Thursday, October 09, 2014

When Creativity Bites Your Ass

I love it. One customer personalized her world 
by buying all green plastic animals.

As it turns out, running a web store is not for sissies. Between the information I got a few days ago from Lee's SEO guru relative Ben and the expensive hour I spent yesterday on the phone with the Big Commerce SEO Team counselor, I've got my work cut out for me - about 1,000 to 1,500 hours' worth as nearly as I can estimate if we do it right, or even almost right. Things have changed a lot in the Google universe in the last year and a half. I thought we were following the guidelines reasonably well, but they have gotten more and more specific, and I also missed the boat in a big way when I tried to personalize the site in a way that works for me but not for Google. I have a nice web store, and the only reason I care about these guidelines is that we need to do better than barely breaking even at the end of each month. With expectations of cheap prices and free shipping, there isn't much margin for profit. This means I have to increase volume. 

Sales volume has actually dropped significantly since opening the new store. It looks better, it works better, but it does not generate more income. The new web store has made a good start, but anywhere between 15 minutes and an hour's worth of tweaking per page could make all the difference. The thing that feels overwhelming is that there are about 1,700 pages to edit in multiple places!

It doesn't all have to be done overnight, and it certainly won't be, but let the tweaking begin. I'm working way too hard for the kind of returns I've been getting this year. My old web store used to come up within the first few places on page one of Google for almost every item, and the photos came up well, too. Many people found the store through the photo links. That just isn't so anymore, and I finally know why. I feel like a dinosaur learning about grass-fed vs. corn-fed beef. There are some technical things about how many keywords to use, which keywords, long-tailed or short-tailed, and where to put them (all requiring research for each product), but here's the thing that's bumming me out. I was thoroughly enjoying combining educational information and nice photos about real animals with the store animals, building something that I felt was valuable and was certainly fun for me. As it turns out, that's one of the things that's hurting our sales. 

Diluting information about stuffed animals, plastic animals, animal beaded keychains, and realistic animal painted pins with information about real animals doesn't cut it. (For example, Megalodon.) Reworking the pages will help. In the end, if we do everything right, helping to educate people about real animals and their conservation status, perhaps exciting someone to want to learn more, encouraging them to buy a plastic replica because they have learned something about the real animal, or just providing the opportunity to take home a better experience than simply purchasing a toy, the best we will achieve according to the experts is that this added enrichment "may not hurt us." Maybe things will look better to me once the sales improve, but today, yeah, I'm pretty bummed. Adding in the real animals and the real science has been a project of love and passion. And in a weird way, an aesthetic project as well. 

I understand what the search engines are looking for, but their algorithms have come up hard against my personal values. I am still more artist than businessperson, and I can see that this trait is hardwired in. Still, I'm making the mental adjustment today and moving forward with an Excel sheet that lists every page on the site. 

Soon I will be well enough to start working on real art projects again, and maybe this erstwhile aesthetic excursion won't matter so much to me. Or maybe it will.

My Web Page:

Friday, October 03, 2014

Tabula Rasa

Me in 1949

I've just started another site for real animals as an adjunct to the web store. I wanted the store to be educational, too, but It turns out Google gets confused when you combine real animals with fake ones, so it may be the best of both worlds to split them up and link back to the store. Yes, the sites look about the same, and I'm fine with that. I've just made a new menu for my personal chronology on my own site site. It will be pretty cool, but only the top line and 1996 are working so far, because that's all I've done. The web is nothing if not an exercise in evolution. I guess I needed more projects. Once the foundation is laid, I hope it will be like an easy-to-use scrapbook.

So far, I'm still happy using Weebly. I've had to simplify some ideas and think up a few work-arounds, but it usually turns out for the best. I'm still trying to see if I can put more than one image in a wrapped text block, or if I have to fake it like on this page. They have quite a library of free photos that come with your account. If you need others, you can use the $5.00-per-photo library if you need to. So far all of the pix on the new site and most of the headers on my personal site are from the free library. Some of them are really great.

My Web Page:

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Working on 1996

April 22, 1996 ~ Gateway, Colorado
Photo by Marco Herranz

I've been having fun with Weebly making my new web site and figuring out how to make things work. Always, one of the hardest parts is figuring out menus, layouts, basic organization. That was going pretty well until I ran up against things Weebly is doing poorly or not at all. I almost want to go back to habd-building, but that is so slow and tedious. I will either find ways around the stumbling blocks by working with them more or (more likely) start simplifying - especially the internal menu pages. Ugh. I liked my design. I guess I don't know enough about what it does well (or not). It seems totally unable to use name codes to jump to certain parts of a page and I've designed pages where the "drag and drop" elements, don't.

Here's one page I do like - I think. I wanted to make the top listing clickable so you could jump down to the page sections, but the coding doesn't work that way. The galleries are easy, and that was something I especially wanted.

No, I think a different arrangement is needed - but not tonight.

My Web Page:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

It Isn't "Jaws"

I'm building a new home on the Web. It's just started, so don't expect much content. I've chosen a visual theme, organized categories, and added a few paragraphs and a couple of galleries.

After a conversation on Facebook, consulting with my friend Andy the graphic artist/web site maker, reading reviews and customer love/hate discussions, and watching a few videos, I finally decided on Weebly. The test drive was easy and free, and I liked what the site could do (lots of things, but I especially wanted an easy way to build galleries). The one-hour video tutorial was excellent, although I picked up everything I needed to get a good start before watching it just by playing around for awhile. Weebly was so easy, I started adding final content even as I was experimenting. That's why, if you go there today, it's hard to tell what is experiment and what will stay. I threw in the site name, "Tapirgal's World," and I liked it. But then I had a problem. "Tapirgal's World" was the name of my personal blog, so the blog name would have to change. 

Believe it or not, I have just spent two days trying to come up with that new name (as I write this, the name is "Tapirgal's Journey." (I say that for when it changes again.) It is kind of a boring title, but for now it says what I mean. There is a fun book called, Now All We Need Is a Title: Famous Book Titles and How They Got That Way, wherein we learn that choosing the right title can take longer than writing the book. Would Jaws have become an international phenomenon and part of world culture if they had named it, Why A Lot of People were Afraid to Go in the Water One Summer? Apprently the name was finalized in about the last three seconds before the book went to press. Benchley and the editors had been batting around titles that nobody could agree on and basically nobody liked until they finally went with the one that everybody disliked the least, and the meeting-closer understatement was, "It doesn't matter, it will never sell, anyway."

My new title is not "Jaws," but it does say who I am (in a way), and what the blog is about. I guess you would have to read enough posts to know whether the journey is in interior or exterior space, but it's about both at different times, so that's fine. I had "Journal," but it felt wrong. It's amazing how many titles have felt wrong. The title. among other things, needs to remind me to record something now and then. I have not made many posts this year. The year has been overfilled with work due to building the new web store and training two new employees, In addition, these past four-plus years have been about some pretty intense recovery issues from parathyroid disease and the aftereffects of the surgical cure. The endocrine system is pretty interesting as well as having the ability to cause no end of emotional and physical trauma and make way too many doctors say "I don't know" and send a bill anyway. Fortunately, a big chunk of that part of the journey is beind me. Maybe I will write more about it later. One of the side effects of this whole "event" is that typing comes with consequences. Even dictating does.

I wanted to mention "Welcome to America," Lee's first post about his trip across the US with Sergio. I talk with them many times a day and Lee textx photos. I only wish I were well enough to join them. Maybe in another few months or a year I can do that much traveling - I hope! Also, thanks to Lee for helping me think about blog titles. Lee's Daily Adventure is about perfect.