Content Strategies for Merchants

Linc Wonham
by Linc Wonham 31 Jan, 2011

Trust in a brand or retailer is now more important to online consumers than any other time in the Web's history. It is absolutely essential for today's ecommerce merchants to build trust in order to be successful, and along with the quality of products and services they sell there is no better way to earn trust than by producing reliable and informative content that users can share with one another.


This requires constant and careful attention, and for some merchants a complete shift in their content strategies. Online retailers that can earn the reputation as a trusted resource as well as a seller of products and services create a distinct advantage over the competition. Consumers are much more likely to buy those products and services from merchants who provide useful insights to their customers and to the overall community.


There are many different angles from which a merchant can look at developing or revisiting content strategies, but we have identified the four areas you must assess before putting any content strategy into action. If you start the process by following these suggestions and closely examining these four areas, you will be on your way to launching a brand new or improved content strategy for your ecommerce business.


Really know your niche
You may think this one goes without saying, but the more a merchant knows about his or her products, services, business and industry, the better equipped they are to create great content that users will find valuable. Whether your ecommerce site is a new project that is just getting off the ground or if you have been selling the same product for 30 years, there will always be more useful information available for you to share with your customers.


Staying current with all the activity within your industry does go without saying, but by formulating and sharing your thoughts about those activities requires a greater commitment that will pay dividends. When a hot-button issue like Internet sales taxes comes along, or something more directly related to your specific niche, potential customers can benefit from the opinions of a trusted online retailer such as yourself.


If you are truly the reigning expert in your field and not an ounce of new knowledge is available to you, then consider conducting a variety of surveys to get a fresh perspective from consumers. Chances are, you will emerge from the process with some new insights about your niche that you hadn't considered before.


Really know your audience
That last suggestion about surveys can be used to get to know your audience better, which may be the most important piece of any content strategy. Countless ecommerce merchants have spent a great deal of time developing what they considered to be highly useful content but somehow misjudged what their audience wanted; or spoke to the audience in a language they did not understand, or distributed the content through a platform that the audience did not use in great numbers. Consider that ill-advised approach the ivory tower content strategy, where the merchant assumes that no one knows better than he or she what content the audience needs and how they would like to receive it.


Instead, take the time to really get to know your audience, and only then can you develop an appropriate content strategy that adequately meets their needs and serves their purposes. Additional best practices for doing this can include monitoring and participating in forums, comments sections, microblogs, etc. The more you know about your audience's lifestyles and behaviors, the more able you are to establish yourself as a trusted source of information.


Assess your existing content
Whether you are developing your first content strategy or redefining one that's already in place, you have some content at your disposal. Even if it's a brand new venture, if you follow the two previous steps and give your niche and your audience careful examination, you will accumulate some content of value in the process. If your ecommerce site has been operating for some time, then you most certainly have existing content in the form of product information and perhaps blog posts, email newsletters, video, etc.


All of this previously used or unused content can be divided into categories, preferably using a spreadsheet that will become an important tool in all future content development. Categorize what you have at your disposal by placing everything in sections such as "blog posts", "product info", "customer reviews", etc., and then move on to the next phase.


Assess your distribution options
This is where knowing your audience becomes so vitally important. With so many options for distributing content on the Web today, it is essential that you distribute the appropriate content through the channels that your customers will be using to access that specific content. And some channels, you may find, are not appropriate for your audience at all. The important thing is to look at all the available platforms and determine which content belongs on which platform and for what part of your audience.


Over time you can start creating platform-specific content on a regular basis and distribute it on a carefully planned schedule. Carefully weigh the value that your content and the distribution channels bring to your audience, and then assign the most appropriate content to the most appropriate platform as the first step toward launching a new content strategy.


Be sure to include weblogs, press releases, email, video, ebooks, microblogs/Twitter, social networks/Facebook, audio/podcasts, case studies and user-generated content/testimonials as part of the overall evaluation of your content distribution options, and whenever you are unsure about what your audience really wants or how they want to receive it ... simply ask them.