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Software Development Tips: Part 1

I’ve been reviewing software for many years now, and I have seen many good products as well as many bad ones. But what amazes me are the simple things that an author will forget about – things that really can make the difference in their application. I’m not talking about new fancy features, just simple, every-day items that can greatly improve the product.

The first and easiest issue is to have an installer/uninstaller. Yes, this will add a megabyte to your download, but it provides a way for your users to actually find your application at a later time. Applications that are packaged inside a .ZIP file, and that provide no installer, will tend to confuse many users. Also, you are requiring that the user have a zip/unzip utility available, and that they understand how to properly use it. So to make it easy for the user, try using a self- installing executable .EXE package instead. And speaking of installers... at the end of the install process, ask the user if they would like to put an icon on their desktop and/or their icon tray. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for the user to find your application. Always ask yourself, “Will my mother be able to install and launch my product?”

The second item is to create a program group and place as much information in there as you can. Users have been trained since the early days of Windows to go to that area and find all their applications. In your program group, be sure to include links to your help file, release notes, your product website, a “Buy Now” link, and of course your application. You would be amazed at the number of authors who overlook this item.

The ultimate goal in all of this is to entice the user to buy your product. So here’s a third item — every time your application is closed, put up a back splash screen with information about purchasing the full version. Make that entire window clickable to your order form page. Any place you can put in a “Buy Now” link, or inform the user how to buy, or why to buy, don’t hesitate to do it.

Now let’s look over some features that will really make your application stand out. When a user loads your application, be sure to up sell, via splash screen information, and explain why they should upgrade to the full version. This lets them know right away what usage or feature limitations they have with the version they are currently using, and all the wonderful things they will gain from having the full version.

When choosing a keyword search term for this site, the first keyword that probably comes to mind would be “Mountain Bike”, and clearly that phrase should be plentiful in your web site. We shouldn’t stop there, but let’s say we did, and we target “Mountain Bike” as our primary keyword search term for this site.

Once the application is running, here are some key tips that your software should do:

  1. F1 should always launch the help file. Two out of ten applications I look at forget to include this simple function.
  2. Have a help “menu” with links to your Help File, your Buy Now order form, your “About Us” information, and your “Contact Us” information in the program group.
  3. If you have quite a few features in your program, make it easier for the end user by offering keyboard shortcuts for the most commonly-used features and functions. Having Ctrl-A or Ctrl-B perform certain functions can save quite a bit of mouse time.

Your application is not the only place a potential customer will find your product. So lets talk about a few things we can do to improve your Website. Yes, many people think that the website has nothing to do with your application, but it does. This is typically the first place that a user sees your application, so you definitely need to put your best foot forward. When I am reviewing an application, there are 6 items that I look for that help me rate your program:

  1. Money back guarantee. If I am unhappy with the product, will you refund my money?
  2. Upgrade policy. When you have a new version of the application, how do you handle the updates?
  3. Tech support. Do you provide it via phone, forums, e-mail or live chat?
  4. Can I easily find the information on the specific product on your website?
  5. How easy is it to Order your software? Many people bury the Buy Now links, when they should be one of the easiest things to find.
  6. An “About Us” or company “Mission Statement”. I want to know who you are and what you do. Describe how long you have been in the business, awards you have received, and more.

None of the suggestions here will ever harm your application — they can only improve it. Your goal is to make your application invaluable to the end user, and of course get them to purchase and these simple steps are a great start.