Category Archives: Ecommerce

Ecommerce news, tips, and issues.

I Like JellyFish Smack Shopping Deal of the Day

I was a bit guarded and perhaps skeptical of Jellyfish when they initially launched, and had a good dialog with their CEO via e-mail which gave me a more positive view of what they’re trying to achieve.

I hadn’t heard much about them lately, and I’ve been curious to know how their service has been growing. I don’t know the answer to that yet, but they hit the news again with their launch of the Smack Shopping Deal of the Day.

Basically it’s a reverse auction where they have a limited quantity of an item to sell and the price drops on it over time and users can buy whenever they feel they need to in order to get one. If the users all can hold off, the price drops lower and lower, but then you risk missing out if you don’t buy in time. They also have forums involved so that the users can discuss the Smack and try and plan strategies or talk each other into or out of buying.

It looks like a fun game, as well as a fascinating study in psychology. It also does something which a friend brought up to me recently, it harnesses the power of buying in numbers to get a good price. The web doesn’t do enough of this, so this is one of the first shopping applications I’ve seen that takes advantage of that. Some may compare this to Woot, and it has some similarities, but it seems like a more strategic buying process that can end up with a better deal.

Revisiting Top 10 Web Predictions of 2006

As 2006 began I made a set of predictions for what I thought would happen related to web applications, comipanies, and “Web 2.0″.

We’re two-thirds through 2006, so I figured it was a good time to revisit how many of them have come true, and if any are still likely to occur in the rest of 2006.

1. RSS will become two-way with the help of Simple Sharing Extensions.

Hmm, well, this is slowly improving, but I don’t think I really nailed this one. Hopefully we’ll see more of this in the future but the buzz around it seems to have died down or just moved behind the scenes.

2. Social news site Digg will expand into other content areas and media types and then will be acquired.

I was half right on this one. Digg did indeed expand into other content areas and media types, but no acquisition has occurred. Will that still happen? There hasn’t been any buzz around it lately, and Digg has gone through some recent problems as bloggers have noticed that Digg might not be as democratic as we thought, and they’ve lost some top users to Netscape’s offer to pay top social news finders.

Digg also faces competition from other social news services like Reddit, Newsvine, and Netscape, and while none of them has gotten to Digg’s level, it’s still early in the social news race. There are also numerous sites launching all the time which work just like Digg but are focused on specific verticals. It may be that what they’re doing isn’t unique enough now to really warrant someone wanting to acquire them that badly.

3. Web 2.0 will be looked down upon as a buzzword, and it’s usage will drop off dramatically.

This has definitely occurred, and more people seem to be moving past the term into just accepting things as new web applications. We’re also hearing “social web” or “social media” for a lot of Web 2.0 applications.

4. Face-recognition photo application Riya will be acquired by a major player.

Oops, didn’t happen yet either. Riya switched up their model a bit and are taking on an even bigger challenge of web image search with their facial recognition technology being a big part of that mix. I’d say at this point an acquisition in 2006 is unlikely, but I wouldn’t rule it out in the long term.

5. Some ecommerce shopping applications using the more recent advancements in social web technologies will be developed and will succeed.

Web shopping seems to move a little slower than other applications, but we have seen some cool new shopping applications. Jellyfish probably has made the most noise this year with their Value Per Action advertising model, but taking a look at this Alexa graph it doesn’t look they’ve had much traffic uptake from consumers. Of course, don’t always trust Alexa, I think Jellyfish is compelling although not revolutionary, but has a long way to go before it’s a major player. jellyfishgraph.png

6. Google Analytics will again drop the hammer on the web analytics industry.

Another one I missed, there hasn’t been much out of Google Analytics besides finally opening up to the public. Google may be spread too thin in this case, or maybe they have no new analytics ideas, but they haven’t done anything special with it since launching it.

7. A forward thinking company will build technology to support transparency, efficiency, and relationships in the online advertising business.

Hey, what do you know, Right Media is doing this. Okay, I’ll admit this was a loaded prediction when I knew it was happening. Still, I think we’ve made great progress in 2006 thus far, and the rest of the year and 2007 could be really special.

8. Microsoft will launch a contextual advertising network that will either be huge, or fail miserably.

They have started issuing beta invites for advertisers to particiate in their content ad network. So we don’t really know yet if it will be a success or not. There hasn’t even been much detail yet on what the service will consist of, but if Adcenter is any indication it could have some interesting features, but be very IE-specific and bug heavy.

9. Two to three new startups will be so cool and successful they will make the heroes of 2005 like Flickr and del.icio.us seem small and insignificant.

I think YouTube makes a strong case for this being a correct prediction, and Digg has also been pretty cool and successful, although neither of them have been acquired like Flickr or Delicious. Of course, let’s recall that those two were not acquired for huge amounts of money though.

10. The venture capital investments and acquisition bubble will heat up even more, then deflate in the 2nd half of 2006 after a number of companies fail..

It seems as if things have cooled a bit in the 2nd half of 2006. Rojo was recently acquired by Six Apart, and there have been some recent venture capital investments but nothing too crazy.

Overall

Not bad, but I think I can do better with future predictions. I think I’m just early on a few of them, and maybe flat out wrong on one or two.

Learning at Wordcamp

I think the Monetizing Your Blog session I helped lead at Wordcamp today went pretty well, I hope everyone in the audience enjoyed it. I know I did as I also got some good suggestionsi from people in the audience about additional ways to monetize blogs. Specifically:

Kevin Burton of Tailrank suggested adding code that places obvious ads front and center on your blog to visitors who come from search engines. The theory is that because these aren’t your normal community of readers, you can be more aggressive trying to monetize them. And your normal readers don’t get mad at having obnoxious ads on your blog. This could work well, but it could also impede your ability to convert those search engine visitors into becoming part of your community of readers if they’re getting large ads front and center.

I learned more about Goodstorm and their plugin to allow bloggers to place products easily in a widget on their sidebar, and then get a cut of revenue. Goodstorm was started out of wanting to help small bloggers and social and political organizations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. “Capitalism Done Right” is their slogan, and they look to be holding to those ideals.
David Krug of Problogging.com suggested TicTap.com, a service that lets you put Amazon.com ads for relevant products on your site. David was very active in the discussion, obviously a guy who’s passionate about blog monetization!

After the discussion I talked to Greg Narain of SocialRoots who has plans and products in the works to help bloggers sell/monetize their individual posts in various ways.

Overall there’s a lot of people and companies interested in blog monetization, so I think the future is bright in this area.

10 Ways to Monetize Your Blog

I’m co-leading a discussion session at Wordcamp about Monetizing Blogs, so I thought I’d also touch on it here with a post about 10 Ways to Monetize Your Blog.

First, I should preface this discussion by saying you first need to seriously evaluate whether you want to work at monetizing your blog. Steve Pavlina has a very thorough post that goes over what’s necessary to really do this well, and why the majority of people who try end up not generating significant income.

Second, you have to make sure that making money from your blog directly is your goal. For example, for this blog direct income isn’t my goal. I didn’t have ads at all untli recently, and the only reason I added them was to use the ad network management application I’ve been working on called RMX Direct. It’s quite possible that your blogging goals may just to network, write about something you’re interested in, or serve some business purpose that isn’t direct income generation.

With that out of the way, let’s get started:

1. Contextual Advertising

Surprise, surprise. Advertising is easily the most popular blog monetization tactic, mostly due to it being the easiest thing to implement. Advertising comes in many forms, and contextual advertising is the most popular due to Google Adsense and it’s general success with blogs and niche sites.

I’m going to assume everyone reading this is familiar with it, but I think it should be mentioned that too many bloggers assume that Adsense is the best solution for their blog. For some blogs and topics it works great, for others, not very well at all.

My advice is to not limit your blog to one ad network or just one form of advertising. Other contextual options include the Yahoo Publisher Network, Chitika, Clicksor, AdSonar, and others. It’s not easy to manually test all these though if you’re shuffling ad tags around and randomly allocating your impressions to them, using a ad network management tool like RMX Direct can help you manage, evaluate, and control your various ad networks.

2. Display Advertising

As I mentioned above, contextual networks aren’t always the best solution for blogs. In some cases there aren’t enough advertisers in niche topics, and in others the users just isn’t likely to click. In this case, you want to be working with ad networks that provide CPM display advertising. This means you get paid something for every ad viewed, opposed to only getting paid per click.

Just like with contextual networks, it’s important to use multiple display ad networks to get more variety from your ads, to not let any one network control your inventory, and to make sure you’re earning the most amount of money possible.

3. Targeted Advertising

The most desirable form of advertising is having companies that wish to pay good rates to advertise on your blog directly whether it’s text or image ads. Many bloggers feel that this is a pipe dream, but I speak from experience from running a wakeboarding blog for many years that you can make solid income from targeted advertising without having insane amounts of traffic.

There are a number of key things you have to do though in order to get this type of advertising:

  • Have a blog with leading content in your niche and a professional design
  • Create a “media kit” which is essentially a page on your blog that explains that you take targeted advertising, what your rates are, demographics of your users, your traffic levels, examples of the types of ads people can run, testimonials from any companies that have advertised with you, and a phone number and email address they can use to get more information.
  • Have obvious “Advertise On This Blog” links in key places on your blog.
  • Give a company or two in your niche free or very low-cost advertising in order to get the ball rolling. When advertisers see their competitors or companies similar to them advertising, they get the idea that it’s available. If all they ever see is Adsense ads, they might not realize it’s an option.
  • Be willing to be creative to help your advertisers achieve their goals, and lower your price to get the deals.
  • Provide statistics and results to your advertisers. Use an ad server like RMX Direct, phpAdsNew, or something similar which has the ability to create reports per advertiser.

Once you’ve set your blog up properly, start approaching companies in your niche who will want to reach your traffic. You don’t need to go after the biggest companies, there are many small companies who are looking to get better results from the web, and they might not even know about your blog. You don’t need to be an ad sales professional, you just need to present your case well on why they’re missing out if they don’t advertise on your traffic. Make it easy on them to work with you, help them create ads, help them determine what sizes to use, and work with them to make sure they get the results they need. It seems like hard work at first, but after you get a solid base of advertisers going, it’s a great source of income and it starts to streamline.

4. Text Link Advertising

Another somewhat unobtrusive form of advertising is using services like Text Link Ads or Adbrite to sell text ads directly to companies. This is pretty low effort and often doesn’t take up too much space on a site, so it’s easy to implement and try out. It should be noted though that you need significant traffic for it to be a big source of income.

5. Affiliate Links

One of the older web monetization methods is still as good today as it’s always been. If you’ve got a blog in a specific area, there’s a very large chance that there are companies out there that sell products or services your users are interested in. You can earn some nice income recommending or linking to those products.

Amazon.com is probably the most common affiliate merchant used by bloggers, but I’d advise finding other unique merchants who may pay better and be more specific to your topic. Amazon is always there as an option, but you’re more likely to get more help from the merchant if you go with a smaller company.

Another nice thing about affiliate links is that they fit well with quality content. Reviewing products and services for your users is valuable content, and if you can make money off it as well it’s a great combination. A word of warning though that you shouldn’t change your reviews or be biased due to the fact you can make money off a referral.

While traffic also helps for affiliate links, it can sometimes be an easier way to generate income without high traffic levels like advertising requires. As an example I did a review of a web analytics application a couple of years ago, and this blog had very little traffic at that point. I referred two sales through that review though that still earn me $150 a month every month two years later.

6. Selling Your Content (Ebooks, Videos, DVDs)

If you’ve got great content, another option is to package it and sell it. There are numerous bloggers who have created ebooks and even real books based on their blog content and made great income selling them. You can also expand to infoproducts like videos, DVDs, audio CDs, and printed books on demand.

This can take some significant work and it requires great content to actually sell, but it can be a nice income stream that lasts a long time.

7. Consulting

Depending on your topic and your level of expertise, you can sell consulting services. If you’re a web analytics expert, you could offer web analytics consulting services on your blog for an hourly fee. This takes very little work to setup beyond creating a page outlining your services, getting a standard contract, and having a way to take payments from companies. Again though, it just takes a little bit of effort to let people know that consulting services are available.

8. Donations

Not quite as common as it once was, it used to be fairly common for bloggers to ask for donations on their blog through Paypal or some other service. This only works if you have a dedicated userbase, and a large enough number of users that their donations add up. I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re also putting a lot of advertising and other monetization methods on your blog. You’ll come off as a bit too greedy in that case.

9. Selling Products

Besides infoproducts, you can sell real products like t-shirts, bumper stickers, clothing, or whatever other kind of merchandise makes sense for your topic. Companies like Goodstorm, CafePress, Lulu, and others make it easy by creating the products based on your design and letting you set up a shop. There is no risk to bloggers, which makes it a great opportunity.

10. Selling Your Blog

Perhaps the most extreme of the blog monetization methods, but it can be lucrative! If you aren’t attached to your blog and are willing to part with it, you can usually find a buyer for it. Your blog must be pretty good, and have a level of traffic worth buying, and it really helps if you already have some income streams going for it. Blogs usually sell for 12-24 times monthly revenues, and there are numerous places you can sell them like eBay and the Sitepoint Marketplace.

Conclusion

It definitely takes some work to monetize your site well, and having good traffic really helps out. Work on building a blog with a solid userbase, and you should be on your way to generating income using any of the methods above. Good luck, and please share any blog monetization experiences you have in the comments.

Update: I was pointed to a similar post by Darren Rowse at Problogger.net that is also a recommended read on the subject of making money from your blog. He mentions many of the same things, and has a couple I didn’t mention as well.

Video Emails Could Help Conversion

Dan Tudor at LandingTheDeal.com discusses video emails and the reaction he’s had from using them.

While I haven’t tried out using video in email, it sounds like an intriguing idea. On one hand, it could potentially be very annoying because part of the power of email is how quick it is to read, write, and correspond. Waiting for video to download and kick in could be something that both friends and prospects don’t enjoy.

On the other hand, it’s been shown many times that putting a more human face on a website can help conversions. Why not email as well? How could it be used?
Ecommerce Newsletters

You could show off new products with real video and audio. That seems to be a surefire way to improve the amount of products you could sell.

Individual Sales Discussions

If your type of business involves having individual email conversations with prospects, what better way then to make a relationship if the customer can actually see the salesperson they’re working with?

Blog Updates

I believe one of the reasons blogs have been a success is because users get to really feel like they know the blogger. If your blog has an email update list, might as well communicate via video on occasion to grow that bond even more.

Content Sites

Again, breaking things up from the normal email newsletter could be a nice change of pace, and for some sites you could do some great educational stuff with video emails.

It seems worth a test on any account, and let me know the results.

How Can Publishers Maximize Revenue?

Along the lines of my analytics options post yesterday, publishers also have so many options for revenue generation now that it can be overwhelming.

Directly-sold advertising campaigns, CPM ad networks, CPC ad networks, CPA networks, affiliate networks, ecommerce, text ads, display ads, video ads,  co-registration, lead generation, and more.

I LOVE that publishers have so many options.  Websites are so different and their users are so different that there needs to be a big amount of revenue opportunities.

However, this doesn’t mean it’s easy to manage.  If you’ve got a site with decent traffic, you could be working with 5-10 ad networks.  That’s a lot of different places to login, a lot of systems to learn, tags to manage, reports to view, etc.

How can publishers possibly test all the opportunities to see what works best for them?  How can this process of working with so many companies be more efficient?

Getting a Holiday Explosion In Your Web Analytics

As we hit July 4th which is a holiday here in the United States, it reminds me of when I worked for an ecommerce company managing their web presence and I used to always dread any holiday for the predictable drop in sales and traffic we’d see in our web analytics. We sold a software product that was not something people bought as a gift for any type of holiday, so without fail we’d see a drop in sales and traffic for about a week on either side of the holiday.

The same thing is probably occurring for many of you out there blogging, running content sites, running web applications, or selling products online. Your site visitors just tend to travel, break up their normal web surfing schedule, and spend less time online around the holidays. Now, overall this is probably a good thing for people’s health and family lives, but it’s not that fun when it’s your site suffering through the drop in your statistics.

Instead of dreading the “holiday drop”, I started to think of it as a challenge and something I could take advantage of to actually create an improvement in web analytics during and around a holiday.

There are numerous ways to go about doing this, but here are some quick suggestions:

1. Create content that is themed around the holiday

A great recent example of this is ProBlogger Darren Rowse who posted an article on his Digital Photography School blog about how to photograph fireworks, and then posted on his Problogger blog about the “holiday explosion” he got in traffic. He also followed it up with another post about the traffic sources and what it did for his revenue and newsletter subscriptions. What’s great about this is Darren is in Australia, so he’s taking advantage of a holiday not even celebrated in his own country, now that’s a smart blogger.

This theory can be applied to almost every subject for almost all the holidays. A knitting site could have an article about knitting an American flag sweater for the 4th of July, a video game site could have an article discussing the games with the most firework-like explosions, a dating site could have an article about the best 4th of July date ideas. You just have to be creative.

This post itself is another example of creating holiday content based around your subject, in my case web analytics and web publishing.

2. Create a contest based on the holiday.

It’s pretty easy to put together a contest or giveaway based on the holiday. What if Darren Rowse had a contest on his Digital Photography School blog to pick the best 4th of July firework photo from user submitted photos? He could go a step further and allow users to vote driving traffic up even further.

Additionally an ecommerce site could put together a free giveaway where the winner is revealed on the site during the holiday, and it’d be even better if the prizes people win or the products the site sells are also holiday-themed.

3. Have a holiday sale.

This obviously works best for ecommerce sites, but having a time-limited sale based around the holiday is a good way to make sure sales don’t dip. An easy example is at the software company I worked for we’d do something like 30% off our main product during the itself, but we’d announce this sale in our newsletter and on our website beforehand so we had people who’d come to buy on the holiday. This also got additional word of mouth sales, which helped quite a bit.

If you run an affiliate program you can give your affiliates some incentive by providing them with a special holiday bonus to the affiliate that drives the most sales or traffic on or near the holiday.

Even if you aren’t an ecommerce site, a regular blogger or content publisher could easily make some holiday themed items with Cafepress or other similar sites that relates to your site in some way and sell them for a couple of weeks around the holiday for some extra revenue. Things like this also help build a community, and you could even tie this merchandise into your contest. Darren Rowse could make Digital Photography School t-shirts with a great fireworks picture on it and give those away as prizes in his contest.

Conclusion

Don’t let the holidays drag down your analytics, think creatively and put in a bit of extra work and you’ll not only see a holiday explosion in your stats, but you’ll probably do something memorable for your users that helps you build your community.

Is JellyFish Revolutionary?

Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 takes a very positive look at new e-commerce startup JellyFish. I agree that there is a lot to like, but I’m not sure I’d position them as being groundbreaking just yet.

First, the real hook of their idea is to provide cash rebates to users, which is nothing new, and hasn’t really been revolutionary on the web thus far. They’re talking a lot about the liquidity and efficiency of it all, and I can see a little bit where that’s the case, but when I look at prices I don’t see much that’s changed.

So, I can get 2% cash back after the return period has passed? Is that really that much to get excited about as a user?

Okay, so they’re providing a lot of other neat features with comparison shopping, search relevancy, etc. These things combined with CPC advertising for the merchants and cash rebates for the customers does make for an interesting mix and a potentially improved shopping experience, but the proof is in the success.

I understand their opportunity to create a liquid market where merchants are driving down prices (or giving more cash back) in order to be ranked higher in results and get more sales. This opportunity does exist, but they’ll need to execute on many fronts to get there.

The site is designed well, and is easy to use, but I had serious problems finding products through their main search. A search for “ipod” left me with everything potentially related to Ipods, except actual ipods. That left such a sour taste in my mouth hunting for Ipods I doubt I’d ever go back to Jellyfish if I were a normal consumer trying it out. They have to nail product search, it’s the key component of an “every product” shopping site.

Another thing that bugged me, and maybe this is being nitpicky, but the stock photographs with nameless testimonials rotating on the front page seems dishonest and cheesy to me.  If Jellyfish just launched, how did they get photos of these customers without names who say things like “Search engines are great for finding information, but when I want to buy something I always go to JellyFish.”

Is that a real picture of a real customer saying that?  If not, don’t make it look like it is.
I also tried a few specific examples to see how they compared. To be fair, they have just launched and I know selection will improve if they gain more advertisers and customers. However, I picked out a Sony Plasma TV Jellyfish had listed.

Sony PFM 42X1 at Jellyfish


The 1.5% cash back gets me $36 off on an expensive item that I’ll receive sometime down the road. Or, I could go to Amazon where I have an account and buy it for $300 less right now:

Sony PFM 42X1 at Amazon

Where will I buy?  It’s a chicken and the egg problem. How do you get advertisers/merchants/products without the customers, and how do you get customers without the products? That will be the challenge for Jellyfish. If they can manage to grow both they have a shot at creating a very good shopping experience. I would really hesitate to call it revolutionary, unless they’re consistently saving me more money than Amazon.com and have the majority of products I want to buy. If they do that, I’ll call it revolutionary.

Marketing to Myspace Users: A Real Example

As Myspace has grown to be a 800 pound internet gorilla the web business world has been trying to figure out why it’s successful and perhaps more importantly how to take advantage of it and market to it’s user gigantic user base. I’ve seen many people talk about using Myspace to market their business, but I’ve seen very few examples of it being done successfully besides the music industry.

I was made aware of RollerWarehouse and the success they’ve had by creating a news ticker of their rollerskating-focused blog posts for people to put on their Myspace profile pages. Here’s an example profile with it going, and here’s the ticker in action:



Roller Warehouse: Aggressive Rollerblade Skates

The kicker is that by running this on your Myspace page (or any other web page for that matter), you can get 5% off any order you place with RollerWarehouse. So, if you’re into rollerskating, you can put news on your Myspace page to make it cooler, and you can get 5% off your orders. Not bad.

So how has this worked out for RollerWarehouse?

In it’s first two weeks of action RollerWarehouse.com went from a Google Pagerank of 0 to a 6, sales for March were up about 10% over 2005′s sales which was their first increase in 4 years. The program has a viral effect as other Myspacers see it on pages and add it to their’s, so the link benefit is just growing, as well as the number of customers taking advantage of the 5% off. They currently estimate that 50-75 new news tickers are being placed today for a total somewhere between 750-1000 total tickers running on people’s pages.
Why is that Google Pagerank important? Well, now everytime they highlight a product on their blog, they get great natural search results in Google for that search term. For example, they went from nowhere to being ranked #1 in Google results for “aggressive skates”, and are currently sitting at #2. That is one of the top search terms for their industry.

How much work was this for RollerWarehouse? Not much, simply creating the news ticker and getting it adopted by the first few users.

What a simple and great way to market their ecommerce business and blog.

Video Increasing Conversion Rates

Can video increase your conversion rate?  Andrew Johnson’s Web Publishing Blog has an interview with Brendon Sinclair about a website he made that is just a video case study that promotes Aaron Wall’s SEO Book.  What’s interesting is that Brendon also has a normal site promoting the book, but the video site gets four times the conversion rate.

It’s a pretty interesting idea to build a site like Brendon built to review the book in an affiliate format.  It’s pretty compelling because the video gives a sense of trust in seeing a real talking person, and he does a good job showing a real example of why the SEO Book worked for him.  It’s getting easier and easier to create video like this, although Brendon still points out it took him four days of work to create this, but depending on how much revenue it generates four days isn’t that bad.

I wouldn’t yet say it’s a hard and fast rule that video will convert better. It has to be done well, a poorly done video could kill conversion rates as fast as a well done video could help them.

The bottom line is think about testing video for whatever you’re promoting.  Whether you’re running a topical blog or an ecommerce empire, it could help your results.