Ted Karczewski

While the days of visiting brick-and-mortars to buy products aren’t gone completely, they are becoming few and far between on the average person’s calendar. People take to the web for a lot of the steps they used to perform offline such as product discovery, research and conversion. As any savvy business owner knows, ecommerce is expected to become a dominant force moving forward, contributing more dollars and cents to the economy and companies’ bottom lines.

An April 2013 report, “U.S. Retail Ecommerce: 2013 Forecast and Comparative Estimates,” from eMarketer, found online sales within the apparel, computer and consumer electronic marketers are expected to skyrocket in the next few years. Data shows sales will total $259 billion by the end of this year – an increase of 14.8 percent from 2012. Perhaps most impressive is the forecast 14 percent uptick expected to take place between 2012 and 2017. These insights suggest ecommerce is having its coming of age this year, and will experience further maturation over the next four.

For any marketer looking to accelerate his or her company’s revenue stream through ecommerce, understanding digital trends and knowing how to manipulate the sales cycle for higher profit margins is a must. Brands have begun to funnel additional resources toward internet marketing to develop stronger ecommerce hubs and promotional tactics to support their websites. Seventy-one percent of businesses will up their digital marketing budgets this year, according to Econsultancy and Responsys.

Suffice to say, whether further spending goes toward building SEO strategies or content creation programs, companies are prepared to focus closely on improving their overall web presences.

Here are three strategic ways to increase user experience, SEO and engagement for your ecommerce site using custom content.

1. Get organized – Nobody likes a messy room

Quick note: Don’t overthink UX – any strong SEO campaign takes usability into account.

Google’s Search Engineer Matt Cutts talks a lot about SEO, but lately his focus is on user experience. With consumers surfing the web in hopes of discovering new products, they’re likely to land on unfamiliar sites. If these domains aren’t organized and fail to properly categorize their offerings, how will anyone know what’s for sale, where to go to view specs or even buy? Marketers think landing pages are only important for branded sites where complex services must be explained, but most people are finding they need these unique sections even on their ecommerce hubs.

Effective landing page content summarizes what site visitors can expect from certain sections of the domain. Consumers who enter from an ecommerce homepage will likely survey the navigation bar for a better idea of what’s for sale, and if those pages are inaccurate, vague or cluttered, they’ll bounce immediately. Landing pages offer extreme SEO value to every web presence, but they also improve UX, which might actually be their biggest quality for brands moving forward.

2. Focus on organic – search drives traffic to ecommerce hubs.

A February 2013 survey from Urban Land Institute noted that 45 percent of Millennials spend an hour a day viewing retail sites. As a marketer, the first question should be: How are these prospects finding the sites they want to visit, and what type of content retains their attention? Data might help flush out a basic explanation to both queries.

Customers acquired through organic search prove to be more valuable than leads generated through email marketing and other online efforts.

Monetate’s Ecommerce Quarterly Report for Q1 2013 noted that social commerce remains lackluster in the United States – only 1.55 percent of all web traffic to ecommerce hubs comes from social networks, resulting in a 0.71 percent conversion rate. A separate Custora survey expands on this concept, showing that customers acquired through organic search prove to be more valuable than leads generated through email marketing and other online efforts. The Customer Lifetime Value (the profit a company makes through a relationship with its customers) of people acquired through organic search is 54 percent higher than the average CLV for all buyers.

With this data in mind, marketers must revamp their product pages to improve SEO value and UX. How? I have a controversial idea that I challenge brands to try.

3. Ditch the sales cycle, embrace the pretzel

It’s clear UX plays an important role in an ecommerce site, and every good marketer knows to consider SEO, too. But with a site strictly built around specific products, how can a brand build out a content marketing strategy unique and engaging enough to keep shoppers entertained and push them closer to conversion? By erasing any predetermined concept of what the ideal product page should look like.

The sales pretzel and how to convert consumers todayThe sales cycle – or funnel – isn’t fluid or linear anymore. It’s convoluted and looks more like a pretzel than anything else. Prospects become aware of products on social, navigate to search to learn more information, head back to social to consult with their friends, and then maybe visit YouTube for some user-generated content or reviews. Brands that create enough supplementary SEO content have an opportunity to retain visitors’ attention and educate them along the way.

Ecommerce site owners should produce blog content, offering how-to tips, current trends and advice about how to get the most out of a given item, and place links to those resources on each product page. Sure it drives leads away from the point of conversion, but they may leave anyway. This ideology might actually shorten the sales cycle, as those people close to buying might need just a subtle nudge, and persuasive and informational FREE blog posts may be the key.

A big challenge for B2Cs is creating unique content for each product hosted on their websites. Google’s Panda algorithm entered the world in early 2011, and it shook the foundation of web marketing for good. While creating spammy, duplicate content for SEO gain has mostly gone by the wayside in respectable industries, ecommerce poses the greatest threat to this claim.

Marketers can’t afford to assume consumers do most of their research offline before they buy, especially with data showing an increase in virtual window shopping. Produce content for every point of the sale cycle, and watch as the sales pretzel keeps pushing leads back to product pages when they’re more likely to convert.