In the beginning there was no content. Ecommerce emerged as a viable strategy at the end of the last century, and in those early days most ecommerce sites struggled to present relevant product content that went much beyond a title. Brands and manufacturers didn’t see “content” as their responsibility, and so it was left to the ecommerce sites to create that content. An industry immediately emerged that offered ecommerce sites syndicated product content for sale and, as the ecommerce industry matured, responsibility for content creation continued to evolve.
First, the brands stepped forward and realized that it might be to their advantage to take control of their own message. Brands and manufacturers began to develop and syndicate content for their products. This initially satisfied most ecommerce sites, but the most sophisticated sites recognized that one-size-fits-all content offered no organic search benefit. By customizing their site content, they determined that they could attract more buyers and drive higher sales.
There are two primary ways to look at marketplace content strategies:
Ecommerce sites: ecommerce sites want original content optimized for their customers, their site search algorithm and that is competitive with other ecommerce sites with similar products. At the same time by matching the content strategy to the customers’ online buying journey improves acquisition, engagement and ultimately conversions.
Brands & manufacturers: Most companies today realize the need to provide marketing assets like product descriptions and photos, they have stopped short of investing in customized content for their channel partners.
This article looks at how brands and manufacturers can invest in customizing content to their ecommerce partners. While the approach most certainly adds new costs to supporting this channel, the incremental revenue that can be generated by orchestrating mass customization, should far outstrip any content investment.
Customized content offers a few important benefits:
Raises brand visibility on each site
Improves ranking in search
Creates “search expansion” opportunities for the Brand
Ensures that ecommerce sites won’t customize content themselves, thus removing a level of control
What does “Custom Content” look like in the wild?
Do a quick search on Amazon and look at the top organic results and then compare that to the top Walmart product for the exact same search. You can learn a lot by comparing what wins for different sites. This should prove the need for content customization. For example, while Walmart’s product titles are short and tightly tailored, Amazon’s title is so long that I’m not sure you could read it out loud with a single breath. We know that most site search systems place more weight on titles, and optimizing specific to the site is going to make a difference in how well a product ranks for any given site search.
Every site has its own guidelines, and maximizing data to fit these guidelines to your advantage should result in higher ranking, visibility, and sales. The question is: how should content be customized in order to drive more sales?
Leverage performance data
While ecommerce sites aren’t always great about sharing their web analytics, there is data that every ecommerce will share with anyone who will pay attention. We may not have access to every piece of data we desire, but they all provide some important clues.
Search Volume: Getting accurate keyword search volumes across every ecommerce site is impossible, but there is one hack you can try. By typing into the search box on major ecommerce sites, you will find a number of suggested texts. These “anticipation” algorithms are driven by past search volume. Thus, we can use this information as a tool that doesn’t tell us the exact search volume but helps us determine which searches are more and less popular and this is specific to the site, its products, and its customers. Focusing your content by using the most popular search phrases should make the product relevant to a broader range of searches.
Search Rank: While type-ahead gives an indication of search volumes, the results of any searches gives a strong indication of a product’s ability to convert and generate revenue. All ecommerce sites will rank order the results for a given search based on relevancy as well as based on revenue-per-click (sales/clicks). Ecommerce sites are in the business of selling products, so they recommend the products they think will sell. Click through the top results, study the presentation, and build a competitive content plan.
Understand competitive content strategies
Competitive Content is the art of creating content designed to attract, engage and convert at a higher rate than other options available on the site.
Content Requirements. Most of the larger ecommerce sites publish information about how the site reads content and how to customize the content to the site. If, for example, a site offers 200 characters in the title, then it’s probably a good idea to write a headline that’s as close to 200 characters as possible in order to maximize the product’s potential.
Competitive Content. Look at competitive product presentations by dissecting the presentation into their component parts: Evaluate the title, the price, the photography, the reviews and the features and descriptions. Identify the content strengths and build a strategy to best these elements.
Expand Search Relevance
If content customization is left to the ecommerce site, they will focus on trying to capture as much market share as possible. This typically ends up looking like the site is trying to leverage the power of the brand name--your brand name.
If brands and manufacturers were to develop the content instead, they don’t care as much about which site wins order, but instead they have a motivation to optimize their content for non-branded searches as well.
For example, a search for Snickers is always going to find some site selling the Mars brand chocolate bar. But Mars wants to grow its sales and wants its products to be relevant for a broad range of non-branded searches. Mars wants to rank for searches like “ice cream topping ideas” or “afternoon treat” or even just “chocolate bar.” Content customization can be used to expand a brand’s organic footprint to non-branded terms by leveraging the strength of its ecommerce channel partners.
There are a number of important market expansion techniques:
- Primary Keywords. The primary keyword should include brand and product identifiers. This is not the place to expand your search relevance.
- Tertiary Keywords. Depending on the situation, there may only be enough space to include one or two tertiary keywords in the product copy. By rotating through a library of non-branded search terms, there is an opportunity to both customize and expand the strength of the brand by building a network of non-branded relevance across all its partners.
By leveraging the strength of its ecommerce partners, brands and manufacturers help teach Google and other search engines that there is a correlation between your product and these market expansion terms. There is a cumulative benefit that should drive more purchase considerations.
Content needs to be customized to the site to maximize sales of the product. The question is who will pay for this customized content? While both the brands and resellers win by investing in custom content, there is likely a bigger potential benefit for the brands and likely more to lose if they relinquish control to their partners.
About the Author Greg Harris is the Vice President of Strategic Services for eZdia which builds eContent strategies exclusively for ecommerce sites. Greg has over 30 years of ecommerce experience having led multiple ecommerce marketing teams and consulted with dozens more. Greg is the author of SEO for ecommerce and has offered all ProductsUp clients a free Marketplace Competitive Analysis which is designed to help brand managers understand their ecommerce success relative to its competitors.