This is a guest post from Anand Srinivasan, the founder of Hubbion, a suite of free business tools and resources.
“Content is king,” they said. “If you keep publishing content, traffic will come,” they said. How many times have you read articles with advice to bring customers to your eCommerce store and found “blogging” among the top-listed strategies? All the time, right?
They were not wrong. Blogging (and all content marketing) can be a very profitable marketing strategy for an online store. But that is only if you do it the right way.
As much as you’d like to write new articles every week and watch the traffic and sales flow in, that’s largely unrealistic. Churning out new articles each week is rarely ever enough. Promoting your content is the key—but the promotion step is where a lot of store owners go wrong.
Even if you spend hours promoting your new article in your newsletter, on your social media channels, and maybe even on sites like Reddit, that’s only going to bring you a small trickle of traffic. Many times, it is people who already buy from you (because they’re the ones who subscribe to your email list or follow you on social media).
Greg Digneo, the man behind SaaS startup TimeDoctor’s organic growth calls it the “content marketing hamster wheel of doom.” That is: You write an article, get a big spike in initial traffic, but don’t see an influx of new customers or any long-term benefits. You keep going through that process again and again, hoping something will change—but nothing does.
The good news: You don’t need to be a growth hacking genius to get more out of your blogging efforts. Blogging is science. If you follow the right formula, you can get the results you are looking for—but first, you need the right inputs.
Choosing the right topics
If you have been blogging for any stretch of time, odds are you’ve already covered all the main topics in your niche. For example, an eCommerce store selling laptops would probably write articles like:
- Best laptops to buy in 2021
- Most affordable laptops for students
- Best laptops for gamers
You know the drill: you search for a keyword like “laptop” on Google’s Keyword Planner or your other favorite research tool, and it spits out topics like the ones above.
The trouble with this strategy is that every other tech blog, review website, and/or eCommerce store selling laptops has written articles on these topics as well. Those topics are way too crowded for a small or medium-sized online store business to compete in the search results.
Popular marketer Neil Patel suggests asking these five questions before you launch your blog campaign:
- What excites, intrigues, or stirs passion in my customers?
- What common challenges do my customers face?
- What character traits do my customers possess?
- What do my customers love about my niche?
- What do my customers hate about my niche?
You may notice these are questions that are not specifically about your product or industry. Instead, they are about your customers, and target customers, themselves.
So, if you sell golfing equipment, your blog does not have to be solely dedicated to golfing equipment—again, the big eCommerce brands have certainly already saturated that topic. Instead, go beyond that and talk about things like building mental fortitude, patience, and concentration. Those topics will resonate with your target customer, are are often less crowded and can perform better for you in search.
Content marketing is a long-term process. Some people may go from reader to customer right away—but that’s rare. Your best bet is to use your blog to drive readers to your email list, where you can then begin nurturing them along the journey toward becoming customers.
One of the most common ways to get blog readers to sign up for an email newsletter is by offering a lead magnet. This is usually a downloadable asset (like a PDF document or video) that is so compelling that the visitor who only came by to read your article will now consider subscribing to your newsletter as well.
Your lead magnet could be a simple one-page checklist, a brief guide, or simply an infographic version of the topic you discussed (people might like that since it can be printed and stuck on their walls). There are a ton of third-party tools you can use to produce quick, professional, and effective lead magnets. Of course, the more effort you put into the lead magnet, the more effective it should be at enticing people to sign up.
The key to a good downloadable lead magnet is making sure it’s connected to the blog post (and your core business). You may, for instance, produce a well-researched guide on buying a golf club. But will that convince someone reading a post about “tips for the mental side of golf” to sign up for your newsletter? What you need is a lead magnet that naturally fits with the topic you are discussing.
That can be an intimidating prospect; it’s hard enough to create one great lead magnet, let alone a great one for every topic you cover in your blog. That’s why in the eCommerce context, you may find a discount is a more effective lead magnet than a downloadable file.
A discount actively nudges a blog visitor into making a purchase. Plus it serves as a lead qualifier—with a discount coupon, you only have potential customers engage with your magnet. It won’t appeal to other visitors who are not there to buy.
(Of course, there are downsides to discounting with lead magnets as well, which you can read about at Jilt Learn. Do your research as you determine the right lead magnet for your business.)
Earlier in this article, I talked about the “content marketing hamster wheel of doom.” One of the key points I mentioned is that eCommerce owners primarily promote their articles to people who are already their subscribers, followers, and/or customers.
If your objective is simply to bring traffic to your blog posts, it doesn’t matter where that traffic comes from—but that’s not good traffic for an eCommerce store. Your objective should be to acquire readers who match your target customer personas.
There are two major avenues to acquire this traffic as an eCommerce store: SEO and social media. Let’s talk SEO first.
If you run your eCommerce site on WooCommerce (and use WordPress to blog), plugins like Yoast or Rank Math can help with onsite SEO; they’ll make sure you address key content issues like keyword density or readability before you hit “publish.”
The next critical piece to your SEO puzzle is link building. Some studies estimate that eCommerce owners spend up to a quarter of their marketing budget on SEO. A lot of this could go into building links to product pages, which seems logical on the surface—but may be problematic.
A massive component of SEO is getting high-quality backlinks to your site. How many high-quality sites are going to link to your product pages? Sure, you’ll link to them internally within your content. Beyond that, maybe you’ll get a link from a blogger here and there or from a press release you put out—but, chances are, you won’t get many links beyond that. And as a result, your product pages will have trouble ranking, especially against the giant eCommerce retailers.
Instead, it makes sense to put your effort toward building links to your blog posts. If you use a tool like Ahrefs, it tells you how many backlinks you need to rank for any particular keyword.
For the above keyword, you need to build links from over 141 websites to show up in the top 10 results. So, each time you publish a blog post, take a look at this number and put in the effort to build these backlinks.
This is not going to be easy—effective SEO isn’t easy—but it’s easier to get a link to an interesting, informative blog post than a product page.
One popular way to get backlinks is through guest posting. Search the keyword for which you want to rank. Examine the top-ranking search engine results and see which blogs have linked to them. Then reach out to those blog owners and offer up a superior piece of content.
In SEO parlance, this technique is called the “skyscraper technique.” Sure, it takes a lot of time to acquire these backlinks, but they’re extremely valuable—and at least some of the process can be automated.
If you noticed, this article is a guest post. To get an opportunity to publish here, I hired a virtual assistant from a freelancer marketplace like Elance who could find the right people to reach out to. I then fed these email addresses and other details to Replyify, a sales automation tool that sent out emails and follow-ups till people responded. The cost of getting responses from a dozen websites is less than $50 a month. (Editor’s note: Now let’s not all do this at once, okay? 😉 )
Writing articles is going to take a much longer time. Again, you could hire a writer to do this for you (although I personally write my own). Freelancers are available for anything between 50 cents to $1.50 per word. In other words, you can get a 1,000-word article done for as little as $50. In all, it shouldn’t cost you more than $500- to $1,000-a-month to get a good blog promotional strategy going.
Guest posting has other ancillary benefits beyond SEO as well. You can establish yourself and your brand as a thought leader and drive qualified traffic to your blog and store. Plus it’s just another way to get your brand out there; think of it as free, albeit time-consuming, publicity.
Social media is a different ballgame. For one, the kind of content that warrants a social media push is often different from articles that lend themselves to SEO. Some topics that don’t do particularly well in search can be big hits on social media—if you advertise them to the right crowd.
Let’s go back to the golf example. A blog post compiling dozens of hole-in-one golfing videos could be a popular post for social media—but might not be something your potential customers are searching for on Google.
Paid social media gives you the opportunity to target by interest—and that’s something you need to do to maximize the long-term value of your advertising. After all, a compilation of hole-in-one videos could be popular even among non-golfers—and they aren’t going to turn into customers. You want to make sure you’re only advertising to people who could be interested in your content and convert at your store.
Just make sure when those targeted readers arrive at your post, you also hit them with an enticing and relevant lead magnet to get them to stick around. (Example: “Get 10% off on our products by following us on Facebook” is a great way to capture followers with high purchase intent.)
Of course, moving beyond paid social ads, organic social media marketing is also a way to spread your best blog posts—however, it can be a time sink for eCommerce stores simply because of the high noise-to-signal ratio. To make sure you’re not burning too much of your time on low-results social media marketing, sign up with a scheduling tool that can automate your social media posting. You can also hire a virtual assistant who can help you with this.
The monthly expense to run such a promotion is typically between $100 to $200. Advertising expenses are extra, but with the right targeting, eCommerce stores shouldn’t need to spend more than a few hundred dollars a month to reach thousands of targeted buyers.
As great as it’d be if you could just put up blog posts and have them automatically bring in readers and drive sales, that’s just unrealistic. In fact, you may be making costly mistakes.
- Don’t just promote to your own lists. When you promote your blog posts to your own email list and social media followers, you may not be bringing in potential new customers—just people who are familiar with you or have already bought from you.
- Choose the right topics. Beware of the “obvious” blog post topics for your niche—odds are those are already too crowded. Look for more creative topics where you can be more competitive in search results.
- Offer a lead magnet. It’s rare that someone will instantly go from reading a blog post to making a purchase. Offer up a relevant lead magnet on your blog posts, whether it’s something downloadable or a discount, to get readers to sign up for your email list. From there, you can begin to nurture them into customers.
- Promote your article the right way. Use guest posts to build up high-quality backlinks to improve your SEO. And paid social media advertising can be a relatively cost effective way to drive targeted traffic to your site.
One final note: The blogs you publish are not standalone pieces. For a successful campaign, each blog post you publish must be a lesson for the future. Experiment with different target groups and different types of lead magnet. Find out what works and what doesn’t—then implement your findings in your future plans.
Most eCommerce stores are bootstrapped and may not afford a full-time SEO or content marketer. But the beauty of the strategies I have listed above is they don’t cost a fortune. You can execute a good content plan for as little as $1,000 a month—and while you may not see a return instantly, over time, the sales you drive can far outweigh the costs. Then scale up gradually as you find more and more success to sustain your growth.