Goldilocks and the 3 eCommerce Clients


clients_small.jpgADOTAS — Once upon a time there were 3 midsized clients that elected to develop their eCommerce websites on a shoestring budget. As Goldilocks tried to market these 3 clients websites using SEO and paid search, she quickly found out their decisions to be…well…frugal is the word that came back to haunt them in terms of eCommerce marketing.

Client A: Open Source Code

Goldilocks finds out that Client A developed his eCommerce website on an Apache server in PHP using an open source content management system and an open source shopping cart. While Goldilocks is a huge fan of Apache (it tastes just right for SEOs), her 9+ years of experience finds that often open source products are not well aligned for retailers that are new to eCommerce. In fact in the case of Client A, it has been almost 6 months of sheer torture.

First, Goldilocks discovers the website was built using version 1.0 of Joomla and version 1.0.10 of VirtueMart, along with 6 other open source plug-ins. After attempting to perform on-page optimization as part of an SEO campaign, Goldilocks learned this version of VirtueMart does not support the ability of having unique Title or Meta Tags (Description and Keywords).

After spending hours to research the matter, Goldilocks recommended Client A upgrade VirtueMart to version 1.130 along with Joomla to version 1.5. The good news was these two versions plus the 6 other open source plug-ins all work perfectly together.

The bad news: Client A does not have a developer to perform the upgrades. Now for the really bad news – Client A was no longer speaking to its website design firm and its site was hosted by the website design firm. Since Goldilocks could not move forward with SEO – she paused the campaign. Goldilocks determined that Client A’s decision to employ “free software” cost the client at least $5,000 to upgrade the software and migrate website hosting – not including the lost revenue from the website.

Client B: Developer’s Custom Code

Client B has a brick and mortar store in southern California. While Client B has done well with his brick and mortar retailing, the client developed a website by re-purposing the eCommerce code from a developer. The developer built Client B’s website for “free” using the existing code, in exchange for a percentage of the eCommerce sales. This sounded like a great deal until Goldilocks quickly discovered the site had an extremely poor conversion rate.

As Goldilocks started to implement a paid search campaign for Client B, she learned the website had extremely poor usability and almost non-existent merchandising functionality. Due to the highly seasonal nature of Client B’ business, the site required really strong category, sub-category and product detail pages.

Unfortunately the site could not support sub-category pages. Furthermore, the product detail pages were poorly designed. The product detail pages did not have a strong call to action; the “Buy Now” button was usually below the fold; and the site did not support standard merchandising options such as cross-selling, or personalization.

Worse yet the retailer priced his merchandise at 5-10% higher than the industry average – Goldilocks believed this was to address the developer’s revenue from the site. As a result of the premium prices on standard items, the average order value was lower than the prevailing industry average.

In order to compensate for the poorly designed website, Goldilocks developed a campaign that was targeted only on the products the client offered without including the sub-categories. This resulted in a much smaller reach and ultimately impaired the product level conversion by at least 20%.

After the client’s season, Goldilocks withdrew from the paid search campaign and turned it over to the client. Before spending another dime to market the website, Goldilocks recommend Client B drop the existing platform and re-launch the website with a standard eCommerce merchandising platform.

Client C: SAAS Code

An increasing popular path has been selected by Client C – where a website is built by employing an eCommerce platform that is either hosted or dynamically generated by a services provider. For purposes of this article, Goldilocks categorizes these eCommerce platforms under the SAAS model – software as a service platform.

Goldilocks has found that these eCommerce platforms are fairly robust in terms of merchandising options, but have tended to constrain retailers in other key areas including search engine optimization and back office calculations.

In terms of SEO, the SAAS eCommerce platform employed by Client C offers a partial URL rewrite technology. Unfortunately, implementing this solution created both site architecture and SEO theming problems. As Goldilocks learned, the SAAS eCommerce platform can rewrite the URL at Category Level but it cannot be extended to the Product Detail. Therefore the site has a directory for each category but all the products are dynamically generated and reside in the root directory – thereby inhibiting theming.

From a back office perspective, the SAAS platform has a serious drawback for Client C. While the SAAS platform can track conversions at the product level, the platform cannot calculate contribution margin and profitability at the product level. This is critically important as Goldilocks implements the paid search campaign and desires to maximize contribution margin and profitability at the product level.

Since Goldilocks has worked with many SAAS eCommerce Platforms, she already had a technology to calculate contribution margin and profitability “on the fly” with her proprietary campaign tracking and reporting platform that tracks sales in real time. As for the SEO component, there wasn’t an easy solution. To have a consistent navigational linking structure, Goldilocks rolled back the URL rewrite and implemented a “virtual” theming strategy. Goldilocks then worked diligently to develop links into Category, Sub-Category and Product Detail Pages. It took Goldilocks more time and therefore money to develop the rankings and corresponding traffic, but she was also able to calculate contribution margin and profitability from the SEO campaign.

The Moral of the Story

The moral of Goldilocks and the 3 eCommerce Clients is the need for businesses to invest appropriately in their online business – starting with the website. As Goldilocks knows from years of experience, you are not going to stay in business long if you don’t have an eCommerce website that is not too hot, not too cold but just right.


  1. John, you are have completely hit the nail on the head when it comes to businesses running into eCommerce with no plan. With out the proper plan, there are few clients that ever find success on the internet, let alone have a site that is able to deal with change and improvement. – Jon Burgess


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