This is Part 4 in a six-part series on content marketing for Shopify entrepreneurs. Be sure to check out Part 1 on why you should invest in content marketing, Part 2 on and how to get started with your content marketing strategy, and Part 3 on three critical content marketing tactics for online shops.
Let's continue our content marketing series by showing off different kinds of media and how they can play out in an ecommerce world. The content tactics or styles of content you choose can fit into multiple media, and certain media types are good for specific things. Plus, you can stack various media to capture a wider audience.
There are three main media types which online shops can use for content marketing. Each medium has its strengths and weaknesses, such as cost, production time, and required skills. It's likely pretty obvious, but here are the primary media types:
Now I'd like to go over each one, offer up examples from which you can draw inspiration, talk about advantages and disadvantages, and discuss ways to overcome some difficulties. Let's dive in.
The most prevalent type of online content is text.
According to this a Washington Post article from 2015, if the internet were printed at the time of writing, the world wide web would take up approximately 305,500,000,000 pages. Assuming the average person will read a 300-page book in a week, it would take just over 2,797,619 years to read the entire internet, assuming that person spoke every language on Earth!
In short, there’s a lot of text out there.
And the content marketing world for online shops is no different. Most online entrepreneurs resort to written content when implementing their content marketing strategies.
That's because written content is relatively easy to make. Whereas other forms of media can be expensive to produce and host, as well as require specialized skills to create, text is the one medium that can be reliably and easily produced by a single person.
And because many online entrepreneurs are solo operators, this is an advantage and creates the allure of article writing. With a bit of insider knowledge, an engaging voice, and a compelling topic, a fantastic article written by any given solo operator can dominate search engine results pages.
However, articles have their disadvantages.
The primary disadvantage of written content is that writing is highly competitive. Because it's one of the most accessible types of media to produce, that means your competitors are likely also producing written content.
And because everybody is writing, the only way you’ll stand out among the competition is if your written content is much better, which means more labor. That leads us to the second disadvantage.
The second disadvantage of article writing is that it takes a lot of time.
Due to the high level of creative freedom with written content and the incredible amount of competition mentioned above, writing anything meaningful can take upwards of six, ten, or more than twelve hours including ideation, research, writing, editing, and publishing.
Compare that to a podcast episode, where setup, recording, and post-production might take three to four hours depending on length and style.
Both of these disadvantages mean that writing, while it may seem like the least expensive form of content marketing, can be a lot more expensive than initially anticipated for the same results which other media can produce.
But obviously, that doesn't mean you shouldn't write fantastic content.
Different people like consuming content in different ways. Some people simply love to read. And different types of media allow the consumer to engage differently. For example, it's tough to skim through or quote a podcast or video without a written transcript. What's more, without any written content, your site will not index well in search engine results pages.
So great written content is still very relevant, and will likely continue to be forever. But how do you produce written content that stands out from the crowd?
To me, great articles follow few core rules.
Having substance means your article has something to say. Something worth reading. One of the reasons we have so much text online is that people are lazy.
Instead of creating meaningful content, many content marketers create list posts with compelling headlines, but that are stuffed with fluffy, unactionable information. Instead, you must have something intriguing to say.
Remember from Part 2; your goal is to build brand awareness and authority. So if you're selling hand-knitted, long-lasting beanies made from recycled material, don't write shallow articles on the latest beanie trends. A better move, from a substance and brand perspective, would be to write about the environment that you're committed to saving and which your customers get to enjoy with your outdoor gear. Make it meaningful.
The next rule is that great articles must be unique. Now, that doesn’t mean your ideas must be 100% original. It means that you must have a unique voice, experiences to draw upon, or an opinion about your topic.
As mentioned in the first article in our series, it's okay to borrow ideas from others, but make sure the end product is uniquely yours. Besides, content that isn't unique performs much worse concerning SEO and user consumption.
And again, back to building brand authority and awareness, there's zero point in saying the same thing that others are saying. If you do, you'll just be one among the crowd.
Lastly, while it may seem odd to mention visual appeal when talking about text, it’s a critical part of your article’s user experience. Visual appeal touches on several things for articles:
Notice the similarities between blogs and articles you’ve finished or abandoned, but in cases where the content quality was high. The size, style, and spacing of text and paragraphs either help or hinder users who are consuming your content. Large blocks of text, overly small or large fonts, or poor use of negative space cause users to stumble and eventually leave.
What’s more, article pages should be clean and laid out with little to zero clutter. Avoid busy product offers and popups. They distract users and ultimately that distraction causes users to disengage from your site.
And while it’s not required, it can be incredibly beneficial to use images, illustrations, or explainer graphics to clarify, enhance or represent whatever you’re writing about.
I think a pretty decent example of a great article, albeit not perfect, is this piece on adding more time to your day from the BestSelf Blog. The design is clean, though the photos need to be optimized. It takes advantage of bullet lists for better organization, and it delivers an exciting insight that many audience members likely hadn't thought about.
These days, you can’t turn a corner without meeting yet another podcast host. There’s a podcast for just about everything, and yet many of them lack in quality and consistency. That’s where you come in.
After a quick search for "shoe podcast," I stumbled upon The Sneaker Podcast. The Sneaker Podcast is "a show where a bunch of guys sit around a table to talk about life, lifestyle, music and all things sneakers." They get about 1,000 downloads per episode on Podbean alone. The show is only okay, so I know you could do much better. Plus, it's unclear whether or not they are selling something, but they definitely should be.
So, whether you’re selling shoes, digital writing tablets, or iPhone docking stations, you can have a podcast about the lifestyle your product fits into.
The rise in popularity of podcasting makes a lot of sense. These days we're busier than ever, but we still want to consume exciting or entertaining content. Luckily, podcasts have allowed us to listen to compelling content during times we would otherwise not have.
For example, many people listen to podcasts during their morning commutes or while taking a bathroom break. Podcasting has, therefore, opened up entirely new windows of time where people can be consuming information.
That means that there’s still a massive land grab going on for people’s attention. Attention that you have the opportunity to capture if you can fit into these new content consumption windows.
On the production side, if done right, podcasting can take less time than article-writing. Of course, this depends on the length of your podcasts and the amount of post-production you want to do. To produce an audiophile podcast like Sound Matters, it would take far more time to than a blog on the same topic.
But, as with anything, podcasts have their weaknesses as well.
Here’s what I believe are the drawbacks:
Capturing great audio is generally a one-shot endeavor. If you're interviewing a customer and the audio quality just isn't there, the material will be unusable. What's more, re-recording an interview is incredibly awkward. Imagine asking a customer or supplier to have the same conversation again and pretend like it was the first time.
Additionally, to get podcast downloads, you need to drive traffic to your show. You can do this most aptly through your other distribution channels like your blog, newsletter, or social media.
After that, the primary goal is to start being discovered organically. And the process for that can be a bit nebulous. At this point, the main strategy seems to be driving traffic to your show's page and begging listeners to leave reviews, which help rank in iTunes and other directories.
Finally, the last disadvantage comes in the form of human capital.
The people who are knowledgeable and highly-skilled at scheduling compelling interviews, recording audio correctly, and publishing in a way that maximizes audience reach, are few and far between. To keep this medium affordable, you'll likely need to figure it out on your own or else hire somebody who's willing to get their hands dirty.
I didn't think writing about how to overcome the disadvantages of podcasts was very worthwhile, because in general the negatives aren't that bad. In short, you can make sure to record audio on both ends of an interview to help insure you against the one-shot problem. And I've already explained how to get past the other obstacles.
By far, video has seen the most explosive growth in new online media. Likely because it captivates us by taking advantage of three of our five senses.
Video can indeed show off your brand, vision, and story. You can paint a narrative with visuals, then use music or overlay text to add meaning and convey emotion. With video, there are far more tools at your disposal for creating compelling content.
But of course, there are significant downsides:
None of these obstacles are surprising, but I’d like to go over each and offer up ways to overcome them.
It’s true, certain types of video content require highly specialized skills and a lot of time to produce.
But these issues can mostly be resolved by picking easier content types. Instead of trying to produce movie-quality inspirational videos, focus on minimal one-on-one interviews with customers or influencers in your industry. They are simple to create and require a lot less editing in post-production.
And at least for now, there aren't that many compelling interview series out there in most industries. So, take advantage of this moment in time.
What's more, when it comes to niche content, audiences aren't that picky. With just a bit of knowledge, you can produce videos that are good enough for your audience. So buck up, take some courses on Creative Live or Lynda.com, and start practicing. After your first few videos, you'll be much better and happy with the result.
Oh, and expensive equipment? You most likely don’t need it. These days, we’re lucky enough to have extremely high-quality video cameras in our pockets.
I’ve filmed dozens of interviews on my iPhone 8 Plus, which can record up to 4K. You'd be right to say that the quality (especially when it comes to lighting, highlights, and shadows) isn't as good as a solid DSLR, but most people won't notice or care if they do.
So no, you don’t need expensive equipment. With my phone, a tripod, a tripod phone mount, and an external microphone, I’m able to capture at least B+ interview footage.
Before we close things out, I think it's worth mentioning that you don't have to commit to only one of the media types above. You can stack them.
An article can easily be read and recorded as a podcast episode and audio can easily be stripped from any video you produce for another episode. You can write synopses or use a transcription service to create a written form of every video and podcast you create.
Doing all that gives your audience options to consume your content however they please, which expands your audience.
Now that we've gone over the main media types, their advantages, and disadvantages, as well as how to get past each medium's barriers to entry, it's time to move onto publishing channels. But we'll have to save that for next time, in Part 5, the final chapter in our saga.