Why I’m Building Simple Tools to Help Market My Web App

I’ve been making huge pushes lately on Preceden, a web-based timeline maker that I launched just over two years ago.

Today I’m trying something new as part of Preceden’s overall marketing strategy and I’d like to share my thought process because I think other web developers might benefit from it too.


As I noted above, Preceden is a web app let’s you create simple, multilayered timelines.

For example, here’s a screenshot showing the timeline of the events leading up to the crash of the Costa Cordia (you play around with the actual timeline here: Costa Concordia Timeline.)

Preceden is popular with students, teachers, researches, and genealogy buffs, to name a few groups.

Marketing 1.0

I love building tools, but I don’t love marketing them. By marketing I mean things other than building that contribute to getting new people to your site.

Marketing, however, is a huge huge HUGE piece of the puzzle and if you neglect it you’re going to be missing out on a tremendous amount of value. As Rob Walling notes in Start Small Stay Small: A Developers Guide to Launching a Startup, “Market comes first, marketing second, aesthetics third, and functionality a distant fourth.” In terms of how I’ve worked in the past, I almost reverse it: function first, aesthetics second, market third, and marketing a distance fourth. And I’ve learned the hard way how wrong I am.

Preceden has grown steadily with little effort on my part thanks to two things:

1) Word of mouth. People like it. They tell each other. On blogs, in class, etc.

2) Content generation. When people create timelines on Preceden, they can keep them private or, like the Costa Concordia example above, share them. The shared timelines get indexed by Google and over time the number of Google queries that Preceden ranks for has steadily grown:

So I started thinking about it: how else can I get more people to the site?

Marketing 2.0

There’s definitely a lot of room for improvement with respect to making Preceden easier to share (word of mouth) and SEO (content generation), but today I’m trying something new out that I think will be a big win.

Here’s the idea: Build free time-related tools on Preceden that attract the type of people who might convert into paying Preceden users.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Google Adwords Tool tells me that upwards of 800K people search for date to date calculator per month:

The top result for date to date calculator is from DateAndTime.com:

The DateAndTime.com date calculator is garbage:

In my eyes, the things it does poorly are:

  • Different fields for the month/day/year
  • It asks me whether I want to include the end date in the calculation (why not just show me both results?)
  • If you want to include the time in the calculation, you have to go to another calculator that is even more complicated than this one
  • When you submit the data, it takes you to a different page with the results (why no Ajax?):

I spent today building a better version of this.

Here’s the result:

You can play with it here: Date to Date Calculator.

You can use the date picker to pick a date or enter one manually (optionally including a time) and it will Ajaximagically show you the result:


  • The page title and the H1 are “Date to Date Calculator” (go go SEO)
  • The start and end dates support a wide variety of formats (and I didn’t have to do any extra work for this because I had already written the necessary modules for Preceden itself)
  • The results are fetched via Ajax and rendered below the inputs
  • Below the calculator are a Facebook like button (which points to Preceden.com) and FAQs to answer folk’s questions
  • And if you enter a date as the end date, it shows you the results including and not including that date:

Basically, I built a better mousetrap. And I hope people find it and like it better than the existing tools and some of them convert to paid Preceden users.

And there’s a lot more tools I can add to Preceden’s new Calendar Calculators page down the road too: Add and subtract from a date/time, countdown timer, etc.

How much of a difference will these tools make to my bottom line? Subscribe to this blog or follow me on Twitter @mhmazur to find out :)

One final note: As software developers, I think a lot of us tend to get caught up on solving complicated technical problems. Lean Designs, an HTML5-based web design tool that I’ve also been working on, is just one example. While these pursuits may be intellectually rewarding, let’s not forget that there are thousands of simple, real world problems that we could eliminate if we only applied ourselves to them. More than 800,000 people search for date to date calculators each month. Think about that. It’s mind-blowing.

Update: As Simon points out below, the 800K number is for broad match. The number of people who search exactly for “date to date calculator” is closer to 2,900. I decided to change the page from “Date To Date Calculator” to “Date Duration Calculator” which I think is more meaningful.

6 thoughts on “Why I’m Building Simple Tools to Help Market My Web App

  1. only 2900 people are searching for date to date calculator because the results you display (823K) are for broad match. If you select exact in the left menu in the google keyword tool you’ll find that 2900 people are searching (still not bad)

  2. Thanks for being so open about your development and marketing endeavors. I have enjoyed reading about your projects ever since I discovered Preceden a year or so ago.

    A couple suggestions for your Date to Date Calculator:

    * Using “present” for the current date seems a bit ambiguous. Does present refer to “Present Day” or “Present Time”? You could add some other special terms that the tool recognizes that are more specific — like “now” or “today”. To me, these are a bit clearer (the first indicating the current time, and the second the current date).

    * While you’re at it, you might want to add the ability for the tool to recognize other common date shorthands (i.e. “yesterday”, “tomorrow”). You could carry this as far as you’d like (“next Tuesday”, “three hours ago”, etc.).

    Thanks again.

  3. Awesome idea Matt. Looking forward to hearing how this works out. I could see us doing this around some of our use cases at Houdini.

  4. Nice. You might also want to support the ISO standard you probably use when coding everyday. ;-)


    For us in Europe the whole DD/MM/YYYY is mighty confusing. Took me several tries to get it right, even though I was following your guide down the page…

  5. Sander, great point. I didn’t realize that the 800K number wasn’t an exact match. I might need to rethink what I want to title it, as 2,900 is kind of disappointing :)

    Simon, the tricky thing is that I save the date inputs you make and base all future calculations on those. So if you type “yesterday” and I calculate today’s yesterday, that’s going to be different than “yesterday” a week from now. Another point: I wonder what the use case for this would be. It seems like it’d be easy enough just to enter the actual date. Interesting idea though.

    Chris, thanks. I’m really looking forward to seeing how Houdini progresses.

    Fredrik, I’ll see what I can do. It’s tricky supporting both formats. You can, for example, use “12 Aug 2011” if you prefer that format.

    Thanks everyone for your thoughts.

  6. You might also try a feature “what’s 1000 days from may 15th, 2012.” or something similar. I am a living edge case, of course, but I saw this and thought “cool.”

    (BTW: I noticed you followed me on Twitter. Fine. Followed you back.)

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