Real Small Business, Real Big Ideas – The Carrie D. Mader Project Part 3

 In parts one and two of this series, I gave readers some background on upscale jewelry designer Carrie D Mader and the challenges being faced by both her and our team of volunteer marketing consultants. Today we’ll be looking at one of the biggest obstacles to face small business owners, delving into plans for updating and upgrading Carrie’s web site content and exploring the crashing reality that often comes with these types of projects.

A Common Small Business Stumbling Block

The concept that sort of launched this entire project was the problem that small business owners have in finding a good, quality consultant or company to work with. Carrie’s situation was no exception…she had already dealt with being told that she needed to fire her programmer simply because her programmer had no background in SEO.

One of the particular challenges that the entire team had in tackling Carrie’s site was the fact that the site was built using MIVA Merchant. It’s a common e-commerce platform for small business owners because it’s affordable and offers a quick and fairly easy out of the box solution. Add in the fact that it can be customized using any of a number of “modules” and you’ve got a pretty decent option for small business owners on a budget. The problem was, none of the staff of volunteers I’d compiled had much experience with MIVA Merchant, so we had a few questions that we needed to get worked out before moving forward.

First and foremost, there was the issue of log file tracking. Carrie was using a leased copy of MIVA Merchant and a shared SSL certificate from her host. That meant that when users entered the shopping cart, they moved from her web site (www.carriedmader.com) to a subdomain on the host’s web site (carriedmader.hostcompany.com). When that happened, we “lost” the user in the log files because they were no longer on Carrie’s site. That meant that we had no way to track conversion rates or ROI, a huge stumbling block whenever you’re trying to move forward with a new marketing campaign.

Matt Bailey, our log file whiz, suggested that the fastest way to solve this problem would be to add in a custom “thank you” as a landing page. A lot of e-commerce packages that take users off-site for checkout will allow the site owner to “direct” a user back to a specific page after the transaction has been completed. Since this final landing page can be a special URL back on the main web site, it can be a great way to keep track of the number of sales in the log files. It’s certainly not the ideal way to do things as it leaves you unable to match the sale with the point of entry, but it does give SOME ability to do some tracking.

The problem, again, was that we weren’t sure where to go in MIVA to try and set this up. In fact, we weren’t even positive that this was possible.

Enter small business nightmare #1…the “expert” that is difficult to work with. Back when I’d made my initial post asking for emails from people interested in either being featured or in pitching in as consultants, I’d received an email from someone stating that they were the “world’s leading expert on search engine optimization and marketing for the MIVA Merchant shopping cart.” Since we now found ourselves in a situation where we could really use the help of someone that intimately knew the MIVA system, I replied to this person’s email and asked them to step aboard for this particular project.

Unfortunately it didn’t take long for us to realize that although this expert certainly knew the ins and outs of the MIVA system, he wasn’t able to clearly communicate with the team in a way that any of us could understand. In fact, we even ended up passing his emails along to some friends in the hosting and analytics industries and they couldn’t really decipher his suggestions either. That left us wasting tons of time and energy going in circles as we tried to explain our problem, received a “solution” and then wrote back to explain why the solution wasn’t taking into account the actual problem that we were running into.

After more than a week of run-around via emails that went nowhere, we ended up severing ties with the expert in order to try and get the project moving again. Ironically, it took just a single email to Carrie’s current MIVA programmer to get all of our questions answered and to figure out exactly what our next steps needed to be. Lesson learned? Well, several of them…

1.) No matter how brilliant or knowledgeable someone is, they won’t do you a lick of good if they’re not able to communicate with you in a way that you and your team can understand. After all, if our team of experienced marketers couldn’t understand or work with this person, how in the world was your average small business owner going to figure out what they meant?

2.) Even if your current programming staff knows nothing of SEO, analytics or online marketing, that doesn’t mean that you should discount their ability to add to the process. A good programmer can integrate almost any solution simply by being told “we need the site to do X.” Thankfully, Carrie already had an excellent programmer. If we would have trusted in that fact from the beginning, we could have saved ourselves a lot of headaches.

The whole situation served to remind me of two good bits of advice that I’ve heard Matt Bailey give.

It’s not what you say about yourself, it’s what others say about you that makes you an expert.

and…

If you don’t understand what someone is trying to sell you, and they can’t explain it – get someone else who knows that biz and ask them their opinion.

Following both of those tidbits could have saved us all a lot of time and frustrating emails. Especially since within an hour or two of emailing the MIVA programmer that Carrie was already working with, we had our original questions answered and were well on the way to putting a solution in place. This is why personality and rapport can play almost as much of a role as talent and experience when it comes to selecting the marketing team that you wish to work with.

Deciding on Content Direction

While Matt, Carrie and I were busy dealing with log file and hosting drama, Karri Flatla and Carrie were busy trying to work out a plan for future content direction. There were a lot of options on the table, but we were starting to make some excellent progress toward coming up with a plan.

Back in part two of this series we talked about the challenge of balancing the need to build a “Carrie D Mader” image with the need to keep content focused on the customer instead of the site owner. That’s a fine line to walk when you’re trying to create a persona that appeals to the very nature of those customers. After all, how do you invoke the “coolness” of a brand without focusing on the brand or the designer behind it?

One idea that got bounced around between Karri, Carrie and myself came when discussing the type of blog fodder that would be ideal for her site. (Carrie was already planning on having a WordPress blog installed in order to give her a more creative outlet for some of the content on her site, now we simply needed to figure out how best to utilize it.) Karri suggested that since Carrie does a lot of custom design work for brides, and since we wanted to create a “persona” for each piece of jewelry, that it might be a good idea to blog the story of each bride that she did a custom piece for. She could share some insight into why she and the bride chose to use the materials and style that they did, and could even post an image of the bride on her wedding day. Not only would this appeal to her bridal audience, but it would also serve as great link bait, since few brides with personal blogs or wedding pages at sites like TheKnot.com would be able to resist linking to “their” story on a site like Carrie’s.

Other ideas for blog content included the almost infinite possibilities that came with writing about the different materials that Carrie uses in designing her pieces. Blog posts about things like why white gold is preferable to silver, or what makes smokey topaz different from regular old topaz would serve to educate her customers while also giving her a chance to capture quite a bit of long tail search traffic. That meant that plans for Carrie’s blog were coming along nicely as we thought of ways to weave together personality and useful information to create a treasure trove of jewelry related content.

With plans for the blog coming nicely into place, we were left with trying to decide how to approach the need for content on the shopping area of the site. As Karri had pointed out early in the process, Carrie’s site was severely lacking in descriptive content for her products, and was also lacking in content on the home page that would quickly let visitors know what type of site they were looking at.

One of Carrie’s selling points is that her jewelry is hand-made using only the best materials including natural gemstones and real metals. Basically, she wanted to replicate the high-end pieces of jewelry that you might find at retail outlets like Neiman-Marcus or Saks, but without the high-end markups. Right now, that message wasn’t really being communicated through the tag line on Carrie’s site, which read:

Chic, Relaxed, Laidback Yet Luxurious.

Sure, Carrie’s jewelry is all of those things, but we needed to find a way to quickly get across the point that were talking very high quality, that isn’t cheap, but also isn’t going to break the bank. That’s left Carrie in a position of tossing around ideas for a new tag line. She’s been emailing with friends, family members and the article team to see what we can collectively come up with.

As for content, after rounds and rounds of emails with Karri and myself, Carrie decided that she’d come up with a plan. Taking a note from the J.Peterman catalog, she decided that she wanted to create a unique persona for each and every piece of jewelry and that she’d do that by creating the CDM “heroine.” Basically, her product descriptions will be written to tie together the life experiences of a Carrie D Mader customer with information about the piece itself. She decided that she would hire a creative friend to put together the initial drafts of each description and would then hire a professional copywriter to edit them and make them a bit more search friendly.

With the creative juices flowing and things plans starting to come together, we realized that we quickly needed to start delving into keyword research so that we could come up with some plan for getting this new content created, optimized and online.

Reality Sets In and Timelines Are Tossed Out

When I originally launched the Real Small Business, Real Big Ideas article series, the concept was to work with one small business owner a month and to outline the plans that I and a handful of consultants could come up with for them. The problem was the more we started to dive into Carrie’s site, the more we realized that wrapping this project up in a month’s time simply wasn’t realistic.

Search Engine Guide readers, especially those that read the 30 day project know that I tend to shy away from doing things half-way, so it shouldn’t really come as a surprise to hear that the team and I quickly decided to expand the project. Sometimes with small business sites it takes time just to get the right things in place to even be able to come up with a plan…so, we’ve decided that we’ll take the time that we need to do things right. That may mean that we’ll be working with Carrie until the end of the year, it may also mean that this series covers a handful of businesses in the next year rather than one a month.

Ultimately though, readers and small business owners alike are going to learn far more from a job done right than from a job done quickly. So, I hope that you’ll continue to stick with us, offer up your input, and find ways to apply these articles to your own marketing efforts.

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