February 28, 2008, 12:00 AM

Vintage Tub & Bath lets interns loose on its search program—and sales rise

Stretched for enough professional staff to max out search marketing, e-retailer Vintage Tub & Bath trains its college interns to help and realizes an 11% sales uptick.

In an online environment where effective search marketing requires increasing time and effort but staff resources may be in short supply, Vintage Tub & Bath tried an unusual approach to solving the problem: it tapped its intern program, providing the seasonal college recruits with training on search marketing basics and then bringing them into the inner circle that was planning to revamp its entire search strategy. As a result, the online retailer of vintage-style bath fixtures has overhauled its pay-per-click advertising program and increased its conversion rate by 11% since last summer, says Internet marketing manager Mike Deckman.

Last June, Vintage Tub & Bath realized it needed to revamp its search marketing program to continue to grow, and it started looking for additional search management staff. Unable to find enough suitable candidates, Deckman turned to the retailer’s existing internship program, which included 10 to 15 college students working for the company in various capacities.

With the right training, Deckman reasoned, the interns could fill search marketing roles where needed. To train them in the fundamentals of search, Deckman sponsored an online course from the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization. Six interns completed the course and received certification from the SEMPO Institute. Deckman then assigned each of the six to a specific area of search such as keyword research or ad copy.

Expanding the search marketing workforce gave Deckman the opportunity to more closely analyze the company’s pay-per-click campaigns and identify what it could do to improve its return on ad spend. “It was an opportunity to start over. We created an entirely new structure for pay-per-click campaigns and largely used our interns to do it,” Deckman says.

With their training, the interns found areas for improvement. For example, an analysis of its program at Yahoo turned up overlooked opportunities for increased exposure. The team made changes that increased traffic from Yahoo by 18% and click-through by 7%. “By increasing the number of keywords and improving our ads, we had a 14% lift in the conversion rate through Yahoo,” Deckman says.

By contrast, after digging into its search program with Google, Vintage Tub & Bath took steps to decrease the volume of referrals from that search engine. “We found that we were receiving a lot of useless traffic from terms that did not convert well or at all,” Deckman says. “We simply improved the quality of traffic by using more specific, long-tail terms and realized a 7% lift in conversion.”

The new search strategy developed with the support of the trained summer interns yielded measurable results by the fourth quarter-besides adding potentially six new search marketing professionals to the future job marketplace, Deckman adds.

Vintage Tub & Bath is No. 402 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide to Retail Web Sites.

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