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|New E-Tailer Needs Help!|
How to survive as boot-strap e-tailer???
I'm brand new to this discussion group - and wondered if I coud possibly get some advise... I started my own website - www.littlefan.com a few months ago. My timing couldn't have been worse! We are an pure play internet e-tail startup selling sports fan apparel and gifts for children, which is a pretty neat niche market without a whole bunch of competition right now. The idea was to start a biz (get incorporated, find dealers, buy stock, create website, etc.) on a shoestring budget and then write a killer business plan - which we did.
Being a pure play B to C e-tailer, we initially got some serious interest from Angel and VC investors - even got into some pretty good discussions with some of them (what % of company for how much $).... But as I'm sure everyone knows, things have gone steadily downhill for pure play e-tailers since March... and we no longer attract much attention from investors....
So... we're a bootstrap company now. The problem is, who wants to buy from an amateurish looking website they’ve never heard from? We now find ourselves in the classic e-tail position – we can’t afford to drive enough traffic to our site to become profitable. We’re getting some orders, and some rave reviews from happy customers – but we just can’t put enough eyeballs on our site… and then to compound the problem our site doesn’t look too professional (I created it with FrontPage and not a whole lot of experience!), so our conversion rates aren’t as high as we’d like them.
All in all I’d say bootstrapping has been (& still is!) pretty tough for us. We submitted to as many search engines as we could think of months ago – and are just now starting to get decent traffic from them…. But without some decent investment capital, we’ll be stuck here… with a none-to-professional-looking site, and no $ for a serious site and advertising -we're just covering costs.
So I'm looking for suggestions! My website is [littlefan.com....] What should I concentrate on? Revising my business plan to include physical stores (e.g. "bricks & clicks" model), borrow more $ to advertise (or is it dumb to advertise an amateurish site), borrow money for a real web developer? Are they're some simple low cost things I can do to my site to improve it? How about driving traffic to my site? Any help/advise would be GREATLY appreciated!
I took a brief look at the site. Cute.
What I would suggest is go over to searchengineworld.com, the sister site to this one. Read through everything you can find there.
Next, starting reading some of the forum charters for the various discussions going on here. That will give you a feel for where to focus your reading time.
After that, start with a little bit of research over at goto.com or findwhat.com. You can buy yourself some traffic by the click there, or hire a company to drive it for you. Before that, though, you need to really think about your site.
Make everything pretty simple, which it is, and a little more search engine friendly. You can do that by studying, and making changes as you go.
Just keep in mind if you do start buying traffic at the pay per click engines, there is a forum for that here too. Pay special attention to click versus by ratios with your descriptions and keywords, if you do decide to open an account there. Good luck!
Hi kevin, and welcome to Webmaster World!
I think hans has started you on the right track. There is an absolute wealth of info within these forums. With a little reading, you'll soon have a number of ideas on where to start.
A word of caution about Frontpage: I started a site with it, and eventually dumped it, transferring all my pages out of "frontpagese." One of the problems was with graphics. Every time you click on a graphic to edit (even just to change the associated text) it compressed it again at the default 15%. After a couple of times, if you're not diligent about stopping it, your graphics will look horrible. A good alternative for html editing is First Page by Evrsoft. It's 100% FREE and quite comparable in look and feel to Frontpage. The difference is there are no extra extensions or special files needed. It produces standard html or java files. Once you start the program and see all the features, you'll be surprised it's free.
You've got a lot of studying to do so I'll let you get to it. Glad to have you here. Happy reading!
Welcome kevin, glad you're here. You've got a good concept for a site, and you may think it looks amateur, but it's actually quite nice.
I took a quick look, and did notice a couple of minor cosmetic features you might want to consider taking a second look at. The yellow sections at the left side and top - I think those would look better flush against the side and top, with no white showing at the edges. Another thing (and this is a personal pet peeve) - if I were you I'd get rid of the horizontal scrolling. I'm certainly no Yahoo expert, but eventually you'll want a directory listing there, and personally, I would never submit a site that wasn't browser and monitor resolution compatible. I use 800x600 resolution, and really don't like to scroll sideways.
I noticed that most of your links led to dynamically generated pages. It might be a good idea to add some content to the site, on static HTML pages, for indexing purposes, including keyword phrases, as well as just having some more readable content for consumers.
Back to your index page. It really does need to have more text - again, both for search engines and consumers. You'll want to have your main keywords at the top. There need to be some text links, in addition to the graphical ones, utilizing keywords in them. Concerning the navigation, it would be a problem to me, because I know zero about sports. If I wanted to buy a gift for a friend's pre-school children (they're a fanatic L.A. Dodgers family), being ignorant I would need something leading me to baseball, or I would be lost and might have to hit back to find a site that was easier for me. I know that NFL is football, but beyond that, I don't have a clue.
Han Solo suggested the best place you could start for doing some serious reading. I'd suggest getting the big picture by checking out this very readable and tell-it-all tutorial:
"Designing a High Search Engines Ranking Page"
Also, for simple and helpful information about themes:
Regarding your meta tags, while the keywords tag isn't all-out important, it shouldn't contain anything that's not actually in the page text, and the number should be limited to avoid dilution. When you've picked out your main keywords, get them in your description tag nice and concise.
For the page title, put your main search phrase toward the beginning. For example: Sports fan apparel for children and infants from LittleFan. Not what it should be, but notice the reversal of the words from how it is now.
kevin, I don't see why you'd need a professional developer, the site is just fine. You've landed in the right spot to get the information you need to optimize it (really, start with that tutorial), and you'll need to investigate the best places to advertise to reach your target market.
I can see some areas where your site could be improved but that is just my opinion and style. It certainly looks like alot of work went into it so far. What areas do you think need improving? Do you know of a url that strikes you as really great?
I did a quick search,using littlefan.com, your not in yahoo, google, or looksmart. i could do a lot more checking but anyway...what is your link popularity? i.e what other "product similar" "customer orientated" web sites is yours linked to?
You may want to change your domain before you move into high gear on-line promotion. Something with sport fan apparel or childrens sport fan apparel....something with as few as possible significant keywords that describe your product line as generally as possible. ask yourself "if my average customer was looking for my products what would they type into a search engine when looking without knowing the company name"
you have probably already done this but check out your on-line competition. study their sites so you know what they are doing.
type link:www.theirsite.com into various search engines to find out who is linking to your competition and then contact these sites and link to them. this is the cheapest on-line promotion method i know of and it works but it is time consuming. you can also use the linkage reporter tool right here at:
i did this quickly for your site and it was scary! only one link showed up in canada.com, your dmoz link.
in conclusion i would say your basic on-line promotion is your biggest problem at the moment. i would clear all this up before i ever considered paying for any advertising.
and yes, all that i have said here is available for you to read and study plus much more as described in the other posts.
my personal opinion is that you have lots of potential. but of course you know this!
I came across a design firm that actually developed pretty good stores at decent price.
I did look at your site and I think it is not too bad at all, but not quite up to the professional standard.
[edited Brett Tabke. reason: url drop snipped]
When you're saying, "not quite up to standard" are you referring to the design part of it, or whether or not the site is optimized for search engines?
While the littlefan site needs , IMO, some very minor cosmetic and navigational tweaking, it's my interpretation that kevin is looking for recommendations on improving his site with the goal of getting enough traffic to generate decent income.
pete, let me ask you - does the firm you're recommending do SEO work? Have they done your site? If so, how is it doing, search engine-wise?
I may be wrong, but to me, a "gorgeous" site that isn't search-engine friendly is like a woman getting all spiffed up to go out partying, and then staying home and watching TV.
kevine must still be frantically reading elsewhere. kevine, hows it going? hehe.
oh well, maybe he will return in another year or so.
i looked quickly at the developer company, Pete suggested, they look good to me and their prices are great! how could one go wrong?
in my opinion,
he could hire the developer, work on getting his site in the directories, start a link exchange, maybe change his domain, watch his meta tags and keyword placements. pay attention around the forums, read a few tutorials as already suggested and then if things still don't work out hire some more professionals. but i think things should work out at least a bit. did i miss anything guys?
any questions kevine? hehe.
note: i am not a professional SEO.
mousemoves, what you said a few lines up:
>>in conclusion i would say your basic on-line promotion is your biggest problem at the moment.
surmising we're all in agreement on this all-important point, let's look at what you said next:
>>I would clear all this up before i ever considered paying for any advertising.
In view of this, why in God's name would kevin consider paying 2 grand to design a whole new site from the ground up (dynamically generated to boot) instead of directing his attention to promotion?
>>i looked quickly at the developer company, Pete suggested, they look good to me and their prices are great!
mousemoves, I also looked, and what I saw was some exquisite design which is not search-engine friendly - unless of course the pages are cloaked, which is what the developer's sites need (unless they're redesigned again) - and if they are, I highly doubt that it's included in their two grand design price.
hiring the developer and then working on promoting could end being up very costly, as well as counter-productive. If it were my site, I'd concentrate on working at making the current site more search engine friendly, and then make periodic updates/adjustments to an already optimized site.
IMHO, the procedure is - look at the promotion aspects of an ecommerce site first, then design around what will make the cash register ring. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.
>>how could one go wrong?
By forking out $2K, and being all dressed up to party with "no action."
Edited by: Marcia
i think design and doing what you can within your budget to be noticed on the web are important. after all, you can be #1 in the engine and have nothing to offer. God knows how many times i've seen that. but kevine's site certainly is not at that level. i.e nothing to offer. i did say, i thought his site could use some improvements. i then stated that was my opinion, and my final opinion is that it is kevine's call. he certainly has lots to consider. and ya, i think that 2k is cheap. maybe you know of something better and for less. also, please remember it's just my opinion and style. no one has to agree. i wasn't trying to attack your opinion. just adding mine. mine isn't very black and white.
What I mean is the looks of littlefan, not the SEO part.
Not that SEO is not important, but after visitor come to your site, your site still need to be good enough to convince your customers to buy, right?.
I think shoppers look for sites which are established and nicely built. That is what I will do, as an online consumer. I am not going to buy things from a poorly designed web site. If they can't spend a few grands to get a good web site, how do I know what they will do with my credit card or actually ship my order.
I learned that the hard way. The first software I tried is ShopFactory which promised a 3D Store. Ha.... it was a totally waste of time.
I think ixodo do basic SEO as part of the package. I am not sure how much a real guaranteed SEO will cost.
But for the price they are charging, I think it is a great deal.
ops..missed some questions
My site has been up for around 6 weeks and have been getting around 15 visitors from AV. Google just listed us too, sending around 10-15 clicks per day.
The site is not listed in other engine yet, but it is in dmoz, snap live and some smaller SE/Dir.
I am not depending much on SE for traffic, as most sales comes from our affiliate program. Although some free clicks from SE would also be very nice.
How many clicks/day can a good SEO get me? And how much will it cost. Can someone help?
My suggestion to kevine is get your site polished and ready ---> Get SEO or Pay Per Click SE or Affiliate Program or all at the same time.
These 3 ways are the most cost effective way to pull targeted traffics. Don't run banner ads yet.
Again, promotion and marketing cost money.
To make sure you get your marketing money worth, you must make sure you can capture sales when visitors come to your site.
That is my opinion :)
some things I like to point out regarding doing business online:
SEO is a good start, but I don't think it can be scaled big fast. Affiliate program is the way to go, althoug there are lots of works to be done, like making relationships with your affiliates and marketing your program.
The reason I don't recommend banner ads is the fixed cost involved. You got to pay the fixed amount to buy the impression whether or not you get the result: which is sales.
Run a affiliate program first, since the cost incurred is performance based. Use this time to figure out what is the customer conversion rate of your store first. Then learn more on how to tweak your site to raise that conversion rate, then run banner campaign to scale your sales big.
Never, I mean never spend too much money on marketing or promotion before your store is ready to turn as much visitor to become your customers.
Someone please correct me if I am wrong :)
peterlau and mousemoves, so glad you two are enjoying conversing on the board. I bet you two would enjoy chatting on icq! If you don't already have it, here's the URL to download it: www.icq.com
Getting back to kevine's site, peterlau you said:
>>SEO is a good start, but I don't think it can be scaled big fast. Affiliate program is the way to go, althoug there are lots of works to be done, like making relationships with your affiliates and marketing your program
Regarding how fast search engine traffic can start to be attained, aside from AV and a Yahoo directory listing, check out this thread:
Can you share with us what methods are used to get affiliates to participate without first generating an appreciable amount of traffic to a site?
Added: peterlau, mousemoves has said he's not a professional SEO - he doesn't run SEF, Jim Wilson does. Jim is a highly esteemed and capable internet marketer.
Thanks for your reply. Just like to pick your brain a little for calculating my ROI.
Can you help answering the following?
1) What is the highest traffic sent by SE through SEO you have seen. Are they targeted. What is the customer conversion rate?
2) How much will it cost to get 5000/day of targeted visitor thru SEO?
Just like to get an idea of the cost and return as oppose to other marketing methods.
Thanks a lot.
Marcia, regarding the affiliate program.....
Actually, not many affiliates actually join the program from visiting the site.
So many site now have an affiliate program. But there are guys out there who makes a living thru pushing sales for merchants. Most of them are good SEO like yourself.
So, in a way, it still comes down to SEO, but the good thing about affiliate program is it can be scaled big. But the package must definately be attracetive.
Find those guys and make them good compensation offers. Would you like to join my affiliate team?
Marcia is correct. Jim Wilson owns searchenginesforums.com and you will find a wealth of information available there. i have only suggested checking out that site when appropriate to our dicussions here, as added info and for further research. i would not consider myself a professional SEO but i'm not a complete idiot either. anyway, i certainly do suggest that one needs to be careful when determining whom is professional and whom isn't. just a added philosophical comment. again, that's my opinion.
Excellent observations, mousemoves, with which I fully concur.
You had said in a previous post:
>>note: i am not a professional SEO.
I also do not consider myself a "professional SEO" as such, but a serious, dedicated "student of SEO." I merely do little web sites, and in the process of constructing them, I do some research, pick out some keyword phrases, try to make the HTML simple and inviting to spiders, much as you would do when inviting guests to your home - make it easy for them to arrive and visit and get around - and then I do a bit of text "writing, editing and tweaking" in the page text as well as title, headings, links, etc. I also try to develop a cohesiveness - a "theme" if you will - much as any English 101 student tries to develop transitions in writing an essay. I then merely tweak and nudge for the rankings as time goes by, arrange for few links, check things out over time, submit, resubmit - just the few simple, basic things any "student" of the art would do.
Results still amaze and delight me! This kind of reminds me of when, in Las Vegas long ago, I won an $85 jackpot on a slot machine a few minutes after depositing the first few coins out of a roll of nickels. The bell began ringing, people gathered around to watch the excitement, and I stood there screaming at the top of my lungs, "I can't believe this is happening, I don't gamble!!" To which the pit boss replied, "Lady, you can't honestly say that - you are a gambler, because you were standing here throwing nickels into that slot machine."
So I don't really know what to call myself. Being, quite frankly, awestruck with what I consider the oustanding ability - brilliance, even - of those I learn from at these forums, regardless of what the "pit boss" might call me, to use the analogy, and figuratively speaking, I can only retain the appropriate humility and grasp of reality, and defer to those who are my superiors in both knowledge and experience.
peterlau, here is a thread you will find most interesting, in discussing the questions you are looking for answers to:
There are a few other threads within that particular forum that touch on the issues. Perhaps someone can give you more specific answers, but not being involved at all in what you're asking, the best I can do is point you to a bit of relevant info.
Hope this helps.
ya, I consider myself an average generalist in a perpetual steep learning curve mode within a perpetually dynamic environment, whom is flexible, and open with a "handy referral box".
I can't say much about "professional SEO" because I have never worked closely with one and I don't even know what one is but i do think automated services are a bad idea. bad, bad, bad.
On the other hand and for example, I find it easier to refer to a professional graphics artist or a professional copy editor because of their educational background, experience and their easily observed tangible work examples. Are these professionals required in all cases? not from what i have observed, in my opinion of course. would they be nice to have? i think so, especially if they are free. hehe. Were those hugely budgeted failing dot coms free. no way! a good example of "throwing money around doesn't always solve everything" especially on the beautiful, thank you God, Internet.
Possibly of interest, the next question someone may ask is: what is an average generalist? To some i may not even deserve to be called this! But, I don't care. Things can get so ridiculous sometimes.
>I can't say much about "professional SEO" because I have never worked closely with one and I don't even know what one is
LOL..mousemoves, I think we're surrounded by them. Now if someone gets paid for doing something, I think that "technically" they're considered professional, but IMHO that would be really be stretching it quite a bit in some cases. Without any doubt, there are different levels. If someone needs a 6 page site to sell some knitting yarn, I don't think that's a client for redzone. I doubt if Brett Tabke is their man, either.
But they need somebody, and that's where the generalist enters into the picture, to provide a simple, all-around solution for them.
>the next question someone may ask is: what is an average generalist?
Let's look at the different elements that go into doing a site - "the bare basics", in general. You've got the interface--design and layout, navigation, etc., writing the HTML, doing some graphics work, putting in a secure order form or shopping cart, getting form or two running using formmail - very basic, all using the client-provided text for the site. This is where "web design" stops - they add what they call "promoting your site for you" with doing meta tags and submitting to search engines and directories.
I have met innumerable web designers at a women's community I've been at for two years, and have only come across ONE that even knew what search engine optimization was..and she used Front Page and Web Position Gold - and recommended them to me. :) Take people like that away from their own computers with all the software, and sit them down with nothing more than Notepad (and a little graphics program of course) and then, let's see what they can do. That's where the rubber meets the road.
mousemoves, I think when you're saying "generalist" you're talking about all that, with search engine work added into the picture. OK...here's where we *really* get into different levels of expertise (and experience). I'll use myself as an example here. Can I get a #1 or 2 or 3..let's say top 5 or 10 - ranking for a 6 to 20 page crafts site with 2 or 3 word keyword phrases? Yes. Can I do that for just the one word "crafts"? I seriously doubt it. Can I do a high-end, top of the line, graphically intense site for a large auto dealership or insurance company and get them decent rankings? No way! For those sites, it takes those who I consider to be the *real* pros, by a realistic definition. (Ethical pro's, I might add.)
>To some i may not even deserve to be called this! But, I don't care. Things can get so ridiculous sometimes.
mousemoves, things do get ridiculous, and if you take on what's beyond your current capability, it gets downright uncomfortable, too. It doesn't matter what anyone else says or thinks. The best thing is for us to do what WE feel comfortable with, and grow from there. Stay in middle school and high school and master more of the basics before moving on to "university level." Things always get easier and better with more study and more experience.
Now let's say someone can do all of that - good design, high rankings, a lot of traffic. You made mention of all the big dot coms that are going down for the count. They had the sites, they had the traffic, BUT all of that didn't CONVERT to sales, income and profit.
So the most important issue, and one that's not mentioned nearly often enough, is "After you have the site and get the traffic coming, what does it take to get that traffic to start putting cash in the coffer, so the site won't fold?"
What kind of design does it take to create a comfortable buying environment? And more importantly, I believe, what words, what message, what kind of writing on a site turns a visitor into a customer? And even better, a repeat customer?
There's a lot of jargon out there, and a lot of repetitively used tricks and gimmicks, but precious little workable, valuable information from people with some experience in what actually works.
What's the point in paying for traffic if that traffic doesn't spend? In addition to how to create a high traffic site, how about how to create a high income site? What does that take?
lots of very good points Marcia. glad to see your laughing now. :)
i can't say that i have studied the big dot com problems in any detail at all.
obviously if your able to sell cheaper than anyone else is able to figure out how to do, offer greater customer service, and keep your costs down you have a higher chance of success. Plus, if no one else sells your product but everyone wants and needs it. well....
this all comes down to business (lots more involved than i have stated here of course) before you ever require a designer or SEO or copy writer etc. in fact, and interestingly, i have witnessed a unique product being sold and generating profit through on-line promotion without a web site, or a SEO. i think to myself, cool!
To anwser a question that you asked Marcia
>1) What is the highest traffic sent by SE through SEO you have seen. Are they targeted. What is the customer conversion rate?
This is my experince with SEO. 51,000 Uniques per day
Conversion Ratio: 1:1127 This was averaged over a 1 week period. These ratios were with traffic that was not very well targeted.
Now if you can get traffic to the site WITH SEO work then it does it really matter if you had a professional design team do your site or it is something that you did your self long as it has exactly what they were looking for.
My 2 cents
WOW!!! First let me thank all of you for the wonderful and insightful feedback you’ve given me! I’ll use this information to help prioritize my tasks. Here then – for your consideration – is how I see the next few months:
First, I’ve already taken your advise on reading through some of the other forums – and I’ll continue to read/participate as part of my daily routine.
Secondly, I’ll make some minor cosmetic changes to the site – mainly the horizontal scrolling issue.
Next – time for some SERIOUS search engine research!!! I’d trying to get to what drbill said:
<This is my experience with SEO. 51,000 Unique per day
Conversion Ratio: 1:1127 This was averaged over a 1 week period. These ratios were with traffic that was not very well targeted.>
I know I have a tremendous amount to learn – and even more to do in this area – so this is where I plan to spend the bulk of my efforts.
Finally, I take another look at some of my web design basics – For example, I know my pages load to slow, I could use more content, etc. At some point in the future I’ll look into a professionally designed site (thanks for the tip, Peterlau) – but for now I’m going to concentrate all my efforts at on-line promotion.
Regarding Affiliates – I’d be interested in learning more about them (another thread???)…. I’ve only looked into Affiliates as becoming a member of someone else’s program – and I’ve found some good one’s – but I’m turned off by sending people away from my site to someone who sells same/similar products (read competitor!). Are you suggesting that I allow other folks to sell my product on their site? If so, how does one go about this? Should I join a group such as Commission Junction?
Well, I've got A LOT of work to do, so I'll get going. Thanks again to all!!!
>If so, how does one go about this? Should I join a group such as Commission Junction?
If you have a good product and even a modestly capable website, that's what I'd do. If cash is low, pay a commission on sales and go surfing for sites that might do well in your target demographic, asking them to visit your program at CJ.
I would, however, tune your website as best you can so that it will convert visits to sales prior to bring affiliates on board. They will abandon you if you can't deliver a sale, and therefore a commission. A small ppc, such as .03, plus commission might keep them more stable.
Disclaimer: I have no connection with CJ.com, other than being an affiliate myself.
kevine - Nobody has mentioned the business aspect of bootstrapping a web site.
Rule 1: Don't buy anything for the site that the site's revenue doesn't support. Nearly everything you will need can be found on line at no cost. Invest your time, not your money.
Rule 2: REMEMBER RULE 1! The idea is to make money not spend it!
A couple more suggestions. Consider joining an affiliate program. You stand to gain several things:
1. Income (possibly)
2. Insight about what potential affiliates in your own program will look for.
3. Experience in how to effectively do web sales.
An outstanding source for detailed, comprehensive info on affiliate programs is ClickQuick [clickquick.com].
Another site I can't recommend highly enough for a guy in your position is here [deadlock.com].
Please excuse me not giving you a little advice.:)
>>>I’ve only looked into Affiliates as becoming a member of someone else’s program – and I’ve found some good one’s – but I’m turned off by sending people away from my site to someone who sells same/similar products (read competitor!).>>
Sign up for an affliate program that sells something along the lines that you sell and see how they sell it. Learn from their sales pitch. Either go with the hard sell or the soft sell. I prefer the hard sell, because if they don't buy something this time round 10to1 they never come back again. But then again some people like the softsell. (Don't upset the surfer make the site easy to leave, etc)
When doing an affilate program you will need something that will track sales, raw and unique clicks. There are scripts out there that can be bought or you can go with a PPC program. With this program there are places where you can rent programs to do this with.
One thing I can say about having your own program is that you have to have something that will draw webmasters to you. The best thing I have found is a Unique product that will me an easy sell for the webmaster..
I guess that is 4 cents now :)
kevine - I overlooked this until Dr Bill again brought it up.
>>>I’ve only looked into Affiliates as becoming a member of someone else’s program – and I’ve found some good one’s – but I’m turned off by sending people away from my site to someone who sells same/similar products (read competitor!).>>
Simply opening the link to the affiliate page in a new browser window allieviates much of this concern as in target="_blank".
I did a survey at my site, "The links on this site that take you to other sites always open a new browser window. Do you:
A. Like it?
B. Hate it?
C. Find it confusing?"
90% of the respondents selected A, so it stays on my site.
"A" for me, in the case of all external links mostly and sometimes internal links. just to make sure, i will do it myself with a right click "open in new window"
i find it helps me to keep track of where i am at and then i can surf as much as like from the new site and just close it when i'm finished or open another one ect. i usually have about 5 or 6 browser windows open at the same time.
nevertheless, to truly meet everyone's needs it would be cool to have a function that offers this as a surfer option.
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