"How to" Grow E-Commerce Through Content

Fulfill Enormous Demand with Product-Related Content

Effective branded content has evolved to include origination stories, belief systems and even related lifestyle editorial. Meanwhile, the majority of e-commerce content continues to center around product specs and reviews. Recently, Google shared that searches related to “how to” on YouTube have grown 70% year over year. This enormous demand for useful content, and video content in particular, represents a big opportunity for brands and retailers to fulfill a need or answer a question during critical moments of intent. Consider that 91% of smartphone users turn to their phones for ideas while doing a given task. Brands and retailers that are able to identify moments in the purchase when they can answer critical customer questions with high quality content are poised to leap ahead in acquiring new visitors and winning new converts.

E-Commerce Content As a Growth Driver

Focused on the immediate, e-commerce companies traditionally rely on discounting and promotions along a holiday-laden calendar to drive spikes in sales. Blogs are often separated from product detail pages. Yet an expanded definition of e-commerce content, especially developed for larger volume category queries, can directly increase traffic and create new customers. In fact, companies like REI leverage searched content as a key component of their SEO strategy — as a result outranking competitors and even Wikipedia for broad topics like “standup paddle boarding.”

Standup paddle boarding SERP

Choosing Content Topics

If a manufactured brand or retailer has deep knowledge or a perspective on a product category, it has an opportunity to dominate that search query. In general, this longtail of unbranded content offers significantly more search demand than the branded term. Start by developing a list of keywords your site can sell against — perhaps generic terms for top selling products. Now isolate for high-volume, low-competition keywords that authoritative content can be developed around.

Search Volume vs. Competition

Another example of a company fulfilling category demand for knowledge is Trek Bikes. Their “How to change a flat bike tire” how-to video has been viewed more than 350,000 times on YouTube.


Content of Brands vs. Retailers

Manufacturers that are engaging directly with consumers while maintaining distribution channels are competing with retail partners who often outrank them for product and occasionally even brand-related searches. These retailers commit significant resources to content because they recognized early on its ability to increase organic search traffic, improve conversion rates and grow revenue.

Yet, consumer insight studies suggest that customers expect and want original, authoritative content to live on a brand’s website (52%) while only 25% preferred social media and 22% preferred third-party sources.** Brands therefore have the opportunity to establish the mothership of unique content living on their own website — selectively parsing out key elements to social media, retail partners and others as part of their overall content distribution strategy. Whereas content on many social networks is ephemeral (disappearing from Snapchat or the Newsfeed in time), content on the branded site is permanent, reinforcing its authoritative nature, which encourages inbound links that often lead to higher search engine rankings.

In addition, as brands move from a B2B model to a direct-to-consumer model, they are realizing the need to not only engage one-on-one, but also to collect critical data from their visitors to better understand their preferences — why some forms of content resonate and others don’t.

As consumers of all demographics shift to electronic consumption of content, marketing teams looking to find budget might also consider shifting their investment in print to digital, creating catalogs and lookbooks that look as great online as they did in print form.

Industry Priority

When surveyed, 30% of marketers chose “content marketing” as the big trend for 2015, compared with 15% for “big data” and 13% for “marketing automation.” While this should make getting buy-in easier, this shift also creates competitive pressure to keep up and stand out.

Digital Marketing Trends 2015

Lifestyle Content to Generate Demand

Content has historically been centered around a product’s benefits in order to optimize for conversions. We’ve also talked about the enormous potential of answering customer category questions. Lifestyle content is another critical part of an e-commerce customer experience, as it generates awareness for a brand through alignment with a larger belief system. While The Honest Company and Patagonia both carry an assortment of well-reviewed products, it is their belief-based brands and resulting content that has distinguished them in the marketplace.


While product-related content is most helpful to winning over a customer who already knows what he or she wants, lifestyle content can be transformative because it allows brands to align into the larger mindset and grow exponentially vs incrementally (a.k.a. “blow up”).

Phase — Example “Micro Moment” Content Goal
Awareness — Introduction to the brand, product or brand story
Interest — Relevance to the user’s needs
Consideration — Qualified as fulfilling a need
Purchase —Sharing to other potential customers
Post Purchase — How to fix an issue

Startups like Into the Gloss also demonstrate the power of lifestyle content and developing an audience, even before having a product to sell. Into The Gloss’ growth from beauty how-tos has allowed founder Emily Weis to transform readers into customers for her new e-commerce business, Glossier.

Into the Gloss

Key Technology Platform Considerations

Realizing the value of content beyond product details, e-commerce marketers must now be sure that their infrastructure and platform decisions are conducive to a robust content marketing strategy. These days, most e-commerce platforms have some level of content management capability, and there are also content management systems that have integrated e-commerce functionality. Very few, however, are deeply integrated.

Forrester identifies three likely scenarios:

  • Content and commerce live side by side
  • A hybrid that is content heavy
  • A hybrid that is commerce heavy

Platforms are clearly converging on features, as this Forrester graph visualizes:

Engagement Features

While there are valid reasons for companies to have chosen a side-by-side, e-commerce-first or CMS-first model, future platform migration would be well advised to select an e-commerce experience that is deeply integrated with a wide variety of content. Most e-commerce platforms, and certainly those built on legacy frameworks, for example, separate the presentation layer from the transactional layer.

If the goal is to drive transactional sales, much can be improved on most e-commerce systems in terms of adding critical content elements to improve the chances of a sale.

Product detail pages in particular can present a rich product story (origination, how-to, lifestyle) while content pages can weave highly related e-commerce opportunities.

Video how-tos in particular are highly sought after. In fact, Google reports that there were over 100MM how-to video views in North America this year alone. Yet embedding a video on a product description page on some platforms require the use of a third-party extension or custom development.

For SEO purposes, most content platforms make URLs, tags and titles editable while e-commerce platforms have less flexibility in general when it comes to these settings, as well as templated styling options for individual product or even category pages.

New breed companies like Houzz have shown that content and commerce can reside seamlessly with a high degree of relevance that benefits both the customer and conversion rates.

By selecting a platform with content readiness baked into its overall architecture, e-commerce teams will be enabled to grow their audience by helping potential customers solve their current problems. There are many platforms that accomplish this, key criteria include the following:

  • Organizational readiness (stage of digital maturity model)
  • Markets and goals (global considerations)
  • Technology stack
  • Budget

Hanson Dodge Creative has been marrying content and commerce to inspire consumers and transform brands for more than 15 years. For more information on content and commerce and leading platforms, contact us.

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