Thursday, April 3, 2014

SimplePart March 2014 Update

Welcome to our News and Update wrap-up for March

During the month of March, our client's websites saw 2,363,793 unique visitors (+8.9%) and generated 12,952 orders (+15.2%).Those orders totaled $1,814,240.19 (+18.9%) and brought them $482,247.66 (+15.4%) in Gross Profit from Parts and Shipping.

March was Spring Break for some, for others Spring Break will hit in April. In addition, Tax Season is in full swing here in the US which will give customers of our clients extra money to spend, and others not so much. The stock market also had a bouncy March, which typically rattles buyers of parts for high-end vehicles. These factors will affect our clients differently based on their typical vehicle buyer profile, they should expect some on and off weeks.

30 Day Rolling Sales – All Websites

Our outage

SimplePart had a proper outage this month – our first in quite a long time. For a period of about 12 minutes on 3/26, all website and control panel functionality was unavailable. Preceding that for a period of about 15 minutes, some product images on your websites were unavailable. Our monitoring systems detected the issue, and after a brief period of troubleshooting, we shifted to our backup systems and all functionality was restored. Nearly all aspects of our infrastructure are doubly fault tolerant, load balanced and automatically redundant – it happens that the nature of this particular failure (a low level Windows Server fault on one of our IIS web servers) was somewhat unusual and managed to slip through those automated controls. We are working presently to design new redundancies into our infrastructure to keep anything like this from happening again.

Industry News
Google has changed the way search results look in a way that is somewhat significant:
  • Links are no longer underlined
  • Sitelinks have been expanded
  • The size of fonts in many places has changed, meaning that more or less text is displayed (titles, descriptions, etc)
Google is showing signs that a new Panda algorithm update is coming; according to statements, it will help smaller websites rank better against large established brands. In previous updates, large established brands saw strong positive movement in search results, often at the expense of smaller web players.
At the SMX conference, Google indicated there would be a solution soon to “keyword not provided.”
Once upon a time, when a searcher clicked Google results and came to your website, Google passed along the original search query text. That stopped last year, and was a big deal in the SEO community. This news indicates a possible move back towards transparency in this area.

Google this month added a new Organic search result, above Organic search results. Based on their Knowledge Graph, Google identifies the most likely web result for a given query, and then shows text from that website in an “answer box” right in search results. This is the new “first” organic search position, and a very big deal – especially if your content includes authoritative articles. AdWords ads now show results of Google Consumer Surveys as a fancy trust-mark, which according to Google provide a 10% boost in paid ad click-through rates. Presumably the results of these surveys also play into CPC calculations, and may reduce your rates. These surveys are free, automatic, and administered by Google if you elect to turn them on – they are designed to be answered by existing,
returning customers.

Google this month penalized several international link/blog networks. Repercussions from this have affected rankings for websites worldwide who used them, or engaged SEO firms who used them, to boost rankings through artificial link-building.

Also at SMX, Google announced the end to its experiment in banner advertisement in search results.
This experiment began in October of 2013 and showed big-brand banners, as paid ads, in response to relevant searches.

Your Google+ profile now shows the total number of times your content has been viewed by others (Total Content Views = Impressions?). Presumably this is done to highlight the growing user base of Google+ and the activity of users on the network.

Other News
Are we in a tech bubble? There have been many high profile investments and acquisitions of late in companies with no profits, and no clear path to profitability. Some of the best ideas start out that way, certainly. But many within the industry firmly believe we’re in a bubble right now. Anecdotally, we just tried to hire a junior programmer straight out of school – made him a very reasonable offer, and we’re nice enough people. He turned us down, and had an offer in hand for $75k per year plus benefits and bonus. Have not seen starting salaries like that since the late 90s tech bubble .. Check out these links: UPS has announced they will be raising general rates by 4.4% starting March 31st.
Bing Shopping has returned, and is now accepting new merchants. Like Google Shopping, merchants submit a feed of products and images, and Bing shows products in search results for matching queries. Customers click-through those product results to the merchants website to complete their transaction. Merchants pay a CPC fee for the service, as with Google Shopping. We already have clients active in the new Bing Product Ads system – if you’re not already active, you will be hearing from us soon.

Bing rolled out a series of updates to its Entity Map (like Google’s Knowledge Graph) with 150m new entries for real estate listings, lawyers, doctors, dentists and “web activities.” When you search for one of these items in Bing, you now will see a card in the sidebar with detailed metadata about that thing.

JD Power has begun to integrate DealerRater reviews into its platform, so that dealers will see DealerRater reviews alongside JD Power’s own survey data. Customers filling out a JD Power survey will have the option to post their feedback to DealerRater.
CarFax has entered the Used Car Classifieds space with a used car shopping tool driven by CarFax-like criteria, such as “no carfax accidents” or “1 owner”.

Yahoo appears to be moving away from social signup with Facebook. By giving your users the ability to “sign in” to your website using their Facebook credentials, you get access to some of Facebook’s demographic information about that person – but in return, you tell Facebook all about what that user does on your website. By removing the Facebook login option, Yahoo says they will “offer the best personalized experience to everyone” but likely they are making more of a data sharing play.

According to an Experian study of email performance across 50 brands, campaigns that included coupons generated 43% more revenue, had a 14% higher open rate and 34% higher click-through rate. Click the jump for details on the highest-converting “dollar off” and “percentage off” coupons from the study.

Twitter was down for an hour on the 11th due to a failure of a planned rollout of new “core services.”

Alibaba, China’s Amazon, is planning an IPO in the US and is valued in the same range as Amazon. They are planning to launch a US competitor to Amazon/eBay which we’ve talked about here previously. On top of that planned marketplace launch, they now are also bringing their online payments system Alipay to US merchants to compete head-to-head with PayPal. This system is in use by Alibaba in its Chinese family of websites, and is widely used elsewhere as well to pay bills and make online purchases. Alibaba is marketing Alipay to US merchants to help them increase sales to customers in China. They give US merchants the ability to calculate Chinese shipping costs through integrated tools, as well as ship China-bound packages to Alibaba’s US warehouses for fulfillment and delivery by Alibaba to the end-customer in China. It’s an interesting program.


We have touched on Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks in past newsletters; I want to go into a bit more detail here. In the news we often hear about technology being compromised (hacked) and things of value being taken. Far less press goes to DDoS attacks, which are quite common and significantly under-reported.

In a DDoS attack, your customers are unable to reach your website to do business with you because someone is flooding your website with more requests than it can handle and it slows to a crawl. These attacks come in many forms, and not all target web servers specifically – but the end result is the same. For a period of minutes, hours or days you cannot conduct business on the web.

This is the type of thing which is often done to extort money from businesses, or pursue a political/social agenda against a company. And really, there isn’t a whole lot that can be done if your business is the target of a DDoS attack – it would not be unlike having an endless stream of empty cars filling the road to your dealership, keeping customers from being able to reach you. There are technologies which can turn away those empty cars, but these attacks are rising in scale to the point where well equipped attackers are capable of overwhelming even the strongest of defenses. In some cases, so many fake requests are generated that other businesses using the same internet provider are affected (collateral damage).

This is something to be informed on, and aware of as your business grows on the web.

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