An Experiment in Social Ecommerce

social ecommerce with pinsCan a small business maintain a successful online store without organic search engine traffic? It’s a good question, and one some business owners are being forced to answer. The recent Google updates have made it more difficult to know exactly how to promote a site, and engage your visitors without getting into troulbe with the Big G.

I’ve even heard of some marketers simply throwing in the towel. But rather than give up, let’s take a look at the alternatives:

You can look at alternative platforms and forego having a website entirely – this is certainly an option, and I sell on Amazon and other sites myself. It works, depending on the what you’re selling and what the platform is. But there are downsides…Amazon takes a brutal cut, pricing competition on eBay is legendarily cutthroat, and many other third party sites simply don’t get enough traffic to make a difference.

You can always buy traffic using Pay Per Click programs. That can run into serious cash quickly if you don’t know what you’re doing, though, and for some niches the numbers just don’t make sense.

But what about social traffic? Sure, Pepsi has an amazing social presence, and so does Zappos, but what about smaller businesses? Can we make it without search traffic? I’m about to launch an experimental site designed to find out.

An Experiment in Social E-commerce

Goal: To launch an new e-commerce site and generate $1000.00 per month in sales in 90 days or less, without relying on (or even paying much attention to) search engine rankings.

Platform: For this site, we’ll be using Big Commerce, due to its social features. Not only does it feature Social Shop, an app that creates a Facebook store, they recently integrated a Pinterest button as part of their product display, and it supports Add This, among other social features.

Products: Consumer products, ranging from $15.00 to $350.00, with a target order amount of at least $100. The target demographic is women 25-65, and people buying gifts for women.

Methodology: The site will be built out in its entirety, adhering to best practices for ecommerce – which in my workd means every piece of information available about the products goes on the site.

With a Facebook page and a Pinterest account, we will start to draw some traffic. As to whether it will convert, well that remains to be seen. Once we’re up for a few weeks, it will be time to start tweeting.

My own expectations are for maybe a 50 / 50 mix of search engine and social traffic initially, skewing more towards social after a few months.

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  1. Good Luck Dave. Pinterest should drive a bit of traffic to your website as Facebook as well. I think that the key would be how to find the ready-to-buy shoppers though since I imagine that your products won’t be so impulsive in terms of buying habits.

    Are you setting up a sign up list to grab names for future marketing? And if so, have you thought in terms of the carrot to get them to sign up?

  2. Hi Leo. Yeah, I am aware that Pinterest browsers tend to be just that. Or at least so far. Personally, I expect Pinterest to mutate into something that is like a giant e-commerce bazaar – why? Because it is perfect for it, and because Rakuten didn’t just give the 100 million NOT to sell stuff.

    Facebook traffic converts for crap in my experience, but we’ll see. I am eager to try the Social Shop feature from BC and see if it generates anything.

    And yes, I already have an ebook giveaway being written.
    Also, the URL has the advantage of being a common query phrase and brandable as well.

  3. Very cool case study! Keep us posted.

    I’ma hoping for some insight on how to make money in a post-penguin world. I dusted off my grabapple guide again today. Trying to figure out a niche that I could succeed in.

    • Hi Quinton,
      Yeah we all are looking for a little direction – my big sites seem fine, but they are really old, and have natural link profiles. I thought it would be useful both for me and everyone else to take a stab at just putting up a store, and only doing social, natural promotion. Having said that, I do expect to get some G and B traffic because the domain name is both brandable, and part of a lot of searches that relate to the product:
      Exact match local 260 (sucks I know)
      Phrase match 4400 (better)
      Broad Match 27,100 (not bad)
      The really nice thing is that the domain name is related to what the products do, like having straighten hair dot com as a domain if you sold hair straighteners. When I use Ton’s tool to check related queries there a hundreds.

  4. Very interesting, Dave! I’m looking forward to learning the outcome of this experiment.

    • Hi Cy!
      I guess if you’re going to watch I had better keep up the reports, stats, etc. If not for the potential of negative SEO I would happily post the URL. Let me know if you are curious and I will shoot it over to you after launch.

  5. Antoinette Moore-Littlejohn says:

    Recently, I have considered a couple of new e-commerce businesses. I have purchased the domains for the items and I would like to develop drop shipper relationships for those businesses. I like the Big Commerce experiment that you are going to launch. It speaks directly to the businesses I am in the process of launching.
    In that it takes a lot for us to develop a site, I would value positive feedback from your imminent launch.

  6. Hello Dave,
    Any progress to report actually please?

    • Dave Huckabay says:

      Actually, yes! We have a great domain name secured, and we have chosen Big Commerce as our platform. We’ll be going live in January 2013 with about 50 consumer products. Initial promotion will be all social = no linkbuilding programs or organized SEO. We’ll be using all the social platforms we ca – Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In.

  7. Erik Kraemer says:

    CanNOT wait to see how this pans out. I’m also using BigCommerce and will be relying on curation and social interaction to drive traffic. Hope to hear more about your tactics and experiences as things progress.

    • Dave Huckabay says:

      Hi Eric,

      We decided to switch to WP for this one, as we are doing another site in a “female niche” at the same time with the same design. But we are going to be moving our large sites to BigCommerce later this year. It’s going to be interesting. In a future post, I’l documenting everything from costs to plugin to revenue to traffic.

      We’ll also give a breakdown of our promotion activities, to give you an idea of how much bang gets how much buck.

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