Nov/6/2015 Юлия Тёмкина 26 minutes to read

Case study. How we increased sales 5 times and screwed up

In February 2014, the Client approached us to triple the profit of the store in one-year time. The e-commerce market in Belarus was unfamiliar to us. Although Belarus is similar to Ukraine and russia, market development and the principles of doing Internet business are different there.

If you don’t want to repeat our mistakes and screw up, read the case and draw your own conclusions.

About Ultra.by

An online hypermarket
  • Founding year2004
  • NicheMarketplace
  • GeographyBelarus

Team

  • Roman Rybalchenko, “Art Director” (mentor, adviser, sometimes a “push in the right direction”).
  • Andrei Gorbatyuk, Internet Marketing Director (asking a lot of questions, learning a lot during the whole time, implementing common ideas, being a growth hacker).

What the Client came to us with:

  • An updated website (CMS and design changed);
  • Falling demand for the main categories of goods sold (multi-cookers and cameras). The market behaved in exactly the same way as in Ukraine.

The photo market falling by 40% in one year

  • There were more phone orders than online orders. This is a feature of the Belarusian market, since in Ukraine and russia more users trust online ordering.

Cameras and multi-cookers made up a significant part of Ultra.by’s turnover. We took on the project when the market was falling. We studied the market until the end of February and started acting in March.

Focusing on the Ukrainian market indicators is wrong. We have our own way of development. On the one hand, the population of Belarus is richer, but on the other hand, the market is much smaller. Nevertheless, I would indicate not a drop in demand, but a reorientation. More SLR cameras and almost complete absence of compact cameras. Multi-cookers are still being sold.

Arthur Levitan, Ultra.by

 

Choice of promotion tools

Online stores have 4 main sources of orders:

  1. SEO
  2. PPC advertising
  3. price comparison websites
  4. email newsletters

The client was already placed on some PCWs, and the email database was small, so we started with PPC advertising and SEO.

We invited Roma to the updated project. Completely redesigned. We had a fairly high position in the issuance. There was a steady flow of customers, high ratings in aggregators. And a lot of regular customers.

Artur Levitan, Ultra.by

 

PPC advertising

Houza.com: attracting customers in real estate aggregator in UAE using PPC

In 11 months, attendance from PPC advertising increased 8 times. The number of transactions in Google Analytics increased 14 times (This may sound unreal, but it happened because we did not immediately set up 1-click order tracking, so in reality the growth was somewhat smaller).

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Dynamics of visits from PPC advertising

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Dynamics of visits and transactions via Google Ads (AdWords)

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Dynamics of visits and transactions via Yandex Direct

 

What did we do?

In addition to advertising categories, we also launched a product context for popular categories.
Competitors were far from being successful in this respect. Our scheme looked like this:

For each model, we created our own ad group. A custom set of keywords and a specific ad ensured that our ads were highly visible for such queries.

There were 14,000 products, so we partially automated the process of creating ads. We wrote a parser based on Google Docs. It collected information about the name of the product and the url of the page from the product catalog on the site. We used the importXML function in Google Docs. Then, we passed the data through Excel and uploaded it to Google Ads Editor.

We have created negative keyword lists with “standard” phrases:

  • instruction
  • download
  • upload
  • review
  • repair
  • fix
  • which
  • do it yourself
  • forum
  • test
  • used, etc.

As we worked with the account, queries were worked out daily, according to which ads were displayed and the lists of negative keywords and keyword lists were updated. As a result, there were 17 total lists of negative keywords.

Снимок_экрана_2015-02-14_в_14_56_47

Don’t forget to run negative keyword lists through declensions because Google Ads doesn’t understand morphology in negative keywords.

The ads contained dynamically-updated information about the cost of the goods and the quantity left in stock. Every day, our scripts checked the price and availability of the product, and updated the ad text. The announcement did not go to moderation, but was updated instantly. That is, we did not lose a couple of hours every day while the ad with the new price was moderated. The advanced functionality {param} was used instead. In addition, a new, even more advanced functionality has appeared.

If the product was out of stock, the ad was automatically disabled.

All functionality was implemented without the help of third-party services and almost without involving programmers. We used Ads Scripts and Google Spreadsheets.

Ads Scripts were taken as a basis at Free Ads Scripts and adjusted to our specifics, since they do not have time to work on a large number of products in 5 minutes.

The programmers did only a simple upload: product + quantity in stock + price. Preparation for such unloading took 2 hours.

In the first month, we started with a CTR of 10.68%, and completed the project with a CTR of 16.09%.

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Each Google Ads campaign has its own relevant additional links. The CTR of additional links reached 33-34% (where there were enough statistics to judge the statistical significance).

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Part of the ad impressions turned immediately into calls. CTR of clicks on mobile phones in ads reached 11%.

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  • We regularly conducted A/B tests with ads. Read more about testing in the article.

Ads Perfomance Grader Plus (an independent tool from WordStream) gave our account the highest score of 100%.

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To launch full-fledged campaigns in Yandex.Direct, we signed an additional agreement with Yandex. After that, they were able to add the words “loan, installment plan, etc.” in the ad text. These phrases increased the CTR of ads by 0.5 — 1.5%.

Due to the large number of products, K50:Generator was used to generate shopping ads. The service allowed us to generate ads and keywords in a short time. Only announcements of goods that were in stock were broadcast.

The best strategy in terms of CPO was buying a weekly number of clicks. It allowed you to get rid of the usual tracking of positions and focus on CTR and the maximum cost per click.

 

Dealing with SEO

We conducted internal website optimization, and made templates by which the site generated meta tags according to the templates we needed.

Buy {{current_category/name}} {{name}}, reviews, descriptions, features Minsk → Buy Camera Canon XXX, reviews, descriptions, features Minsk

We added to robots.txt on a regular basis.

We bought eternal links on exchanges, and also negotiated directly with the owners of major news portals in Belarus. Press releases for publication were also prepared by us.

Micro-markup was written everywhere to improve the CTR of the search snippet.

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We ordered and placed SEO-texts on 120 product categories.

Attendance from search engines increased 3.5 times in 11 months.

The number of transactions in Google Analytics grew up to 34 times (it may sound unreal, but there was a tag which got removed from the PPC advertising in November, so the result was, in fact, more modest).

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Dynamics of visits by SEO

 

What should be done after dealing with SEO and PPC advertising?

At the second stage of our work, we continued to expand SEO and PPC advertising and started “prepping” price aggregators, remarketing and teaser advertising.

 

Price aggregators (PCW)

In Belarus, the main PCW after onliner.by (which the Client’s employees worked with) was Yandex Market and kupi.tut.by.

When switching from price aggregators, the links were not tagged. As a result, there was no analytics at all by product category. We gave the programmers the technical requirements, and thus we were able to track conversions for each of the product groups. We understood how many clicks and sales were in each category: cameras, multicookers, etc.

We improved the quality of unloading products in xml. This ensured 100% correct product placement in Yandex Market categories. It turned out to be easy to achieve this — you just need to follow the recommendations of Yandex.Market. The more data about the product you specify — the higher the chances for the correct uploading in the catalog.

While we were working on the project, Yandex bought and opened free access to Pricelabs (an excellent bid management service). This helped increase 10 times the number of transactions from the Market. Rates were dynamically updated every half an hour. We stayed in the right positions without overpaying per click.

An additional bonus is that you can upload products that are N% more expensive / cheaper than those of competitors. We regularly used this functionality because it made it possible to keep abreast of prices and adjust them in time.

It was difficult to explain to Roman the specifics of e-commerce in Belarus. Considering that Ultra.BY has been on the market for more than 10 years, we know all ins and outs and, unlike the Ukrainian and Russian markets, in our case the greatest purchasing power belongs to large aggregators and several large online stores. That is, in order to break into the market, it is enough to be placed in aggregators. Knowing these subtleties, I advise you to actively work with clients after the sale. Including working on feedback and learning how to ask to write a review.

Artur Levitan, Ultra.by

 

Remarketing and teaser advertising

We launched remarketing and teaser advertising on 2 services: Trafmag, and then Adtarget.me.

Trafmag is a platform that is designed more for the Ukrainian and Russian markets. There were few Belarusian resources in its reserves. Therefore, traffic and a small number of transactions (10-15 transactions per month) were provided by Trafmag banners, which were placed on the Google Display Network.

Adtarget.me turned out to have more coverage, and was able to generate more traffic and transactions. On average, it accounted for twice as many orders as Trafmag.

Unlike our competitors, we launched product retargeting. This made it possible to “remind” the visitor not only about the site itself or the category of goods, but also about the specific product viewed (also with the current price).

снимок

During big sales, we used remarketing on Facebook and Vkontakte. Announcements were broadcast only to those who were registered on the site, or those who had ordered previously (including those who bought by phone and did not leave their email address).

 

Website improvements

We persuaded the Client to replace all the texts on the information pages, and wrote them from scratch. We used informational style in the new texts.

We also encouraged the Client to fill the blog with articles for SEO. We set the TOR and controlled its implementation.

We took care of the site loading speed. Loading sped up by 26-65% (depending on the type of pages: main, category, product card). We measured the speed and used the recommendations from thе gtmetrix.com service.

Together with the Client and the developers, we created a menu taking into account the behavioral factors of the site visitors.

Mobile input types were added to all forms on the site to make it more convenient for mobile users to fill out the forms (the amount of mobile traffic was growing daily).

We installed Google Tag Manager. We moved the call of events for Google Analytics and the output of all codes to GTM so as not to “bother” programmers every time.

We prepared banners for third-party sites. Trafmag functionality helped a lot here. Thanks to Trafmag, we could manage all the banners from one place. Therefore, we updated product categories in banners without involving the site owners.

 

Difficulties and how we handled them

A lack of communication with the content department.

Products and categories were regularly added to the site. It was impossible to track everything. We repeatedly arranged meetings on this issue with the Client, but we did not manage to get them to notify us.

Since, in addition to the CNC, each category also had an “internal” url, which was closed from indexing, but contained the category’s ordinal ID, we wrote a category parser in Google Spreadsheets.

When a new category appeared, we could see it.

Oftentimes, the product was removed from the site instead of being given the out-of-stock status. This resulted in regular errors in PPC accounts as the advertised url returned 404 Error. Don’t do this unless it’s critically necessary.

 

Duplicate pages and robots.txt

The website was updated without SEO specialists involved. The process was as follows: they moved the old site to another address and uploaded the new one.

There were many problems, we kept filtering pages in thousands. We scanned the site using XENU (you can also use an analogue of Netpeak Spider), set tasks for a page-by-page 301 redirect from old addresses to similar new ones in order to save SEO weight.

When the functionality was being improved by the programmers, duplicate pages came out, which we had to spot and “delete” in robots.txt throughout the entire work on the project.

 

The Client wouldn’t provide phone sales data.

We asked the Client to connect call tracking and offered different options in terms of cost and accuracy for the Belarusian market (static call tracking, encryption method in the product article, promo code method and others). The Client promised to do it, look into it, think about it, but they did not let us implement call tracking.

For our part, we found a way out only to track any online actions that were associated with the user’s request to call them back. We also tracked quick orders that only required typing a number.

To fully work with call metrics, you must use SIP telephony, which is a problem in our country. We solved this by designing and launching our own call center. Now we do not have a problem with tracking any call. The options that Roman offered were not very effective and unreasonably expensive. However, we have solved this problem. And today we can confidently say where the client has come from.

Artur Levitan, Ultra.by

 

The Client didn’t provide data on the actual sales.

We asked for access to the order tracking system to track which product categories are selling best and optimize ads. We were ready to sign a non-disclosure agreement, ready to receive summary statistics once a month (X multi cookers sold, Y TVs sold, etc.). The Client first promised to provide it, and then became adamant: «you will never get access to the order accounting system».

We started optimizing the CPO (the cost of placing an order on the site), which we were able to track.

Data on the costs was imported into Google Analytics using OWOX BI.

We had an average margin by product category, we were tracking costs and transactions. This is quite enough for a rough calculation of ROMI=margin / advertising costs *100% and CPO.

Optimization examples:

  • We raised and lowered rates in price aggregators. 1-3 positions turned out to be more advantageous than 4-5, although all 5 were displayed on the product card.
  • We filtered product categories in specific advertising channels. Advertising source A could be selling 10 times more cameras than source B. We reduced the costs for source B to a level where the number of transactions remained the same, and the costs decreased.

Some traffic sources did not provide a single transaction at all for specific groups of goods for a period of more than six months. We turned off advertising for such groups.

  • The main parameter for tracking was not CTR or CPC, but the cost of the order (CPO). Consider this in your work! You can write a very compelling ad with high CTR, low CPC but poor conversion. Or the CPC might be high, but the conversion margin on the product group will be good. Therefore, you always need to recalculate everything, at least in CPO. This way is closer to the real business goals. CPC, CTR are intermediate metrics, which are more useful for the ad seller :)

I think business owners will understand me: a lot of data belongs to commercial information. And a flimsy agreement is not a safety guarantee. However, frankly speaking, we simply could not conduct unloading. That’s why we devoted the whole year to automation and software improvement. The most difficult thing was to train employees to use CRM, which allows us to manage the business from a distance. Now we are working in one place.

Artur Levitan, Ultra.by

 

Prioritization and setting tasks between contractors

Two contractors were working on the project. The programming team and us. The programmers preferred to do their own tasks, rather than those set by us. Our tasks were implemented with a delay of up to 4 months. And this is despite the correct setting of priorities in the system of tasks for developers and entering all tasks through tickets in writing.

To track and manage our tasks, we used an alternative system for tracking working time — Worksection.

We had a big problem. Don’t repeat my mistakes. In many aspects, my knowledge and vision of solving problems was better than that of Roman.ua team or Sense Production — probably due to the fact that I myself am an e-commerce marketer by training. And I have more experience than the guys. But the essence of my idea was to be engaged in development, while IT development management and marketing had to be outsourced. As a result, the two teams didn’t manage to share responsibilities and set priorities together.

Today, I trust all the key issues to people from my team only. Most of the work we put into operation only after finalizing with me. This gave us a growth of 20% over the last 3 months.

Artur Levitan, Ultra.by

 

Results

CPO (cost per order) decreased 10 to 12 times depending on the channel.

The number of orders increased 6.2 times.

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Online orders turnover  increased 5.3 times.

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Let’s remember that we were able to track the statistics only for online orders. We were not given statistics on phone orders. We assume that the dynamics were similar.

I would like to note that the situation is indeed somewhat different — the fall in demand for photos led to reinvestment — we expanded the range by 18,000 SKUs

Which in turn gave an increase in demand and an increase in turnover.

It’s like selling umbrellas in hot weather — there will be no sales. But when it rains, sales will be there. This is how we tried to close the commodity matrix. In order not to depend on anything and have a stable flow of sales.

If it were not for Roman, perhaps the situation would not be so colorful. He introduced new tools for us. We were especially pleased when we were doing something that no one else was.

As for the turnover, it really grew, including by phone. And thanks to our preparation during the year — the transition to CRM, building our own call center, etc. — we were able to reach a different level of work with customers.

Artur Levitan, Ultra.by

 

Why we stopped cooperating

Despite the results, the Client was dissatisfied with us. He said that we do not work well, we do not do what he asks, and all the growth in sales is not due to our work, but due to the range of goods.

In general, the growth of sales by the Client during the year was constantly called into question by the Client. We kept having the same conversation again and again:

  • Look, the sales have increased X times
  • No, they haven’t
  • How come they haven’t? Let’s check. Give us access to call tracking and phone sales statistics.
  • We won’t give it now, look at Google Analytics
  • Right, then according to Google Analytics, everything has grown X times
  • Google Analytics doesn’t take into account a lot of things.
  • Give access to ERP so that we take everything into account and optimize
  • We won’t give it to you, keep tracking by Google Analytics

As I said above — growth due to the new range of goods. And a falling demand for compact cameras. Which, on the whole, changed the situation with the turnover completely.

In addition, sales growth lies in the little things. Sometimes, the very color of the button affects the decision.

Many of the things were done by my team or the Sense Production team.

Artur Levitan, Ultra.by

Our mistake is that we agreed on a fixed monthly pay and a sales commission on a threefold increase in the turnover, but we did not convince the Client to provide a transparent turnover accounting. The turnover, if reported by the Client, was only general, excluding the breakdown by categories (which did not allow us to fully optimize advertising) and it wasn’t growing according to the Client.

We thought that we were doing great, but the Client just wouldn’t admit it. And the Client believed that we were underperforming and doing something wrong.

In another disputable situation, we heard from the Client that we would never get access to real sales and turnover. We decided to part with the Client so as not to breed dissatisfaction with each other.

By this point, we felt emotionally drained and even offended — we tried hard, we achieved results. But the Client did not recognize these results and did not allow us to verify the real figures.

We provided the turnover figures correctly.
Roma visited our office and stores. That is, we gave real turnover, but access to sales was not yet available.
It’s hard to argue with a humanities-minded person about mathematics)

Artur Levitan, Ultra.by

A month later, the emotions subsided and we realized that it was our own fault.

Ultra.by Conclusions

  1. Follow my example. Participate in all important business processes.
  2. Hire only the best ones.
  3. Be sure to draw up and approve the work plan yourself. KPI should be written and checked constantly.
  4. The market is dynamic. If 5 years ago it was important to have a lot of visitors, today this is not a necessary metric. It’s important to have leads.
  5. Do not believe that you can steal someone’s competitive edge without big investments and without a good team. But if you have experience behind you and have resolved the issue with investments, then go for it.

Do you want to set up PPC advertising?

We deeply understand how to use all the possibilities of targeting to make advertising as effective as possible.

 

Roman.ua team’s Conclusions

  1. There are still CIS markets where you can challenge your competitors and achieve good growth rates within a year of work. Markets where competition in online advertising is not yet as strong as in Russia and Ukraine.
  2. Programmers will do what they are more familiar with and more interested in, if given a choice. You need to secure your Client’s support if you need programming resources.
  3. Before starting work with reference to sales (in our case, the outsourced Internet marketing director), you need to agree on transparent sales accounting.

Dmitriy Malakhov

Co-founder of Dobovo project

Online apartment booking service Dobovo.com about working with Roman.ua.

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