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Jul 20, 2001
Case Study

eretailer Grows Revenues 24% in Six Months Through Search Engine Optimization

SUMMARY: Although search engine optimization is well-known to be one of the most cost effective methods of driving highly targeted traffic, many mid-sized e-retailers have barely implemented it. The problem for most is sheer numbers. When your online store carries hundreds or thousands of products, how do you make sure each one is noticed by search engines? Here's a Case Study on an e-retailer who didn't give up the search for a solution.

Founded in 1938, Tiffen Manufacturing has been selling camera lenses and filters to professionals for 63 years. In the early 1990's, President Jim Long noticed that the digital camera marketplace to consumers was taking off, and he wondered if Tiffen could grab a piece of the new marketplace.

Long explains, "Probably 150-200 different camera models come out and change every four-to-six months." For consumers, finding the right accessories for their particular make and model camera was turning into a nightmare. So, Long worked deals with each of the 15 major digital camera makers. Tiffen Manufacturing would create an accessory line for each maker's products, and the makers would insert Tiffen's 48-54 color catalog (branded under the camera maker's own name) into their product boxes.

By 1999, Tiffen was getting millions of print catalogs in consumers' hands using this method. But Long wasn't satisfied. His vision was to provide accessories "through any channel that the customer wants to buy them in." It was time to go online.

Tiffen Manufacturing launched its online consumer site, in 1999 and promoted it heavily in its print catalogs. The site was highly successful. In fact by 2001 75% of all catalog buyers visited the site prior to making their purchase through any channel (phone, postal mail or Web.) Plus 50% of all print catalog-initiated orders were made online.

Long wanted to expand his online reach, without raising his cost per acquisition.


In the summer of 2000, Long began by testing the most obvious traffic driving tactics, such as banners on major ad networks like Doubleclick, renting opt-in email lists, and shopping bots. He says, "I did my due diligence, but wasn't getting an answer I liked. No one could give me anything solid. With my direct marketing background -- I mail four million catalogs a year -- I know if you're not targeted to the right spot, it gets expensive very quickly."

He had heard search engine optimization was a great way to get highly targeted traffic. So, he checked out his site logs and was appalled to find that only 4% of his traffic and less than 1% of converted sales currently came from search engines. He says, "I know those people were absolutely looking for me and they were committed to buying. But we're obviously not a brand name, so they wouldn't know our name to search for it."

However, the nature of made it very hard to optimize. The site carried information on thousands of products, each held in a dynamic database. Unfortunately, most search engine spiders completely ignore Web pages served by dynamic databases -- especially if the page includes the characteristic "?" symbol in its URL.

Then, Long heard about Inceptor, a technology company that specializes in helping eretailers get their thousands of SKUs listed in search engines. Cautiously, he worked out a low risk deal to test it. He says, "I was going to purchase it over time, and if I didn't like it, I was going to be able to walk away from it."

The program enables DRProDirect's marketing team to create search engine optimized pages on the fly without any special training. (In fact Long now has two $10 an hour employees doing it.) These pages are not "spam" (simple pages created simply to bump rankings.) They are fully developed product pages that function as a mini-site for that particular search term. So the consumer lands directly into the part of the DCProDirect store that's most suited for their needs. This helps minimize the customer's path through the store -- they have to make fewer clicks between their entry point and the purchase.

At first the search engine team worked on all the "obvious" terms, including brand names and models. Then, they began to slowly broaden the net to other terms, such as terms relating to activities people use digital cameras in, such as sports, real estate and birding-related terms. They are able to track results in real-time from click through to sales conversion, so they can learn which avenues to continue exploring further and where to stop expending effort.


Within six months of launching the Inceptor search engine optimization program, 24% of DCProDirect's online revenues came from search engine traffic. Plus, the average order size of a search engine visitor was equal to or higher than a catalog-driven buyer. Long says, "I was shocked to find that out."

Here are some hard numbers from Long's marketing tests:

Channel | CR | CPC | CPA
Online ads |.025-.05% | $.50 |$100+
Direct mail | 1-2% | $.50 | $25-50
Inceptor | 3.9% | $.10-.15 | $3.75

* CR = Conversion rate of promo recipient to sale
* CPC = Cost per click
* CPA = Cost per acquisition

Long says, "$3.75 versus $25 or $100 is not a hard choice to make." But he's careful to note that his success lies in a mix of offline and online media. He says, "I don't think there's any one channel. It's the synergy that's making it work."

Check out these resources for more information on search engine optimization

How to Avoid the Most Common Myths and Blunders of Search Engine Optimization

Anthony Muller's Top Five Tactics for Getting Higher Search Engine Rankings
See Also:

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