How to Create a Content Strategy for Ecommerce Sites
Originally published in Ecommerce Marketing in 2019: The Definitive Guide [Search Engine Journal, 2019.]
On your solid foundation of a technically sound site with a logical architecture designed for the best user experience possible, you can now begin to craft a content strategy that will attract – then convert – your ideal audience.
Hopefully, you’ve worked your way through keyword and competitive research and have those insights at hand to help inform these next steps.
Whether you’re updating an existing content strategy or starting from scratch, guide your efforts by applying a popular business innovation framework that accounts for three key factors:
There are two main groups of people to consider: those driving your content efforts, and your intended audience and customers.
Who Will Lead Your Content Team?
“The way you structure your team sends a strong message about what your team is currently prioritizing and deprioritizing.” – Kipp Bodnar, HubSpot
Who will lead your company’s content efforts?
In smaller ecommerce operations, your Managing Editor and Content Marketing Manager/Content Director might be one and the same, while in mid-sized to large companies you’re more likely to need each in a separate role.
Leading a content marketing team requires a razor-sharp eye to detail, excellent copywriting and editing skills, and a journalist’s ability to locate and extract, analyze, and summarize sometimes complex information and data.
It is critical now that content marketing leaders are comfortable with the concept of martech and understand how it can or will be used to help you reach your ecommerce goals.
You don’t necessarily need to find someone already experienced in your company’s own stack or platform – after all, there are now thousands of martech tools on the market. You do, however, need a leader who can quickly get up to speed with the technologies and tools of your choice.
Alongside all of this analytical mindset, your ideal content marketing leader will bring equal parts creativity and communication skills.
This person will be responsible for not only communicating content marketing’s successes across the organization, but also for consulting and collaborating with various internal stakeholders to ensure that the interests and needs of operations, product development, sales, and other functions are represented in the content strategy.
You’re also looking to this person to motivate and manage what may be a large content team comprised of a wide range of creatives and analytical types.
The right person for a leadership role in content marketing already has proven experience managing teams to achieve specific business outcomes.
Larger brands may choose to work with a Content Strategist. When hiring a strategist, seek out a professional who understands good content but also understands at a high level the state of search and content discovery.
This person is responsible for ensuring that your content efforts align with your company’s goals. They should have a deep understanding of your brand and the needs of audience members in your particular area of ecommerce.
Building Your Content Team
Who do you need on your team? Moreover, what core accountabilities do you need to ensure are covered?
Depending on the size of your operation, you might have one team member covering multiple areas of accountability – or, you could have dozens of team members on just one.
You might also choose to outsource specific accountabilities to freelancers, or even have an agency provide the bulk of your content creation.
Either way, make sure these critical functions of your content marketing operation are covered:
- Content creation including writing, photography, graphic design, video editing, etc.
- Editing with a particular eye to brand voice, content optimization for search, alignment with customer journey, and formatting for specific channels.
- Project management and prioritization.
- Content promotion, whether via PR or in paid channels.
Who Is Your Ideal Audience?
Persona development and customer journey mapping are two key elements of any content strategy. These aren’t one-off activities, but living and breathing guidelines you’ll revisit and update often as performance data dictates.
Personas help you understand:
- Who it is you’re trying to connect with.
- What problems you can solve for them.
- Where you’ll find them online.
- How to speak their language.
You’ll use them in content planning to recognize gaps and opportunities, and your content creators will use them to understand who it is they’re attempting to reach.
There are a lot of persona development resources out there, but I like Adam Heitzman’s step-by-step Buyer Personas: A Beginner’s Guide for Marketers for those just getting started.
Customer Journey Mapping
I’m a fan of Avinash Kaushik’s “See, Think, Do, Care” customer journey framework as an ecommerce alternative to more traditional, linear models.
In this framework, your audience segments are defined by behaviors, not demographics or psychographics:
- See: The largest qualified audience available to you.
- Think: Your largest addressable qualified audience with some expressed commercial intent.
- Do: Your largest addressable qualified audience with a great deal of commercial intent.
- Care: Current customers, as defined by two commercial transactions.
Each piece of content must solve a need for your target audience, whether that need is informational, navigational, or transactional in nature.
Mapping content to your customer’s journey is an important tactic to incorporate in your content planning on a go-forward basis.
However, there is also great value in applying this retroactively to your existing content body with a content audit. This can be tricky for companies that had already developed a volume of content before applying a defined content strategy.
Mapping existing content can help identify valuable opportunities to update or re-release your best content and also highlight content gaps you can plan to fill in new content development.
Setting Your People Up for Content Marketing Success
With the right people in place to get your business and products in front of motivated consumers in the moments that matter, it’s up to you to ensure that they have the resources needed to execute.
The B2C brands that perform best in content marketing spent 26% of their total marketing budget on content marketing in 2018. A growing portion of that budget is being used to provide the technology and tools marketers need to create, optimize, and promote content.
Emerging technologies – particularly those with AI or machine learning elements – are driving a lot of really interesting opportunities for ecommerce companies looking to personalize content and interact with prospects in more meaningful ways.
Here are a few important considerations to keep in mind when you’re choosing the tech to power your content strategy.
B2C companies use an average of four digital technologies in their content marketing efforts, with analytics tools and email marketing software leading the pack.
What we’re seeing now though is a shift away from using one tool to solve one particular problem.
The power of AI is better realized when the insights generated by one tool can be used by another. Marketing leaders are therefore finding that disparate datasets and manual workarounds are unnecessary and impede their content marketing performance.
Organizations are now able to deploy entire suites of seamlessly integrated tools; this may incorporate several different functions in your content marketing, or content may be just one facet of a wider-ranging platform.
Automation or Intelligent Automation?
We’ve been using automation for years to take some of the legwork out of repetitive tasks such as keyword research and competitive research.
With the advent of AI, we’ve moved far beyond simple automations to intelligent automations, where our technologies are not only completing tasks but executing optimizations, prioritizing tasks, and even making decisions.
Automation relies on humans to feed the right data and instructions into the system, in order to generate the right result.
Intelligent automation allows us to feed massive, unstructured data into systems which then analyze and activate the information.
For example, early content tools automated the process of calculating keyword density (a useless metric today) in content.
Now, intelligent automation can:
- Analyze search data and on-site consumer behavior.
- Identify content gaps in the customer journey.
- Create content to fill those gaps.
- Target it to searchers who display similar behavior in future.
It’s critical that you identify what it is that you want your content marketing technology to do and how you will measure the results of those efforts.
Who Owns Your Content Marketing Tech?
Making the best use of any technology requires a deep understanding of how it works on the part of the operator. However, in content marketing, creative and interpersonal skills are just as critical.
Who is ultimately responsible for the implementation, operation, and success of your content marketing technology?
In smaller companies, this may be the Content Marketing Manager.
In larger ecommerce brands, you may consider creating a single, defined role for martech management (or even content marketing management on its own).
This person must understand your business goals and, at a deep level, how your tech supports them.
With your people in place and supported by the right technologies, make sure that a scalable process is part of your ecommerce content marketing workflow.
Roles & Workflow
Avoid redundancies and conflict in your content workflow by taking the time to clearly define roles.
This will almost certainly include a list of tasks for which each of your team members is responsible, but should also include an accounting of which business and marketing outcomes each person owns.
- What approvals and permissions are needed prior to content publication? Who is responsible for obtaining those permissions and moving each piece of content forward?
- Which team members have access to each piece of technology, and how are they expected to use it to perform their own duties?
- How is reporting handled and who is responsible for sharing wins and opportunities back to the rest of the team?
- How often will you have meetings and who needs to be in them?
- How are team members expected to collaborate/communicate and how can you facilitate those processes?
- Do content team members have open access to the internal stakeholders whose knowledge is needed to inform authentic content?
- Similarly, how does your content team engage operations, sales, R&D, and other stakeholders?
Your Editorial Calendar is a living, breathing guide to your ecommerce company’s content efforts that each member should be able to access, even if only in view-only mode.
Google Sheets is a great choice for this, unless you have a comprehensive marketing suite that includes an editorial calendar as an option.
Ideally, your Editorial Calendar will document:
- Content ideas.
- Content ideas that have been approved as concepts to move forward.
- The purpose of each piece.
- The channel on which each piece will be published.
- Channel-specific information (e.g.: for emails, subject line and audience segment; for blogs, categories and tags, etc.).
- Who is responsible for creating the content.
- Research and information required for each piece.
- Supporting content, background content, and pieces to link back to.
- Calls to action.
- Approvals required.
- Submission and publication target dates.
- Status updates and notes on progress.
For best results, have one team member “own” the calendar (the most logical person for this is your Managing Editor or whoever fulfills this function). This person is responsible for updating the calendar as each piece progresses through your company’s workflow.
Your content inventory may be a separate tab in your Editorial Calendar, or it could be another document altogether.
Creating a content inventory can be challenging, especially if you’ve been publishing for a number of years and have a large volume of undocumented content already. It’s well worth it, though.
Your content inventory should track for each piece:
- URL if it has a permanent address; draft URL if it doesn’t.
- Topic, broad category, or product/service it pertains to, where applicable.
- Date of publication or distribution.
- Metrics that matter (you might choose annual or monthly pageviews, search visibility, conversions to a specific action, etc.).
Refer to the content inventory in your content meetings as you plan new pieces.
Are there opportunities to update existing content that’s still performing well, rather than starting over?
Are there pieces in your existing inventory you can use to supplement new content with internal linking?
Bringing It All Together
Content strategy is complex, but incredibly important to get right.
Documenting your goals is great, but you need a fully developed strategy to guide your efforts, ensure that team members stay on track, and refer back to in order to justify the actions you’re taking and decisions you’re making.
Documenting it doesn’t make it set in stone. In fact, the most successful content strategies are revisited and updated regularly as results dictate.