Sell Me Something: The Top Five Content Issues for eCommerce Shops

We have a guest post by Joe Shoop about content marketing this week. This is part one of a two part special on content here on the Smokehouse with this post to kick it off all about content for eCommerce and you’ll see my take on how to be successful with blog/article content marketing in 2019 right here on Smokehouse in two weeks!

Isn’t eCommerce great?  I can hardly remember a time when you couldn’t just pick up a cellphone or laptop and buy practically anything in the world with just a few clicks.  In reality, this is still a fairly new phenomenon, only having existed for about the last decade or two.

With this historically new way to shop, more and more entrepreneurs try their hand at starting a new online store.  And, unfortunately, they keep making the same mistakes over and over when building their first store – poor content quickly sinks their efforts.

It is for these folks this article is intended, but I hope this may serve as a reminder for those who have been in the game for a while but could use some reminders.  While this article is written with eCommerce in mind, content is content and these issues can easily be applied to blogs, recipe sites, video game reviews, and more.

Exclusively Using Manufacturer’s Content For Product Descriptions  

If there’s one thing drives me craziest when working with eCommerce clients, it’s this one.  You go to great lengths and expense to build a fast web platform, carefully curate a line products to sell, work on branding a logos, and a host of other items, then you simply plop the same description that the manufacturer has sent to hundreds (if not thousands) of other people just like you?  

You work so hard to stand out in the crowded online space, then do the exact same thing everyone else does when describing your products? Honestly, why not just put pictures of what you want to sell with a buy button instead? It will be just about as effective, and at least you’ll be a little different than your competitors!  I see this all the time, and it’s like a cancer hiding under the surface of your site – things may go well for a long time, but eventually you’re going to pay the price of not treating this thing early.

Think of it this way: if a potential customer is looking for a specific product you sell, and they search online for this product, how on earth will they find your site when there are 300+ other businesses out there selling the same product and using the exact same words to describe it?  They won’t. Why? Because you are going to get beaten out by the big players in online retail (Amazon, WalMart, Target, Wayfair, etc.) and all of the other sites who’ve existed out there much longer than you have every time.

From Google’s perspective, what would best satisfy this customer’s search? A proven website with a long track record of quickly delivering an enjoyable purchasing experience, or some new site that says the exact same thing about each and every one of their products and that has done almost nothing to stand out from the pack.  

Yeah, I’m clicking on Amazon or Target, buddy, and so is everyone else.

Whoa!

The moral of this story is that you have to produce descriptions of your products that will potentially rank for new keyword terms, provide some value to searchers that even the big stores don’t, and be compelling enough to break through the huge amount of online noise.  If you’re not going to do that, what are you going to do?

Offer ‘better customer service’? Compete on price?

Listen – everyone thinks they offer the best customer service, and there will always be someone online who’ll sell for cheaper. You have to take the royal road to online success – write quality content for your site and draw people into your offerings.

Stealing Content From Other Sites 

C’mon, really?  I shouldn’t have to go through an in-depth description on this one, but unfortunately there are too many people out there who think they can get away with this one.  ‘Why go to all the trouble of actually writing original copy for my site when I can just scrape this good copy over here and paste it on my site?!’

I guess kindergarten class/sunday school/afterschool specials/philosophy class didn’t teach you this one, so I will – it’s not OK to steal someone else’s stuff.  

Yeah, I know – writing content is challenging, especially when you have hundreds or thousands of products you’re trying to sell online.  You recognize that you have to have something original to say on your site, but you just don’t have time to actually put those thoughts together and write them into your site.  

Besides, it’s the internet; they can’t prove I stole the content, right? Actually, yes, and it’s quite easy to do, and taking this shortcut to try to rank better and faster is a guaranteed to get you busted in the long run.  

How? For starters, it’s going to be quite difficult to outrank whomever originated the content in the first place. Again, seeing from Google’s perspective, if they have two sites with nearly identical content, and one site has been running a quality store for years, and your site just showed up last month, they’re almost always going to put the original source near the top of the rankings, and your site will always be playing catch up.  

The only way I’ve seen copier beat the originators is by undercutting their price, pushing their profit margins to near $0. Is this really how you want to compete online – selling tons of products, shipping all of the country (or the world), working 60, 70, 80 hour weeks, just to hopefully eke out enough profit to equal a minimum wage job?

Additionally, what if the originators find out that you’ve stolen their copy?  They’re probably going to start with a cease and desist letter from their attorney asking you to knock it off or else they’ll look into more painful measures to get you to stop.  Then they’ll contact your site’s host to ask that your site be taken down due to the stolen content (and they’ll likely be successful – web hosts don’t like having a bad reputation and if they can show that your site is stealing content, they’ll take it down).  

Yeah…don’t do this.

If this doesn’t work, they’ll go to Google, Bing, et. al., and ask that your sites be deindexed (taken out of the search results).  And if you think web hosts don’t like having a bad rep, you can bet the search engines don’t – they’ll be happy to deindex a site that steals content, and you may never have your site indexed again, which is not going to go well for your online company.  

Finally, if these steps aren’t enough, you may find yourself hiring a lawyer to defend your indefensible actions in court. All of this because you couldn’t be bothered to write a few sentences about a table or a game controller.

You Wrote Content, But Not A Lot

Well, I’m really proud of you – you’ve taken a step that surprisingly few online stores ever do.  You’ve decided to write your own original content to describe the products and services you sell online.  Great, but how much did you write?

One sentence?  Maybe two?

This is never going to work if you don’t put some real effort into it.  Surely you can say more than “This coffee pot is really good. Comes in black or chrome.”?  

While no one expects you to be a modern day Leo Tolstoy, we all expect you to put a little bit of passion into this and adequately describe the thing you’re trying to sell us.  

If you really cannot come up with a minimum of three sentences telling me what is great about the product, what it does (and maybe what it can’t do), additional features that I may not know they want (but will), some dimensions, maybe even a few nice testimonials, then why should I buy from you at all?  

This is Selling 101! While this may be slightly better than using the manufacturer’s content, it isn’t much better because you given no one cause to buy, and search engines have little to rank you for.  I’m ready to part with my money, but you have to try harder than this to get me to buy your widget.

Write an absolute minimum of three complete sentences telling me why I should buy your product.

Repetitive Content

I’m really quite impressed!  You’ve taken my advice to heart, Invested the time necessary to create original descriptions for your products, and not taken bone-headed shortcuts to get there.  But, now we have a new problem – repetitive content.

It looks like you took the one good description of the dog bed you’re selling, copied it on every other dog bed you sell, and just changed a couple of words on each page.  Now your site has become an echo chamber, saying the exact same thing over and over, with little difference from page to page throughout the entire site.

While this is still better than the other issues listed above, it comes with bad side effects as well and should be avoided at all costs.  First of all, Google, Bing, and other search engines have never been fond of repetitive or duplicate content.  

This shouldn’t be your content.

Think about it: if you sold three dog beds on your site, and they all have almost exactly the same content on each page, which one should rank first?  Here’s the answer: the page from another site that doesn’t repeat itself over and over again, while your three dog beds get pushed to the bottom of the SERP.  

The same goes for shoppers on your site.  How long would you spend on a website that keeps saying the same thing, page after page, product after product.  It wouldn’t take long before your spidey-senses would start tingling and you would begin to think that this is either a) a fraudulent site that is just waiting to steal your money, or b) some weird overseas site that will take weeks to fulfil your order and have almost no customer service.  

Why lump your good site in with these guys? Find creative ways to craft content for all of your products, and avoid rubber stamping your content across your site.

Unclear Call-To-Action

While this isn’t a widespread issue, one problem I see from time to time is content that doesn’t clearly demonstrate any real call-to-action.  It seems to simply exist to talk about the product in question, then slap a “BUY” button at the bottom of the page.

As any good marketer will tell you, you need to let both the customer and the search engines know that you have a clear agenda (selling products), and that they can and should in-fact purchase from your site.  

While it’s generally pretty easy to tell on most sites, some older or poorly designed sites are difficult to navigate and present challenges to the online shopping process.

Don’t be vague about what your intentions are – wrap up your product description with a quick line urging the reader to buy today! If there is any ambiguity on how to purchase the item, or special instructions on processing the order, be up front about it and make sure the steps are clearly laid out well defined.  

The world may never know…

There’s little point in getting people to click on your products, get excited about your products, and then leave them on their own about what to do or how to actually purchase your stuff.

In closing, I know that what I’ve detailed here can mean a ton of new work for already overworked eCommerce staff.  

I get it, there’s barely enough time to process orders, handle customer issues, keep employees motivated and happy, etc., etc.  But, to really succeed online today, you have to go the extra mile, creating quality, original content throughout your site, building your own unique brand, and offering compelling products and services in creative ways.  

I often recommend the following tips to my eCommerce clients to help make the task of copywriting more manageable:

  1. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.  Decide on a reasonable amount of products per month (10 to 20 products should be manageable for most teams), and commit yourself to writing content for only these products.  It may take months or years to get through all of it, but by starting small you’ll begin a process that can make a huge difference in the search presence and domain authority of your site.
  2. Choose your method for picking products.  In picking your 10-to-20 products, define a rule at the onset and stick with it.  I find it’s best to choose your top products by sessions (check Google Analytics to see what your most popular pages are), but you can start with your top sellers, oldest products, most/least expensive, or just start in alphabetical order.  Once you decide on your rule, however, apply the rule every month until all of your products have been covered.
  3. Hire help.  Copywriting freelancers abound online today, and there are always eager young writers for hire at your local college or university.  Hire a contractor to compose copy for you and save yourself the time.
  4. Once you have written original copy for all of your products, do it again!  Google loves fresh copy on a page, and generally looks for page revisions every six months.  Once you’ve finished covering all of your pages, rewrite them all. Don’t start from scratch, just take the old copy and change the order around a bit, reword a sentence or two, or just add a short sentence or delete an old one.  This tends to be far less laborious than the first time, since you’re just giving the first round of copy a little facelift. It’s enough to keep Google interested, and will almost certainly give you the competitive edge in the search engine marketplace.

Rome wasn’t’ built in a day, and neither will your eCommerce empire.  But by avoiding manufacturer’s content, stealing your competitor’s content, repetitive content, thin content, and ambiguous calls-to-cation, you can easily catapult your online store to the top 10% of online marketers in your niche.  

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