Content marketing is a lot like exercise. People are repeatedly told that they’re supposed to do it, and everyone likes the sound of the benefits of getting it right, but there are so many different approaches (or possible routines) that they get sceptical and start to think it’s been oversold.
But just as with exercise, it really is incredibly important, and it truly does warrant a concerted effort to figure it out – especially if you’re trying to compete in the ecommerce industry, where stores are jockeying for position in the grand conversion race (I’ve stretched this analogy).
Yes, content marketing is a high-value endeavour... but only if approached correctly. Let’s take a closer look at why all ecommerce stores that want to make money (which is all of them, naturally) should be investing in content marketing, and lay out the smart way to do it.
I won’t take a deep dive into content marketing stats to make my case because they’re easy to find if you’re looking for additional justification – and "content marketing is important" is a fair summary – but you can go take a look at these content marketing stats if you have curiosity that must be satisfied.
Instead, we’re going to look at the main points in favour of content marketing as the central marketing tactic for an ecommerce business. Here we go!
With a single piece of industry-leading content, it’s entirely possible for an ecommerce brand to accomplish all of the following (and possibly more):
Now, there’s nothing simple about making an industry-leading piece of content — that’s true. But even a decent piece of content can provide several of these benefits, all for a production cost that pales in comparison to what you might invest in other forms of marketing.
There are online guides that were written over a decade ago but still rank today because they’ve never been supplanted. The companies that produced them might not even remember making them, yet they’re still getting worthwhile leads and conversions from them.
It’s like releasing a hit song and still getting royalties decades later. Any given cheque might not be immensely important, but the cumulative value is immense. Compare this to a conventional advertising method where your ad is forgotten the moment it stops running. All the value drains away in a second. Rankings operate on a lag, but when they’re earned, they last.
If you create a pamphlet for your business and ask people to distribute it, they’ll inevitably want compensation of some kind — after all, you’re asking them to do something for your benefit without getting anything in return. But content marketing is a different beast.
High-end content marketing is all about virality — creating something that will end up being spread around at no additional cost to you, simply because people want to share it. It isn’t easy to make content good enough that people will happily share it, but it isn’t that challenging, and certain formats (quizzes, infographics, videos) make it relatively simple to do it consistently.
If you want to get marketing material out there, this is your only alternative, and it’s a rough one. PPC ads can still be consistently effective if deployed sensibly, but most forms of online advertising are losing their potency at a rapid pace. Indeed, newer generations are perfectly comfortable using ad-blocking software to avoid them entirely.
What we’re seeing now is that the only ‘traditional’ ads that prove reliably effective are those that overlap significantly with regular marketing content. For instance, native advertising (advertising designed to seamlessly fit its environment) is really just content marketing with a more direct promotional angle.
70% of Internet users want to learn about products through content versus traditional advertisements.
OK, so we’ve covered numerous compelling reasons why content marketing is really important if you want to boost your ecommerce business – but how do you do it properly? It obviously isn’t as easy as some make it sound, because plenty of businesses that invest heavily in content marketing get it horribly wrong and end up with a lot of wasted money and time.
Well, I can’t set out a full bespoke strategy for your ecommerce business, but I can set out some general guidelines to follow when you’re creating a content marketing calendar. Everything after that is up to you. Here we go:
Content that’s really broad faces two big obstacles: it faces a huge amount of competition, and it tends to bring in a lot of questionably-useful traffic. The former means that the quality level has to be incredibly high for a piece to be worth writing, and the latter means that it probably won’t produce great results anyway.
By focusing on niche topics and actionable long-tail search terms, you can avoid a lot of that competition and generate visits that are far more likely to result in conversions. Someone who searched for "buy a pizza online today right now i would like to immediately buy a pizza from an online pizza delivery service" probably wants to buy a pizza, whereas someone who searched for "pizza" might just want to read about the history of Italian foods.
Yes, content marketing is ultimately in service of generating sales, but it’s a two-step process: first, you provide something valuable to the reader, then they do something valuable to you. If you fail to achieve the first step, the second step will never happen.
And while you’ll see some version of "understand your target audience" in the bulk of pieces about content marketing, it’s about as widely embraced as "brush your teeth three times each day" or "get eight hours of sleep each night". Because you see it so often, you start to imagine that being aware that you should do it is about as good as actually doing it. But it isn’t. So do it.
No content strategy exists in a vacuum, as there’s no field out there that isn’t already rich with content. That means you don’t need to innovate – you just need to iterate. Take a close look at what other businesses in your area are doing right now. What kinds of content are they producing? What topics are they covering? How are their audiences reacting?
Follow content marketing experts. Keep up with content marketing blogs and social media accounts. Listen to digital industry podcasts (try Copyblogger FM, Marketing Speak, or any of Informi blogger Jen Smith's recommendations). With all that great content marketing knowledge already out there, you’re in the great position of being able to stand on the shoulders of giants. So forget about reinventing the wheel: review all the most successful wheel designs, then create a wheel design that’s slightly better.
Some brands talk about nothing but their products. New product here, new product there – they can’t get through the introductions to their blog posts without linking you to their latest offers. But other brands avoid mentioning their products like the plague, presumably being so afraid of their promotional material being discovered that they never actually include it.
If you want to get results from your content marketing, you need to strike a solid balance. It’s a fairly basic give and take. Give some value (be entertaining, or informative, or interesting), then request some value (include a product link, ask for feedback, etc.). If you think your products are worth buying (and you should), then you have no reason whatsoever to feel even slightly ashamed about promoting them.
It doesn’t matter how much you love infographics – do not commit to producing four infographics each month if you have no idea how effective they’ll prove. Aside from their content offering no value, one of the biggest reasons that stores fail with their content marketing is that they set out rigid approaches months in advance then just stick with them in perpetuity.
The ecommerce world moves incredibly quickly. Fads come and go, new trends arrive, products heat up and then go cold, and consumer habits shift not just with the seasons but also with the zeitgeist. Ecommerce content marketing needs to be thoroughly mutable – you need the operational flexibility to say "OK, these infographics aren’t getting the results we hoped for" and try some FAQ pieces instead. And when you find something that works, you can ride that wave until the momentum subsides.
It’s all about the bottom line, after all, and it’s possible for a content marketing campaign to make an audience happy but not drive any sales – whether because the content isn’t promotional enough, or because the products aren’t depicted in the right way, or for some other reason. So don’t forget why you’re creating the content.
Keep a close eye on your conversions, and keep weighing your content production costs against the revenue you’re getting out of the campaign. If your campaign isn’t proving profitable, don’t keep it going in the hope that it will arbitrarily start working. Stop what you’re doing, come up with your best explanation for why it isn’t getting results, and revise your method. That way, your results should only get better over time, and you won’t end up wasting your money on ineffective content like so many online retailers.
As time goes by, content marketing in the online retail world will only get more competitive – the brands that don’t step up will see their investments amount to nothing, but the ecommerce stores that change with the times and follow sensible guidelines (like those I’ve listed, of course) will continue to reap rich rewards.
Victoria Greene is an ecommerce marketing expert and freelance writer who makes a real effort to follow her own guidelines (but doesn’t always succeed). You can read more of her work at her blog Victoria Ecommerce.
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