March 21, 2013, 10:16 AM

An online pharmacy cures its content ailments

Pharmaca improves site search by connecting its off-site blog to its e-commerce site.

Lead Photo

A screenshot of Pharmaca's blog

Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, a multichannel retailer of traditional and homeopathic medicine and health products, found it easier to organize and create articles with extensive information about its products on a WordPress blog rather than using the content management system built into its e-commerce site, says Laura Coblentz, the retailer’s vice president of marketing and innovation. Over about a decade, it built up hundreds of articles on WordPress, she says. But posting all that content on an off-site blog meant the retailer couldn’t leverage it to improve site search results on Pharmaca.com or the e-retailer’s position in search engine results.

To address those problems, Pharmaca asked its e-commerce software provider, UniteU Technologies Inc. last fall to integrate the functionality of its off-site blog, called “Project Wellness Resource Center,” with its e-commerce site. UniteU essentially created a custom content management system for Pharmaca based on its blog, Coblentz says; Pharmaca staffers still add blog content through a WordPress interface, but the content goes to the e-commerce site rather than to a separate web site. Customers can now read and easily search through blog content while they’re on Pharmaca.com, she says.

The custom integration also maintains the functionality of the WordPress RSS feed, to which 2,500 customers have subscribed—meaning the roughly two articles Pharmaca posts to the blog each week appear automatically in subscribers’ RSS readers, she says. It also maintains the blog’s search functionality on the e-commerce site. Customers can browse articles by time, author or topic, Coblentz says. They can also select “articles” or “products” to search the site for those results specifically. “We didn’t have a mechanism to do that on our web site before,” Coblentz says.

For example, the retailer has multiple blog articles on the “homeopathic remedies for asthma,”—not a standard product category, she says, but certainly a topic for the blog. Customers can now find both products and articles related to that category by searching for those terms through the site’s search box.

Pharmaca previously tried to get around the problem of having so much off-site content by creating an on-site “education center” that linked to blog articles. But its search functionality did not provide enough depth for customers with detailed queries and it returned inconsistent results, Coblentz says. “It was difficult for customers to access and find the content—it just wasn’t as well organized as it is in the blog.” she says. “Plus, the blog has an RSS feed and a home page feed with the most recently posted articles right there.”

Since integrating the blog with the main e-commerce site, sales of products featured in the blog have increased 20-25%, she says. Though she can’t attribute that boost directly to the integration, she says she’s sure the increased accessibility of the content—which shows up under the blog tab, in article searches and in a “related content” sidebar in product searches—has contributed to more sales.

And, because that content is now on Pharmaca.com, Coblentz says that in the coming weeks she expects to see a lift in natural search rankings as Pharmaca adds more of the hundreds of existing articles from the old blog to the e-commerce site. “We know it’s an important way people get to our site—it’s a top traffic driver,” she says. Pharmaca pushes traffic to its e-commerce site by sharing blog content through an RSS feed, e-mails and other marketing, she says. 

Pharmaca pays $4,000 per month for UniteU to provide its e-commerce platform over the Internet and the custom integration cost about $5,000, Coblentz says. Pharmaca has annual revenue of about $100 million, she says, declining to say how much of that comes from e-commerce. Overall, UniteU has been “very cost-effective,” she says.

Pharmaca, which also operates 24 physical stores in the western United States, is No. 939 in the Internet Retailer Second 500 Guide.

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