Create Extraordinary Content
In 2008, people spent an average of 2.7 hours per day browsing digital media. By 2015, this number grew to 5.6. People are spending a lot of their time online, and it’s estimated that one-fifth of it is spent consuming content. For an ecommerce brand, well-executed content creation can be the captivating element that means the difference between a sale and a bounce.
According to Demand Metric:
- 60% of consumers like to read relevant content from companies
- 82% have more positive feelings about a brand after reading their custom content
- 70% feel closer to companies because of content marketing
Not only do consumers strongly value great content, they’re starting to expect it as the status quo. Frankly, I find it weird to stumble across a company that doesn’t have some sort of content strategy, even if it’s not a comprehensive content marketing plan.
If you’re not sure where to start with content creation, try blogging regularly. But not just any blogging – it has to be interesting, relevant, timely, and helpful. You should be answering the questions that your potential customers are asking, and provide them with strategies to help accomplish whatever they’re looking to accomplish.
Content creation can also include videos, case studies, research papers, custom graphics and infographics, podcasts, webinars, and online courses. And once you spend the time developing all of it, promote and distribute it whenever you find a place where it naturally fits. (Spamming out anything, including your content, is always a bad idea.)
In this chapter, we’ll discuss how to go about writing blog content at least once a week, how to plan and create other types of valuable content, and strategies for content promotion and distribution that gets you customers instead of enemies.
4.1 Maintain a Quality Blog
It’s easy to visualize the value of writing blog posts for an online publisher, but when you run an online store, is there still any gain from blog content?
Apparently, there is. Adding a blog to your ecommerce site can drive web traffic in ways that paid advertising can’t. With companies that blog getting 55% more web visits and 81% of buyers conducting online research before making a purchase, you could attract several eyeballs through your blog that will gain you the recognition of consumers as well as of other industry authorities.
Need proof? Like any ambitious online retailer, ZAGG, best known for its line of mobile screen protectors, wanted to drive more traffic to its website. To achieve this goal, ZAGG prioritized content creation and regularly posted high quality content on a blog, which they named the ZAGG-Blog.
After launch, ZAGG discovered that people who were less familiar with their brand were indeed consuming their blog content. After less than two years of blogging, ZAGG earned 172% ROI from direct sales. In addition, the ZAGG-Blog contributed to more than 10% of ZAGG’s website traffic, about 60% of which came in the shape of new visitors.
How Often Should You Blog?
2-4 posts per week is an ideal blogging schedule to follow when you’re just starting out. It’s a smart and effective way to gain web traffic without stressing yourself out over content creation, and you also don’t overwhelm your target audience with a plethora of posts. Innovative sports brand Under Armour follows this posting schedule to increase brand awareness and drive traffic to its ecommerce site.
1 post per week can work in your favor if you’re looking to build anticipation in your site visitors. Because you get a sufficient amount of time to conduct research, you can produce top-notch best-of-the-best blog posts that include everything from case studies to industry-related examples. If you don’t have a lot of time and resources to allocate to content creation, writing a blog post once a week is sufficient.
Writing a blog post or two each month can help build trust in your brand as you publish only when you have something worth talking about. With enough time on your hands to conduct research and perhaps interview customers, you might be able to produce actionable content that offers new perspectives or techniques. NY-based retail boutique Trend Addictions follows this posting schedule.
How to Craft Killer Blog Content
It’s challenging to get your voice heard when you’re not as big as Amazon or eBay. This is where blogging can work its magic: writing a blog post can establish you as a more knowledgeable resource than the rest. Of course, the quality of your blog content matters. Here are a few blog writing tips to keep it top notch:
Select a Captivating Blog Topic
When it comes to content creation, you have to come up with a title that people will want to click on. Thankfully, the internet is full of inspiration right at your fingertips. To make brainstorming even easier, find and bookmark 5 high-quality ecommerce blogs in your niche.
These can be blogs operated by small retailers to competitors and everything in between. Write down the headlines of their popular posts, and repurpose them based on your own industry and target audience.Quick Tip: Use a Google Sheet to keep track of your favorite websites. You can also include the blog title and URL of the post to speed things up (instead of manually typing in the URL every time, you can just click the URL to open the relevant blog post).
Here’s an example: Let’s assume you sell consumer electronics and your target audience is the same as Best Buy. What do you do?
Find popular articles on Best Buy’s blog.
This can be done in two ways:
- Manually: The number of social shares and comments on a post can give you an idea of its popularity.
- Using a tool: Tools like EpicBeat and BuzzSumo enable you to see what blog post is performing the best on a particular website.
For instance, enter Best Buy’s blog URL in BuzzSumo to see the most popular content based on the number of Facebook engagements and other similar metrics.
Using the article “10 surprising ways appliance technology has changed to make your life easier” as an example, create your own title that is relevant to your audience and your website. Like this:
- The Evolution of Appliance Technology: An Insider’s Perspective
- Appliance Technology to Watch Out for in 2018
See what you did there? Best Buy’s blog gave you an idea, and you created a title. Your competitor essentially inspired part of your content creation strategy.
Tools make it easy to know what topics are popular/trending, but they’ve a price tag associated with them. Your best bet would be to analyze the number of comments and shares on a post to figure out if a similar kind of title would attract visitors to your site.
Write an Epic Post
A compelling title is an integral aspect of a high-quality post, but it’s also important to ensure the content that follows is equally good. We recommend writing at least a few posts yourself, just so you can get used to blogging before you bring writers on board. Plus, no one loves your brand as much as you do, so you could potentially write a better post than anyone else.
How you do this will vary from individual to individual to some extent as each store owner has their own style and voice – however there are some basic rules of writing epic blog content that might be worth keeping in mind.
Rule #1 Grab Attention with a Startling Introduction
A reliable way to grab visitors’ attention is by leveraging an amazing or startling fact in the opening. Take some time to research stats and facts that illustrate the importance of what you’re going to write about. For instance, a post about iPhones can start with: “Every minute, 395 iPhone units are sold worldwide. That’s over 23,000 iPhones sold each hour!”
Rule #2 Make the Text Snackable
The content should be easy to read. Make it digestible with subheadings. Use italics and bold when appropriate. Avoid making it a link-fest. Insert videos and/or images to illustrate your point, or just to enhance its visual appeal. Also, use a call-to-action to tell visitors what you’d like them to do next i.e. buy your product, subscribe to your newsletter, etc. Here’s an image illustrating the anatomy of a snackable blog post:
Source: Yell Business
Rule #3 Address All Pertinent Questions
It’s crucial to ensure that you’ve fully addressed any burning questions your readers may have. In other words, your blog post shouldn’t leave any question marks behind. One way to handle this is to put yourself in the shoes of your average reader. Think about their pain points, then go through your blog content to see if it addresses those areas. Try to cover everything to the best of your ability.
Rule #4 Make it Flow Nicely
The best writers are those whose content can be read fluidly, and they organize so that their paragraphs are unambiguous in meaning and manageable in size. Stylistically, content flow is accomplished by smooth connections among ideas and concise sentences. If you find it challenging to string sentences together, you’re not alone. It’s difficult for a lot of folks. Fortunately, there are several tools you can rely on to improve your content flow. Here are a few free options:
ZenPen: If you’re finding it difficult to stay focused while writing a blog post, give ZenPen a shot. It’s a distraction-free writing software that’s designed to help you put words down without having to stress about formatting right away. It does this by creating a minimalist writing zone that’s free of distractions.
Cliché Finder: Think your content might sound a little cheesy? Identify opportunities where you can get in more specific wording using this cliché tool.
If you aren’t already blogging, you can always start a new blog. If you select a viable topic, you might even be a little shocked by how quickly it generates traffic.
4.2 Vary Your Content Creation Strategy
Content creation includes so much more than blogs. Today’s online consumer enjoys all kinds of content, from infographics to videos to ebooks. Change up your content creation strategy by creating different content types. This will keep your consumers engaged, entertained and educated.
Econsultancy put together a brilliant Periodic Table of Content Marketing (plus fifty points for an awesome graphic that scored them tons of residual referral traffic).
Let’s take a look at a few of the top content types.
Custom Graphics & Infographics
If you’re like most people, an image, video or graphic is going to be much more appealing than text, which is why 53% of content marketers use visuals in 90 to 100% of their content. According to that same study, the visual with the highest engagement is infographics. You should definitely include visual content in your content creation strategy.
When it comes to creating graphics to support your other branding and promotional efforts, a little bit can go a long way. Custom images can be used anywhere, from your website’s hero, interior pages, and blog posts to social media and email newsletters.
Nike is a great example of an ecommerce brand using simple custom graphics to merge products with their customers’ lifestyle. Take a look at their ‘Motivation’ Pinterest board, which features a series of branded images of athletes in action in their Nike gear with superimposed motivational quotes.Quick Tip: For brand recognition and traffic opportunities, don’t forget to include your company’s logo (and possibly URL) on each piece of content you’re creating.
Turns out that consumers really love infographics. One study showed that they receive three times more likes and shares on social media than other content types. While B2B brands may see more benefits or relevant applications for infographics, they can also provide some useful promotional and educational opportunities for consumer brands.
For example, you can create one to show which brands are selling the most for a particular season or year, global/national uses or popularity of a certain product or category, the evolution of a specific type of product or category, or the results of a study or survey – just to name a few ideas.
Subscription beauty box company Birchbox created an infographic that illustrated poll results about women’s face, hair, and body preferences and opinions. Here’s a preview:
Here’s part of another infographic developed by nail, fashion, and beauty company CND (Creative Nail Design). This “The History of Nails” infographic was created to promote their products and generate excitement for an upcoming New York Fashion Week.
Ideally, you have an in-house graphics person or team who can help with visual content creation, or maybe you even have some graphic design skills yourself. If you don’t, there are a number of convenient tools to help create infographics for cheap.
Here are a few:
- Venngage – The limited version is free, but you can sign up for the premium version at $19 per month or $190 per year.
- Infogram – Similarly, Infogram offers a basic account for free, and the next step up is a Pro account for $19 per month.
- Piktochart – Free to sign up and use basic features, and the Lite account is $15 per month.
- Canva – Offers a collection of free images and premium images for $1. You can also upload your own visual elements.
Depending on your business, you might have a natural opportunity to create more infographics, in which case a membership is worth the investment.Quick Tip: Infographics are traditionally a way to deliver research and statistics in the form of numbers, ratios, and percentages, as well as timelines. Take note of whenever you’re dealing with this type of information, as it could potentially make a good infographic.
Videos offer an incredible ability for customers to really understand your products and your platform, which in turn translates to more conversions and sales. Statistics show that consumers can be as much as 85% more likely to purchase a product after a watching a video about it.
What are the other benefits of video? Well, it’s more shareable, clickable, captivating, and descriptive than other content types. Visitors stay longer on your page and help boost consumer confidence in your brand. Not to mention Google and social media platforms like Facebook love it.
Here are some ideas for how to incorporate video into your content creation strategy:
Showcasing a product with the use of storytelling, like luxury, designer playing cards company Theory11 does in its amazing video ‘The Mystery Box’. Don’t be deterred by the high production value. You can tell stories on a budget too!
Highlighting a particular product feature in an entertaining way, like Blendtec’s “Will it Blend?” campaign that showcases how powerful the company’s blenders are. This campaign is quirky, entrancing, and has landed nearly six million views on one video alone: the iPhone 6 Plus video. (Spoiler alert: Yes, it blends. And it hurts to watch.)
Product reviews and selection advice like Right Channel Radios does for each of its CB truck radios. These videos are cheap and easy, and have allowed the company to beat out the competition by providing more value and showcasing their extensive product knowledge.
Add value by offering free tips and advice, like clip-in hair extensions company Luxy Hair. The brand offers great value-adds with weekly tutorials that offer hair styling tips for their visitors. It’s worth noting that Luxy Hair built a seven-figure company with just YouTube marketing.Quick Tip: Don’t limit yourself to these types of videos. For example, plenty of brands have gained viral success from producing a video that’s just as quirky as their brand is. Entertainment value is as good a reason as any!
Kapost found that interactive content generates two times more conversions than its lazier cousin passive content.
Interactive content is more than just a pile of text, JPG, PDF, or video. It involves active participation from your audience – things like dynamic illustrations of your product or having your customer input personal information to see how your product would impact them directly. More traditional forms of interactive content might include polls, quizzes, assessments, and calculators where customers input information for things like product recommendations.
Bellroy is a ‘carry goods’ store that specializes in items like wallets, bags, and cases for things like phones and laptops. They use a clever animated slider that visitors can adjust to show how their wallets fill up versus a traditional, bulky wallet.
Nike’s 360 Fit system offers a tool for women to enter their measurements for help finding the perfect-sized sports bra. This includes a video series of mini tutorials that helps them accurately record their measurements.
Brickfielder, a UK-based golf apparel company, uses a sophisticated scrolling and swiping tool that allows customers to learn about their clothing’s technology as they explore the product.
Ebooks & Guides
To write an ebook or guide, you’ll need a strong writer, a strong designer, and a strong idea. For this type of content creation, it’s just as important for it to look good as it is for the idea to be helpful for your audience.
In an ecommerce setting, ebooks and guides might function best as an accent to the product. Generally speaking, you might consider an ebook to be a longer, more detailed guide.
Different types of ebooks and guides might include:
- A fashion or beauty brand can release an ebook or guide for the year’s hottest trends
- A pool supply company may create a guide for proper pool care in northern U.S. states
- A jewelry brand can create an ebook or guide discussing different types of gems or stones
- An outdoors retailer might release an ebook or guide for the best places to hike or camp at a particular time of the year
- Any brand can create a gift-buying guide for the holidays
Take for example Exposed Skin Care’s ebook, “Clear Skin Secrets”.Quick Tip: Because of the extra time and resource investment for creating this type of content, be sure to promote it whenever it’s appropriate. See Chapter 5’s multi-channel marketing section for more ideas.
Case Studies & White Papers
Research- and results-driven content like case studies, white papers, and ebooks are especially powerful for B2B brands, as they provide in-depth information that businesses are looking for before they make larger, more complex business investments that have long-term implications for the company. In a B2C environment, it’s a great idea to integrate this sort of content into your content creation strategy. However, for smaller-ticket items, most consumers don’t need (or want) to do the extensive research that businesses are more typically looking for.
When researching for their upcoming purchases, B2B buyers said:
- 78% use case studies
- 77% use white papers
- 67% use ebooks
- 67% use third-party and analyst reports
Key elements of a case study include:
- A focus on one particular customer that has used the product your case study focuses on.
- Telling their story from start to finish, including details about who they are, what their business problem was, and the impact of the product.
- Discussion of specific strategies to solve the problem. If there were any failed attempts with other products, include those for bonus points.
Key elements of a white paper include:
- Identifying a key problem that your customers face, and describing it in relatable terms.
- Describing potential approaches and solutions, as well as their limitations. You may or may not wish to promote your brand directly, as some white papers are more for educational purposes than a hard sell.
- Statistics and research whenever possible to back up points made. Opt for professional, credible sources like research firms and government agencies.
For example, if you’re selling something like skin care products, you could publish a white paper that discusses scientific evidence for certain ingredients in your products. Or you can publish a case study of long-term results from using a certain type of ingredient over others on the market.Quick Tip: The information from these types of content can be repurposed for other mediums. For example, a case study can be made into a video or discussed on a podcast.
Landing Pages for Content Downloads
When your content creation strategy involves high-level content like downloadable ebooks, case studies, and white papers, consider offering them through a gated landing page. This means that the visitor will have to fill out a form with whatever information you choose before they have access to download the content. This way, you have their email address for your newsletter, special offers, or other email communications.
Typically, these forms are simple, and at the very least they include the visitor’s name and email.
4.3 Promote and Distribute Whenever Possible
Content marketing can be a cost-effective lead generating strategy for any ecommerce business. According to a study by Demand Metric, content marketing generates more than three times as many leads as outbound marketing, even though it costs 62% less than traditional methods.
Unfortunately, many inexperienced ecommerce store owners overlook the marketing aspect of content marketing. They spend a lot of time on content creation, creating informative blog posts, articles, videos, images, and podcasts that are tailored specifically for their audience, then sit back and wait for people to rush to their store.
Here’s a reality check. Unless you’re extremely lucky, this strategy won’t work. Without a solid content distribution and promotion plan, it’s not content marketing – it’s just content creation – and it will be lost among the millions of pieces of content that are published around the world every minute.
In fact, many professional marketers agree that content distribution and promotion takes more time than content creation itself. Expert marketer and entrepreneur Derek Halpern suggests following the 80/20 rule, with 20% of your time devoted to content creation and 80% of your time focused on content promotion and distribution.
In this section, we’ll look at some free (or cheap) ways that you can promote and distribute your content, to help increase your audience and drive new customers to your store.
Content Distribution Channels
Almost all content distribution is done in one of three channels: owned media (channels that your business controls, such as your ecommerce website, mailing list, blog), earned media (channels where your content is shared, but you are not the owner and you haven’t paid for publicity) and paid media (such as paid Facebook ads and promoted tweets, PPC (pay-per-click) advertising).
While you’re still in the process of building an audience for your store, owned media and earned media are the channels you should focus on. They’re more cost-effective and considered less biased than paid media.
We’ve already talked a lot about popular channels like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and influencer marketing, so let’s take a look at some strategies for using less common owned and earned media channels to distribute and promote your content.
Promote Content through Your Email List
Email is still considered the most effective tool for marketing, with studies showing that it’s 40 times more effective than Twitter and Facebook combined. This means it’s a perfect medium for content promotion.
One popular strategy is to send a regular newsletter to your customers that includes content from your store blog. You can include excerpts or summaries from both past and present content, and include a CTA that allows readers to learn more by clicking through to your site. It’s also a good idea to include social sharing icons that allow people to engage with your content straight away.
The timing of your newsletter depends on how often you’re creating content. If you’re only creating one new piece of content a week, you probably only need to send a newsletter once a month. If you’re creating new content daily, you could send out a newsletter that highlights the most popular content from that week.
Here’s a beautiful example that Harry’s, a shaving products ecommerce store, sent to their customers with links to some helpful content.
Quick Tip: If you’ve gotten any emails from gated content from Chapter 4, now’s the time to use them. If email marketing is a sound strategy for your brand, consider more ways to gather emails, like a popup window offering to sign up for your newsletter.
Answer Questions and Solve Problems
People love content that solves problems and gives advice, which is why things like how-to articles, buying guides, product reviews, and top ten lists are some of the most shared content on the web.
- Find people who are asking questions that your content solves. You can do this by searching those sites using keywords related to your topic. Look for questions that are recent. Anything more than a few weeks old will most likely be inactive and ineffective for promotion.
- Give complete answers. Short answers come off as spammy and less trustworthy, while detailed answers let you show your expertise and have a greater chance of being upvoted.
- Link to the original content (your website) for additional information and further resources.
Marketing on sites like Quora is a great way to get free exposure for your store. It’s important to be regularly active on these sites, as you’ll start to gain more recognition, which will help drive more people to your website.
Here’s a good example of a question an ecommerce cycling store owner could answer while promoting bicycle safety content from their blog.
Submit Your Content to an Aggregator
Content aggregators are media sites that collect and compile content from other websites instead of producing their own content. Aggregators are generally considered a win-win strategy – visitors can see a large variety of content in one convenient location, and creators get to promote their content to a wide audience.
There are numerous free and paid content aggregator sites that accept content submissions, but many are either full of spam or have a very limited readership. Some poor quality aggregators can even hurt your Google page ranking. But if you submit quality content to a good aggregator, it can be helpful for driving visitors to your ecommerce store.
For most aggregators, submitting content is as simple as registering an account and providing a link to your content. However, it’s a good idea to study the site before joining and go through their submission policy.
Here are some well-regarded aggregators to consider:
- Alltop is one of the most popular content aggregators, with a large audience and broad topics. This is a very competitive site, so it’s important to submit your highest quality content. You can submit content by clicking on the submission button on the bottom of the page.
- Blogarama is “the oldest blog directory” and has even more categories than Alltop. Once you’ve created an account, you can quickly submit multiple pieces of content.
- BizSugar is another free aggregator that allows you to submit and tips to their community. It has a small business focus, so you’ll need to submit content related to the business side of your ecommerce store.
Target Non-English Blogs and Social Media Networks
Just because you’re publishing content in English, it doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to an English-speaking audience. Only 4.8% of the world’s population are native English speakers, which means there are billions of potential customers reading content in other languages.
Some non-English blogs and social media networks will accept English content, and for the others, you can use a translation plug-in like Transposh to automatically translate your content into multiple languages.
To find non-English blogs or English blogs based in foreign countries, you can use a simple Google search. A search for ‘Italian fashion blogs’ lead to this list of the Top 80 Italian Fashion Bloggers on the Web, which could be useful for a beauty products ecommerce store owner looking to get exposure in Europe.
Here are some social media networks that are popular in non-English speaking countries that could be useful for content promotion:
- WeChat and Weibo are the two most popular social media networks in China.
- Cyworld is a social network with an almost entirely South Korean audience.
- MiGente is a social network similar to Facebook but focused on Latin America.
- VK is a social network with a large community in Russia and North Asia.
You’re now equipped with a number of tools and tactics you can use to drive free traffic to your website, now you just have to focus on the ones that are the best fit for your ecommerce store and will provide you with the most visits.Quick Tip: In Chapter 5, we’ll discuss using tools like Google Analytics, which can show you traffic stats like which countries and cities your site visitors are in. This can help guide an international shipping or dropshipping strategy if you choose to expand.
Chapter 4 Takeaways
Content creation is key to driving traffic to your store. If you have the skills and/or resources, publish at least one blog per week, along with other forms of custom content like graphics, videos, and ebooks. Today’s online shopper has been spoiled by killer content everywhere they look, so content creation is a great way to be able to captivate your audience and stay in the game against your competition.
If you don’t have the internal or hired manpower to consistently create grade-A content, stick to the mantra of quality over quantity. It’s better to create great content less often than it is to constantly churn out mediocre content. Your content creation strategy should focus on addressing real problems, questions, and issues among your audience base.
Remember that content promotion and distribution is just as important as content creation. Once you’ve created great content, distribute it as often as you can – without spamming, of course. Consider a content marketing strategy where you’re promoting via email, submitting to content aggregators, and using it on social media and forums as a way to answer relevant questions and score some referral traffic back to your site.