Content marketing for retail… the good, the bad, the ugly.

October 29, 2012
By Grant Arnott
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Grant Arnott

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While content has always been ‘king’, it now plays a central role in search engine optimisation and social media management. In this five part series, Grant Arnott outlines why and how online content has become a powerful online tactic for achieving commercial goals. [PART TWO of FIVE]

We’re all tired of the well-worn cliché ‘Content is King’, but it has done its job. Now everybody’s paying attention. Content marketing has filtered into the same marketing department headspace once reserved for advertising, media strategy and database marketing. With search engine traffic holding the key to the fortunes of so many businesses, content marketing is becoming a key competitive battlefield. The explosive growth of social media has further exacerbated the crucial role content plays. For e-commerce, content is the heartbeat – the piece that connects traffic with sales conversions. Online retailers are beginning to understand they can no longer compete without investing in quality content for the long term. But what does ‘good’ look like when it comes to online content? First, it’s vital to understand the role content plays: 1. Attract increasing numbers of qualified visitors. 2. Engage their interest. 3. Convert them to customers. 4. Repeat 1 through 3 with fresh content. Now, in practical terms, what are the critical components of content that will achieve these objectives?

PRODUCT DESCRIPTIONS

I am ever amazed how many e-commerce businesses neglect their product pages, defaulting to the most basic set-ups and often committing the most outrageous sin in modern retail – NO PRODUCT DESCRIPTION! In the digital realm, your online content is your virtual sales assistant. Using product descriptions that outline the features and benefits in a compelling way will boost sales, and is more than worth the effort. Original product descriptions will also do great things for your search traffic. Using the manufacturer’s description that appears on other sites will cost you valuable ranking points with Google, so it pays to write one. For companies with a high SKU count, writing thousands of product descriptions can be a daunting and costly task. However, it’s a proven driver of return on investment, and essential for being competitive. Prove the concept by focusing on a sample of the range, and once you start to see the results, roll out across the entire range. For online retailers looking to build a brand and engagement, cleverly written product descriptions can be a great differentiator. Look at Sneaking Duck (a site selling designer eyewear) and Vinomofo (a flash sales wine site) for examples of compelling, original product descriptions.

DESCRIPTION TIPS: Create target audience personas for your copywriting team, so they know they are writing each description to appeal to a specific persona representing your customer – makes it easier to achieve consistency and get great conversion results. It can also help speed up the process. Always use clear language and call out important information in bold or bullet points.

PRODUCT IMAGERY

The product imagery is arguably more important than the words, depending on the product. Certainly that would be the case for fashion, though the product description becomes an essential accoutrement to the imagery to help entice the customer to purchase. Product imagery should be consistent, and product pages should include multiple shots, with a zoom function. Art directed, quality imagery coupled with well-written product descriptions is absolutely going to set your site apart and drive higher conversions. Again, test this on a small sample-size, and if the conversion rates rise and you see ROI, roll it out full scale.

IMAGE TIP: Make sure you rename the image to something descriptive to aid SEO (eg. HHMT123475.jpg becomes Quiksilver_T-shirt771.jpg). Add the Alt tag so search engines crawling your site know what the content of the image is and can index it appropriately.

BLOGS

Every e-commerce site should have a blog feed delivering relevant posts on topics of interest. More and more e-commerce retailers are ramping up their blogs as a rich source of informative, interesting and engaging content for their target audience. Blogs are being integrated into the e-commerce user experience, adding a publishing component to establish authority. Highly successful online-only retailers like ASOS, Gilt, Mr Porter and One Kings Lane have invested heavily in blogging for great reward. Their customers are seeing them as a valuable source of information and advice on fashion and home décor. A regularly updated blog is now standard fare in online retail, providing your target audience with inside information, helpful hints and shopping ideas.

BLOG TIPS: Use plenty of internal links within your blog posts as you expand your activity – you can link to product pages, category pages, videos, buying guides, etc. For search engines, this helps provide crawlers with a clear guide that there is loads of relevant content on your site, all inter-connected. Publish posts as often as you can, and always share via social media.

VIDEO

Helpful short videos are becoming de rigeur in online retail as a further means of closing the sale. Online fashion retailer ASOS features models hitting the catwalk in every piece right alongside the still shots. Both stills and video are shot at the same time, and ASOS says the videos are even faster to produce than the stills. Plus, ASOS saw an immediate uplift in conversions when these videos were added, and it is now core to their strategy. Pureplay jewellery retailer Ice.com similarly deployed product videos and immediately saw a 22% reduction in returns. Instructional videos are also integral to e-commerce success – short, helpful videos describing how a product works or showing it in action. You don’t need high production values to succeed – eBags.com uses videos of in-house experts showing all of a bag’s features to great effect, and credits video as playing a significant part in increasing conversions.

VIDEO TIP: Place your video intelligently to give yourself best chance of converting the browser to a buyer – ideally on the product page. You don’t want to be sending customers away from the products to a whole new video area, where they may not be inclined to navigate back.

COMFORT CONTENT

Half the job of an online retailer is not only to get people to buy from you, but to buy online, period. The depth of helpful, friendly information you feature on your site goes a long way to reassuring potential customers you can be trusted. Australia’s largest online department store, DealsDirect, does an excellent job of providing reassurance to customers throughout the entire process. The shopping carts and checkouts are crucial dropout points – the vast majority of purchase abandonment occurs here, yet these are the areas most overlooked for quality content.

COMFORT CONTENT TIP: Remind users at every opportunity that your site is safe, secure and trustworthy – use recognised trustmarks to show your site has been validated, and also make it clear there are help options, returns policies, etc. should they feel uncomfortable at any point in the purchase journey.

HOW-TOS AND BUYING GUIDES

One of the perceived barriers to online retail has been the lack of personal help available to assist with queries and demonstrations. Like video, written how-tos and buying guides add authority and aid users in getting them over the line to purchase. UK department store John Lewis credits its investment in how-tos and buying guides with playing a significant role in making it one of the UK’s most successful multichannel retailers. John Lewis now derives 20 percent of its total revenues from the online channel, and continues to invest in quality content to help aid customers in making purchases online.

BUYING GUIDES TIP: Always utilise imagery and, if possible, video, to help cater for both the left and right brain in every buying guide. Articles with images attract twice the traffic of articles without, and articles with images and video attract three times more.

Next in the series… Storytailing. To read this series from the beginning, click here.

Grant Arnott is a business media veteran with over 12 years experience, and a sought after expert on e-commerce and content marketing. He is publisher of the E-Commerce Leaders’ Playbook, Power Retail, Power Content and also serves as chair of the Online Retailer Conference and judge of the Online Retail Industry Awards. This article is the second in a five part series.

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