The truth is people don’t like getting sold to; they like being told stories through content.
Content engages people in a way no sales pitch can. Content touches people’s emotions: it makes them sad, angry, happy, excited, and much more.
At the same time, content can show them a picture of a problem of their life, and how they can solve it by using a product you sell.
That’s where the power of content marketing lies.
The best part is, any company can use this power for their own good. Including your e-commerce store.
The not-so-good part is, it can be complicated to do it right.
But fear not, because in this article you will learn exactly what you need to do to start using content marketing to grow your e-commerce store.
And it all starts with your customers.
(Note: I’ve put together a bonus resource at the end of this article with a checklist of all the things you need to do to get started implementing your own content marketing strategy for your e-commerce store.)
Start With Your Customers
Let me start by saying this: the best kind of content marketing is always focused on the customer’s problems, wants, and needs. This is why the first thing you need to do is to have a deep understanding of your target audience (i.e. your customers).
By understanding your customer’s problems, you can connect with them on a deeper level. And by connecting on a deeper level, you can stand out and make them interested in what you have to say.
To get to know your audience, focus on demographic data. Instead of focusing on the average time on site a certain group of people may have, or their source of traffic, you want to know where they live, how educated they are, how much they make per year, among other things.
One technique that can help you find this demographic data is to create “customer personas” (also known as “buyer personas”). Customer personas are fictional and generalized representations of your target audience. Personas let us get to know our ideal customer while helping us relate to them as humans beings.
By using a customer persona, you can develop your content by focusing only on a minimal set of people. This can help you connect with these customers better while providing more value to them.
To create customer personas you need to extract data from a diverse set of places, including:
- Customer interviews
- Competitor research
- Market research
- Social media and communities
- Your analytics provider
With all this data you can create a customer persona like this one:
How American Express models one of their personas
As you can see, this persona shows there’s a human being that has certain values, needs, and goals that have to be met and fulfilled. With this persona in hand, you can start creating content. But before, you need to know what you want to get from your content marketing.
Define Your Goals
Just as you can’t start a content marketing strategy without a clear target audience, you can’t start one without a clear set of goals.
If you are an e-commerce store owner, or if you work for one, you probably know the most important goals your store has is getting add to carts and sales. The question then becomes, can you achieve those goals with content marketing?
Broadly speaking, your content marketing should help you achieve these goals, just like any other marketing initiative. And just like any marketing strategy you implement, to track the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts, you need to define goals and KPIs directly tied with it.
Some of these goals, with their respective KPIs, are:
- Goal: Get organic traffic. KPI: # of visitors from organic search.
- Goal: Get referral traffic. KPI: # of visitors from referral sites.
- Goal: Get social traffic. KPI: # of visitors from social media.
- Goal: Get email subscribers. KPI: # of email subscribers.
- Goal: Get add to carts. KPI: # of products added to cart from the blog.
- Goal: Get sales. KPI: # of sales from the blog.
By doing this, you should be able to tie directly each goal and KPI with your content marketing efforts. You can (and should) use attribution reports to measure the long-term effect of your content marketing. But the closer the goal is to your content, the better it will be to measure it.
Now, what goal should you pick for your store? I just gave you 7 examples of goals, but depending on your company, there can be more or less. However, if you are starting out, I recommend you pick between 3 to 5 simple goals and stick with them for 6 months. The idea is you get to understand each goal.
After 6 months, you will be able to know how each goal works, how much impact it has on your company, and what you can do to influence its performance.
Understand Your Sales Funnel
Here’s a little secret: not every customer shops the same way. Some are more compulsive than others. Some need to consume a lot of information to be able to make a decision. Some purchase exclusively by the lowest price, whereas others focus on the value they get.
There’s a whole buying process every buyer (including you) goes through every time they make a purchase. The key then is to segment your content according to the buyer’s step in their purchasing process.
A sales funnel is a useful tool that can help you understand your customer’s needs as they go through their buying process. From not being aware of your existence to being ready to buy, a sales funnel will help you provide your customers with the information they need when they need it so they can make the right decision.
One sales funnel model commonly used is one known as “AIDA” (an acronym for Awareness, Interest, Decision, and Action). However, the AIDA model is a bit too complicated for most stores.
A sales funnel model I prefer using is the ToFu, MoFu, and BoFu model, made famous by Hubspot. It’s mostly used for SaaS businesses to get leads and prospects, but it still can be used for e-commerce due to its simplicity. This model is made up by three steps:
- Top of the Funnel (ToFu): This is the content that gets your customer’s attention. It has to be low in its sales intent and must interest them. In this step, it’s all about your customers. A common goal is to make them subscribe to your email newsletter.
- Middle of the Funnel (MoFu): Once you get people interested in what you have to say (which, ironically, has to be all about them), you can then start contacting them with further information that shows your products solving their problems. Sometimes this step is almost non-existent since people in many B2C e-commerce businesses go from interested to ready-to-buy (especially if the price is low, or the product is a commodity). Either way, it’s important to be prepared for this step. Your goal is to make them come back to your store, and if possible, add a product to their cart.
- Bottom of the Funnel (BoFu): In the last part of this model, you finish convincing your customers your products can solve their problems. You help them compare your products, understand their features, its uses, and more. In this step, your only goal is to make them buy your product or finish the purchase they began earlier.
With this model, you will focus on creating your content for each step, so you can provide your customers the information they need when they need it the most.
Analyze Your Industry
Before you jump into creating content, you need to know where you stand in your industry. There’s nothing worse than creating a piece of content you love, but everyone ends up ignoring because it looks just like any other piece of content out there. Just like the saying goes, you need to zig when others zag.
But how can you differentiate your content? You start by analyzing your competitors. This can help you find content gaps in your industry, so you can then fill with your content.
To analyze your competitors you first need to know who these people are. If you know your industry well enough, then you probably have a good idea who you should be spying on. But if you don’t, you need to start by doing some basic research.
First, head to Google, and enter in some broad keywords. Make sure to add the keywords “blog” in your searches. By looking strictly for blogs, you are not only looking for other e-commerce store competitors but for other content creators who can out-teach you.
This search will give you tons of results, probably more than you can first handle. Don’t worry if there are too many results. Create an Excel sheet (or a Google Sheet, if you prefer) and save every result you find interesting and relevant.
Now we have all our competitors in one place, you have two options:
- We can start browsing through their content and see what they write about, how they develop their content, and how many shares and links it gets.
- We can use competitor intelligence tools to look only to the best-performing pieces of content and analyze those to find patterns.
Ideally, you should do both. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but the more you understand your competitors, the better you can see what the industry likes. But let’s be realistic: you probably don’t have the time to do this.
In order to cut some time out of this process, you will use two amazing tools to find out what works and what doesn’t. Then, we will manually analyze those to see why they may perform so well.
The first one is called Open Site Explorer, developed by Moz. This tool will help you see how many inbound links each page has. Inbound links are a good measurement of popularity and authority. Also, pages with lots of inbound links tend to position themselves better in the search engines.
To get started, go to Open Site Explorer, and add the first competitor. Then click the “Search” button.
Once you do the search, you will see a big list of inbound links. Ignore this, since we’re not doing an SEO analysis. Go to the left sidebar and click “Top Pages”.
This will show you the pages with the highest PA (page authority, an important SEO metric). Next to the PA column, you will see the number of linking root domains pointing to the page, the number of inbound links, the HTTP status, and social shares for each URL.
Since we want to analyze the pages with the most inbound links, we will click the “Request CSV” button, and download all the results. (For some reason, Moz doesn’t allow you to organize the pages by the number of inbound links.)
Once you download the CSV, open it with Excel, and sort the results by the number of inbound links.
Grab each of the top 10 results and paste them into your browser. Take some time to read each article and, if possible, take notes on the following:
- What topic is the content about?
- In what step of the buyer’s journey does it belong to?
- If it’s an article, how long is it?
- How detailed is it?
- How technical is the language?
- What’s the tone? Is it friendly and informal? Or is it dull and technical?
- How many images does it use?
- Does it feature a video or an audio transcription of the article?
- If it’s a video, how much does it last?
- Does it offer a content upgrade?
- Does it “push” you to a sale?
You can add more questions, but the idea is to see what makes each article so “linkable”. The more inbound links the article has gotten, the more notes you should take. This research can make or break your content.
Inbound links are important for SEO purposes. But in the world of e-commerce, social media has its place too. That’s why we will use another competitor intelligence tool called BuzzSumo to analyze the social performance of your competitor’s content.
First, grab one of your competitor’s website. Then, paste it into the search bar and click the “Go!” button.
That will give you the list of the site’s most shared pages.
With this list, you want to do the same you did before: analyze the top 10-20 results (or more if your competitor has had more than 20 pages with more than 100 shares), and find patterns to replicate. Use the same questions I showed you before to analyze each piece of content you find.
Instead of focusing on what makes each particular piece of content “linkable”, think about what makes it “shareable”. Is it the use of images and graphics? Is it the tone? Whatever you may think that makes it so popular, write it down.
Take your time to do this analysis, but in theory, it shouldn’t take you more than 2 hours. Longer than that is too much analysis which may paralyze you. It has happened to me many times. I’ll find myself so overwhelmed by my competition that I get anxiety and a bit worried. Don’t let this happen to you.
Once you have all your notes together, you want to start looking for patterns within those patterns. Use the same questions I shared with you before, and analyze your insights. You will most likely find things like:
- The majority of your competitor use a casual and friendly tone.
- Their content length is around 800 words.
- They don’t use a lot of stock images.
Try to find and write down 5 to 10 insights like this ones. With this list, start thinking about how you can compete against them. The key isn’t to do exactly what they do. You want to differentiate yourself. So if they use a lot of stock images, use photos of real people. If their tone is too formal, use a more casual tone. Or maybe try humor.
Also, you want to take a good look at what topics they use, and what angles they choose. This analysis will help you come up with new ideas to develop for your own content marketing strategy.
You don’t have to define exactly what your style and differentiation will be. You will always be learning what your readers like and want. However, you need to have a good idea who you are competing against, and what will be your overall style.
Some final ideas to get you started:
- Check your competition, and ask yourself if there’s any angle they are using which you can replicate and improve. Also, see if there’s something they are missing which you think your audience may like.
- Use the patterns you previously found to use in your own content.
- Use Google Keyword Planner. Although this tool is geared towards SEO and PPC, it can help you find keyword ideas that people search often. You are not looking for specific “hidden” or “popular” keywords with thousands of searches per month. Rather, you want to use the “Ad group ideas” tab to find patterns of searches that people make, so you can uncover even more ideas.
- Search in Reddit to find relevant subreddits. Read the comments, ask questions, and see what gets upvoted.
Come Up with Content Ideas
Coming up with content ideas may seem like one of the easiest parts of this post. Despite being fun, it’s not to be taken lightly.
To start, take the list of your customer’s biggest problems you previously discovered. This will be your main inspiration guide. There should be between 5 to 10 big problems they have. Remember, if you forget what your customers want, they will not consume your content.
From these problems, then you can start coming up with more specific ideas.
After this exercise, you should have between 15-30 ideas. It’s OK if some of them aren’t that good, you can change them later.
Define the Type of Content to Develop
This is where most people start their content marketing process. If it’s called “content marketing”, it has to be all about content, right? As I told you before, it’s not. It’s about solving your customers’ problems and making sales along the way through your content.
With that said, it’s time to define the content you will develop.
First, there are many types of content to develop. Among the most popular ones you have:
- Short articles (up to 1000 words)
- Medium-length articles (between 1k to 2.5k words)
- Long articles and guides (over 2.5 words)
- Buyer guides
- Product comparisons
- Product reviews
- Videos (non-sales focused)
- Sales videos
- Customer reviews
Pick two or three of these content types based on your goals, and focus solely on them. Just like it happens with goals, you don’t want to spread yourself thin.
Then, take your content ideas and each of the content types you have chosen, and match them.
Create a Content Calendar
Now you know exactly what content you will create, and how it will look, you need to define when you will be publishing. That way, you can plan your time and resources.
The good news is creating a content calendar is a straightforward process.
First, define how long you will plan your content forward. I like starting with a 3-month calendar. That is good enough to get started.
Then, decide how often will you publish your content. This depends on your resources, but I’d suggest you pick at least once per week.
Finally, with the list of all your content ideas you previously created in hand, take each idea and schedule it for a specific date.
What you need to remember is to always be realistic. If you plan to create a 3000-word buyers guide in 2 weeks, it’s unlikely you will have it done. In that case, it’d be better to plan it 2 or 3 months ahead, so you can leave no stones unturned. On the other hand, if you have planned a 1k-word article in 2 weeks, this can be done and makes sense.
It’s important to mention that if you are not the one developing the content, always ask those who are in charge of doing so for feedback. They should be the ones telling you if your dates are good for them.
This article by Hubspot gives you a few more ideas to develop your content calendar and also offers you a free template.
Promote Your Content
No, build it and they won’t come.
You need to promote your content to be heard in the content frenzy we live in. Just remember over 3 million posts are published every day. To make it stand out, not only does the content has to be top-notch and focused on the customer’s problems – you also need to make sure it gets in front of people’s eyeballs.
In order to implement a content promotion strategy, you have three options:
- Promote it to your own audience (aka. owned media)
- Promote it to someone else’s audience (aka. earned media)
- Promote it by paying for your impressions and clicks (aka. paid media)
Using Owned Media
The simplest way to promote your content is through your “owned media”, like:
- Your blog (this includes optimizing for SEO and shares)
- Your email list
- Your social media accounts
Every time you publish a piece of content, make sure everybody that belongs to your owned media hears about it.
Using Earned Media
This is often the most overlooked part of the promotion engine. For some reason, most people focus only on coming up with ideas (some of which are great) and creating the content. But they forget they need to go out and promote it to “earn” their traffic.
This part of the promotion engine is made up by all the people that might be interested in what you have to offer. In other words, your industry’s influencers. This broad group of people can be made up by experts, journalists, investors, CEOs, writers, etc.
What you need to do is make a list of all these people (even if it’s made up by 100s of people), and start creating a relationship with them. Once they know you, you can start outreaching to share with them your new piece of content. That way, they will share it, comment it, and link to it.
Using Paid Media
You get what you pay for. In our case, we want to get traffic, so we might as well pay for it.
Paid content marketing is an art in itself, as it includes using Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, Instagram advertising, retargeting, display advertisement, and the “content recommendation” services, like Taboola and Outbrain.
Whatever the channel you end up using, the key to using paid media is creating a relevant ad to an interested audience, so you get low CPMs and CPCs.
Developing a profitable content marketing machine for your e-commerce store takes time. If you understand the different pieces that make up this “machine”, you will be able to succeed.
This in-depth post has shown you everything you need to know to start and implement a content marketing strategy for your e-commerce store.
Now is the time to get started.
FREE Checklist: If you want to take this epic e-commerce content marketing guide and implement it in a step-by-step fashion, you can download the FREE checklist and use it whenever you want to.
About The Author:
Ivan Kreimer is a freelance content marketer that helps SaaS business increase their traffic, leads and sales. Previously, he worked as an online marketing consultant helping both small and large companies drive more traffic and revenue. He is also an e-commerce store owner, and a world traveler.
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