How to Leverage Content in Ecommerce
Content in ecommerce is often neglected. Questions about its importance come up frequently, and for good reason. It can take months of hard work and testing to find a content strategy that works.
If you’re interested in content marketing, how exactly should you execute on that strategy?
What is Content Used For?
Content can be properly used to satisfy a number of ecommerce goals:
- Social Ammunition
- Authority & Trust
As we see it, these are the four main driving forces behind successful ecommerce content.
SEO is an important factor in any online business. Content marketing is one of the most effective ways of increasing your SEO score. It has the obvious benefit of increasing the number of keywords on your site, and provides an opportunity for others to link to articles on your site.
One benefit that’s often overlooked is the competitive advantage this gives you over Amazon. While Amazon does rank very high for typical product searches, they don’t have much content that will prove helpful to a confused shopper (more on that later). You can fill in this gap and attract some of this highly valuable traffic to your own site.
If you don’t have anything unique to say, you won’t have a very effective social strategy. If you want a social following, your brand should have a personality beyond just posting images of your products or advertisements.
Authority & Trust
How often do you buy from websites that you don’t know? Most people will interact with a brand more than 5 times before making a purchase. During this time, they’re growing more comfortable with that brand. Regularly producing helpful and accurate content that gets shared will help you to be viewed as an authority to your shoppers. This helps to build trust from the consumer that will make them feel comfortable buying from you in the future.
Providing true value for your shoppers is very important. Most industries create unique problems for their customers, and you may be uniquely positioned to help them.
Chapter 1: Why Content is Important in Ecommerce
Content marketing alone isn’t going to drive sales, but it is an important component. As shown above, it can be used to bolster your SEO, your social channels, and help educate and build trust with your core audience.
All of these minor components coalesce into a marketing machine that is greater than the sum of its parts. The SEO value alone probably wouldn’t be worth the effort, and the ammunition it gives you for social sharing probably won’t move the needle very much, but all of the combined components will bring true value to your business.
More than 80% of B2C shoppers have said that they feel more positive about a company after reading their content. According to Neil Patel, a content marketing expert, sites that use content marketing convert visitors at a rate nearly 600% higher than sites that don’t. It’s clearly important to shoppers, but how do you get started?
Before you start writing content, you need to think about how you’re going to get it in front of people. Why? Because knowing how you’ll reach people will also help you to understand what you should be talking about.
If you plan to put your content out on Facebook or Twitter, you can look to see what your competitors are doing. What’s working? What’s not working? What topics are stale? What holes are open that you can fill? And most importantly, what questions are people asking?
If you were to start writing without answering these questions first, you’d be making a big mistake. The questions you assume people are asking may not be important to them at all.
So where should you look?
Google is the first place people go to ask questions. Whether they want to know the definition of a word, or how to replace the motor in their car, they go to Google. That means that people are going to be asking questions about your industry there as well.
You can gleen a little bit from Google’s autocomplete suggestions if you’re creative. For example, a fashion retailer could start by typing the words “fashion how to”. The following autocomplete suggestions are the most common “how to” questions people are asking with regard to fashion.
This one beginner strategy should give you enough content ideas to provide a few weeks of work. Google’s AdWords keyword planner tool will allow you to dig a bit deeper if you want to find additional topics and keywords to target.
No doubt, as you promote your business, you’ve become aware of the fact that social media is one of the most effective ways to reach new audiences. But if social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook were 100% ads for products, who would bother visiting those sites?
With that in mind, it’s important to realize that social media is a place for conversations. Conversations about your industry are constantly happening. Following industry leaders will allow you to keep your finger on the pulse and discover new and important topics of discussion. Searching Twitter for relevant hashtags will allow you to browse through commentary from your target market, and from competitors.
Here, you’re likely to find very interesting questions and concerns from people. As a brand, you will want to participate in those conversations by asking questions and provide meaningful answers.
While you obviously shouldn’t plagiarize content from competitors, you can get inspiration from them. Somewhat ironically, Steve Jobs is often attributed the quote “good artists copy, great artists steal”. What he was saying was that taking ideas and inspiration from others is only a good thing if you improve upon their work.
So by all means, notice good ideas that competing blogs have, and then use them to inspire your own, better work. If you’re just getting started with content, you won’t know what will resonate with your audience, but you can look at social engagement on these other blogs for clues.
Outside of social media, there are many other places where conversions about your industry are happening. Forums are a great place to hear what people have to say.
Reddit is essentially the world’s largest online discussion forum, and people there are brutally honest, which is exactly what you want.
There are also places like Quora and Yahoo Answers which are designed specifically to allow people to ask questions on any subject.
You can also look to retail sites like Amazon and Walmart and read reviews of products similar to those that you sell to find out what people really do and do not want. This can help you develop, not only great blog content, but better products.
Chapter 2: Where Should You Publish, and What Should You Say?
Every industry is unique. The places you publish content and the format it’s published in are very important, especially if you have limited resources. While some industries would be very receptive to video, others might prefer blogs posts. Still other consumers might get most of their information from social media, while others will spend hours every week on forums.
- Email (newsletters, welcome emails, etc.)
- Social Media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram)
- Video (YouTube, Vimeo)
- Forums (Industry forums, Reddit, Quora, Yahoo! Answers)
- Your Blog
In your initial market research, you’ll probably discover where the best conversations are taking place.
Next, you need to decide what type of content to focus on, and there are a lot of content formats to choose from.
Guides are difficult to produce, but drive large volumes of highly targeted traffic. We have published multiple guides ourselves (such as our merchandising guide), and can say that they consistently outperform our shorter content pieces. New customers often remark that they heard about us through the guides, and we also use them to nurture leads from other sources. Your sales and marketing cycle probably doesn’t look like ours, but one of our customers is an excellent example of how to use guides in B2C online retail.
| Example: Victorian Plumbing
Victorian Plumbing sells everything you need to piece together an entire bathroom. This is a task that’s overwhelming to most homeowners, so they’ve produced numerous guides that walk you through all the things you’ll need for your project. Not only does this attract leads through social media, and organic traffic, but it also helps individuals browsing the site to understand what they need, and to add parts to their cart with confidence.
Whether or not you wear makeup, you’re familiar with the industry. Thousands of women earn 6-figure incomes doing little more than talking to their audience about cosmetics products, and teaching methods and styles of using those products.
| Example: CoverGirl
While the majority of makeup tutorial traffic is going to independent creators on YouTube, brands like CoverGirl are also driving massive amounts of traffic by bringing on celebrities like Ayesha Curry and Katy Perry to help them produce their own tutorials.
Answer Common Questions
| Example: Clean Water Store
Clean Water Store provides systems that allow people with less-than-perfect water supply to get clean water in their homes and businesses. These solutions are varied and complex, leading to numerous questions from consumers and businesses about how they should get started. Rather than hoping that prospective buyers will find them, Clean Water Store hosts pages and pages of answers to common questions in the form of blog posts. Of course, this doesn’t just help people who are already on their site, these articles are a huge help from an SEO perspective. They also host a podcast that walks people through common water problems. These efforts provide them with an endless supply of organic traffic.
Tips & Tricks
| Example 1: Apple
Of all the companies in the world, Apple is not one that you’d probably think of when it comes to content marketing. After all, doesn’t the Apple Logo sell the product all by itself? In reality, they put a lot of effort into their content. From their keynotes which rack up 10s of millions of views every year, (and have broken streaming viewership records), to their YouTube channel, they publish popular and helpful content frequently. While most of the videos on their YouTube channel are little more than commercials, many contain helpful tips about how to use their products.
| Example 2: Beckett & Robb
This men’s apparel brand cleverly uses content to help men understand various aspects of style. In one example, they explain how to wear a suit jacket as a blazer (it’s more complicated than you might think.)
| Example 3: 3×1 Denim
3×1 publishes beautiful LookBooks which work like a tips & tricks section, providing inspiration to their shoppers that can guide them down the path to purchase.
| Example: 3×1 Denim
The fashion and apparel industry are full of charismatic individuals. They’re not just selling their clothing line, they’re selling their personality and lifestyle. This creates an interesting opportunity for 3×1 Denim, who frequently interview influential designers to understand their approach to life and fashion.
| Example: True Protein
Of course, one of the most important types of content you can have on your site is generated for you by your customers. There are many great examples of how this can be done. On TrueProtein.com, review data is featured just below product images on category pages and search results. Reviews and Q&A are split up into multiple tabs to make it easy for shoppers to find the type of user-generated content they need.
Chapter 3: Content Basics
Now that you have a few ideas about what kind of content to produce, how do you go about producing it? It’s important to know that half-hearted regurgitations of other articles are not going to find much success. Depending on your industry, you may be competing with hundreds or even thousands of similar blogs. Your topics may well be inspired by articles from those competitors, but yours need to offer something unique.
Why should people choose to read your article instead of one from a competitor?
Simply put, your content needs to be of exceptional quality, or provide a unique perspective in order to get traction.
Quality is a huge factor, because it contributes so much to how your content is found. We’ll discuss more on this topic in later chapters, but objectively good content gets more traction on Google and social media platforms.
You may put a day or two into a piece of content, but it could bring traffic to your site for several years. However, making one or two small mistakes can hurt the longevity, findability, or readability of that article.
Unlike an ad campaign, a blog post may take several weeks (or even months) before it starts to get traction. Making even a minor mistake might mean that your time has been completely wasted.
Even huge retailers have made the following mistakes:
- Placing advertisements in articles
When we say “advertisements” we’re not only referring to an Adwords placement. In most cases, you should not even talk about your products in your blog posts. The sole focus should be to provide value to the reader.
- Talking about yourself (or your brand)
All writers on your blog should be aware that the reader does NOT care about them. Seriously. You’re not a celebrity, so unless the reader is an investor or a friend, they have absolutely no interest in learning about your company’s accomplishments, or about you as an individual. They found your blog post because they have a question, and believe you have the answer. That’s it.
- Boring formatting
Formatting may seem boring in and of itself, but if you don’t make your article skimmable and interesting, people will leave. Include plenty of images, lists, and bullets. Avoid run-on sentences, and long paragraphs. Keep your language simple. Never use 10 words when you can get by with five.
- Trying to sound smart
The purpose of your blog is to educate readers, so this may seem somewhat ironic, but many new bloggers tend to make language and style choices that they wouldn’t use when talking to friends or colleagues. Don’t do that. Adding unnecessary flair by using big words or complex expressions are great ways to alienate your readers. Why should they waste time trying to understand you?
- Using fluff
Lose the boring exposition and get to the point. Seriously. If you really know what you’re talking about, and have something important to say, you shouldn’t need a whole paragraph just to introduce the topic. Avoid starting your blog posts with the phrase “when it comes to subject at hand”, or stating well-known industry statistics.
For example, if you’re writing an article about how to style your hair, don’t start with “like it or not, people do judge a book by it’s cover”. Or “the average woman spends _ hours each week on her hair.”
Not only is this useless information, it’s also a cliché that will have your reader gagging. These are hard habits to break for many writers, so keep an eye out for it.
Chapter 4: Writing Exceptional Content
As we’ve discussed, there are likely hundreds of great blogs that you’ll be competing with. All of this content is likely to be free, so there’s no reason for a potential customer to waste their valuable time on anything other than the best content. So how do you get exceptional content on your site?
Right now, Google’s search algorithms favor blogs that produce content frequently. But you’re running an ecommerce business, so you probably don’t have the time to research and write content for a few hours a week. If you do, that’s fantastic! If not, you’ll need to have a plan that allows you to publish content multiple times each week. What are your options?
- Ghost writers
- Guest writers
- Full-time staff writers
- Part-time staff writers
- Contract writers
For the most part, a mixture of the above options is what works best, but you may not have the contacts, time, or budget to make some of these options work right away.
Ghost writers can be found on sites like Upwork.com who can write multiple articles each day. This is very affordable, but as they are generally paid on a price-per-100-words basis, the faster they work, the more money they make. This is not ideal for you if you want quality. However, this is still a good place to look for talent, and you can certainly offer a good writer a much better wage in exchange for great content.
Other sites like Scripted.com specialize in sourcing blog writers specifically for marketing purposes. This is more expensive, but can help you find better quality writers without having to sift through dozens of applicants.
Guest writers are contributors from other websites. The great thing about guest writers is that by placing content on your site, they expose themselves to a larger audience, and earn backlink authority that will help them rank better on Google. You don’t usually have to pay guest writers as these content placements are just as helpful to them as they are to you. But you’ll need to have at least a couple of pages worth of decent content before they’ll consider spending a few hours creating content for you.
But if you want to be successful at hosting guest writers, there are a few things you need to do for them.
- Promote their content
- Allow them to include links to their site
- Be easy to work with
- Be clear about article requirements
When we say you should promote their content, we don’t just mean the content they publish on your site (of course you should do that too). Partner with them, and help them grow their audience by regularly sharing content on their site. Promoting content on social channels is a good way to help great publishers to know about your brand. This makes introducing yourself and asking for guest contributions a lot more simple. Promoting their content also creates a reciprocal effect. In other words, if you’re regularly sharing their content, they may feel obliged to share your content as well.
Far too many old school publishers have extremely strict rules about links pointing away from their site. At least right now, Google doesn’t penalize sites (not directly, anyway) for having these types of links that take visitors away from their site, so there’s really no reason to be so picky about this.
If you aren’t a huge publisher, guest contributors have no reason to work with you if you won’t allow them to link to their site naturally in their article.
That said, links should provide valuable reference, and not just point to their homepage or a landing page. Links should point to articles that are related to the topic at hand.
Full-time staff writers
This is probably not a great option when you’re just starting out, unless there’s a massive hole in the industry in terms of content. But at some point, paying employees to create content on a full time basis will ensure a steady stream of quality content.
These individuals should have a background in creative writing with some marketing experience.
Part-time staff writers
One of the best options for those new to ecommerce blogging is to use existing staff members to create content for the blog. Different members of your team will have varying backgrounds that can help them write unique and interesting content.
If at all possible, you want to find a writer that has experience or knowledge of your industry. If you spend some time reading other industry blogs or on social media, you’ll likely be able to find a few influencers who you can use as a source for high-quality content.
Next to the actual quality of the writing, research is the most important aspect of ecommerce blogging. After all, if what you’re saying isn’t interesting or accurate, why should anyone read it. Marketers like Niel Patel have shown that data-driven headlines drive a lot more engagement. The research phase helps you to determine what questions your audience has, and how to answer them truthfully.
In our experience, this phase should comprise anywhere from 50% to 90% of the time you spend producing an article. By a large margin, the articles we’ve spent the most time on have made the largest impact on our community.
The previous chapter discussed how to find the questions that your readers are asking, but how do you find the answers?
Since you’re in the industry, you may very well know the answers. If you have any proprietary data, use that to prove your point. For example, as a retail search provider, we have access to search data. We were able to extract that and find out what the best design is for a search bar. While they did face some backlash, Facebook manipulated their feed to see if they could affect people’s emotions. Then they published their research online.
Whenever possible, try not to guess or copy and paste well-known industry facts and figures. When we published our search bar best practices, we found out that some oft-quoted industry stats were just plain wrong. You may learn something similar.
Even if you don’t have access to the data that you want yet, you can survey customers, or perform internal experiments. Imagine being able to write a headline like “90% of men now think red lipstick is tacky”.
Research firms exist in every industry, and they publish interesting data all the time. Spend some time finding reliable sources of research in your industry, and read their reports. Sometimes you’ll have to pay to have access to the full report, but it’s generally worth it.
Derek Halpern, founder of SocialTriggers.com, has made millions of dollars by reading psychological studies, and turning that data into interesting blog posts.
Right now, the public has a lot of doubts about the media’s honesty. But for the most part, the people working in these jobs are honest in their work. There are usually multiple people working on a given story too.
In some cases, the journalists working for major media publications have picked apart scientific research to find an angle for a story. In those instances, they’ve done the hard work for you.
Subscribing to publishers in your industry can give you access to virtually endless data and inspiration. This is also a fantastic way to learn how great headlines are written.
The format of your blog post is extremely important. Unlike traditional magazines, you don’t have the luxury of designing and interesting layout with giant high resolution images on each page. Blog posts are mostly words, so you have to be smart about how you format them if you want people to read them.
People don’t want to read your articles
But wait. . . why are we writing for them?
Because they do want information.
Listicles (an ugly buzzword for “list articles”) are the most popular written content type for a reason. They’re skimmable.
A list has the advantage of telling people exactly how much value they’re going to get right in the title. And people can easily skip past anything that they already know.
But not all of your articles have to (or should be) lists. Despite being data-heavy, listicles do have the perception of being… well… kind of cheap. Most of your articles should be in a more normal format. They should still be skimmable though.
Use general formatting options within your CMS (Content Management System) to your advantage. All of them will provide options for headlines (H1, H2, etc.), bold/italics/underline, bulleted lists, and indenting.
Use headlines to separate main subjects, use bullet points to create short lists of important points, and use bold/italics/underline to make important words or sentences stand out.
People read bold text, quotes and headings more than anything else on the page.
The above sentence will probably be read ten times for every time this sentence is read once.
You probably haven’t noticed, but this article’s paragraphs are carefully formatted. It’s habit for us since we’ve been doing it for years, but many writers (especially professionals) are accustomed to writing paragraphs that are several lines deep. This is normal in books, for example, but it doesn’t work too great for online readers.
Don’t be afraid to give important sentences space to breath.
Your 3rd grade teacher might slap us on the hand for leaving the above sentence up there all by itself, but it works. Important sentences, those that summarize the key points, deserve to have their own vertical space.
Of course, a lot of content marketers have experimented with paragraph length to back up this claim.
Images are supremely important in blog posts. You need a lot of them, but there are some rules and theories you should be aware of.
First off, Derek Halpern, mention above, published his research on content width, and found that by decreasing the width of the first few lines, he could increase blog post engagement drastically.
In practice, this involves using a small portrait image on the top right side of the blog post. This decreases the width of the first 3 or 4 paragraphs, making them easier to read.
Second, make sure that you have rights to use any images you place in your blogs posts. While a lot does fall under fair use, if you use the wrong image, you could end up in a world of hurt. It’s a good idea to get yourself a subscription to a stock image provider such as iStockPhoto. Adobe Stock is good alternative if your creative team already uses Adobe products.
We like to use at an images often, but you shouldn’t just throw images in between every paragraph. Use an image any time it will help you to tell the story, or illustrate an important point.
Every blog post needs a featured image (or thumbnail). The purpose of these images is to communicate the primary subject, but also to draw the reader’s attention to the post. This is especially important when sharing on social. While we usually create a separate image for social sharing, if you don’t have the time or creative energy for this, use an image with a face. These get significantly more engagement on social channels.
Style is personal, but it takes time to develop, and it can always be improved. Especially when writing blog posts, one rule supersedes all others:
Use simple language.
What’s most important is that you are easily understood. As was mentioned earlier, the people that are reading your articles don’t care about you or your business. They aren’t interested in how smart you are, or how edgy your business is. They went to your article for information. Make it easy for them to find it and understand it.
The length of content is statistically important. Longer articles, around 1500 words, typically rank higher on Google.
But we can’t confuse correlation with causation. Google doesn’t provide their search algorithm to publishers, so we can’t be sure if they’re prioritizing longer content, or if longer articles are ranked higher for other reasons. Could it be that these longer articles are just more valuable?
However, it should be said that it’s hard to write a valuable, data-rich article that’s less than 1,000 words. Most of your articles should be at least that long, but don’t artificially inflate articles just to hit some magical word count you’ve heard about from some marketing guru.
Concentrate on value, and length will come naturally.
Chapter 5: SEO
SEO is one of the most difficult parts about online business. It’s always changing. For that reason, we won’t get into deep and impractical SEO strategies that work great today, but might not in a few weeks.
The most important thing to know about SEO is that Google doesn’t want people to be able to cheat. In the early days, search engines could be fooled into directing traffic to sites with nothing more than ads and keywords. These days, however, manipulating your search ranking is much more complicated.
Value is the only true SEO metric.
Even if you get all of the technical stuff right, if your blog isn’t offering value to the reader, nothing else matters. That’s not to say that keywords, meta tags, descriptions, and site speed aren’t important factors. They absolutely are. But none of that will matter if you don’t write stuff that people want to read.
But what about the other stuff? What’s important now, and likely to stay important for a long time?
Getting to your site should be fast. Google has been increasing the weighting of desktop and mobile speeds for a few years. The amount of time it takes for one of your articles and all of its contents to load is extremely important at the moment.
To improve page speed, here are a few crucial tips.
- Compress images. Keep them as small as possible.
- Use a CDN (Content Delivery Network)
- Use browser caching
Once you’ve published a blog post, you can use a page speed analysis tool like Google’s PageSpeed Insights to find out how fast the page is, and what exactly is slowing it down. From there, you can show your web developer and fix those problems if necessary.
Keyword targeting is really the heart and soul of SEO. From the very beginning of SEO, it has been an important factor. After all, when people type words into Google’s magical white box, they are telling Google that they want to land on a page that is relevant to those keywords.
But keyword targeting isn’t what it used to be. In the past, the goal was to have the keyword placed on a page as many times as possible. But these days, Google isn’t so concerned with quantity. Quality is far more important. So how should you go about targeting specific keywords?
- Article title
The article title is still one of the strongest relevancy signals to Google. Make sure your keyword is in the title (naturally). Having the target keyword or phrase closer to the beginning of the title works best.
- Article length
Length is important, but there isn’t a magic number that will put you in the number one slot. As we discussed above, having superior content to your competitors is more important. Sometimes that means it’s longer, sometimes it doesn’t. Don’t artificially inflate your article with irrelevant information as this will likely decrease engagement and thus negatively affect SEO.
- Natural use of keywords
Within the article, you should have natural uses of the keyword and variations of it. Ranking for a couple dozen long-tail variations of the keyword will help a lot in the long run.
- Meta tags & descriptions
Proper use of meta tags and descriptions will help to signal to Google the purpose of your article. This article, for example, uses the H1, H2, and H3 (headline text) meta tags to break up the article into segments. This tells Google how the article is organized, and what the main topics are. Writing short descriptions for the included images is also crucial.
- Backlinks & Anchor text
Backlinks (links that point back to this article) will help to build natural SEO if they are placed in relevant places. Ultimately, you’ll want links on other publisher’s websites within articles that are related to your keyword. If you were targeting the keyword “how to wear a scarf”, you might want to get placement in articles about fall or winter fashion that mention the use of scarfs.
The anchor text (the text that the link is placed in) should be tied to your keyword. In other words, don’t anchor “click here to learn more”. This tells Google nothing about what the link points to. Something like “how to wear a scarf” would be much better anchor text.
Beyond technical optimization, engagement is extremely important to Google. If you want Google to direct more people to your articles, they’ll need to know that visitors are engaging with your content.
In chapter 3, we discussed formatting. This is extremely important to making your content enjoyable. The quality of your content is very important too. As we’ve gone into detail on these things, we won’t rehash them in this chapter.
However, there are other things you can do to increase your engagement scores. But first, what are the engagement metrics we’re talking about for your blog posts?
- Time on site
- Time on page
- Page views
- Bounce rate
Time on site is largely influenced by the number of pages a single visitor views. Even if they land on a 10,000 word article, they’re not going to spend more than a few minutes on that page. So it’s important to have other relevant content, that’s easy to find. This is where internal linking comes in. In other words, your articles should link to each other when relevant.
Time on page is affected by the relevancy of the article they land on. This is Google’s responsibility (with organic traffic), but you can help yourself by ensuring that your articles don’t branch out to obscure subjects unrelated to your article’s title. And again, make sure that your content is interesting and easy to read.
To get a lot of traffic, you’re going to need a lot of content. This is also tied to your internal linking strategy, and is also affected by external links to your site. Social is also very helpful. Page views tend to snowball once Google starts to send traffic to you, which then improves your SEO score.
Your bounce rate is tied to content relevance, quality, format, and length. If your content is bad, people won’t read it. If it’s ugly, people won’t read it. If it’s irrelevant, too short, or too long, people won’t read it.
Hopefully these points are coming across loud and clear by now.
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