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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. 

neevr shared email fields

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: 

In summary

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.

Graham Charlton

Published 12 May, 2015 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (10)

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Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh

Content can be highly tactical too: we found that we got a lot of enquiries about the fitting of a specific style, so we produced a video especially for it http://www.schuh.co.uk/womens/ugg-australia-classic-short-chestnut-boots/1403506250/ it's not the sort of video we do for every product but was well worth it in this case. We were able to split test the page with and without the video and the video was a clear winner, more people added to their bag and bought them.

almost 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Thanks Stuart, that's a great example.

almost 2 years ago

James Carson

James Carson, Founder at Made From MediaSmall Business Multi-user

Great article Graham :-)

almost 2 years ago

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Charlotte Barnes, Digital Marketing Manager at Spiral Media

Some really great points made in this article. Especially the section about bringing evergreen content to the forefront of relevant pages.

almost 2 years ago

Kunle Campbell

Kunle Campbell, eCommerce Marketing Consultant at 2X Consulting

Fantastic article Graham. My favourite reference was the Lowes SEO example - do you have any references or guidance as to how to mark-up instructional content that can potentially get picked up by Google for display on the SERPs?
I see enormous SEO value and content leverage opportunities here.

AO.com always hit the mark ;)

almost 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Thanks Kunle, there should be something in our SEO guide: https://econsultancy.com/reports/seo-best-practice-guide/

almost 2 years ago

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Michael Bate, Multi Channel Customer Experience Manager at Homebase

Great article with some interesting points to take away :)

almost 2 years ago

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williams john, Marketing at DucePlus

Having a good promotion for ecommerce website is carried out with the great and impressive content which could reach more users which takes the brand ahead and generate more traffic. So develop a ecommerce website which includes all the features which helps to reach end users through the social media with http://www.duceplus.com .

almost 2 years ago

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Christian Silahian, SEO PM at yes

Very informative article, I really enjoyed reading it. Having worked on SEO programs for e-commerce sites, It is painful painful to see thin content in category and even product pages.

Looking at analytics in most cases SEO was not just the #1 traffic driver, but also the channel with highest conversion rate, revenue and average order value.

Webmasters should start paying more attention to their own media rather than investing in generating paid traffic.

almost 2 years ago

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Noel Peatfield, Content Writer at blog: inboundtech.co

I'm a big advocate of frequently published content on e/mcommerce, but I think product pages and navigation should be kept visually separate from 'stock' content. Get the best of both worlds, lightening quick to navigate your inventory and be the thought leader via content in your niche. For example, if you are a big brand that sells shoes, how hard is it to become the editorial content leader of shoes? A highly focused post grad could do this as things are. Now is the time to get ahead of this curve.
I write about this on my blog www.inboundtech.co

almost 2 years ago

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