Shawkneekwah vs. Amy: The Basics of Building a Profitable Online Business

{Note from Amy: This is an important post If you don’t want to read the story, skip down to the end and ask yourself the questions. Hopefully, they’ll make you think about your e-commerce site or your blog in a different way.}


Last night, I was at my favorite gym in LA. Unlike the chi-chi-la-la meat market I wrote about a few days ago, I happen to like this place. Granted, it’s got just as many bimbelinas as the other one but it makes up for its weaknesses with fantastic group exercise classes. My favorite is Soul Boxing — not kickboxing but full contact boxing – where you actually need a release form on file to participate.

I was late and the class was full so I headed on over to the Cycle class. I really love Bob (the 8:30 pm teacher) – he’s hilarious which is a good thing because he beats the hell out of the participants. You may as well die laughing right?

Unfortunately Bob was “sick.” In his place, Shawkneekwah. (Yes, that’s how she spells it, I saw it embroidered on her gym bag.) Shawkneekwah is one of those militant fitness instructors who believes if she SCREAMS AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS some scout will ask her to replace Jillian Michaels on next season’s Biggest Loser.

To make a long story short, Shawkneekwah and I did not hit it off.

She had great music but she was doing all sorts of crazy things, none of which I wanted to be a part of – I like my spine, thank you very much.

About 15 minutes into the class, she got off her bike, stomped over to mine, and shouted in my ear: “Are you deaf?”

It was all I could do not to bitch-slap her.

I just kept cruising. If you hang around a 2-year old for enough time, you know how effective the silent treatment can be.


“And I thought it was called Bike Buffet.” I calmly replied.

Not-so-surprisingly, Shawkneekwah did not get my joke. (Granted, it wasn’t very funny but….)


Dead silence.

About three quarters of the class knows me personally and those who didn’t took the cues from the ones who do and immediately dropped their heads straight down. (More bad alignment as the result of Shawkneekwah.)

“I AM TALKING TO YOU MISSY.” Every inch of her 5’1” petite frame trembled. It didn’t take a rocket scientist or even a glance at her tomato-red face to know that my pal, Shawkneekwah, was quite livid.

“I understand.” I whispered as I increased the tension on my bike. (Note: if someone is screaming at you, whispering back at them infuriates them even more. It’s all rather lovely.)

“THEN DO WHAT I SAY OR LEAVE NOW.” Her words, flying like missiles.

I slowly counted to ten in my head, not because I was angry (I wasn’t) but more because I really thought she might explode like a volcano which, if nothing else, would have been an entertaining distraction.

But alas, Shawkneekwah did not burst so I said something like “You’d be a solid instructor if you didn’t make up all these BS exercises to do on the bike. I know you need to be certified to teach here so I am positive you know that no-hand steadies backwards on the bike is not good form, REALLY dangerous and it’s TERRIBLE for these bikes.”

Shakneekwah took one look at me (you know, the I-want-to-spit-in-your-face-but-I-don’t-dare-do-it look) and walked defiantly back to her bike.

I’m not debating that she wished me death at that moment, she most certainly did. But I’m willing to bet that she also knew deep-down, in her 8-pack core, that I was right. Her ever-so-brilliant (cough) idea to hover with your hands in a prayer pose behind your back is unnecessary and downright stupid. If you didn’t know what you were doing – and even if you did – you could easily get hurt.

In consulting you come across Shawkneekwah’s frequently. Reasonably competent people who would be fairly good/useful if they’d just stick to the basics… Sadly, adhering to the basics is something they are COMPLETELY INCAPBLE of doing. Whether it’s boredom or just plain insanity – they make garbage up to sound like they know something new and revolutionary… something you don’t.

I am not talking about breaking rules or trying to outperform better-than-most practices (both of which I am a big fan of), I’m referring to people who want you to do Camel poses on a stationary bike.

As you get better/stronger in a cycle class, you increase the tension – making it more difficult to pedal. In the web world, it’s very much the same way. As part of building your good site foundation, you may implement user ratings and reviews. As you improve, you’ll learn to prioritize those reviews so they’re not organized by date but by significance. (BIG impact on a shoestring budget.) You may have instigated/proactive chat in your checkout and search results pages at the beginning. As you learn the ins and outs of chat, you may move to chat ordering. (Companies who’ve mastered this praise its many benefits including significant average order increases.)

Are those things as sexy as segmenting e-mail addresses by Klout score? No. Do they sound as enchanting as time-stamped short codes? Nope. But will they mean a lot more to your bottom line? Absolutely.

Think you’ve already mastered the basics? Then answer this….

If you’re an e-commerce marketer…

What’s your adoption-to-cart rate? Out of 100 people, how many folks are actually putting stuff in their baskets? Most folks know their abandoned cart rate but they don’t know their adoption rate is equally, if not more, important. (If you’re a service business, use lead/quote forms in place of carts.)

What percentage of your folks are abandoning from your internal text search? Are you segregating the people who abandon on “successful” searches versus “unsuccessful” searches? There’s no doubt that folks who use your internal text search function are more likely to buy than almost anyone else who visits your site but you’ve got to separate your search results. Just because you think a search was a success because you showed your customer products doesn’t mean that it worked at all. You need to know how many folks abandon from your search AND how many folks abandon on any of the three subsequent pages after the search. (You can track more than 3 but knowing the first three will have the most impact.)

What’s your direct/no referrer completion rate? Is it quadruple (or more) your next best performing traffic segment? If not, why not?

Is your trigger e-mail program performing at 4 to 6 times (or more) your best performing thrust e-mail? How is it impacting deliverability?

Are you serving different checkouts to different people or do you just have one checkout for registered users and one for new folks? Checkouts, like entry pages, should be dynamic and based on the visitor’s user paths/streams.


If you’re a blogger…

Are 35% or more of the folks who come to your site taking an action? Signing up for your free newsletter, for example. (Taking an action does not mean leaving a comment.)

How much of your traffic is brand-new? Are over 60% of your first-time visitors coming back? Blogging “experts” say it’s all about the first-time visitors but that’s a lie. Yes, new traffic is VERY important but the key to a successful blog (in terms of conversion to an action or an order) is your repeat traffic.

What’s the average number of posts that new visitors are reading on your site? Little known fact about blogging: that’s where you need to pay close attention to your bounce rate.

What’s your referral rate for your blog? Out of 10 people, how many share it with their friends or colleagues? Knowing this percentage helps you determine what your future traffic will be which is beneficial because, in the end, it’s all a number’s game.


The above? All questions about the BASICS of your site that you should know. No fancy stuff. No bells and whistles. No pigeon poses or fancy twists without floor support.

Still got work to do? Thought you might. In the end, we should all be working on increasing our intensity on the basics. It’s just that simple.

Have a question or comment about your business? Send me an e-mail at or jot it in the comments below.


  1. says

    I feel this way a LOT with Social Media/Online Community people. There was a conversation going on recently on a Community Managers group on LinkedIn. The question was asked, “Do you have to be passionate about the subject matter to be a good Community Manager.”

    Predictably, most everyone sounded off on how passion is essential and evangelizing about the “The Power Of Social Media!”

    I’m a Social Media true believer, but I seemed like I was the only one that spoke up to say, “Um… there’s plenty of X’s and O’s that you can do and be an effective Community Manager, even if you are insanely passionate about the subject matter of the community.” Passion helps, but it’s not a prerequisite to effectiveness.

    • says

      Thanks for the comment. You touched on one of the things that drives me bananas about the majority of social media people — they tell you as long as you’re “remarkable” or “amazing.” you’ll be fine. That may sound all well and good but as we both know it’s complete crap.

  2. says

    Hey Amy, I have a lot of questions about your blogger-related points, but wanted to focus on one of your points:

    “What’s the average number of posts that new visitors are reading on your site?”

    How can you accurately track this? Especially when many bloggers have several full posts on their blog’s homepage? I that case, it would be possible to ready say 5 posts, and if you didn’t take any action, show up as one pageview. What should we be doing to track this?

    • says

      Hey Mack –

      Good question. Most bloggers that we monitor don’t put five full feeds on their entry page but if they did (like you do at, you could track by time spent. It wouldn’t be perfect but it would be fine for government purposes.

      You can also tag each post so as it was seen, you’d get a pingback or you could use a simple heatmapping/eyetracking package.

      Hope this helps,

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