September 28, 2005, 12:00 AM

How BodyBuilding.com pumps up sales by word of mouth marketing

Rather than commit considerable resources to paid search, CEO Ryan DeLuca says BodyBuilding.com will likely generate $48 million in web sales in 2005 using word-of-mouth marketing and other less elaborate programs.

Though it’s rare that a web retailer isn’t devoting at least a portion or, in some cases, all of its advertising budget to search engine marketing, BodyBuilding.com is doing just fine with organic search and other less elaborate marketing tactics.

In fact, BodyBuilding.com, No. 160 in the Internet Retailer Top 400 Guide to Retail Web Sites, expects web sales to reach $48 million in 2005 compared with online sales of $32 million in 2004.

Each day, BodyBuilding.com attracts about 160,000 unique visitors to its site, says CEO Ryan DeLuca. What’s driving traffic–and sales–is an online library of nearly 10,000 articles on health, nutrition, weight training, bodybuilding and other topics. “So far we haven’t done any paid search,” says DeLuca. “We have almost 400 writers, many of whom are experts on their topic, contributing content to the site. We have almost 16,000 pages in the library and adding more all the time. We get good word-of-mouth advertising.”

DeLuca bought the rights to BodyBuilding.com for $20,000 several years ago and turned an interest in both bodybuilding and web development into a full-time e-commerce operation. To market the site, DeLuca depends on organic search and some e-mail marketing.

But the site mainly draws traffic from bodybuilders and others who come to BodyBuilding.com to read articles in the library and then stick around to shop the web store. BodyBuilding.com maintains separate portals for the web store and the library, but depends on products mentioned or reviewed in various articles to spark a reader’s interest in shopping online.

“The site has a very loyal following that use the library and the content written by subject matter experts to make intelligent shopping decisions,” he says. “They will get honest feedback on nutritional products and other merchandise.”

In the future, BodyBuilding.com, which fills about 1,850 orders per day at two distribution centers in Idaho and Florida, will add features such as an online tool for maintaining a training log and a vendor extranet. “They can use the extranet to send us updated product information or download feedback on how their products are selling,” DeLuca says.

But with a loyal following, BodyBuilding.com will continue to use word-of-mouth advertising rather than paid search to drive traffic. “The site is built on the loyalty we have with readers and shoppers,” he says. “We aren’t going to change that.”

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