By Joanna L. Krotz
If you’ve invested a lot in online selling and marketing, you’ll be wasting those dollars unless you also spend some time and money on developing engaging content for your e-commerce site.
Clear, compelling content not only attracts customers who are searching on MSN or Google, or following banners and other links to find what you offer. Good articles, how-tos, product demos, customer success stories, and other resources also persuade customers to stay on your site and to return. When marketing efforts move customers to visit, but the pages are sparse or the content is poorly presented or doesn’t live up to the marketing promises, customers will click away in a heartbeat.
As online shopping grows and businesses and households adopt high-speed connections, the quality of online content is becoming increasingly critical.
For instance, a 2004 study of the Web habits of 18- to 34-year-olds, conducted by comScore for the Online Publishers Association, found that those with broadband access not only spent 52% more time online than their dial-up counterparts, but they used the extra time to visit entertainment and content sites rather than for Internet utilities such as e-mail or instant messaging. The broadband group logged a whopping 72% more time on general news sites. “With an ‘always on’ connection, the Internet rapidly becomes a dominant source of news, lifestyle information and entertainment,” said Michael Zimbalist, president of the Online Publishers Association, when the study was released.
Creating and publishing strong Web site content is a topic for which books are written. In this article, we seek to pass along some basic guidelines to move you in the right direction. Below are 10 dos and don’ts of using e-commerce site content to make the most of your marketing budget. But first, let’s discuss two basic how-tos.
|1.||Target your preferred customer.”The most valuable content for your visitors solves a problem or answers a question for them,” says Wally Bock, a content strategist based in Wilmington, N.C. Even so, good content comes in many packages.An insurance broker, for example, might create an online “Resources” channel to host articles about various types of insurance and policies. She might license a few interactive calculators that let potential customers input personal information to figure how much coverage they need — which, by the way, keeps them drilling down into the site, thus driving interest and sales. Plus, a broker needs prominent multi-channel contact information on every page because customers want to meet before they buy.By contrast, a fragrance e-tailer requires much snappier, lighter content that promises very different benefits. He might create or license a news-ticker application to scroll fashion and design trend headlines across the screen. That would not only engage visitor interest but also emphasize that he’s up-to-date. He could post timely reviews of new designer fragrance lines. To satisfy customer demands for signature scents, he needs to showcase a broad and stylish inventory, perhaps with the help of an automated online store tool such as Microsoft Commerce Manager.|
|2.||Know that there are many logistics to tackle; here is just a sampling.Before creating any content, make sure you have thought-out answers to these questions:
If you plan an ongoing program, it might be worthwhile to automate content management with a system such asMicrosoft Content Management Server, which allows you to work in Microsoft Office using templates or documents created by Publisher, Word or PowerPoint.
10 dos and don’ts of content programming
Content needs are always evolving, and they vary depending on your market and customer base and how fast your company grows. But these overall rules apply:
|1.||Don’t fall for fancy. Whether it’s product descriptions, white papers, search function copy or customer testimonials, stick to basics. Don’t use a lot of jargon or technical language that users may not understand. “There is still no substitute for Keep It Simple, Stupid,” says Alan Canton of the Adams-Blake company, a contract publisher in Fair Oaks, Calif.|
|2.||Do stay tech-savvy. Make sure you test new content on every platform, operating system, browser and channel that your user might try. You’ll be glad you did, because users won’t always tell you. “Users rarely report Web site errors and even when they do, their reports are typically vague,” says David Jilk, chief executive of Xaffire, a Web management company in Superior, Co.|
|3.||Don’t write the content yourself. Many small-business owners try to contain costs by writing their own Web copy. Just as you wouldn’t cut corners on products or customer service, don’t cheap out on content. Invest in professional copywriting (unless, of course, that’s what you do). Plus, make sure every word is proofread – several times. If you think customers will forgive typos and misspelled words because of the great products you sell, think again.|
|4.||Do consider graphics as content. Text-heavy pages can be tedious and boring, no matter how compelling the text. Put the best face you can on your site with professional artwork that enhances your pages, breaks up text, and illustrates and complements the written content you are publishing.|
|5.||Do carefully consider Flash. Web experts have lots of opinions about Flash animations and graphics. Some love Flash; others love to hate it. In fact, Flash is a tool, just like any other Web-building application. While Flash graphics tend to be screened out by search engines (and therefore may make it harder for customers to find you), such design may also be just the thing to make customers delighted or impressed. Surf around, check out competitor sites. Then decide whether Flash content is right for your business.|
|6.||Do plan to refresh, refresh, refresh. “With digital cameras and Web-building software, there’s no reason why your site should look like the same old clothes hanging on the line month after month,” says Daniel Pearson, a marketing copywriter based near Research Triangle Park, N.C. “Every two to three weeks is ideal.” Programs such asMicrosoft FrontPage make updating content easy.|
|7.||Do be upfront about fees or policies. Consumers don’t want surprises. “Let them see your toll-free phone number, your shipping fees and your return policy,” says Andy Beal, vice president of marketing at WebSourced, a Web services company in Morrisville, N.C.|
|8.||Don’t clutter your home page. Many business owners tend to pack all their product information and services onto the home page, which makes the user dizzy or confused. Use the home page to define your company’s products and point of difference. Then make sure your navigation design easily directs visitors to the detail pages.|
|9.||Do give visitors a reason to return. You can post monthly news or reports, send e-mail marketing for special offers, create calendars and reviews of industry events — whatever works for your business. Use your content to drive repeat traffic.|
|10.||Last, but not least: Don’t publish content that will disappoint your customer. Many Web sites offer channels that promise responses, such as e-mail replies to customer comments or queries, or boards with ongoing discussions, polls or surveys that are supposed to post results. If you can’t effectively manage the responses, don’t set up such channels.|
E-commerce site content is designed to make life easier, better, faster and more satisfying for your best customer. Keep that in mind and you won’t go wrong.