Ecommerce isn’t quite as simple as ticking all the boxes from a functionality standpoint. Sure, it’s important to have great products, competitive prices, and customer service good enough to turn first-time buyers into loyal customers — but it’s really tough to be found in the first place, and it’s entirely possible to have a great store that goes largely unnoticed.
There’s no shortage of competition, after all, with so many stores offering very similar things. Very often, the key to making sales is simply being found first, because most people don’t want to spend huge amounts of time trying to hunt down fractional savings. They know what they want to buy and they just want to get their orders placed quickly and conveniently.
So how do you get found first? The answer is content marketing. By creating great content that’s relevant to your prospective customers, you can improve your rankings for relevant search terms (making it more likely that you’ll earn clicks) and build up your brand reputation. That’s easier said than done, though: content marketing is difficult.
The toughest part isn’t the production, though, or the distribution. It’s ideation. Coming up with great ideas for content (and enough of them for a conventional content calendar) is a major challenge, even for experienced content marketers. Having some issues with it? Let’s take a look at some options for sourcing eCommerce content ideas that you might not have tried:
1. Looking for Gaps in Rival Pieces
Researching what your competitors are already doing is far from a leftfield idea: it’s something that every eCommerce content marketer should do before they launch their ideation (and should repeat on a semi-regular basis to see how those other retailers adapt their strategies over time). Everyone knows about looking for gaps in the market. You check the keywords and topics being targeted by others, figure out which titles are being overlooked, and target those titles specifically.
That’s not what I’m talking about, though. I’m talking about gap analysis inside existing content. Suppose that you were interested in creating content about smartphones, for instance, and you noticed that your chief competitor had 20 blog posts on smartphone-related topics. If you opted for writing posts that seemed to be missing from that lineup, you might end up competing with content they’d lined up but not yet produced or released.
If you looked for missing elements in their published eCommerce content, though, you could build your strategy around beating that eCommerce content: covering the same ground, then adding a little extra to make your content more useful. That rival might notice eventually, but having that direct comparison going in your favor for a time would be good for your image (and for outreach).
This is a hugely efficient way of getting noticed for the quality of your content because it skips a lot of the regular creative process. So much goes into the development of an industry-leading piece of content: exhaustive keyword research, structured data optimization, and the lengthy process of writing, rewriting, and editing copy to get the tone and details right. By using the best pieces of content out there as templates, you can reap the benefits with none of the work.
Is this unethical somehow? Well, you’re not ultimately going to copy any individual elements. You’ll write everything from scratch, feature different graphics and structural elements, and align everything with your unique brand. You’ll also make some meaningful improvements as you do so, demonstrating that your piece is far more than simply an imitation of its predecessor.
2. Trawling Through Wiki Articles
If you’re looking for complete accuracy, you shouldn’t be using wikis: Wikipedia is disregarded as a reliable source of information for good reason, that being that the inherent strength of the platform — anyone being able to create eCommerce content — lends itself to ridiculous edit wars that drag on in perpetuity (additionally, there’s the tendency to remove content on a whim that has led to the creation of more open-minded forks such as Everipedia). But I’m not talking about using wikis to come up with citations for academic papers: I’m talking about using it for ideation.
This method is actually very simple. You find a topic that’s suited to your content marketing, and you start following internal links. You look for product types you’re not familiar with, or interesting nuggets of historical information — anything that stands out. A short session of chasing links will take you through numerous pages, and can yield a scattergun assortment of snippets that you can use to further fuel your creative process.
In addition to providing you with fresh concepts for topics and titles, this can inspire you to flesh out your existing content with things you never previously knew. Got a product page for an electric bike? Well, the more you learn about electric bikes, the more you can say to expand the content on that page — and you can even make it the foundation for a bigger piece all about the history of electric bikes, something that you can use to drive product page visits.
There isn’t much of a framework to this, but that’s something that you need to accept when you’re handling your own ideation. If you want a more orderly and predictable process, you can hire a digital marketing agency to do it for you, but keep in mind that developing your own digital marketing expertise is absolutely worth doing. Not only will it help you with your retail store, but it will also stand you in good stead for future employment opportunities.
3. Analyzing Customer Feedback
Paying close attention to what customers are saying is mission-critical for modern retailers because barring some rare exceptions (such as Apple), brands don’t have unique things to offer. Their customers always know that they can get what they need elsewhere in the event that they become unhappy, so they need to be kept happy, and that requires understanding.
That understanding stems from analyzing feedback. What do customers like about your store? What do they dislike? How do they use the products they buy from you? What else would they like to see you sell? All of this isn’t just vital for improving your business: it’s also vital for informing your content marketing because it gives you many things to write about.
Let’s say you get a lot of feedback from customers who say that your product range is the best in your niche. That’s great to hear, but it also gives you a prompt to write an article about how to choose a great product range. That article will give those customers more insight into how you think and work, reinforcing their support of you, but it will also allow you to demonstrate for a much broader audience than you bring something special to the table.
You should seek feedback from all possible angles, starting with your Google reviews (Google being the jumping-off point for so much e-commerce activity) but moving on to all social media references, blog comments, and even any YouTube videos that mention you. It isn’t just customer feedback that matters, obviously. What about the people who are aware of your brand but have never elected to buy from you? What exactly are you lacking in their eyes?
In the end, you have to keep in mind that you can’t make everyone happy, not least because you’ll encounter contradictory requests. One person might want you to focus on a specific type of product, while another might want you to branch out and diversify your range. All you can do is make the best overall call given the evidence.
4. Polling Your Audience for Titles
Getting content guidance from your audience shouldn’t be limited to squeezing extra value from the existing process of feedback collection. Instead, you should take advantage of social media activity and polling options to directly ask your customers — and followers — what content they’d like to see from you (Zapier has a good guide to this). Are there specific guides they’d find useful? Topics they want to be covered?
You can get as in-depth about this as you want. If you think there’s value in setting out some specific titles and having people vote on them, you can go about things in that way: just ensure that you check the analytics after you’ve produced and released your content, though, because people don’t always know what they want (it’s a significant failing in human nature).
If a massive majority of your followers back a particular piece of eCommerce content, but it barely gets any visits when you release it and promote it heavily, consider that a good indication of the usefulness of your polls (well, the lack thereof). Try being less specific and taking all expressed preferences with a pinch of salt. Go by what people read in the end, not what they claim to want.
That said, keep in mind that you need to deliver when it comes to content quality: and the more people are eager to see a particular piece, the more they’ll likely expect from it. If your audience wants a post about choosing a great ice-cream maker and you deliver something that meets that requirement but falls woefully short of expectations, the level of disappointment might mislead you into thinking the concept was a bad idea (instead of the execution).
Due to this, don’t just write an ill-received piece off as a mistake. Investigate what happened. Speak to your audience again to ask them why they didn’t like the content very much: don’t take an accusatory tone as though they’ve somehow disappointed you, but instead be completely calm and accepting of the possibility that you’ve failed to deliver something worthwhile.
5. Considering Events and Seasons
It’s standard practice in eCommerce content marketing to write both evergreen content and seasonal content, with the latter picking up some easy visits during the relevant times of the year. The latter is particularly useful because of everything it brings to ideation: simply by looking at the near future in your calendar, you can come up with a lot of great ideas.
As I write this, it’s the start of June, so the 4th of July is a little over a month away. Why not come up with some ideas for that? The beauty of event-based search volume is that it will accommodate anything and everything demonstrably relevant: it could be as valuable as a full history of American independence or as thin as a list of snack foods you could eat on the day.
“X great gifts for Y” is a reliable performer, and you can redo it every year by making it “X great gifts for Y in 2020”. It’s not the most interesting or sophisticated content, of course, but it gets visits and it drives sales — and that’s ultimately what matters for online retailers. Additionally, you can tie it into your larger and more high-quality pieces of content on broader topics.
Consider the hub-and-spoke strategy that’s become very popular in the content marketing world in recent years. If you create pieces like “4 Perfect Celebration Gifts to Get Your Patriotic Friend on the 4th of July” or “10 Great Christmas Gifts for Rock-and-Roll Fans”, you can link out to them from an overarching piece on how to buy gifts for friends and family members. Each niche piece of content you add makes the hub content more valuable for visitors and significantly more competitive from an SEO standpoint.
When you’re staring at your screen trying to come up with ideas to flesh out your content calendar, take a break from the monotony and resolve to try something else. See where you can beat rival content. Go on fun tangents through wikis. Address the most common queries that pop up through your feedback. Ask your audience directly what it wants. Look at your schedule and come up with some viable clickbait titles.
This is all about getting eyes on your content, so everything after that is up to you: if your content is bad, all the effort will end up wasted, so your main goal should be to produce great content that really delivers value. Do that, and promote sensibly, and you’ll get the results you’re looking for.