This is Part 1 in a six-part series on content marketing for online stores, ecommerce brands, and Shopify stores.

Most ecommerce brands are not the best when it comes to content marketing. Instead, many rely on expensive advertising to deliver traffic to their sites, which fails to capture brand loyalty. Content marketing has extensive benefits that advertising doesn’t. What’s more, content marketing isn’t all that difficult to do. In fact, with the simple ideas in this article, you can be up and running with a rockstar content marketing strategy in under a week!

So you’ve had your store up for a few months now, maybe even over a year. You’ve driven consistent niche traffic to your site. Maybe you’re turning a modest profit, at least enough to pay the bills and keep you motivated. But sales seem stagnant. Ads are getting ever more expensive, and you’re at a loss for how to grow your store to the next level.

Enter: content marketing.

What is content marketing?

Turns out, there are a lot of definitions for content marketing out there on the interwebs. So as any good content marketer would, I didn’t just make one up, I borrowed* this one from the Content Marketing Institute website:

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Content marketing is the answer to the advertising problem. But before we get to the reasons you may want to use content marketing over, or likely in conjunction with, advertising, let’s talk about what content marketing can do for you.

Why Content Marketing?

Brand Awareness

Brand awareness is pretty basic. It’s the state of people knowing about your brand.

Think about this. We all know Airbnb, Uber, and Nescafe, even if we’ve never tried them before. That’s brand awareness. Of course, not everybody needs to be aware of your ecommerce brand, as most are with Uber. You only need a minimum viable audience, as Seth Godin mentions in his new book, This Is Marketing. (It’s a great read, by the way.)

To put it simply, content marketing gives people something to share. And by sharing great content, the awareness of your brand grows, even among non-customers.

Brand Authority

Brand authority is a measure of people’s trust in your brand’s word.

Authority in action.[/caption]

If you say something, do people take it at face value or are they skeptical? Brands like Moz (formerly SEOmoz), have generated significant brand authority by generously sharing free content to help webmasters and business owners improve their SEO for more than a decade. People trust that when Moz says something, it’s true.

Content marketing allows you to deliver in-depth insights, analyses, and insider information to laypeople. If your content allows them to get their foot in the door in your industry, you’ll be top of mind when it comes time to buy what you’re selling.

Organic Traffic (SEO)

SEO is possibly the most widely cited reason for doing content marketing.

Coworker.com has dominated the coworking search marketplace by dedicating a significant amount of resources to content marketing and SEO efforts.

Search engines love it when you post consistent and quality content on your website. It sends the signal that you’re active and engaged. What’s more, writing about various topics within your industry provides more terms that Google’s search bots can crawl when a searcher types in a query. Therefore, if you have the best seven articles on simple home sound systems available, you’ll likely appear at the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages).

And of course, by creating amazing content for other websites, you’ll generate valuable backlinks, which will help boost your ranking in the SERPs.

But be warned, doing content marketing only for SEO purposes is a losing strategy. Solely focusing on this benefit of content marketing will result in you producing shitty content that nobody wants to consume, which is also taken into account by search engines via Bounce Rates, Time on Page, and Pages Per Visitor. Especially as a content marketer myself, nothing is worse than reading a boring or vague list post with zero depth or voice.

So keep in mind that SEO is merely a benefit of content marketing, it’s not the goal itself.

Audience Curation

Audience curation is about attracting only the audience you want to your website.

This is a hipster. I won't tell you how to target him, but if your content isn't organic, he's probably not interested.

Whereas advertising can be highly targeted, there’s a limited amount of space to work with, which means the chance for you to accidentally target somebody, or of somebody misinterpreting your ad copy as for them when it’s not for them is somewhat high. And of course, that’s wasted money.

With your content marketing efforts, you will attract and retain only the people you target with your content. If the content isn’t for them, they won’t be interested. They either won’t arrive on your website or they’ll leave quickly, never to come back.

This is good. There’s zero benefit in attracting and retaining people that aren’t your target audience.

Lead Generation

Are you familiar with the marketing/sales funnel? People have different interpretations of the funnel’s exact structure. But in general, at the top you have awareness. That’s where most of your content marketing efforts pay off. However, it is possible to create content that generates leads, which is a layer or two further down the funnel, a layer which I call acquisition.

New leads, just like magnets, are pretty darn cool!

The acquisition stage is about capturing emails or leads. It’s when somebody loves your content so much that they sign up for your newsletter, or notices your product while browsing your blog and signs up for a demo.

One of the most powerful tactics you can use for lead-gen-focused content marketing is to create an exclusive piece of content that’s only available for newsletter subscribers. Another option is to host a live webinar where participants must register with their emails in order to participate. I’ve used both with wonderful results.

Content Marketing vs. Advertising

How long does Content Marketing take before it pays off?

At this point, you might be wondering how long it will take to achieve the outcomes listed above. Because, of course, content marketing isn’t free. While you’re not charged directly for your content marketing efforts, like you are with advertising, there are significant costs in terms of time and labor.

Effective content marketing doesn’t pay off immediately. It can take a month or it can take a year before you see significant results. It really comes down to:

  • the quality of your content,
  • The current size of your brand, and
  • your ability to spread that content to every corner of your minimum viable audience’s online world.

So the question remains, why do content marketing over advertising?

Advertising rarely earns brand authority

Think about the last time you were impressed by a banner, Facebook, or Google ad. Did you respect the advertiser more? Did you trust them more? Did their word suddenly carry more weight?

Unlikely.

That’s because we’ve been trained over decades to see through the promises of advertising. We know the advertiser’s only goal is to sell us something. If anything, advertising has a better chance of losing brand authority than gaining it.

Advertising does not affect SEO

Myths about Google rewarding advertisers in organic rankings aside, advertising does not affect SEO in the slightest. When you advertise on any platform, the ad platform uses no-follow attributes on the links to your website. What is a no-follow link?

I repeat. Advertising DOES NOT affect SEO.

Megan Mars explains it well in her article on WordStream, “A no-follow link is a link that does not count as a point in the page’s favor, does not boost PageRank, and doesn’t help a page’s placement in the SERPs. No follow links get no love. Theirs is a sad and lonely life.”

That just about sums it up. An advertising-only strategy keeps you reliant on ad platforms. No organic traffic for you. Sad face.

Advertising is pay-to-win

As you’ve likely already noticed, if you’ve been selling products in your niche for some time, the ad prices are going up.

Bigger players with more money are outbidding you for ad placements. That’s because advertising is, obviously, pay-to-win. There’s limited uniqueness between ads, which means the person with the biggest budget will always come out ahead.

So if you’re a small ecommerce brand, likely a solo operator, this is bad news for you.

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This is merely an introduction to content strategy for ecommerce brands and online store operators. The hope here is that you see the benefits of content marketing and that you’ve fully bought into creating one for yourself.

In Part 2 of this three-part series, we’ll be getting a little more specific. We'll talk about the importance of being a member of your audience, what effects your content ought to have on your audience, and a little about your content marketing persona.

*Oh, remember that asterisk way up at the top on the bit about borrowing ideas? I just wanted to let you know that borrowing ideas in content marketing is 100% okay, so long as they aren’t boring ideas and you give credit where it’s due. In fact, why not repurpose the idea of this article for your niche? Note: borrowing ideas is not an excuse for plagiarism, which is never okay. Write original content, please.