Notes From SES NY: Retailers Forum and Q&A

Late Thursday afternoon I stumbled unto the Retailers’ Forum – a question and answer-like session which included speakers specifically related to the Retail Industry (and e-commerce). I decided to head to the session based on the fact that getting some advice and interaction from successful online retailers could be more beneficial to the small B2C business, especially some of those found on Cape Cod.

Moderated by Allan Dick of Vintage Tub & Bath, the Retailer Forum featured a group of online retailers, with a wide decent range of product offerings and company sizes. I was slightly disappointed that all four independent retailers were mostly related to the retail home and home furnishings industry, but they all were involved in the questions and answers asked, and provided good depth of information in their answers.

Key Points and Information:
One of the first topics that came up was in relation to outsourcing Search Engine Marketing, which I found a bit surprising. Understandably, the goal of the conversation was to help SEO/SEM vendors get a better understanding of how to prospect a retail vendor. While the points taken were valuable, I personally did not see much difference in a retailer’s desire for better initial sales prospecting over almost any other industry.

What the Retailer looked for when an SEM Vendor was sales prospecting:

  • Lack of personalization in the sales call and communication.
  • Poor investigation of the businesses’ advertising campaigns or organic search strategy.
  • All four speakers on the company side specifically wanted an SEM/SEO vendor to identify ways they would deliver results.
  • Not all speakers cited industry experience as a necessary attribute, but I would imagine that other references and a better strategy outline would definitely come more into play.
  • One additional note: While some of the companies speaking had outsourced PPC management, none of the retailers outsourced their SEO strategy to an SEM/SEO vendor.

Notes from the Q and A:

  • Topics for discussion ranged from PPC to SEO to Affiliate Marketing. I asked a question related to affiliate marketing strategies using affiliate-ID based accounts (same domain), which essentially was not recommended from all parties involved. I got somewhat of a feeling that, while all parties involved recognized a value in participating in affiliate partnerships, none of them were too happy on the overall relationships – as a general rule (I could have misinterpreted that).
  • The obvious concern with all retailers is how to drive better sales and keeping the user on the page, improving the chances to buy, once they are engaging the user – whether that be through ad copy (PPC), landing page messaging or website usability. It would have been nice to hear more of a discussion on A/B testing for PPC campaigns, what they’ve seen work and not work, etc.
  • Get your products listed in the places you believe that your users will search for them. Many e-commerce and retail websites fail to use tools such as Ebay or other shopping portals to gain exposure to their product offerings.
  • It was interesting to hear how little reliance or belief these retailers had in relation to hiring an outside vendor for SEO work. It’s not that I find that to be a negative, but it goes back to my original thought process, concluding that a small business has to invest time and/or money into an organic SEO campaign, and management needs to understand the long-term value of well designed search engine optimization strategies. In this case, each retailer had determined that it was a better strategy to invest their own time and money into the SEO process, whether they realized what they were doing or not.

A lot of the vendors speaking talked about the idea that they did not consider “Search Engine Optimization” as what they were working on in order to make them successful in organic search rankings. This is a true statement for many businesses that have been successful online for a long period of time. However, the challenge for a new business, especially a business which has a goal of selling products or services online, is in understanding that it indeed takes time to build a presence in organic search rankings.

New retail vendors looking to be seen in organic search results need to do the following:

  • Create a unique website presence that goes beyond the selling product and illustrates why your website has a competitive advantage (IE – build quality content).
  • Generate inbound links to the site – which can be done in a variety of ways, ranging in strategy and depth of commitment.
  • Make certain that they are leveraging best practices related to search engine optimization. This includes page structure and outline, meta tagging and the utilization of search engine tools and services.

Wrapping Up Thursday at SES NY
The fact that the session was fairly interactive definitely helped to close out my only full day of attendance at Search Engine Strategies, and the engagement of the speakers also made the session enjoyable and informative. In addition to fielding questions throughout the 75 or so minute session, the speakers all stayed on afterwards to field individual questions from attendees, well after the alloted time frame.


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