Of all the industries that can benefit from Inbound Marketing, eCommerce has some of the biggest opportunities. And yet, many eCommerce marketers are perplexed as to how a "content" approach can help their direct response focused initiatives. Although I don't have the time or word count to walk through every aspect of Inbound today, I'd like to explore how blogging (which is truly the heart of Inbound) can transform eCommerce marketing results.
When we think of typical approaches to promote eCommerce sites, concepts like display and PPC ads are generally top of mind. Let me be clear: those initiatives work.
When someone is searching for a bacon scented candle, and the first thing they see on a search engine result page is a link to a bacon scented candle, the relevancy is undeniable.
On a side note, has anyone actually smelled a bacon candle? I can't decide if it would be legendary or repulsive...
Back to business: the people who become your customers exist long before they realize they're ready to purchase. Just because I'm not in the market to order a winter coat today doesn't mean I won't be when Wisconsin winter arrives and I'm shivering my way into the office every morning. And when that tragic day does come, I'll likely be visiting the websites of brands I've already determined to be relevant to me.
So, while PPC and direct response initiatives certainly work to convert those who are ready to buy, other Inbound approaches can supplement those efforts to inform those who are not, and prime them for a sale down the road. "Down the road" could be tomorrow and it could be next year, depending on your sales cycle and the nature of your products.
What's the payoff of blogging for people who might not buy today? By positioning your brand as authorative and helpful, you earn a spot in that person's top of mind awareness, where they carefully categorize the information they need to make upcoming purchases. Sometimes this is conscious (I.e. researching leaf blowers a few weeks before buying) and sometimes it's not (I.e. reading tech blogs with no direct intent to purchase a laptop in the near future).
Blogging on an eCommerce site is a little tricky, because it requires you to get out of the direct selling mindsent and focus more on the interests and needs of the potential customer before they're ready to whip out their credit card. But regardless of the industry, the success of business blogging pretty much universally hinges on a site's ability to master a few essential blogging best practices.
While there are endless articles and webinars addressing the dozens of business blogging best practices, I'd argue that four stick out at the top of every list. Let's look at those concepts, and take a quick glance at eCommerce brands getting the blogging thing right:
Best Practice 1: Blog to Drive Traffic to Your Site
It's no secret that blogging is an effective way to drive traffic to your site. According to HubSpot, companies that blog 15 or more times per month get 5x more traffic than those who aren't blogging.
But savvy eCommerce marketers know that high traffic doesn't always equal high sales. In order to actually get a return on your blog, you need to create content which invites relevant users.
How can this be accomplished? By effectively utilizing keywords and speaking to topics that interest and attract your personas, and by promoting your content in the places those personas are likely to see it. Of course, this necessitates taking a step back and truly researching those personas. If you haven't done the leg work in defining your personas, all other efforts will be significantly less useful.
REI does an exceptional job of creating content that's directly tied to the lifestyle their brand promotes. Rather than simply creating one blog, they maintain various informational hubs with videos, information on upcoming events, and access to free advice from experts.
On top of being useful to existing brand advocates, this healthy bank of content drives new users to the site who are searching for outdoor-enthusiast lifestyle information:
Best Practice 2: Promote Your Products Without Pushing a Sale
I know, we've hardly made it past point one and I'm already contradicting myself. How can we promote an item without directing toward on a sale?
This is one of the "tread lightly" areas of eCommerce marketing. On one end, you want to get the word out about the awesome inventory burning a hole in your warehouse. On the other, you want to abide by Inbound principles and inform rather than push to purchase.
Although difficult, this can absolutely be done. Target has an incredible style blog which simultaneously features their products while providing users with fashion tips they can leverage with clothing from any brand.
The secret to their success lies in the critical relationship between photography and fashion: even if someone isn't ready to purchase a blazer from Target today, they can come to their blog for visual inspiration for their existing wardrobe. And when they are ready to pony up $34.99 for a jacket, Target will already be in their mind:
Best Practice 3: Give Readers a Reason to Come Back
Visitor drop offs are the bain of many eCommerce marketers existence. Whether or not you'd like to admit it, you've probably lost many hours wistfully wondering what happens to those troves of users who visit your site but never come back to purchase.
Don't abandon ship and give up on them just yet, because blogging is your figurative rescue boat.
If you commit to creating content that's fresh, engaging, and useful to your personas, they'll be happy to revisit and reconsider your site. Specific examples of engaging content include hosting contests on your blog, sharing user generated content, and simply diversifying your posts with multimedia (think videos, photos, audio). This also includes a mandatorty commitment to regular posting, since nobody is really interested in browsing through posts that haven't been updated since 2009.
One caveat: among frequent and diverse posting, you must also make sure all that content is actually relevant to your messaging. I recently came accross this infographic on Overstock.com, which was likely intended to be a content diversifier. While the subject matter is interesting, I can't for the life of me figure out what it has to do with online discount shopping.
The post itself does little to explain why they created the infographic, and even if it drives traffic to the site, people looking for grammar information are probably not looking for bedframe recommendations. (If research proves they are, I'll happily rescind my claim).
Best Practice 4: Make Your Blog Share-Friendly
In every industry, in every region, and at every price point, there is one form of promotion which always trumps the rest: word of mouth recommendations.
We know that people are most prone to buy, interact with, and research brands that they've heard about from friends. In the online space, there are millions of connections between users which constitute potential environments for your brand to secure a valuable mention.
How can you get your name in there? While there are certainly intricate and involved ways to build advocacy, one of the easiest places to start is by simply enabling social sharing on your content. You've likely already embraced this concept in the form of social buttons on your product pages, so why not extend it to your blog?
Every one of the eCommerce platforms referenced above encourages and facilitates social sharing on their articles.
Feeling inspired and ready to tackle blogging? If you're wondering how to get started, the best thing you can do is stop putting it off and just start! Your first post may not be your best, but it will open the door to continuous improvement and pave the way for incredible content to come.
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/35468141938@N01/278659657