Day seven wasn't one of my more productive days, mostly because I had to spend about three hours of it driving home to my parent's house so that they could watch my daughter for me while I put on the "Search Engine Marketing Made Simple" seminar with The Karcher Group in Cleveland. That said, I did get to do a little bit of looking into my hosting options, found that traffic was starting to get a little stronger and received a very interesting email.
(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.)
Hosting...The Bane of My Existence
I've never had to worry about hosting with any of the businesses that I've worked with before. Any marketing firm that I've worked for has had existing relationships with hosts in place, so there was no issue of "picking" someone. This time around, I not only had to select my own hosting company, I had to select one that was cheap, reliable, and that made it easy enough for a non-techie like myself to get things up and running.
I knew that I wanted to be hosted on a Unix/Linux server and I wanted to use PHP as some point. If I was going to figure out a way to integrate the content from my blog and my store into my own domain, I'd need to make sure that my host could speak their language. The need for Unix/Linux was actually a good thing because hosting on Microsoft servers is always more expensive. Also, the majority of free add-on options that I might want to use down the line (forums, shopping carts, ad servers) run on Unix/Linux systems.
Feeling a little overwhelmed at just how it is that small businesses manage to pick a host out of the gazillion options that are out there, I managed to get my choice narrowed down to three different options.
The Karcher Group - The Karcher Group had recently started offering a low-cost hosting plan for $10 a month. They were setting it up so that companies could pay by PayPal (ideal for online businesses that rely heavily on eBay for their sales) and they promised tight integration of WordPress, a popular blogging tool. Another thing they had going for them was that I knew their staff. This meant I'd probably have an easy time getting through to them if I was having problems.
MOR Designs - Robert, my publisher made this suggestion. He uses MOR Designs to host Small Business Brief and told me that he's able to call up John Bates, the owner, whenever he runs into a problem. MOR Designs was also offering hosting at $10 a month and his package also included WordPress integration, forum software, plenty of email and storage options and automatic backup of my site. The biggest thing they had going for them though was that I knew someone that was familiar with their system, which meant that I could call on a friend, rather than the company, if I ran into problems.
HostDime - This company was suggested to me by Jay Gilmore of SmashingRed Web and Marketing. HostDime was tempting because their monthly hosting plans started at just $6 a month. Even with AdSense, I was still a few dollars short of having the $10 that I needed for other two hosting companies. They also promised c-panel and Fantastico, two offerings that are essential for a non-techie like myself. The down side was that despite the low price, I didn't know anyone at the company and I wasn't sure what type of service or support I was going to end up with.
I decided to wait another day to see if I'd make enough money by Day 8 to be able to afford one of the $10 options.
If You Build it, They Will Come...But Will They Buy?
By day 7, I was a full week into the project and I'd only sold one shirt. This was a little frustrating because I knew that the site was getting traffic. Thanks to the free site stats that I was running through eXTReMe Tracking, I knew that I was averaging almost 200 visitors a day and that that number was going up at a steady pace. The fact that more than a thousand people had found their way to the site and only one of them had purchased anything was really bothering me. That's a conversion rate of less than one tenth of one percent.
I had to remind myself though that the majority of traffic coming to the site was still coming from people that were interested in the 30 day project, not that were really interested in buying pro-breastfeeding shirts. This served as a great reminder of just how important targeted traffic is. I've spoken with a lot of web site owners in the past that were focused on traffic...traffic for the sake of traffic. If this experiment was proving anything so far, it was showing that traffic doesn't really mean anything if it doesn't convert.
That said, I was starting to see some visitors trickle in from sources that looked to be more targeted. My stats showed that a Yahoo! Group for La Leche League leaders had sent some visitors, and the ongoing discussions I was having at BabyCenter were also feeding traffic. Also, it appeared that the site was now being picked up and indexed by MSN because traffic was trickling in from that search engine as well.
Based on my referrer listings I could see that I had gotten traffic from MSN searches for "breastfeeding humor," "breastfeeding weening," and "breastfeeding t-shirts" which I ranked 6th, 2nd and 1st for respectively. I was a little excited when I saw those rankings, but the reality is that I have no idea how many people search for those phrases. Normally I would go look things up in Wordtracker, but I couldn't use my existing account without breaking the "no money" rules.
Still, word was spreading about the project among the blog world and that made it more likely that it would eventually find its way in front of another lactivist that might spread the word among my target audience. Anita Campbell, who had blogged about the project earlier in the week, submitted the article series to the Carnival of Capitalists. Jay Gilmore, who made some hosting suggestions also covered the article series in his own blog. Finally, I got a good laugh out of a blog post by Enrique Garcia, a California entrepreneur that decided to follow the story because he thought I was "hot." (Nothing gets you through a long day like someone saying you're hot...)
Viral Marketing Really Does Work
The best surprise of the day came in the manner of viral marketing and gigantic possibilities. When I arrived in Youngstown after a long drive from Columbus, I had an email waiting in my inbox from Marc Cowlin, the PR Manager at CafePress. Apparently the CafePress team has the whole online reputation management thing down pat because they have a team of people that scours blogs and forums looking to see what people are saying about CafePress.
One of his team members spotted my article series and passed it his way. Marc thought the idea was pretty interesting and said he'd been enjoying following along. He also wanted to know if it would break my rules of "spend no cash" to have the CafePress PR department pitch the story to some of the media. I pointed out that if it's CafePress that is spending the money, it's not breaking my rules. In reality, it's serving as a fantastic example of just how powerful viral marketing can be. I hadn't approached CafePress, nor had I even considered approaching it. CafePress has about 1.8 million shops online and about 750,000 shop keepers. I really never dreamed that they would have any interest in talking to the crazy lactivist that was putting it all out there for the world to see.
Apparently I was wrong.
Stay tuned for day eight to find out what comes of the CafePress call and what Grant Hospital had to say about me teaming up with The Mother's Milk Bank of Ohio on another public relations campaign. You'll also see if I managed to not only select a host, but to design and build a web site to get online in time for any news stories that might be coming down the pike.
Jump to Day eight.
(Want to read the entire 30 Day article series at once? Download the free 30 Day ebook!)
November 16, 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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