The wonders of Olark

While working on Applingua I wanted to make it as easy as possible for a potential customer to get in contact. I began with a Contact Us page including a standard contact form, a Skype button and an AIM/iChat link. I figured Skype and AIM would cover the gross majority of my customers and was content with that decision.

After a month Google Analytics informed me only 8% of all visitors ever made it to the contact page. Of them, 1 had written an email using the form and another 1 had initiated a Skype chat. Neither resulted in a project of any kind. This had to change!

Over the next few days I redesigned the site to reduce the call-to-action steps. I dotted mailto: email links around the place in an effort to look more open. It has not quite been a month yet, but it hasn’t really made any difference. Of the several projects since going live, it’s been a ~ 60:40 split between direct email and Twitter contact, all but one initiated by me. Perhaps not the best news for my website. Perhaps also a symptom of a small start-up.

That’s when Joe of let me know about Olark‘s free plan. I had heard about the service before from various web mumblings but always dismissed it on cost reasons. A free plan would be perfect to try it out.

The service offers real-time chat directly on your website, creating a channel to your usual chat client. I use iChat, but anything that supports Jabber/XMPP or Gtalk will be fine. When I’m offline, the website chat appears offline too so not to give you the reputation that you ignore your customers.

In terms of installation, it couldn’t be easier. I created an account, customized the look and feel and then copy & pasted the generated script before the close body tag. They provided easy instructions for adding the account to iChat and within 10 minutes I was ready to go.

Olark on ApplinguaThat’s really when the wonders began. Within minutes I could literally “see” people on my website. Up they popped in iChat with a plethora of juicy information. I could gauge how long each spends on my site, where they are based, which browser, and even if it was their first visit to my site. What’s more I could see exactly which page they are looking at giving me the ideal opportunity to strike up a conversation.

Olark in iChat with lots of juicy informationAfter a week of using the service I have to say I am impressed. It works without fail, allowing me to speak directly with my potential customers with no barriers. I can customise look and feel, add custom welcome messages and even create custom image “attention grabbers”, as Olark like to call them. Chat is no longer a customer’s last-resort or no long has that “do I really want to bother them” feel. It’s a direct channel sales tool.

Pricing at first seems high, starting at $15 a month and rising to a whopping $149 for larger enterprise customers. I’ve been using their free plan which allows 20 conversations a month for a week now. The allowance isn’t great and my dashboard states 7 used conversations have already been used in one week. However, when you consider 1 of those has resulted in a project and another has high-potential, that’s a near 30% success rate. Their pricing structure suddenly seems much more affordable even to a small company like my own.


With chat on every single page, I no longer have any barriers to communication – exactly what I was trying to achieve when originally making the site. I have the go ahead on one project (worth several times the monthly basic Olark package) and another potentially much bigger project to come in mid-week. If you work with chat open all day anyway, I would highly recommend giving Olark a try. What harm can it do!

I will let you know if I move to a paid package and will follow up in a few months on how things are going.

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