Why we sell walking canes and sticks

Did you know that we sell walking canes and sticks? Brazos Walking Sticks is a website that we develop and host. I say 'develop' instead of 'developed' because we are still actively working on it. We are now in our third iteration on the website, and if you count one iteration that we did not put up – we are on our fourth. With each iteration we've learned something. And learning is at the root of why we have a walking cane and stick site. We need a real live site that we can try ideas on – without hurting anyone but ourselves.

Here are somethings we've tried

  • Hired SEO (search engine optimization) firms – we tried this three times.
  • Pay Per Click
  • Oscommerce
  • Outsourced Copywriting

Some of the lessons we've learned.

  • Hired SEO (search engine optimization) firms. Not to be (too) rude, but this was a big waste of money. At the same time we were going through SEO firms, we also put up http://www.exotic-walking-sticks.com and tried doing SEO ourselves. At the end of the day, our site ranked higher for the same keywords that the 'SEO' improved site. I'm sure that there are SEO firms that are really good, but in three tries I didn't find one. Beware the offer that says they will get you listed for X number of keywords. The trick is that they pick keywords in the 'long tail' – key words that will not bring in a lot of traffic and are easy to optimize for. If I use an SEO firm again it will be strictly performance based.

  • Pay Per Click We've used (and are using) Google, MSN, Overture (now Yahoo) and ABCSearch. I use Google and MSN year round, Overture during the Christmas season and I'm trying ABCSearch for the first time now. If you use PPC, you've got to measure your ROI (return on investment) – otherwise you don't have any idea what is really working. For example, by measuring the ROI- we discovered that while Overture did not pay year round – it did pay during the holiday shopping season.

  • Oscommerce – Last year we started searching for the perfect shopping cart, ecommerce solution. While I'm not a big fan of PHP (most of our sites are mod-perl), I was trying not to be a language bigot, and so we tried Oscommerce. The pluses are that it can do almost anything and you can get modifications made really cheap. The downside is that it is big and slow and we are used to lean and fast. So after converting to OSCommerce – we decided not to make it live. (We are using OSCommerce on a couple of small sites - Designs With Scissors for example.

  • Outsourced Copywriting. From an SEO point of view, the walking stick site needs better descriptions of the products. Pictures may sell the product, but words sell the search engines. So I thought that the solution was to hire a copywriter to write product descriptions. Turns out that the descriptions she wrote were unacceptable to my friend that makes the walking sticks and canes. So if I go this route again, I'd have the copywriter give an example or two and get it approved first. Lesson learned.