Online store owners swim in a sea of fierce competition dominated by Amazon and Best Buy, among others. You can’t always be number one. But with a strong desire and the right tools, you can become a leader in your niche.
One of the best ways to get to the top is with a powerful content marketing strategy that blows the opposition out of the water.
So, what are the secrets of creating and implementing an unsurpassed content marketing strategy that delivers the results you’re looking for? That’s what I’m about to reveal.
Why Should You Prioritize Content Marketing Above Other Online Promotional Channels?
When promoting your eCommerce business, it’s critical to understand consumer paradigms. The fact that over 198 million people leverage ad blockers tells you that people hate advertising. Your customers don’t want to see traditional ads, which can seem annoying, distracting, and manipulative. Instead, they want to conduct their own research and make informed decisions.
If you haven’t considered the ad blocker trend, you may still think that this is what a prospect sees when they search, “buy Teva sandals,” on Google:
The fact is, this is what a steadily-increasing number of prospects actually see:
Traditional online advertising still has its place. But if you offer a variety of brand name products, it is extremely difficult to compete
Non-explicit promotion information sharing that stirs interest in your brand is a valuable solution for you and your eCommerce market. Through articles, videos, infographics, and social media posts, you can give prospects helpful information that leads them to their own, informed conclusions.
Next, content marketing can be the most cost-effective promotional channel for eCommerce; on average, it costs 62% less than outbound marketing while it generates three times as many leads. This is a promising statistic. Don’t be misled, though. When done right, content marketing is a time and cost investment.
Successful content marketing for eCommerce requires the following:
- Thorough research, planning, and strategy
- Quality content creation
- Meticulous editing and administration
- Effective outreach
A team of skilled experts in careful communication with one another is required to execute this type of marketing. So, do not dive into content marketing lacking these elements and believe you’re going to triumph.
1. Don’t Just Target An Audience – Bond With Real People
Demographic targeting and buyer personas are critical to any marketing strategy. However, when researching your audience, you need to walk a step beyond their age, gender, and location. Even if you show everyone in your target audience an offer, you could receive zero engagement. Real interactions lead to new content shares, which eventually leads prospects through your sales funnel.
Using real names as the author of blog posts, instead of your company name, can help build trust. Eastbay’s blog allows readers to see all posts by a specific author from author archives pages. Anyone can take this to the next level by allowing blog authors to display bios and links their social media profiles at the end of each blog post and on their archive pages. Your blog articles should have a human author to make your information seem trustworthy.
Responding to social media comments, like you would if the customer was asking you a question in person or over the phone, helps build rapport. Nordstrom Rack’s Facebook page is an example of an eCommerce giant who spends time responding to customer inquiries from within the social media platform. Your social media posts should include comment responses to show interest in fans and customers.
Displaying an address or phone number of a real person or company contact can make your business seem accessible. When customers sign up for Nordstrom Rack’s email newsletter, for example, they find mailing information at the end of each message. All of your marketing emails should include alternative contact information to exhibit availability.
Part of content marketing’s appeal to consumers is the authenticity it provides. No matter who they are, your audience wants you to be real, trustworthy, and helpful; the only way to do this is to actually do it. During the research and planning phase of your strategy, explore how you will build rapport with website traffic, fans, prospects, leads, and customers.
2. Use an eCommerce-Specific Website Theme
If you host your products on a branded company website, you need to pay ample attention to costs and functionality. Some website templates are setup for product sales, and some are not. So, pay attention to the theme and enhancement tools you use to power your eCommerce business.
The place where your products are hosted is the cornerstone of your business – it is where your primary conversions happen, so you need it setup for optimal ROI.
These are the crucial elements of an eCommerce website:
- Email subscription form
- Search box
- Simple navigation menu
- Reliable shopping cart
- Access to essential pages
Without the above, you’re selling yourself short in the web design arena. By using a theme that’s expressly setup for online sales, you can save yourself time, money, energy, and stress.
Some major brands like Budweiser, Red Bull, and Penguin books use the Shopify platform and themes, which are simple-to-setup, reliable, and include all of the bells and whistles you need to create a top-quality lead funnel and generate sales.
Note: Not everyone is using a branded online property to host products; some entrepreneurs sell primarily on websites like eBay, Amazon, Etsy, or even social media.
3. Prioritize Content Value Over Your Keyword Strategy
Search engine optimization is a more intelligent, involved process than stuffing keywords in the right places on your website. Content quality and relevance, backlinks, page speed and mobile performance are all major ranking factors; keyword density isn’t. Rather than sharing content that lines up with your product offering, share content that solves real human problems.
Your blog content may or may not have anything to do with the products you offer. The key is that your content provides value to your readers. By helping your customers, leads, and prospects solve common problems – solutions that they’re likely to share with their friends, colleagues, and followers – you open the door for loads of new traffic, social media shares, and eventually customers.
Illuma Glass is an emerging digital printing in glass company that wants artists to access a nonpareil product that isn’t so easily acquired anywhere else. Rather than go on about their product, which is what most eCommerce companies seem to do, Illuma Glass’ fine artists’ blog focuses on solving common problems for their target audience. Find out what your audience needs and deliver it.
4. Write Out Your Content Marketing Plan
- What are your goals?
- Who is your target audience?
- Where will you find these people?
- What problems do these people face?
- What trends are currently happening in your industry?
- Which content marketing tactics are currently the most effective for your needs?
- How many blog posts do you plan to publish each month?
- Will you include video in your strategy?
- Which social media platforms will you use to promote?
- Which authority sites will you reach out to?
How are you going to keep track of all of this information if you don’t write out your content marketing plan? Meghan Casey, the content strategist for Brain Traffic, says that your strategy should come before your tactics. I wholeheartedly agree with this – you need an overall picture of how to reach your goals before you determine which tactics are likely to be the most effective.
When writing your plan, remember to schedule time for testing and adjustments to your goals, strategy, and tactics. This way, you can clearly see the aspects of your strategy that are successful and those that still need work, perfecting your plan along the way. Simple alterations can often have an immense impact on your eCommerce content marketing strategy.
5. Monitor Your Content Marketing ROI And Adjust Accordingly
When monitoring and making adjustments to your plan, focus on your return on investment (ROI), because this will give you an idea where spending should go vs. where it is. For example, you may be generating more leads from Facebook traffic than LinkedIn. If you’re paying a social media admin to work several hours per week participating in discussions, it could serve you to try something different – ask the admin to spend one less hour on LinkedIn and allot that time for Facebook efforts instead.
Just this year, I was approached by an eCommerce company whose customers are top-tier food service providers like Starbucks. They were having a couple issues with their content strategy, shopping cart, and overall ROI. After looking at their tactics, I noticed that switching to a new content management system would provide more reliable shopping cart options and save them $17K per year. The transfer of the site took less than a day, cost less than $1,000, and paid for itself through savings in less than a month.
Make sure to periodically check your ROI to see all areas where you could save money within your content marketing strategy.
6. Leverage the Right Content Creation Tools For Your Needs
Technology is a whirlwind that brings new options with every twist. You can’t just use every new tool that presents itself to you, but you should use those that are trusted. Here are a few of my favorite content creation tools.
Content Writing: Google Docs
My everyday word processor isn’t MS Word, it’s Google Docs. This tool auto-saves everything you write as you write it. Leverage the add-ons to optimize writing productivity.
Editing/ Proofreading: Grammarly
The only problem I have with Grammarly is that it doesn’t work with Google Docs. Still, all you have to do is copy and paste your text into the online tool to edit your work for spelling, grammar, punctuation, word use, and more. Grammarly’s Chrome extension will help you proofread social media posts and blog comments in real-time.
Image/ Infographic Creation: Canva
I’ve seen Canva used for everything from blog images to infographics as well as ebooks and PDF brochures. This tool is exceptional, especially if you want to create branded imagery because you can upload your own fonts and images. Leverage the team features to share visual content creation responsibilities.
7. Make Sure Your Content and Sales Platforms are Viral-Ready
Several years ago, my grandmother picked up a tortoiseshell calico kitten. She brought the furball home believing it was a female and made an appointment, right away, to have her spayed. When the veterinarian took a look down below, she noticed that she was looking at the unicorn of calico cats – a male – and called my grandmother right away to see if she still wanted to follow through with the procedure. Not knowing the rarity of a male true calico, my grandmother said, “go ahead.”
If you don’t host your content on a platform optimized for viral sharing, you neuter your calico. Viral content is every marketer’s dream. Sadly, there isn’t a magic recipe to get millions of views — it usually happens organically. What can do is set your content up for the most likelihood of shares, which lead to more views.
What makes a website viral-ready?
- Responsiveness – Viewers are going to see your content while browsing from PCs and mobile devices. 61% of your mobile traffic will actually never return to your site if your site doesn’t load as expected. So, be sure to test your pages across all browsers from all devices. Put effort into monitoring your page load speeds and your tools to ensure that they are ready for a seamless shopping experience.
- Includes sharing tools – By now, you should have social sharing tools on your blog pages. If you don’t, it’s time to add them. Nearly nobody will take the time to highlight, copy, and paste your URLs to share them with their followers. You need to streamline the process. Do this with social media sharing tools, and make sure your tools allow visitors to share across all of the platforms included in your content marketing strategy. Best Buy’s blog encourages post sharing across Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.
- Optimized for social media shares – In addition to content sharing tools, you need to optimize each post for social media sharing across each of the platforms included in your strategy. For example, if Pinterest is one of your promotional channels, learn how to optimize your images for rich Pins. Consider how videos, images, titles, and snippets will appear when shared on other social media platforms based on your image tags, meta descriptions, and URLs.
- Ready for heavy traffic – The last thing you want is to go viral and experience a site crash. When anticipating high volume traffic, make sure you have enough server space and inventory to handle it. If someone lands on your website and never makes it through the first phase of your lead funnel, they may never come back.
8. Use Topic Generators and Headline Analyzers
Your blog, video, and social media post headlines are the first thing people see when they enter the buyer’s journey. Therefore, your titles are critical. You need people to click through to your content and a fantastic headline is what it takes to entice them.
These three tools will help you hone outstanding headlines for your content (though there are more out there to try):
Enter some of your keywords for a list of five topic ideas.
Check the word balance of the headlines you write and compare them with alternatives to find the best one.
The emotional value analysis tells you the percentage of emotional value your headline carries and what type of emotion it will trigger.
9. Stop Spamming Your Blog and Social Media Pages With Product Images
Remember: consumers hate advertisements. So, stop spamming them with product images and expecting them to buy. Instead of focusing on promotion, help and entertain your website and social media profile visitors.
Provide useful tips and “edutainment” to your social media followers. When you follow Lowes’ Vines, for example, you will watch mostly home improvement and garden tips sprinkled with just a bit of product promotion. Follow their lead to keep viewers engaged across social media.
10. Add Backlink Building to Your Strategy
You should be starting to understand that content marketing is more than just a weekly post on your blog. Aside from social media outreach, you will need a few tactics in your pocket for building backlinks to your blog and product pages. This increases your traffic and your SEO rank.
Here are some of the best backlink building methods for eCommerce:
- Manufacturer links – Do you see brand name products? What are the odds that you could get some of your manufacturers to list you in their “where to buy” directory? Allied Electronics, Grainger, Newark, Transcat, and other online stores are listed on Fluke’s shopping directory as recommended retailers. Reach out and ask your manufacturers for links to your shopping pages.
- Guest blogging – Many online retailers use this method to build brand authority and showcase their expertise in particular niches. Maureen Quirk is a regular contributor to the Reebok blog. It’s no coincidence that you find her work in other blogs across the web, like the Ragnar blog.
- HARO (Help a Reporter Out) – You can use this outlet to request valuable mentions with authority reporters in any industry. Keep this industry secret in your backlink building arsenal.
- Influencer links – Still, one of the best ways to drive traffic and get links to your products is through influencer marketing. Take a look at makeup tutorials on YouTube, for example. Some of them have an many as 15 product links in the description. Reach out to some influencers in your niche and offer them samples and discount codes to share with their followers.
11. Understand Your Lead Flow
Above, I stated that you shouldn’t flood social media with product promotion, but we’ve all seen that funny t-shirt on Facebook that has hundreds of shares.
Why does this work?
Marketers increasingly focus on the buyer’s journey, looking at how our leads navigate their way through our marketing to become customers. Every company’s lead flow will vary, depending on strategy and tactics. It’s critical to think about what your prospects are doing and thinking and where they are before they become customers.
To understand your lead flow, you must first understand the three stages of the typical buyer’s journey:
- Awareness – a potential buyer becomes aware of the fact that they have a problem that could be solved using your product.
- Consideration – a potential buyer will begin to explore their options through research.
- Decision – a potential buyer is ready to make a decision (to buy or not to buy).
It is your job to guide website traffic through a lead funnel that facilitates an informed, free shopping process.
When you have an interested lead, only then should you promote. Not everyone who stumbles upon you content is an interested lead. When you see effective product promotions on social media, you can assume that the company has found a way to find interested leads to share these promotions (probably through posting in niche fan groups who then share with their followers).
Applying the Buyer’s Journey to Your Content Marketing Lead Flow
Content marketing allows you to reach potential customers before and during each stage of the buyer’s journey. Your flow for one person might look something like this:
- Finds your article on Facebook
- Clicks through link to your blog
- Subscribes to your newsletter
- Receives your emails
- Enters awareness stage
- Moves into new email lead flow (prospect)
- Receives more emails
- Follows you on Twitter
- Sees your product promotion post and clicks through
- Enters consideration stage
- Researches your competition and reads reviews (lead)
- Continues receiving your emails and viewing Twitter posts
- Becomes ready to make a decision
- Purchases your product (customer)
Keep in mind that the details of the journey vary from customer to customer. If this is more complicated than you thought, don’t worry because you’ll get the hang of it all through A/B testing and user flow optimization. In the meantime, remember to be authentic.
Focus on building relationships while strategically placing your subscription forms, follow and share buttons, and your content across the web for people to find. The Honest Company’s blog provides a great example of a company that has a firm grasp on their lead flow.
Inbound content marketing continues to disrupt the way companies promote. When it comes to your online store, this advice will help you maximize sales. If you’ve already implemented any of the above ideas while marketing your eCommerce venture, please share your results in the comments below.
About The Author: Ashley Kimler is an independent, digital communications guru with over a decade of digital marketing experience. She works with a team of content marketing masters at Heroic Search, Tulsa. She regularly spreads her specialized wisdom across the web. For your sake, follow @ashleykimler on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn and Google+ to see what she and her team reveal next.