One of the more interesting aspects about e-commerce is traffic generation, specifically search engine traffic generation. There are basically two ways to gain traffic from a search engine:
- Paid Listings
- Organic Listings
Paid listings are simple – you pay the search engine, they stick you in the search engine. Most search engines use a blind auction method of placement – that is; you put in a bid maximum and the search engine decides who is on top / 2nd / 3rd. There are additional complexities like page quality and the like, but at the end of the day, it’s all about who has the deeper pockets / is willing to take a higher loss.
Organic (Unpaid) Listings
Organic listings on the other hand are all driven by algorithms (with some manual updating). There is an entire industry based on beating the system, pushing a particular website / page to the top of a search listing. The individuals who are good at it make a lot of money doing this.
Over the last few years (most apparently in the last 3 years), there has been a trend by the search engines (Google in particular) to provide additional ‘weight’ to larger retailers. As if they didn’t have enough of a headstart on us smaller retailers, many of these sites need only toss a product up on their site for it to list in the top page.
We’ve seen this in particular with Settlers of Catan. We’ve gone from having a relatively high position for the keyword name (at least in Canada) to being dropped down and down and down. It’s also reflect somewhat in our sales – we used to sell a ton of the game during Christmas, now we move a couple of copies a month. It’s not a matter of price here – it’s a matter of position / visibility and with the big boys all beginning to stock the game, it’s become a not so great bestseller for us.
The Big Boys
This entire issue is compounded by the fact that attracting the general public to an online store is more difficult with other ‘generic’ advertising methods. Newspaper advertising, banner advertising and the like is very expensive and generally not effective at all in our experience. The cost for customer acquisition in this manner is prohibitive. So, SEO worked for us but with the changes in the algorithm it’s become more and more difficult to achieve any form of ranking in the gateway products.
I guess it says something about the entire industry that what we used to consider ‘our’ games have now gone mass market, such that major retailers have started stocking these games.
Of course, some of this plays into the search engine’s overall plan. If we can’t achieve rankings organically, we might have to advertise (paid listings) which obviously helps their bottomline, if not ours.