Content strategy framework for ecommerce websites

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  • December 4, 2012
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

Building a strong content strategy for ecommerce sites is a challenge both from a creative perspective and also from a scalability perspective – no matter how important content is to SEO it’s hard for large scale ecommerce sites to produce great content across thousands of product pages, especially if the products are seasonal or have short lifespans.

This article is designed to cover our recommendations for how an ecommerce site should build a content strategy with the aim of becoming more useful and therefore helping with SEO performance in the mid to long term. This isn’t a guide on how to use content marketing to generate links.

Q&A Content

One of the best ways to add unique and user generated content to your product pages is by using Q&A content where your customers ask questions and your expert staff members answer them in a timely and helpful manner. This has a major impact on conversion rates with Halfords seeing a 58% increase and many other brands reporting similar numbers.

One brand doing Q&A content well is House of Fraser who have lots of engagement and also split the answered questions from the unanswered questions and even encourage other customers to answer for them.

Our top tips for correctly implementing Q&A to an ecommerce site:

  • Make sure all content is placed on the product pages
  • Don’t leave anything unanswered for more than an hour or two
  • Email customers when the answer is posted
  • Incentivise other customers to answer questions with discount codes or prizes
  • Encourage users to share Q&A via social media
  • Seed the Q&A with common questions about each product from your call centre or sales team if you can
  • Have a team of experts ready to answer questions in a helpful manner – remember it should influence people to buy the product
  • Also consider that if lots of people have the same question you need to improve your product description

Useful & Informational Content

Not all content should be on product or category pages – it’s very important to attract users at other levels of the buying cycle too and also to build trust with users as they progress through the site perhaps with user guides, generic Q&A etc.

The content strategy framework we use may come in useful here when deciding what content to place on the site.

Content strategy framework

Our Data Insights team analysed visits across one of the UK’s largest retail ecommerce websites and found that users who engaged with a piece of content such as an article, forum thread or video on the site before reaching a product or category page were 5 times more valuable than users who arrived directly on a product or category page.

Users who engage with quality content place more trust in the brand so convert at a higher rate, purchase more products and have a greater tendency to make repeat purchases in the future.

Increasing brand trust, improving conversion rates and encouraging larger sale values are all vital elements of any SEO campaign and adding additional content is the primary way to develop this.

As the chart below shows, people are already doing this just not perhaps with as much structure or commitment as we would like to see.

2012 SEO Industry Survey

Below is a slide from our recent seminar where we demonstrated the value of content that sits at other levels in the buying cycle – some top line stats from this presentation include:

  • Non brand organic SEO is 40% more valuable than a traditional “last click wins” methodology would show
  • 40% of ecommerce transactions are carried out 24 hours or more after users first visit the website
  • Only 40% of revenue is attributable to users who buy on the first visit – most of your customers will need to remember you and find you a second time

The full slides from the presentation are below, some useful stuff in there I hope.

User Reviews

The most important thing an ecommerce site should address is the issue of user reviews and how to correctly integrate these within the website. There are two types of user reviews we are interested in:

  • Reviews of products purchased
  • Reviews of your company & service levels

Product Reviews

There are two key reasons we add product reviews to a website – they help with long tail SEO traffic and improve conversion rates. The Bazaar Voice site has some case studies including gems such as how Argos uses product reviews to decide on which inventory they should be stocking (or getting rid of) as well as improving conversion rates by 10%, how Appliances Online use reviews to generate 30 times the CTR that a standard PPC campaign does, how Halfords saw users who engage with product reviews converting 82% higher than standard and how Evans Cycles increased SEO traffic by 23% just by adding product reviews to their pages.

Evans Cycles is the UK’s largest independent bicycle and cycling gear retailer. Recognizing their customers’ intense passion for cycling, Evans Cycles launched Bazaarvoice Ratings & Reviews in November 2009 and Ask & Answer in July 2010. User-generated content (UGC) has proven search benefits, so to maximize those, Evans Cycles launched SearchVoice Inline (SVI) for their reviews in July 2010. SVI embeds the text of the first few reviews on a product into the product page’s code, effectively updating the content to feed the freshness search engines crave.

What was measured
The team monitored Evans Cycles’ site traffic during the 12 weeks prior to and 12 weeks immediately following the SVI launch. Using Advanced Segment functionality in Google Analytics, we were able to specifically track organic traffic that landed on Evans Cycles pages with URL containing “/products/.”

23% increase in search engine visits
After launching SVI, Evans Cycles saw a 23% increase in search engine visits to product pages. Additionally, the retailer’s keyword reach — the number of search terms referring searchers to Evans Cycles’ product pages — increased 14%.

One product gets 361% more search visits
An Evans Cycles analyst also noted that he sees huge value in the addition of UGC on product pages due to the pages’ higher page rank in searches. “Diamondback Venom,” for example, a specific model of Diamondback bicycle, saw a higher page rank after launching SVI, and 361% more search visits than before launch.

SearchVoice Inline for Evans Cycles reviews has been so successful at increasing search traffic that the retailer is now working to implement SVI on their customer Q&A as well.

Reviews of products purchased sounds like a straightforward feature to implement and most ecommerce packages have this. The problem is that without correct execution the systems are often useless. Below are the top tips we have for correctly implementing a product reviews system.

  • Create a CRM system that emails customers a week or two after the purchase to ask for their feedback on the product
  • Make sure the email is well designed with strong call to action and split test to get the best click through & open rates
  • Incentivise customers with monthly prizes or discount codes if they leave a review
  • Create a strong landing page for customers to add their reviews without having to login or find the product – link directly from the email to a nice form they can complete
  • Make sure customers can review multiple products in the same form
  • Allow customers to review different attributes such as value, quality, price etc and then calculate an aggregate rating
  • Use rich snippet markup on your product pages
  • Try to use your own system, if you have to use 3rd party reviews be careful about duplicate content and always own your data
  • Encourage users to share their review via social media when it’s posted
  • Place the reviews on the product page not on a separate URL

Reviews Of Your Business

The second type of reviews that ecommerce sites need to implement are reviews of their business and service levels. These are commonly left on a review site such as Trust Pilot or Feefo. These sites offer three main benefits and have the usual good case studies about why you should use them. If you use PPC then you really can’t choose not to use them due to the CTR benefits they give (assuming you have good reviews).

Helping you get star ratings next to your PPC ads.

Improving your onsite conversion rates by allowing you to display a nice badge showing what a great business you are.

The reviews also help your rankings in Google Product Search but this system is being merged with AdWords so the benefit might not last much longer.

Most of the review site services will integrate with your system and email your customers asking for reviews themselves. There isn’t much that you need to do other than make sure everything is running smoothly and they are emailing after you are sure the product has arrived and you have had chance to resolve any delivery issues. This review email should be sent before the one asking for a review of the product because you want customers to review your business and not the product.

Product Descriptions

Making a product description exciting isn’t always easy depending on your industry but one thing is very clear these days, it’s no longer acceptable to have product descriptions that are short, bland, duplicate content or not designed to encourage users to make a purchase.

The best strategy for product descriptions is to inject some personality into them and have your product team write a unique description of at least 250 words when the product is uploaded. We always recommend that clients have a secondary blurb about the product which is an experts opinion on why the user should buy it over other similar products on the market. This can increase conversion rates even further especially if you add things like an author bio box to the expert comment or can find another way to add credibility to their opinions.

Writing product descriptions isn’t complicated, as long as you follow some simple rules:

  • Write informative & descriptive copy designed to reflect your brands personality
  • Write for your target audience
  • Make sure the copy sells the product & covers features / benefits
  • Forget about SEO and keywords
  • Inject some fun into the descriptions
  • Don’t make them too short – it’s rare that less than 250 words is OK
  • Add an extra Experts Opinion to explain why you should buy this product over another
  • Try to cover all the likely objections and questions people might have about the product
  • Think about the product description as if you were stood on stage in front of thousands of people trying to sell the product – what would you say? How long would you spend writing your speech?

Category Pages

Category and sub-category pages are quite a challenge when it comes to SEO because for most sites other than the really small specialist retailers it’s the category pages that are going to have to rank for the big commercial keywords. Amazon for example needs a really strong category page to rank for “laptops” but a specialist laptop retailer might be able to use their homepage. How can Amazon or another generalist retailer hope to compete with the specialists using a category page which has less link equity?

The key to creating a great category page is to think of it as a hub which links to all the important information about the products in that category. So if we had a “laptops” category page we would link to the top selling products but also various buying guides, the latest reviews, informative articles, the latest Q&A content and perhaps some credentials or information on why you are the experts in selling laptops.

We need to make sure there is content on the category pages and the important thing here is to make sure the content is very useful to a user who is researching or buying the product you are selling. For example if the product was a laptop you should be explaining about the latest offers you have and why the user needs to be thinking about a touch screen or Windows 8 machine etc. Perhaps some notes about battery life or the benefits of a solid state drive. Users should want to read your category page text before they look at the products – if not then you are doing it wrong.

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