January 12, 2006, 12:00 AM

firstStreet finds new avenue for building traffic but not ad expenses

Seeking a way to reduce the cost of paid search, firstSreet created StuffTalk.com as a non-e-commerce informational site that boosted traffic 15-fold in its first day.

Seeking a way to reduce the cost of paid search, innovative products retailer firstSreet has created StuffTalk.com as a non-e-commerce informational site that boosted traffic 15-fold in its first day by improving its natural search rankings in Google as well as encouraging direct visits to StuffTalk, Internet marketing manager Daniel Yonts says.

“We launched StuffTalk.com on a Saturday and paid for the 200 people to visit through paid search,” Yonts says. “By Sunday, 3,000 people came, but still only 200 came through paid search.”

FirstStreet, which operates on the web at firstStreetonline.com and is No. 272 in the Internet Retailer Top 400 Guide to Retail Web Sites, sells a broad range of innovative products ranging from technical gadgets like light-beam car-parking indicators to special landscaping tools for home gardens. But because it appeals to a wide range of customer demographics, it can be difficult and costly to target Internet search campaigns to particular customer groups, Yonts says. “We can bring them in to firstStreet, but we have to pay over and over again to bring them back,” he says.

Now Yonts, who has a background in developing blogs and special portals for generating web traffic, has created StuffTalk.com as a site featuring special categories of products that firstStreet wants to market. In a recent search engine marketing campaign for its landscaping products, firstStreet linked the keywords to StuffTalk landing pages, where visitors saw a wider range of landscaping products than they would normally see displayed together on firstStreet. A search for a garden wall on firstStreet, for example, would show a visitor only that one product. But the same search linked back to StuffTalk will see a broad range of garden-related products from partners including Amazon as well from firstStreet. That not only helps to draw visitors back to the site for its broader selection, but it apparently leads to word of mouth referrals, he says.

In addition, visitors to StuffTalk who use the site search feature or click on any of the other product links add to the site’s natural search rankings in Google, Yonts says. He adds that inserting the StuffTalk.com URL into the Google AdWords has led many consumers to directly visit StuffTalk by typing that URL into their browser. A similar effort with firstStreetonline.com was less successful, Yonts figures, because the firstStreetonline.com URL is too long.

The overall result, Yonts says, is that the number of visitors arriving at StuffTalk.com has mushroomed. “Today we’re up to over 4,000 visitors outside of paid search, plus another 300 from paid search,” he says.

In addition, firstStreet is also earning referral fees for traffic that clicks links to Amazon and other partners on StuffTalk.com. Visitors to StuffTalk link to either firstStreetonline.com or its partners to make a purchase.

As overall traffic has gone up, conversion rates have remained steady, Yonts says. But he’s getting the same conversion rates on much larger traffic, without having to increase his keyword advertising budget. “If conversion rates stay about 2%, that’s fine, so long as we’re getting thousands more visitors,” he says.

Yonts, who formerly operated PathBuilding.com as a site traffic-building service for clients including the U.S. Army, is planning to launch additional portals linked to firstStreet for targeted product groups. This month, he expects to launch RVRoads.com as a portal for recreational vehicle owners, again linking them to firstStreetonline.com and partner sites to make purchases.

Included in the portals will be his own blog-creating software that will let visitors build personal web pages with features like a “Tales of the Road” section for personal stories by RV owners – all in an effort to direct more non-paid traffic to firstStreet and its portals.

Additional features will include portal-based wish-lists and e-mailed gift reminders and product notifications.

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