Thursday, June 23, 2011

Detroit Themed Gifts

Looking for a Detroit themed gift? Look no further. I present you Allied Fabrication System's newest print, the Metro Detroit Map:

The word "Detroit" means many things to different people, but we can agree that its definition stretches beyond the borders of the city proper. Featuring the cities and towns that form the Detroit Metro area, the map is our attempt to give each town its separate identity, while sewing them all together into the patchwork quilt that forms the region. Locals from all over the region will be able to find their own cities and towns on the map, and see that each is a unique part of a greater whole. Hand-printed on paper cut to 16" x 20" from French Paper from Niles, Michigan.

You can find them at a number of stores throughout Metro Detroit or visit their Etsy Shop to buy online (Allied Fabrication Etsy shop). Take a loot at their site too to learn more (Detroit themed gifts). Nice work, boys!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Urban Worm Blowing Up

Okay, so not really but I picked up a good number of orders March-May and had enough money in profits to completely upgrade the site over the last few weeks (check out the new Urban Worm). Originally, as I described last year, I built the site with Jimdo and though there were a lot of great things about that platform and I’d still have no problem recommending it to anyone, there were also a number of pretty big disadvantages to it.

Besides the site designs that Jimdo offers being pretty limiting, my main gripes were related to shipping, website tracking, and the blog feature. The shipping in Jimdo is set at the product level and will always charge a customer the shipping associated with each product in his shopping cart. For example, if a customer orders two t-shirts and the shipping amount set for that t-shirt is $5, then the shopping cart would charge that customer $10 for shipping (2 t-shirts x 5 shipping per t-shirt) even though the shipping charge for two t-shirts should be just $5. In other words, there was no way to intelligently make shipping calculations based on the products in the shopping cart (if total shopping cart weight is less than x, then charge y for shipping; if shopping cart total greater than x, then don’t charge for shipping). This was especially frustrating in the Urban Worm case because most of the products I sell offer a high enough margin to absorb shipping charges and therefore, allow me to come up with and run creative shipping promotions if the ecommerce platform has the functionality. Jimdo doesn’t, unfortunately.

My second gripe, and maybe the most important one, was related to tracking the behaviour of visitors to the site. Although you can easily install Google Analytics to any Jimdo site, unless you put each product on its own page, you will never have much insight into the products that your customers are clicking on, an obviously valuable piece of information, and you can’t track site conversions, meaning you’ll never automatically know how the customers that ultimately make a purchase reached the site and can’t make any informed decisions about how to best divide up your marketing dollars if your interest is in driving sales. Corny but true, information is power and though a Jimdo site set up with Google Analytics still reveals quite a bit of important data, you’re often left asking a lot of questions that are easily answered with a more robust website.

And finally, the Jimdo blogging tool is not very user friendly or capable. If you’re not posting very much or don’t intend to use your blog as a way to attract site visitors, this doesn’t matter too much, but based on my Google Analytics account, I knew that a better blog could generate a good amount of traffic (visitors would land on my site after searching on topics related to my blog posts – composting in the classroom, for example). So, in February, I set up the blog portion of the site on WordPress, a good way to test what kind of traffic I could get to the blog, but bad in that the Urban Worm was split into two different sites.

Ultimately, all of these small annoyances made me wish for something better. If I hadn’t gotten too many orders during March-May, I probably would have left the site on Jimdo, but the number of orders that came through gave me enough confidence and motivation to try something new and more powerful. So, I decided to transfer the site hosting to BlueHost and use WordPress as the main tool to build the site and the WP Ecommerce plugin as my shopping cart/store. BlueHost and Wordpress are used by a lot of major websites and offer all the capability you could ask for in a site. So far, I’d say it’s definitely been a big improvement. The site design is major upgrade in both looks and ease of navigation, I have the ability to run promotions, the blog is now integrated with the site, and the tracking is fully set up to give me all the information available. But, I’ve also spent a lot more time and effort and had to learn a lot to get it all up and running. I’ve actually really enjoyed learning about the tools but it certainly hasn’t been without its frustrations, and for anyone without the time, motivation, or interest in learning, it’s definitely best to either stick with Jimdo or simply hire someone to just do it for you (I’ll give you a good rate ;) ). Then again, the time and effort has already paid off – 3 orders this week alone, a significant improvement in conversion rate over the Jimdo version of the site, and enough profit to have already recouped my investment in the site upgrade!

Next up, search engine optimization. I want the Urban Worm to be the first link you see on Google when you search for “worm bins,” a keyword that is searched for on Google 14,800 times/month in the US. If I can convert just 0.05% of those searches to orders, I’ll be one happy Urban Worm.