There are tens of millions of online retailers worldwide and this number is growing fast. With competition on the increase, developing a solid eCommerce content strategy and executing on it well is one of the most important ways you can reach your target customers more effectively and grow your business faster.
To give you an idea of just how important it is, we’ve included a few of the statistics from the experts at Demand Metric:
- Companies with blogs produce, on average, 67% more leads than those without.
- Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing, and generates approximately 3 times as many leads.
- 82% of consumers have a more positive opinion about a company after reading custom content, and 70% feel closer a closer connection as a result of content marketing.
- After reading an article about a product, 60% of people are likely to seek out the product.
As a successful online retailer, you may have built your business based on more traditional marketing approaches. To take your business to the next level, you’ll need to master the art of content marketing. And if you’re running a digital agency with a focus on eCommerce, helping out your clients with content marketing is a great source of retainer based revenue if you do it well.
In this article, we’ll lay out a 6-step method for optimizing eCommerce content strategy for your specific goals, industry, and resources to help ensure you can maximize the results you get from your investment in content marketing.
- Know Your Shoppers by Creating Personas
- Define Content Goals
- Organize Content by Channel
- Team-building and Promotion
- Use Customer Journey Maps to Create Content
- Make a Calendar
You don’t need to be a natural-born Kardashian to produce content that your shoppers care about. All you need is to apply the same business know-how to content marketing as you do to your online store and products.
Step 1: Know Your Shoppers by Creating Buyer Personas
“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
Sam Walton, Founder of Walmart and Sam’s Club
The heart of all business is, of course, the customer.
Chances are, you’re not going to market your store to everyone. It’s hard to be the Beatles of eCommerce, so it’s better to focus your efforts on only your target customers rather than trying to please everyone. The more specific you get about who you want on your site, the more effectively you can tailor your content strategy.
Nailing down your ideal customer can be one of the trickiest areas, full of abstracts, guesswork, and dead-ends. That’s why buyer personas are so important — they keep logical thinkers grounded in evidence-based data instead of shooting in the dark. In fact, a Marketing Sherpa case study showed that using personas increased:
- time on site by 900%
- marketing-generated revenue by 171%
- the email-open rate by 111%
- the number of pages visited by 100%
Check out our example eCommerce user persona for Geeky Jim.
Personas are fictional representations of real target users, written as documents that can be referenced any time you’re making consequential decisions. Typically, you should have one persona to represent each group of target shoppers. They can be as simple or complex as you need, but in general should contain the following information:
- Name & Photo — These help in imagining your personas as real people instead of just data sheets.
- Demographics — Gender, age, income, location — any concrete data that can better inform the type of content they want.
- Personality — Include a few metrics to describe the user’s personality, which has a great impact on their behavior. Traits like “lazy,” “ambitious,” “skeptical,” and “enthusiastic” all lead to different styles of content.
- Motivation — What do your shoppers want to accomplish? Do they enjoy the act of shopping, or want to get it over with ASAP? Do they want to learn more about the products/industry, or do they know enough already?
- Frustrations — The side of the coin opposite motivation. User pains are a great influencer for shopping, i.e., what problems does your user have that your content and store can potentially solve. For example, maybe they’re too confused about how a product works to buy it. Maybe they want more structure in their life, and don’t yet know that your product range can help them get organized.
- Preferred Sites and Apps — Knowing where on the web your shoppers hang out tells you how to reach them. Are they the Snapchat generation, or have they just joined Facebook recently? How often do they post to Instagram? What posts are they most likely to Like?
- Personal Quotes — Adding a personal quote or motto also helps to breathe life into personas. Something like “If I don’t know something, I Google it,” sheds a lot of light into both browsing and shopping behavior.
Before diving in head first, don’t forget the golden rule of personas: always use real customer data. Personas are only as effective as the data. Extensive customer research reveals without a doubt how your customers behave and, more to the point, the most effective type of content for their group.
An in-person interview will give you a hands-on opportunity to directly ask your customers the questions you want to know, as well as gently guide them to elaborate and go into detail. This requires an investment of your time, but it’s one well worth making.
Step 2: Define Content Goals
The next step is to establish realistic goals for your content. What do you want your content to achieve?
The beauty of content marketing is that it can be applied throughout the buyer’s journey, offering different rewards at different stages. Here, we’ve listed some common goals in reference to the purchase funnel to help get you thinking:
- Improve reputation for collaboration opportunities
- Improve search engine optimization
- Drive traffic to your blog
- Raise brand awareness
- Change brand image
- Drive traffic to your store
- Increase email sign-ups (accounts, newsletters, etc.)
- Increase social media popularity (followers, Likes, etc.)
- Share brand news (events, new products)
- Promote a campaign (sales, deals, coupons, etc.)
- Aid purchase decisions (buyer guides, product comparison charts, etc.)
- Drive traffic to a specific product page
- Embed buying options on external sites
- Improve customer service
- Improve loyalty/repeat business
- Increase word-of-mouth advertising
Try to be as specific as possible when deciding your goals. As with your target customers, the more specific you are, the better you can customize your content strategy.
Knowing your goals will help when it comes time to build your content — especially when choosing the page that your content directs to. Keep this in mind when we get to Step 4.
Step 3: Organize Content by Channel
Take your target shoppers, add your eCommerce content strategy goals, and the result is a clear idea of what and where to showcase your content. Step 3 is the real meat of your overall content strategy, where you get down to the knitty gritty and start making the crucial decisions.
To start, we can divide content distribution into 4 channels: owned, earned, paid, and shared.
Owned content is everything from your brand. This includes your site’s blog and social media accounts, as well as the actual content on your site, such as product descriptions.
For your blog, you want to come across as an authority on your niche. No matter your specific goals, you’ll want to aim at being a go-to source for all things related to your product range. This can be more than just posting how-to articles and guides, but also industry news and sometimes opinion/editorial pieces.
The home improvement store Lowes fills their Vine page with one-off tips handymen will appreciate, such as “Get crafty when caulking by using a popsicle stick for a smooth, professional finish.” These are usually accompanied by engaging animations, making them informative, fun, and relevant to their target customers.
As for social media, don’t forget to give as well as receive. Active social media is more than just posting regularly — it’s also interacting with fans and other content besides your own.
For more thorough advice on your brand’s content, read our article How to Boost Your Ecommerce Brand with Content Marketing. For more examples of ecommerce companies that use content marketing effectively, read our 10 Online Retailers That Are Doing Ecommerce Content Right.
At this point, make a list of both the top sites in your industry, as well as the top influencers for your type of product. After removing your direct competition, the remainders will be your potential collaborators.
Author Jackie Collins promotes herself and Amazon, with a link to a product that gives them both money.
Later, you will want to reach out to them for mutually beneficial partnerships, including article exchanges, social media promotions, and joint marketing campaigns (such as a shared ebook).
Allocate a portion of your budget for sponsorship on sites popular with your target shoppers. Aside from general advertisements, you may need to promote more particular content, such as a contest, promotional ebook or even a price promotion.
Even if you’ve got a limited budget, sponsorship doesn’t have to be expensive. Most of the major advertising channels and even many smaller networks, allow you to start small and scale up as you uncover the most effective paid channels and tactics for your business.
The last channel for content is providing your customers and visitors for the chance to create their own. This goes beyond simply allowing comments and reviews — smart marketers must take an active role to encourage visitors to interact.
One of the most effective methods, for example, is to offer contests or deals for users who post their products. In 2014, Starbucks hosted one of the most successful user-generated content campaigns in history: the #WhiteCupContest to see who could create the best original design on their plain white cups — and submit the picture of their entry on social media. In just three weeks, they racked up almost 4,000 entries.
Step 3.5: Choose a Tone
There’s something worth mentioning quickly here. While you’re creating your distribution plan, starting considering the tone of your content. Your content is the voice of your brand, especially on external sites, so don’t take this decision lightly.
While you’re free to change up the tone depending on the type of content and where it’s displayed, it’s best to stay consistent for stronger customer loyalty.
Knowing your customers is the biggest influence on tone. Do they want a younger, casual voice that uses slang and emojis, or a more professional and traditional voice (better for high-end purchases to a more mature audience)?
The UK’s Missguided maintains the same casual, and at times edgy voice as its young shoppers use themselves on social media. The tone remains consistent on all of its content, from its product descriptions to its Instagram.
Step 4: Team-building and Promotion
Congratulations. You have your plan, and now it’s time to put it into action. Content marketing is not something you need to do alone, so get out there and start making friends.
For your own content, this could mean hiring new staff. Depending on your strategy, your team might involve different types of specialists:
- graphic designersphotographers
- filmmakers (the size of the team varies)
- social media managers
- radio/podcast hosts
- shopping experts (for buying guides)
While it’s possible to start very small and simple, keep in mind that your results will be heavily influenced by the amount of time, effort and money you invest. When possible, work with experts who have a proven track record delivering on the types of content that you believe will work best for your target audience.
Building collaborations with other sites and influencers requires a bit more effort and even some finessing. Drawing on previous connections and networking is a good place to start, so first reach out to any friends you already have in the industry. You can even put out feelers for introductions with friends of friends.
For article sharing and similar partnerships, even cold emails can work well, given that both parties stand to benefit. First and foremost, look within sites related to your niche who are complementary to your own.
Getting influencers on board may take some elbow grease. A common tactic is to give them a free gift of the product you’d like them to promote, but there’s no guarantee they’ll play ball (it is, after all, a gift). If they’re a social media influencer, offer them the opportunity to increase their following, either by exposure on your site or even a joint-campaign.
For example, when the clothing retailer REVOLVE wanted to expand from the west coast to the east coast, they threw an East Hamptons party and invited a handful of top-tier fashion bloggers. By the end of the summer, most of the clothes (free gifts) worn by the bloggers in their famous Instagram accounts had been sold out.
As for sponsorships, it’s pretty straightforward. You may already be doing some advertising, so this is about testing out different tactics and types of content to expand on what you’ve done in the past.
5. Use Customer Journey Maps to Create Content
Now, it’s time to construct the actual anatomy of your content posts. No matter whether you’ve decided on blogs, videos, or a series of kitten photos, you can maximize your results by using user journey maps.
A customer journey map is an empathy exercise to help put you in the mind of the customer as they experience your content. It lists out, step-by-step, what your customer does (and thinks and feels) at each stage. Typically, user journey maps are created using existing personas.
Below is an overly simplified example, but user journey maps can be more involved and even include customer’s inner-monologues.
- Francesco the Fashionista is looking for a new pair of pumps that match her very high criteria.
- She goes to her favorite fashion site and browses through the article titles until she finds one that stands out.
- She reads the article, which includes images, descriptions, and links to all the shoes mentioned.
- She finds a pair she likes and clicks the link. It takes her to the product page.
- Deciding the price is manageable, she successfully completes the purchase.
This may seem brisk, but there’s a lot of information we can get from this small exercise that will help adapt our content to specific goals:
- Which site to publish on (“her favorite fashion site”)
- How to title the post (something that sticks out to people looking for pumps)
- What to include in the post (images and descriptions)
- Where to direct the inbound link (the product page)
- It even adds some insight into other areas of business, such as pricing.
Get into the habit of mapping out the user journey for every piece of content you put out there, even if just a quick version like the above. Taking a moment to empathize with your customer will always pay off.
6. Make a Calendar
Last, you need to publish content regularly and measure its impact. The amount of content and the frequency you publish at will vary depending on your level of investment. And remember, eCommerce content strategy is not something you do once and then let stagnate — it involves constant maintenance, regular updates, and vigilant scrutiny to see what’s working and what’s not so that you can continuously optimize.
Keep a tight ship. Regularity is integral for social posting, and fans get irritated at late and irregular posting. On the plus side, reliability and consistency are rewarded with loyalty. Mark all your post schedules on a calendar, and make sure nothing slips through the cracks.
It helps to have a stockpile of content lined up in case of emergencies and unforeseen obstacles. It’s a nice safeguard against missing deadlines.
Map Out Your eCommerce Content Strategy Now
We hope you find our 6-step method helpful and it inspires you to either get started or step back for a critical review of your current strategy if you have one. And stay tuned, we’ll be following this post with more detailed articles on best practices for executing on your eCommerce content strategy at every stage of the buying funnel in the coming weeks.
Do you have a content strategy for your online store? Share details on what is working for you in the comments if so to help others learn.