How to create a content strategy for your eCommerce website

You’ve got your eCommerce website up and running (congrats!). Now you’re faced with the task of making sure visitors can find you. And it’s no small task.

Building an eCommerce website isn’t exactly effortless. But in comparison to marketing your website well enough to start driving traffic, you may look back on it as the easy part.

The world of eCommerce is competitive, which means you need to work hard to make sure your website is the one consumers find when they need what you’re selling. Without online visitors, an eCommerce store has no chance of sales.

Online marketing is therefore one of the most important parts of any eCommerce business strategy.

And you’ll find that a lot of different tactics fall under the online marketing umbrella. One of the big ones to consider is creating a content strategy for your eCommerce website. 

What Is an eCommerce Content Strategy?

A content strategy is the strategic plan a business develops to guide their content marketing efforts. 

Content marketing is the practice of using content to build up your business reputation, drive website traffic, and gain the trust of your target audience. Over the past few years, it’s become a go-to marketing tactic for any business with an online presence.

A well thought out eCommerce content strategy will define who you’re creating content for, what content to create, how to promote it, and how to measure your goals. It’s also an important tool for determining how various content marketing efforts should connect and promote each other, so you get the most out of the work you do. It’s an important first step to pursuing content marketing. 

Why You Need a Content Strategy for Your eCommerce Site

Think about it: when you have a question about pretty much anything, your first step is probably to turn to Google. If you’re trying to figure out a good gift for your knitting-loving mom, an eCommerce brand that’s put together a gift guide for knitting enthusiasts will make your job easier.

google search result for gift guides for knitting lovers

And once their content helps you select a gift, you’ll probably go on to buy it directly from their site. 

That’s the basic idea behind content marketing. If you make it a point to be genuinely helpful, consumers will not only have an easier time finding your website in the search engines, they’ll also appreciate your brand for the value you provide.

But good content marketing takes a lot of work. And if you start doing it in a scattershot fashion, your hard work will likely be wasted. You could spend untold hours and a sizable budget creating great content, but if people in your target audience never find it, it won’t accomplish anything for your brand. A strong content strategy is how you ensure you’re creating the right content for the right audience, getting it in front of them, and tying all that effort to your overall business goals.  

If you’re going to do content marketing to promote your eCommerce business, starting with a strategy is essential. 

12 Steps to Create an eCommerce Content Strategy

Every eCommerce business is different. Your content strategy needs to be tailored to your business goals and audience.

These twelve steps can help you develop a content strategy that works for your eCommerce brand. 

1. Clarify your goals.

When you’re trying to figure out how to run a successful eCommerce business, you’ll come across a lot of advice. That can lead to the all-too-common error of pursuing a tactic because you heard you should.

But reading a persuasive article about why an eCommerce business should invest in content marketing isn’t a good enough reason to do so.

Instead, figure out why your business should use content marketing. What do you want to accomplish? What would a successful content marketing program look like for your brand?

Knowing what your content marketing should accomplish will enable you to craft a strategy that matches your goals. If visibility is a top priority, an emphasis on search engine optimization (SEO) makes sense. If building trust is the biggest goal, creating thought leadership content may be more important. Clear goals will help you focus your efforts.

2. Figure out your budget.

To do content marketing well requires an investment. Creating good content takes a lot of time and skill, as does effectively promoting it. Most eCommerce businesses will need to hire employees, contractors, and/or an agency to do the work.

Figure out what you can afford to spend early on, so you can match your strategy to the resources available to you. 

3. Do audience research.

An eCommerce business that sells eco-friendly camping gear won’t be trying to reach the same audience as one that sells high-end handbags. If you create content for the wrong audience, you risk attracting visitors that will never convert—which defeats the purpose of content marketing. Before you get too far into creating a content strategy, define who your target audience is.

And don’t guess at who they are and what they care about. Do audience research to learn for real. Look into any publicly available data you can find about your audience, and set up customer interviews to flesh out the story the data tells. 

Use what you learn to create buyer personas that provide a sketch of who you’re talking to, and what they care about. Buyer personas will help your content team to center your audience throughout the entire content marketing process.   

For example, a literary eCommerce brand may have Nerdy Nina as a persona:

user persona example

4. Do keyword research.

Keywords are the terms consumers type into a search engine when they’re looking for something. Marketers can use a number of tools (some free, some paid) to learn what keywords are most commonly used by people looking for topics related to what you sell.

For content marketers, keyword research is important for a few reasons:

  • It provides insight into the topics your audience cares about, which helps with content topic ideas.
  • It tells you what language they’re using when talking about those topics, which allows you to match your writing to their way of talking about it.
  • It informs how best to optimize your content for SEO. 

Keyword research is related to both audience research and competitor research, but an important step to include in its own right. 

5. Do competitor research.

To craft a successful eCommerce content strategy, you need to understand the competitive landscape your content will be a part of. If you put a lot of effort into creating a great piece of content, but it’s not as good as what your closest competitor published on the same subject, why would a consumer choose yours?

Competitor research serves a few different purposes when you’re in the strategy phase:

  • It’s how you identify who your top competitors are in the space, so you know who to keep an eye on.
  • It helps you generate topic ideas, based on what your competitors are covering. 
  • It can enable you to spot content gaps—topics your audience may care about that no one’s covered yet. 
  • It provides a shortcut to learning what your audience responds to. If your content strategy is too new to have gained data on what works, seeing which content topics and formats are most popular with your audience on a competitor’s site helps you make informed decisions for your own content strategy. 
  • It’s how you find the content you need to beat. If you want to publish the piece of content that wins the top spot in Google and earns the most loyalty and trust in your space, it needs to be better than what’s available now. Seeing what’s already out there shows you what you need to do to be better.

6. Pick your content formats.

Content comes in a lot of different forms. Blog posts are a very common choice in starting a content marketing program, but creating a blog is usually just the beginning. You may also want to consider video, webinars, longform content downloads like ebooks and guides, infographics, audio content like podcasts, and interactive content like quizzes. 

In picking your content formats, the most important question to consider is what your audience likes. If you know they tend to prefer videos over written content, then including videos in your strategy is a good idea.

Also factor in what you can afford—creating videos and longform content assets can potentially cost a lot more than blog posts. And consider what’s already out there. You may be able to make your content go further if you’re the only brand creating podcasts on industry topics, for instance. 

You don’t have to settle for one content format. In fact, you’re better off going with a mix. Different types of content can be used to promote each other. They can appeal to different parts of your target audience, helping you cover more territory.

For example, the REI blog features traditional blog posts as well as video:

video content on rei blog

And using different content formats means you can repurpose the content you create into different forms, making your work go further.  

7. Determine your key performance indicators (KPIs).

You established your goals way back in step one. But now you want to tie them to specific metrics. How will you measure your success in clear terms? 

If you want more website traffic, what kind of traffic numbers are you hoping to see and in what timeframe? If you want stronger SEO and visibility, how many target keywords are you hoping to get on page one for? And what kind of sales numbers will help make your investment feel worth it?

When choosing your KPIs and setting specific goals, remember that content marketing is a long game. In the first few months, when you’re building up your content library and following, you may not see a big difference. But when you give content marketing enough time to do its thing, patience and consistency do pay off. 

8. Figure out what tools and talent you need.

At this point, you’ve done a lot of preliminary work to figure out what shape your content marketing program should take. Now you want to think about what it will take to put all that work into practice. How many people will you need to hire to execute on the content strategy you have in mind? What skills do they need to have? 

And will your strategy benefit from investing in certain tools to help you do it more efficiently or effectively? For example, you may want to buy email marketing software, competitive analysis software, a content management system, or SEO tools—just to name a few possibilities. 

Get all the resources you need into place, so you’re ready to start implementing the strategy you’ve put so much work into. 

9. Create an editorial calendar.

For your content plans to go from idea to reality, and in order for them to get published and promoted in a timely manner, you need a content calendar for your eCommerce site.

An editorial calendar will help you organize what content to create, publish, and promote within a set period of time. It will help your content team coordinate the work, so everything that goes into getting a particular piece of content ready for primetime is completed before your target publish date. 

And it helps you stay consistent. If you’re committed to releasing a new blog post every week, an editorial calendar is crucial to keeping you on schedule. 

10. Plan your content promotion and distribution.

In addition to planning out your content creation process, you also want to think in advance about how to promote the content you create for your eCommerce site.

Nothing you create will help you accomplish your goals if your audience can’t find it. And most content will need a nudge (or quite a bit more than a nudge) to get in front of the right people. That could mean promoting it to your email list, pushing it out on social media, or even investing in paid promotion. 

For example, at HostGator we regularly share our blog content on our social media channels:

facebook post for hostgator blog post

Whatever form it takes, make sure you have a plan for helping your content gain traction.

11. Create and publish content.

Now with everything else in place, start creating your content! Stick with the editorial calendar you made, and keep your audience personas top of mind as you create so your content stays focused on their needs and interests. 

12. Measure your results.

Track the KPIs you selected as you go, so you can measure the success of your content strategy. Even with all the work you put into doing research in advance so your strategy would be well informed, some of your initial choices won’t pan out.

But that’s OK. As long as you measure results as you go, every piece of content you publish provides data that helps you understand something about what resonates with your audience and what doesn’t.

Analyze the content metrics you collect over time, and tweak your content strategy to bring it in line with what your audience responds to. 

eCommerce Content Marketing Can Pay Off

If everything in this list sounds like a lot of work, that’s for good reason. Content marketing has gotten increasingly competitive as more businesses have pursued it.

At this point, it’s only worth doing if you’re willing to do it well, and that takes work. But if you’re ready to make the investment, content marketing can produce powerful results for your eCommerce website. 

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.