If you run an e-commerce site, you know it isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Apart from the 900lb e-commerce gorillas who keep muscling in on your patch, you’re desperately trying to keep up with all of the new competitors that seem to spring from nowhere.
And you definitely don’t need me to tell you that building links to product pages is hard work. Let’s face it – why would anyone want to link (naturally) to a product page anyway? It’s always been a tough ask.
However, there has been a shift in recent years in the way e-commerce sites look. It can probably be traced back to 2012 when Google took the nuclear option. This change isn’t merely to make the site more pleasing to the eye (although that’s a bonus). It’s because savvy e-commerce retailers have realized that in order to sell more they need to engage more.
And the best way to achieve that is through the use of e-commerce Content Marketing.
What Exactly is E-commerce Content Marketing?
Click here to view the Definitive Guide to E-commerce Content Marketing
The principles of e-commerce don’t change. You just want more folk to buy more of your stuff, more often. Maybe that’s why most e-commerce websites share similar characteristics. You know—heavy on the product, light on the content. After all, that’s what e-commerce websites are supposed to look like aren’t they?
But take a look around you. Some of the top online retailers are moving towards a much more content focused approach.
Compare the 2010 version:
With the 2016 version:
That hasn’t happened because they want to create a warm, fuzzy feeling. It’s happened because it’s good for business. Creating engaging, fresh content helps them build and maintain relationships with existing clients as well as reaching out to a new audience. The reason? It’s simple.
E-commerce Content Marketing hits the sweet spot where link building, blogging, social media and even paid search all meet. It’s about building authority and claiming backlinks naturally and consistently. It’s about engaging more deeply with your target market and amplifying your message via social media.
So, rather than focusing all of your effort to get your visitor to the checkout page (level of difficulty: hard) it’s more about focusing on your ideal client and their needs so you can invite them into the top of the funnel (level of difficulty: easier). It’s a shift from being a pushy salesperson to a safe pair of hands.
The other really important point to bear in mind is that this type of content has a long afterlife. It can work for you year after year, helping you build authority, backlinks, and an engaged audience on social media. But it doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. It’s something you can master, and here are the rules of the game.
First Up: You Need a Plan
Some people love plans more than others. If you want to create a 100-page plan with graphs and statistics then don’t let me stand in your way. But if you’re like me and you prefer a more action based plan, then here’s what you’ll need:
- Content goals: What are you aiming for? Backlinks, social shares, followers, subscribers? What you’re about to learn covers all these bases. Just think about it up front and identify the long game you want to play.
- Influencer list: You’ll need some help with the heavy lifting. Your influencers are going to be key in this so you’ll need a list of them whether they’re established A players or the up and coming blogging stars of tomorrow.
- Buyer persona: Who is your ideal client? What’s their name, where do they live, what are their interests? Creating a buyer persona is going to dictate the type of content you’ll create. If necessary create several to cover different types of buyers.
- Buyer’s journey: Typically the buyer’s journey covers three phases: I have a problem, need or desire (awareness). What are the options available (consideration)? I’m going to make a purchase (decision). This may not be a linear process, but understanding these steps will help you craft the best content.
- Content calendar: Don’t leave it to chance. Commit yourself to creating content. Put it in a calendar to keep you focused.
- Content distribution (outreach) plan: Posting to your own site is easy. But you’ll also need to have a target list of external sites to get published to. This will keep you focused.
- Content repurposing plan: Content takes time and money to create. Breathe new life into your existing content by repurposing it and getting it in front of a new audience
- Content optimization plan: Regardless of your content goals, EVERY piece of content needs to be optimized for maximum effect
Visitors vs. Buyers
What’s better—10,000 uninterested visitors or 1,000 motivated and engaged visitors?
Give me the 1,000 motivated visitors any day of the week. The trouble is, people often focus purely on getting more new visitors through the door. Now that’s great and don’t let me stop you from focusing on traffic. It’s just that the type of content we’ll be looking at is great whether you want to increase traffic or increase conversions.
Let’s have a look at them in turn.
Authority Content for Traffic and Backlinks
For these content goals you’ll probably need to spend as much time on your outreach strategy as you do on creating the content in the first place. In fact, if the content is really good and you have a large number of influencers, then the outreach is going to be an ongoing process. Fortunately, there are several proven content formats to choose from. Here they are:
Well written, expert insight into a particular area of specialization. Between 5,000 to 20,000 words in length, this type of content is made for one purpose only—to establish you as the voice of authority.
You’ll need to steer a course between going too broad (i.e. Definitive Guide to SEO) and too narrow (i.e. Definitive Guide to Anchor Text). Also, don’t limit yourself to just one guide—someone needs to be the authority in your niche and it might as well be you. But when you find that sweet spot you’ll be picking up backlinks with (relative) ease.
One final point before we move on. Don’t be put off thinking it needs to be 100% original, groundbreaking research conducted by you. Think more like a museum or an art gallery. They don’t create the great works on display – they are great curators and that’s what you need to do. That doesn’t mean plagiarizing or copying. It means cross-referencing and linking to authority content.
The reports of the death of guest blogging have been greatly exaggerated. Let’s face it; there are two types of guest blogging. One which is spammy and fairly easy to manipulate. An unholy hotchpotch of unrelated posts on a blog with little engagement. Article Marketing 2.0 you could say. The other type involves your influencers. Curated, cared for blogs where there is a common thread running through content which is high quality and which resonates with an engaged audience.
Guest blogging of the second category means you need to do your homework and you need to create great content. That’s a much easier ask if you are a recognized industry authority. Once you’re creating the types of content I recommend here; you’ll find it much less daunting to approach these sites.
List Based Content
People love lists and list based content is popular year after year. The beauty of lists is that you can compile them from loads of different angles, they are easy to pull together, easy to digest and great for sharing. They also engage people’s opinion.
While they are popular it probably wouldn’t be wise to create your entire content strategy around lists. Just use them as part of the overall mix of content. An engaging, attention grabbing headline is the starting point. And as long as you choose your subject well then you don’t need to be the world’s greatest writer.
Based on the invited opinions of industry experts, crowdsourced content ticks a number of crucial boxes. It involves influencers, it is focused on a specific subject, and you become an authority by association.
As with list-based content, try to resist the temptation to overuse it otherwise your Influencers may feel that you are abusing your relationship. Try to think of it as an option from time to time. It can also be seasonal or annual so that you get a fresh perspective, i.e. SEO Predictions for 2016 from 25 Industry Experts.
Recognition and Awards
We all love recognition—even top bloggers (i.e. your influencers). Creating your own awards is a great way to get on their radar and get shared by them. Be careful not to overstep the mark into sycophancy, but again you can use this approach from time to time as one component of your overall strategy.
Also, try to make sure everyone is a winner. So rather than saying the third best UK SEO Blogger is X, the second placed UK SEO Blogger is Y, etc. create categories where they all win, i.e. best on page blog post of the year goes to Z, best content marketing post goes to A, best link building advice goes to B, etc.. It is probably wisest to use this approach once you have some established relationships.
What’s best? AHRefs or Moz? iPhone or Android? WordPress or Joomla? These types of comparisons are a) popular b) easy to create and c) offer you endless, ongoing opportunities to create content. People love to compare and contrast and you just need to present the arguments for and against.
There’s no need to take sides if you want to appear impartial. Just present the arguments in favor of each and draw some conclusions. Each one will have their own fan base willing to throw in their opinion. You just need to stand back and act as impartial referee to ensure that things don’t get out of hand in the comments.
Another advantage of this type of content is that it lends itself perfectly to several different formats whether written, graphic, animated or video/audio.
I know, I know, infographics have been done to death. But when done well and promoted to the right influencers, an infographic can be an absolute link magnet. When done badly they just appear as a jumble of facts that are probably better presented in text.
Techniques such as parallax infographics too, while expensive, can help although be prepared to dig deep for the best designers. The important point about infographics is that they need to use a handful of points to make the overall argument you are proposing. Don’t confuse loads of figures and statistics with a high-quality infographic.
Creating great content takes time and costs money. So one way to reduce both is to run a contest. Sure you’ll need to come up with the incentive to enter, but a fun competition can engage both existing customers as well as extending out to their circle of contacts. There are also a plethora of contest software to make this a straightforward process.
Content for Conversion
This type of content aims to prove you’re a safe pair of hands. It allows you to set the benchmark in the eyes of your prospects. You are positioning yourself as their source for impartial advice in their buying decisions. This is a powerful place to be.
But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the poor relation of authority content. As well as addressing all of the questions your prospects have, it opens up plenty of options for creating keyword rich content to target those all important long tail keywords.
The other great thing about content for conversion is that you probably have most of this stuff already in one format or another so you can hit the deck running. It’s usually somewhere on your hard drive, in your outbox or up in your head. All you need to do is have a good rummage around and get it out there.
Again, there are some proven formats for you to use.
‘How To’ Guides
If you are starting out with content marketing and you’re unsure where to start, then you can’t go wrong with the good old ‘How To’ guidebook.
Easy to create and good for both traffic and conversions, a comprehensive ‘How To’ Guide on a specific subject positions you as a helpful expert. It also allows you to cast a net for visitors with high levels of intent as well as providing long tail opportunities. As with the Definitive Guide you just need to strike the balance between going too broad and too narrow.
Similar to a How To Guide the Buyer’s Guide can be a powerful e-commerce conversion tool. The main reason is that people are just plain busy. They just don’t have time to investigate all of the options and educate themselves.
They appreciate the fact that you are pulling it all together for them in one handy reference guide. By doing this you control the narrative so you can present all of the options in a fair and reasonable way.
They are also really easy to create, too. Think of all of the conversations you’ve had with your prospects over the years. Just run through an imaginary sales call with a prospect who asks you which is better product A or product B? You’d try to establish their needs, their budget, their level of expertise so you can recommend the best option. You’d explain the benefits of each and at the end make a recommendation.
Or check your live chat transcripts (you are using live chat aren’t you?), your presentations, your outbox. It’s all there. You just need to pull it all together, top and tail it with your logo, add it to your blog or create a PDF or better still, create a video and add that, if appropriate.
In some estimates video on product and landing pages can increase conversions by 80%. That’s probably the top end of the range, but by adding video you are going to increase conversions. Don’t just limit yourself to product videos though. You can also adapt it for a variety of uses e.g. to compliment your Buyers Guides or How To Guides.
If you’re a product based business then why not just unbox your products. Unboxing offers a huge conversion (and traffic) opportunity for retailers who have stock to hand.
Video also works well for a wider range of products than you may think, and is being increasingly used in fashion, food, drink, and cosmetics to name but a few. And don’t think you need to create an Oscar-nominated epic or a viral video. These days it’s Lights, iPhone, Action!
Usually reserved for B2B sites, a well-crafted case study de-risks the buyer’s decision by putting your clients center stage to prove you can back up your promises with real world examples.
The voice of the client will feature prominently with the use of quotes and suddenly you are speaking the true language of your clients. From this perspective, they are pure solid gold. All you are doing is telling a story. It is a sequence of events starring your client and follows a predictable format and is backed up by data.
The story line has four key stages:
- The Problem: Your client realizes they have a problem.
- The Options: They looked at the options and they chose you.
- The Solution: They implemented your solution and solved their problem.
- The Results: These are the business results they achieved.
It is a classic before and after with a happy ending, but it’s their story with you featuring heavily in it.
Reviews and User Generated Content (UGC)
UGC can include social signals through to reviews on third-party sites or testimonials on your site. The first thing to accept is that UGC is increasingly important. The flipside is that it is less in your control. But that is not to say that it is completely out of your control.
The real beauty of it though is that it is the authentic voice of your client. Rarely will a copywriter be able to capture the essence of what you do better than a happy (or unhappy) client. The trick is to try to control the process. You can start by asking for reviews and testimonials. Sure, we’d all like to get great reviews organically, but customers need a little reminding from time to time.
Whether you have an automated request for a review on TrustPilot from first-time buyers or you always ask for a review when you have a satisfied client on a live chat you just need to get into the habit of asking.
In terms of the hierarchy of reviews, video testimonials are testimonial Nirvana. Why? Because, let’s face it, written reviews are just too static. Sure they’re nice to have, but what can match the sincerity and language of a video testimonial?
Just start with your best customers. You know who they are and if you don’t then just run a Pareto analysis on your CRM. It’s the top twenty per cent who are probably your raving advocates so—you just need to ask them. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the feedback you get and suddenly your product pages are alive with the genuine voice of your client. Again, pure sold gold.
E-commerce Content Marketing: The Visual Element
You’ve got your influencers on board, and you’ve created some epic content. All that remains is to hit the ‘Publish’ button. Wrong! You’re not done until you have complimented your content with some great visuals. There are two main reasons for this.
First, if you want to get social media traction, then you need images. With nearly two-thirds of social media posts including an image it means images are not an optional—they are a must.
Secondly, creating visual versions of your content gives you huge scope for repurposing your content without having to start from scratch. That’s a really important point to consider. If you have spent time researching and creating content then it makes sense to cater for different audiences with different preferences for content.
It also improves SEO because, as well as immediate links, you are spreading your net wider and increasing the chance of more links further down the line. Also, visuals can breathe new life into old content. Maybe you’ve got some older, evergreen content on your blog that just needs a brush up with some neat visuals. So here are a few tried and tested options for you.
Slideshare gets a TON of targeted, motivated traffic looking for authority content and there’s no reason you can’t leverage this too. But it’s not just traffic. Adding slides to a plain text blog post can neatly summarize the key points.
If it’s conversion you’re after, then pay attention to the use of great images and fonts and avoid boring your audience with just a list of bullet points with your logo at the top. Make your presentations fun, interesting, and engaging.
OK, they have limited SEO value, but some people are just PDF addicts. Easy to create and cheap to outsource, you can add them to product pages, as a free download for lead generation, or create a content hub with handy PDFs for download.
If you’ve got a particular area of expertise and you can bring together your knowledge into a book-length PDF, then there are loads of places to upload them to.
If you’ve created a Definitive Guide, a How to Guide, or made a product or service comparison; then you have the perfect opportunity to create a video to compliment your content. Maybe you can create talking FAQs shot at an angle for a more informal approach.
Camera shy? No problem, do a screen save or just talk your way through an online slide presentation. Just can’t face it at all? Then why not create a cartoon—there are some great tools out there to allow you to do this. Just remember not to shoot all your arrows at once. Break your subject matter down into digestible chunks – a couple of minutes at most, rather than going for the 60-minute epic. The aim is to inform, not bore.
OK, it’s not visual content, but audio content is still hugely popular, especially podcasting which allows you to build a motivated audience around a well-defined topic.
As well as being insanely easy to create, audio allows you to explore a subject in-depth in a natural sounding way that doesn’t need loads of takes and re-recordings. The key takeaway here is that your audience likes to consume content in a variety of ways, and some people just prefer the spoken word.
Sure, we’ve touched on infographics before, but run through your existing content. Is there any information you have that you can re-purpose as a useful infographic? You just need one central argument supported by half a dozen or so facts and you’ve got yourself some fresh new visual content.
Promoting and Distributing Your Content
Now you need to think like a rock band taking their new album (am I showing my age?) on tour. It’s time to get your content in front of as many eyeballs as possible. So you have three main options—owned, earned and paid. Let’s run through them in turn.
Owned Content Channels
That’s easy enough—these are the channels you own. Your website, your blog, your social media channels, your email subscriber list. Just make sure you run through a checklist for EVERY piece of content. Here are some pointers:
- The SEO fundamentals: we’re talking metatags, headings, URLs, internal and external linking, anchor text, etc..
- Visuals: The right visuals encourage sharing. Whether it’s a video, graphic design, or a great photo make, sure your content looks the part. And please, go easy on the cheesy free stock images.
- Optimize for sharing: Make it mobile friendly, share friendly, and tweetable.
- Scheduling: Don’t leave it to chance—plan the best time to post and share for maximum effect.
- Email your list: Great subject line, teasing email content—make sure you get the most from your mailings.
Earned Distribution Channels
If you’re after traffic, then this is where you’re going to be putting a lot of your effort. Creating great content takes time, but so does promoting it.
- Identify your influencers: Know who your influencers are. Cast a wide net—there are often more out there than you think. Look at company blogs too – they often have huge followings.
- Nurture relationships: You need to become your company’s Chief Relationship Building Officer. Follow on social media, promote their content, subscribe to their blog or newsletter, be the first to comment, interact with the community. Make sure you don’t overstep the mark into stalking though, and you’ll soon be on their radar.
- Automate where possible: Sure you can start with good old Excel or Google docs, but there are all sorts of tools that will help you manage your outreach much better these days. They’ll save you a ton of time and keep you organized – as your outreach efforts gather momentum, you’ll be glad you did.
- Reference your influencers: Link to their best content in your content where relevant and possible. Again, no need to overdo it. Just nice and natural.
- Ask their advice: When possible, get them on board before you publish. Ask for their opinion in advance so you strengthen the relationship and get some valuable input from an expert.
- Launch your content: Mail your list, and promote in social media channels.
- Invite your influencers to share: If you’ve created some great content that looks stunning and you’ve done the groundwork in terms of relationship building, then your influencers are normally happy to oblige and get behind your content.
Don’t think this sounds calculated. Rather, try to think of it as being predictable. Don’t confuse being predictable with being boring. In business, predictable (if it’s a positive trend) is good.
Remember, paid channels are also relevant to e-commerce Content Marketing. Don’t forget, you are targeting people at the wide end of the funnel. They are exploring options and doing their homework. So whether it’s pay-per-click, paid social or remarketing, there are all sorts of ways to get new prospects interested in your offering even though you aren’t asking them to get the credit card out immediately.
For e-commerce merchants, there are loads of possibilities when it comes to content marketing, and this trend is only going to continue with the increasingly converging worlds of blogging, social media, and e-commerce.
Content can be used to increase traffic by helping you establish authority and building relationship with influencers.
But it isn’t all about traffic. Conversion is an area where you can really get an advantage over less motivated, less savvy competitors.
So that’s it. Are you using any of these techniques? Which is the most valuable type of content in your opinion, and do you have any examples you can share?
Let us have your thoughts below.
Featured Image: Image by Pickaweb. Used with permission
In-post Photo #1: Image by Pickaweb. Used with permission
All screenshots by Tony Messer. Taken March 2016.