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.

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