Monthly Archives: May 2008

Improving HoR – Day 23 – Updates

In an effort continually improve House Of Rave today my contribution was mainly adding several products, going through and selecting sub-products and I even added some pictures and video (which I made yesterday) to the Lightcubes and Rainbow Orb Ball.

One of the more significant things is I recently sent out the first real House Of Rave Newsletter which went over pretty well. Open rates were in the 20% range and click-through rates were on average 10-14% which is quite good. So far this initial email has been sent to about 2,000 people.

I wrote about attending a Vertical Response event and ended up going this past Thursday. It was more of a low-level introduction to email marketing, but I must admit Vertical Response did a bang up job of presenting their product. Some people were already existing customers, but I almost garauntee at least 90% of the people at the free event will soon start using their service. That event really helped associate a “face” with the company, and they even had the CEO and top engineers at the event so you could ask difficult questions about their service. I also got free breakfast, lunch and 500 email credits.

Posted 4th of July Thing:
HouseOfRave started getting into seasonal retailing to capitalize on the increased spending during those times. I added this seasonal Uncle Sam “thing” that looks like it’s peeking out of the website to attract attention to the 4th Of July section:

It looks a little cheesy, but it seems to do the job!

Updated Shipping Prices:
This was another big step. My supplier has some shipping formulas which my Shopsite shopping cart system doesn’t allow me to perform. I’ve been struggling trying to keep my shipping prices consistent with the supplier but so far to no avail. I finally took a good look at my shopping cart system and found a way to be within just cents of their shipping prices.

So far it’s working well. This is good news for me because I don’t have to absorb the cost of higher shipping anymore. Unfortunately this does raise customer shipping prices (which have gone up a lot with gas prices).

Improving HoR – Day 22

Today for improving House of Rave I went through adding some products and correcting some templates. However the more notable thing was I sent out the first proper email blast for HoR.

The newsletter basically looked like the original one I made:

I added a few things and removed a few things, but it was essentially pretty similar to what’s above.

I was originally going to send out the newsletter to the first 4,000 people on the email list, but I realized I could definitely improve the email blast, so I decided to slice the email list up and send out several different versions. Yesterday (Monday 5-19-2008) I sent out the first email blast to 500 people. Today (Tuesday) I sent it out to the next 500 people on the list. I plan to do these 500 person email blasts for the rest of this week.

The reasoning behind this is I can make small changes to each email blast to see what works and what doesn’t. So far I only have 24-hour old statistics of the email blast sent out on Monday:

The 500 email addresses sent in this initial first-500 test were collected several years ago, so I suspect this will be the lowest performing group.

Anyhow, within 24 hours 20% of the recipients had opened the email, and 13% of the entire 500 actually clicked on links which direct them to HouseOfRave. This equates to roughly 65 extra visits to the site from potential customers.

Far as email campaigns go, I believe these click-through rates are on the high side, especially for several-year-old email addresses. As for how many sales this generates, that’s a difficult metric to measure.

One of the cool things about email campaigns is you can see which links were clicked to access your site. The links which got the highest number of clicks on the first campaign were images, in particular the animated images….especially this one:

So for the next week I’ll be doing more email blasts and improving upon each one. With decent results so far, the HouseOfRave Newsletter may become a regular monthly thing.

Improving HoR – Day 21

Today I added a Party Packs section to HouseOfRave along with several products to go under it. I used to have a Party Packs section a while back and it did very well, however after the switch to a new supplier HoR no longer carried most of those products and the section was removed.

Anyhow, in an effort to bring it back I’ve re-done the Party Packs section:

Currently it just has DJ lighting kits on it, but I eventually want to put customized kits on there. This means grouping together popular products and offering a discount for buying so much stuff. It seemed to prove pretty popular before.

Improving HoR – Day 20 – Server Stuff

I’m starting to get all this newsletter stuff in place, but realized I didn’t have any form on HouseOfRave that allows passer-by’ers to signup for the newsletter.

I’ve gone ahead and inserted a Vertical Response email form which automatically adds the contacts to my existing list:

Also I’ve upgraded to a new server this weekend. My old server had been continuously running for 4 1/2 years….about due time for a hard drive failure. It’s also outdated compared to newer servers, so my hosting company bumped me up to a new server gratis.

They simply imaged the current drive and put it in a new server, and 99% of everything on there worked just fine after the transfer. However HouseOfRave had some problems since the paths on the new server were different.

I tried fixing it myself this entire weekend but to no avail. I don’t have a yearly service contract with Shopsite, so I ended up paying $245 to get a technician to look at the problem. The problem was fixed within 10 minutes of my service request.

It really reminded me of a story I once heard:

A nuclear power facility was having trouble diagnosing why the reactors were getting dangerously hot. The engineers exhaustively examined every piece of equipment and couldn’t find any faults or possible causes for this. This was a very dangerous situation so they resorted to hiring a consultant who charged $10,000 per day.

The next day the consultant came to the plant, grabbed a cup of coffee and casually walked around for a few hours lightly inspecting the machines and looking at gauges. After about 3 hours, the consultant took a can of red spray paint and drew a big red circle around one of the machines. He then told the engineers, “Replace this machine and the reactor will return to normal,” and he proceeded to leave.

As he was leaving, the engineers couldn’t believe he was charging $10,000 for only 3 hours of work, and demanded he give them a detailed invoice. He took out a pad and pen, then wrote:

Red spray paint: $1.00
Knowing where to spray: $9,999.00

So anyways…HoR is back up and taking orders. The site itself didn’t go down, but none of the add-to-cart or checkout buttons parsed properly to the cgi scripts (a.k.a. you couldn’t buy anything this weekend).

On the plus side, the new server is much faster than the old one. I’m getting a roughly 4X faster response rate across the board:

Even simple things like logging into the FTP and server backend are much, much faster which is always appreciated.

Speaking of appreciated, Happy Mother’s Day!

Flash Experimenting – Interactive Objects

My main goal in my learning Flash phase is to learn how to create interactive objects. This is a first run trial of just that:

Pretty basic and simple stuff, but such a small effect can be very useful in more serious applications. I’m still learning Flash, and I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty fun!

Also, if any of my sites start acting a little funky this coming weekend it’s because I’m transferring to a new, upgraded server.

Trying to Learn Flash

Learning Photoshop has brought me lots of value (and money), and I think it’s much past due that I learn how to use Flash.

I can sssoooorrrrrt of use Flash right now as seen in my crude re-creation of my accident. I was also able to quickly pick up Swish which is what I might use from now on.

I’m not looking to become an expert in this, but I want to be able to regularly incorporate Flash into different projects. I can already make simplified little movies, but I want to learn how to use Action Script which is the programming language behind Flash (from what I understand). My end goal is to make small Flash files which react to mouse movement. Like when you roll your mouse over an area, it reacts in a certain way, or makes other objects in the file react. Shouldn’t be that tough.

As for now I’m starting to get re-acquainted with Flash, and this is my first little experiment with it:

That’s just from playing around a bit. I need to start learning how to properly use more advanced features. Both Flash and Swish have tutorials included in the software, perhaps those would be a good start. There’s also a massive amount of free flash tutorials out there (Google it), but has anyone had luck with a particular one?

I’ve given myself a reasonable time line to get familiar with making customized Flash modules: Two weeks. So come 5-22-2008 I should have some crude example of a interactive Flash file posted here.

Improving HoR – Day 19 – Newsletter

HouseOfRave has thousands of registered users on the mailing list and yet I’ve never sent out a newsletter or mass mailing with new products, news yadda yadda. It seems I’m missing out on a decently large opportunity here (well, I sent a ghetto one before which was a total disaster).

I’ll be using Vertical Response to send out this upcoming newsletter as I’ve had some experience with it before. Today I designed, wrote and formatted the pictures for the upcoming newsletter.

I’m actually waiting to send this email blast for a little while, because coming up on May 22, 2008 Vertical Response is having a free workshop @ the Driskill in Austin which will teach a bunch of tips, tricks and recommendations for email marketing. I’ll be going if anyone here in Austin wants to join me for the free food workshop.

Anyhow, currently this is what I’ve come up with for the Newsletter:

It looks a little plain, but hey, it’s only the first day I’ve worked on it. I also have a feeling the final product that goes out will look much different than this initial composite.

I’m sure the upcoming workshop will have a bunch of recommendations on what works and what doesn’t. I’ve heard little tips like giving away a 15% of coupon in the email is good, but it never works good as offering free shipping….little things like that can make or break a campaign (so I hear).

I’ll be sending this initial test email to 4,000 registered customers, and it’s crazy to think of that percentage wise.

  • If only 2% order something, that’s 80 extra orders.
  • If only 1% order something, that’s 40 extra orders.
  • If only .5% order something, that’s 20 extra orders.

I’m wondering if that’s just wishful thinking, or if this email marketing stuff really works that well. Anyone here had any success with it?

Improving HoR – Day 18 – Yahoo Shopping Feed

A few days ago I setup HouseOfRave to send an XML feed to Google, now to further expand HoR’s reach I’ve submitted a product feed of 350 HouseOfRave products to Yahoo.

I had to format the product list myself since my software doesn’t automatically do it, but Yahoo makes it simple, so anyone relatively familiar with Excel could figure it out.

For I use Yahoo Stores, so all my products are automatically listed on the Yahoo Shopping network. That business is rarely updated yet still makes some orders solely from Yahoo Shopping Network listings.

What I like about the Yahoo Shopping Network is that when people click your product, they are usually ready to buy. However since HouseOfRave is not hosted on Yahoo Stores, I’m curious to see the actual buying habits.

Unlike Google’s Froogle, inclusion in the Yahoo Shopping network costs money. I added $50 to my pay-per-click account and am anxious to see the results in the coming month. If an investment of $50 brings in <$50 in profit I wouldn't have had before, then the campaign will be a success and I'll increase my Yahoo spending. If not, lesson learned.

Improving HoR – Day 17

I recently wrote about improving the shopping cart layout and flow for HouseOfRave, and it’s definitely much better than it used to be.

I added upon that and started making new checkout buttons that stay congruent with the main site. Previously all the buttons looked like this:

There was nothing really wrong with the buttons, but they didn’t fit the color scheme of the site very well. I went ahead and re-designed some of the buttons to appear like this:

The changed buttons were basically transposed from the “Add to cart” and “View Cart” buttons customers see on all the products.

Now I realize the “Continue Shopping” and “Checkout” button have not been changed. I actually DID change them, but reverted them back. I’m trying to make the buttons congruent with the site, but that was the problem, the new buttons blended in too well with the site. I think the checkout button should stand out a little more, and I’m still trying to find/make a good one. Even Noah commented on this saying checkout buttons should stand out.

I do like how it looks at the moment. The “Remove” “Empty Cart” and “Recalculate” buttons are routine user operations, and the associated buttons look completely different from the main site functions (Continue Shopping and Checkout”).

An extra backend function that was added to the site courtesy of the recent Shopsite upgrade is I can track user store searches. So whenever people search for something, I see the results in the backend. This feature was just implemented this feature very recently so there’s not much data yet, but it’s another metric I can use to improve the overall ease of use for House Of Rave.

Improving HoR – Day 16 – Disco Time

Today for improving HoR I added a bunch of cross-sell items to the products in the Disco Ball section of HouseOfRave.

Another improvement to the disco ball section today is the addition of a “how-to” page. Every once in a while I get calls or emails asking what is needed to create a full disco ball setup. I’m sure if a few people are emailing and asking about this, a lot more are wondering.

Come to think about it…it isn’t very intuitive. People who want a whole disco ball setup in their house, apartment, game room, business…whatever, need three things: A disco ball, a motor and a light. There are different types of disco balls, different motors for different sized disco balls and different types of lights. To cure this confusion I decided to make a simple graphic that explains this:

….that’s not quite enough to explain it, so when clicked, it brings visitors to the “How To Setup A Disco Ball” page which I made today. I’ll admit this isn’t the neatest tutorial around, but it can help clear up some confusion to the novice disco ball buyer.

How To Setup A Disco Ball

In the tutorial are several steps on how to setup a disco ball and it also shows HouseOfRave’s offerings. It isn’t overly complicated, but it gives people a better idea of what’s needed.

I wrote the tutorial, snapped some quick pictures, cropped them and posted them in a new page. Hopefully this little addition will help improve the quality of the Disco Ball section.