Successful eCommerce websites are those which explore every possible way to educate their customer (or potential customer) at every point in their journey, from query to purchase. Once this concept is fully realized, it becomes quite clear that an eCommerce website’s content strategy must expand beyond the basic structure of the homepage, category pages, product pages and utility pages (contact, return policy, etc.).
The expansion of content strategy is not only beneficial for overall customer nurturing, but it also widens the possibilities with SEO–from keyword research to content creation, to content marketing and link building. By understanding the true intent behind keywords, online marketers can understand the different needs between potential customers, and produce the type of content that will most likely convert into an action (purchase, newsletter sign up, etc.).
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Understanding the Buying Cycles of an Online Shopper
When attempting to expand upon a content strategy, it’s important to first understand your user’s search behavior and how it correlates to your website’s content strategy. For an optimal experience (and optimal conversions), someone searching for “mens hiking boots” is going to require different content than someone searching for “mens Vasque Sundowner” or “Vasque vs Asolo boots.” All three of these search queries have different intent. The first query indicates that the searcher does not yet know what product he or she might be interested in purchasing. The next query is typical of someone who knows what he or she wants, and is probably shopping by price, stock/availability, etc. The last query (“Vasque vs Asolo boots”) is typical of someone who has narrowed their choices down to a small set of preferred brands/models, but is looking for some final advice to help them make a more educated decision. Therefore, each of these search queries require a different content approach.
One model for segmenting keywords by intent is to use the Awareness Ladder, a concept created and discussed by Ben Hunt in his book, Convert! Originally a graphic designer, Ben Hunt took a radical approach to conceptualizing the focus of website design by tailoring it to the specific needs of users who were in different stages of “awareness” of the many problems and solutions available in relation to a specific set of products or services. Through this approach, a website is better able to cater to the needs of different types of visitors, and better convert to sales.
Another way of looking at this is simply “buying cycles.” Every good marketer knows that the sales/buying cycle involves multiple stages, and this chapter is aimed at helping SEO professionals get caught up on how to execute SEO strategies on this core concept of consumerism. We’re going to simplify them a bit and tailor them to the specific scenarios encountered in an eCommerce shopping environment. Through this approach, we’re also going to uncover additional types of content that could be created on an eCommerce website to “expand the horizons” of the overall content strategy.
Uneducated Shoppers Looking for Options
These visitors are in the earliest possible buying stage. They are searching for options under a core topic, such as “boots” (most general) or perhaps “mens boots” (still general, but more specific), and are primed to be educated about the various options available to them. In return, the content that best suits them should be very general and present them with the various types of products available for further browsing. Simply put, these visitors are “browsers.”
A number of content approaches can be taken, from presenting high-level product types in a browse-and-click format (i.e. – category page), to editorial explanations of available options written in a conversational manner (general informative articles). The specific audience demographics will help determine which approach is best, but let’s dive into some specific types of content that would serve these visitors well.
Category & Sub-Category Pages
The most obvious type of content that caters to these visitors is something that most eCommerce websites already have: category pages. The purpose of these pages are to group products categorically, and perhaps also present sub-categories for further defining areas of interest. It’s best to target 2-3 highly searched keywords and lead off the category page with short, descriptive content (@ 100 words) that introduces these types of products to the visitors. This serves both the searcher and the search engines, as it offers some context as to what the page is about as well as helps them serve as actual landing pages instead of just navigation sections. A couple good examples would be Asphalt Kingdom’s “Sealcoating Equipment” category page or Dick’s Sporting Goods’ “Mens Hiking Boots” category page (shown below).
Buying Guides & “How To” Content
As an additional strategy to complement category pages, buying guides can be created to help users discover the right products for them. REI does a wonderful job at this via web pages like their How to Choose Hiking Boots guide.
The guide is clearly targeting the keyword “how to choose hiking boots,” which is typically used by someone very early in the hiking boot buying cycle. Everything from boot cut, construction and fit are covered, and the user is sure to be much more educated for a proper buying decision after reading through the buying guide. Static links to category pages can be elegantly placed within the context of educational content, and related product feeds can be dynamically generated in sidebars (as shown in the right sidebar of the REI page) or perhaps even in between paragraphs to increase the chance of conversion (since that’s where the reader’s focus is).
Another excellent example of an eCommerce site building “how to” content is the Driveway Repair Guide from Asphalt Kingdom. The content provides preliminary information on driveway maintenance to educate readers, steps on how to repair your own driveway, answers to common questions and even a couple of infographics that make the process more visual.
For the purpose of email acquisition, link building, social shares, building social followers and increased brand discovery, contests and sweepstakes are a great way for eCommerce websites to get new potential customers into the sales funnel for later email marketing. Boot Barn, for example, consistently promotes contests on their website, such as this one:
By requiring users to fill out an entry form, they are acquiring emails to build their newsletter list for later email marketing. By requiring users to vote on their favorite boots, they are building engagement with their audience.
The possibilities with contests and sweepstakes are endless, from “Blog it to Win it” contests that can drive links, to “Pin it to Win it” contests that can drive social signals and followers. When coupling contest topics with keyword research, they also become landing pages that can drive serious organic search traffic to boot. In summary, contests and sweepstakes are incredible tactics to build up newsletter lists and social media followers when coupled with basic SEO strategies.
Pro Tips: Always be sure to check the state and federal sweepstakes laws and write up a Rules/Terms and Conditions page to protect yourself. Also, be sure to promote your contests and sweepstakes on popular contest websites like www.online-sweepstakes.com and www.ilovegiveaways.com for immediate link building opportunities, and look (especially) for contest and giveaway sites within your industry or niche.
Product Image Galleries
Online shoppers are very visual, and considering the recent growth of image-based social media channels like Pinterest and Tumblr, some shoppers might have a much better experience on your web site if they were able to browse topically grouped products by image. Furthering this point, many shoppers are now using Google Images to search for products by image as an easier way to pinpoint what they want. Furthering this point even more, fashion followers are using sites like LOOKBOOK, Topman and Zara to get more visual in their clothing and fashion search. Build off of these recent trends by developing image galleries on your site to make the shopping experience more visually executable. Online shoppers love the experience they get on Zara (see below), which features compelling images linking to product pages.
Looking to other industries for inspiration is always a fun excursion, and there’s something to be learned from the fantasy football industry. That’s right–fantasy football. Sites like FantasyPros.com combine player rankings each week and produce an aggregated list. The result? Better decision making for fantasy football players.
Imagine how this strategy can be applied to an eCommerce store. You most likely have ratings, reviews and data on most purchased products in your database. Use that data to create “Best XYZ” pages that list the top 10 products in each category based on rating/review/purchase count, and you’ll have a unique way to target the “Best XYZ” keywords. Not only will this type of content drive traffic, it should also attract links naturally since your site will most likely be the only website providing such uniquely valuable content.
Educated Shoppers Needing More Education
Conversion rates on initial visits from uneducated shoppers are typically lower than visits from visitors who are later in the buying cycle. However, somewhat educated shoppers (who need more education) are primed to “convince themselves” of the right product for them (through your educational content) and have a higher potential for conversion. So, offering educational content to further them along in their quest is a strategic way to provide value to the visitor, potentially convert them into a sale, or the very least acquire an email address for later marketing. Whatever the outcome, your eCommerce site is still able to meet business goals through content strategy. Here are some different strategies to further educate these types of visitors.
Offering a free eBook, buying guide, educational white paper, interactive tool or some other free download (aka “freemium”) in exchange for acquiring an email address is a great solution for these types of visitors. By offering a free download that discusses the pros and cons of different types of products, or granting access to an exclusive interactive tool that helps users decide what types of products they would be interested in, an eCommerce website can satisfy the needs of these visitors who are early in the buying cycle. By acquiring emails in the process, it offers a later opportunity to sell products through targeted newsletter marketing–even if a visitor does not convert to a sale upon the first visit.
Freemiums are more popular on content websites than eCommerce websites (for whatever reason), so here is one example of a knitting-focused content site that is acquiring emails through a free, downloadable eBook on how to knit socks:
In this example, Knitting Daily is funneling new potential customers into their sales cycle by acquiring their email addresses in exchange for offering a free downloadable eBook. In order to attract the right visitors, they are targeting the keyword “how to knit socks” rather than simply “knitting” or “sock knitting.” These are somewhat educated visitors who need further education.
The key to successful freemiums is attracting the right visitors. Who are the right visitors? Quite simply, they are visitors who have the highest probability of purchasing your products (now or later) once you’ve educated them and built trust in your brand. This is one of the main reasons that freemiums are suggested for buyers who are a little further along in the buying cycle than an uneducated shopper.
Search queries that compare product A against product B are quite popular with educated shoppers who need more education. For this reason, content such as product comparison matrices, detailed reviews and other comparative forms of content targeting later-buying cycle visitors can be very effective in converting shoppers to buyers. For example, Native Instruments (maker of high-quality digital music production software) provides a simple set of comparison charts to help shoppers decide on the right type of Guitar Rig (their innovative digital guitar amplification simulator) in this handy comparison chart.
If potential buyers have questions about which version of Guitar Rig is equipped with the right features for their needs, this comparison chart can quickly answer them. Thus, the potential buyer can decide right then and there (on the shopping site) which product is best for him or her, and make the purchase without leaving the website.
Niche-Topic Articles & Blog Posts
A tactic that is perfect for targeting long-tail keywords used by educated shoppers, who still aren’t convinced of the right product for them, is educating them through helpful articles and blog posts. As a general reminder, blogging isn’t a strategy. It is simply a means to executing a strategy. Our strategy for targeting shoppers in this stage of the buying cycle is to further educate them about specific queries they have, which are related to the overall topic, and detailed articles and blog posts are a great way to deliver the message.
Crutchfield does an admirable job at this with articles like Choosing Speakers for Your iPod, iPhone, and iPad.
When a user types in search queries like “choosing speakers for an iPod,” they rank on page 1 of Google (partially due to this optimized article, and partially due to their Domain Authority which allows them to rank well in the first place). They are able to capture this traffic, educate them and lead them down the purchasing funnel by linking to category pages and displaying related product feeds in the sidebar.
Multi-Expert (aka “Roundup” Articles)
Like niche-topic articles and blog posts, multi-expert content can be delivered in the form of a blog post or article format. Unlike the above described niche-topic articles, multi-expert leverages the opinions of experts about a niche topic in order to provide a (sometimes) more trusted stance on a topic. By leveraging the opinions of experts, eCommerce websites can also benefit from the additional promotion that external experts can bring via their own audiences when it comes time to promote the newly published content.
This approach provides additional opportunities for links and social signals (which are a growing factor in how a search engine will rank a website). Imagine if Crutchfield curated recommendations from the audio industry’s top experts on how to choose speakers for an iPod, iPhone or iPad, instead of writing the article themselves. Not only would this potentially be more attractive to the shopper, it would also provide Crutchfield with the opportunity to get additional exposure of the article on the contributors’ own websites, Twitter and Facebook accounts, newsletters, etc.
Publishing Your Print Catalog Online
Assuming that your print catalog doesn’t pose duplicate content risks with other content on your site, consider hosting a PDF version of each month’s (or quarter’s) catalog on your site. The PDF will be crawlable by search engines, and thus, rankable. It’s ideal if the catalog can include links to category and product pages, and perhaps even helpful articles (assuming your link structure is clean) so that users who land on the catalog PDF from a search engine can click deeper into your site and potentially make a purchase.
For example, Sweetwater posts its monthly SweetNotes catalog of new gear/recent news on its website each month (example: Fall 2013 issue).
As mentioned, it’s important that the content be unique from what already exists on the site (something Sweetwater should probably look into). If the content is already being repurposed on the site as articles/blog posts, then it might be best to disallow crawl of the catalog via your /robots.txt and set it to noindex. It can still serve as link bait. Another popular example of an online catalog is from Lands’ End. They put each quarterly issue online, and the main landing page has a decent link profile. Consider using your catalog as an email acquisition tool as well, and achieve one of your business goals (list growth).
Despite infographics getting so much negative attention in the SEO community based on overuse and recent comments from Matt Cutts (head of Web Spam at Google), they are still a type of content that users enjoy. The key to infographics, however, is that that they offer unique value to users. Very basic infographics, or rehashing infographics produced by other publishers, is not a good strategy. Consider the unique data that you have with your own business and how it might provide value to your audience. You surely know the most popular items on your website, and also the most attractive items on clearance. Couldn’t you produce a product-focused infographic to help sell? Coupons.com did just that with their 2013 Black Friday Most Wanted Items infographic.
Expert Interviews & Google Hangouts
When Google launched Hangouts, it was slow to take hold. They actually had ambassadors/employees reaching out to companies and encouraging them to use it. It’s picking up a bit more steam, but we’re still not seeing many eCommerce sites use it, even though it has great potential. Perhaps your site sells cookware, and your customers are passionate about certain top chefs. What if you reached out to some of those chefs and asked if any would be interested in talking about their favorite cookware to use in their kitchen? If properly promoted, it would surely drive great attendance, probably sell some cookware on your site from those attendees either during or right after the Hangout, and also provide incredible link building opportunities. Think big and get big results.
Forums and User Generated Image Galleries/Videos
Your customers have a lot on their minds, and many of them are passionate about what you sell, so why not give them a platform on which to interact? Many websites are ditching the forums in favor of social media, and many argue that forums are hard to monetize. But as far as we’re concerned, increasing traffic from targeted visitors to your website is certainly not a bad thing. American Express agrees as they launched Open Forum as a way to allow their small business customers to interact, collaborate and help each other out. We’re sure the end result (at least they hope) is increased passion in investing in, and growing small businesses, and typically, investing in a business means purchases made on a credit card. Although direct monetization of forums may not be easily trackable, building a community is worth it.
Shoppers Who Know What they Want
Shoppers in this stage of the buying cycle already know what they want and they are searching for it specifically in search engines. For the most part, the keywords that fall into this bucket are going to be product names. Keep in mind that they might not be ready to buy, but they have at least pinpointed what they (most likely want) and thus, conversion rates will be high for these keywords should your product pages provide a compelling experience. For that reason, we’re going to dive into some of the elements to give extra attention to on your product pages.
- Unique content will ensure that search engines give unique value to your page (compared to competitors) since it’s now obvious that duplicated manufacturer descriptions will prevent your eCommerce site from ranking well in (at least) Google.
- A multitude of attractive images for each product will help build more excitement and emotion within your visitors’ minds as they make final purchasing decisions.
- Stating unique benefits of the product will allow shopper