Buck Smolow is the contact for JustPoppin.com, a site dedicated to selling gourmet popcorn and popcorn products to popcorn lovers (I love saying popcorn). The company sells three varieties of unpopped popcorn kernels; Mushroom Popcorn, Movie Popcorn, and Tender Hulless Popcorn. They also sell 6 varieties of flavored popcorn, popping oils and flavorings. Aside from the actual popcorn business, the company is looking to expand and will soon be opening a site dedicated to popcorn poppers. The company is considering names such as popcorninformation.com or popcorn-popper.info, both of which they own.
Mike: How has your main business’s domain worked out for you so far?
Buck: It’s been an uphill climb. We started on ebay, then went to a free shopping cart system called eCrater. In both instances, you don’t get to use your own domain. We outgrew eCrater pretty quickly and in May 2009 we moved to our own platform. Since then we’ve been working hard to establish a connection between our products, our brand, and our domain name. On the other platforms, the name of your so-called store doesn’t matter very much because their search function is internal and really just based on product name, description, and price. But once you get out into the “real world” the search algorithms, as everyone knows, are much more sophisticated and take into account a whole lot of other factors. And one of the most interesting things we’ve learned is that the words in the domain name seem to get a high mark in those algorithms. So whereas having a cute, fun name like Just Poppin on a storefront may be attractive, it doesn’t get you off to the best start in SEO because frankly, until we came along, no one searched for the phrase “Just Poppin.”
Mike: Are you aware of your search engine ranking for keywords in the popcorn market? Is this a competitive market?
Buck: Yes we’re very aware. For our most pertinent keywords we’re usually number 1 in Google, Bing, and Yahoo. That varies from day to day but for the most part, we’re at the very top of the non-sponsored search returns. Yes, it’s an incredibly competitive market and getting more so each day.
Mike: What made you decide to shift directions when selecting a domain for your new business? What made you decide to look at more keyword related names as opposed to a trendy, brandable name?
Buck: I do a lot of searching. For all kinds of stuff, not just my own products. Just to get a feel for what kinds of returns I’ll get from different terms. My friend Sahir and I have been doing this for over a year – testing this term and that term, this key word and that key word. This isn’t any kind of scientific or statistical research – just plugging stuff into the search box and seeing what comes back over and over. And at this point, we’re pretty confident that the actual words in a domain name can account for a LOT of search juice, even when compared with content and other things in some cases. When I type in a term and a parked domain with no content and no links comes up above other relevant domains and the only difference is that my search term appeared in the parked domain name but not in the relevant domain name, I have to think there’s something to it. That’s what got me moving in this direction. Of course I’m probably going to kick myself after your article comes out because everyone’s going to be rushing to grab up even more domains.
Mike: Have you considered purchasing any premium popcorn related domain names to help with seo?
Buck: No I haven’t. We’re not in that space – the pay $100,000 for a “premium” domain name space. I’ll go with some less premium but very descriptive domain names instead. You mentioned a couple of them in your intro paragraph. Even though they aren’t .COM names, I think that on top of good content, having a domain name like that will just make the SEO fight that much easier. That’s instead of kicking myself in the head with another cute, trendy domain name. Don’t get me wrong. If you’re first to market, like Amazon was or have a ton of money behind you like some of the upstart fashion houses and retailers that have hit the scene recently, your domain name is pretty irrelevant. But when you’re a smaller company with limited resources, why make your job harder by forcing yourself to overcome a domain name with an unrelated word or phrase, or a difficult spelling?
Mike: What challenges have you faced running an online business? What lessons will carry over to the launch of your new site?
Buck: It’s funny, when folks ask me that question I think they’re often expecting answers like “customer service” or “staffing” or “getting customers”. None of those things are the case for us. We have an awesome clientele because we have the best product available anywhere. We provide crazy good customer service which keeps folks coming back. We have really great people working with us. And we have a really good reputation so word of mouth brings in a lot of new customers. And of course we love popcorn and love talking to people about it. No, our biggest challenges are with things like shipping costs, packaging, vendors dropping the ball, that sort of thing. I have to say that every single day I come across a person or a business and think to myself “how in the world are these people in business/still in business”. The amount of really awful customer service out there is mind blowing and THAT is what makes life difficult for a small business like ours. Because we spend countless hours dealing with vendor issues or shipping issues that, if folks just did the job they were supposed to do, we wouldn’t be dealing with. I could write a book about it. Remember Tom Peters “In Search of Excellence”? Well that search seems to have gotten much more difficult.
Keeping things as simple as possible is probably the biggest lesson I’ll carry over. For instance, we recently became authorized distributors of Paragon products – makers of high quality popcorn poppers for home theaters and such. Right there, that relationship is going to bring a level of simplicity into our business because they’re very organized and provide good customer service and product support. So that’s one less vendor I’m going to have to worry about. We’re also not going to go crazy customizing our website and storefront. Instead we’re going to do everything in our power to work within whatever templates are available for the ecommerce platform we choose. That will be a big time saver. So it’s stuff like that – making conscious choices toward simplicity rather than complexity.
Mike: What advice do you have for others looking to sell products online?
Buck: It’s funny but the first thing that comes to mind is a line from a song in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because we recently watched the Rocky Horror episode of Glee on Tivo. Anyway, the best advice I can give is: “Don’t get strung out by the way I [you] look. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” Meaning, every day you spend tweaking this or that little thing to make your site look perfect before going live is another day you’re not accumulating search juice. Every day you spend not putting out a tweet or a Facebook post because it’s not perfect is another day that your competitor is taking your place in that space. If you have a good product that you believe in, get it online and then you can tweak and primp as much as you want but on an incremental basis. We still fight this issue daily at JustPoppin.com. We’ll have a new product but instead of just getting it online, maybe we’ll spend several days fine tuning the product photos or writing the perfect copy. It’s a constant battle.