Your customers are shopping for more than products. They also want helpful information. Sometimes, they’re after inspiration, or a little entertainment.
Last century, retailers online and off rarely concerned themselves with the idea of producing content to satisfy these desires, but in this century, the formula for success is “know, like, trust.”
You win customers—and keep them coming back for more—if and when they come to:
- Know your brand
- Like doing business with your company, and
- Trust it will meet their needs
And, while ecommerce has exploded the past two-plus decades, so too has content marketing.
Table Of Contents
What’s content marketing?
Content marketing focuses on creating content to attract and retain buyers. For the most part, you “ditch the pitch.” Rather than interrupting people as they consume media with paid advertising designed to push product, content marketing is about pulling people toward your brand with content they actually want.
In the ecommerce realm, it’s about connecting with potential customers when they’re looking for answers and helping them make informed buying decisions. Then, after you’ve earned the right to charge their credit card, it’s about earning their loyalty for future purchases (and referrals).
“We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in.”
Craig Davis, former chief creative officer at J Walter Thompson
The benefits of content marketing in ecommerce
Ecommerce companies that master content marketing enjoy some immense benefits.
Drive traffic from search
Content marketing can be your ace card for driving traffic from search results. When you create and optimize effective content—based on relevant keywords—you attract organic search traffic that you might have otherwise paid for with online advertising.
Also, well-executed search engine optimization (a.k.a. SEO) delivers compounding organic traffic over time. Not so with paid media. With paid media, when the budget runs dry so too does your pulling power.
Marketers often see that customers who come to their sites through SEO tend to be more loyal, leading to greater lifetime value. According to a 2020 study by Forrester Consulting, these customers engage more and spend more time on the ecommerce sites than those coming from other sources.
Differentiate your brand
Differentiation doesn’t come easy for many online sellers. Your content can help make it happen by enabling you to show off your brand’s personality.
Pura Vida tastefully expresses its brand with a photo gallery on their homepage based on their Instagram channel.
Optimize your conversion funnel
As you know, in most cases, the people that land on your website aren’t ready to buy. Strategic content marketing programs can help move customers through your conversion funnel by strengthening the relationship with each touchpoint.
Of course, for those who are ready to buy, your content should include CTAs to drive them to product pages.
Foster brand loyalty
Your customers go online and often buy based on price or other terms. And all they have to do is click. It’s safe to say, brand loyalty may be more evasive than ever.
Executing content marketing effectively can strengthen your customer relationships and foster brand loyalty. Your goal: enrich their lives with helpful advice and services that address their needs.
How to plan a new (or improved) approach to ecommerce content marketing
Content marketers often leap before they look. That is, they start creating content without a clear plan. Doing so may result in generating noise but not engagement.
Your content output has to map to a purpose with clearly defined steps for achieving specific goals such as increasing customer engagement, generating leads, and growing sales. Effective content marketers forge a plan. Let’s look at the some of the key steps involved in the process.
Though your brand is likely to solve numerous needs for a variety of people, “everyone” is not your potential buyer. Who is?
The process of engaging buyers begins by clearly documenting the key personas in your target audience. Not every ecommerce company will tackle the task exactly the same, however, it’s wise to define one or more buyer personas with insights that reveal his/hers/theirs:
- Basic demographics
- Personality traits and interests
- Motivations and values
- Pain points or most pressing needs
- Common objections
- Preferred media channels for consuming content
Note that your persona can take different forms. Most create a page or a concise series of slides to create a persona. Need a kick starter? Do a search for “buyer persona template” and you’re off to the races.
A succinct single-page persona presented in a Massive Peak article featuring numerous examples.
Create a customer journey map for your personas
You’ve created a persona. Your buyer’s mindset is no longer a mystery to you or anyone who will join your content marketing team. Next, it’s time to develop a customer journey map to identify a typical buying process so you can proceed to create content that maps to each stage.
For planning purposes, the customer journey is often expressed as a funnel that identifies the stages of a buyer’s experience with your brand.
To create a customer journey map for your ecommerce brand, just follow these 4 steps.
1. Establish objectives
Begin by answering the simple question: What’s the goal for the specific persona you’re mapping?
2. Identify the touchpoints
Research the ways this customer interacts with your brand to determine all potential touchpoints.
3. Identify bottlenecks and pain points
Where do customers experience pain points or hurdles? What are they? Where do they abandon the buying journey? Why? Armed with these insights, you can take steps to address issues with the content.
4. Update and refine
Aim to continuously examine and refine your customer journeys to empower better content plans. Work together with sales and customer support teams to optimize and streamline the buyer’s experience.
A customer journey map might be expressed as a simple table like this example from Shopify.
Audit your existing content
Auditing your existing content will be key to identifying where the gaps lie and what must be created and/or changed. Aim to identify:
- Which content speaks to which personas at key touchpoints in the journey
- Notable inconsistencies
- Where competitors have more robust or higher quality content
Some of the things you’ll probably want to include in your audit, which is likely to be documented in a spreadsheet, include:
- Content type
- Targeted keywords
- The quality of the content
- Results: search rank, traffic, downloads, click-through rates, revenue generated, or any relevant consumption data
Conduct a competitive analysis
Examining how your competitors use content will help you understand how your efforts compare, and potentially, help you identify gaps worthy of exploring, and inspire ideas.
A robust article from SEMRush regarding the process of conducting a content-focused competitive analysis proposes the following five steps:
1. List your competitors.
2. Review how each competitor positions the company.
3. Analyze SEO metrics (e.g., organic search traffic, authority, backlinks, time on site, top pages, etc.).
4. Review the competitors’ on-site content by categories, formats, quality, etc.
5. Turn your analysis into action. That is, determine your weak points, make plans to publish superior content, try—and test—new tactics.
Forge an SEO strategy
Understanding SEO best practices can help transform your ecommerce business. As such, your content planning efforts must include SEO strategies to attract visitors by ranking for relevant search terms.
While SEO is a deep, complex, and ever-changing practice, the most important element of your SEO strategy will be keyword planning. Keywords, which are most often multi-word phrases, are phrases you plan to target with your content to rank highly on search engine results pages (SERPs).
- Short tail keywords are general search queries of one or two words. They typically have very high search volume, and are therefore more difficult to rank for.
- Long tail keywords usually consist of three or more words and have less search volume and therefore are easier to rank for.
Many tools, such as SEMRush, Moz, and Ahrefs (to name a few), will provide the data you need to make informed decisions regarding keyword selection such as monthly search volume, ranking difficulty, and which websites currently rank highest for the keywords.
Another key to your brand’s success with search will come from links to your content from other reputable websites (often be described as “off-page SEO”). However, getting backlinks is easier said than done.
Because they are considered off-page SEO, earning links is more complicated and time-consuming than simply making tweaks to your website. You’ll need to collaborate with other brands to acquire the links.
Link-building strategies you may want to pursue include:
Partnering with influencers
Influencers are people and publishers in your niche who have a large following and/or high-ranking website. The goal is to work with them in some way so they publish links back to your site and promote your brand on social media.
Guest posting can help you create relationships with industry experts and get links on prominent sites while taking advantage of the host’s expertise and readership to increase your own site’s exposure.
While it’s 100% unpredictable, the best strategy is to earn links. That is, to produce content valuable enough—and of high enough quality—to simply win other content marketers over. Doing in-depth industry research and publishing it in the form of a report has proven to be a golden strategy, however, there are various forms of content you can create to establish the authority required to earn links.
Establish what you’ll monitor and measure
As is the case for every element of your marketing, content marketing performance should be perpetually measured to deliver the data needed to continuously refine strategy and execution.
Assuming you have identified your primary objectives, a subsequent step is to identify which metrics will serve as your team’s key performance indicators (KPIs) to deliver insights to determine the degree to which the objectives are being accomplished.
Portent, a digital marketing agency presents this diagram to illustrate some of the best KPIs you can use to measure and monitor conversion, reputation, and engagement.
As we wrap up this section on content marketing planning, keep in mind that deciding what to measure and collecting the data isn’t the end of line. Your goal should be to turn the data into actionable insights you can execute to improve your content marketing ROI.
Content formats to attract shoppers
“If you’re not putting out relevant content in relevant places, you don’t exist.”
Your plan’s in place. It’s time to execute.
You may want to start with a blog and some social media activity, but over time, you’ll find making your content mix more diverse will help the cause. In the pages that follow, we present content formats, along with tips and examples, to create content that will resonate with your customers.
Video can be great for content you might have written about to tell stories that beg to be told on camera. As for subject matter, video is incredibly flexible. Consider some of the many possibilities:
- How-to videos
- Product demos
For things like style and length, while your resources may factor into how you produce videos, a smartphone affords you an acceptable studio to shoot and edit as needed.
Chalk paint pioneer Annie Sloan produces a how-to video series to help buyers understand how to get creative with her brand’s products.
User generated content (UGC)
The proliferation of social platforms has paved the way for ecommerce brands to take full advantage of content created by its customers. The benefits of publishing (or enabling customers to self-publish) user generated content are many:
- The content is authentic and therefore delivers strong social proof for your ecommerce brand.
- Gathering UGC builds community by involving your customers in your brand.
- UGC is a highly scalable way to source content. In other words, it’s easy.
- UGC is uber portable and can be featured across media including your site, email, social media, and more.
Aerie launched the #AerieREALPositivity campaign where users share positive things about their life. On Instagram and TikTok the hashtag has more than 2-billion views.
Product selection guide
Will your buyers benefit from understanding their choices in order to make informed decisions? A buyer’s guide (or product selection guide) may be the ideal form of content. Your guide may contain information based on specific criteria such as price, dimensions, materials, functionality, and more. Many buyers appreciate when ecommerce companies include “vs” comparisons.
“Our paddle guide is intended to help you find the right mix for your style of play,” writes Pickleball Central as it introduces its paddle buying guide.
Product usage guide
A product usage guide informs potential buyers how to realize the benefits of your product. Your guide might contain tips, guidelines, examples, and other helpful information.
Product usage guides can raise brand awareness, introduce products, and encourage shopping. Of course, you’ll want to promote your products by including links to your site’s product pages.
Mmm, mmm… tasty content from Stokes offers 10 great ways to enjoy their barbeque sauces.
Whatever you sell, you can be sure motivated buyers are searching for ideas related to your products via search. For instance:
- How do I keep my indoor cat entertained?
- What’s a good game for kindergartners?
As you can easily imagine, the answers to questions such as these can easily be presented as product idea guides. Identify a relevant question and create an in-depth, informative collection of answers to showcase your products via search and drive traffic.
In addition to offering everything you could need for your cat, the YourPurrfectKitty site offers all kinds of ideas to help keep kitty entertained (and how-to’s for many product types).
Another lead magnet and useful content type is indeed another type of guide: a gift guide. Millions of people turn to search to get gift ideas for weddings, anniversaries, parties, holidays, and every other gift giving occasion you can think of.
If your business sells products that make for good gifts—or maybe even be considered as a unique gift idea—consider creating guides filled with inspiring gift ideas.
Monica Vinader offers a variety of gift guides to help shoppers select from its jewelry lines.
We need not cite stats to understand online reviews impact purchasing decisions. Shoppers are keen on reading product reviews when they have some idea of what they’re looking for, are aiming to gather more information, and of course, hoping to learn if past buyers are happy with the choices they made.
Crate & Barrel nicely showcases buyer reviews on its product pages.
Your customers will value product comparison pages that showcase the differences between similar products to help them identify the product that best fits their needs.
Create comparison pages that feature product descriptions, features, uses, specifications, benefits, prices, or whatever information shoppers seek. Make your comparison pages visually interesting and aim to keep it simple.
Ernie Ball offers a convenient comparison tool to help customers select their guitar string purchases.
Publish Q&A-style pages to provide readers with the answers they may (or may not) be looking for. This form of content should be simple to produce, easy to expand over time, and helpful enough to attract and connect with buyers.
Annie Sloan answers every conceivable question on a long list of topics related to their painting products on its FAQs page.
It takes some effort to create a quiz, but the tactic has proven to be a content marketing gem for ecommerce companies. A fun and informative quiz is likely to earn a ton of social media shares and could potentially generate thousands of leads.
Users enjoy quizzes because they add an element of fun by gamifying the content consumption experience. Another golden element of quizzes is that you’re able to gather useful information about shoppers who likely would not have volunteered it via a traditional online form. And as a final bonus, you can easily gate your quiz so that you gather the email addresses of those that want to be sent the results.
InsertNameHere offers hair solutions and helps you find the ones most likely to suit you with a number of quizzes.
Contests and giveaways
Like quizzes, contests and giveaways provide another form of interactive content bound to engage your audience, foster social sharing, and grow your email list. A variety of SaaS platforms such as Gleam, WishPond, ShortStack and many others make contests and giveaways easy to create and publish across various digital channels.
This simple and effective Christmas-themed giveaway is from Thriftbooks. The rules call for following their Instagram account, liking the post and tagging a friend.
Tools and apps
Online tools and apps—additional forms of interactive content—can drive traffic and increase conversion. While tool development is only limited by your imagination, a couple of proven winners are:
- Augmented reality (AR)—Think of this as fancy description of a simple idea: help your buyers see what they’ll get in the context of their lives. How would these glasses look on me? What would this furniture look like in our nursery?
- Decision trees—Decision trees rely on buyers to answer a series of questions. Based on their answers, the tool guides customers to the right products.
The Sephora Virtual Artist app brings virtual reality technology to the beauty industry to provide buyers a virtual makeover—without stepping foot in a store.
Look books (or product galleries) are for ecommerce brands that offer products worth looking at. Fashion is obviously a great example.
If you market a product where looks enter into the buying decision, consider creating look books and galleries that can show the products in context and create an emotional connection with the shopper. When possible, team with social influencers to expand your reach and influence.
Skatie, makers of swimwear and active wear, offer a vast selection of thematic look books on their website.
Infographics have been popular for decades simply because people enjoy them when they touch on an interesting topic. Infographics are useful for making potentially dull or complex ideas more entertaining and easier to digest. They can also be perfect for telling a story in simple terms.
Infographics have the potential to be fun and creative. When they’re useful and original, they tend to earn social shares, backlinks, and inclusion in content published by other brands.
EZContacts provides a great example of how an ecommerce company can develop valuable content as an infographic.
Get eyeballs on your content and orders in the shopping cart
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
You know this old saying, right?
Unfortunately, countless brands create and publish countless pages and posts that fall in the forest. So, let’s look at how to make your content count.
Give your content a home
First things first: your content should reside on your website and be formatted in such a way that visitors can easily discover it, find what they seek, and potentially, interact with it and share it.
The term “blog,” short for “web log,” has been around for decades and is commonly the name given to a brand’s content center. While it initially may have been understood as a home for text-based articles, today’s online users won’t be surprised to find various content types on a blog.
If your content collection spans various content types, you may want to call it a “content hub.” Some brands like this approach because they aim to publish multiple hubs to satisfy multiple types of shoppers. Also, the hub approach lends itself to branding, e.g. beChewy (for the Chewy brand) and EZOnTheEyes (for EZContacts).
This is another viable option, especially if your products are complex or instruction makes them more useful, e.g. ArtSparx’s Knowledge Center. It’s not uncommon for online sellers to label a section of the website “Learn.”
“Magazine” is yet another option and may imply an upscale approach to delivering content.
Amazingy Magazine is described as an “ever-growing trove of valuable information” from organic beauty experts.
Promote your content
It’s vital to magnify the reach of the content you create. Put simply, if you don’t promote your content so that it reaches more eyes and ears it doesn’t matter how amazing it may be.
It’s convenient to understand the various content promotion (or “content amplification”) strategies as sets of owned, earned and paid media. While owned, earned, and paid media are all different, the goal of each is to build brand awareness and generate more sales. We’ll break it down this way to briefly introduce some of today’s effective promotional strategies.
Owned media channels are those you create and control and are therefore the easiest channels for promoting content.
Your website is a versatile property for which you have complete control. It should be the home of your content hub or blog and whatever content you publish.
Though you don’t actually own any social media platforms, your social media pages are considered owned media because you create and control the content published on them.
Your company may pay for an email marketing service, but owns the email list you build and content you share via this all-important channel.
Of course, you can reach your target audience by buying media. Paid media is a good investment for building a customer base because it guarantees your content will be exposed to your target market. Paid media strategies are also effective for remarketing to those who have already shown interest in your products.
Search engine ads
Search engine ads are displayed in search results and are one of the most popular forms of online advertising.
Social media ads
Ads (or “sponsored content”) on social media are often called “native” because they’re designed to blend into the surroundings. When users scroll through their feeds, they may not even notice social media posts that are sponsored.
In addition to search and social ads, native ads also include in-feed, promoted posts which appear on popular websites.
Display ads are typically presented as banners, in various shapes and sizes.
You don’t pay for—or own—earned media. As the name indicates, you earn it. You might call it “organic.” Earned media entails conversations around your brand that comes voluntarily from others, including journalists and influencers.
Search engine optimization (SEO) can be an important form of earned media. Instead of investing in search ads, you aim to rank on search engines and drive traffic from organic search results. Understand, however, achieving search results requires a long-term, strategic focus.
You want to see people discussing your brand and sharing content on the social media channels where your buyers are active. Aim to win followers, engage them, and encourage them to post user-generated content (UGC). You might choose to repost UGC on your social media accounts and website to parlay mentions into owned media. If a user-generated post is popular, you might even want to further promote it via paid channels.
Third-party review sites
Most ecommerce companies consider reviews and testimonials on third-party review sites a great way to generate awareness and built trust.
Media publicity (PR)
If you’re able to tell a compelling story about your brand, products, or events, you may be able to get some free media coverage. Consider sending out a press release to share interesting stories or anything that may help you earn free coverage.
In today’s world, customers are not just looking for products but also for a connection with the brands they buy from. As a business owner, it’s essential to provide your customers with more than just a transactional relationship. You need to establish a connection with them that is built on trust, loyalty, and shared values. This is where content marketing comes into play.
To succeed with content marketing, you need a plan that aligns with your business goals and audience needs. You need to identify your buyer personas, create a customer journey map, and develop a content strategy that maps to each stage of the buying process. But most importantly, you need to create content that your customers actually want to consume.
In the end, it all comes down to understanding your customers, providing them with value beyond just the product, and building a connection that goes beyond the sale. By investing in ecommerce content marketing, you can win loyal customers who not only return to your store but also become brand ambassadors, spreading the word about your business to their friends and family.
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