Discovery and Ranking

What people fail to do...

Posted 9 months ago by Tom Maiaroto.

So I had a great conversation today with, a really great service for getting advice and "guides" for very specific challenges that you may face as a startup, marketer, developer, or any other role really. It's a very quickly expanded site and I have, myself, put up my AngularJS guide/course from Skillshare (another great resource for expert advice). They got me thinking about some things and things that they are trying to do right. Which only made me think about other people in this space doing things wrong.

I also had a call on today as well. I encourage you to check out that service as well. It's also really clever and useful if you can find an expert. Again, Clarity is wonderful if you're looking for answers to a specific problem. Instead, the format here is a consulting phone call instead of a guide or course.

Each of these services, Clarity, Skillshare, and all have the same kind of "inventory" if you will. That is "information" and more importantly "people." Experts are their invetory and their information is what they're selling. Or rather the experts are selling their information and the services are selling the experts.

This is really interesting, and there's a lot of market validation here for the need. Yes, we need this in the world of today because there's literally so many people in need of help. There's a lot more startups these days and web technology moves fast so even existing companies need expert advice on new technology. Huge need. Also one very big problem - discovery.

I'm going to specifically compare some things that Skillshare does and things that Clarity doesn't at the moment here and hope that these scenarios give you some insight.

Scenario 1: Discovery & Promotion
I noticed today that my rank on was rather low. I only have had a few calls and my rating is quite high...The highest it can be in fact. So why only a few calls? More importantly, why am I ranked so low in the listing?

Skillshare. My one course is ranked in an "ok" position (due to lack of related courses on this site - their niche is not technology), but I also haven't had many reviews. So this makes more sense.

"Ensure your content and products are discoverable."

Both sites feature sorting/filtering. Not that you'll notice this at first or even think about it as a user, but they have it. Typically this very important tool is off to the top right out of view. Typically people don't tell you anywhere how you're currently viewing a list of results. You believe the default ranking to be the best fit and simply ignore the filter or sort features.

By default on Clarity the sort is by "influence" which is pretty interesting. It doesn't really say how they get that, I'm going to assume something like Klout. Skillshare by default is "popular now" which I'm going to assume is recent enrollments, views, etc.

So that's their discovery solution. What about promotion? Well, Skillshare runs ads and sales on their site promoting their inventory. This results in your courses being taken more. However, it comes with a penalty to your profit margin...But this is ok in my eyes because it's not something I wouldn't do myself. They even allow coupon codes. So does Clarity, but Clarity doesn't run ads on your behalf. A major distinction between the two services and their promotion strategy. Perhaps Skillshare has an advantage with content because a class can be more easily targeted than an expert...But I'm not sure if I buy that.

I think the thing to think about here is that promoting through advertising comes with a cost to the service. Sure, they take a larger commission for a sale, but they are still the ones paying for the ad. Even if we're talking about CPC advertising, there's no guarantee the user has purchased the product. The advertising would literally have to be cost per purchase or acquisition...Which no one really does. It's not the billboard's fault that your product is no good once the buyer gets in your doors. Their job is to get buyers in the door.

Now knowing the diferences here, what happens in this scenario?

Well, as "inventory" I'm not happy with Clarity. Skillshare works for its inventory more and tries to sell it more. They actively place ads and run sales. They feature different courses and actively rotate that. They have the reach an individual may not. I'm certainly not advertising my course on Facebook, right? So for a fair fee I can leverage their reach and advertising efforts. Awesome. Clarity? Nope. They do nothing for their experts.

In fact, when I look back now at certain sections I realize that there are dozens of "experts" ranking ahead of me...Which is ok, if they were active and had a good rating and had several calls. The fact of the matter is these experts ranking ahead of me haven't even used the service. I make Clarity more money than some of these other people and yet I'm showing up after them and a user only scrolls so far down that expert list.

So it doesn't, by default (remember there is filtering), promote the top inventory and talent that is responsible for making them money. Not so cool. Also keep in mind that users are lazy. While you may be able to filter by star rating...If it's not the default sort method, there is a very large percentage of users who will never go any farther. Seriously, you can't ask people do anything these days. Of course I'd also imagine a fair amount of users didn't even know you could sort or filter despite the button being in the top right. They may also not know "why" they would need to. Isn't the deafult ranking the "best" ranking?

"Utilize discount codes and avertising."

Discovery is very important as is promotion and there's a lot to learn from these two services. Skillshare's approach to it comes with a little risk, but no more than that of your typical advertising costs. They even get to make back some of that advertising budget when they sell at the expensive of the expert! Very smart. Rare is that you can take an ad out in the paper and make the manufacturer take less to cover your ad costs. That's just a cost a brick and mortar store would have to eat. The cost of doing business.

My expectation here is that Skillshare makes more money than Clarity. Of course there's many other factors are play here to be able to determine that for sure...But we certainly know they win the promotion and, most likely, conversion game. They play a very good game.

Scenario 2: Inventory Loss
This is interesting because aside from spoilage or shrink, most business don't lose inventory. Software is nothing that spoils, though it could be stolen. However, we have a new kind of inventory with services like Skillshare and Clarity. We have actual people as inventory.

It's not like a tangerine could up and walk off the shelf. It can't tell all the other tangerines, "Hey, they put me in the back of their grocery store, don't go there to get sold, you'll just end up rotting." People can.

So now what's my incentive to reccommend Clarity? Now, I still do reccommend it. However, I'm not totally happy with it already. Since they don't help those responsible for making them money (no matter how little it may be) and actually promote people who have never used their service over those making them money...It's a very bad situation that could lead to this scenario. Experts can literally walk away from it.

"Engage with your inventory if they are people. People are not objects."

Why am I working so hard to get hit with a 33% fee? I could give people a Google Voice number or build something with Twilio and pay a much lower fee. I could have a minimum billable cost too. This much per hour, with a minimum of a cost equal to thirty minutes. Or I bill in fifteen minute intervals. This is quite common for consulting and minute by minute billing is not super important. That's not what makes or breaks Clarity. I highly doubt if they stuck in a minimum cost to call that anything would change.

So I'm going to tell the other tangerines here not to use Clarity because they don't position my hard working tangerine ass in the front of their store. They put rotten fruit out in front instead of me. 

This can happen and this could be a systematic problem that leads to the service failing. Furthermore, if I'm a user and I scroll down Clarity's list of experts and see how 80% of them don't have any calls on the board and no rank...I start to think it's empty. I start to think no one really uses this thing.

I know this isn't the case and again I find the service to be a very good idea. However, it is a great example of how a good idea isn't always enough. Your execution must be just as good.

Quickly turning back to Skillshare. Would I expect people to walk away? Not as easily. They run ads on our behalf. That's pretty awesome. In fact, they drive traffic to my course. Of course it's for their benefit too...But I feel more taken care of.

Final Thoughts
This is all just food for thought. I'm not saying that any of these services are terrible. I'm just pointing out their strategies. How can this help you? Well, I hope that you can see the different tecniques you may be able to use to drive conversions. Let's recap:

1. Utilize discounts codes and advertising. If you're a ninja, then you can figure out ways to recoup on some of that overhead and lower your cost/risk.

2. Engage with your inventory if they are people. People are not objects. They do more than spoil, they have mouths. They can speak and hurt your reputation if you aren't careful. You are in a service industry - service them.

3. Ensure your content and products are discoverable. Pay attention to how you list content on your site. How do buyers discovery it? Is it just on your site or is it on other sites as well? How do you decide which products (people and courses in this case) to feature? Where do you promote them? This is content marketing and native advertising at its best folks...But if buyers can't find what they need on your site - you have a serious problem.

Devise ranking algorithms to promote your inventory. Be it by number of calls, product rating, or otherwise. You'll need to figure out what best suits your users. Make this the default ranking as well because you need to remember that your trying to build an experience that's as frictionless as possible for the buyer. Especially when there's so many options and so much noise on the internet to compete with. Execution is far more important than people realize.

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