XAY TOMSEN | 14 July 2016
Welcome to part 6 of Setting up a business in virtual worlds. In the previous module, we looked at how to choose the best location for your virtual world store. In Part 6, we look at the pros and cons of Promoting your virtual world store to help attract customers to your business.
Showcase your shop - Running a business in virtual worlds
This is the area where most businesses either stuff up or treat with only mild interest. They shouldn't. To ignore you parcel settings is commercial suicide.
Regardless of the location you choose to establish your business, it's an easy task to set up your parcel effectively to maximise your presence in Search. I'm assuming that you were able to buy your parcel with full access to parcel properties.
Now, open 'About Land' or 'Parcel Properties', depending on your viewer.
Name the property
Under the General tab, in the Name field, give the parcel of land a relevant title. This is the label that people see when they type one of your keywords into search. The title must be relevant to prospective customers or they won't bother reading the description, let alone teleporting to your shop.
Too often I see parcel names for businesses like 'Shop 6' or 'Commercial Land for Rent', simply because the shop owner was too lazy to enter their own business name.
I really don't understand why someone who has gone to so much trouble creating products, and then paying out good money for a shop, can't be bothered typing in their business name. But it does happen a lot.
Moving on. Put your business name in the title of the property, followed by the types of things you sell.
Just putting in your brand can appear pretentious. Buyers don't like it. And stuffing your title with key words looks desperate. Buyers don't like that either.
- "Electric Pussy - Bikinis, Thongs, Gstrings, Swimwear, Underwear, Undies, Bras, Shapes, Skins, Ladies Skins" - This is keyword stuffing of the title. It achieves nothing except to look dodgy.
- "Electric Pussy" (just the brand) - Unless you're an internationally known brand, this is an ego trip. Not everyone knows your brand or business name. This tells the client nothing. If I didn't know it was a ladies' clothing store, I could not be blamed for thinking it was either a vibrator shop or a place to torture kittens.
- "Electric Pussy ~ Bikinis, Lingerie, Shapes & Skins" - This is descriptive, concise, has a few choice keywords, and fits nicely in the title bar of the search results.
Write an effective description
The Description field is where you focus on keywords relevant to your business. Try to make it read like sensible sentences while including the key terms or phrases that people might use to search for your products. Sure you can do a bit of keyword stuffing here but don't make it SEEM like keyword stuffing.
Imagine that you're an RL consumer searching for the same products on Google. What terms would you use to find your product? Make the same allowances as you would if setting up a website's keyword SEO, e.g. if you think that 'jet boats' is a good search term, also add 'speedboats' and/or 'speed boats'. If your product uses jargony terms, remember that the average Joe might not know those jargony terms, so try to keep the language mainstream.
Also remember to think internationally. Even in English speaking countries, things have different meanings and spellings, e.g. someone from the US who is selling sleepwear might include 'pajamas' in their keywords, but many countries spell it 'pyjamas', so you should list both spellings or risk missing out on a sale. Another commonly confused term is 'thongs' which in the US means g-strings, but in Australia means flip-flops. Now, that one can be embarrassing to mix up :)
Index your parcel
Click the Options tab, then tick the Show Place in Search box. From memory, I believe that Second Life charges a fee for this but I am not aware of any other grids that do.
Ticking this check box allows the system to index your parcel so it can be listed in search results, much like Googlebot indexes a website. The manner in which this is done, and its effectiveness varies greatly across different virtual worlds.
For example, my old grid, The Reef virtual world, would index the parcel within about an hour, and reindex the parcel every time the region restarted. If a parcel no longer exists, that listing would be dropped from the index. This keeps the Search results clean of broken landmarks and relevant to users. I can't speak for other Open Sim grids but I suspect that they vary significantly from one to the next.
Re the InWorldz grid, my last experience there was in late 2014. If things have changed there, I'm happy for someone to update me in the comments section below. Assuming things haven't improved though, search is pretty dysfunctional.
I say that without malice, but it is a significant and known problem. I know the grid monkeys in IW are constantly working on code but there are several Search bugs that don't seem to be dying, e.g. search results don't always refresh properly, causing parcels on regions that don't exist any more to still show up in results. On the plus side, new listings generally appear instantly, but it's a small bonus given the amount of dead links you have to wade through to find what you want. Regardless though, let your parcel be indexed. It's free, so you might as well.
At time of writing, I currently have shops in DigiWorldz which is an OpenSim based grid, and its Search seems to function much the same as it does in Second Life.
One final comment on Search, specifically in relation to OpenSim-based grids, is that not all grids are equal. Just because they run a certain version of OpenSim doesn't mean that the Search module has been configured properly.
Its effectiveness is wholly dependent on the skill set of the grid monkey running the show, so do some test searching for similar products before you commit to a particular grid.
A picture paints a thousand words
Still in the Options tab, insert your marketing photo.
A lot of buyers are rightly skeptical of titles and descriptions, so the photo should reinforce those factors.
For example, if you have a landscaping shop, the description should be about landscaping and so should the picture.
If these three aspects don't match, it creates a negative impression.
Also, on the topic of photos, remember what you learned earlier about creating desire for your product.
Your promotional photo that shows up in Search should MAKE the client want to visit your store.
Control your customer's first impression
Still in the Options tab, stand at the exact place where you want people to arrive, click Set Landing Point, then from the Teleport Routing dropbox, choose Landing Point. Your landing point should be a welcoming place that makes a good first impression, so definitely not the laggiest part of your shop.
A definite no-no is spamming new visitors with notecards and landmarks as soon as they arrive, however a brief welcoming message delivered in chat is usually not regarded as too intrusive. Alternatively, a self-serve help station at the landing point can be a handy piece of kit.
What about using bots to welcome visitors? Hmm, yeah.
Bots or NPC's (Non Player Characters) have been around for a few years now but the jury is still out on whether they're an asset or liability as store welcomers.
For every person who finds bots helpful, there's another who thinks they're creepy. It really depends on the type of business you're operating.
At a lingerie shop dressed in BDSM gear? Probably not. At a marina dressed as a pirate? Sure!
Personally, I like using bots as models in my clothing shops. I also have a couple set up as podium dancers at a night club.
In both environments, they don't actually greet clients, as I feel that might seem a bit threatening, but they are present if the client wishes to interact with them. Feedback is generally positive, but that's just my experience. Yours may vary.
A lot of shop owners pay for Classified ads so that their businesses show up in Search under the Classifieds tab.
The eternal mumble from many a creator is, "Are Classifieds worth it?". The simple answer is that it depends on how well the generic Search functions on your particular grid.
When I set up The Reef virtual world, one of my priorities was to make sure that Search worked perfectly, it did. So, if you were a creator on The Reef grid, I would have said "No, don't worry about Classifieds".
Also worth keeping in mind is that a lot of users don't even think to use the Classfieds tab when searching for products.
In Second Life, I'd say yes, you probably do need Classifieds simply because there is so much competition. That said, some of the money that people pay to rank for certain search terms to advertise their business is staggering - We're talking hundreds of real dollars a week. All the same, they must be getting a return on investment or they wouldn't be doing it. Classifieds in Second Life are a lot like Google AdWords, in that you really have to decide if it's worthwhile on a case by case basis.
In InWorldz, yes, you do need Classifieds simply because the generic Search is wonky. As a workaround (I assume), there is also a HUD available that all noobs receive, which you can add your business to. For diplomatic reasons, I won't comment on the HUD. Don't read anything into that.
I do recommend Classifieds in IW though, as it usually isn't too expensive to rank well for popular keywords. Admittedly, Classifieds in IW are a bit of a trick to get right but they do work fine once you master the system and as long as you stay on top of your listings. I used them a lot during my time there and they served their purpose well.
Regardless of which virtual world you're in though, you should consider Classifieds a secondary priority. Take care of the important stuff first - Indexing your property so that it shows up in the free generic search results.
I can't emphasise enough how important it is to set up your parcel correctly in About Land.
OK, so that's the end of our little tutorial. I hope that you found it of value, and I wish you good luck with your ventures.
Xay Tomsen a.k.a. Andrew Thompson