If you’re running a marketing campaign for a website, chances are you are reliant on content.
It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to SEO for more organic traffic, building landing pages so you can run PPC campaigns, or building an email list – we know that getting our content right is a vital ingredient.
But, when it comes to targeting our money-making pages, or product content, it can be much harder to develop a content experience that stands out, both to our users and the search engines.
If you run an e-commerce site with tens, hundreds or thousands of products, the issue becomes much more pronounced. It’s well documented that being good is no longer enough. In nearly every field, there’s far too much competition and aiming to just be as competent as others isn’t a recipe for standing out.
This issue then for many agencies, copywriters and even in-house marketers is how do we create content that is truly exceptional? Content that delights our potential customers and performs well in the search results?
As always, the key in SEO and PPC is asking questions. After many years work, these are some of the key questions I ask at the beginning of any digital marketing campaign with an e-commerce site. I hope they provide a new perspective on how you can look at improving your results.
1. Do we know everyone’s goal for this content? Do we know who it is aimed at?
At first this seems obvious; our goal is to make a sale, and everything else pales in comparison.
But when it comes to e-commerce, it’s rarely so black and white (except for the sales team, perhaps).
Is your product an instant purchase or would it normally require research, guidance, or having the lead nurtured? Are there micro-conversions you can also look to achieve, such as email subscription (we all know the power of email marketing), social media engagement, call-back form or query submission?
And what are the users goals? If their goal is to simply purchase this particular item (that they’ve researched), then does your content do a good job of confirming that they have found the right product? Does your content provide a reason why they should buy it from you?
If the user’s goal is to solve a problem, then your product or service description is going to have to do an outstanding job (far better than anyone else) of showing how you will solve their problem. Do you do that, or are you making assumptions about the audience knowing as much as you?
Finally on this point, does your content cater for the online personas that will be consuming it? Have you considered the different perspectives, needs, language and goals of your different target markets?
2. Have we made something that ticks all the boxes of what Google is looking for?
While we don’t have the secret blend of herbs and spices that makes up Google’s algorithm, we do have a huge amount of insight into what they want to see from both our peers and from Google themselves.
We know that layout is important. We know that easy-to-use, well laid-out and easily navigable content is noticed by Google, and we have practical examples thanks to information such as the top-heavy update which has been regularly improved.
Speaking of keyword topics, the discipline of writing for online has developed sufficiently to arm us with the ability to write a product page on a topic and not just an individual keyword. We can look at both our main terms, but also secondary and tertiary terms that should all be touched upon to prove we have the most comprehensive product page available.
We can lay out our keyword phrases and add our perspective while referencing all the related concepts to provide these topic-relevancy signals. We will show we are more relevant by answering more questions and by going the extra mile our competitors do not.
While we are talking product content here, we have to acknowledge that the best product content provides easy answers to questions a user might have. It would be in your best interest to have these easy answers appearing in supplementary content such as blog posts or cornerstone content.
Supplementary content is an important takeaway from Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines, especially those released in November last year. These guidelines are one of the best resources we have to understanding what Google is looking for, so it is well worth becoming familiar with it, and critically comparing our content to it.
To that end, to learn what Google means by "quality", they gave us some big clues almost five years ago. However, we see many people taking shortcuts rather than doing what Google considers best practices.
3. Does this content reflect readers' and users' input?
Being able to bring in the unique insights, questions, keywords and recommendations is a fantastic way to build up the potential of your product content.
The first way to do this is the more obvious; user-generated content. By adding UGC, we add both depth to our content and potential for long tail terms that support our main keyword topic goals and add a layer of trust signals that can help persuade new customers. Reviews are one of the most successful ways if implementing this, but testimonials, frequently asked questions about the product, and connected forums are other possibilities for adding great information from users.
A less-direct method of getting user input into your content is through user-feedback on your product or even on your website itself.
Getting information from the customer-facing parts of the business on the questions users have (so you can answer them in your content), or from conducting a survey of your customers, website users or even the public can reveal all kinds of angles you wouldn’t have considered internally. Another way of understanding if your content truly does an outstanding job is getting real feedback by conducting some user testing – this is usually an eye-opening way of spotting the content gaps your product pages have.
4. What have competitors done well on the topic?
One of my favorite ways of kicking-off a review of product content is to look at the competition. Sometimes I even go as far as doing a mini content audit of a major competitor site if they are earning strong results.
For many, looking at a competitor page from a qualitative point of view covers this off, but I have found great value in going further:
- User testing, which supplies a neutral view, asks what has our competitor done well? Comparing our page to others can give remarkable (and occasionally brutal), assessments of how a competitor is achieving things you are not.
- What competitor product content has earned links? Use a backlink tool such as SEMrush's backlink analysis, Ahrefs or Majestic to find out. Normally product pages don’t compared to supplementary or marketing content, so any product pages that have done this are worth examining (as this research uncovers which supplementary topics have struck a cord with you target market).
- Similarly, what content has resonated with the audience on social media? We can use Buzzsumo, SEMrush's social media tool or Ahrefs Content Explorer to see who has shared such content, and try and look at why.
- What content has Google declared worthy of ranking for your product terms? Using SEMrush can quickly find the relevant competitor content to analyze.
5. Do we have plans for the governance of the content?
Finally, is there a plan in place to manage the content publication process?
The discipline of content strategy is our friend here. While it is a deep topic we have much to learn from, there are some great questions to ask at this stage to see if our content is as good as it should be.
Who is writing the content?
Especially pertinent if you are taking over this task, but also key if your client or another part of the business supplies it, knowing who is writing the content, and there feelings on doing so can make or break your work.
Many times we’ve found a process where content is regarded as a chore, or where it’s written by an intern with little insight into the product or its benefits. Have you got the advantages of all the internal expert knowledge of your product, the insight into customer goals, questions and reservations and passionate voice to get your message across?
Who commissions, edits and approves new content?
When do you decide that new product content is required? Do we have templates to help the writers? And what editorial process is in place to make sure everything is not only to the brief, but exceeding expectations?
Who is in charge of product content governance?
A review process will not only help show any issues that have arisen with content based on customer feedback, but also what the process is if content is out of date, what happens to out-of-stock or end-of-line products and most importantly, reviewing content a set amount of time after publication to ask if it is still the most helpful answer available online.
There’s many other questions to ask of course, but these are my starting point to understanding the range of possibilities we have to build that elusive quality content that is our holy grail.
Attend My Webinar
In my webinar this week (28th January 2016), I’ll be taking a deeper look into these questions and many more to offer your inspiration on how to make product pages that impress users, search engines, and your bosses.
It’s impossible to measure quality as a metric, to determine a number to hit that makes our content exceptional. So instead of looking only at content as hitting some imaginary threshold, instead as digital marketers we should be looking at all the ways we can improve what our product pages offer.
By asking questions, we build the case for making our content that little better each time, until we have something that does stand out from the rest.
Let me know what questions you’d ask of any new e-commerce content project, either below in the comments, on Twitter or in the webinar!
Search veteran and content evangelist, Charlie is head of marketing for White.net. A regular writer & speaker on SEO, Charlie specialises in content development, technical SEO and keyword research. He also runs Optimise, a meetup on SEO, social media and PPC.
Passionate about helping websites communicate with their audience and how everyone can learn & improve their SEO, he finds inspiration in the potential being online gives us all to deliver outstanding content experiences. You can find him talking SEO, content and food on Twitter, or in the kitchen.