Last year I looked through 20 of the top fashion ecommerce sites to see where they were in their content strategy. I was curious because fashion and content just go so well together.
Unfortunately, only a handful were getting it right. A few months later, I decided to revisit them and see if there had been many improvements. While some had made great strides, others hadn’t really, so I decided to write this blog.
In digital marketing, the blog is an absolute staple: often well-read and well executed in a manner that promotes services and thought leadership.
In ecommerce, it’s a rather different story. Granted, blogs are only one facet of a content strategy, but it struck me that so many ecommerce websites could do such a bad job.
In some cases, reading the blog left me wondering: why bother? Indeed, in some cases (such as Marks and Spencer) it seemed a wise idea to forget about it and take another route.
Fashion ecommerce lends itself to having a voice and content strategy due to its lifestyle links, but it’s vital that the execution is strong, or the blog will fall flat.
While I’ve looked specifically at fashion, I’m quite sure there are take aways for everyone, so here are the four most common problems (and how to avoid them).
1. Bad integration with main site architecture
Too many ecommerce blogs function as simple WordPress bolt-ons that have little cross over with the main site. Debenham’s blog looks okay, but it’s near impossible to find when you’re on the main site, and quite hard to navigate back to the main site if you happen to land on the blog.
New Look does rather better with a social link on the main nav and plenty of content serviced through a ‘mega nav’.
To delve deeper into blog content, I headed to River Island. Confusingly, most of the links to content ended up in 404s.
When I did find something I could read RI In NY (bad headline!) it didn’t link back to any products – although it was published in July 2013. On the other hand, New Look does this well consistently.
It’s not clear why websites choose to drop the main website navigation when deploying a blog or choose not to sell anything. If products are referred to they should be linked to.
The crucial elements for success are:
- Keep navigation elements consistent with the main site.
- Link to products that are promoted and explain why they matter.
- Include some blog posts / column navigation as links to your best products.
2. Inconsistency in typography and design
Another problem that stems from a blog as a bolt on is inconsistency in typography and design with the rest of the main site.
Given how easy it is to make these consistent, it’s surprising that major ecommerce sites would deploy a blog and not do this. I started this study a year ago, and many fashion ecommerce sites have made their main site and blog more consistent.
Serif font looks pretty, but it’s inconsistent with the main site and difficult to read on a dark background.
My biggest surprise was Next, which uses two serif fonts on the blog and sans serif on the main site. Additionally the colour scheme is grey type on a dark background (which is hard to read), when the main site is black on white.
The basic rule here is: keep it consistent!
3. Not applying SEO logic to headlines and content
This is the biggest shortcoming. Some blogs look great, but will probably never be found on search engines or shared on social media due to poor headlining.
Of course, there’s been a great call for social / clickbait style headlines or listicles with the rise and rise of Buzzfeed and Upworthy, but most ecommerce sites I reviewed don’t do this either.
Let’s take the first post from the Oasis Fashion Journal as a starting point:
Classic mistake. The headline is ambiguous and best suited for a print publication with large images. On the web, such headlining is dead meat: make it obvious what the content is about!
To be fair to Oasis, quite a few of the other posts have decent headlining, but it’s not too hard to find other examples. While Next’s content is usually on the mark, the headlining rarely is.
‘New Shapes For the Season’ – which season? ‘Mens: Tropic Thunder’ – apart from the grammar, this could be about a film starring Ben Stiller and Tom Cruise.
The rules for headlining are not complicated, and they always pay dividends: say what the content is about in full, so the user does not have to think.
This means writing out full names, specific place names and dates, you can’t go far wrong with this. Even with this simple SEO rule, it’s surprising more haven’t gone for more list based content like: Six Men’s Haircuts for Summer 2014.
4. Broad subject matter
Most ecommerce blogs just aren’t specific enough. They talk about a broad range of subjects like a high powered lifestyle website would.
The difference between a blog and a lifestyle website is the former publishes one or (normally) less articles a day while a lifestyle website would be expected to publish over twenty. Thus a lifestyle website can better afford a broad range of subject matter.
If you take a look at Oasis’s Let’s Go Psycling post, this is a fine example of publishing content that isn’t really that relevant to the audience.
It’s an affinity, but there are more important things to be blogging about: like what should the customer buy? On the other end of the scale, there are skirmishes into buying advice, but on Next, these are supported by celebrities.
It’s probably more on the mark than Oasis, but the likelihood of this content getting found against all of the celebrity content published daily is unlikely.
The final ‘broad post’ is the collection, or basically a roundup of products the editor likes. It rarely works in publishing – the main problem being that it’s not about one specific thing, which will always work against you.
So there are the four classic ecommerce blogging bugbears. One and two probably lie with your developers, but it’s a necessity to get them fixed.
If you can sort three and four out, then you might be rethinking your blogging strategy soon and for the better.