We've all heard the mantra, "Content is king." Rich content that helps shoppers connect with products can not only smooth the path to purchase, but also boost brands' relevance when it comes to search engine rankings.
The good news is that the volume of shopping content is growing as merchants manage brands across a growing number of customer touchpoints. But the bad news is that the content is often disjointed and sprawling.
The chaos is understandable; as online commerce continues to evolve at breakneck speed, merchants often act first and plan later. But the stakes are rising. Search engine algorithms are constantly being fine-tuned to present the most authentically relevant results based on site content—and even more importantly, consumer have increasingly high expectations for a seamless brand experience that includes thoroughly integrated commerce and content. According to the MarketLive Performance Index, the "1-and-out," or bounce, rate has been rising for the past nine quarters, signaling shoppers' impatience with online shopping experiences that fail to address their needs immediately. They will no longer click far to get from relevant content to product selection, or from product information to customer service help.
To meet these heightened expectations, merchants must carefully plan, execute and constantly reevaluate a sound content strategy. Of course, content tactics depend on each brand's goal and audience. But to maximize the profitability of content development efforts, all merchants should make integration of content and commerce a priority. Focus on these four areas where cross-pollination is most crucial:
1. Develop rich lifestyle content – and permeate it with product links. By catering to the lifestyle of your target audience with deep, relevant content, you'll create entirely new entry points into your brand's offerings. In the graphic below, for example, the traditional SEO entry points – the brand's name, specific products and keyword terms matching product categories, such as "camping gear," – are complemented by a whole new set of theme-based entry points, deriving from such lifestyle-driven keyword terms as "cycling guide" or "backpack fitting."
The key to making these content sections productive is to link extensively from them to specific products and categories that address the needs of the reader. For example, an entire section of the REI site, browsable via the global navigation, is given over to "expert advice" articles and videos featuring staff members. The article for beginning cyclists demonstrates the brand's authority with a bevy of links to further related content, such as instructional videos, and also connects to relevant product categories—including comfort bikes, cycling helmets, and hydration options.
REI also features the content on category pages, where a tab allows shoppers to view relevant content within the shopping environment. Visitors to the Cycling category, for example, can scan an array of relevant articles and videos on topics such as how to fix a flat tire and how to choose a bike in the right size.
2. On the product detail page, present a self-contained purchase opportunity. The product detail page should include more than manufacturer content and an "add to cart" link; provide shoppers with plenty of information to not only describe the product with words and images, but also to educate them about how the product fits their lifestyle and addresses their shopping needs. Create original product descriptions written with your brand's distinctive voice; integrate social content such as Likes and comments, reviews and video testimonials; and develop rich value-added content such as how-to videos, detailed specifications and listings of third-party product endorsements and media mentions. Finally, link to relevant articles from the lifestyle content you've developed—wringing further utility from that investment.
For its Balance Ball Chair System, lifestyle company Gaiam provides comprehensive product information in the form of a thorough description, multiple images, a video, customer reviews, and a "question and answer" section where staff and other customers can respond to shopper inquiries. In addition, via one of the product's content tabs shoppers can also access a selection of instructional content related to balance balls on Gaiam's partner site, Gaiam Life. The Gaiam Life site, in turn, features product links in the left-hand column, making it easy for content consumers to locate items relevant to the topic at hand.
3. Tailor on-site search to include both content and commerce. On-site search represents an opportunity to engage purchase-prone visitors with engaging content. While most merchant sites display only a set of products matching the search term, including content links as well offers shoppers an alternative path to relevant information and products. Content links also showcase the brand's subject matter authority, boosting credibility and shoppers' trust.
Guitar Center offers search capabilities for local store inventory, and the search results page additionally includes a right-hand column display of the profiles of local staff experts. Clicking on an individual profile page allows shoppers to view biographical information about the staff member, including their musical background and favorite bands. They can also post product lists they've customized and annotated—making for another potential shopping entry point.
Williams-Sonoma gives content prominent exposure in its search results, displaying recipes related to the keyword term in a right-hand column as well as in a tab at the top of the results listing. A third tab gives shoppers easy access to product and lifestyle videos.
4. Integrate social thoroughly. Too many merchants go no further to integrating social media with their e-commerce content than using status updates to link to products. But it's possible to go much further—both by creating effective content on social media sites and by repurposing and presenting social content in other contexts.
On social media sites, go deep: Create engaging content experiences that connect shoppers with products targeted to the audience, such as the latest seasonal fashions or trendiest toys. Link directly to individual products, and keep the content fresh. Electronics retailer Best Buy's Movies app on Facebook includes exclusive video content and a poll that takes advantage of the social medium; when users click "get the movie," they can select right from Facebook which format of video they'd like to purchase before linking to the Best Buy e-commerce site.
Elsewhere, find creative ways to capture and retool social content, beyond merely adding a "Like" button to the product page. Social media mentions and conversations can make for potent content, as eBags demonstrates with this e-mail campaign with the subject line "Catch the Buzz." The message features bags generating hundreds of shares and Facebook "Likes", along with products that are not just highly rated, but also those that have garnered thousands of reviews. That showcases not just the trendiness of the merchandise, but also the social savviness of the eBags brand itself and its credibility as a go-to resource for researching products.
Wrangling content in the era of connected commerce is a challenging task. But merchants who focus on integrating content and commerce thoroughly—starting with these four areas—will maximize efficiency and return on investment. More importantly, they'll engage shoppers, earn trust and, ultimately, drive long-term growth.