- Why Ecommerce Businesses Need a Blog in 2020
- Document Your Ecommerce Blog Strategy
- Publication: How to Create High-Performing Blog Content
- Distribution: How to Reach Your Audience with Blog Content
- Conversion: How to Make Your Blog a Lead Generation Machine
- Measurement: How to Evaluate Your Blog’s Success
- Technology: Get the Right Tools for Your Ecommerce Marketing Toolbox
- Need Help? Get a Custom Ecommerce Blog Plan with This Free Tool
Ecommerce marketing is a completely different animal than it was five (or even two) years ago. In the past, a blog was considered a nice-to-have, if it was considered at all. But in 2020, a marketing plan without a blog strategy is like throwing a party without inviting any guests.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything direct-to-consumer brands and online stores need to know about winning with an ecommerce blog.
Why Ecommerce Businesses Need a Blog in 2020
“Blogging is a great way to build your audience and generate more traffic and sales for your business. You shouldn’t treat it as an unnecessary luxury.”–Dan Wang for Shopify
Every day, 500+ new @Shopify stores are launched. Click To Tweet
If a blog isn’t a core part of your ecommerce marketing strategy, you’re losing out on traffic, leads, and sales. As selling online becomes more and more competitive, having great products is no longer enough. Every day, over 500 new online stores are launched on Shopify alone.
In the competitive online marketplace, an ecommerce blog is the most affordable and effective way to help you differentiate your brand and attract new customers.
Benefits of Blogging
“A thriving audience is every brand’s most valuable asset. In the new world of customer choice, content isn’t just ‘king;’ it’s currency. Especially written content.”– Aaron Orendorff, former Editor in Chief at Shopify
Businesses that publish to their blogs on a regular basis generate more traffic and leads than those without blogs, HubSpot found. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of a brand blog.
Traffic & Lead Growth
Acquire & Retain More Loyal Customers
No other marketing tactic, channel, or strategy can do all of this as well as a blog can.
How Blogs Build Brands
What makes someone buy a product is not the same thing that makes someone loyal to a brand.
It’s easier than ever for consumers to Google the product they need, put it in their Amazon cart, and get it shipped to their door in no time flat. How can small businesses compete?
The solution is to find a way to differentiate your brand, build a community, and bring more potential customers to your website even before they’re ready to buy something. And for businesses that sell online, a blog is the perfect way to do that.
“I wanted to create a community, something beyond just a shopping experience for our customers. And content is how that happens.”– Chris Holt, CEO of Campman
As you’ll see in the examples throughout this guide, ecommerce brands of all sizes are using blogs to drive traffic, generate leads, and grow their businesses.
Document Your Ecommerce Blog Strategy
The first step toward blogging success is creating a documented content strategy, or DCS. A DCS is a plan that lays out the business objectives you want to accomplish with content (in this case, your blog) and the approach you’ll take to get there.
It’s been proven time and time again that people who put their goals down on paper are much more likely to achieve them — so don’t skip this step! A Content Marketing Institute study found that highly successful B2C marketers are 293% more likely to have a documented content strategy than their less successful counterparts.
Without a documented content strategy, you run the risk of committing what I like to call “random acts of marketing” — like publishing a blog post without promoting it to the right audience, or failing to measuring its success.
How to Document Your Blog Strategy
A complete blog strategy should include eight key pillars that cover the what, why, and how of your ecommerce blog.
- Purpose: Your business challenges and goals
- Brand identity: Your brand’s voice and personality
- Customers: Your target customer profiles
- Publication: A plan for what to publish and when
- Distribution: A plan for getting traffic to your articles
- Conversion: A plan for converting visitors to subscribers
- Measurement: The KPIs you’ll measure to track success
- Technology: The tools you’ll use to execute your strategy
We already talked about purpose — your reasons for starting a blog — in the “Why Blogging?” section above. If you’re like most marketers, all those goals sound good to you.
Brand building? More traffic? More loyal customers? Count me in!
But the fact is, you can’t optimize everything at once. Your job is to narrow it down to the goals that are most important right now. You can always pivot later.
Now, brand identity. You should already have a good handle on this, but it’s worth documenting how your brand’s personality will shine through in your blog content.
Don’t get lazy here! As Andrew Brookes of Zazzle Media puts it, too many companies rely on tired words like human, helpful, and professional to describe their brand voice.
“There’s us thinking you wanted an unprofessional, inaccessible rant written solely for robots and with little confidence or expertise,” he quips.
Get his sage advice for nailing your brand voice in this article.
Next comes customers, another area you already know well. Chances are, you’ve documented your target audience’s basic demographic info — age, location, gender, income bracket, etc. — for your blog, you’ll need to dig deeper.
“Think about your customers, how they act, what they read, and how they behave. If you’ve done persona and audience research properly, you’ll have acquired all of this knowledge anyway. Don’t just use it to decide what to sell to people; use it to understand how to talk to them.”– Andrew Brookes, Content Manager at Zazzle Media
Consider your audience’s personalities, interests, and hobbies. If you sell yoga mats, for example, you obviously know your customers like yoga…but what else do they care about? Spirituality? Weight loss? Overall health? Most likely, you have customers that fall in each of those categories. Different topics will attract each of these audience segments, so make sure you should include them all in your blog strategy.
Once you have the what and why written down, it’s time to focus on the how. In the rest of this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the other five pillars of a successful blog strategy: publication, distribution, conversion, measurement, and technology.
Publication: How to Create High-Performing Blog Content
Now, the fun part — if you’re a writer like me. For some resource-strapped marketers and business owners, the time it takes to plan and write blog content is the biggest deterrent to starting an ecommerce blog.
But take a deep breath. We’re here to help you find clarity in the chaos.
Options for Sourcing and Creating Blog Content
The first thing to know is that you don’t have to write all your blog content yourself. In fact, you probably shouldn’t.
So, what are your options for content creation?
- Write content in-house. This is a good option for larger marketing teams, but it’s typically not realistic for small businesses to create all their own content on a regular basis. You just can’t produce enough to make a blog successful.
- Work with an agency. Agencies are another option that are better suited for large marketing teams. They typically come with a hefty price tag and long-term commitment, which can be risky for a small business with shifting priorities.
- Work with freelancers. This is the route a lot of lean teams take because it’s relatively inexpensive. But as anyone who’s worked with freelancers knows, managing external writers can be a timesuck, especially when you’re working with more than one at a time. Not to mention, freelance writers’ jobs usually stop when the article is complete — leaving you on your own to promote the content and measure its success.
- Use licensed content. Licensed content refers to content created by a trusted, professional publisher that’s available for you to use on your own website. This is a great option for small teams that want an inexpensive way to drive more people to their sites without spending hours researching, writing, and editing each week. NewsCred reports that licensed content costs 3x less than original content, and Matcha’s own research has proven that it’s just as effective.
“I tell my team, ‘Look, there are five new posts on the website.’ It looks really impressive to have that level of output, but I know it took less than an hour to publish all five of them.”– Amanda Fowler, Communications Manager at OrthoCarolina (on licensed content)
And of course, you don’t have to stick with just one source of content. You might find that licensed content works well to drive traffic and leads, while blog articles you produce in-house are good for espousing your brand values and making a deeper connection with customers.
Publish Blog Posts for Each Stage of the Awareness Funnel
As I hinted at above, different types of content have different purposes. Your ecommerce blog can help you attract new customers and move them through the sales funnel, from awareness to purchase to retention.
But no single post can do it all.
Every blog post you publish has a job to do. What works to bring someone to your website won’t necessarily motivate them to make a purchase. That’s why creating content for every stage of the funnel is so important.
“Content is the fuel that influences people across the funnel. It’s not only top of the funnel; it’s also critical for deepening consideration and increasing retention.”– Kami York-Feirn, Social Media Specialist at Osprey Packs
What does this look like in practice? Let’s break down the types of content you should publish at each stage, along with some real-world examples.
Awareness content is anything that educates and/or entertains your target audience without promoting your products. Awareness blog articles can help build brand awareness (shocker!) and trust with potential customers.
Awareness content also drives a very clear outcome: website traffic. When consumers visit your website, they’ve officially entered your sales funnel. Then, you can begin moving them down the path to purchase using branded content and product content.
Research has shown that awareness articles prime your audience to buy something from your online store. A study from Conductor found that people who read educational content from a brand are 48% more likely to buy one week later. So while they might not buy something on their first visit to your site, they’re far more likely to come back and make a purchase at a later date.Consumers who read educational content are 48% more likely to buy after 1 week, says @Conductor. Click To Tweet
Branded content bridges the gap between your audience and your product. Once people are aware of your brand, you want them to consider making a purchase — but it’s still not time for the hard sell. You can (and should) plug your products when it makes sense, but your content should not read like an ad.
Product content includes product descriptions, photos, videos, and reviews. Your blog typically isn’t the place for this type of content, unless you’re announcing the release of a new product. Product content is more likely to live on social media, your product pages, and other parts of your website.
As a marketer, your goal is to move people down the funnel, keeping them interested until they’re ready to make a purchase, and then keep them coming back for more.
This is how the top consumer brands approach blogging, and the strategy is just as effective for small ecommerce businesses. Recently, the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs partnered to publish B2C Content Marketing 2019: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends, and their findings validate the power of full-funnel content marketing. Among survey respondents, they found that:
- 56% create content based on the stages of the sales funnel.
- 79% use content to successfully build brand awareness.
- 52% use content to generate revenue.
- 81% use content to build customer loyalty and increase retention.
The bottom line? If you’re not publishing content for every stage of the funnel, your competitors have a clear advantage. Think about it this way: Your blog should be more like a magazine than a catalogue, and more like a resource library than a journal.
Promote Your Product (Without Being Annoying)
You should be integrating products with the content experience in a natural, thoughtful way — not going for the hard sell in your blog content.
One way to do this is to feature related products below each blog post. Superfeet, a brand that sells high-performing shoes and insoles, does this really well.
“When someone is reading about hiking on our blog, they will actually see a graphic at the bottom of the page that talks about how they can improve their hike by wearing Superfeet hiking insoles.”– Jessica Spencer, Marketing Specialist at Superfeet
Featured products should complement your blog content, not distract from it. For example, it wouldn’t make sense for Superfeet to include the product banner above on a post about their nonprofit partner.
Create an Editorial Calendar
The next big question is how often you should be publishing to your blog. To keep stoking the fire, you’ll need to consistently produce new posts. Research shows that:
- Small businesses that blog produce 126% more leads than those that don’t.
- Publishing 11+ times per month leads to 4x more leads on average.
The ultimate goal is to create a persistent, engaged audience through storytelling. And you can’t do that without an editorial calendar to keep you on track.Small businesses that blog generate 126% more leads than businesses that don’t, says @HubSpot. Click To Tweet
In our experience working with hundreds of small brands, we’ve found the publication cadences that work best for brands at each stage of blog growth.
If you’re just getting started with blogging, start small by publishing posts a few times a month.
2-4 articles per month
1 article per quarter
1 article per quarter
If you’ve been blogging for a while but want to get more strategic, this editorial cadence is for you.
4-8 articles per month
1 article per quarter
1 article per quarter
If you’re seeing great results from your blog and want to keep building momentum, follow this cadence.
8-12 articles per month
1 article per month
1 article per month
Need help getting organized? The brilliant folks at CoSchedule have created a simple but effective editorial calendar template that you can snag for your brand. Get yours here.
Distribution: How to Reach Your Audience with Blog Content
You know that old adage: If content is published on your blog and no one is around to read it, does it make a sound?
You can publish the most incredible articles in the world, but it won’t do squat for your business if the right people don’t see it. That’s why content distribution is so important.
Affordable Advertising on Facebook and Instagram
It’ll probably come as no surprise that Facebook is one of the biggest traffic drivers out there. Facebook boasts 2.32 billion (yep, with a B) monthly active users, so you can bet that your target audience is active on the social media giant. And as younger consumers continue to spend more time on Instagram, brands are finding it to be an effective content promotion channel as well.
Fortunately for you, both social media platforms are owned by Facebook, so you can launch Facebook and Instagram ads from Facebook Business Manager.
Yes, that’s right — I said Facebook Business Manager. None of that “boost this post” stuff. Boosting posts gives you much less control over your audience than launching ads from Business Manager, so you’ll just end up spending more money for lower-quality traffic.
You may already be using Facebook and Instagram to run direct response advertising — in other words, product ads. Product ads are a great way to reach potential customers who are in the shopping mindset. But what about all those people who have never heard of your brand? That’s where content comes in.
You already know how to create content for each stage of the sales funnel. And (surprise, surprise!) the same applies to distributing that content via Facebook and Instagram. That looks a little something like this:
As VaynerMedia’s Nik Sharma puts it, there are three reasons this is important.
- “Driving a paid click to a piece of branded content is only a few cents, compared to driving a click to a brand or landing page, which could be up to $5-6 per click.”
- “With retargeting, you’re able to immediately build qualified audiences.”
- “Great content doesn’t sell a product; it sells an opportunity to better an aspect of your life.”
Generating inexpensive traffic, reaching interested people, and using content to elevate your brand? It’s a win-win-win.
And when he says that ads promoting content are more efficient than ads promoting products, he’s not kidding. While the average click from a Facebook ad costs $1.72, our analysis of every content ad Matcha ran for its customers in 2018 cost nearly 90% less at just $0.19 per click.
Can your product ads do that?
That’s not to say you shouldn’t be running product ads. That would be terrible advice. Instead, use content to warm up an unaware audience and engage potential customers who aren’t ready to buy from you quite yet.
Luxury watch brand DuFrane Watches does this really well. A DuFrane watch isn’t an impulse purchase. In fact, their customers’ typical decision-making process is three months. We can’t expect a single touchpoint to close the deal.
First, DuFrane advertises to their target audience using top-of-funnel awareness content that may have nothing to do with watches, but are connected to the brand’s identity and their target audience’s interest, desires, emotions, and needs.. Then, they retarget website visitors with mid-funnel content — for example, this article that showcases DuFrane Watches alongside products from other brands that embody the “Texas Gentleman” archetype.
Finally — and only when people near the bottom of the funnel — DuFrane hits them with gorgeous product ads built to drive sales.
Using this approach to Facebook and Instagram advertising will make your ads more efficient — and keep them from seeming spammy.
A few more notes on distributing blog posts via Facebook and Instagram:
- Audience: How do you make sure you’re reaching the right people? The goal of awareness ads is to bring a lot of potential customers to your website at a low cost, so you’ll want to target a broad audience.
But that doesn’t mean you should target everyone and their grandma. Refer to your documented content strategy where you defined your audience. Then, run a targeted awareness campaign for each unique audience segment. To ensure high-quality traffic at the lowest cost, align content to your audience targeting on Facebook.
- Frequency: We recommend swapping out your awareness ads every two to four weeks to avoid ad fatigue.
Ad fatigue is when people completely ignore (or even block) your ad because they’ve seen it too often. Not only does this drain your budget, it creates a bad experience for consumers. And unhappy people won’t buy from you.
Keep ’Em Coming Back with Email Newsletters
Email is a tried-and-true way to reach your audience and bring them (back) to your website. Sure, other channels help you do this, too, but what makes email so unique is that you actually own your subscriber list. On channels like Facebook, you have to pay each time you want to reach your audience. With email, you control exactly who you’re marketing to — and it’s completely free.
“Email is one of the few channels where the person on the receiving end of the marketing message has already raised their hand to say they’re open to a relationship with a brand. That’s what sets it up to be such an effective vehicle for driving retention and advocacy.”– Agata Celmerowski, VP of Marketing at Klaviyo
(Don’t have a big subscriber list? We’ll talk about how to generate more leads from your blog in the next section of this guide.)
It’s no secret that email marketing drives incredible ROI for ecommerce brands. A whopping 80% of retailers agree that email is a top driver of customer acquisition and retention, and the data backs this up. In fact, one DMA report found that every $1 put into email marketing drives $38 in return — a jaw-dropping 3800% ROI!
But if your emails serve you more than they serve your audience, people will notice. And they won’t think twice about hitting unsubscribe.
That’s why email is the perfect channel to distribute your blog content. By putting entertaining and educational blog posts alongside your products, you’re giving your subscribers who aren’t in the shopping mindset a reason to engage.
Conversion: How to Make Your Blog a Lead Generation Machine
You’ve done all the hard work to bring people to your website. Don’t let it go to waste by letting them disappear into the ether.
92% of your first-time website visitors aren’t looking to make a purchase — at least not right away. They may be window shopping, looking for information about your brand, reading your blog…the list goes on. It’s your job to convert them to subscribers so you can continue marketing to them until they’re ready to buy.92% of your #ecommerce website visitors aren’t planning to buy from you on their first visit. @episerver Click To Tweet
Grow Your Email List with Forms
Some brands make the mistake of hiding a tiiiiiny little subscription form in the footer of their website. Hate to break it to you, but not many people are looking there.
Make sure you have highly visible conversion points on your website, and especially on your blog. We recommend putting a newsletter subscription form in the sidebar of your blog.
You can also put inline forms within blog posts — just make sure they’re relevant. You don’t want to ask people to download a product guide when they’re reading general awareness content on your blog.
Generate Leads with Content-Powered Popups
Popups are quickly becoming the most effective way to generate leads from an ecommerce blog.
Now, I’m not talking about those obnoxious popups we all grew to hate in the late 90s/early aughts. You know: those impossible-to-close popups with flashing gifs and hidden music.
The popups I’m talking about are built to be as unobtrusive as possible, and they actually provide value for both you and your website visitors.
Your audience landed on your blog because you offered something they wanted. Do the same in your popup. That offer can be a discount on products, but we’ve found that conversion rates are higher when brands offer high-value content instead.
You can even get more personalized by matching the content in the popup to the content on the page. If you sell coolers to fishermen and tailgaters, for example, you can create a fishing-themed popup that appears on fishing content and a football-themed popup that appears on sports content.
Popup Dos & Don’ts
Offer value. Your audience landed on your blog because you offered something of value. Do the same in your popup — for example, by promoting an exclusive piece of content they can’t get anywhere else.
Be clear. Your readers shouldn’t need to guess what’s going to happen next. Use clear CTAs like “subscribe” or “get free guide” — never something vague like “submit.”
Get personal. Popups tailored toward each audience segment can do wonders for your conversion rates.
Consider the timing. You can choose when the popup appears based on reader scroll depth, time on site, and a host of other factors. Try 6 seconds, or when the reader has scrolled halfway down the page.
Get in your reader’s way. Don’t cover the entire page with your popup, and make it easy to close (e.g., don’t hide a tiny X in the corner).
Use popup forms with iframes. Iframes aren’t all bad, but when it comes to popups, it’s best to steer clear. They can be a security risk, make your site harder to use, and negatively impact SEO.
Show your popups too often. If someone Xes out of your popup, respect that. Don’t show it to them again on every page they visit. (But it is okay to show it again when they return to your site for a second time.)
Measurement: How to Evaluate Your Blog’s Success
“As a small ecommerce business, you can’t just hope something is working.”– Chris Holt, CEO, Campman
There are infinite blog performance metrics you can track in Google Analytics, through your website platform, and on social media— but what really matters? It’s easy to get overwhelmed, and it can be hard to use your results to take action.
We’re here to help. First, we’ll define all the metrics you need to know for your ecommerce blog. Then, we’ll explain when you should measure each one.
The 3 Types of Blog Metrics
You should be tracking three key types of blog metrics.
- Marketing efficiency metrics are all about distribution. They measure how effectively and affordably you’re reaching your target audience with your blog content.
- Engagement metrics focus on how people are interacting with the content on your blog.
- Revenue and lead metrics show you how your blog impacts lead and customer acquisition.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these categories. What are the specific numbers you should be tracking, and where can you get this data?
Marketing Efficiency Metrics
When you distribute your blog content, it’s not just about reaching the most people at the lowest possible cost. It’s about how many of the right people you can inexpensively reach and bring to your website. That’s what efficiency metrics can tell you.
The big four efficiency metrics for blogging are:
- CPM (cost per 1000 impressions): How much does it cost to reach your audience?
- CTR (click through rate): At what rate did your audience engage with the content you’re promoting
- CPC (cost per click): How much did it cost, on average, for this content to bring one visitor to your website?
- CPE (cost per engagement): While CPC measures the cost of getting one click on your ad, CPE measures the cost of getting any interaction, from a comment to a like to a click.
Because marketing efficiency metrics are about distribution, you’ll find these in the platforms where you’re paying to distribute content. For most small businesses, that means Google Ads and social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Once you’ve brought the right people to your blog, you need to make sure the content itself is doing its job. That’s where engagement metrics come in.
Different technologies measure engagement in different ways. In this article, we’re mostly going to focus on the metrics we measure in the Matcha platform, but we’ll also point out comparable metrics you can track in Google Analytics.
- Readers: In Matcha, we define a “reader” as a visitor who spends at least 15 seconds on the page. There’s no good proxy for this in Google Analytics, but you can look at overall traffic instead.
- Average reader time: To understand the average reader time, Matcha measures time on page. In other words, how long is the average reader spending on an article? Google Analytics, on the other hand, measures the average visitor’s (not reader’s) time on page. Google Analytics also doesn’t track the visitors who bounce (i.e., they don’t go on to view another page on your website).
- Average reader scroll depth: In Matcha, this metric refers to how far the average reader scrolls down the page. Google Analytics doesn’t offer scroll depth analysis, but Google Tag Manager does. More info here.
- Engagement rate: The percentage of visitors who spent at least 15 seconds on the page. Or to put it another way, it’s the percentage of visitors who became readers. Google Analytics doesn’t track any comparable metrics here.
Revenue and lead metrics
Even with all this great data, it can be incredibly difficult to prove the impact your blog has on leads and revenue. And there’s nothing that bursts marketers’ bubbles quite like that feeling that comes from not being able to defend the article that drove thousands of site visitors and dozens of leads.
We know, anecdotally, that great content leads to great ecommerce performance. And it’s easy to make the argument that it gives you a competitive advantage in a crowded ecommerce world.
But how do you connect the dots from awareness, readers, and leads to revenue? Use these metrics:
- Content-influenced revenue: What percentage of your revenue is impacted by content?
- Reads per purchase: How many blog posts does the average customer read for each purchase they make?
- Customers engaged with content: How many customers have read at least one post on your blog?
You can also track your top-performing articles. When you understand which articles are influencing the most revenue, you can double down on promotion for those articles. On the flip side, you can stop promoting articles that have lots of reads, but little to no revenue influence.
Where you get this information is a little bit trickier. Google Analytics, Facebook, and ecommerce platforms do a great job showing product page flows and campaign-based ROI, but none of them show the revenue influenced by individual pieces of content. But if you’re a Shopify user, Matcha can do this for you — automatically. Learn more about the Matcha + Shopify integration.
Blog KPIs for every stage of ecommerce growth
When you’re just getting started with ecommerce blogging, it doesn’t make sense to optimize for all of these metrics. You should start with the basics: using blog content to efficiently bring people to your site. As your blog matures and your business grows, you can continue to layer on additional metrics until you’re ready to measure your blog’s impact on revenue.
Technology: Get the Right Tools for Your Ecommerce Marketing Toolbox
Throughout this guide, we’ve talked about the technology you need for a high-performing ecommerce blog. Let’s recap.
|Type of Marketing Technology||Our Recommendations||Why You Need It|
|Content management system (CMS)||• WordPress|
|Host and manage your blog|
|SEO tool||• Google Keyword Planner|
|Optimize your blog posts for search|
|Website popup tool||• OptinMonster|
|Capture leads on your blog|
|Email marketing platform||• Mailchimp|
|Distribute your blog content to your customers and subscribers|
|Advertising tool||• Facebook Business Manager||Promote your blog content to a wider audience|
|Licensed content library||• Matcha||Publish professionally written blog content|
|Content analytics platform||• Matcha|
• Google Analytics
|Measure the impact of your blog|
With these marketing platforms in your tech stack, you’ll have everything you need to launch and scale a successful ecommerce blog.
Need Help? Get a Custom Ecommerce Blog Plan with This Free Tool
Is your blog helping your business grow? That’s the goal, after all.
This quick quiz will reveal your stage of content marketing growth and give you a personalized guide to getting serious ROI from your ecommerce blog.
Feature image provided by David Marcu