E-Commerce Optimization: ‘Writing’ a Wrong
You’re standing at a crossroads. The choice ahead of you is stark. You have to choose one path or the other; there’s no hedging your bets.
Why Your Content Strategy is Failing
Indeed, “content is king.” No sane person would deny it!
So you spend your days pumping it out — a never-ending, deadline-driven assembly line of infographics, webinars, whitepapers, blog posts, videos and articles. Your focus is on editorial calendars, and the cadence of new content creation.
Then you try to amplify the impact of your content by syndicating it into as many distribution channels as possible. You recycle and tweak your key ideas in a frantic attempt to minimize the amount of new topics to be created. In fact, you’re proud that you can repackage a single content piece (e.g., a live webinar) into multiple content fragments — a video recording, a SlideShare presentation, a blog post, a text transcript and a slickly produced e-book. You even convince yourself that your occasional well-shared pieces are actually virality that you somehow cleverly and intentionally engineered.
The biggest problem with this approach is the assumption and philosophy behind it. We’ve been told that every business these days needs to become a “publisher,” but the very word belies its roots in the declining broadcast journalism of the last century. You don’t run a monopolistic TV channel. You don’t have exclusive rights to broadcast within a narrow frequency range of the radio spectrum. Nor do you own a mass-circulation print publication. And everyone who is in broadcast journalism had to pay massive amounts of money over decades to establish their reach and audience.
It gets worse. There are actually millions of channels and mini competitors out there fighting for the very limited attention of people. The internet and mobile wireless devices have penetrated to almost every corner of the globe. This fragmented Tower of Babel is available on-demand, and 7/24/365.
It’s impossible for your content to outscream everyone else’s and penetrate unwanted into the brains of your prospects.
Try Being Helpful Instead
What if you looked at things from the perspective of the crazy court jester instead?
The premise behind the content marketing described here is that people care about you and your company. This simply isn’t true. They care only about themselves and their problems of the moment. That’s why the inside-out approach — broadcasting from the inside of your company to the larger world — is doomed to fail.
The right approach is to think of content from the outside-in perspective. This means you take your online prospects exactly where they are right now, and guide them towards the solution of their own problems (some of which will ultimately result in financial benefit to your company).
This kind of content is useful. In fact, consumers today are much more sophisticated about media, and don’t want to be “sold.” They like self-service, and will gather information on their own terms because it leaves them in control.
Real conversion-focused content has the following characteristics:
- it’s created from the needs of your visitors, not those of the business;
- it supports every stage of the customer journey and doesn’t ignore early-stage prospects simply because they don’t intend to buy from you today;
- it’s of excellent quality, and isn’t a product of randomly assigned editorial deadlines;
- it’s durable, and doesn’t have a short and ephemeral shelf life of relevance;
- it’s laser-focused to cut through the noise and resonate powerfully with a specific target audience; and
- it’s tracked and measured over time to the ultimate downstream effectiveness on real business metrics.
Sometimes Content Isn’t the Answer
We also have to be realistic and recognize that sometimes content plays a very minimal role in our online strategy. It’s not a one-size-fits-all prescription.
I’ve identified the following criteria to define the sweet spot of content importance for a retailer:
- high-ticket purchases;
- rare purchasing frequency;
- multiple and complex trade-offs involved in the buying process;
- high level of specific domain knowledge required to make a purchase decision; and
- a B-to-B environment with multiple decision makers.
The more of these criteria that are present in your situation, the more likely that content will play a critical role in your online success. Conversely, the absence of these criteria probably means that content marketing isn’t essential.
A Road Map for Success
Start with a detailed content-for-conversion audit, including taking the following steps:
- Define mission-critical roles and tasks (e.g., visitor scenarios and their intent).
- Identify gaps in the web experience and the supporting content currently available.
- Create a prioritized list of content that needs to be created or reworked.
- Pay particular attention to the connective tissue — e.g., page flow, calls to action and gating of information.
Remember that your website information architecture is itself a critical form of content. You may have to redesign the whole web experience from a user-centered perspective. However, once you do, the site architecture can serve as additional market research if your navigation is based on the important roles and tasks of your audience. Specific navigation choices can be noted for later lead scoring and personalization. You can also create specific downloads to identify audience segments — e.g. “The Single Parent’s Guide to Going Back to School” or “The 7 Biggest Mistakes When Applying for a Jumbo Mortgage.”
Tracking and collecting information is critical. Here are a few guidelines for doing it right:
- Construct visitors’ profiles over time via progressive disclosure. Piece things together as you learn more about consumers over multiple visits or interactions.
- Create content on the fly to avoid losing information later. For example, dynamically embed critical information directly into downloadable material links.
- Measure not only outcomes, but also the time delays between steps in your conversion process.
- Start with basic content-changing rules (e.g., different content for first-time and repeat visitors), then move to predictive modeling and more sophisticated personalization.
- Create interactive marketing applications to collect data, with email gathering typically only at the end.
Of course, as you can see, some of my prescriptions will require you to have a flexible and powerful marketing technology stack. Typical pieces include your content management system, processes for content creation and editorial workflow, web analytics, split-testing tools, marketing automation software, predictive modeling, lead scoring, and real-time behavioral targeting and personalization.
Yes, it’s a lot of work to get all of this in place, but so is mindlessly cranking out content that’s not tied to the needs of your visitors. The Content King is mad, and only the court jester knows it. The decision is now up to you: keep doing more of the same, or try to genuinely help your visitors.
Related story: If You Need More Darned Clutter on Your Site ...
Tim Ash is the author of the bestselling book Landing Page Optimization, and CEO of SiteTuners. A computer scientist and cognitive scientist by education (his PhD studies were in Neural Networks and Artificial Intelligence), Tim has developed an expertise in user-centered design, persuasion and understanding online behavior, and landing page testing. In the mid-1990s he became one of the early pioneers in the discipline of website conversion rate optimization. Over the past 15 years, Tim has helped a number of major US and international brands to develop successful web-based initiatives. Companies like Google, Expedia, Kodak, eHarmony, Facebook, American Express, Canon, Nestle, Symantec, Intuit, AutoDesk and many others have benefitted from Tim's deep understanding and innovative perspective.
Connect with Tim on Google+