SEO blogs are awash with talk of content marketing and content strategies and it could be tempting to think that this is just the latest fad and not worth exploring and committing time, resources and budget to. If you scratch the surface however and look at the quality of the discussions being presented you will see that this really is an area that sites need to investigate and pursue.
Content marketing is a strategy to create content that others will want to share and link to because they find value in it and you are presenting users with something of genuine interest and value. What I find exciting about content marketing is how it offers websites and digital marketers to develop a concrete plan on how they can reach their audience and add value to their website and the online community.
Find the right contributors for your blog (image: Hubspot Blog)
Developing the content strategy for a website is crucial and it is going to be easier for some niches than others. What should a content strategy include? To answer this question I looked to some of the big brands in the men’s clothing niche – I know this is an easy area for blogging but it will help identify ideas to consider.
To identify some sites to investigate I looked at the Google UK top 10 for the term “mens clothing” (searched 27/09/2012) and checked out their blogs. This search term has always interested me as I remember a few years ago when the results changed pretty much over night from a top 10 of well “SEOed” websites to a top 10 of recognisable brand names with high street presences.
This search term has always seemed to be a guide for my approach to digital marketing and has underlined the importance of developing an online brand and a digital footprint that matches that ambition. SEO needs to look beyond an optimised link profile to include good text citations of the brand, active and engaging social media profiles, well-maintained websites and branded anchor text. Included in this needs to be a strong blog or news area of the website where the brand highlights its expertise and shares great content with its readers that is linked to and shared across the myriad of social media platforms now available.
The top 10 I investigated (all high street brands except Mainline Menswear which is a long-established online retailer):
- House of Fraser
- Mainline Menswear
While examining these top 10 sites I asked myself a series of questions and looked for the answers from these high ranking sites for a competitive and sought after search term.
Do they all have blogs? With the exception of Cult (if they have one I couldn’t find it) all of these websites are actively blogging and dedicating time and resources to this area of their online presence. An area of the site where the content strategy for a site can be delivered has become crucial. If you don’t have a blog your first job is to look into a way of creating one for your site and brand.
Where is that blog located? Most SEO guides will talk of the value of sub-folders over sub-domains but in some instances it may not be possible to add a blog as a sub-folder. This doesn’t mean you should give up on a blog as 8 of the 9 sites investigated with blogs host them as a sub-domain and that the Burton Blog is hosted on an entirely separate URL.
The key takeaway here is not where the blog is located but the importance is to have one and to link it to the brand name, the main domain and the brand’s social media profiles.
How often do they post? In a nutshell the answer is often! These are active blogs that are updated on a regular (pretty much daily basis for some of the brands) and offer excellent signals to search engines who will relish returning to find plenty of great new content to crawl and index.
For ecommerce websites looking to start blogging this offers a sobering realisation that it is not enough to create a blog, throw up a few posts and move on. Content creation and distribution of this news needs to be planned and scheduled so that the blog is regularly updated and, in the hope that you do build up a readership, you continue to deliver the quality of content that first interested your readers. Develop a posting schedule that you can manage and try to keep to it.
Who writes them? It stood out while reading these blogs that they had a number of authors; this is a great way of providing “different voices” to the blog and catering for different tastes. The Republic blog gives a good prominence to the different authors at the end of the posts. This identification of the author also helps add value to the post and the content hasn’t just been spun from existing content elsewhere (although I appreciate this can easily be faked).
Multiple authors sound great in practice but for some ecommerce websites the reality might not be as simple but there are options to investigate, one of which is guest authors. This should be approached with caution as what you don’t want authors using your blog as a way to distribute poor quality content for the sole purpose of gaining a link. Finding great bloggers and experts in your niche is worth your time and making contact with them and building up a relationship could result in some brilliant content for your blog. The Debenhams blog has taken this to the next level and has Phil Vickery (a former England Rugby Union captain) as an author of their blog; this will help create a buzz around his content as a recognised sporting celebrity and could well help it get additional exposure.
Do they engage in their online community? Although these are big high street brands they cannot be accused of being out of touch with their online community. The Republic blog had excellent examples of where they have worked on events with fashion bloggers and these sorts of activities will only help get great coverage from these bloggers and brilliant exposure.
We can learn from this and need to include interactions with our readers as part of our content strategies: think about creating posts from questions you have asked on Facebook or by running a survey. Look to identify strong, independent bloggers within your niche and see if you can build up a relationship and work together on a promotion.
Are they giving stuff away? They sure are! Big brands will find it easy to give products away but the simple fact remains that everyone loves a competition and the chance to win something. If you have a visitor to your site there is a good chance that they like what you sell so offering the chance to win an item or two will help encourage them to come back and engage with your brand (share posts, links and provide you with an email address).
Running competitions is a great way to get your brand out there for ecommerce websites and a blog can be used to not only provide information about the competition but also to follow it up. There’s a good chance a post about a winner will be shared and highlighted by that person and then pass onto all their contacts. There was a great post from Boohoo where they were engaging with a competition after the prize was won and delivered (ok, yes the prize was a car) but the follow up posts provided great content for the blog and a way of maintaining relationships for those who have interacted with your brand.
We all love a good competition (image: Boohoo.com)
Who wants to read just text? A page of plain text is unlikely to grab peoples’ attention (I am doing my best to avoid this!) so you need to think how you can attract your readers’ attention and add value through images, videos and embedded widgets. The fashion blogs I looked at make excellent use of images, and in some cases the posts themselves are quite short with the message delivered through the use of photos.
Readers will share posts based on their overall attraction so whether that’s a brilliant piece of writing, an awesome picture or a video of a dog playing a piano shaped like a cat it doesn’t matter; the point we need to learn is to focus on creating quality posts that attract readers and that they will want to recommend and share. The main page of the ASOS blog uses images well as the means to encourage you to read a post rather than presenting a text snippet.
Are they hoarding all that precious link juice? They certainly aren’t storing it all up; these blogs are great examples of crediting sources and linking out to other recommended blogs and references. These blogs show that if your content and product is good enough you don’t need to worry about visitors leaving your site to check out another blog; if you’re good enough they’ll come back for more! When producing content for an ecommerce blog make sure you give credit where credit is due (quote your sources and images) and don’t be afraid to link out to recommended sites that you think your readers will enjoy – it’s the basic premise that the whole linking system is built upon!
A quick note here to also highlight the need to remember to link well internally within your own site from your blog posts to relevant pages and products – don’t write a brilliant blog post about your new style of handmade, leather wallets only to link to the homepage using the anchor text “menswear”.
What are they writing about? The crucial question really, you can have a blog and linked it up to your site and social media profiles and upload posts on a regular basis but behind all good content strategies needs to be a plan about what you are going to write about and post. Ensuring that this content is interesting, engaging and going to be link worthy and shareable is the key to ensuring that content marketing is a success but this is going to be the focus of part 2 of this blogging analysis and guide!
Thanks for reading, I’m Ben Pethullis and write about SEO and digital marketing for ecommerce websites here at The Distance – look out for part 2 next week.