The Not-So Dog Days of Summer for the E-Commerce SEO

The retail e-commerce calendar is so compressed and focused on the October-to-December selling season that summertime is site development time. Any site enhancements, redesigns and relaunches must be completed with adequate time for testing and rollout before the critical autumn selling season.

e-commerceFor many businesses and individuals, summer is a time for vacations and refreshment while the weather is good and extended school vacations open up time for family time. In my almost 20 years of working with e-commerce sites, I have yet to find that summertime is time when the living is slow and easy. The retail e-commerce calendar is so compressed and focused on the October-to-December selling season that summertime is site development time. Any site enhancements, redesigns and relaunches must be completed with adequate time for testing and rollout before the critical autumn selling season. This usually means that August and September are very busy for organic SEOs, with clients making significant changes to their sites for the upcoming holiday season.

The amount of work that the SEO must be involved in depends largely on how extensive the changes are. For example, a reskinning of the site without any fundamental changes may require just a brief review. Implementing a new architecture or platform takes substantially more SEO time and resources. Unfortunately, it is humans who develop sites, and humans make mistakes when they rush or are distracted. I’d like to share a couple of small human errors that had big consequences. They were all created by hurrying to meet a deadline.

First, the Site Must Be Indexed

With Google’s advanced technology, site indexing is no longer the wait-and-see game it was years ago. With a combination of site maps and the tools made available to Webmasters, it is virtually impossible – unless you are on vacation and not watching the tools – to pull off the stunt a client of mine did some years ago. I was called in to help solve a problem. The problem articulated during the sales cycle was simply: “Please, SEO, answer why my lovely new site has no traffic from search?” The answer was very simple. It took me just a few minutes to figure out that in the excitement to launch the new site, someone had forgotten to remove the small line of code in the robots.txt file that warned the spider not to traverse the site while it was under development. This simple oversight was costing the company both revenue and momentum during the run-up to the selling season. Even though development and testing environments have come a long way since this incident occurred, it points up how easy it is to make a small mistake that has consequences.

Second, Get Dirty With the Code

Among my many hobbies is gardening, and I love to dig in the dirt. Organic SEO requires that you dig in the code as vigorously as you might dig in a garden. This is particularly important when a site undergoes major changes. Again, it is the little things that can create havoc. One client launched a major new section to the site and complained that in the early stages when business was up, the new section just wasn’t performing, particularly in search. Again, a quick look revealed that someone, another pesky human, had failed to implement the analytics tracking codes on the new section. After the codes were added, it quickly became obvious that the new section was, in fact, performing outstandingly well. These and many other similar incidents have made me very cautious about sites making changes during the summer. My mantra for site changes is: Review the code, watch the changes and don’t go on vacation when the site is about to launch or relaunch.

Creative Cage Match: Summer Lovin’ Edition

Happy [Belated] First Day of Summer! Time to break out the water wings and SPF 1,000 and enjoy the weather while it lasts. And like any good marketers worth their salt would do, I received a handful of summer-themed emails in my inbox yesterday.

There’s a reason that pro-wrestling is so popular — and it’s not just the juicy drama and bespangled costumes. People love a good fight, and have for millennia, dating back to the gladiators of Rome and beyond.

So, once a month I’m going to select two marketers and toss them into a Creative Cage Match. I’ll be looking at everything ranging from email to direct mail, website to mobile site. It’ll be a mix of objective and subjective, and each time a marketer will walk out of the ring triumphantly.

First Day of SummerHappy [Belated] First Day of Summer! Time to break out the water wings and SPF 1,000 and enjoy the weather while it lasts. And like any good marketers worth their salt would do, I received a handful of summer-themed emails in my inbox yesterday.

In this corner, we have Caviar from Square, Inc. which allows participating restaurants to add delivery service. For consumers in select cities, Caviar enables hungry diners to order either online or via their smartphones from some of their favorite sit-down restaurants. Real-time GPS tracking is provided, so you can keep an eye on your food as you wait for it arrive. And who doesn’t love seeing the bike couriers with the bright orange Caviar packs zipping around the city?

Across the ring we have Designer Shoe Warehouse, better known as DSW to shoe fanatics (cough, cough). DSW operates brick-and-mortar retail locations, as well as an online site, and rewards its shoe lovers with a popular loyalty program.

Email vs. Email

I wanted to see just what these two marketers could come up with in reference to the first day of summer and the sunny months that will follow. Let’s start with DSW:

DSW summer email part 1 DSW summer email part 2DSW kicks off its subject line with the sunshine emoji (appropriate), reading: “☀️Hey, summer! $15.95 & up sandals for the new season.” I need another pair of sandals like I need a hole in my head, but $15.95 and up caught my thrifty shopper’s eye.

Much like last month’s Creative Cage Match competitor ModCloth, DSW plays around with flamingo lawn ornament images, as well as brightly colored sandals. However, I was a little disappointed when I found that, despite clicking on a particular sandal in the image, I just went to the “flip flop and beach sandals” category page.

While the images all looked fantastic and summery and the subject line definitely caught my eye, I felt like the actual content of the email left me hanging. And I wouldn’t call a “flip-flop” a sandal …

My Summer Reading List Includes Facts About Direct Mail

The “dog days” of summer are about to end, so I’d better wrap up my summer reading fast. Of course, my summer reading list really is my only opportunity to delve into those volumes of research that have been accumulating, that I’ve been meaning to get to, that I really should be on top of

The “dog days” of summer are about to end, so I’d better wrap up my summer reading fast. Of course, my summer reading list really is my only opportunity to delve into those volumes of research that have been accumulating, that I’ve been meaning to get to, that I really should be on top of … to be the best professional I can be … but I just can’t shoehorn the time because of daily demands.

Thankfully, the Direct Marketing Association’s “Statistical Fact Book 2014” has provided me with invaluable Cliff Notes. The team there has done some surfing and sifting for me and my readers.

For example, did you know?

  • In 2013, direct mail spending in U.S. reached $44 billion, while teleservices topped $41 billion. Digital media spend (search, display, other) came in at $44.2 billion (Winterberry Group, 2013). Talk about a direct marketing triumvirate!
  • While today might not be the “Golden Era of response rates,” some marketers—such as retailers—are seeing dramatically higher response to their direct mail than in the 1980s (USPS Household Diary Study, 2013).
  • Also according to the USPS Household Diary Study, those earning $65K per year or more evaluate their mail “useful,” “will read” or “will respond”—up virtually across the board when compared to 1987.
  • According to DMA’s own research, cost-per-order and cost-per-lead costs for direct mail are in line with print and pay-per-click, not all that more than email, and significantly less than telemarketing. I’ve always maintained that those few pieces of direct mail are marketing gold when compared to the 5,000 ad messages we’re exposed to each and every day.
  • Who’s your best customer, USPS? According to the USPS Revenue, Pieces and Weight by Class of Mail and Special Services, direct mail accounted for 39.9 percent of total mail volume in 1990—and topped a record 56.2 percent in 2013.
  • Catalog mail volume actually increased in 2013 to reach 11.9 billion—the first recorded increase since 2006.
  • Yet there’s less overall competition to worry about in the mailbox: Households received an average 8.9 pieces of Standard Mail per week in 2012—down from 13.8 pieces in 2008. That seems like an opportunity for any brand that wants to have a high-touch engagement.

I’m a multichannel, integrated marketing fan. But sometimes in our digital, mobile age we forget, or overlook, or even dismiss the value of printed communication in the mailbox. I’ve been busy reading my mail these summer months, too.

Season’s Greetings!

Perhaps like me, you love summer and all it entails: longer days, outdoor play, flip-flop casualness, patio grilling, hummingbirds, wildflowers and a beachy attitude (even here in the midst of the Rocky Mountains). As a greeting card from artist Renee Reese playfully reminded me, the summer season is nearing its end. Rather than bemoan its passing, why not spend some time with your brand leaders reflecting on these questions.

Perhaps like me, you love summer and all it entails: longer days, outdoor play, flip-flop casualness, patio grilling, hummingbirds, wildflowers and a beachy attitude (even here in the midst of the Rocky Mountains). As a greeting card from artist Renee Reese playfully reminded me, the summer season is nearing its end. Rather than bemoan its passing, why not spend some time with your brand leaders reflecting on these questions:

Has your brand taken full advantage of this season’s learnings? For companies like Ben & Jerry’s, these 100 days from Memorial Day to Labor Day are the company’s prime ice cream selling days. For back-to-school retailers like Bed, Bath and Beyond and Staples, the late summer proves to be a mini-Christmas. Nordstrom’s annual Anniversary Sale in July/August is highly anticipated by its customers and gives the company a retail boost that most of their competitors won’t see until the fourth quarter. Even if your peak selling seasons don’t fall in this timeframe and your brand braces itself for the dog days of summer, it still can be a quietly productive time of the year. What did your brand do differently these past 100 days to help strengthen your customer engagement for the next 100? What more did you learn about your customers’ lives and pain points that will enhance your service levels and enrich your product development efforts?

If indeed this is a quieter season for your brand, why not literally get out of your office, away from your devices and take your leaders on a Brand Vacation day to explore and learn from what other companies in noncompetitive industries are doing? Go to a gardening center and see how the owners entice their customers to keep coming back for more plants and flowers all summer long. Go to a new restaurant in your town and see just what the trendy new chef is cooking up to lure patrons to this establishment. Go to a store in the midst of back-to-school madness and see how it organizes and promotes each school’s necessities for the kids and parents. Go to any enthusiast-specific retailer (camping, cooking, beauty, hardware) and see what impulse items they are selling to their brand fans. Gather back together and relax over a summer cocktail and talk about these field trip learnings and their potential impact and inspiration for your brand.

For many of my clients, taking time to pause, to play and to embrace a different pace—if even for an afternoon—is something that falls off the urgency-driven to do list. However, as Stephen Covey reminds us, it is just this kind of important time that refreshes and reenergizes your team and prompts new thinking.

After reflecting on these questions with your team, why not construct your own summer season greeting card to tuck away for next year as a reminder to embrace these 100 days fully?

PS If you’d like to order this handmade card, you can find it here on Etsy.

Linger Longer: A Branding Imperative

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” wrote Henry James. I couldn’t agree more. I just love summer. Summer is the time for a new speed. For sauntering and slowing down. For purposefully stretching those extra long afternoons into all sorts of pleasurable outdoor activities like gardening or grilling or just unscheduled hammock time. For three- or four-day long weekends spent with family and friends or just catching up with yourself. For easy everything.

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” wrote Henry James. I couldn’t agree more. I just love summer. Summer is the time for a new speed. For sauntering and slowing down. For purposefully stretching those extra long afternoons into all sorts of pleasurable outdoor activities like gardening or grilling or just unscheduled hammock time. For three- or four-day long weekends spent with family and friends or just catching up with yourself. For easy everything.

I think brands have a lesson to learn from this time of the year. Summer is the season that encourages lingering. Brands that consciously create space and time for customers to linger within their brand experience win their hearts. Grant it, sometimes you want to dash into a store (or website), hunt down your purchase and leave promptly. Other times, a store, a site, an atmosphere is so compelling you want to linger and linger and linger some more.

Terrain is one of those kinds of places. It’s part of the Urban Outfitters family of creative retailers whose stated goal is “to offer a product assortment and an environment so compelling and distinctive that the customer feels an empathetic connection to the brand and is persuaded to buy.”

Terrain was designed purposefully for leisurely strolls through all its “mini-terrains”—eclectic little rooms and areas that beckon customers with all sorts of indoor-outdoor lifestyle products the company hopes you’ll find irresistible. The merchant has waved its magic fairy dust over everything: meals, merchandise assortments and even Web copy to create a menagerie you want to somehow recreate in your own life.

Terrain has elevated lingering to an art form with experiential pauses built into its brand DNA. Both stores have delicious “farm-to-table” restaurants that encourage spontaneous long lunches and Sunday brunches, as well as scheduled events and workshops. Here’s the invitation the Terrain restaurant in Glen Mills, Pa. puts forth:

Share our local, organic meals with close family and friends as you create lasting memories in our charming antique greenhouse. Taking your personal style, interpreting it by our talented culinary team, and presenting it all in our horticultural setting, we’ll create a truly unique experience for you and your guests. We work tirelessly to craft an environment that aesthetically and gastronomically reflects the cycle of the seasons.

President Wendy McDevitt shared this in a Bloomberg interview: “Customers typically spend 1.5 hours browsing Terrain and that can double to three hours if they’re visiting the café and shopping between glasses of wine or lunch. The one thing you can’t get in the cyberworld is the tactile experience and that won’t go away.”

Lingering happens online as well as you stroll through their three main categories with simple teasers like Garden + Outdoor, House + Home, Jewelry + Accessories. Spend time on Terrain’s site and you’ll want to know more about Branches + Bunches or what’s in The Reading Room or what Wanderlust is all about. You are enticed by the plus and you aren’t disappointed. The Bulletin, Terrain’s eclectic, informative blog is like a gardening class, cooking class, landscaping class, and artist date all rolled into one lovely scroll you can’t help but linger on.

Does your overall product experience invite lingering? Is it a sensory, tactile experience? What unusual product assortment combinations might you create to entice your customers to linger longer within your brand?

Two Summer Must Dos: Play and Play On!

It’s August. Have you taken any time this summer to play in your brand? To even play at all? Remember the days when you didn’t need a reminder to play? When, as a child, you just may have left the house for hours at a time and rode your bike or played kickball or went to the pool or beach or woods or played Monopoly or read under a tree. Long stretches of time went by without schedules, watches, computers, without anything at all plugged in around us. You certainly didn’t need to be told to set up a play date. Playing came as naturally as breathing.

It’s August. Have you taken any time this summer to play in your brand? To even play at all? Remember the days when you didn’t need a reminder to play? When, as a child, you just may have left the house for hours at a time and rode your bike or played kickball or went to the pool or beach or woods or played Monopoly or read under a tree. Long stretches of time went by without schedules, watches, computers, without anything at all plugged in around us. You certainly didn’t need to be told to set up a play date. Playing came as naturally as breathing.

Nowadays, there are serious adult-level articles, books and TED talks encouraging us to play. Experts from the fields of research, creativity, management, innovation, medical, education and human relations all want us to set up play dates. They want us to take play seriously. They remind us how important it is to unplug and unwind. To detach. To disconnect. To pause and be. To give our multifunctioning, always-on brains a rest. These experts nudge us a step further and call play a necessity. A must do for long-term vitality, for peak performance. Samuel Johnson believed, “All intellectual improvement arises from leisure.”

We don’t quite believe it. Or, we believe it but we think it’s for everyone else but us. Or we nod and agree and think yes, it is valuable for us, but we just can’t get to it right now … and then right now becomes three months from now which becomes six months from now … which becomes well, like never, not this year!

Play
Perhaps we need a permission slip … a permission slip not to read or listen or intellectualize about play but to actually play. To catch up with our souls, to feed our imaginations, to simply rest and be. DO IT! Mark some days off to be totally off. Soon. This month! Then do something not related to business at all. Whatever that brings you joy. Do it all slowly. Let the work brain rest. No business books, articles, videos. Nap. Stroll. Wander. Daydream. Journal. Paint. The “whatever” does not matter. What matters is actually doing it. And soon matters. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “It is a happy talent to know how to play.”

We must develop this talent so that we will have the capacity to …

Play On!
Our business lives are demanding. Brand leaders must be on their A games day in and day out. Without recharging our batteries, we may get winded … or worse … we may lose our passion. There comes a time when we might need a reminder to keep in the game, to play on. Missy Park, Founder of Title Nine, knows the value of staying in the game. Take a peek at the letter of encouragement she recently shared with her customers:

So, before this summer wraps up, give yourself a gift: take some time to play. There’ll be plenty of time to play on soon enough!

Marketing Interns—The Uncle Sam Scam

Last summer, my college-age son was lucky enough to land a summer internship at a manufacturing company in Southern California. Considering there were over 100 applicants, he was thrilled to have been selected for a position where he could demonstrate his newly learned marketing skills. And as a college Junior, he was excited with the promise of full-time employment upon graduation. He started the job with relish, and 4 and a half months later went back to college feeling on top of the world.

Last summer, my college-age son was lucky enough to land a summer internship at a manufacturing company in Southern California. Considering there were over 100 applicants, he was thrilled to have been selected for a position where he could demonstrate his newly learned marketing skills. And as a college junior, he was excited with the promise of full-time employment upon graduation. He started the job with relish, and 4 and a half months later went back to college feeling on top of the world.

So he was stunned when he discovered this week that there was NOT a full-time position available to him this summer. Instead, he was offered a part-time, minimum wage position with, again, the promise of potential full-time employment at the end of the summer.

When he pushed back and suggested that his long hours last summer meant he had already been “trained” and could hit the ground running and therefore it might entitle him to a little bit more than minimum wage, he was told that he should consider himself “lucky” to have the part-time job offered to him when last year over 50 applicants applied for the open position. In other words, this organization has no strategy in place to hire, train, and groom future employees. Instead, they hide behind a summer internship as a way to get free labor for the summer, lower their overhead expenses and avoid paying Uncle Sam for payroll and other taxes.

While I realize my sons’ experience may be the exception, I was disgusted by this company’s behavior and wondered how many other organizations build and run internship programs properly (and with good intention)?

Internships are a way to give back to our youth—to help them take their text-book based learning and put it into action. And it’s a chance for us, as employers, to invest in the future of our business.

Thinking of leveraging an internship program for your business? Consider these 3 business rules:

1. Establish Clear Program Objectives
What does your company hope to gain by hiring an intern? If the answer is “free labor,” you’re on the wrong track. Program objectives might include:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to test their interest in <> before a permanent commitment is made.
  • To help students develop skills in the application of theory to practical work situations.
  • To help students adjust from college to full time employment through the acquisition of good work habits and a sense of responsibility.

2. Develop a Job Description
Just as you need to create job descriptions for any full- or part-time employee, interns need a job description in order to help you and the entire organization understand expectations. Since misaligned expectations often lead to conflict, it’s important to make sure your intern is set up for a successful experience. That means everyone needs to be on the same page as to the responsibilities of the position. (I’ve been part of an organization that used their interns as the “go-fer” and the interns spent their time scurrying back and forth to Starbucks … not exactly the marketing experience they expected when they were hired.)

3. Create Feedback Mechanisms
If you’re truly trying to help your interns have a positive learning experience, then you must provide them with feedback—and on a regular basis. Once they start, you need to train and keep training by encouraging questions (and lots of them), providing explicit instructions so they can get it right the first time, and by stepping back and delivering a bigger picture around the task at hand to help put it all into perspective.

Let me also add that you should never assume any kind of baseline office knowledge from your interns. We recently discovered that the youngest member of our staff (a 2012 marketing grad) didn’t know how to use several pieces of office equipment. It never occurred to us that making Xerox copies, sending a fax or adjusting a printer setting from “portrait” to “landscape” were skills we had gained through years of employment and were not a natural part of the knowledge base of a 22-year old!

And if you’re reading this, work for a company based in San Diego, are looking to hire a bright and determined college grad from a not-so-inexpensive UC school with heavy experience in teaching kids how to surf, just let me know. Oh, and it should include a paycheck.