August 09, 2006
How many raving press stories have you seen on corporate blogging recently? We decided to take a look under the hood of one ecommerce site's blogs that have gotten enormous press attention.
Are they really as successful as everyone makes out? The answer is ... a mixed maybe:
Two years ago, Ice.com® Marketing EVP Pinny Gniwisch noticed from his site traffic logs that he was getting an unusual amount of traffic from independent blogs.
Turns out dozens of bloggers who loved fashion frequently linked to SKUs they admired in Ice.com's jewelry selection.
Naturally Gniwisch began to wonder, what if Ice.com launched some blogs of its own? His marketing department could control the messaging and feature SKUs that way. In effect, the idea was blogs as separate promotional microsites.
Bad news -- Ice.com's CEO "was not keen on the idea." However, Gniwisch promised the idea wouldn't take up many company resources -- he and the in-house team would write the blogs and they'd use ultra-cheap blogging software to post them online.
Gniwisch decided to test several very different blog ideas. Each, however, shared the same seven rules of thumb:
#1. Look like a blog -- not a company site.
The templates used were absolutely prototypical of average consumers' blog templates. On first view, these looked like "normal" blogs.
#2. Don't totally hide ownership
It's one thing to look like a blog, it's another to mislead the public. If you poke around at any of the blogs, it's clear who the owner is.
#3. Hotlinks are your friends
Unlike landing pages and merchandising pages where outside links are verboten because you don't want to confuse traffic, blogs link to all sorts of places as part of the value of their content. Instead of fearing the outside links, Gniwisch decided to embrace them, both to provide a more realistic blogging experience and also to encourage other bloggers to link in.
Naturally the blogs would also contain links to Ice.com merchandise pages, as well as to each other.
#4. Tag every posting with search-friendly terms
The team added tags to every posting -- especially image tags -- so that search engine spiders would be likely to pick up on the postings under those words.
#5. Don't promote the blogs on the main site.
Gniwisch wanted the test to be as pure as possible, so he resisted adding visible hotlinks or tabs to the blogs from Ice.com's home. Instead, to help them out of the search sandbox, he merely added them to the site map -- a page that most human visitors never look at but search engine spiders adore.
#6. Do let other bloggers know you're out there
Gniwisch's team conducted a down-and-dirty link-building campaign, individually emailing "hundreds and hundreds" of fashion blog owners to let them know about Ice.com's blogs. Key -- Ice.com let the other blog owners know when a hotlink was being posted in their direction. There's little that bloggers appreciate more than being told another site is already linking to them.
#7. Let the press know you're out there
Gniwisch also emailed his personally complied list of journalists at media outlets ranging from the Village Voice to BusinessWeek to let them know about the new blogs as they launched. Key -- he didn't send a formulaic press release. Reporters are inundated with releases and toss them more frequently than reading them (when your job is to seek out news, releases sent to everyone else on the planet are the last place to look.)
Instead, he dashed off a brief text-only note with a hotlink. Each note was individually sent and individually addressed.
Three of the blogs launched were:
-> Just Ask Leslie
This blog launched Aug. 27, 2004, featuring a photo of Leslie herself, had the tagline "The Jewelry Expert Answers All Your Questions." Leslie answered questions such as which is the best jewelry for summertime activities or best for blondes. Her answers were illustrated with Ice.com product pictures. This blog linked to almost 100 other bloggers' Web sites.
-> Ice Blog
Taglined 'Official Blog of Ice.com the Leading Online Jewelry," this blog launched March 1, 2005. Gniwisch's vision for this blog was a place where site news and related events (such as sales) could be announced. This blog only linked to Ice.com and its sibling blogs.
-> Sparkle Like The Stars -
This blog, with the tagline "Celebrity Fashion, News, Gossip and Jewelry," launched March 12, 2005. The postings showed a celebrity photo or magazine cover shot and talked about the jewelry featured in them. This blog also linked to almost 100 other bloggers' Web sites.
Results were mixed, but upbeat. The good news is Sparkle Like The Stars alone brought in $50,000 worth of sales in December 2005.
Sparkle Like The Stars is currently getting between 10,000 and 15,000 unique monthly visitors, 31% of whom click through to the main Ice.com site. The conversion rate on clickthroughs is about 1%, which Gniwisch says is "higher than many affiliates but lower than search marketing which converts at 2%."
This blog also continues to get higher and higher search rankings for terms such as celebrity jewelry," which has helped traffic arc upwards by roughly 30% per typical month this year.
Plus, Gniwisch's PR campaign landed him a great deal of ink, including mentions in The New York Times, The Washington Post and BusinessWeek -- and even speaking gigs at shows such as eTail.
(Note: We doubt the same campaign would work now that blogs are such a common topic, but Gniwisch's PR tactics can't be faulted.)
Impressed by these results for virtually no outlay, Ice.com's CEO allowed the effort to continue and authorized a few cheap part-time hires (a summer intern, a freelance writer) to help out.
For which Gniwisch was very grateful because -- here's the bad news -- keeping the blogs updated using his own time and help from in-house staff was tough after the bloom wore off.
Across the Web, more than 50% of blogs that are launched peter out after 90 days as the author's enthusiasm wanes and writing begins to feel more like work. That reality was mirrored by Ice.com's staff.
So, Gniwisch began to surf the blogsphere looking for a writer to hire.
One of his favorite independent bloggers agreed to take the job -- posting two-three times per week in exchange for a flat per-posting fee. This effort again had mixed results -- the blogger in question wasn't a professional freelancer (those folks cost much more) and wasn't as consistent as a professional writer might be.
As of this date, two of the blogs have not been updated in almost a month and one of them has replaced original content with a feed of previously published posts from the other two blogs. It's late summer and not peak time for Ice.com, so we suspect the situation may change closer to the holiday season.
Gniwisch also noticed that it was a bit harder to get significant traffic and hotlinks to his blogs, without a paid ad campaign, than he had anticipated. Link stats from Google and Technorati as of today:
-> Just Ask Leslie has 134 incoming links, with only roughly 40 from other bloggers.
-> Sparkle Like the Stars has 312 incoming links, only 130 of which appear to be from other bloggers.
-> Ice Blog has 106 incoming links, with only 17 being from other bloggers, many of which are marketing-related press lauding it as a clever campaign.
Some of the press mentions helped blog traffic -- Ice.com got a 10% rise in traffic the week it was mentioned in the Village Voice Online. However, these were momentary blips that could not be counted on for sustained traffic.
Gniwisch is re-evaluating the blogs himself right now. We suspect he'll opt to continue the Sparkle Like The Stars blog because it is finally taking off as search engine fodder. One a typical day, 20% of traffic is from MSN, 50% from Google, 14% from Yahoo and 16% from other blogs, including Ice.com blogs. This blog is definitely worth careful, continued investment.
On the other hand, perhaps the most interesting factoid of this entire Case Study is that Ice.com's main site continues to be a true blog marketing success story.
The main Ice.com site has 838 incoming links *from* other bloggers -- far, far more than any of its blogs have. Plus, the site's link map in the Websphere shows it's in the center of some extremely heavy-hitting fashion blogs.
So perhaps the lesson is, if the blogsphere loves your site already, reach out to them to make them happier with the site they already link to before putting energy into your own blogs.
Useful links related to this article:
Creative samples of Ice.com's blogs:
WordPress -- the blogging software Ice.com uses:
eTail -- the trade show Gniwisch was a featured speaker at