For a site owner, a blog can be an extremely useful tool for attracting and retaining customers. E-commerce bloggers have a harder job than most, in that they must fuse two very different worlds together seamlessly. The world and culture of blogging tends to be very casual, personal, social, and interactive. E-commerce, on the other hand, is professional and streamlined, focusing on getting customers to the product and through the purchase process in the most efficient way possible. While blog readers have little patience for self-promotion and advertising, e-commerce visitors understand that the entire site is dedicated to advertising and sales. Combining these worlds together in a way that makes the user feel comfortable is never easy, but the rewards are potentially huge.
After providing some basic tips for e-commerce bloggers, we will look at some notable cases of e-commerce sites with active blogs.
It is time to disabuse ourselves of the notion that “Google likes fresh content” regardless of quality. In reality, modern search engines like a large quantity of high quality content. In many cases (such as for news-related keywords) it does help for the content to be new, but newness alone is insufficient. While a site might rank for extreme long-tail keywords simply by posting additional content, it’s not going to help that site in the end.
Google is clearly waging war on sites whose strategy involves simply for posting more junk. Search engines have become quite adept at discerning when users find content useful and relevant, and they get even better at sifting out low-quality, made-for-search-engine rubbish with every algorithm update. If you can’t create content worth reading, don’t even bother blogging.
There are countless blogs strewn across the web where the last post is dated years in the past; blog directories sometimes feel like eerie museums of dead blogs. There are thousands of blogs every day started by talented (or at least qualified) writers. Most of them will fail to make any dent in the online community. Authors will burn out and stop posting before their blogs gain any prominence, make any money, or attract regular readers.
E-commerce blogs allow the user to peel back the veil of a sales site and get an insight into the company and people behind the site. The blog can be a tremendous opportunity to learn about and interact with the people behind the scenes, but an outdated blog can actually harm a company’s image. A blog that is not updated sends the message of emptiness, failure, and disrepair. Needless to say, these are not messages you want to fill potential customers’ heads with.
Owners and managers of e-commerce sites must realize, prior to starting a blog, that a blog is a long-term strategy. If you want a successful blog, you’re in it for the long haul.
Some bloggers have more freedom than others. On a parenting blog, for example, an author is free to discuss almost anything related to his or her life. E-commerce blogging is a different beast, in that inapplicable material must be kept to a minimum, while still conveying passion and enthusiasm about the industry – even if that industry is the most boring thing on the planet.
I’ve stumbled upon a number of e-commerce blogs that, in an effort to attract as many links as possible, created irrelevant link bait. One blog post on an outdoor goods retailer was titled something similar to, “X Ways to Know If Your Spouse is Cheating.” The post was well-written, humorous, and even included quality graphics. It could have gone viral on a relationship blog, but it failed miserably. When you post irrelevant content, it looks like desperate spam, regardless of quality. You will also fail to attract return readers. The best way to attract regular and new readers is to give them what they expect. In the case of this outdoor goods merchant, that blog posts about the outdoors or outdoor activities.
The case studies below are examples of how well-executed blogging can make a brand more than just a product line. Have you ever noticed that music fans explore way beyond the music? My friends who love music sometimes talk about the music, but their eyes really light up when they talk about the band’s inspiration for songs, band member’s personal histories, and funny or interesting anecdotes. These facts and stories help us connect and relate to the music. Yes, they love the music, but they also relate to the band in a way that feels personal to them. Why would we believe that brands are so different from bands? It’s always about a quality product, but die-hard fans care as much or more about the people.
Etsy is a major believer in social media, and I have seen few companies who better understand their customers. Their blog caters to their buyers, who would be interested in goods that are hand-made, unique, and, above all else, artistic. Etsy uses the blog to further establish their brand. My favorite posts are those highlighting individual sellers on the site. From a marketing standpoint, it’s genius.
I mentioned that an e-commerce blog allows customers to peek behind the scenes of an operation, and Etsy’s blogging about featured sellers help customers discover the story behind the brands. Sellers benefit from the opportunity to talk about where they came from, who they are, and why their company and products are unique. Readers identify strongly with these posts (and thus, the sellers) when they are low on blatant self-promotion.
It might strike the online marketing novice that Mrs. Fields is regularly giving away free recipes – most of which don’t even include Mrs. Fields ingredients. “Why would they do such a thing? If people make their own, they won’t buy them!” The company is smart enough to realize that, for a blog, being constantly useful is more profitable in the long-run than being constantly promotional.
While Mrs. Fields is doing a lot of things right with their blog, they could probably improve upon it with a few simple changes. First, the blog could be hosted on mrsfields.com, and maintain the feel and superior navigation of the original site. Second, they could make the link to the blog less invisible: it’s down in the bottom right corner, where no one is ever going to see it. Social media and blog links could be provided after a purchase. If a customer likes you enough to buy your goods and services, they just might like you enough to friend/follow you. The company could then promote tasty products in a tasteful manner by linking to blog posts or directly to new seasonal products.
Readers of Search Engine Journal will recognize SEOmoz, though it may not conform to their view of an e-commerce site. The fact that SEOmoz brings the blog to mind immediately is a testament to how the company has integrated their blog so thoroughly in their business. At its heart, though, the company makes money purely through the sale of a product. If this were any other company, we would see page after page of promotional material on each one of their tools, and a tiny little “blog” link hidden in some obscure corner. Luckily, SEOmoz has the business acumen to target its elusive demographic of savvy SEOs by providing customers with the best free information they can.
How often do you see Rand Fishkin hawking his SEO tools, promoting one feature or another? It’s actually more common to see a post totally devoid of a sales pitch. When a Mozzer promotes a pro membership benefit, it’s always very transparent and tasteful. SEOmoz also knows their customer: online marketing professionals, who are more sensitive and critical of over-the-top sales than anyone I know. Perhaps Matthew Inman (the “Oatmeal”), a former SEOmozzer, explained the sales process to this demographic best in this comic.
E-commerce blogs are most effective when they are about providing relevant information and promoting a full brand with people behind it. If you’re simply highlighting your own products in every single post, or pushing a sale every chance you get, you’re probably missing the point.