Word association: Content marketing.
You’re thinking ‘blog post,’ ‘infographic,’ maybe ‘video,’ ‘white paper.’ That kind of thing. Right?
Not FAQs, 404 pages, About Us…
The thing is, those pages are content too. Visitors read them to learn, understand and make decisions.
FAQs are one of the most underused content marketing opportunities out there. About Us pages? They’re an incredible opportunity to tell your brand’s story. Put like that, it seems obvious – yet they’re often a lifeless formality.
It’s the same with 404s, out of stock pages and thank you pages: in each case, you have a visitor’s attention when they’re right in the process of clicking something, taking action – sometimes they’re even trying to buy.
We can serve visitors better than generic, boring pages that tell them nothing. And we can serve our businesses better than letting interested visitors drop out of carefully designed user flows into the website equivalent of a dimly-lit service corridor with no signposts.
Even better, these pages are right there on your main website. Unlike some content marketing efforts, they’ll be earning you money every day for months or even years.
It’s time to get them right.
Search and content
FAQs are often treated like an afterthought. They get handed off to junior copywriters or outsourced on the cheap because they don’t require much finesse. Sometimes they get written by sales staff. The traditional approach to FAQs, results in FAQs that don’t do a lot for you or your users.
Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion sums that up: ‘A company lists 5-15 (average) of their most frequently asked questions and immediately, under each, they list a 2-3 sentence answer…and usually not a good answer at that.’
Or, they’re left on the back burner so long that they never actually happen.
But your FAQs can be a major content marketing and SEO asset.
Your FAQs get you found from outside your website, directly answering your customers’ most important questions – and therefore their search queries.
Each FAQ does what a blog post that’s based on keyword or search term research does: it creates content ideally tailored to searchers with a specific, relevant query.
To get the most SEO juice from your FAQ section, you have to build it right. That means:
Each question gets its own page
Google serves web pages in response to search queries. If you have a web page with 25 questions and answers on it, only 4% of its content is relevant to any of those queries. It will get beat out in SERPs by a page that’s 100% about that one query. So host each FAQ on its own page.
List your FAQs on one page, with a snippet answer, and a ‘read more’ button that takes you to the specific page for that query.
Check out how Behance does it:
From here, click on any of the buttons to go to categorized FAQs with the most-asked at the top.
The page should have the query as a meta title tag:
Each answer answers the question
Don’t make your FAQ a general guide or a bunch of loosely-linked thoughts. For SEO purposes, you want the page to answer the specific question exhaustively and accurately, and not mention anything else. Don’t try to sell on your FAQs.
They have to be good
It’s pretty hard to quantify ‘good,’ but Google is trying. It uses engagement metrics as search rank signals.
So if your FAQs are bouncing readers in seconds or putting them to sleep, your rankings will suffer.
The best FAQ answer is tightly-focused, well-written and informative. The best way to get there is to try to imagine what unanswered questions your readers might have, and answer them with text, video, graphics, photos, whatever seems to fit the bill.
Readers should be left with no doubts, no ambiguity and no unanswered questions. Use feedback, social, surveys – whatever you can to make FAQ pages both focused and comprehensive.
You can get link building mileage out of your FAQs too. First, they can be useful for other businesses as resources. Write them well and you might get quoted, or your graphics used as screenshots in other people’s blog posts.
Finally, they’re a huge opportunity for internal linking. Each FAQ page gets its own link from the parent page that lists your FAQs. They can link to each other, so if your question is, ‘Does Accelero work with DropBox?’ – it’s rational to answer the question and link out directly from that page to ‘Does Accelero work with Google Drive?’ and ‘Does Accelero work with Office 365?’
Where do you get FAQs from?
You really want to match FAQs with the questions people ask in the search. You can use Serpstat to get questions from search terms for free. Type in your keywords, then look in the left-hand menu under Keyword Research > SEO Research > Search Suggestions.
Here, I’ve used ‘hiking boots’ as my keyword:
So far, so good. But the bit we’re really interested in is here:
‘Only questions,’ hidden away in the top right of the page, is what we’re after.
That gives you the actual questions people searched for, as well as a breakdown by type (the graph in the top right). Export these as a CSV and you have ready-made FAQ questions.
You’ll be monitoring questions on Twitter already. If a bunch of people ask what is essentially the same question, there’s an FAQ. If you don’t get this happening too much, try asking your users and followers to tell you what they find confusing about your product.
In the meantime, browsing Quora and Reddit can deliver too. You’re likely to see more abstract questions on Quora, while Reddit is more a place where people go to talk anonymously and therefore more freely; but both can be sources of invaluable information about what your users don’t understand.
Your sales team will find that they encounter the same questions and objections on call after call. That can be a sign of weakness in your content marketing game more generally, meaning that you’re reaching prospects who haven’t been educated about what you do. But it can also be the way to fix it, and you should start by getting sales people to send over the questions they get every day so you can turn them into FAQs.
Support staff gets a similar situation. If there’s a part of your offering that’s not totally easy to navigate, support staff know about it. So get them to send across their suggestions too. It’s not a bad idea to try to make this process continuous, if possible, so you’re always getting new information about how your users receive your offering and navigate it.
Reduce bounce, increase conversions
When users see a 404 page, they experience a slight shock.
Maybe somewhere deep in their hearts, they think today’s the day they see the glitch in the Matrix that gives it all away.
More likely, they’re reacting to the feeling of being dumped out of your carefully crafted user flow and plonked down facing a ‘yeah, whatever’ 404 page that tells them nothing about what just happened, and nothing about what to do next.
No website is perfect. There will be errors and dead links. In an ideal world, no user would see your 404. In real life, since they will, it’s one of the biggest opportunities you’re probably leaving on the table.
A better designed 404 page can keep visitors on your site, routing them back into the user flow you spent so much effort designing so they can see what to do next. But it can do more too.
A 404 page is an opportunity to actually please visitors, and to educate and inform them. It’s a content marketing opportunity – and one that most of your competitors are leaving untouched.
404s that stop bounce have a few things in common.
- They tell you what’s going on. You know enough about the problem to be reassured. The site’s not broken, but maybe a page was moved.
- They offer you an out. What would you like to do next?
- They’re written in English. Obviously, if your audience speaks Spanish, adjust accordingly, but don’t have a 404 page stuffed with corporate or unapproachable language.
This is a great 404:
Yelps 404 is humorous and carries the Yelp branding onto the page. More importantly, it carries Yelp’s core functionality – helping you find a business near a place – right onto the 404 page, so your navigation to the rest of the site actually delivers some value.
Github’s 404 does something similar:
This one redirects the user back to the site’s functionality just like Yelp’s – but with a nod to Star Wars that GitHub users are likely to enjoy.
These 404s go a step further, rewarding the user with a question-and-answer flow that encourages engagement to reduce bounce:
Click one, and you get:
Just to jog your memory, here’s the default 404 page:
Finally, if you want user engagement, reduced bounceand increaseIn all the examples I’ve shown, the 404 page is being treated as content, with a job to do: engage and guide the user through the flow you want. They’re all aimed at cutting bounce, both by leading users back into the main user flow of the site and by engaging them directly on the page.
If you want to get into this more deeply, there’s a great post about it by Stephanie Hamilton here.
404 pages that convert
Your 404 page can contribute to conversions on your site. It can even be the place where conversions happen.
Carefully crafted 404 pages can direct visitors away from broken or missing content, and to content that’s still up and is relevant to the user.
They can even direct the user to sales pages if you have relevant ones.
This Lost in Space 404 offers links to the homepage, but also the tag cloud and the contact page.
That’s a good place to start. Hubspot takes things a step further, incorporating on-brand graphics and a fun message and offering users links to their blog, product pages and a signup link.
This is great: it’s letting users step back into the funnel at the level they’ve chosen. Crucially, if you got here from the Hubspot blog, say, you might decide to skip ahead and go read a product page. Bingo: conversion. (You might even sign up.)
Finally, if you want to push up conversions and decrease bounce, live chat is hard to beat. Put a live chat trigger on your 404 pages so visitors stay in the user flow and can interact with your brand directly. Here’s how SnapEngage does it:
3: About Us pages:
About us pages are usually among the top 5 pages visited on a site. In a study of 100 optometrists’ websites by EyeCarePro, 25% of visitors viewed the About Us page. Paul Reyes says that he normally finds About Us is the second-most-visited page.
But they don’t get top 5 love when they’re being created. Dull design, weak execution, and copy that’s either ingratiating or anesthetic means they’re actually making a lot of sites leak where they don’t need to. People visit the page, roll their eyes and bounce.
The typical about us page for a business is a couple of hundred words written quickly and with the least thought of any page on the site. But excellent about us pages make sign ups and sales.
Apptopia has a pretty great About Us page.
The page starts with a one-line mission statement entirely free of ‘deliveries,’ ‘solutions’ and ‘passion.’ You read it, and you know what they do.
Flick down to the ‘About’ section and while there’s an intro that addresses personal commitment, you’re into the pain in the first line. Their ‘About Us’ is about what their business can do for their customers: in fact, if you’re a prospective customer, it’s actually about you.
Further down the same page, Apptopia’s leadership team and their whole staff are there, with both names and headshots.
That’s a good move too: images of people increase trust, and trust increases conversions.
This is a pretty solid About Us page too:
That’s what you’d expect – Darren Rowse teaches people to, among other things, write About Us pages.
He starts with a one-line description of what his site’s all about. His personal story fits the approach and purpose of his site: it’s a narrative piece, humanizing Darren and simultaneously foregrounding the purpose of his blog.
The image does a solid job of making the company feel approachable, showing diversity, excitement and a strong brand identity. It totally dwarfs the copy!
Zoom in on that copy, though, and here’s what you get:
This isn’t an About Us page that talks about the company. It talks about what the company can do for you. It’s a sales page, and it’s a piece of content that talks about what the advantages of email automation are.
Although these pages likely generate sales, they’re not structured like sales copy. Instead, they’re more like highly specialized pieces of content that offers value in itself, educating and informing.
4: Out of stock product pages:
Sales and nurturing
Out of stock: the 404 of ecommerce. Just like 404 pages, in an ideal world, you’d never run out and no-one would see it. In real life, out of stock pages come off like an unhelpful shop assistant, flatly informing you ‘we don’t sell that.’
Um, OK. Maybe you could direct me to something sim – no? I’ll let myself out, then.
This matters more than ever because more traffic than ever is going to product pages.
‘During 2016 we consistently observed more and more shoppers skipping the ‘front door’ (the homepage) and landing directly on product pages,’ says GetUplift’s Talia Wolf. ‘Due to long tail search and dedicated posts or ads on social media for specific products, traffic to product pages has gone up and so has their conversion rate.’
When these folks come to your site to buy, what happens? In the USA, 26% of them experience out of stock errors often or very often; 65% of those who do, become lost sales.
When you can’t use a product page to convert, you can use an out of stock page to engage, offer alternative items, and reach out to nurture a lead.
Here’s Google’s Matt Cutts, giving the Google view on how this should be handled.
If you don’t want to watch the video, here’s a quick precis:
- Depends on how many products you have and how fast they become inactive.
- Low numbers of product should have other product recommendations.
- Mid-range product numbers should use 404s.
- High numbers of product should use meta tags that prevent them showing up in SERPs.
If you have relatively low product numbers that change relatively slowly, it makes sense to keep the original page, flag the product ‘out of stock’ and offer an alternative that’s similar. You can do this right on the page or direct to a generic out of stock page.
eBay has game in this department:
The sleeping bag I was looking at is gone. But instead of shrugging their shoulders, eBay has me right back into the flow with offers of similar products. These are actually really similar to the product I was looking at – same brand, even similar colors.
Deciding what to serve your own customers on your out of stock pages depends on several factors. For instance:
- What criteria do your customers shop by? Will they want to see more black dresses, or more Armani dresses, or more size 14 dresses?
- What do customers who browse for this item and buy it, also buy?
What do customers who browse for this item and don’t buy it, buy instead?
Use this information to present the most-desirable product pages on your out of stock page.
Alternatively, you can use 404s. A custom 404 that still serves users valuable information and keeps them in the flow can be a great asset if you don’t want to spend a lot of time
Cutts’ final suggestion is to use Google’s Unavailable After meta tag, which looks like this:
<META NAME=”GOOGLEBOT” CONTENT=”unavailable_after: 23-Jul-2007 18:00:00 EST”>
(Obviously the dates are boilerplate!)
This tells Google that the page should expire from search results on the date you show and should no longer be shown. That makes sense if you have a lot of products that go out of stock permanently.
5: Thank you page
Thank you pages can do a lot more than give you something to track conversions in Google Analytics, though you should totally be using them for that.
Repeat customers are worth way, way more than one-time customers. If you stop selling when you make a sale, you’re leaving an actual majority of your potential revenue on the table.
And some thank-you pages aren’t even for purchases. Thank-you pages should appear after content downloads, sign ups, and other nonpurchase conversions. If it’s part of your content funnel, it should totally be part of your content strategy.
Whether they’re before or after a purchase, thank you pages offer a great opportunity to increase engagement, deliver offers and encourage future purchases.
SnackNation, a snack delivery service, have got this down. In a blog post on ‘What We Learned By Surveying 328 Office Managers [Infographic],‘ you’re offered a free PDF version of the report- a classic low-commitment content upgrade. They capture my email address, and thank me like this:
Their thank-you page hits me with another offer, this time to get a $200 Amazon card in return for a call with one of their sales reps.
Hubspot does something similar: sign up and they move you seamlessly to a content upgrade offer.
Take the plunge and download them and you get another thank you page:
Here’s the content upgrade I agreed to download – and an option to book a meeting with the Hubspot team.
It’s not so much each individual tactic here, as the overall strategy that’s impressive. A great thank you page works as content: people read it because it’s delivering value right at that moment.
Once they’ve got me clicking, Hubspot keeps me moving quickly along their buyer’s journey, always giving me options to move toward purchase without being pushy and always delivering value.
These 5 pages fall between the cracks. They’re not part of a lot of business’ content plans, and they’re not getting a lot of love from the marketing team more generally. But the low esteem they’re often held in can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Getting these pages right could boost search traffic, conversions, engagement, leads and sales.