, then they get a different email than users that I’ve created an account for.

Of course it is possible to go further, and create users irrespective of whether the license payment succeeded or failed, and follow up later, however, it’s not one of my requirements at the moment.

The End Game

There’s a plan behind all this though. I’m not going to spill the beans quite yet, and it won’t get done for some time yet. However, all of this has a forward-looking purpose, and when I finally make it to that stage, I’ll post back on what I’m doing and the results.

Until then, check back at Super Simple over the next few weeks as the new Photo Resizer Social Edition is coming out very soon.

Cheers,

Ryan

Creating Urgency for Sales with Infralution Licensing System

0

Posted by Cynic | Posted in .NET, Business, C#, Databases, Money, Online Marketing, Software, Solutions to Problems, Super Simple | Posted on 15-09-2011

Tags: ,

I need to create a large number of “products” for Photo Resizer, but they’re really all just the same product with different prices. And not 2 or 3 prices, but more like 20 or 30 prices. Actually, I’ll likely end up creating more than 30, but that’s a detail.

It may seem strange to some people as to why I would do this. I’ve had people tell me to just set one price and be done with it. Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but it also shows a lack of understanding about how to sell software. Just because you’re a rock star coder, doesn’t mean you’re a rock star marketer.

So, what I’m going to cover now are some motivations and reasons for the problem, and how I’m solving it. There are of course other ways to create problems, and other ways to solve them too. ūüôā

  • Urgency and creating urgency
  • The Infralution Licensing System and License Tracker
  • The Code: Creating massive numbers of products for the License Tracker database

Urgency and Creating Urgency

When you’re selling, you sometimes need to create a sense of urgency for people to BUY NOW! Not later. Not tomorrow. NOW! Stores do with with 1-day sales, or “on sale until <date>”. The same sort of thing can be done for software. You just tell people that there’s a deal to be had RIGHT NOW, and that if they don’t buy your product RIGHT NOW, then they’re going to miss out.

What happens when you do this is that you effectively remove a barrier to purchase for the customer. They have 1 less reason to “not buy”, and 1 more reason to buy. The more things you can do like this, the better. Typical things include telling potential customers how your product will benefit them and make their lives better, or offer free shipping, or… You get the point.

The way in which I am creating urgency is with an initial steep discount for the product that decreases; that is, the price increases over the course of the trial period. e.g. Today it’s $5 and tomorrow it’s $6, and the day after that… So… BUY NOW and SAVE~! I’ve done it before, and it works.

The Infralution Licensing System and License Tracker

There are lots of ways to license your software, but the one I like is from Infralution. The Infralution Licensing System, or ILS, integrates with their IPN.NET product as well, so it gives me a way to license the software and collect money for it; those are 2 very different things and should not be confused.

ILS includes a program to help keep track of licenses and customers called License Tracker, which up until now I’ve never used. Since I’m looking to automate as much as possible at this stage, I’m moving things over to it now.

License Tracker stores data in a database; I’m using MS SQL Server for that. To add a new product, you simply open up a new form and enter all the data then click OK. Sounds simple enough? Well… Not when you want to add in a truck load of products; it is extremely tedious and painful. I don’t want to copy and paste 500 million times, and I don’t want to change my mind later on and end up copying and pasting another 500 million times.

Since License Tracker is a database-connected application, all data in it is just the data in MS SQL Server. This makes it easy to deal with your data because you can simply connect to the database and do whatever you feel like. As such, I wrote a utility to generate SQL for products, or rather, for product variants, though it could also be used to create top level primary products as well.

My simple “SQL Generator for the Infralution Licensing System License Tracker ” (that’s a mouthful) lets you enter data for a product and generate product variants very quickly. It even lets you increase product costs by a set increment, and lets you auto-increment IPN item numbers. Here’s a screenshot of it (click to zoom):

SQL Generator for the Infralution Licensing System License TrackerIt’s pretty basic, but it saves product information and settings automatically so that you don’t need to enter everything the next time.

You simply fill in the form and click the “Generate SQL” button. The SQL is then appended to the Generated SQL text box at the bottom of the form. You can automate part of it with the Automatic Increments settings, or quickly change the price manually and click the Generate SQL button again. It’s MUCH faster than copying and pasting for every field.

Now, you do need to know what you are doing, and the “Parent Product ID” needs to be the primary key for the product’s parent in SQL Server, so this isn’t a utility for just anyone to use. However, if you use the Infralution Licensing System and License Tracker, you’ll already be familiar with everything in there, and you won’t have any problems in using it.

Once you have your SQL, you can simply review it to see that it’s what you want and run it in MS SQL Server Management Studio, or whatever you use to execute SQL against MS SQL Server.

After you run your SQL, simply open up License Tracker and all your products will be there.

The Code: Creating Massive Numbers of Products for the License Tracker Database

To make things easier, I’m including the full source code for download here. Please note that I’ve chosen for it to be licensed under the WTFPL 2.0, so you have maximum freedom to “Do What The F*** You Want To”. If you don’t like that license, then feel free to send me lots of money and I’ll give you another license. ūüėČ

Download Source Code for SQL Generator for the Infralution Licensing System License Tracker

The download includes all source code and a debug build that you can run immediately.

The code is commented extensively, so you can consider that the “documentation”. If you have any questions, which I rather doubt anyone will, you can post a reply here. (Also email me to let me know to respond. You can email me through the contact page at http://renegademinds.com.)

I hope that helps someone out.

Cheers,

Ryan

Silent Nod for Cheaper Prices in Games

0

Posted by Cynic | Posted in Borders, Money, Online Marketing, Software | Posted on 03-08-2011

Tags: , ,

So, I started a Travian game. Again. Hey, I found my wife on Travian! So it has a special place in my heart as far as games go.

But I like to play the paid version. So, I go to the payment page and figure I’ll fart around with the countries and currencies. Here’s one thing I found:

Travian India PaymentsThen I check on XE.com:

INR to USD

Hehehe~! Down from $62.49 to $54.23 or so. Still, it’s about a 13% savings.

Now, if you incur a 5% hammer on your exchange, you’re still up 8% or so. Either way, this is a winning bet.

Not many merchants accept different currencies, but when they do, it’s a chance to save.

Also, if you can set your home country when you purchase to another one, check it out. You can often save quite a bit by changing your country. I’ve seen 50%+ savings for different countries.

Is it cheating? Who cares? If companies want to try and segment markets, why not just buy in a different market? It’s not cheating. It’s being smart. They’re playing games with you, so play games right back!

Cheers, and here’s to hoping you can save some on your next purchase!

Ryan

 

Photo Resizer Hits #12 in Google

0

Posted by Cynic | Posted in Internet, Online Marketing, Robosoft, Super Simple | Posted on 23-07-2011

Well, I’ve not done anything since last posting about this (or before), but the Super Simple Photo Resizer has edged up a bit from #15 to #12 in Google. Just a little bit more and it will be in the top 10!

That’s a bit more vindication for my assertions that Robosoft really and truly rocks! Yay~! Now, for the nay-sayers…. Nyah nyah¬†nyah¬†nyah¬†nyah~! =P

So, I’ve got a bit of work to do still for Photo Resizer, but unfortunately it’s been delayed by a short gig doing some contracting, and about to be delayed again by a larger project that I’m about to start and a proposal for another small gig.

However, here’s a quick preview of what you can expect in the next version:

  • Crop photos
  • Upload resized and cropped photos to various social networking services:
    • Facebook
    • Flickr
    • TwitPic / Twitter

It’s all actually finished, however, I still have the long process of “polish” to do. I’ll be streamlining things and working on making the user-experience (UX) as smooth and easy as possible. It’s supposed to be super simple, so it won’t get released until I’m happy that it meets a certain standard there. It won’t be perfect because nothing is, but it will most certainly be above average.

Cheers,

Ryan

 

Win an iPad 2 – A Mobile Ad

0

Posted by Cynic | Posted in Business, Mobile, Money, Online Marketing | Posted on 20-04-2011

Here’s a screenshot from a game I have on my HTC Desire HD (click the images to zoom on them):

ipad 2 ad in Farm Tower

Note the ad that covers the play area.

Now, here’s what you click through to:

Controversial Legal Ad Android

Note the red bar for that shows the fold in the mobile browser. Also how much it costs to “enter the contest”.

Ouch. That’s a pretty dear price to pay for a “chance to win”.

Robosoft and DynamicPAD Results 12 Days In

1

Posted by Cynic | Posted in DynamicPAD, Google, Online Marketing, PAD, Robosoft, Super Simple, Web Sites | Posted on 10-04-2011

Tags: ,

So, Super Simple has been live for 12 days. It took about 2.5 days to submit, and since then I’ve only made some blog and forum posts. Results? Not too bad. Photo Resizer has moved from second click results to first click results, just as predicted. The Super Simple Photo Resizer even has a top 10 ranking now!

Google: First click results at #29.

Yahoo: First click results at #15.

Bing: First click results at #10. A TOP 10!

Now, that’s still a long way from being top 10 in Google, but only 19 away. Considering Super Simple wasn’t even on the search engine radar 2 weeks ago, I’d say those are some pretty decent results.

But, there’s still a very long way to go for Super Simple to really become more viable. For that, I will be releasing more uber-easy apps at Super Simple and following up here for you enjoyment! ūüôā

For the moment, I know that this is still not the final nail in the coffin for the Robosoft/download site nay-sayers, but it’s a small victory, and hopefully I’ve managed to convince a few people.

Cheers,

Ryan

Turbo-Charging Robosoft with DynamicPAD (Part 3)

4

Posted by Cynic | Posted in DynamicPAD, Online Marketing, PAD, Robosoft, Software | Posted on 04-04-2011

Tags: ,

Last time in Part 2 I covered what at the end of it was essentially a useless Excel file. This time I’m going to show how to put that to work.

If you recall, the Excel file looked something like this:

DynamicPAD Template in ExcelAnd after it’s completed, it could look something like this:

DynamicPAD Template Photo Resizer Done

Note there that the most important ones are at the top. That’s where you will want to customize your entries more. e.g. You will want to make sure that you have an excellent entry for Download.com as you’re probably going to want to spend the $100 for the listing rather than wait a year or whatever.

However, I would recommend doing all your mass submissions first, then going back and doing the most important sites like Download.com as you will have a bit of time to reflect and tweak your text more. During the submission process you will have ample opportunity to rethink things and come up with improvements. You’ll also likely think of things that didn’t occur to you before or you’ll find new ways to explain your product that are easier to understand and will get better results.

But I digress…

From the B1 cell, highlight and copy everything to the right and down. That is, copy it all except for the red Rank column.

Next, paste that into a plain text file and save it. You now have a simple tab-delimited text file that you can play with in “DynamidPAD Helper”, the little utility that you’ll use to create the [Dynamic_PAD] entry for your product. If you have questions, you can read through the source code as it is commented extensively. ¬†But you probably don’t need to. You can just run it and use it with the text file that you created above.

Download DynamicPAD Helper (or click the screenshot below)

The DynamicPAD Helper download is a Visual Studio 10 C# solution, so you will need Visual Studio 10 for that. You can download the Express version of Visual Studio 10 here. It includes a debug build, so you can also just run that. It looks like this:

DynamicPAD Helper

Just click the button, load the text file from above, then wait until it’s done in a few seconds.

Next, copy the output content. You need to paste that into the exported product DAT file from Robosoft.

To export a product from Robosoft, make sure you have the product selected in the main interface on the Products tab.

Next, click the Export button on the toolbar:

Exporting Product DAT in Robosoft button

In the dialog, click the second “Export Product” button under “Robosoft / PADManager / Submit-Everywhere Data File” and save the DAT file:

Export Product DAT from Robosoft dialog

You now have your DAT ready to open in a text editor.

Open your product.dat file in a text editor, preferably one with syntax high-lighting, and scroll down to the [Dynamic_PAD] INI entry. It looks like this:

[Dynamic_PAD]
General/DP_Script_Base_URL=http://www.supersimple.me/pad/
General/DP_Pad_Enabled=TRUE
General/DP_Distributive_Enabled=TRUE
General/DP_AtFormFill_Enabled=TRUE
General/DP_Pad_Mask=photo-resizer.xml
General/DP_Distributive_Mask=photo-resizer-setup.exe
General/DP_Distributive_Primary_URL=http://www.supersimple.me/Downloads/Photo-Resizer-Setup.exe
General/DP_ControlPanel_Login=loginname
General/DP_ControlPanel_Password=encoded password here
….THIS IS THE STUFF THAT YOU WANT TO REPLACE…

After that is the part that you want to replace. However, there are some INI entries below that you do not want to replace, so keep that in mind. You should see something like this after that section:

[Autosearch Info]

[ASBM Info]

So, paste the output from DynamicPAD Helper in the Dynamic_PAD section, being careful not to replace the parts listed above, then save the DAT file.

You now have the DAT ready to import back into Robosoft.

Exporting Product DAT in Robosoft button

Click the Import button on the toolbar to get the new DAT file with the Dynamic_PAD information back into Robosoft. When you are prompted, overwrite the existing information.

At this point Robosoft is prepared for you to submit, but you still need to make sure that your DynamicPAD server is ready and that you have uploaded your DynamicPAD file.

NOTE: Your DynamicPAD file that you need to upload is NOT the same as the DAT file above.

Next time I’ll go over how to setup your DynamicPAD server, how to export and upload your DynamicPAD file.

Cheers,

Ryan

Initial Robosoft and DynamicPAD Sumbission Results

1

Posted by Cynic | Posted in DynamicPAD, Online Marketing, PAD, Robosoft, Super Simple | Posted on 01-04-2011

Tags:

Well, I’ve spent the better part of 2 individual days doing submissions with some final submissions on the morning of a 3rd day. So, that’s the time investment.

Now, Photo Resizer ranked absolute zero prior to the submissions, so anything that’s in the search engines now is purely because of the submissions that I’ve just finished.

A quick note before I get into it, I did a significant amount of work, but have not gone over my submission list to resubmit for stragglers or missed sites. I went through the list once. Some sites I skipped, and some I found didn’t work initially so I abandoned any further effort on them. In short, I went through the list quickly.

So far there’s only 1 result in the top 100 for Super Simple with the keywords “photo resizer” in Bing at position 58:

Bing photo resizer 56  first click

So, for the same keyword , Super Simple turns up for the second click‚ĄĘ at positions:

  • 91 in Google (and 94)
  • 74 in Bing (and 94)
  • 69 in Yahoo (and 93)

So, for having finished my first quick round, that’s not too bad.

Here are some screenshots. The first has second click results at #91 and #94 in Google:

Google Photo Resizer 91 94

Bing at #74:

Bing Photo Resizer 74

Yahoo at #69:

Yahoo photo resizer 69

Those are all “second click” results. By “second click” I mean the result points to the product, but it is on a different site.

The results are much different that they would have been in 2003 or so. At that time 50% to 95% of the top 100 results would have been second click results. So the landscape is much different than it was. Even just 2 or 3 years ago I could have results in the top 100 easily within hours.

I had a look for screenshots from a few years ago, but didn’t find the ones I was looking for. The results were pretty disgusting with almost every result being a second click one.

In any event, for a brand new site with one round of promotion, that’s not too bad. It will improve over the next few weeks though and more second click results will creep in as well. As for the main site, that takes some time to climb up in the ranks, especially as it’s new. But, a bit of patience and a little more work will get it up there.

For an established site, it’s much faster and you get better results. Also, with multiple products, the results keep getting better and better. It’s not like 1+1=2; it’s more like 1+1=10. Once I manage to get some more software up there, first round results like this will improve.

I’ll post back with more results later on.