Archive for the ‘google analytics’ Category

We’re BAAACK!!!

October 21, 2008

We’ve been busy the past 6 months growing and expanding our online marketplace at and although we continue to be busy (especially with the holiday season only a few weeks away), we are excited to share with you some of the things we’re doing on this blog. We’ll be posting in the next few days, so check back! Thanks.


Update: search or “pay to play”

October 10, 2007

We posted on December 17, 2006 (6 weeks after we launched our online marketplace) that to drive customers to our site and create brand and product awareness, we wanted to be included in the major search engines and to advertise both online and offline. However, because Google did not rank us (at that time) in the top 1000 results for several of our keywords, including espresso cups, cappuccino cups and fondue pots, we decided to participate in “sponsored search”. We were aware that sponsored search is expensive and our early experience indicated sponsored search resulted in primarily low quality visits. So we asked the question: “Should we be patient and wait until we move up in the Google search results, or do we continue to spend on the Google Adwords program knowing that it doesn’t bring quality visits, product sales or even long-term customer relationships?”

We’re pleased to provide an update. The two screenshots below show that as of today, Google organic search ranks our website in the top 15 results (middle of page 2) for espresso cups (2,350,000 results) and top 20 results (bottom half of page 2) for cappuccino cups (1,940,000 results). For fondue pots (1,580,000 results), we rank in the top 90 results (bottom of page 9).



To achieve this impressive keyword ranking on Google, we have continued to improve the search friendliness of our website as per the earlier post and we have been very patient. We worked and waited almost 12 months!

To improve the site, we have focused especially on page layout using Divs rather than tables (whenever possible – obviously for tabular data, tables make perfect sense) and ensuring that the site uses valid HTML and is CSS compliant. For example, it does matter where your content with keywords is on the page. If you use CSS and have column layouts, the search engines read left to right and top to bottom and give more weighting to content that appears on the top left vs. the bottom right. Also, the search engines cannot read images so you should use alt tags that contain keywords. HTML validation and CSS standards do impact on search rankings, i.e. it is important to understand that search bots that crawl your site are “blind” and do not visualize your site but instead “read” your HTML markup. Bad HTML or unecessary or messy code will negatively impact your ranking. Good HTML like using tags for titles will help Google boost the importance of the title (useful if the title contains your keywords). Using Div tags to lay out your pages rather than tables will help the search bot “read” your page faster because there is less “clutter”, which will also improve your ranking.

You can find advice and tools that should help you to structure your site at Also read Google’s FAQ for webmasters and Google’s Webmaster blog with great advice and news about coming features.

The key (pardon the pun) now is to maintain those search rankings. Our competitors can view our keyword rank and keyword usage using a variety of online tools. We are redesigning our navigation to use a pure CSS based navigation bar, instead of the current navigation bar based on HTML tables, javascript and jpg image files (although we do use alt tags). We’ll post about that later.

Search or “pay to play”

December 17, 2006

To drive customers to our site and create brand and product awareness, we wanted to be included in the major search engines and to advertise both online and offline.

There is plenty of SEO (search engine optimization) research explaining how Google, Yahoo and MSN crawl the web to find and index sites. We have read a lot of it, and we advise “buyer beware”.  Some SEO companies profess to know the Google search algorithm and for either an upfront fee or a monthly charge will “optimize” your site for search listings. A few of these SEO companies promise (or even “guarantee”) a top 5 search result for your site (meaning your site will show up in the first 5 listings when someone searches for a keyword like “coffee” or “fondue”). Website owners complain because they are not listed for several months despite tremendous efforts to optimize their site for search listings. In response, SEO experts claim that Google “sandboxes” (excludes from search results) new websites for 6-9 months.  Many sites set up so-called link farms that contain nothing but links from other sites to their site because search engines will improve the page rank (which position in search results a site will appear on) if the site has a lot of incoming (and outgoing) links. Exchanging links with other sites is not an option for us because we do not want our site to contain dozens of links and banner ads, nor do we want to engage in the dubious practice of setting up other sites as link farms that would point to our main site.

In order for us to achieve our short-term goal of a search listing on the first three pages with the major search engines, we had to focus on website best practices, including: good site layout, easy to navigate (no broken navigation paths/links internal to the site), relevant and constantly updated content, well-structured home page, simple file structure with appropriate naming convention, sufficient (but not overstuffing) keywords in titles and text, some incoming links, clean and lean code, tags on images, a file (robots.txt) specifying for the search bots what they should and should not crawl and index.

In the short term we decided to participate in “sponsored” search until we would appear in the organic search results.  Sponsored search is the practice of bidding on and paying for relevant keywords and waiting until customers click on our ad that appears adjacent to search results for that keyword. In November, our first month of operation, we spent about $500 on sponsored search at around $0.50 per click on average per keyword (or about 1000 clicks). Given the click-through rate was somewhere around 2%, that represents 50,000 searches for our chosen keywords in one month while our sponsored search was “turned on” (there were days/times we turned it off because we did not believe we would attract the target demographic or visits would be low quality).  Here’s what we got: for the Google Adwords program (sponsored search), average pageviews per visit was 1.75, compared to 3.8 p/v for Google organic search (more than twice as high), and 4.15 p/v for direct visits (users who accessed our URL directly).  The Google Adwords referred visits are not what one would consider quality visits.  And the Google Adwords program generated few sales for us.

During November and December, we improved content, added features and optimized the website to make it more “search engine friendly”.  Several search bots index our site daily (including Google, Inktomi/Yahoo, and MSN) and we monitor our progress closely.  As of the date of this post, Google does not rank us in the top 1000 search results for several of our keywords, including espresso cups, cappuccino cups and fondue pots.  MSN ranks us in the top 5 for cappuccino cups, top 10 for espresso cups, and top 12 for fondue pots. Even when adjusting for the fact that MSN indexes fewer sites than Google (345,000 search results for cappuccino cups vs. Google’s 1.3 million), it still does not explain why MSN ranks us and Google does not.

So should we be patient and wait until we move up in the Google search results, or do we continue to spend on the Google Adwords program knowing that it doesn’t bring quality visits, product sales or even long-term customer relationships?

Catering to different user behavior

December 15, 2006

One of the key design objectives for the website was to provide several different ways for users to browse/search the site. Although at present our site is not large, it is important to recognize that different users will navigate a website in different ways and therefore the site should cater to different user behavior. Equally important is to make any page on the site easily and quickly accessible. We did that in several ways:

  • Horizontal navigation bar with two levels
  • Contextual links embedded in text
  • List related items in right side column – items are clickable
  • Integrate a site search engine above the navigation bar
  • Minimize number of clicks to reach any page (max. 3)
  • Optimize page load speeds
  • We are using several free “web statistics” tools to track and learn about user behavior to continuously improve the user experience (our site does not collect any personal information about users unless explicitly stated, e.g. to enable the shopping cart). One of these tools, Google Analytics, allows website owners to track and analyze how users enter, navigate and exit the site, what content they view, how long they spend on the site, whether they return, and if they transact on the site. Note: Google Analytics is absolutely free, and can be used with or without Google Adwords or any other marketing/advertising campaign. It does require you to copy and paste a code snippet on every page you wish to track. Goggle Analytics is a fantastic analytical tool, but our assessment is that it is a works-in-progress (Google doesn’t label it “beta” but probably should) and some of the stats deviate more than expected from Awstats and Webalizer.

    We also would like to explain our thoughts about site search. You may question site search for a small site, but we thought that if someone came to our site looking for red cappuccino cups or yellow dinner plates, they may be more inclined to type the search phrase into a search engine rather than using the navigation bar. Or they may be looking for a cheese fondue recipe or how to make a caffe latte, in which case they may again prefer to search. Our decision to incorporate site search was also based on implementation cost (license fee plus time to integrate and configure). We found Wrensoft’s Zoom search engine to be the answer. A free version (with no advertising) is available for small websites up to 50 pages. For larger websites, you can purchase either the standard version ($49) professional version ($99) or the enterprise version ($299). Zoom is easy to install, configure and maintain (ours was up and running in about 30 minutes) and runs on javascript, PHP, ASP or CGI. It is capable of full text searching of static and dynamic files (including PDF and Flash). And it supports foreign language search. You can modify the CSS and seamlessly integrate Zoom into your site (e.g., add to the navigation bar). The search algorithm is open and configurable for the experienced programmer. The search results page is configurable, and we included a quick shopping cart at the top of the search results page. Wrensoft has just released version 5.0 of Zoom. All in all a great package!