Being the market leader in the time tracking field, the first instinct for publishing business data and internal marketing lessons is NOT TO DO IT.

But on second thought, I realised our biggest strength as a team is being transparent about how we do things and about the lessons we learn. So really, there’s no reason not to be transparent with you.

Here are some insights into our business model and some marketing lessons we learned from a user survey conducted in early July.

1. Keep your subject line simple

Toggl Survey - when brands try to get cozy

“Hey Annika – have we got news for YOU!”


We’ve tried our share of e-mail campaign subject lines. Recently, we’ve been using Mailchimp’s A/B testing feature to see which subject lines actually lead to opens. Turns out you don’t need to spend an hour on trying to be clever. Simple does the trick.

With this survey, Group A’s (sample group of 18,668 contacts) subject line “Help us out, take this quick survey” performed with 35.2% open rate. Group B’s (same size) subject line “Toggl survey” netted a 39.2% open rate. So the clear winner for this experiment is the really boring and plain email subject line.

ab testing toggl survey results

Rather this being an odd fluke, we’ve noticed this trend elsewhere.

For our iPad campaign promotion, we used 3 variations with sample groups of over 20 000 contacts each, but the results were very similar.

The winning subject line had an open rate of 37.6%. The title was plain and simple – “Toggl Twitter campaign info”.

By contrast, “One week left! Tweet a pic and win an iPad” got 25.2% and “Win an iPad with #TogglMyWhat Tweet” did 27.8%.

Mind. Blown. That’s also why this blog post has a title with similar style – maybe plain and simple works here too (well did it)?

abc testing with subject line, toggl campaign email

2. Personal touch = 88% better open rate and 352% better CTR

Subject lines are one thing, content is another.

We sent out very personal email with my real name and picture. We also decided to keep the copy short and concise and use non-traditional CTA (call-to-action). Not sure what exactly did the trick but compared to the “industry averages” that Mailchimp provides, this email performed really good. Open rate was 38% (industry average 20.1%) and the CTR (click-through-rate) 9.5% (industry average 2.1%).

Toggl user survey email example

Oh yes – feel the sleaze. But seriously speaking, it turns out that unlike subject lines, personal message in content does work well to win people over. So feel free to serve your e-mail campaigns with extra butter.

3. Most traffic comes from SEO and word-of-mouth

Toggl Survey - discovery of service

Since we’re not using any paid advertising channels (PS: the “free” and “paying” on this chart represent user account types for the survey respondents), SEO and word-of-mouth (WOM) are the two main things we’ve been working on. This focus is clearly paying off.


4. Don’t count on affiliate marketing

Toggl Survey - brand affiliate marketing

We’ve done affiliate marketing campaigns in the past and these haven’t worked out great.

Going through the survey results, we found out why that might be the case. Even the biggest Toggl fans rarely invite more than 5 people to join the service:

Inviting others, Toggl user survey reuslts

And by rarely we mean really, really rarely.

OK, these users aren’t getting paid to spread the word, and you might think affiliates are more motivated to do the legwork. But even so, it’s a strategy that requires a good deal of effort from your marketing people.

Forbes has this nice piece on the potential pitfalls of affiliate marketing – if you think you won’t have enough time and money to invest in such programs, you might be better off just developing other channels.

5. Biggest haters are the ones who have been required to use the service

Toggl Survey - so you dont like big brother but here you are snooping in the filenames

It’s hard to love a service that you have to use because your boss says so.

This is a problem that goes all the way back to the oldschool timesheets. Time tracking still tends to have a reputation as being an intrusive, Big Brother like activity.

If your team seems reluctant to share their reports, consider being more transparent and open about why you use time tracking. From what we’ve learned from talking to some of our users, trust and transparency go a long way in building working solutions.

6. Haters gonna hate

We have experimented a bit with the “F**** timesheets” slogan and the feedback has been mixed. Some people really love it, while others said they will quit using our service when they see this slogan again.

The good news is, no one ignored it.

Thanks to the survey results we now know that top promoters are more into the racy stuff (or have neutral response) and the people who won’t recommend us anyway find it very offensive. To conclude with the immortal words of Taylor Swift – haters gonna hate.

Toggl Survey - fuck timesheets slogan reactions

This obviously doesn’t mean that you’ll be seeing a big racy slogan on your Toggl webapp page – a lot of Toggl users have kids, and to that end we’ll stay family friendly.

7. WOM leads to more WOM

Word-of-mouth is tricky to nail down as a measurable marketing strategy, but you shouldn’t underestimate the power of a personal recommendation.

Affiliate marketing can sometimes feel aggressive and pushy, but genuine recommendations of one service or the other can be surprisingly effective:

WOM recreated WOM, Toggl user survey results

It also tends to breed more sharing, as people that found Toggl through a personal connection are quite likely to pass on a good word.

Which means we must be doing something right.

But what it is exactly, you’ll have to tell us (say, that comments box looks nice and shiny).


Graph crafting by Annika, comics and doodles by Mart.