Odd web traffic statistics for my store/blog/support site

by Joe Payne 22. March 2011 09:29

You’d like my support pages, my product pages and my online store would get the most traffic.  Wrong!

I just started looking seriously at web traffic stats for my www.AbleMods.com web site.  Oh what interesting details have I found.  Take a look at the top pages in a site that sells software products.  Thank goodness at least ONE of my products actually made the Most Popular Pages top 10 list Smile

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Personal

CPC Marketing Campaigns

by Joe Payne 12. March 2008 00:15
So, I thought I would offer some experience notes regarding my online marketing tests using merchant accounts like Shopping.com and Yahoo products. My store is new, my products are new and nobody really knows that I sell this stuff. This is how I went from 3 orders a day to around 30 orders a day.

All of these notes are based on my store, my product lines and my own efforts. None of this is set in stone, which means your mileage will vary. Please keep that mind as you read.

Introduction
I've spent the last 90 days experimenting heavily with online search marketing campaigns. These are the places where a merchant uploads his store database to a common search engine. The structure is almost always the same: create a feed file, open an account, upload your feed and activate the campaign.
Overall, there is tremendous value to these campaigns but only if you price yourself well. Most of these visitor-side interfaces will sort by price, so being .01 more than everyone else will completely waste your money and your time. So start your store with the lowest margins you can bear if you want to maximize your exposure. it's ALOT easier to go up in price than down from a business finance perspective.

Below you will find my summary conclusions for each of the 5 online merchant campaigns I chose to use. I'm sure there are more, but these are the ones I decided to try.

ROI Tracking
Tracking search campaign results is a nightmare. Everybody was bought out by everybody else at some point in the past. So listing on Shopping.com also gets you hits from search.ebay.com. Listing with Shopzilla also brings in hits from BizRate.com.
I took the extra step of adding AC7 Affiliates to my system. Then I did a search/replace on every URL in every feed file to add the appropriate ?affid= value to the product URLS. The goal was to use the Affiliates feature to better track real ROI for these campaigns.
This didn't work as well as I'd hoped. I'm seeing results, but not all my orders got tagged with an Affiliate ID. I suspect some of these search marketing campaigns stripped the parameter so AC7 never got the chance to see it. Plus, with all the database-sharing these guys are doing there is bound to be some modification done to my product URLs.
So it did help and I have some numbers to work with now, but it's not complete. Given the diversity of URL encoding in todays online world, this concept may never be completely accurate.
Plus Affiliates was more designed for a single static link on another site, not this huge search-marketing stuff.

Shopping.com
1. Draws in almost exclusively eBay-ers - they're tight, whine alot about shipping rates and their average order total is less than $50.
2. CPC is not bad, but it's the sheer rate at which the budget gets burned up that turns me off. I swear these eBay-ers are clicking through every freakin' item they like.
3. Overall, the rate of return due to the low average order total makes it not worth the money with the margins I have on products. I could make up for it through a large volume of orders, but the increase in order management overhead and RMAs would offset any profit in my opinion.
4. You can dramatically increase your site traffic and exposure overnight using Shopping.com, but it's going to cost you a fortune and after three separate tries I still can't find a margin that pays for the campaign costs.

Yahoo.com
1. Slow as molasses. Been active for a week and like 10 referrals. Budget will last forever and the average order total is nice at $100 for the whopping 2 orders I've gotten in a week - but nobody's using it.

MSN.com
1. System doesn't even work for larger catalogs. Waste of time setting it up. Only pluses are it's still free and it'll use your google feed upload file, but free and easy are worthless if your products never get listed.

Google.com
1. Long term value is fantastic. Average order totals are nice at $96. Free while it's still beta is a huge plus. I'm not going to get rich from Google.com but I will see a slow but steady increase in business at no cost to me. Hard to beat that unless you're in a hurry to grow.

Shopzilla.com
1. Here's where my money is going to go. For whatever reason, I had huge success with shopzilla. The CPC was reasonable like shopping.com but without the massive 2-day burn-up of the budget. I've gotten 40% more orders with twice the average order total using the same budget amount as shopping.com within the same period of time.
2. Customers are more for savvy and reasonable. They're not dogging me for free shipping. Except the guy that ordered the 23 foot radio antenna and doesn't understand why that can't fit in a standard DHL ground truck.
3. Admin interface offers data validation prior to listing - you can check your upload format quite well before getting the listings active.
4. Most purchases are Visa/MC as opposed to shopping.com users and their PayPal payments. No matter how well your site payment gateway is written, PayPal will screw up some orders and fixing them takes your time away from growing the business.
5. Only downside I had was they are slow to get your listings active - like 4-5 days. But once it went live, it was worth every penny to me.
6. I wrote my own custom feed file generator to create the compatible Shopzilla.com file format. I am willing to sell it if anyone is interested.

Summary
Shopzilla wins hands-down for building an effective database of marketable customers at a reasonable pace with a reasonable budget expense.
Google.com wins second place with a smooth, steady stream of higher-dollar orders with no marketing cost while it's still beta. Shopping.com will get you the exposure you want but I just can't seem to find a way to secure the sales needed to fund the campaign costs.
MSN and Yahoo are worthless. I might dig into Yahoo more to see if I did something wrong.

Conclusion
Marketing isn't cheap. Anyone who says they want to make their money back on their first marketing campaign has never done marketing. It's an investment and it is going to cost more than it makes you at first. But it does work. Depending on the funds available to you, a previously unknown business can grow expotentially overnight.

The value of a new customer should never be underestimated - it doesn't matter how much they bought the first time. A happy first-time customer is far more likely to buy from you again in the future than anyone else on the planet. It doesn't matter how good your site design is - if your customers aren't happy, the word will spread and you'll never grow past a certain point.
If your customers ARE happy, the word will spread like wildfire. So it's critical to be on your best behavior, have the most patience and be the most responsive you can be at all times.

If you decide to proceed with this type of marketing, make sure you think it out first. Do you have the procedures in place for such volume? Have you established the organization skills to manage a daily supply of large volume orders? Have you got the staff in place that can adapt to changing policy and procedure as your business grows? And most importantly, can the margins you've established sustain the increased cost associated with an increased order volume?

These are all questions to which you must have effective answers before you throw $10,000 at some online search engines. Trust me on that one :wink:

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AC7 Articles

Using the Sitemap file to improve SEO

by Joe Payne 24. February 2008 00:18

Introduction
I am by no means an authority on SEO optimization. I just learned .Net a year ago and Solunar.com is my first online storefront experience.
What I do know is my experiences in taking advantage of the SiteMap feature included in AC7.
The purpose of this document is to detail my experiences, the steps taken and the bumps in the road along the way.

What is SiteMap?
The three largest search engines came together several years ago and agreed on a standard for bulk site URL submission. You can easily submit a single domain name to any search engine, but getting all 12,000 products in your store submitted as SEO-friendly URLs is a different story.

This standard resulted in the definition of what is known today as the "Sitemap.xml" file format. The format specifies the fields necessary to submit any number of URLS to the search engine for indexing.

Why should I care?
Well, you can't really grow a business if nobody knows it's there. Getting into search engines is the single most important step with an online store. Plus you'd like your business growth to be more than one more order this week than last week.
Using a sitemap file also reduces webmaster effort to maintain search engine presence. And it reduces unnecessary spider/crawler traffic on your site.
Whatever the reason, the benefit of getting into the search engines quickly and accurately is significant. Sales pick up quicker, loss-to-profit timetables accelerate and your customer base grows sooner and at a faster pace.

Where to Start
First you need your products set up in your store. It's not going to do alot of good to tell everyone you're open for business if your shelves are empty. Get your images, descriptions and prices all the way you want before proceeding any further.
Once you feel you're ready, login into your site Admin and click the Website, XML Site Map option.

Don't change anything. Let's not get fancy at all right now. Especially don't change the sitemap.xml file name. That's part of the standard and if you mess with it, you might not be successful in getting your sitemap file read by the search engine provider.
At the bottom of the page, set the dropdown menu to "Create Sitemap" and click the blue arrow. Don't click save settings, that's not going to do the task - that only saves the screen changes I just got done telling you not to make.

When it's done, you'll get a confirmation at the top. The sitemap.xml file is created in the root of your site. Check it out if you want, but don't change it.

Autodiscovery
In the Spring of 2007, the 3 big players (and a few smaller ones) in the search engine provider industry enhanced the sitemap standard by implementing a uniform way to upload your file. it's really incredibly simple: Just send them a URL with a parameter for the URL to your sitemap file.

For example, to tell Ask.com to come get your sitemap file and process it, just enter this URL in your browser:

Code:
http://submissions.ask.com/ping?sitemap=http://www.example.com/sitemap.xml


Or Google.com

Code:
www.google.com/webmasters/tools/ping?sitemap=http://www.example.com/sitemap.xml


Other major search engines should support this same format but check if you aren't sure it worked. You should receive a confirmation page from the search provider indicating the request was received.

How Often?
Well, that's the million dollar question. Nobody really knows for sure. I do mine about once a month, or whenever the mood hits me. I doubt doing it every day is going to help your cause, so you should probably limit it to when you have truly meaniful changes to be uploaded.

Spider autodiscovery
You can also tell any spiders that crawl your site to read your sitemap.xml file. Just add this line to your robots.txt file in the root of your store:

Code:
Sitemap: http://www.example.com/sitemap.xml



Advanced stuff with Google
Google.com has some amazing site tools for webmasters. Just go to Google.com and search for "Google Webmaster Tools". Sign up for it. It's free, it's awesome and you really should check it out. It's worth it, trust me.
One important part of the webmaster tools is "Google Feed" which lists all of your store products into the Google Product Search.
And yes, this just happens to also be where you'll upload the file produced by the AC7 Marketing, Feeds, Google Base Feed menu option. And it's still free because it's beta. But don't let the word "beta" scare you away, I am getting ALOT of orders from Google Products Search.

More Information
There are quite a few great articles on sitemap implementation. Try
http://www.sitemap.orgor search any search engine provider for "sitemap information".

Conclusion
Making yourself known to the internet is the most difficult and most rewarding step in running an online store. AC7 has made this much easier for the site admin by supporting the SiteMap standard. Combined with other forms of online presence development, your site awareness is sure to grow as will your business.

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