We see it happening on Ecommerce sites quite often – the trend to focus more on the sale and ROI than on user experience. And we understand that completely; we all need our businesses to stay afloat! But to go beyond just the sale and focus on the total customer experience (from the initial awareness of your products to the final sale and follow-up) is just as important. That’s where content comes in. Create useful, unique, and relevant information that supplements the action you want your potential customer to take. Listen on to this month’s Google Hangout with 3 Ecommerce experts – Linda Bustos, Sam Mallikarjunan, and Steve Sheinkopf– to hear their tips on how to take advantage of content marketing strategies on Ecommerce platforms.


Arnie: Hi everyone. I’m Arnie Kuenn with Vertical Measures and welcome back to another edition of our monthly feature where we invite guests to talk about certain topics generally around SEO, social and content marketing. Today our focus is going to be content for eCommerce websites. We’ve got three great panelists that I’m happy to have join us today. Why don’t we start just by letting each of them introduce themselves and then I’ve got a couple of questions to throw out and we’ll go from there. Linda, would you mind introducing yourself?

Linda: Sure. Thanks, Arnie. I’m Linda Bustos. I have a blog called and I work for a company called Elastic Path, we are an eCommerce software platform and so I basically write the blog and do some consulting for our clients.

Arnie: Great. Sam.

Sam: Hi. My name is Sam Mallikarjunan. I’m the Head of eCommerce at HubSpot. We are also an internet marketing software company based out of Boston, Massachusetts.

Arnie: Awesome. Steve.

Steve: Hi. I’m Steve Sheinkopf. I’m the CEO of Yale Appliance and Lighting. I’m in charge of creating content among other things, blogging, email, Vines and a bunch of other stuff.

Arnie: Super. Great. Well let’s just dive right in. I did send each of you a couple of questions that we wanted to talk about. We do a lot of content marketing for a lot of different types of clients, a lot of different industries and the one, when I go out and speak and so on the question that always pops up is, ‘I’ve got an eCommerce site.’ One is they might think it’s boring or they have way too many products to write content around it.So on and so forth, so I’m really happy to be able to have you guys on here and talk about it.

I guess, maybe one of the first things I’ll ask Linda first is if you could just recommend one or two strategies that you really enjoy or would promote or talk about for eCommerce with respect to content marketing, what would that be?

Linda: Sure. Well it’s more difficult for eCommerce when you’re selling B2C products. It’s harder than B2B where you can have like a bit lead gen campaign and it’s kind of more typical to have a content marketing strategy. It’s a bit harder for eCommerce so one thing that’s a good thing to have and a luxury to have at this point is to actually have a content strategy to begin with. The big brands out there, they’ve got lots of different marketing groups out there so they might have a social media group. They might have merchandisers that are creating their own content and feeding it through email and putting stuff up on the website.

Then you’ve got the brand, the brand marketers that are feeding stories out to PR outlets and other types, outreach into bloggers and stuff so you’ve got a lot of ad hoc content strategies are existing within silos so anything that you can do to bring all the different types of content marketing together unified around a core purpose, unified maybe around specific campaigns and specific marketing activities or around a consistent brand message that is something that is going to enable you to leverage the different channels to help each other out so when one department creates content then they’ll be able to communicate and have a set process for how other channels support. You might be tweeting and Facebook posting, that is content as well.

Then also to be able to measure everything and share the learning about what’s working with different channels and what’s not. Since that exists within silos, that communication isn’t happening so that would be like my number one recommendation. Just start with a content strategy and don’t just have everything flying all over the place.

The second thing that I would recommend is about the actual content creation itself. Oftentimes marketing is done internally so you’re pushing outer marketing message but all the different channels, especially the new social channels are really centered around the customer so understanding the customer might be different. The customer that subscribes to you through Facebook and consumes your content that way might be very different than the email list that you’ve had for ten, 20 years and your catalog list that you’ve had for even longer than that.

Just understanding that different types of content are going to be appropriate. They might all be resounding the Same message but it’s delivered in a different way.

Arnie: Excellent. Strategy, of course, right? Got to start with a strategy and I think I saw a survey, piece of information from a content marketing institute on how few people actually have strategy so it might seem like that’s the obvious thing but companies actually have to implement them. Sam, how about you? What can you add to that?

Sam: Piggy backing on the strategy idea the most important thing for me is to pick a buyer persona and really sell out on it. Nobody really wants to read blog articles about the products themselves, the product detail page can do a pretty good job of explaining that. What you want to do is build an audience of a certain type of buyer persona whether it’s the lifestyle, content, whatever it is to create the kind of content that’s going to attract those types of people and then use that to convert them into the different phases and convert them on your landing pages and use your marketing automation to sell them.

In terms of content creation, especially if you don’t have a big team of writers it’s important to remember that it’s like a habit. It’s almost like a fitness habit. My team gets really tired of hearing me say that blogging is like jogging. That’s kind of a joke around our office but it’s true. Like, it sucks. Nobody likes to do it but you have to do it, you have to do it consistently and it takes a little bit of time to see results and it’s this thing that you want to invest in and grow over time.

Really pick a buyer persona, describe who it is, create content that one or a few types of buyer personas are going to love instead of trying to create content that everybody is going to like. Definitely measure and convert, so give people an option to convert into the various parts of your funnel and leverage your marketing automation for that. Then make it a consistent habit. One of the reasons I like blogging is like jogging is if you create one piece of unique blog content a week you’re not going to see a bunch of results. If you create three, five blog articles a week you’ll see more consistent growth in traffic.

Arnie: I love the jogging analogy and just to add one more point to that I think the key to jogging is you actually have to put on the tennis shoes and can get out the door and take those first few steps. I think that’s also the key with blogging, right, is you’ve got to, you have to start. Write those first, write the title, write the first few sentences. Get started. Don’t just keep thinking about it so that’s great. Steve, you’re in a little bit different situation where you are actually, I know you’re not a pure eCommerce person. You’ve got retail outlets and all that but you do, you’ve done an awesome job with the content on your site which is why I was happy to have you on here and maybe you could talk a little bit about that but I’ll turn it over to you.

Steve: First of all, we’re different. We do some eCommerce but I use social to draw people in the store. I think we get a bigger, a higher ticket. We’re not a pure eCommerce play, we’ll take the eCommerce as it comes but even before a strategy which is absolutely, we use blogging and email. It’s almost like the HubSpot way but for other companies it could be for an art company, it could be Pinterest, it could be Instagram, it could be Vine, it could be, whatever it is the first thing you have to do is have to create an inbound culture where that works. I used to write all the blogs and we now blog almost six or seven times a week but now everybody does it because we created a culture where it’s important.

The second thing is you’ve got to pick the mode and especially with a small team you can’t be good at everything. You’ve got to pick the few things. For us it’s blogging, email and Facebook and we create tons of blogs. We create interesting articles based on why people come to us and we take a look at the blogs and say, our most popular article brought this many people.

When you’re first starting you’re going to stumble on something and when you stumble on something, you see something take off, you basically go with it and you sub-segment the really good article. For us we did 33 inch counters then we did comparisons. I think versus posts of one versus another, you almost have to think like a buyer. I mean, I’m going to buy a refrigerator. What type of refrigerator? What brand of refrigerator? You compare all the different types and brands.

I think it’s really important to create unique content and really buy into it because no one likes to read crappy content. It’s got to be unique. It’s got to be interesting. Pick a, if you’re just starting out, pick a couple of things that you’re going to be good at. If you don’t like writing, then use Pinterest or use Instagram. Use something but follow where your passion is and do it, blogging’s like jogging. I’ll probably steal that one, Sam but I honestly agree. You’ve got to create content. It’s got to be more than just a knee jerk, ‘We need a blog article once or twice.’

Get everyone to buy in. Follow what you’re good at or what your industry typically is and then pick a couple of things and go from there.

Arnie: Great. By the way, I have to give it kudos. Probably the coolest background we’ve had yet on any of these in the last year. Linda, let’s just jump in to probably the toughest one. I think where people get hung up the most is they feel like they’ve got to really flesh out and have pretty heavy content on their specific product pages. Do you have any tips, tricks or advice you’d have centered right around that?

Linda: Absolutely. We’re actually at a point in the product page’s evolution where there’s actually an opportunity to start leveraging all the content that’s being created by your creative social media teams and also consumer themselves and actually start pulling it into the product page through web content management. If you talk about big data being able to listen and pull out those conversations and pull them into a product page.

You think about the traditional product page, you’ve got your copyright and you’ve got your product reviews and you’ve got images and I mean images and rich media and video have gotten better and those are all pieces of content that can be picked up and replicated and pushed out to social networks, so it’s a two-way street.

The best content is really the content that’s not being created by you around products. Customer reviews are really important. What people are saying out there in the wild and being able to harness that, leverage that. Aggregate it all together so that when somebody’s on a product page, because really it’s right doing all this content marketing but someone on your site might not be thinking about the purchase at that moment.

When they’re on a product page they’re in that head space so being able to give them all the different types of social proof and all the ways that they can discover that product and really build their trust and confidence and their attention, interest, desire, I would inject trust in there and then towards, to action. There’s ways to do that and pull some brands are actually going and finding, there’s a new search engine out there that actually can find when somebody is wearing your brand. Somebody wearing, taking an Instagram picture and they’re wearing Adidas shoes, like it will use image recognition to find that, notify you and then you can start leveraging that. The technology’s getting really great. It’s a really exciting time.

If you don’t have a lot of reviews on your actual page, why not go ahead over to Amazon or your brand manufacturer or one of your competitors and start reading and start gathering what people are saying because even if you’ve picked up the product and you’ve looked and experienced it yourself without being a user or just taking information that’s being fed by the manufacturer is not giving you the full picture about what matters to consumers. Get out there. Start listening to what people are saying.

Arnie: That’s awesome. I would imagine people are going to want to know what search engine you might be talking about. I had never heard of that. Any way you can come to find that?

Linda: I can actually tell you in the browser I have open. I can tell you but I don’t want to hold up the Hangout so maybe later.

Arnie: We’ll move to Sam. We’ll move to Sam and see if he can add to that. Actually, before we do that I’m glad you added the idea about the reviews. I was actually speaking on a panel last week in New York and I had suggested the Same thing, user generated content and reviews for product pages and of course there’s several people in the audience who said, ‘But we’re too small. We’re struggling to get a single review for some of our products.’ The tip to go to Amazon or other places where there might be some content is a good one. Appreciate that. Sam, how about you? What about specific product pages?

Sam: Sure. I think Linda hit on something very interesting and that’s the evolution of the product page from being like the picture and a paragraph like we used to do, to being more of a product hub. It’s where you aggregate the social information. It’s where you aggregate the use case information. It’s where you aggregate the regular technical information but it’s a place where different data pieces are connected. It’s also something that customizes itself with the user now, right?

By the time somebody gets to your product detail page if you’re doing inbound marketing right you’ve got some information, blog articles, you have some analytics and you’ve customized that page to be relevant and persuasive for that individual customer contact. It doesn’t treat everybody the same. It’s not agnostic of what it is people actually use it for. You’d be selling a laptop and it could be completely different for business or creators or things like that and the product detail page shares about that.

It aggregates every piece of information. I think the social proof is very important and then I would also say that making it interactive and also making it very authentic is key and then giving people the opportunity to conduct research on this and have that research be relevant.

Arnie: Sam, I don’t know if it broke up for everybody else but I just missed the very last thing you said. Give the users an opportunity and then I didn’t hear what you said. Would you mind repeating it?

Sam: Sure. Give them an opportunity to conduct research if they’re on the product detail page, a secondary call to action usually leads to some type of, I hate eBooks but they’re like, any type of content that you want to create that can allow you to get some qualifying information about the customer and then use your marketing automation to customize the positioning of what you’re going to sell them. Then have that information actually used in the sales process, right?

The way we like to think of it, Linda was talking about the B2B world. You give all this information to a sales rep who uses human intuition to create this contextual experience. We have one sales rep, that’s the shopping cart,who has to serve hundreds of thousands of people and we have to give them the same information, same advantage to create the contextual relevant experience for the customer.

Arnie: Well put. Did I just hear someone from HubSpot say they hated eBooks?

Sam: It’s not very creative. For my part, right, I try to do a lot of functional content, templates, things that make people’s lives easier. I love the quote from Jeff Bezos, right? He said, there was some shareholder who was giving him crap about the product detail pages and he said that, the shareholder said, ‘You make money every time somebody completes a sale.’ Jeff Bezos responded, ‘No. I make money every time I help somebody make a purchasing decision.’

I think that’s really where the eCommerce people have to focus on whether it’s the landing pages or whether it’s the blog, it’s how do we help people get into the funnel and then how do we help them make decisions. Sometimes it’s an eBook, sometimes it’s a buying guide. Those typically live further down the funnel for people who know what they want to buy and need help during the comparison phase. They know, just need help making a decision.

For some people it might be a lifestyle guide, right, like if you, I really like cigars. If you’re selling cigars on your website it might be, ‘How to Throw an Awesome Cigar Party’ or something like that. There’s lots of other stuff that comes into it.

Arnie: I’m a big fan actually of free guides, white papers, things like that so I’m glad we had a little clarification there. Linda, did you find the search engine before I switch over to Steve?

Linda: I did and you can remember this, Ditto. Check out Ditto and Google that and find it.

Arnie: When we transcribe this we’ll get a link in there to Ditto. Steve, I’ve been to your site a few times and I know you do offer free guides and things like that and I don’t remember your exact product pages but if you could talk about some of the things that you’ve done on the product page level that would be appreciated.

Steve: Sure. Especially for someone who’s got like 30,000 or say umpteen thousand, what we try to do is we try to break it down by category. What I did is I used to write handbooks for sales and how to sell things. What we did was we turned them into buyers guides and what we did is we split everything up so cooking became gas cooking, pro-cooking, induction cooking, wall ovens. We try to make it as granular as possible to, as Sam’s point is to talk one to one with people.

We talked about the different ways you use it, the different brands, the different techniques, what to look for, what not to look for, where the problems are. We created eBooks and it doesn’t have to be anymore than say ten to 14 pages and what I would tell somebody who hasn’t written one is focus on where your profitable stuff is and make it good because what happens is those CTAs, those eBooks are CTAs and once that I see, once that someone gives me their email address I pretty much know that someone who’s looking at induction buying guide is only downloading an induction buying guide because they probably are considering an induction purchase.

Rather than just sending them an eBlasting them emails that they really are not interested in I’m sending them triggered emails, automated in over a three week time about induction products. How to buy it, to different content. Over time you can add some promotions if you’re having some kind of special or sale or something they may want to consider, invite them in a newsletter to really deepen the relationship. Because what that allows them to do is as they’re shopping at other places they’re going to come back to an email from you.

Our our average open rate is about 30 percent over 24 eBooks so it really does work. It doesn’t have to be huge. You don’t have to write a 280 page soliloquy on it, it’s ten to 14 pages about different brands and what to really look for. The more valuable you make it the better response is going to be on the email.

I really do like guides plus email plus slight bit of promotion if you have it in some of the PS [inaudible, 19:19] because you don’t want to sell. We’re informing and oh by the way, PS, ‘There’s something going on you might want to consider,’ whether it’s a cooking demo in our case, private sale which happens once a year or something where they can get even a better deal that they might really appreciate.

Arnie: Super. We’re running a little bit short on time so, I don’t know. Linda or Sam do you have any closing comments you’d like to throw out there?

Linda: Make it measurable.

Arnie: There you go. That’s a good one.

Sam: If it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved and if it can’t be improved you can be replaced by a robot so absolutely measurement is extremely important. I would say that, think of content as a product. Think of it as, if you have an eBook you’re asking for something of value which is their information and some qualifying questions in exchange for something that you have that’s of value. There actually have been ways to measure that like a certain amount of that will turn into dollars and you can get a dollar per conversion and really it’s hard to over emphasize how much you should focus on the buyer personas because instead of trying to be one thing to everybody, pick a niche, be better than everybody else and create content for the earlier phases of the buying cycle.

If somebody’s, create something for people who are looking for just induction or things like that and then also content that helps people figure out what it is they need. I’m trying to figure out like what camping tent to buy right now and there’s so many kinds and it takes me so long and there’s no content to help me like figure out what I really need. It’s creating this really long shopping process that no store owns. Even though lots of people sell tents, no store owns my research process right now which they could do if they created some content that I could convert on.

Arnie: Super. Steve, I’ll give you the closing comment if you’d like.

Sam: Again, we’re creating content for people. I honestly think you’ve got to, to Sam’s point, you have to make it good, make it unique. What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to slowly nudge them into buying the product and buying the product from you because if it’s an eCommerce play they have 20, 30 other sites so you want to be the most trustworthy. You want to make sure that you have a unique selling proposal that people will buy from you and I think social media helps especially if you’re genuine about it. Nothing fake. Just remember you’re talking to people.

Arnie: Super. Well Linda, Sam, Steve I really want to thank you. I think this has been an outstanding hangout and it’s time for us to sign off. I’m Arnie Kuenn with Vertical Measures and hopefully you enjoyed this and we look forward to seeing you next month as our interview series continues. Thank you.

Sam: Thank you.

Steve: Thank you.

Linda Bustos

Linda BustosAs Director of Ecommerce Research at Elastic Path, Linda Bustos is the author of the Get Elastic Ecommerce Blog and provides consulting services to some of the most exciting ecommerce companies in the world. Linda has helped Get Elastic land a coveted spot on the AdAge Power 150 and become one of the top 10 marketing blogs in Canada. Linda’s articles have appeared in Mobile Marketer, CMO Magazine, E-Marketing + Commerce, and Search Marketing Standard, and she has provided expert opinion to Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, Time, the New York Times and Forbes.

Steve Sheinkopf

Steve Sheinkopf Steve is the CEO of Yale Appliance and Lighting and has used content marketing to increase traffic and sales from his website. In 12/2011, Yale had 18,000 visitors to their website through organic search. B7 9/2012, they had 48,000 visitors from organic search just using business blogging techniques with an average post of 1000 views.

Sam Mallikarjunan

SAM  MALLIKARJUNANSam Mallikarjunan is the Head of eCommerce Marketing at HubSpot. Sam has consulted hundreds of businesses on implementing ROI-driven inbound marketing programs. He is the Author of “How To Sell Better Than Amazon” as well as over a dozen other Ebooks and webinars. Before coming to HubSpot, Sam worked as the CMO at lead generation and eCommerce firms where he focused on leveraging inbound marketing methods to improve marketing and sales efficiencies.