This is Part 5 in a six-part series on content marketing for Shopify entrepreneurs. In this article we’ll go over the vast amount of distribution channels for your content, their benefits and drawbacks, as well as offer hot tips on how to maximize each channel.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: your distribution strategy has a huge effect on your communication and business. REALLY HUGE.
Where You Publish Matters
It should go without saying that not all distribution channels are created equal. Where you publish matters. Publishing the same content between multiple channels doesn’t take advantage of each particular channel’s features, plus it could be a waste of time if your audience doesn’t utilize a channel that you’re distributing content to.
Where Does Your Audience Pay Attention?
The first step is to figure out where your audience already consumes content. Nobody is on every platform, and many people are only on one or two. This gets back to understanding your audience, which we’ve already covered in detail. If you don’t know where your audience spends time by now, get back in touch with your audience and figure it out. Assuming you are a member or a friend of your audience, it should be incredibly easy to figure this out.
You Don't Need Every Platform
Because your audience doesn’t pay attention to every platform and because you have limited time, this means you shouldn’t be on every platform. You shouldn’t be where the “experts” tell you to be. Only be where it makes sense.
The most significant implication here is that you do not need a blog. I’ll tell you why in the next section.
Blogs are merely a vessel for content. Having a blog doesn’t mean much if you don’t execute your blogging strategy well. As an online shopper, there’s nothing worse than coming across a neglected or mediocre blog by an ecommerce company. If I was interested in buying, my interest quickly declines when I see how you neglect your brand. It makes me think that you neglect other parts of your business, perhaps things like order processing, customer service, or the quality of the product itself.
If you don’t have the time or desire to maintain a blog, it would be better to focus your efforts on other channels. You do not need a blog. If you have a bad one, remove it.
However, if a blog fits into your content strategy and you have time to maintain one, it’s a fantastic place to hosting your content. Once your blog and content are live, the goal is to utilize other channels like social media and email to drive traffic to the blog. Once you’re sending traffic to the blog, there are a few things to keep in mind that will help the blog win over customers.
Offer a Unique Perspective
Uniqueness is a quality that will never get old. If you’re not unique, you’re boring. When users come across a blog with generic content, they know you don’t care about them. It makes you seem like an amateur. Instead, give them something they’ve never seen before. If you do, they’ll come back for more.
These are the most significant things preventing blogs from being unique:
- The author isn’t a subject-matter expert (and I mean a real expert)
- The brand hasn’t researched their content competition (most likely, the thing you’re writing about has been written about to death)
- The author isn’t opinionated (opinions are the easiest way to differentiate yourself)
Keep It Up to Date
You don’t need to post on your blog every day, but you should post, at the very least, every other week. This is the bare minimum if you want your audience to perceive the blog as active. If your last blog post was from six months ago, the audience would assume you’ve gone out of business.
Content Hack: If you want to maintain your blog without coming up with entirely new content all the time, try this. Revisit some of your most popular past articles, update and upgrade them (with graphics and further info), and change the date to today. The blog police will not arrest you for this. In fact, your audience will appreciate the content refresh. Plus, this tactic is great for SEO.
Invest in Design
I mentioned this in the example about articles in a previous article, but let’s tackle it from another perspective.
It’s 2019. The standards for the look and feel of online content has grown considerably in the last decade. Users judge businesses harshly by the design of their websites.
Here are some quick guidelines:
- Use a minimum font-size of 16px, though 18px is better
- Be generous with line-height; 30–32px is good at the above font-sizes
- Few things beat black text on a white background; don’t reinvent the wheel
- Margins! For the love of God, give your page sections some breathing room; 40px ought to do it; white space is your best friend
- Use high-resolution photos to make users happy and optimize them with TinyPNG to reduce load time
- Less is more; chances are you have way too many elements on your page; fix by spreading them out, moving, or deleting them
Invest in your blog’s design and constantly work to improve it. Speaking of which, the Judge.me blog is due for a big update, and we know it. I promise it will happen soon.
Feed the Funnel
Your blog has zero value if it doesn’t ultimately get people interested in your products. Use calls-to-action in various formats to move people further along your marketing/sales funnel. These CTAs could be an email subscription form, a discount offer, or an ebook on something your audience is interested in. Place these CTAs in the middle of a blog post, as a popup, on the sidebar, or at the bottom. Better yet, do all four. If done tastefully, you won’t bother anybody.
Now let’s talk about distributing content on video platforms. There are three places I think about when it comes to video distribution.
YouTube Has Discovery
If you want people who love videos about your industry to discover your video content, YouTube is the place to be. Period. However, I’ve had a lot more trouble removing or controlling the overlay on youtube videos. When you’re trying to build a brand or embed a video into your website, it’s annoying that YouTube continually works to take people to their platform. It’s gotten better over the years, but remember that YouTube’s ultimate goal is to get users to their site, not keep them on yours.
Vimeo Looks Awesome
Vimeo Premium provides a lot more control over the look and feel of your video. It’s fantastic for branding because you can remove any element of the Vimeo player’s overlay, including the Vimeo logo. You can even change the color of the overlay elements. However, Vimeo search is a drop in the bucket compared to YouTube. Pick Vimeo if you care about how your brand is represented when people watch your videos but aren’t worried about discovery.
Native Video on Social Network
There’s a solid case for publishing videos directly to social media platforms, instead of linking to Vimeo, YouTube, or your website. Native videos, as they are called, perform extraordinarily better than linked videos, which means you’ll get much more reach on social media platforms. My tactic here is to link to the original video on the website, but post native video clips to get the reach. On Facebook, these clips should be at least 3 minutes long to maximize the effect.
Of course, you can distribute your video across all channels. There’s no real downside to doing so. In that case, you’d post to Vimeo to have brand control and use that version to embed in your website. Then you’d post to YouTube to take advantage of their discovery algorithm. You’d post the native videos on Facebook and LinkedIn to get reach.
You can also re-promote the video as many times as you want in various ways through a method called the Pillar and Micro-content Strategy, wherein you dissect your video into micro-content pieces like video clips, GIFs, memes, articles, and podcasts. Each time you re-promote, you can link to a different video platform or your website.
On Social Media
The landscape of social media platform effectiveness changes all the time. Some years Twitter is delivering most of our traffic, while a few years later it swaps over to Facebook. These days, we see a massive surge in LinkedIn referrals. I’ll go over what I think the various platforms are suitable for right now but note that their effectiveness is in constant motion.
Facebook is generally my catch-all platform. It’s easy to promote posts to a highly targeted audience to get your content in front of a lot more of the right people. I find Facebook to be more casual in tone.
When posting to Facebook Groups, address the group contextually. When posting to your personal account, tell people why you made this content and what it means to you. Avoid copy/paste marketing speak at all costs. If it sounds like marketing on Facebook, people will perceive it that way.
It’s that last point that’s given rise to the last-minute copywriting strategy, wherein you don’t plan social media copy at all, but tackle it at the time of posting. This forces you to write contextually for each channel, vastly improving results.
Instagram is best for showing off lifestyle products. Your goal is to connect the audience with a particular feeling or experience. As in: show them what it would be like to be another person or to have different experiences. Grow your account to 10K followers so you can take advantage of swipe-up links in Instagram Stories. Until you reach 10K, you can change the main link on your profile to direct users to your latest piece of content. Last but not least, Instagram is super casual. Keep it light and fun.
On LinkedIn, we like to cheer each other on when there’s good news. We like industry updates and big announcements. Native video and long text posts are performing exceptionally well on LinkedIn in 2019.
This platform has a professional tone, but your messaging still needs to be contextual. Marketing speak gets overlooked quickly here because LinkedIn users are the people who write such messages.
One interesting thing to note is that lately, we’ve seen a lot of Facebook-style content move over to LinkedIn. It’s likely that marketers are doing that to take advantage of LinkedIn’s better organic reach. What this shows is that LinkedIn, while professional, is getting a bit more hip as younger generations move up in the world of work.
Email content marketing is the cornerstone of every business.
In the online world, it’s the ultimate representation of trust for a person to give you their email address. As such, you must know what to do and what not to do once you have permission to contact somebody via email.
Email content marketing is often misperceived. Many email marketing gurus will espouse an ideology that has you indiscriminately blasting your list with offers and coupon codes. That is not the way.
The right way to market via email is to build relationships at scale.
Building Your List
To build your email list, there must be a reason for people to take your relationship a step further. The best formula for this is:
- You offer something of exclusive value in exchange for subscribing
- You also provide the promise of regular value delivered to the subscribers’ inboxes
- The user subscribes
- You fulfill your promises
Anything short of this is theft. Moreover, that theft has brought on a slew of data privacy legislation such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). If you want less data regulation, stop treating your users like your personal piggy bank. Instead, respect the relationship.
Let’s break down your promises to the user point by point.
The first promise is an offering of immense value, merely for the subscriber providing their email. This should be one of the following:
- Data and insight that only you can provide
- A unique point of view that provides
In either case, the initial goodie you send to the user, be it an ebook, whitepaper, video, or report, should be immensely valuable. The document should be well designed. A reference I like to use is the book Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the co-founders of 37signals. In their iteration, the document is comprised of side-by-side pages, one with a beautiful quote poster that represents the point of the section and the other with the actual written-out text.
Once you’ve delivered your initial value, your second promise is to provide ongoing value. If you want to retain subscribers, give them something to stick around for, be that insider tips, unique industry data, or the chance to be highlighted in front of your audience.
I have two great examples of ongoing value provided by popular newsletters. The first is the CB Insights newsletter, which delivers tasty bits of technology trends, venture capital, startups, and the industries of tomorrow to my inbox every few days. Another popular one is 5-bullet Friday by Tim Ferriss, in which Tim offers up the five coolest things he’s found (or explored) that week.
Where most ecommerce businesses go wrong is that they mislead their subscribers merely to get them into their funnel. Do the opposite, and you’ll succeed more than 90% of other email marketers.
Be Regular, but Not Spammy
The #1 reason people unsubscribe from email lists is that they get emails too often from a single sender.
That’s why, when it comes to delivering regular value to your list, there is only one piece of advice that makes sense.
Measure Your Results
Keep a constant eye on your email content marketing metrics (open rate, unsubs, spam reports). If you’re sending an email once per week and see the bad numbers going up and the good numbers going down, try sending emails less often. Assumingthe content you’re delivering is terrific (you should A/B test for that), you should see recovery.
Every audience is different, and how often they want your content will vary based on the size of your market, seasonality, as well as professional and personal life changes.
Catchy Subject Lines
It doesn’t matter how amazing your email content is if you fail to capture people’s attention in the subject line. Just like headlines in a news article, it’s those first few words that sell. Sad, but true.
Here are a few formulas that I think work wonders:
- State a problem. E.g., “Why 30% of bodybuilders are destroying their muscles & other insights.”
- Offer a solution. E.g. “The only two apps I trust to track my sleep, plus updates.”
- State a change. E.g., “We’re shutting it all down…” The real content is about how you’re rebranding, massively changing your structure, or whatever else.
Don't be Salesy, but Be a Little Salesy
The goal with all email content marketing is not to be overtly salesey. However, you must still drive people further down your funnel.
What this means is that you have to act like a human, but candidly ask for selfish benefits. As in:
“Here’s a story about an amazing person in our industry. Oh, here’s another, isn’t that so cool? By the way, do you know what sets those two people apart from others? It’s X attribute. You can get X attribute by using our product. Here’s a discount code.”
Treat your list like the human beings they are, and they’ll love you for it. Plus, they’ll be more likely to buy because they trust you.
Distributing content can be a massive task, which is why I should reiterate this point: only do what you can handle. It’s far better to be the master of a few distribution channels than it is to be mediocre or downright terrible at all of them. As you scale your capacity, you can add more.This was Part 5 in a six-part series on content marketing for ecommerce and Shopify stores. Next time we’ll be talking about measuring your results and adjusting course.