During a consultation with a client that desperately needed an unbiased audit of their site, I was asked if I could also review their content marketing strategy and identify content gaps.
John, owner of a medium-sized outdoor gear store, scheduled a time for us to discuss his e-commerce website. In preparation for our initial meeting, I spent 4 hours reviewing the site, social media, history of the site via some of my 3rd party tools, and of course several profiles of his employees in preparation for the meeting.
I arrived at his office about 20 minutes early and after a brief tour of his office, we sat down to discuss the site.
“For the last 2 years we have engaged in a campaign to demonstrate our site and company as a thought-leader in the industry. We hoped that this would lead to a boost in branded organic traffic, people thinking of our company first when looking for information, expert advice, and the like. As an expression of that, our organic search revenue would also increase.”
“Lou, can you take a look at our content strategy as well?”
It was clear to me that they fell into the trap of a 2.0 mentality. They spent 2 years creating excellent informational and support content regarding the products, product categories, and the industry as a whole. Gauging from the tone of John’s voice, they didn’t get the return on investment they had hoped.
I accepted the additional hours of research to review their content marketing strategy, compare their content with their main competitors, and report back.
During my six weeks of research, I also researched John, the owner. He had an impressive background with experience at several sporting goods stores, including Sportmart. John began working there in high school and college. He also worked at Dicks Sporting Goods and REI as a buyer, and then in the marketing department for Under Armour and Patagonia.
During John’s time at REI, he met Tim, an excellent programmer with a passion for the outdoors industry. Tim coached his son’s baseball team every year and was a runner of half-marathons. They eventually agreed to begin an online store and it eventually grew big enough for both to quick their full-time jobs.
John has a more technical background than most owners, but could never program or design a site. Tim, because of his technical expertise, holds a 25% stake in the company. I would soon learn why.
John did the responsible thing that most entrepreneurs ignore, he waited to run his business full time until he was sure the new business could match his salary. This tells me that John is a moderate risk-taker that needs to be convinced a strategy will work before acting on it. Once he is convinced, though, he is 100% committed.
I was happy about this. Since John is a pragmatist with a lot of industry knowledge and a bit of technical background, when he sees the possibility of a proven technique, he will likely run with it.
Six weeks later, after I completed my research and audit, it was noticeably clear that John had used all of his experience to create the best website he could. In short, I was impressed, but I knew I could help John take his company to the next level - perhaps to the top. I drove to his office, settled in, and we began with a formal review of his strategies and the state of his site.
“John, I reviewed the entire site. There is a lot of information here. If may take a few sessions to get through it all. I also included the content strategy you requested, but I noticed something was missing.”
John seemed curious and moved forward in his chair as if to get a sneak peak of my reported findings.
“I would be curious to know what we missed. We did an exhaustive search of our competitors, subject topics, and articles requested by our customers. It cost us about 20% of our marketing budget. What did we miss?”
“John, your content marketing strategy beats your competition for informational content and your content ranks well. The site has gained a substantial number of backlinks from reputable sites that are congruent with the subject matter, and I have to say, the content is comprehensive. Some of your articles are just downright impressive.”
“However, I am curious why you created this strategy in the first place.”
A bit bewildered, John reiterated that they wanted to be known as a thought leader in the industry. Reputation was important to him.
“Our goal is to be the best in our industry and to have potential customers think of us first when they want to know about any outdoor gear.”
“Thought leader?” I said.
John became impatient. “Yes, if we produce the most and the best information about running shoes, for example, potential customers will think of us the next time they want to buy shoes. The same goes for skiing equipment, football gear, apparel, golf, and the other 850ish product types that we carry.”
I waited patiently for just a few seconds, absorbing John’s every word. When he was finished, I asked a poignant question that I have asked a dozen other entrepreneurs.
“If a person were to think of your organization first, why wouldn’t they just visit your site instead of searching on Google?” I waited a few seconds and continued.
“Were you hoping to gain revenue from your content marketing strategy or are you JUST committed to gaining brand awareness?”
“Well, yes, we want to generate revenue as well. Isn’t that the purpose of all marketing strategy, after all?”
I understood his thought process but wanted to see if he knew the difference between brand awareness and return on investment from proper search engine optimization. Even savvy marketing professionals juxtapose SEO with other forms of marketing.
Chapter 5: What is Function-Driven Content?
This is the new paradigm of e-commerce search engine optimization.
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