[Editor’s note: Just after the holiday season, SearchLine wrote about Ice.com, an online jewelry retailer that had incorporated several targeted blogs into its search optimization program. In mid-May, Ice.com incorporated something else—a competitor, Diamond.com, which it bought from Sunrise FL-based Odimo for $7.5 million, along with another $2 million for the company’s diamond and jewelry inventory. Since blogging is still an unknown territory for many online marketers, and since Ice.com is still on an upward growth swing, we thought it useful to re-run the story.]
Many marketers are treading gingerly around the notion of adding a blog to their Web site. Some are worried about the time and effort required to keep the blog active, while others are uncertain that consumers will show sufficient interest in the feature to make it useful either for marketing their wares or for spidering by the search engines.
But don’t count online jewelry retailer Ice.com among the pussy-footers. The Montreal-based e-commerce site has not one but three blogs up and running and linked to its Web pages.
“I noticed that some people in our company always want to express themselves,” says Pinny Gniwisch, Ice.com’s executive vice president of marketing. “And I decided to put that to use for us in a controlled way with blogging.”
In March 2005, Gniwisch and staffers launched their first trio of blogs. One, JustAskLeslie.com, offers customer service advice on choosing and caring for diamonds, precious stones and gold. The Blog.Ice.com blog relays some of the substantial press coverage that Ice.com receives (including recent mentions in the Village Voice and the New York Times) and tells “some of the stories about people here at work that don’t fit into our Web site,” he says.
And the third blog, SparkleLiketheStars.com, had the almost-genius notion of posting articles and celebrity gossip about the jewelry seen at the hot spots and on the red carpets of Hollywood. That’s virtually a guarantee that the thousands who search daily for famous names like “Drew Barrymore” and “Angelina Jolie” will find Ice.com’s blog popping up in their organic search results.
Right away the blogs began attracting traffic. “We saw from tracking the blogs that people were coming to read them,” Gniwisch says. “Not only that, they were posting comments.” And not only that; the bloggers among them were also trackbacking to his blogs, or in other words, letting him know that they were referring to and maybe commenting on his content.
Those links and trackbacks are important because they’re part of what the search engines, and particularly Google, look at when deciding how valuable a Web page is. The more relevant, authoritative links it has, the better that page ranks in an appropriate keyword search. In turn, the sites linked to that page may get a rankings boost too, because the engines assume that a quality page will have quality links. And finally, search engines like blogs in general when their content is refreshed and updated often.
So Gniwisch made sure to feature links to Ice.com on all three blogs. The result has been dramatic improvement in the company Web site’s natural rankings on the big search engines.
Marketers speak of several separate worries when the talk turns to blogging. For one thing, it’s time-consuming and may drain employee resources from other tasks. They’re afraid that a blog may start out strong with frequent postings and updates, but then languish when the novelty wears off and employees realize that the blogging beast must be fed regularly to be effective. There’s also the nagging concern about editorial control over content; and there’s also the need to create a fairly coherent “voice”, even though the blog may be written by a handful of people.
Gniwisch says Ice.com’s blogs followed the classic pattern of early employee enthusiasm, followed by dismay at the realization that they now had one more task—creating occasional blog posts. But the blog traffic and the ranking improvements were so impressive that Ice.com went out and hired an individual to manage and edit all three blogs. That solved both the content creation and control problems: If someone in the company wants to write a blog post, they send it to the blog editor, she edits the entry and adds graphics where appropriate, and then inserts the copy into the blog.
The graphics function alone for SparkleLiketheStars.com is worth that person’s salary, Gniwisch says, since many of the celebrity photos used have to be checked for permissions and copyrights.
One of the founders of Ice.com along with his brothers the CEO and the Webmaster, Gniwisch says he’s been “screaming” about the importance of getting valuable content onto the Web sites for a long time. “They [his brothers] are very focused on sell, sell, sell, and I’m constantly trying to prove to them that content not only makes the customer stick to our site but also sells,” he says. SparkleLiketheStars.com has been particularly good at doing that, since after discussing the items sported by the Celebes, the blog often shows and promotes something very similar available on Ice.com.
“We had very strong sales come through the Sparkle blog this past Christmas,” Gniwisch says. Ice.com employs special tags that can detect when shoppers on its main site have come through one of the blogs.
Gniwisch has a few words of advice for other online merchants who think they might like to try creating a blog, or two, or even three:
* Make sure to add a substantial post to the blog at least once a week. Nothing kills off customer interest—and therefore search engine interest– like a dead blog. Give people a reason to check your blog site regularly.
* Design the blog to work for you with the search engines. “Google and the rest are actively looking for relevant, popular content, so help them find you,” Gniwisch says. In Ice.com’s case, this involves using lots of keyword terms and phrases that the retailer wants to be associated with: “pearl necklace”, “diamond earrings”, and so on. It also meant adding topical menus that let blog readers navigate directly to articles they might be interested in; conveniently, these are also prominent search engine keywords, such as “diamonds”, “pearls” and “gems”. Another boost to natural rankings.
Merchant blogging will only grow, but it’s still early in the game, so be prepared to attract PR attention just because you offer a blog. “We’ve gotten a lot of press interest from the blogs, especially from SparkleLiketheStars.com,” he says. ““The Village Voice mention essentially told people to save the $4.95 they’d spend on an In Style magazine and just go to SparkleLiketheStars to see what the famous are wearing.”
If you permit readers to post comments to a blog, beware of “comment spam”, in which unscrupulous Web operators try to hike their own natural rankings by posting comments that include their URL, whether it’s relevant or not. Gniwisch says early instances of comment spam actually got the blogs removed from the search engines for a while, until they instituted some protective measures and proved their good intentions. You want your blog to help your ranking, but it can also harm it.
Ice.com actually operates a fourth blog, Icediscounts.com, that’s really just a central location for its current special offers. And the company is exploring other potential blog subjects that can loop back to jewelry, including weddings and etiquette.
But much of Gniwisch’s attention right now is going to yet another future marketing coup: Webcasting. Ice.com is spending upwards of $25,000 to build a video studio and will record direct selling messages using a couple of employees who have previous home-shopping and direct TV experience. Viewers will be able to call or click on a link and purchase the pieces being shown. The Webcasts will be promoted in advance via banner ads and e-mail to Ice.com’s database of 1.6 million registered customers, and then archived on the Ice.com site for later viewing.
Gniwisch the self-described “content man” says that trying new ways to make the connection to customers is all part of the e-commerce game today. “If you want to grow online, then you’ve got to test new things,” he says. “If you don’t have the moxie to do that, then get out of the business. We’ve succeeded and failed a lot over the past five years in this business. But the beauty of it is that we’ve succeeded more than we’ve failed.”