The Curious Case of the Underwhelming Ecommerce Blog

The Curious Case of the Underwhelming Ecommerce Blog

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There’s a question that has been gnawing at me since I’ve become more embedded into the ecommerce space...

“Where are all the good ecommerce store blogs?”

It’s not like there’s a shortage of great Fashion, DIY, Sports, or Lifestyle blogs, but the ones that immediately come to mind aren’t attached to ecommerce stores. I know there are good ecommerce blogs out there, but so few that have come across my radar that it makes me wonder if this is more widespread problem than I initially realized.

To make sure I wasn’t crazy, I asked my friends at Inbound.org if they could think of any ecommerce stores with killer blogs. Here’s what they said:

The Curious Case of the Underwhelming Ecommerce Blog

Moheth seems to be onto something. He says “They put a lot of effort into marketing [...] that they forget about blogging”

To get extra confirmation I wasn’t crazy, I checked out The 2014 State Of Ecommerce Study by Meclabs and found that on average only 30% of ecommerce founders were using “content marketing” as a part of their marketing mix.

So maybe there’s some truth to what Moheth was saying? The ROI on a blog isn’t as apparent as say, paid ads, so maybe it’s easier to shuffle off, but how much opportunity is being left on the table?

Research Shows That A Blog Provides More Traffic Opportunities

In 2011, Hubspot conducted a study, analyzing the websites of over 7,000 of their customers and found, on a very basic level, that sites with more pages received more traffic.

Research Shows That A Blog Provides More Traffic Opportunities

This makes sense. More pages means more opportunities for search engines and real people to interact with the brand.

Now, as an ecommerce owner, adding more pages could mean a few things.

  1. Have more product pages (therefore inventory) on the site
  2. Add more sales & landing pages to the site
  3. Blog regularly

Which of these do you feel has the lowest barrier to entry?

I know “blogging regularly” might seem daunting, but of the 3 options, it’s one of the easier tasks to outsource, if you know where to look for talent, and can get the most mileage out of a longer term strategy (more on this later).

Now, let’s look again at the graph from earlier that shows the percentage of companies using content marketing.

Research Shows That A Blog Provides More Traffic Opportunities

Notice how over 40% of the companies making between $100M-$1B are including Content Marketing into their mix?

Those same companies also have a lower participation rate in SEO & Social Media than some of their counterparts who drive less revenue, which I find interesting, particularly because a well designed content marketing strategy can be:

  1. Shared organically over social media and
  2. Indexed by search engines (especially with just a little focus on keyword research)

What’s even more interesting to me, is that according to the Meclabs study, “Paid & Content marketing drove similar kinds of traffic for many product types...

Research Shows That A Blog Provides More Traffic Opportunities

Research Shows That A Blog Provides More Traffic Opportunities

Yet, according to Google, as reported by Wordstream, average clickthrough rates for paid search ads is between 2% -5%.

Whereas Nifty Marketing, with the help of Usablity Hub, found that organic search results can receive between 27-64% of clicks (depending on the search query).

Research Shows That A Blog Provides More Traffic Opportunities

Now also consider that Hubspot found in a separate study that companies who blog on average receive 55% more traffic, and have 434% more pages indexed:

Research Shows That A Blog Provides More Traffic Opportunities

Research Shows That A Blog Provides More Traffic Opportunities

Granted, this is all pretty contextual, but the evidence for maintaining a blog is pretty staggering.

But… But… I “Blog”… How Come I’m Not Seeing Those Kinds Of Results?


Brutal truth time…

I spent a lot of years as a consultant before joining the Shopify team, and every time I did client work the conversation always went something like this:

“Yeah, but we’ve done [tactic] already, and it didn’t do anything. So, how come when you do it, it’s going to be different.”

 

Look, I’m not saying your kid is ugly… but if we’re being honest, you shouldn’t put them in a beauty pageant any time soon.

Content marketing isn’t about putting words on a page and hoping it ranks in Google. It’s about creating a connection with the viewer; using words, imagery, cadence & structure to invoke desire for the thing you’re trying to sell.

Think of the way RollingStone gets you involved with the musicians they cover.

But… But… I “Blog”… How Come I’m Not Seeing Those Kinds Of Results?

Joseph Hudack opens his article on little known band Sundy Best with:

“When Nick Jamerson and Kris Bentley, who make up the Kentucky duo Sundy Best, pull up to the Rolling Stone Country offices on Music Row, they look every bit the Nashville outsiders they are. Their ride is a 2005 Chevy conversion van that used to belong to Jamerson's grandmother — he traded her his car for it — and with Jamerson in worn flannel and knit hat, and Bentley in a puffy vintage racing jacket, the hardscrabble musicians appear in stark contrast to the meticulously manicured and coiffed country stars whose faces adorn congratulatory billboards up and down the Row.”

In one paragraph, you get the sense this little known country band possesses a whisky soaked, true American grit that can’t be found in the overly polished, manufactured world of modern country music.

That is what is missing in many of the ecommerce blogs I’ve read.

There is no sense of emotion, or style, or character, or… anything. There are just words on the page - take it or leave it - and that’s it.

Not Everything Needs To Be Product Focused

A big part of the problem I’ve found, is that ecommerce founders can’t seem to get past the idea that the blog doesn’t need to be centered around pitching the products.

An ideal content strategy has layers to the content it publishes on the blog. Think about the variety of programming on a television network, or the variety of articles featured in your favorite print magazine, and it starts to make a little more sense.

For example, GQ & Esquire are both dedicated to men’s fashion have obvious features like “10 Best Dressed Men Of The Week” & “14 Reasons To Wear A Watch” but they’re also balanced with “lifestyle” type articles such as “Edgar Write’s Top 10 Films Of 2014” or “The Best Shows To Binge Watch over Thanksgiving.”

Not Everything Needs To Be Product Focused

Pieces like “Why Ferguson Is The End Of The Post-Racial Facade” add depth & complexity to GQ’s content strategy while reflecting the magazine’s brand values.

Now, you may be thinking, “yeah, but that’s a magazine...of course they can get away with talking about social issues like Ferguson without having to worry” but tell me honestly, would an online shop on GQ.com feel out of place? No, It would not.

Even “controversial” pieces like the one about Ferguson would fit for brands that cater to more socially aware customers, and in some cases, could be the thing that builds character, differentiation & loyalty in a market that’s flooded with sameness.

I’m not saying you have to take it there, but rather I’m challenging you to really consider if your customers would be into more thought provoking content.

These Are Some Ideas From Ecommerce Blogs That Do It Well

UO Blog

UO Blog

I’ve always been a fan of the Urban Outfitters Blog because they provide a window into their customer’s strange yet wonderful world.

In addition to the expected “What’s Happening At Our Store” style blog posts, you also get a highly visual look into the lifestyle of Urban Outfitter’s, emerging artists, and independent designers, (like Jenny Rose pictured above), endowing the reader with a true sense of personal style that goes beyond the idea owning “things.”

UO Blog

In many of the articles in their “Dreamers and Doers” series, you get a look at these artists workspaces too, which are inspiring all on their own.

UO Blog

UO Blog

UO Blog

Urban Outfitters also introduces readers to new music on Music Mondays, curates interesting links from across the web on Friday Download, gives relevant seasonal recipes with their On The Menu feature, and of course gives Tips & Tricks featuring the products that can be bought online.

Urban Beardsman Magazine

Urban Beardsman Magazine

Beardbrand has focused heavily on branding, and the result built a 120k / month company in less than a year.

So it’s unsurprising that their blog, Urban Beardsman, isn’t about the hard sell, but rather is a tribute to being a modern male who values the traditions of Manhood.

For example, this passage from Peter Pappas encapsulates this perfectly:

“When I was a kid, I remember that a friend of mine wore a watch that used to belong to his grandfather. It was to be passed on to all of the men in the family; first to his father, then to him and eventually on to his son.”

But focus isn’t just on nostalgia, but also on feeling masculine, something that has been redefined and challenged in an era with more pixel pushers than lumberjacks.

Urban Beardsman Magazine

From “The Urban Beardsman Guide To Fall Layering

 

Urban Beardsman Magazine

From “Every Man Should Own Heritage Boots

What you’ll notice about BeardBrand’s blog is that it doesn’t actually try and push it’s own product.

Instead, it mentions other products that might be interesting to their customers. Boots, jeans, watches, you name it.

This serves two purposes:

  1. It gives Beardbrand readers/customers a single stop to complete their look and feel cool about being a modern beards man.
  2. More importantly, it opens the door to potential partnerships with outside brands that may also contain Beardbrand customers.

They’re really embracing the lifestyle of a Urban Beardsman and I hope they continue to use their blog as a tool to grow their presence.

Taste | Williams-Sonoma

Taste | Williams-Sonoma

Kitchen goods supplier Williams-Sonoma doesn’t mince words & cuts right to what’s important to their ideal customer… Food. Delicious, home-cooked, beautiful, can almost smell it through the computer food.

Their blog shares seasonal recipes like Winter Pear Salad with Blue Cheese, Walnuts & Pomegranate and Blackberry Apple Pie.

Taste | Williams-Sonoma

But they also publish in-depth content like this humongous Thanksgiving Guide that shares recipes, tips & techniques, hosting/entertaining/decorating ideas, and a lot more.

Taste also has a “Make” section that gives you tips for Gardening & Growing, DIY Projects (Make Your Own Hard Cider!!) & Canning and Preserving projects.

What I think I like the most about the Taste blog though is that the content comes from established professionals and regular people, allowing their customers to have a chance to showcase their talents alongside some of the best in the industry.

That’s something almost any retail blog could do provided they’re brave enough to reach out and ask people to contribute.

Opening Ceremony Blog

Opening Ceremony Blog

Last, but certainly not least, we’ve got the blog for the hipster fashion store Opening Ceremony.

What I LOVE about this blog is their use of Gifs for header images and the unique blend of content that very much reflects the brand’s core values.

From Opening Ceremony’s about page:

“Opening Ceremony adopts a multinational approach to retail. In addition to stocking both iconic and emerging homegrown designers, every year OC showcases the spirit and merchandise of a visiting country, transforming each store into a marketplace for exotic souvenirs and international talent.”

This makes articles like “Cereal Obsessed? You’ll Love This New London Cafe” feel right at home on the retailer’s blog.

Opening Ceremony Blog

Of course, they don’t shy away from the more standard “Gift guide” posts, but they present them in a way that is, I imagine, fun for their customer type.

Opening Ceremony Blog

 

In addition to these regular features, they also share horoscopes, food ideas, and have a whole series of videos that feature designers, celebrities who wear their gear and more.

Shop Talk: Eva Chen and Humberto Leon (Part 1) from Opening Ceremony on Vimeo.

What You Can Learn From These Blogs

So let’s just recap for a second and see what we can learn from these blogs:

  1. Layered content strategy that appeals to multiple segments of the market
  2. Multiple content formats, including audio, video, rich imagery, and animated gifs
  3. Reflects overall lifestyle of ideal customer
  4. Can be used as a networking opportunity for other businesses with similar customers
  5. It’s ok to have a strong opinion when it’s on brand

Dan Wang also wrote an excellent piece on this earlier this year that you should check out to get you motivated.

Bonus: Here Are Some Places You Can Find Decent Writers

Problogger.net Job Board

Problogger.net Job Board

I’ve got nothing but nice things to say about the Problogger job board, as I’ve gotten some really great writing gigs out of it in the past.

It’s a fairly straight forward process, and the talent pool is pretty diverse, giving you pretty good odds at finding a blogger to suit your needs.

Bloggingpro.com Job Board

Bloggingpro.com Job Board

Similar to the Problogger.net job board, this is a general job board that looks for bloggers from every verticle imaginable.

One thing about posting to job board sites is that you need to be very clear about what you’re looking for - even if that means saying, “we need your help finding a direction”. The more professional the writer, the more they’ll be looking for boundaries & guidelines on where you’d like to take your blog.

Google Blog Search

Google Blog Search

Unfortunately, Google quietly discontinued their “blog search” as a stand alone feature earlier this year. However, if you follow these steps, you can find blog posts on any keyword you’d like:

  1. Type keyphrase into Google
  2. Sort by “News”
  3. Click Search Tools
  4. Select “Blogs” from the drop-down

From here, you will only get results only from people who are actively publishing. Depending on how you wanted to approach it, you could form relationships with established bloggers, like what we saw with the Williams-Sonoma blog, or find freelancers who are already knowledgeable about your product category.


Also, don’t get discouraged if all you’re finding are huge, well known publications. Many large sites use a combination of full time and freelance writers to produce content. As long as you do your research and are willing to pay a little more, you should be able to grab a quality writer with connections to bigger outlets.

AllTop.com

AllTop.com

Alltop is another resource for finding bloggers who are publishing regularly.

Just type a broad term like “fashion” in the search bar, and Alltop will provide you with a list of related categories. Once clicked, you’ll be brought to a page featuring multiple blogs, and the last 5 articles that were published on each.

AllTop.com

Sort through these to find potential freelancers to work with and try to get an idea of what they cover really well.

Please Note: This can take some time to find bloggers who are going to be a good fit for the blog you’re trying to build. Instead of trying to jump right in and risk overwhelm, allow yourself to take your time and build your blog more strategically.

My recommendation is to create a spreadsheet to keep track of who you want writing for you, and think about how they might bring value to your store. Build this list by spending 30 minutes to an hour reading and getting to know their work.

This slower, deliberate practice will help your blog launch with a coherent vision, strong purpose, and unified voice.

Your Turn

What has your experience been with running an ecommerce blog? Have you tried it and stopped? Did you not see the point?

Or maybe you are trying, but are feeling overwhelmed, or out of ideas?

However you’re feeling, I’d love to know. Also, if you’d like some advice on your content strategy, let me know and I’ll review your site and give you a mini-consultation in the comments section.

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