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Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Friday, June 29, 2007

Marketing to the Rescue

June finished unexpectedly strong. Last week was actually my second-best of this year. We’re still not talking high finance here, but hey: it’s good news for a change. Fact is, thanks to some other unusual circumstances, June’s ever-so-slightly in the black, and I am still running a wee bit ahead of LY in YTD sales. My sales uptick coincided with eBay pulling its pay-per-click ads from Google. This week’s sales, OTOH, were typically poor (as expected; this is a very slow time of year).

My “rescue products” haven’t kicked in yet. The lighted caps are extremely popular with everyone who sees them in person. I’ve already sold three to friends, had expressions of interest for a few more, and might sell a few at our Fourth of July barbecue tomorrow. As I said once before, if I had a physical store I know that these things would be blowing out. But I need online success.

Which brings us back to marketing again…the topic that will not die.

First, I’m trying to spend money more efficiently. PPC advertising keeps getting more and more expensive as the deep-pocket people like eBay and Amazon spend millions of dollars to own the top position for every keyword they can think of. I don’t have millions. I have hundreds, and precious few of those. So I’m pruning the least cost-effective keywords. I used to think that any traffic is better than no traffic, but that isn’t true when you’re paying for it. Every keyword that’s cost me over $15 per sale is gone.

Example: I’ve been bidding an average of 13 cents per click on the words “cool gifts”. 824 clicks have cost me $109.77 over the years. Only two of those 824 visitors (0.2%) bought anything, meaning that I paid over $50 for each sale. Buh-bye, “cool gifts”. Compare that to “unusual gifts:” Also averaging 13 cents/click, 801 visitors have cost me $107.16…but 0.95% of them bought something, so those words cost me $13.66 per conversion. It’s just barely under my threshold, so it stays for now.

At the same time, I’m raising my bids on my more successful keywords. My overall spend probably won’t go down, but my conversion rate should go up. I currently convert a little over 1% of my clicks. I would be thrilled to get that up to 2%.

Here are some fun statistics (Dec. 11 2005June 19 2007): I’ve spent $3,018.77 to buy 23,126 clicks, or 12 cents per click. I achieved a conversion rate of 1.18% (225 sales), slightly above my target. My cost per conversion was $10.06. My worst campaign was “Holiday & Seasonal”. I have torpedoed this campaign entirely. “Product Categories” is the next worst; I’m pruning it almost to the point of elimination. “General Keywords” is also pretty bad, but salvageable. My most successful area is “Product Specific” keywords, where 187 sales cost “only” $6.44 each. By the time I finish pruning, this will be the only campaign with any meat left in it.

I focus on PPC advertising because it’s the only thing I know how to do. But it’s not working that well. My few print ad experiments have all failed, and I think I now know why: I keep trying to promote my store generically. “Come and shop here” just doesn’t work. I have to get specific.

Here’s one approach: Choose one product (cap lights). Define a likely group of customers (fishermen? campers? computer geeks?). Find a print publication that they read. Then design an ad specifically for them, and run it in that publication. The problem with this approach: My specific product page URLs are way too long and convoluted to place in an ad, so I can’t bring customers directly to the product page as a PPC ad does. If I am going to bring people to my home page, I have to make sure that the caps are prominent there. That’s very difficult with my design.

Here’s another approach: Mark maybe 12 caps down to zero and mail them to media contacts in the hope of getting a product review or promo. It’s cheaper than producing and placing an advertisement (about $150, versus probably >$1,000). The problem with this approach: There’s no guarantee that any of those 12 caps will bring results. And even if they do, there’s no guarantee that the publication will inform me before the review runs.

Theoretically, I suppose, I could do both. Maybe buying ads at the same publications that get a free review copy would improve my rate of success with reviewers. That would be expensive and risky. I’d have to sell about $10,000 worth of caps (500 of them) to justify the cost of a $1,000 promotion. It isn’t out of the question, but it’s pretty damned ambitious. Curio City has only had a bit over 1,000 transactions in its history to date.

The lead time for Christmas sales is ticking down fast. I can’t afford to dither and delay if I’m really going to do this. If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that I’m masterful at avoiding this type of work. I would rather eat a bug than deal with advertising and marketing.

One other marketing move that’s more up my alley: I want to reorganize my store. Even I sometimes have trouble remembering which category a particular product belongs in. My site could be a lot easier to shop. There are two ways I can go about this:

The proper and elegant fix depends on the stupid Sunshop upgrade that you’ve been hearing about for six months now. I want to implement subcategory flyouts. As your mouse hovers over the category names on the navigation bar, subcategories would appear to the right. This is extremely basic design. Virtually every retail website that you see does it. Yet AFAIK Sunshop still won’t support it, even in their ephemeral upgrade. I have to have it custom coded, and Eric (my current developer) has said that he doesn’t want that job. I’d therefore need to find and hire a different programmer. And I don’t want to change horses midstream until the Sunshop upgrade is performed and absorbed. So…stalemate.

The quick and dirty fix is to simply make every subcategory a top-level category that appears in the navbar. There are several drawbacks to that. First, it would be a ton of work to revise virtually all of my product pages, and then redirect all of my PPC ads to the new URLs. Second, my current list of 17 departments would balloon to 39 entries! Even with some consolidation and cleanup, I’d probably end up with at least 30 categories. I’m not sure that 30 specific categories are any easier to navigate than 17 vaguely-named categories. Third, my categories would no longer correspond to my main page’s image map, which invalidates my core design and implies that I really ought to have a new front page. So now I’m contemplating a complete design overhaul. Not so quick and dirty after all, eh?


  1. I don't know what your hosting package looks like, but if you're able to put arbitrary pages on www.curiocityonline.com, then you can just make a default page with a redirect to the real product URL (or a multiple-item page with links).

    So you could make a subdirectory called /lightedhats/ and drop a default.html file int here that has a javascript redirect that goes to http://www.curiocityonline.com/index.php/action/item/id/514/prevaction/category/previd/16/prevstart/0/.

    Then you can direct your potential customers to curiocityonline.com/lightedhats and they'll get where they need to go.

  2. See? That's what I meant when I said, a few posts ago, that I'm perpetually behind the technology curve in running an online store. I never would have thought of that! Now that you explain it, it's obvious. I can even almost figure out how to do it myself. Almost. Thanks a lot for reading, and especially for taking the time to comment.

  3. Spookious12:53 PM

    You talk about a flyout menu - when you hover over your category... a menu would appear to the right that has the subcategories.

    Theoretically, this *should* be fairly easy to implement as you can already find menus (using CSS) made up - or templates or whatever you want to call them. Email me if you have any interest in pursuing this.

  4. I would certainly like to talk to you about subcategory flyouts, but I don't recognize your screenname, Spookius, and you posted your comment anonymously. Please email me your contact info.


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