February 28, 2008, 12:00 AM

Mixed bag of marketing drives sales up 45% at ShoppersChoice.com

Sales at ShoppersChoice.com LLC are up 45% so far this year, following year-over-year growth of 51% to $13.9 million in 2007, CEO Mike Hackley says. He attributes growth largely to a search and video marketing strategy tied to niche markets.

Sales at ShoppersChoice.com LLC are up 45% so far this year compared to the same period last year, following year-over-year growth of 51% to $13.9 million in 2007, CEO Mike Hackley says. He attributes growth largely to a search and video marketing strategy tied to niche markets.

“Last year we built a few niche sites, and our conversions went through the roof,” Hackley tells Internet Retailer. While visitor-to-sales conversion rates for some products might be under 1% on ShoppersChoice.com, the rates for the same products have often tripled or more on a separate niche site, he says.

That was the case last year with the retailer’s new EggGuys.com, a specialty site for selling charcoal grills under the Big Green Egg brand. Made of ceramic and designed to quickly produce high heat and support a full range of cooking styles, the grills are featured in several online videos that describe their features and how to use them. “They converted at less than 1% on ShoppersChoice.com, but went to 3-4% on EggGuys.com,” Hackley says.

ShoppersChoice, No. 436 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, also operates a handful of other sites, including its long-running BBQGuys.com and two niche sites launched last year, AllMailBoxes.com and UltimatePatio.com. “We plan to have 20 more niche sites this year,” Hackley says.

Hackley identifies market niches by identifying interesting products at trade shows, then researches through Google the volume of Internet searches and clickthrough rates on keywords related to a particular product. Then it figures what it could expect to realize in number of clicks on selected keywords and applies an estimated average purchase price on clickthroughs to identify a market niche worth serving with a dedicated retail web site. That strategy led to the launch of AllMailBoxes.com and UltimatePatio.com, Hackley says.

Hackley launches his new sites with paid-search campaigns, but then scales back the pay-per-click search campaigns as the sites attract more visitors through natural search, he adds. One way he builds natural search traffic is through extensive use of online product videos-one Big Green Egg grill alone has five videos on its product page-which he also distributes through YouTube.com and MySpace.com.

In addition, ShoppersChoice has hired a marketing professional who spends a good part of his time managing paid-search campaigns and reducing overall spending on search marketing. “We build our sites around organic search optimization,” Hackley says. “When we launch, we do primarily paid search, but then get it down to about 50-50 combination of paid and natural search.”

Having a full-time search marketing expert on staff, compared to a former outsourcing search marketing management arrangement, has slashed overall spending on search marketing, he adds. “We were spending 7-10% of revenue on pay-per-click search marketing, but now spend about 4%,” he says. “We look at every keyword’s performance, and if we’re No. 1 in natural search and spending too much on paid search, we’ll take out some paid keywords. So we need someone spending full time looking at keywords.”

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