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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, October 26, 2007

Climbing a Tree Technologically (Metaphorically)

The pace of web development is quickening. A Halloween launch begins to look feasible. The cosmetics won’t all be done; in fact, I’m abandoning much of my custom look in favor of a modified standard template. Shoppers want easy and familiar, not clever and original. I’m fine with that, although I’ll miss the urban look of Curio City 1.0. Maybe I can gussy things up later on.

The transition process is going to be a ton of work, and it’s starting right now. I have to rebuild many product pages to take advantage of what they call “option inventory” – tracking the quantity of each variant of a product (e.g., a running total of how many of each color/size/design I have). I have to plug in all those quantities. And in many cases, that will entail consolidating multiple pages into one. A new HTML editor allows me to use formatting when I build product pages. Imagine that: fonts, colors, even simple graphics! Ultimately I want to revise all of my product pages to fit a template that I’m going to design this afternoon.

In the interest of search-engine optimization, Sunshop has changed the way it builds page URLs. That means that all of my existing product URLs will become invalid. And that means that I have to create a .htaccess file to redirect the old addresses, which are used in literally hundreds of pay-per-click ads, to the new product pages...something I can begin now that the product catalog is being moved over. Ultimately I should revisit both of my PPC campaigns in great detail, replacing old URLs with new ones and generally overhauling the ads. Oh, and speaking of SEO…the new Sunshop allows me to create title tags for each product page, instead of using the automatically generated ones.

If September was low-hanging fruit, I started stretching for higher branches in October. Now I’m grasping at the beanstalk of November, twining up the unimaginably high redwood of December. September finished 73% ahead of LY. Right now October is 16% behind LY; the last two days left in the fiscal month could reduce that to single digits. Year to date, I’m running 22% ahead of LY, but it all comes down to November and December. The last week of October and all of November 2006 were buoyed by my one and only marketing success. This year I have nothing comparable going on. Due to the lack of a mailing list, I only ended up mailing out six copies of my 50 caplights postcards, with predictable non-results. Now I have a pursehooks postcard in production, and I still have no mailing list. My media-savvy, but overextended, wife says that she’s going to supply that.

This years-delayed rollout of Sunshop 4 is my only ace in the hole. If the launch goes without serious bugs, I expect some immediate benefits.

Easier navigation, plus the perception of greater security, will lead fewer shoppers to abandon their shopping carts. If I were smarter, I could probably extract my current abandonment rate from Google Analytics. But I’m dumber, so I just believe some indirect clues that the number is substantial. If I can cut abandonment in half, sales should improve measurably.

Better PayPal integration should eliminate the handful of customers who never actually pay because the PayPal interface isn’t perfectly clear. Introducing Google Checkout will give customers another payment option, and allow me to jazz up my PPC ads with the Google Checkout logo, drawing more attention to them. Together, those changes might be good for another small boost.

Fixed international shipping will enable me to serve overseas customers again for the first time since last May. It’s a tiny fraction of my business, and one that I don’t actively pursue – exports are just too much work and expense. But it should be good for a few bucks, anyway.

Over the longer term, built-in SEO abilities should goose traffic by improving my natural search results. I don’t expect that to make any difference for this Xmas season, though.

Working against me…changing all those URLs will torpedo my natural search traffic in the short term. Natural search drives 15-20% of my traffic. The .htaccess redirect file that I mentioned earlier will keep some of that from drying up. But I do expect a dip until the new URLs get indexed, and my page ranks might suffer in the process. Eventually, the new search-engine friendly features should more than offset the changing URLs. But November and December are not “eventually”, they are now.

Oh. Speaking of exporting…I had my first sale to a military APO address last week. The postal clerk said the package was going to Iraq. And remember how I said that Canada is the most difficult country to deal with? This week a Canadian customer paid nearly $20 to have $60 worth of merchandise sent to him via UPS. Then, for some random reason, Customs assessed him $40 worth of taxes and duties. He ended up spending $60 to import $60 worth of merchandise that I bought from Canada in the first place! Somebody’s getting rich, and it ain’t me.

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