Chapter 5
Content Strategy for Ecommerce Websites

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Chapter summary

Product pages are arguably the most important pages on any ecommerce site. This is where potential customers convert into paying customers, and where you should be showcasing your products at their best.

In this chapter, we’ll explore what you can do to improve your own product pages and how to make the most of the marketing potential therein.

Product names

The first step to improve your product pages is to give some consideration to your product names.

Utilising names which make sense for your warehouse or your own financial records might not be the best approach for your website users. Instead, consider how a potential customer will search and how best to reflect their needs in the naming conventions you choose.

For example, the use of a product code as a name will only serve your internal purposes. Instead, consider what unique aspects of your product you want to showcase, alongside more generic names – if it’s a children’s bed that’s shaped as an oyster shell, you’ll want to include ‘children’s bed’ in the product name but also highlight the unique aspect of being shaped like a shell!

An exception to this is the Ikea product range, where the use of Swedish product names and ranges is an integral part of their brand. That said, even Ikea will append their Swedish names with a more generally used term like ‘coffee table’, so bear this in mind even if your product naming conventions serve more of a branding purpose.

SEO and product names

Another key consideration for your product names is that of SEO. When working to optimise your ecommerce site for search, the choices you make about how you name your products will have a marked impact on how well they rank in the search results pages.

It’s worth utilising tools like Google’s own Keyword Planner or similar keyword research platforms to better understand what terms users are already using to find products similar to yours. You should also review similar competitors to your own brand to ascertain how they name their products – it’s likely they’ve conducted this research already so you can learn a lot from them.

Similarly, as discussed in chapter 1 of this guide, you should give thought to who your target customer is and how they search. If you have data already, reviewing this will give you invaluable insights into how customers talk about your products and therefore how best to structure your product naming conventions accordingly.

Typically, brands will decide on a common naming convention to give consistency across their site. For example, if you decide to add a product size (large) to the product name (coffee table) you might dictate that the size always come after the product (coffee table large) or that the material used to make it come first (wooden coffee table large). You can then apply this same convention across all products to mitigate against confusion as customers move around and compare different products.

Product images and videos

One of the biggest choices ecommerce customers have to make before they choose to purchase from you is whether they’d rather complete their purchase online or offline.

The rise of online stories vs bricks and mortar high street stores has been well documented in the press – especially in the UK – and there are good reasons why both continue to exist in spite of a growing online audience.

The most prevalent of the reasons people choose to shop offline lies in their ability to touch and judge a physical product. When we shop in store, we can pick up, touch, feel, weigh, small and see movement in a product far more than we can online. Especially in the case of products like clothing, the way clothes look online can differ significantly from how it looks when worn.

This is where product imagery and video can play a really valuable role. Get it right, and you are able to all but emulate the offline experience. Get it wrong, and you risk users not being able to see the beauty or potential value of your product simply because the visuals are representative of the real thing.

When considering utilising videos and photography, there are multiple things you need to take into consideration, for both the user and the search crawler.

Product photography

High resolution imagery gives off a strong signal that the product is of a good quality. Consider how you want your product to be perceived in choosing the style of photography you want to exhibit.

For example, many brands will choose ‘lifestyle imagery’, which means showing the product in situ. If this is furniture, you’ll show the sofa in a living room with some nice rugs and cushions etc – not to take away from the product itself, but to help users visualise how it might look in their home. If it’s clothing, you will consider putting the clothes onto models who reflect the demographics of the audience you’re targeting, allowing you to help your potential customers see how the clothes might look on them.

Many brands also choose to provide images of the product on a simple white background. This takes away the lifestyle element and instead gives more of a ‘blank canvas’ – so if the user doesn’t have a living room that looks like the one you’ve chosen for your lifestyle imagery, they can still imagine the product within their own living room.

Accessing this kind of imagery can be done relatively cheaply, but will require a good quality camera and lighting. Many online retailers today will assign a section of their office to product photography, placing a white backdrop in place and using good quality lighting and reflector panels to give the best light possible.

Taking your own photos will usually be the cheaper option, but bear in mind that, especially without an offline store, your images are often all you have to show your customers how great your products are. So consider investing in professional photography where possible.

Multiple angles to your products are also worth incorporating. Think about how a user would move the product around in real life, and try to emulate that in the product angles you choose. If sizing is something a user would consider, try to provide some insight into this through your photography too – it’s no coincidence that something like a toaster would be photographed alongside common items like a kettle or a toast rack, thus providing a visual reference for the user to understand what the size of the toaster is going to be.

Having your images cropped in the right way is important for the visual impact of the page. If you have imagery on a carousel and your product imagery goes from left-aligned to right aligned to centre aligned this creates a messy visual and doesn’t look like you’ve put thought behind your product imagery. Each product image should have equal matching margins away from other elements of the page.

Optimising product photography for search

The added benefit of great product photography is that Google can display it in its image search results. Whenever a user is searching to buy a product, they can elect to search through images rather than text results – which is especially valuable if they’ve seen a product they like elsewhere and are looking for similar, e.g. if they see an item of clothing they like on a movie, or a pair of shoes on an advert they can’t remember the brand of.

As an absolute minimum, you should be optimising your product photography to help Google identify what it is and how best to serve it to the user. Specifically, consider naming the image file itself according to the product name (so if it’s a photo of some blue running shoes, you want to name the file bluerunningshoes.jpg, or whatever format you’re using).

You should also utilise the image alt tag to describe the image. The alt tag existed originally for those using screen readers, so that the image could be described easily, but has also served a benefit for Google as the search giant has worked to perfect its ability to understand imagery. Of course, today, Google is much better equipped to ‘see’ your images so alt tags are sometimes perceived less important, but still worthy of inclusion.

On the latter note, it’s also worth bearing in mind that Google can decipher much better than ever before the quality of one image from another. So if you’ve invested in quality product photography, Google will likely reward you for that with high search ranking positions.

Google’s focus on image led search has increased in recent years with the addition of the Google Lens functionality to the image search panel. At the same time, brands like Pinterest have also been investing greatly in their image recognition functionality. This makes it ever the more valuable to invest in product photography to help new users find your brand and existing users continue to return.

Image sizing and CDNs

When including a large number of images in your website, you’ll need to give thought to the impact of that on your website load times.

Having very large images might seem a good idea in terms of quality, but if it slows down the load time of your site, it will be detrimental to both search engines and users. Typically, a user won’t wait for longer than a second these days for a site to load, so bear this in mind when investing in photography.

One solution is to ensure the image you upload is appropriate for the web. Uploading the full, high res version of your product photo is unnecessary – you’re not expecting a user to download the image and use it for a billboard on the side of the street, after all! Instead, make it a size that will load an appropriate level of detail while not adding too much to the load requirements of the page.

Another solution, as well as appropriate sizing, is to consider investing in a content delivery network (CDN). This is where you upload your imagery onto a separate platform, so all of your web page assets still load at the same time, but doing so is made easier by the fact not all the requests for content are being made of your own server. Instead, the site will call on the CDN at the same time as your own server for all other content, thus making the load process more efficient. This is especially pertinent for brands with a large number of image assets.

Using videos on ecommerce product pages

The use  of video on your ecommerce product page is another way to emulate the physical offline shopping experience. Particularly with an item like clothing, materials will move differently depending on which material it is, how it is cut and the fit – as such, the use of video ‘catwalks’ has been increasing in the clothing retail area, with brands like ASOS arguably leading the way.

As with product imagery, you’ll want to consider how you shoot your videos and how this reflects on your brand. Again, building audience understanding is imperative here to ensure your video style (and choice of model or lifestyle backgrounds where appropriate) are going to resonate with your target customer.

You’ll also want to think about how the inclusion of video will impact your page load times. Using a CDN is possible with video as it is with photography, and that can be a really good solution to the loading problem.

Google will appreciate your use of video, as the search engine moves ever more toward favouring rich media and varied formats of content. Also bear in mind that YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world, and that inclusion of your videos on YouTube can give you another opportunity to be seen by your target audience.

Image and video sitemaps

For brands looking to take their image and video optimisation to the next level, consider the creation of separate image and video sitemaps which will help search engines like Google to find your rich media content more efficiently and thus to better serve them to their users.

Product descriptions

Your product descriptions are your opportunity to create lots of high quality, unique content that will help communicate your brand as well as encouraging the user to buy.

It’s really important that your product descriptions be unique, because this enables your pages to rank well in the search engine results pages, and differentiates you from your competitors. Simply utilising the same description provided by the product manufacturer leaves you at risk of having the same content as all other resellers, thus devaluing the quality of your own pages (and therefore impacting your search rankings too).

Try adding some uniqueness into your product descriptions by detailing your experiences with particular products, e.g. what you like most about them, or how they might be best used. It may be a daunting task to write original product descriptions for potentially thousands of products, but if you chip away at it month by month, the results will speak for themselves. Bullet points alongside blocks of copy improve readability too.

There are methods to automate this, such as using scripts to pull in keywords at pertinent points in a more general product script. For example, if your descriptions are of variants on the same product, it may be that all you seek to change is something like the colour or price, in which case, this can be automated to an extent to save time.

Innocent prides itself on its approachable persona, and this is evident in their simple product descriptions which plainly outline what’s in their products and what people may like about them. With food and drinks products, there is a particular challenge in that the potential customer can’t taste or even smell the product before purchase. In this example, Innocent manages to relay these sensations through their words: https://www.innocentdrinks.co.uk/things-we-make/juices/fruit-and-veg-juice/easy-greens

Product options

For many products there are a wide range of options available these could be colour, size, quantity. These selections need to be clear and visible on the page, no user wants to have to visit 3 different pages just to look at a different colour of product they are looking for, each product should be be configurable.

Quantity is another important factor which needs to be clearly visible, if a user wants to order 10 of the same product this should be quick and painless.

Faceted navigation in product options

Many ecommerce brands will choose to use faceted navigations or product filtering to make it possible for users to find the specific variant of a product that they need.

This is fantastic for user experience, helping users get to their chosen product more quickly and to bypass any other products that won’t be of interest. As with all marketing, the user experience should come first so it’s well worth considering the user of filtering to make your own customers’ lives easier and encourage higher conversion and retention rates.

From a search perspective, this can also be a hugely valuable technique, when used well. Rather than having to create separate pages to rank for colour variants of a chair you sell, instead you can allow the filters to create pages with additional URL parameters that can be served as a page to the searcher in the search results.

At the same time, do bear in mind that you won’t necessarily want to allow search engines to serve up every possible variant – for example, if a user has elected to filter by size, colour and material, the order in which they make those filters active and the choices they make may be pretty niche and unlikely to be re-filtered in the same way by large numbers of other customers. Many brands, for this reason, will elect to allow Google to crawl and index pages where one or two filters are applied, but where more are applied, they will ask Google to prefer a higher level page by using canonical tags or noindexing longer URL parameters.

Product reviews

Product reviews show the user what previous consumers of the product have thought about it, giving them confidence to make a purchase themselves. Product reviews are an important trust signal in ecommerce websites.

Reviews can be collected via your website, or using external tools such as reviews.co.uk, Trust Pilot or Feefo. You can then implement schema markup to highlight these reviews in the search engines and generate star ratings alongside products in the search results pages, as we’ll explain in chapter 6.

Merchandising

Merchandising refers broadly to the way that the presentation of products can be used to encourage customers to spend more. Effective merchandising incorporates the products that are displayed on your homepage, the names and presentation of your categories, and the alternative ways that users can look at your products, such as ranges or seasonal collections.

Your homepage is the first thing that most visitors see. It needs to display products and deals that will make visitors want to browse further. Depending on the season, or what you’re trying to promote, the products displayed on your homepage can change. The trick lies in understanding what your customers want and expect to see, and presenting those products and ranges in an attractive way.

Product categories

Your categories should match the main areas that your customers are interested in. As we discussed in chapter 2, your choice of categories will be dictated in part by your own logic and in part by user needs – plus, of course, consideration of how Google and other search engines will understand your business based on the categories you put in place.

Clarity and simplicity are essential. SEO considerations are likely to dictate their names to some extent, but search terms do not always translate perfectly into categories, so you do need to consider how the categories look to all of your visitors, not just those referred via Google search.

The presentation of the category page itself can influence customers to spend more. You don’t have to show customers a bland grid of all the products in your category. Instead, use that space creatively to highlight new products and deals, and to get customers excited about those products.

A growing trend in ecommerce product pages is that of incorporating advice into the main category. This can be really useful when we consider user intent, in that a user search quite broadly for ‘garden furniture’ might not know exactly what they want yet, so providing them with informational content alongside transactional can be a benefit to their experience on your site.

Situational categories

As well as your permanent categories – like trousers, t-shirts and sweaters for a clothing store – consider whether or not you can include other categories that might not be easily visible all the time. These could include seasonal sales, or perhaps ‘new in’ categories, such as Christmas deals or products for the summer.

One way of putting this in place would be to create a category which can be a filter applied to pull through any products added to your site within the past 30 days, for example. This will help those people who have simply come to browse to find the product that most appeals to them at the time.

Situational categories have benefits for on-site customers and for searchers. Seasonal categories in particular can tap into trends and help you to attract searchers. Optimising pages for ‘summer clothes’ or ‘Black Friday tech deals’ could help you to bring in traffic that you would otherwise miss out on.

In addition, both seasonal pages and ‘new in’ or ‘recommended products’ pages can help you direct shoppers’ attention to products that you know they’re going to love. It’s important to avoid being too self-serving with these categories, though we’d all be tempted to only include our highest margin products, or products that you’re struggling to sell. Instead, showcase popular products or, to go one step further, personalised results (if your platform allows it).

Of course, these different categories aren’t necessarily relevant all year, but don’t remove them from your site. Instead, if allowed by your CMS, demote them from the main menu but let them remain on the site. The benefit of this is that any links to the category remain and any user who has bookmarked your the category will be able to return. You can add a link to more relevant categories in the page to allow for better navigation in these scenarios.

You will also want to consider how best to serve customers who happen upon those pages; there’s no reason someone wouldn’t search for your Christmas range in June, but if that range isn’t updated, you don’t want to give them a poor experience by simply saying ‘unavailable’. Instead, apply a note to the page that says the range is yet to be updated and offer and alternative instead.

Ultimately, creating a variety of well-optimised landing pages covering different needs and search intents will make finding and navigating your site more intuitive for all shoppers.

Related products

Related and recommended products are an important money making tool for ecommerce sites.

At one point, Amazon attributed around 35% of their sales to various related products features, such as their ‘frequently bought together’ and ‘customers who bought this also bought’ sections, both of which appear on their standard product pages.

Think about how you can logically group your products as a starting point, and then allow sales data to show you what products are typically bought together. Depending on your choice of CMS, this process might be automated.

Cross-Selling

The technique employed so effectively by Amazon is called cross-selling – selling customers an additional product that is linked to the one they are already buying. To be successful in cross-selling, you need to work out what the purpose of the customer’s visit is, and how much more they might be prepared to spend.

A customer buying a toaster might be tempted by a matching kettle, but they’re unlikely to buy a new oven there and then.

Products can be cross-sold to customers at multiple points in the sales process. The most common place to see them is on the product pages themselves, reminding customers of things they might like to buy as they browse.

However, another effective place to put related products is around the basket summary when the customer has clicked ‘check out’. This is a great place to catch a customer’s eye and highlight something that would go really well with the product that they’ve just bought.

For example, an online store selling laptops could promote laptop cases at this stage, or a clothing store could promote items that go well with what the customer has in their basket. The trick is never to assume that the customer isn’t interested in buying something else.

Up-Selling

Up-selling, on the other hand, is encouraging customers to buy an upgraded version of the product that they’re looking at. The classic example is a car salesman convincing his customer that they need heated seats.

Up-selling online is not as simple as displaying some more products on the product page, but it can be done. Where you have different levels of the same product family, included comparison tables is always a good way to open customers up to the possibility of a bigger spend.

SEO benefits

Good internal linking is essential to any site that wants to be crawled properly by search engines. If the site has been built properly, it should have a clear hierarchy of links, from the home page, through to categories, subcategories and products, that allows search engines to see how the site hangs together.

Internal linking through related products is a great way of augmenting your existing internal linking structure and adding tools that search engine crawlers can use to better crawl your site. If links through menus and category pages show the hierarchy of your site, then related product links can show the relationships between products in that hierarchy.

They could show, for example, that satnavs are associated with satnav cases, or that a particular pair of trousers should be associated with a particular shirt. They also drastically shorten the click path between these products, making it easier for the deeper sections of your site to be crawled.

Bulk savings and deals

There are no universal rules for how to implement bulk savings and deals effectively, and they are naturally suited to some sectors, and not others.

However, if your business is in a sector that can make use of bulk deals, they can be a great way to convince customers to make bigger purchases, and to set yourself apart from the competition.

Marketing your savings

Truly effective bulk deals and savings should be combined with marketing efforts to make sure that customers know about them. If your deals are only available for a limited amount of time, email marketing is going to be one of the most effective tools that you have, at least for reaching previous customers.

Use email campaigns to present your deals in the most attractive light, remembering the numbers you use are important (for example, 10% off a £20 product looks a lot better than £2 off).

You can also reach new audiences on social media, and advertise the best deals on your home page. Consistency across your different marketing channels is important, though there is nothing wrong with modifying the exact content of the message to suit the particular medium that it appears in.

A final consideration is using bulk savings as a way of encouraging people to sign up for subscriptions and memberships. Rather than offering bulk deals to all of your customers all of the time, you could make ‘members only’ deals that people have to sign up for. Depending on your business, this could be a free or paid subscription, but even a free subscription is a way of securing an email address that can be used in future email marketing campaigns.

If you decide to go down this route, then make sure you advertise the deals in such a way that first time customers are going to see them. Email marketing won’t help, as you already have those email addresses. Instead, you could use homepage displays and social advertising to raise awareness and bring in new customers. Don’t forget to advertise the deals on the relevant product pages themselves as well.

Pricing and shipping rates

Only you can determine exact values that you choose for product pricing and your shipping rates. Whatever those values are, the way that you present them makes a difference. With savvy presentation and marketing, you can win customers’ trust and convince them that you are offering them the best deal possible.

A study talked about by Shopify found that high shipping and handling costs are one of the main reasons that customers abandon their carts online, so by displaying your shipping policies elsewhere on the site, customers are more likely to complete their orders. You don’t necessarily have to have the best offers around, but you could win customers to your site through transparency and simplicity, even if somewhere else is making a slightly cheaper offer.

Frequently Asked Questions

The FAQ section is an important piece of content on any ecommerce site. Not only can they improve your customers’ experience on your site, they can reduce pressure on your customer support team, and have SEO benefits.

To make your FAQ page as effective as possible, try to make it broad, clear, and possible to build on in the future. Use your experience so far to think about what the most common questions that customers ask are, and use these as a starting point for your FAQs.

It is normally a good idea to split your FAQs into multiple pages, or to make it possible to navigate around a single page. This enables customers to come to this section of the site and find what they’re looking for quickly. Another option is to use a search box, but if you’re going to do this, you need to make sure that it’s easy for customers to get to the right pages with a variety of search terms.

Tesco is a much more established ecommerce retailer, and offers many more services. As a result, their FAQs will need to cover a lot more ground. To make their FAQ and help section as user-friendly as possible, they have organised the pages into categories and subcategories which can be navigated to from the menu above. This approach is a good way to deal with a large FAQ section, as they have made it as easy as possible for customers to find what they’re looking for.

The individual FAQ pages contain very detailed answers to potential questions, which is possible because those answers are split over multiple pages. If they were all on the same page, the content would be bulky and difficult to navigate. Having multiple pages also makes it easier to rank for long tail keywords – specific search phrases with low search volume.

Search features

When you’re writing your FAQs pages, keep in mind the prevalence of featured snippets in Google search. When you search for most questions, a featured snippet box will appear at the top of the results page, with an answer to your query from one of the sites on page one. Anyone ranking on page one for a search query can obtain featured snippets, but to get them, you need to anticipate questions in your writing, and make sure that your content contains sentences or short paragraphs that could be used by Google.

Featured snippets tend to be between 30 and 50 words long, which could be the length of a short FAQ answer anyway, or you start your answer with a sentence that explains the topic briefly for snippet purposes, and then expand on that sentence in a longer answer for the benefit of your visitors. With snippets allowing sites to rank in ‘position zero’, it’s worth bearing them in mind when writing your FAQs.

Terms of sale

Having your terms of sale somewhere on your site is a legal requirement. It is important that they are clearly written, and easily accessible. If you’re not sure where to start with your terms and conditions, then an online template is likely to be your best option.

Ecommerce software company Shopify has a generator that anyone can use for free, and there are other options out there as well. Whether you use a template or write them another way, it is important that you are clear on the legal requirements for what you need to include, and that you don’t take any shortcuts.

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