More than week weeks into The Lactivist experiment things were running pretty smoothly. That said, there was still plenty of room for improvement. To that end, I got down to business trying to come up with a plan for a public relations move, launched a new pay-per-click campaign with Yahoo! Search Marketing and decided to give Amazon's notoriously low-paying affiliate program a chance.
(If you're just catching up with this series of articles, be sure to swing into the ongoing discussion thread at the Small Business Ideas forum. You'll be able to link to each day's article and participate in the discussion going along with it.)
Adding Yahoo! Search Marketing to the mix for The Lactivist seemed like a no brainier after I found a $100 coupon to get me started. After all, I could fork over the $5 fee required to launch the account knowing that $100 would likely cover me for at least a month or two on the cost per click end of things. Since I wasn't having much luck gaining natural search rankings with Yahoo! (or at least wasn't getting any traffic from them) I figured I might as well try putting my product front and center on their engine to see what happened.
I also wanted to run Yahoo! head to head with Google since I knew that Yahoo! demographics skewed more toward the mom crowd that I was shooting for. As I mentioned on day fifteen, Google had yet to deliver a single buyer to my site, but I wasn't quite ready to give up on pay-per-click advertising for this venture.
I already knew which phrases I wanted to target since I'd done some research and updated my Google AdWords campaign so I simply took my list from Google and added on a few suggestions that Yahoo! made to go with them. I also looked over my existing AdWords ads to see which messages were generating the best click thru rates and carried those themes over to my Yahoo! ads.
One of the great things about a Yahoo! Search Marketing campaign is that you've got a lot more space to work with. Those extra characters can give advertisers a little more freedom to play with their marketing message though I consider it a trade off for the inability to run multiple ad messages for each campaign.
My personal experience with Yahoo! Search Marketing ads is that forming some type of question with your ad title can have significant impacts on click-thru rates. For example, the ad title "Looking to Show Your Support for Breastfeeding?" is likely to draw more clicks than the ad title "Support Breastfeeding." The extra space in the ad description also serves advertisers well, but it's important to use this space wisely. While Yahoo! will display the full ad description for the top few listings on their engine, the lower listings and those that appear on some partner sites cut off after a certain number of characters. That's why it's a good idea to write your ad two different ways.
The first ad should be short enough to get your point across no matter how Yahoo! or its partner sites display your ad. The second version of the ad should include additional text that makes use of those extra characters to add more selling power to your ad. It's important to order your ad description text properly so that you avoid having your ad cut in the middle of your message.
Once I'd submitted all of my keyword phrases and ad text, I settled in to wait on a response. Since Yahoo! Search Marketing ads have to go through an approval process before being listed, I knew that I'd need to wait anywhere from a few hours to a few days to see my ads show up.
Search Engine Basics Bite Me in the Butt
There are some very basic principles in search engine marketing that are among the first things you learn when reading up about optimizing your site. One of these principles is creating a unique title tag for every single page of your site. I know this, I teach this, and yet, I still screwed it up. I built The Lactivist site as a rush job to try and get it up in time to snag myself a free Google Analytics account and to have someplace to point people to when I started sending out press releases.
I didn't bother to put any title tags on the site at that time because I never dreamed that it would get indexed by Google in less than a week.
I had planned to go back and properly optimize the site a few days further into the project, but as often happens with small business owners, I got sidetracked doing anything and everything else that had to be taken care of and I completely forgot about it. Needless to say, when I was running some checks on a few keywords that were driving traffic to the Lactivist Blog and the Lactivist Store, I was surprised to find the actual Lactivist site gathering some rankings of its own. Granted, these rankings were for non-competitive phrases, but considering that I hadn't even added a title tag, that wasn't too shabby.
So, on day sixteen, with a red mark on my forehead and a sore hand, I took five minutes to add unique title tags to each page of the Lactivist site. Five minutes. Five minutes that could have helped produce a nice trickle of traffic if I'd only taken the time to do it when I first built the site. Chalk it up to another lesson learned the hard way.
Back to the Blog
Day sixteen of the project also saw me making my first true rant on the Lactivist Blog. One of my ongoing frustrations, and one of the things that pushed me into breastfeeding advocacy was where so many of my fellow conservatives fell on the issue publicly. My home state of Ohio had just passed a bill through it's legislature to give Ohio mother's the legal right to breastfeed in any public location that they themselves have the right to be. During the debate however, several conservative Republicans made spectacles of themselves by going on tirades about how women needed to cover themselves up and that breastfeeding in public was indecent. One went so far as to claim that it was a health hazard because a nursing mom might leak some of her milk on the floor and cause someone to slip.
I'd also recently run into some Christians in online forums that were vehemently opposed to breastfeeding in public claiming that it was immoral and even a sin. As a charismatic evangelical, that viewpoint frustrated me to no end. Needing a place to go on a rant and knowing that a controversial topic like this one was sure to be a good traffic driver, I headed off to do some research and put together a very lengthy blog post aimed to provoke debate and contemplation about the issue by pointing out why I believe Christians should support breastfeeding in public.
While making the post I realized that it would be awfully nice to be able to know what types of phrases my blog posts were getting traffic from. So, I decided to install eXTReMe Tracker on my blog as well. The problem was, when I went to place the tracking code in my Blogger template I realized that I'd already put tracking in place. I made a mental note that I needed to get more sleep and then celebrated that I already had more than a week's worth of data to look at.
I was surprised to see that traffic to my blog was actually coming more from other blogs than it was from Search Engine Guide or industry links to the project. It seems that many of the women from one of the message boards that I frequent at BabyCenter had taken to reading the blog and several had even added it to their own blog rolls. I was seeing several visitors a day being referred from parenting blogs like Mama C-Ta, Officially a Mom, Bubbie Girl and Zozo's Mama.
Amazon.com Enters the Mix
Although I knew from talking to other search marketers that Amazon.com's affiliate program is notorious for low revenue shares and bad click-thru rates, I hadn't been all that impressed with the first two weeks of running Chitika either. I knew that part of my Chitika problem was that I still needed to do some testing of different ad sizes and different placements, but since I was running with limited time, I wanted to split my tests and add another option into the mix.
Amazon is one of the better known affiliate programs, so it was my logical choice to look into. I decided to leave the Chitika ads on the Lactivist Store and the Lactivist web site, but I switched them out in favor of Amazon's affiliate listings on the Lactivist blog. Why did I make those choices? For one, the only clicks that I'd had so far on Chitika had come from the listing that showed up on the Lactivist store, thus it made sense to leave it in place and think about testing some changes to the ad. Also, I had had little enough traffic to the Lactivist web site that I didn't think it was fair to pull the ads from there quite yet. Since the Lactivist blog was the lowest performing location for Chitika and since it was the most likely to attract the type of visitor that would be unfamiliar with Chitika, I decided to go ahead and try placing an Amazon ad there.
I considered hand-picking a few items to include in my ad, but the reality was that I simply didn't have time to do the testing needed to cycle through multiple products. Since Amazon knows what sells best, I trusted it to deliver a list of best-seller products to include in the skyscraper ad that I was placing into the template of my blog. I selected a generic baby category mostly because my first choice - feeding, simply had too many products designed for formula feeding mothers. Since the majority of my long-term audience is likely going to be breastfeeding advocates, it made sense to avoid those types of product listings.
Creating the code snippet for the Amazon listings and adding them to the blog template turned out to be the easiest integration that I'd had so far. In literally five minutes or less I signed up for Amazon's affiliate program, created a targeted ad, made the change to my template and had the new ad showing up just fine.
A Plan of Attack for Public Relations
Early on in the series, I wrote about how I'd been contact by Marc Cowlin, the PR Director for CafePress. Marc had been following the project and was interested in working with me to try and promote it from the CafePress angle. His thought was to pitch the story to a news wire or to a few particular reporters from the angle of CafePress as an opportunity for low-cost online entrepreneurship. By day sixteen, I'd heard back from Marc that there were timing issues with trying to do this pitch around the holiday season. Reporters were focused on enough other stories right now that they simply weren't willing to pick up the idea and run with it from that angle. Understandable and an example that even a good idea presented by the right person isn't always going to fly if it's done at the wrong time.
I also mentioned earlier in the series that Karon Thackston, author of the "The Step-byStep Copywriting Course" had contacted me to offer her services with preparing press releases. This was a real boon to the project because as I've mentioned, I'm not a copywriter. I also had no prior experience writing press releases and I wasn't relishing the idea of wading through site after site learning how to do it. (This is why the barter system can be an entrepreneurs best friend...)
Karon and I have always been on the same page when it comes to press releases as part of an online marketing, and more specifically, a search marketing and link building technique. Unfortunately, many other small business owners are not on that page. This is why I need to stress that you can't simply put out a press release and expect it to do something for your business. Send a press release ONLY if you can come up with an angle that makes it newsworthy and interesting. (Note: the fact that you launched a web site is not interesting or newsworthy. The fact that you hired a new CIO is not interesting and newsworthy, unless that CIO is well known and newsworthy in his own right...Newsworthy is the type of thing that makes people go "cool" when they read your release. If you can't get that reaction out of someone, don't send the release.)
I knew that I already had two "newsworthy" directions that I could take this pitch and Karon suggested that we go ahead and run with both of them.
The first pitch was going to be aimed at the business market. The release was going to focus on the 30 day article side of the project and present it as an innovative information series that featured valuable information for anyone interested in learning more about online marketing. Karon set me to task figuring out who I wanted to approach directly with this version of the release. (because as she says..."I just write!"). I knew that my list was going to contain some biggies like Fast Company, Entrepreneur and Business First, but I also needed to find out which blogs and sites were bit hits with work at home moms, small business owners and new business start-ups. Once I had compiled my list, I'd craft a personalized email to every single site listing and send out the press release to them a bit before I put the release on the wires.
The second pitch was going to be aimed at the parenting market and was the one that I wanted to put some real effort into. This was the market that was likely to send customers to the site and it was most definitely the market that I wanted to reach out to with the message of the milk banks. I knew that I'd be targeting big name sites like iVillage and BabyCenter, but I also wanted to approach some of the popular magazines like Fit Pregnancy and Parenting. That left me debating whether or not I needed to invest some dollars into buying a few of my own shirts and putting together some type of media package or if I should do this on the cheap and rely solely on email.
We exchanged our last email of the day with me putting together several quotes on why I was doing this from both the business and personal side of things as well as sending along background information on both topics and some links to popular sites that were already linking in to the project.
I also spent a few minutes of the day pondering the idea of submitting my own site to Slashdot and to Fark, simply because I knew that being picked up by either could send enough traffic to cause my server to come crashing down around me. Both sites allowed users to submit their own sites or stories, but the fact that Slashdot required me to do so by logging in as an "anonymous coward" was enough to make me realize that I only wanted to get those links if they came naturally.
Coming up on day seventeen, I celebrate a bid that comes in on my eBay listing, spend some time contemplating the fear that comes into play when starting a business and make a long visit to the milk bank and return home with a heartbreaking, yet inspiring story to add to the Lactivist blog.
Jump to Day seventeen.
(Want to read the entire 30 Day article series at once? Download the free 30 Day ebook!)
December 5, 2005
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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