PunchTab Wants to Be a Blogger’s Best Friend

Ranjith Kumaran

Here on the internet, just because you build it, it doesn’t mean anyone will actually come. Or click on a link. Or leave a comment. Or become a Facebook fan. For blogs and other content-driven businesses that live or die based on repeat traffic and user engagement, that’s a big problem.

Enter PunchTab, a new loyalty-marketing startup from YouSendIt co-founder Ranjith Kumaran and former YouSendIt employee Mehdi Ait Oufkir. In a crowded gamification space, the pair of self-described “analytics junkies” took what they learned developing a user-analytics system for the popular file-sharing company back in 2004 and tried to build a new, freemium service even a blogger on a zero-dollar budget could love.

The blogging community was already near and dear to Kumaran’s heart. They are the user-base behind another Kumaran-built service— Wordvu—which lets bloggers see what content is performing well by tracking what readers cut, paste and highlight from their sites. Now, he believes PunchTab has the potential to drive major shifts in traffic and engagement. “These types of businesses are so starved for the social components of loyalty, and yet they are totally driven by repeat visitors and engagement,” Kumaran says.

Of course, PunchTab isn’t just for blogs. Any business can sign up for free and reward users for social behavior online (commenting, visiting daily, content sharing, “liking” items on Facebook) with actual, real-life discounts and gift cards that PunchTab has snagged from retail partners such as Amazon. Businesses can also offer users more relevant, site-specific rewards (t-shirt, premium content etc) and run contests and raffles using PunchTab’s promotions module.

But unlike competitors like CrowdTwist and Badgville that are targeting larger brands (and charging), PunchTab has thus far focused on creating a simple widget dashboard system for smaller businesses. Businesses add the PunchTab widget to their home pages. Users click the tab and sign in using Facebook Connect (integration with Twitter is said to be “imminent”).

While other systems offer clients a range of analytics about user behavior, PunchTab’s offerings are currently, although probably not for long, more limited. But the system actually lets clients see the names and faces of individual users, along with their behaviors and connections.”And most blogs don’t even have a registration system,” he says. PunchTab wants to be that registration system.

Early figures show the service is catching on. More than 250 businesses integrated the PunchTab widget last month alone and the company reached 1.2 million consumers worldwide. And as PunchTab matures, it’s taking on a host of other company types, and is in discussions to add a few major brands as soon as this summer. Launched in January, the startup received $850,000 in seed funding this week to expand its platform and take the system mobile. The PunchTab mobile app is currently in development and in “alpha alpha” mode.

Of course, whenever gamification and giveaways meet, gaming the system is always an issue. What’s to keep unscrupulous bots from furiously commenting on your blog or sharing your article on PunchTab? Right now, users can only get points for one action in each category per site, per day. Beyond that, Kumaran encourages businesses to avoid the problem altogether by offering customized rewards, such as unlocking premium content, or in the case of one design magazine, access to premium fonts and vector sets.

Kumaran sees several possible paths to profitability PunchTab,including licensing deals (he said he has already received requests) and paid services in later “fremium” versions like more analytics and advanced customer relationship management tools. Can Kumaran get bloggers to pay up? We’ll see.

Photo courtesy of PunchTab

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