The Role of Content in E Commerce

29th September 2014

Content serves two purposes in E Commerce: first to create more traffic through search engines and secondly to help convert that traffic into more sales. This article covers the first of these functions – I have looked at how content can be used to convert traffic in another article.

Content to attract more customers has been important ever since the dawn of search engines – way back in the days before even Google was born. In those days I used to teach people how to use the WWW and I handed out lists of websites which were useful for business – sites like YELL or the BBC were accessed directly by putting in the address and you found what you were looking for by heading to those sites most likely to contain the content. This led in those days to sites with an epic amount of links on them – all organised into different categories and headings by which you could navigate your way around the web. The most epic of these was DMOZ – the internet’s own directory of websites and it is still going today (albeit that it still looks like it was built in 2004). Promotion of websites in those days was all about link sharing – the more links you had the better chance of getting traffic.

But Google and a whole host of other search engines changed that and now it is all about what content you publish about your business – rather than how many links you have. This is mainly because customers now primarily only use Google and Bing for searches and both these engines have increasingly relied upon content to determine how to direct traffic to your website. The game now is what content to produce to generate traffic.

Once again how you produce content has evolved over the years to fit in line with how Google determines relevance – ie what sites to put first when someone asks for a baby carrier. In its early days Google was relatively unsophisticated and it was easy to leapfrog a small garage business over major high street brands. But these days Google knows not only who the main street brands are, but also knows a great deal about what customers like, where they like to shop and how important it is to show them the main high street brands first. All this makes it harder and harder for smaller online stores to compete.

So how do you run a content strategy for a small online store to attract customers?

Well I always use a rule of thumb when I talk about search engines content strategies. Whatever you do always try to think about things in the same way as Google does. Ultimately Google’s brand is a search engine and in order to stay at the top of its game it wants to deliver the best, most relevant content for all its customers. If it fails in this task it fails in everything else.

So we try to create strategies that match those of Googles. We don’t try to cheat Google because ultimately you will get caught trying to foist less than relevant content to its customers. Instead we work on content that is engaging, relevant and focused upon those people who are most likely to buy our products. That way Google will find it easy to match our content to the customers who are looking for us.

Of ultimate importance are customer profiles and linked to this are the brands and the visions of the businesses we work with, Most of them are small – but all of them serve a particular niche and appeal to a certain group of customers. Yes so many E Commerce business ultimately fail to make this important distinction – many of them don’t have any idea of what their brand is or who their customers are. By this I mean they know their customers – but they don’t know who their customers are. Typically they might know where they ship to, the gender and even their general tendencies, but they don’t really know why that customer chose them, why that customer liked them and why that customer found their store relevant. And yet relevance – as least as far as Google is concern -is everything.

So we always start our content campaigns with customer profiles and by developing a clear market brand those customers can relate to. If it’s a generic pet shop then we focus on product ranges; if it’s a specific industrial service like cutting wood or acrylic then we focus on industries most like to buy those products. We then use this profile to write carefully constructed product descriptions, blog articles, newsletters, social media posts and press releases for these customer groups. That way Google starts sending us customers we want which is good for us, good for Google and also of course good for the customer.

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