Here at WordStream we always have a lot going on. For example, when we’re not busy writing the most helpful search marketing articles around, we’re building software to help you find the perfect keywords  and optimize your PPC campaigns .
In fact, a lot of the resources at WordStream are devoted to creating innovative software to help you save time and money while optimizing your SEO and PPC campaigns. But what is the best way to save both time and money when working on search marketing? The question is especially tricky because while there are fairly well-established best practices, everyone’s advanced techniques and workflows are a little different.
That’s where I come in. As a product manager at WordStream, it’s my team’s mission to figure out exactly what should go into the software so we are constantly making the lives of our users easier and their campaigns more profitable.
To give you some insight into how software is built and refined, here are four of the big methods that product teams use to get ideas for product development and improvement:
1. Deep Industry Expertise
If you are going to build software you should probably know a thing or two about whatever it is you are building. This hands-on knowledge can translate into cooler features that let users take advantage of cutting-edge technology. At WordStream, our product team has over 20 years of real-world SEM experience "in the trenches," which gives us a strong sense of what features and functionality our users want and need – it's not just guesswork. In fact, our founder and CTO, Larry Kim, still manages PPC accounts to this day because he loves it so much!
2. Speaking with Users
Often the best way to learn what users want is simply to ask them. Users know what is frustrating in their day-to-day tasks and in your software. They know what you could be doing better and what you aren’t doing at all. At WordStream we aspire to be as close to our users as possible so that we can build the features that will have the most value to our users. So we gather feedback from our users as well as the client success representatives and sales executives who are working with PPC practitioners every day to optimize their accounts, giving us better insight into their needs and pain points.
3. Competitive and Market Research
Some product teams take a “follow the leader” approach to building software as they look at what their competitors are doing and try to create something similar – or better. At WordStream we’re not a big fan of this approach, as we prefer to be innovative thought leaders (although if somebody else has a good idea we aren’t afraid to incorporate it). This copy cat approach is why teams will often try to differentiate their products in ways that are hard to replicate. For example, at WordStream we set our keyword tools apart by having the largest keyword database in the world.
4. Data-Driven Product Design
Rather than directly communicating with users, it is possible to gain insight into their needs via their behavior. In fact, sometimes this is an even better source of data – users may not be fully conscious of how they're using the tool, or may forget to mention a problem. They might not even be aware that they're not seeing or using a potentially useful feature. If users engage a certain feature more often than others, it may be an indication that more features should be built in that area of the product. (Some companies will go so far as to create buttons to features that don’t actually exist. If enough users click on the buttons, it's taken as a sign that they should actually build the feature.) At WordStream we believe in using this kind of data to augment the direct feedback we receive from users.
These are just a few of ways that product teams decide what to build next. Are there other methods you think create better products?
As mentioned above, at WordStream we strive to be as close to the user as possible and we love collecting ideas and feedback from our users and SEM practitioners in general. Do you have a great idea for WordStream? Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org  and your idea could be the next big WordStream feature.
This is a guest post by Adam Shain, an associate Product Manager at WordStream, where he works primarily on expanding and improving the PPC management platform. Previously he worked at J-Town Productions and served in the Strategic Planning and International Cooperation Division of the Israel Defense Forces. He holds an MS in Neuroscience from Brandeis University and an MBA from Babson College. Adam lives in Sharon, Massachusetts, with his wife and two adorable children, one of whom just turned 2!