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Ecommerce brands have embraced content marketing over the past couple of years.
Of course some, like Net-A-Porter, have used content effectively long before it became a buzzword.
However, while some are using content well, others just seem to be ticking boxes and failing to incorporate content fully.
In this post, I'll look at how ecommerce brands should be using content, and some of the mistakes to avoid.
How ecommerce brands can use content:
In his new content strategy report, which looks beyond just ecommerce, Dr Mike Baxter sets out three content types:
1. Transitional content
This is content which aims to move customers long the funnel, from awareness of products and services to interest.
One example of this would be things like product page copy, or perhaps more sales-focused editorial. This guide from AO.com, which helps customers decide on the fridge-freezer for them, while moving them further down the funnel, is a good example:
2. Transactional content
This is content that persuades and helps people to complete a transaction, whether this transaction is signing up for an email.
This 'micro-copy' can be overlooked, but is very important. Ben David has some examples of micro-copy here, including this from memonic, which helps customers complete the form with a subtle reassurance about email.
3. Relationship-building content
This covers most of what people think of when content marketing is mentioned. The aim to attract and build an audience and gain trust.
It's not the hard sell, but should help to move customers towards the point where other types of content are needed.
There's lots of examples of this, such as this YouTube channel from Asda:
What ecommerce brands are getting wrong
James Carson's Fashion Ecommerce and Content Marketing report found a number of common issues with the use of content by ecommerce sites.
This refers to fashion, but these trends can be seen from other retailers:
Editorial poorly integrated into the site
Many sites have just tacked content onto the site without fulling integrating it into the site, or using it where it can have maximum effect.
For example, DIY retail offers plenty of opportunities for brands to produce useful content, such as how-to and buyer's guides which provide useful advice.
Wickes has produced some of these, but buries the links within the footer:
It's a shame, as there's some useful content, like this how-to guide to laying decking. It's comprehensive and well laid out, and professionally produced:
However, when you look to buy decking on the site, this guide is nowhere to be seen.
You'd think it would be useful on category pages, where customers could have easy access to the kind of content which answers questions and deals with possible concerns around the products.
By contrast, B&Q has similar guides, but chooses to display them more prominently, adding them to the main navigation menu:
This content is also used where it can be most valuable, to retailer and customer. They are shown on category pages, as well as where customers are considering purchases.
Here, how-to and buyers guides are shown on product pages:
Low publishing frequency
There's no room for half measures here. If you're going to make content marketing work, then there needs to be a commitment to producing regular, quality content.
I've seen examples where sites start a blog, publish three posts a month, then probably conclude that this whole content thing is a waste of time for them.
The exact amount of content needed is open to experimentation. For example, I try to ensure that we publish between five and 10 articles per day. This is a frequency that works for us.
Whatever the correct frequency, consistency is needed, as well as enough content to actually make a difference.
As James Carson observed in his report:
Some editorial feeds attempted to publish at least one story a day. Marks and Spencer achieved this including weekends, and H&M managed a slightly higher rate (approximately 40 stories in September) but many were much more sporadic. For instance, River Island posted 16 times and French Connection ten times during September 2014. Lipsy maintained a blog but posted three times during September.
Here, FCUK hasn't posted on its blog for almost two weeks:
Brand lacking advisory content
This kind of content can be very useful as well as being relevant to the brand and products, as shown by the B&Q examples above.
Often, this kind of content can be lost in news feeds, which is a shame as it is often the kind of evergreen content that demands a more prominent positioning.
Here, ASOS has a useful guide to shirt and tie matching, which is lost in the daily news feed. It's the kind of 'stock' content which should be used more prominently on the site.
By contrast, M&S uses its Jeans Fit and Style guide much more effectively.
It is highlighted among search results and category pages:
It is also given prominence on product pages. Rather than placing it solely on a blog or magazine section, M&S has used it where it can be more effective as a piece of transitional content.
Lack of awareness of SEO
SEO should be one of the major goals when using content in ecommerce.
With so much competition for rankings, content offers retailers an opportunity to improve rankings for its products and services.
However, our report found that a minority of websites applied good web standards to their headlines, most didn’t make sense out of context and didn’t tell the story. This matters when it comes to SEO.
For example, M&S creates some useful content, but its use of pages titles and title tags do nothing to help the products it mentions to rank any higher.
It's a missed opportunity for M&S. By contrast, Net-A-Porter's 'The Edit' has been created with SEO in mind. The titles are similarly non-descriptive, but the web team has been careful to also include bespoke page titles in the <title> tag.
The value for SEO can be significant, and can help brands rank for some very useful terms. Here, B&Q and Lowes have achieved some impressive rankings thanks to how-to guides:
The use of content in ecommerce is a big topic, and I've barely scratched the surface here.
The major point is that producing content without an overall strategy and set of aims can be a waste of time, and means that many of the potential benefits are missed.
So here we see brands producing informative and compelling content, but failing to capitalise on the potential SEO benefits, or neglecting to use this content where it can help to drive sales or assist customers.
If you are going to decide to produce content, look at what you want to achieve with it, and plan carefully.
What do you think? What kind of content works well for ecommerce brands? What examples have you seen? Let me know in the comments...
See this post for more examples of content marketing by ecommerce brands.
Our new Implementing Content Strategy: Digital Best Practice report, written by experienced consultant Dr Mike Baxter, provides a framework for evaluating your current content strategy and content planning processes, helping you make the most of your content in the future.