How to Choose the Best eCommerce Agency for Your Needs

What would it look like to find the best eCommerce agency for your company? What signals would you look for to decide if they were delivering value?

What would it look like to find the best eCommerce agency for your company?

If you hired that agency, how would you judge “success”? What signals would you look for to decide if they were delivering value?

In what follows, we’ll share with you how we think about delivering value. We’ll also share some decision-making criteria you can use when evaluating an eCommerce agency.

As you’ll see, if there’s one thing to look for, it’s this:

  • A strategic consultant focused on results, not on a one-size-fits-all order taker.

Note: At Inflow, we work with dozens of eCommerce companies to increase traffic, conversions, and sales. Let us create a custom strategy for your business. Get started now.

What the Cookie Cutter Approach Looks Like

Avoid the cookie cutter approach when it comes to your eCommerce agency.

There are many eCommerce agencies with set packages: silver, gold, platinum, etc.

A tactical approach sounds like this:

  • “We publish one blog post per week and build five links to each of them.”

The problem with the cookie cutter approach is that it is not designed to meet the needs of your company. You can identify an agency that’s taking this approach by looking for the following:

1. Same Activities for All Clients

The Best eCommerce Agency shouldn't have the same strategy for each client.

Some agencies usually execute the same set of activities for all clients, regardless of the product, the market, or the competition.

They often have service levels such as silver, bronze, and platinum. Clients choose how much of the agency’s services they want by choosing one of the service levels.

There’s nothing wrong with service levels, of course. The problem happens when the agency’s activities never change and the activities are focused on execution rather than what really matters: the result.

2. Activities Are Standard and Don’t Change

The best eCommerce Agency isn't solely focused on tactics with a set list of activities it executes.

An agency focused on tactics has a set list of activities it executes, and those activities never change.

An SEO agency might publish four articles a month, for example. A PPC agency might run three ads a week, then rotate them on your behalf. Or a CRO agency might run one conversion test every three weeks.

What’s missing from this approach is innovation and prioritization against target goals.

The agency isn’t actively trying to find new ways to meet your needs. It’s simply executing a list of activities, and those activities never change.

3. Reactive

Avoid reactive agencies that will stunt your growth as a company.

Finally, agencies focused on tactics are usually reactive rather than proactive.

You might have to ask them what’s happening with your account or for their insights into a recent change in the results.

This is because a purely tactical approach isn’t focused on meeting your company’s goals. It’s just focused on deliverables, so that’s what the agency focuses on.

What a Strategic Approach Looks Like

A strategic approach is goal-focused. The agency starts with your goals, then designs activities to meet those.

A strategic approach sounds like this:

  • “Here’s the strategy we’ve designed to help you meet your goals.”

You can identify an agency that’s taking a strategic approach by looking for the following:

1. Activities Aligned with Your Company’s Goals

The best eCommerce agency acts as strategic partners for their clients.

The best eCommerce agencies act as strategic partners for their clients.

They start by identifying your goals and evaluating your present situation. Then they design a strategy they believe will best help you meet those goals.

Instead of having a standard list of activities they perform, they have a menu, a group of tactics they can execute if your situation calls for it.

Think of it this way: If your house had a falling foundation and cracks were showing in your walls, you wouldn’t want someone to simply replace the drywall.

A strategic partner will focus on the foundation first since that’s what matters the most.

2. All Activities Flow from Strategy

Best eCommmerce agency: Strategy comes first.

Strategy comes first, and all activities flow from that strategy.

Instead of saying, “We publish four articles each month,” you’ll hear something much more specific.

They might say, “We believe the best thing we could do to increase sales is to increase organic traffic and your conversion rate on your product pages. For those reasons, we propose publishing four articles a month plus a series of conversion rate optimization tests on your product pages.”

See how different that is from an agency that only thinks tactically?

3. Proactive and Transparent

You want an eCommerce agency that is proactive and transparent.

Finally, a strategic partner is available to discuss strategy whenever needed. They are transparent about what they’re doing on your behalf, why they’re doing it, and how things are going.

If something underperforms, they’re just as open about their failures as they are about their successes. Testing and learning from data can be a very important piece of a successful digital strategy.

Most importantly, an agency taking a strategic approach is innovative—offering new ideas and changing their tactics accordingly.

They’re proactively trying to find new ways to meet the goals you’ve agreed on.

Choose a Partner, Not a Vendor

Ultimately, the reason any eCommerce company hires an agency is to increase sales from its website.

In the early stages, however, it can take some time before the numbers really start to improve, and this is completely normal. Some initiatives can have a positive impact on sales immediately. Others build slowly over time.

That’s why it’s important to identify an agency that starts its process by understanding your goals and evaluating your current situation because this is the best way to maximize your results. Strategic partners start with the highest impact activities to improve your bottom line and meet your business objectives.

Look for an agency that acts like a partner, not just a vendor with a set list of services.

Note: Let us prepare a custom in-depth assessment of your eCommerce performance and a strategy for improving your results. Contact us to get started.

The eCommerce Branding Strategies This Outdoors Company Uses to Command 2x-4x Higher Prices Than Its Competitors

Simms Fishing uses a variety of eCommerce branding strategies to command some of the highest prices in its market. Read more about their success!

On large sporting sites like cabelas.com, when a customer searches for fishing waders, they’ll find that most products cost between $49 and $199.

Occasionally they’ll find waders over $200.

But on the high end of price range, they’ll find $500 fishing waders, the majority of which are made and sold by a Montana company called Simms Fishing:  

eCommerce branding: Simms Fishing creates a high quality product that they are able to sell at a higher cost.

By the way, these $499 waders are not even Simms’ top of line. The brand’s site features multiple products priced at $799.

eCommerce branding: Simms Fishing features many waders in the $799 range.

In a market full of $49 – $99 products, how have they managed to successfully sell products 200% – 400% more expensive?

We recently spoke with Thomas Murray, Digital Merchandising Manager at Simms, to explore this question.

In this article, we detail how Simms has built a site and brand with products that many fishing enthusiasts argue are the best in the market—allowing the brand to command some of the highest prices.

We’ll learn:

  • The marketing campaign that launched their high-end branding campaign
  • How they think through their site design and aesthetic
  • How they view investing in product copywriting
  • How they use video on their site

And finally, we discuss how they balanced moving “upmarket” in price while also making sure they have products that appeal to a wide range of incomes and customers.

Note: We’ve worked with dozens of eCommerce companies to increase traffic, conversions, and sales. Let us create a custom strategy for your business. Get started now.

Digitally Selling High-End Products

Anchoring Simms’ brand value — and its ability to command such high prices — is the story of how its products are designed and who designs them.  

How do you tell this story in a way that resonates with your customers? Simms started with a year-long video campaign called the “Wader Makers.”

eCommerce branding: Simms year-long video campaign “Wader Makers" was a brilliant strategy.

Screenshots from a “Wader Makers” Campaign Video

The campaign was comprised of a series of black and white videos that poignantly tell the story of the Simms employees who design and produce their waders.

According to Thomas Murray, Digital Merchandising Manager at Simms, the campaign served as “a window into the manufacturing folks who were actually making the product, the craftsmanship involved, and the mix of high-touch and high-tech skills that are required to make a product that—frankly—justifies an $800 price tag.

Headquartered in Bozeman, Montana, Simms is the only company manufacturing waders in the U.S.

Their products are designed by engineers that leave work and head to the river.

As repair technician Chris Golz explains in one of the campaign videos, “Trying to push the progression of materials and technology to make things better for anglers on the water—you can’t do that without a company that has people that wear waders all the time.”

Simms shared the campaign on its social media channels and featured it at industry trade shows. As of this article, the primary campaign video has over 36,000 views on YouTube.

It was also picked up by industry press. Field and Stream shared the video on its website writing, “Even if you don’t own a pair of Simms waders, you have to appreciate their team, which is clearly not made up of a bunch of clock-punchers. They’re the real deal.”

eCommerce branding: Simms Fishing brand is the real deal - getting them attention from several companies such as Field & Stream.

The great success of the campaign changed the way Simms saw its online presence.

Applying the Brand Story Across an eCommerce Site

After the campaign, Simms turned its focus to the website. How could the brand get the same high end “real deal” message conveyed there?

“I think we’ve done a good job of telling that story and pushing it out through an omnichannel strategy,” Thomas explained. “The challenge for an eCommerce website is: ‘How is that story told deep in the site on a single product that somebody might find through organic search—without the context of the flashy homepage or detailed About Us page?’”

Here is how they’ve done it:

1) Tightly Controlled Aesthetic

When you visit simmsfishing.com, perhaps the first thing you’ll notice is the consistent aesthetic throughout. It’s created by a tightly controlled color palette and specific post-production filters.

eCommerce branding: Simms Fishing brand strategy utilizes a consistent aesthetic.

You’ll find a matching aesthetic on each of the product pages, helping to create a cohesive brand look and feel.

eCommerce branding: each page on Simms Fishing has a cohesive brand look and feel.

2) Product Copy

In addition to design, Simms has invested heavily in product copy.

Product descriptions are written to “balance the customer’s need to find a quick takeaway—not just on the features, but also the benefit of the product,” Thomas explained.

Of course, Simms products contain unique features specifically designed by and for devoted anglers. But these features are not the only selling point that makes the products high-end. There’s also the cutting edge technology and the commitment to high-quality.

Each product page uses exact copy to get all of this across.

The copy balances descriptions of the features, technology, and specifics about the quality of each product.

eCommerce branding: Simms Fishing utilizes copy that balances descriptions of the features, and technology, along with specifics about the quality of each product.

“You can’t spend enough on writers to do that. It’s not something that a junior writer can just kinda jump in on,” Thomas said.

Like Thomas says, not just anyone can convey the value and quality of Simms’ products. For example, anyone can write about “cheap waders,” but it takes someone in the space to truly describe the difference between ordinary waders and those that Simms makes.

Their waders are the highest quality, use the latest technology, and have one of the best guarantees in the business. Carefully crafted descriptions call out these features—distinguishing Simms from its competitors—and make the case for a higher price tag.

3) Product Videos

Of course, since Simms’ branding efforts started with a video campaign, video is also featured heavily on the site.

Well-produced product videos found on many product pages speak directly to dedicated anglers.

They continue the balance of features, technology, and quality. But, perhaps more importantly, they show Simms employees as niche experts.

Many of the videos mix images of an employee explaining the product with shots of the product in action. The videos are also produced using the site’s tailored aesthetic.

eCommerce branding: Simms Fishing product videos mix images of an employee explaining the product along with shots of the product in action.

Broadening Their Target Audience

Conveying product and manufacturing has done wonders for their ability to market and sell high priced products—thereby increasing average order value, a welcome result for any company with an eCommerce website.

Simms is also working on growing revenue by broadening their customer base, allowing them to sell a wider variety (and hopefully quantity) of products.

“We’re definitely for passionate anglers of all stripes, so we want to be a little more welcoming, not just in the fly niche but also in conventional tackle. The challenge is how to be a little bit more welcoming to new anglers and people entering the sport and, frankly, just people who can have some sort of resonance with the lifestyle that fishing entails,” Thomas explained.

The tools they are using to achieve this goal match what they use to depict their brand’s premium status: controlled aesthetic and storytelling—just used in slightly different ways.

1. Design: They’re Making the Site Warmer

Before the “Wader Makers” campaign, Simms was a very monochromatic site, which matched the black and white campaign videos. It gave the site a classic, hard-edged feel, which they believed would appeal to hard-core anglers.

eCommerce branding: Simms Fishing had a very monochromatic site and recently added color back in again.

Post-campaign, they reintroduced color, helping the site feel warmer and friendlier.

2. Copy: They’re Producing Inclusive Stories

Following the success of the “Wader Makers”, Simms has continued its story-driven approach. But now, instead of just stories on how the waders are produced, the focus is on producing films and campaigns that depict their diverse customers. Simms partnered with pro-snowboarder Eric Jackson on Alignment, a 35-minute film that shows how Jackson uses fly-fishing to recharge.

eCommerce branding: Their new content will focus on their customers - as seen in this new video with professional snowboarder Eric Jackson.

Screenshots from Eric Jackson’s film Alignment

Of course, the efforts to widen its customer base will be a multi-year, long horizon project. For companies with a major eCommerce presence, that is the constant goal: How to reach and convert more customers, how do we charge more, how do we grow?

But with the success of its premium branding effort, spearheaded by its wildly successful “Wader Makers” campaign, the Simms team feels they have a winning formula: a great balance of storytelling, design, and copy that resonates with their customers.

Our team at Inflow is working with Simms to improve their conversion rate, grow their organic traffic and customer reach, and grow their customer base via paid search campaigns. Together with the passionate and creative Simms Fishing team, only time will tell how far we can cast the line.

Note: Want a custom in-depth assessment of your eCommerce performance and a strategy for improving your results? Contact us to get started.

Research: How BBB Seal Negatively Impacted Conversions on a Client’s eCommerce Site

The BBB trust seal decreased conversions of our eCommerce client, per recent tests. Our hypothesis why: customer star reviews on business profiles.

Recently we tested the presence of the Better Business Bureau’s seal on one of our retail client’s eCommerce sites. Specifically, we tested its impact on conversions.

And we were very surprised by what we found.

In an A/B test with and without the badge, the version without the badge resulted in a 5% lift in conversions.

The version with the BBB badge had less conversions.

Presence of BBB seal resulted in less conversions.

This is the opposite result we’ve found in the past, when the badge lifted conversions in other tests we’d run.

So what was different?

Our hypothesis is this: it’s not the badge itself. It’s what customers find when they click through the badge to the company’s business profile on the BBB’s site.

Customer reviews.

The BBB added "star reviews" to business profiles.

Our previous tests occurred before the BBB added customer reviews to business profile pages.

In this article, we’re going to walk through the consequences of the BBB’s decision to roll out customer reviews on its website, including data from our own tests and what we recommend doing about it.

Before Star Reviews

Consumers view the BBB with respect. Because of this, in the past, we found that including a badge on your site can increase brand trust — and conversions.

In fact, previous tests resulted in a 4 to 15% lift in conversions with the BBB seal.

This is true of other trusted seals, as well. Over many tests of different security and customer service seals, we found that Norton, McAfee and BBB seals were the most likely to increase conversions.

But, in the case of the BBB, it wasn’t just the badge that helped.

We suspect that part of why the BBB badge worked so well in the past is because potential customers could click on the badge to a business’s profile on the BBB site.

There they’d find useful information about a business, such as the number of years it has been in business and BBB accredited. Having a detailed history of the business can increase consumer trust.

Information on BBB's site could increase trust in your company.

Visitors that are likely to be positively impacted by the presence of a BBB seal are interested in the company whose site they’re visiting. And those visitors may click through it to read about the company.

This used to be a good thing.

Until the addition of the star reviews.

Note: Making small changes to your site, such as adding or removing a trust badge, can make big differences to your conversion rate. Want to know what else we’d recommend?  Get started now.

After Star Reviews

In 2014, the BBB began rolling out star-based customer reviews on business profile pages. But because business profiles are managed by local branches of the BBB, you might not have been impacted until recently. For instance, the Alberta area implemented reviews in 2015 and Omaha area in 2016.

Now, if you use the BBB badge on your site, it may be negatively impacting your eCommerce site.

This is what we found in our most recent A/B test (with and without the BBB badge).

The version without the BBB badge resulted in a 5.3% lift in conversions with a 99% confidence rate.

Completely opposite what we’d seen in the past.

Even companies with an A+ BBB rating can still have a low star average. In fact, it’s very common.

The customer reviews don't match the BBB seal rating, therefore discouraging customers from making the final purchase.

People don’t go to the BBB to say positive things about a business —  they go to complain about a company and prompt them to resolve their issue.

Now, customer complaints and reviews are separate things. When a consumer files a complaint against a company, the business can improve its letter grade by responding to and resolving that complaint.

On the other hand, the business cannot raise its customer review score. It’s simply the average number of stars left by customers.

This is why visitors may see an A+ Rating on your site, and then click through to find one-star reviews on the BBB’s site, which can kill their trust in your brand.

Why The BBB Added Star Reviews

Katherine Hutt, a national spokesperson for the BBB explained that online reviews were tied to the organization’s mission. “For more than a century, BBB has been all about fostering trust in the marketplace between businesses and consumers. What started out as a truth-in-advertising campaign in 1912 has grown to include dispute resolution, industry self-regulation, consumer education, and charity reports.”

Reviews are vetted by BBB team members and require reviewers to prove that they were a customer before the review is posted.

The reviews are meant to be a more credible way for customers to find information about a business they’re interested in.

We Recommend Testing and Alternative Sources for Reviews

If you have a BBB seal on your site, we recommend testing the impact of linking to the BBB’s site.

We also recommend looking into alternative customer review platforms, such as Trustpilot or ShopperApproved. These platforms automatically aggregate your reviews and send them to Google to be used on search pages.

Consumer reviews via Trustpilot.

The benefit of such a platform is that you can set up emails and online forms to encourage your customers to review your business.

The placement and size of trust badges can make a difference when it comes to conversion optimization.

If you’re interested in implementing a review platform or testing the presence of trust badges, we can help. Contact Us.

Why You Shouldn’t Split Test During an eCommerce Redesign

Why we don’t recommend split testing and other best practices for eCommerce website redesigns.

If you’re seeing mediocre performance and customer complaints on your eCommerce site (or you’re simply envying a competitor’s flashy new site), you might be tempted to start over.  

Trash the old site and come up with something brand new.

Because new has to be better, right?

Not necessarily.

In this post, we’ll explain the risks and costs of massive redesigns, along with our recommendation for how to proceed. We’ll also talk about the specific situations in which starting over is a good idea and the best practices for running a successful redesign.

The Three Main Risks of Redesigns

  1. Budget Creep: Redesigns are time and resource intensive. They almost always take twice as long as you expect and twice what you’ve budgeted for. When we hear from a prospective client that their redesign will be complete in two months, we always plan on it potentially being ready in four.
  2. Opportunity Cost: Let’s say a complete frontend facelift takes six months to complete. During those six months, you’re maintaining your existing site (but not improving it). You’ve lost six months’ worth of opportunities to make valuable improvements that could have been increasing your revenue all along!
  3. Too Many Variables: When you launch a new site, it’s difficult to know what is and isn’t working.

When you’re continuously improving an existing site, there are a few changes made at a time, and you can usually isolate the cause of changes to traffic or conversions, especially if you are properly testing changes as part of the process.

With a brand new site, everything changes at once. So if numbers tank, in many cases, you’ll have no specific idea why.

These three reasons are why most of the time, we don’t recommend starting over. Instead, our philosophy is to make research-backed changes to continuously improve an existing site, typically with testing along the way.

The Alternative: Continuous Optimization

Continuous optimization is an ongoing process in which small and large changes are rolled out via A/B testing or limited and measurable updates.

Want to change your color scheme? Design a new banner? Move to a one-page checkout process?

Instead of making all of these changes at once, as you would with a redesign, test them individually. By doing so, you’ll have solid proof of their impact on your conversion rate and revenue.

This also addresses the ‘design by committee’ process that eventually consumes most redesigns.  Instead of creating a hodgepodge page full of compromises with various stakeholders, a continuous optimization process frees managers to test a number of ideas and lets the users decide, with the accompanying conversion rate benefits of doing so.

Bottom line: you can make incremental improvements in a much shorter time period without the expense or opportunity cost of an overhaul.

3 Situations When It’s Still Better to Start Over

Even though we’re firm believers in continuous optimization, there are three situations in which it’s still a good idea to start from scratch.

  1. When your site is near impossible to maintain.
  2. When you’re going through a massive rebranding.
  3. When the site is so ridiculously ugly and unusable that a designer’s best guess would be better than what you have now.

In any other situation, we suggest continuous optimization.

eCommerce redesign best practices: a site redesign is a great option during a rebrand.

In 2011, CSN Stores rebranded itself as Wayfair. This was a good opportunity for a redesign.

Note: Unsure whether you should start over or work to optimize your existing site? We can help you figure out the best way to move forward. Contact us to get started.

3 Best Practices to Follow If You DO Need to Redesign

1. Make Research-Backed Design Choices

Your unique customers have specific insights and expectations that outweigh a designer’s opinion:

Every.

Time.

You should be listening to your customers (through analytics, surveys, heatmaps, user testing and any other method that leads to user insights) before, during, and after the redesign process.

Follow this to-do list before starting a redesign project:

    • Study the analytics from your existing site for insights
    • Run user testing and focus groups on the existing site to see what users like and don’t like
    • Complete a competitive analysis of major sites in your market
    • Set internal goals so that, when you start, everyone is on the same page.

Then run the redesign through an iterative agile process. Complete a piece of the project, test, then move forward.

2. Don’t Run Split-Tests on the Current vs. New Site

When our clients are undergoing a redesign, they often ask us to run a split test comparing the conversion rate of their existing site with their new site.

They want to know that the new site is going to perform well.

While it’s essential to exhaustively test a redesign before launch, comparing the old and new site is not typically the best way to do this.

The main problem is that the sites are generally not set up the same way, so it’s impossible to run a fair A/B test.

To run a successful split test:

  • The backends need to match exactly — the same architecture and content. If you’ve made major architecture changes as part of your redesign, this will be difficult at best to test accurately. The only thing that should be different is the user interface. Otherwise, it’s really difficult to set up the test properly. Successful A/B testing requires very precise variables in a controlled environment.

If the sites are majorly different, it’s difficult to know what causes the results you’re seeing and, ultimately, the test won’t help you.

  • There can be no major situational differences in your testing groups. For instance, if you sell bathing suits, and you show the old site to folks in Maine, and the new site to folks in Florida, then it has to be a summer month where it’s bathing suit season across the country. Controlling all of these variables between two different sites is difficult.

Plus, there’s another major problem: what do you do if the results from the new site aren’t any better? Do you abandon the new site?

If you’ve committed to a redesign, then you’re probably wasting time and resources by testing the new site vs. the old site. Comparing the performance of the old and new site isn’t as useful as other exercises during the redesign process you can run.

3. Instead, Focus on Improving Your Redesign

While there are plenty of DIY user testing sites out there, we recommend steering clear and hiring an experienced testing team. The secret to user testing is knowing how to write a good test, and CRO specialists can help you find the best user experience to increase conversions.

You can also let customers opt into a beta site to collect powerful user feedback before officially launching.

By the way, split testing can be a part of this user testing. Instead of comparing the old and new site, we strongly recommend comparing design elements within the redesign itself.

For instance, we ran split tests on a client’s homepage, focusing on specific elements above the fold. The result was similar to a redesign.

eCommerce redesign: Old Homepage

eCommerce redesign: New Homepage with Updated Design Elements

Tests like these have lost in the past, which is similar to a redesign where designers and stakeholders arrive at redesign by committee. In this case, we tested this area and confirmed that it was better instead of guessing.

Changes to the homepage resulted in a 107% lift in conversions.

We were also able to use some of the winning elements in other areas of the site since they had already proven to improve conversion.

The Bottom Line: No Matter How You Update Your Site, Test as You Go

Whether you’re giving your site a frontend facelift, completely overhauling the architecture, or using a continuous optimization process to make incremental changes, for us, the golden rule is to use research to guide your decisions.

By listening to your customers, we believe you can transform your site into a well-performing, beautiful creation that will make your competitors jealous.

Note: We’ve performed hundreds of user tests for our clients. We can help you write and run tests that bring quality insights about your eCommerce site. Contact us to get started.

eCommerce & SEO Copywriting Guide

Looking for actionable tips for SEO eCommerce Copywriting? Improve your product & category pages with dynamic descriptions. Find out how.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June of 2015. While a lot of the original content still stands, algorithms and strategies are always changing. So our team has updated this post for 2018 and we hope that it will continue to be a helpful resource. If you’d like to learn more about producing strong copy for your eCommerce site, please contact our SEO team today.

eCommerce & SEO Copywriting - Image from @lonely_planet via Unsplash.com

Table of Contents

What is SEO Copywriting?

The Core Functions of Content

The Hard and Fast Rules of Content

Formatting Content for Online Readability

Internal Linking Helps Other Content Rank

Optimizing Meta Data

eCommerce SEO Copywriting for Page Types

In this guide, we’ve standardized Inflow’s best practices and writer’s guidelines for SEO/eCommerce copywriting techniques which we use for our clients. You are free to use any or all of this in your project / job description when hiring freelance SEO copywriters, content agencies or even when creating a copywriting process to train in-house staff.

Ready? Let’s get into it.

What is SEO Copywriting?

SEO copywriting has evolved over the years, and the key to successful copywriting nowadays is what it always should have been: authoritative, natural, compelling content that gracefully uses keywords and semantically related verbiage that is both directly and indirectly relevant to a user’s search query. Awkward, keyword-stuffed content does not win the search engine wars anymore, and it never should have. Modern SEO copywriting is much more evolved, and with good reason.

This guide outlines SEO copywriting tips that we as an agency use for our copywriters when producing search engine optimized content.

The Core Functions of Content

When you are creating and/or editing your content, always keep the following in mind. Your website content performs two functions:

  1. It communicates your message to the reader and convinces them to take an action (i.e. contact you, make a purchase, etc.)
  2. It communicates to the search engines what the page is about and what keywords are important on the page.

The Hard And Fast Rules of Content

The following rules are absolute musts in terms of creating well optimized website content:

  • Content breadth (word count, semantic relevance, etc.) is very important to Google. Each page on the website has different word count expectations. Here is a general rule of thumb:
    • Home Page: 400-600 words of unique content offers more to say, more keyword variations to use naturally, more internal linking opportunities, etc. It also helps keep the home page focused on a core group of keywords.
    • Category Pages: ~100 words of content atop the category page. Categories on eCommerce sites list product grids. Additional content can be placed at the bottom of category pages such as promoting downloadable (gated) content for email acquisition and linking to helpful articles related to the category page. 200+ words of content at the bottom if possible.
      • Category page content should orientate the visitor to the topic of the page, and help them decide what to do next. For example:
      • ABOVE PRODUCT GRID example: (86 words)
        • Snowboards come in many shapes and sizes, and it can be tough to find the perfect ride for you. That’s why we’ve made choosing the right board easy with filtering options that help you buy the best snowboard for your needs based on terrain, experience, height and weight. Whether you’re looking for an all-mountain board or something that will power through powder, you’ll find an awesome selection of boards from top brands like Burton, Arbor and Salomon here. Still unsure? Check out our snowboard buying guide!
      • BELOW PRODUCT GRID
        • When buying a snowboard it is important to get the proper width and height for your body, as well as the right shape for your snowboarding style and terrain. General guidelines are to choose a board length that ends somewhere between your chin and nose. Park and freestyle riders should choose the shorter end of the range, while mountain and freeriding should consider a longer board. See the sizing chart below for more detailed recommendations, including weight and experience level. [CHART].
        • Product Pages: At least 100-200 words of unique content. If the product is complex and/or highly competitive, it is recommended that the page have 250-500 words of unique content.
        • Articles/Blog Posts: Content marketing has become more competitive and “big content” is winning the search engine wars in today’s marketplace. Therefore, articles and blog posts should have a minimum of 500-750 words in order to rank for long-tail keywords. 1,000-5,000 words are needed to completely exhaust the topic, wow the audience and attract links needed to compete for more competitive/highly searched keywords.

  • Rich Media is critical to engaging your audience. Embed high quality imagery (including animated gifs/infographics) and videos to the page in order to prevent high bounce rates and increase time on site. When users bounce back to Google’s search result, that low “dwell time” is recorded by Google and negatively affects your web page’s organic ranking.

  • Throw in Bucket Brigades in Increase Time on Page Bucket Brigades are an old tactic sales people used to use to engage readers in their material for longer. Bucket brigades are phrases help improve bounce rate, expand the average time on page, and improve the overall user experience! These could be phrases like, “wait there’s more”, “but you might be wondering”, “look”, and more. This tactic is most effective when used in places a reader might typically jump off of the page.

  • It’s preferable to have each of the keywords listed in the keyword matrix added to the content in the exact same format, with variations. For example, if one of the designated keyword terms is luxury vacation rentals, it should be placed into the copy in that exact order (if it sounds natural). Use variations of the term, such as rentals for a luxury vacation or luxurious vacation rentals, for extra brownie points.
    • Here’s an instance where the exact-match keyword sounds awkward. The keyword is “arm workouts 10 minutes”: 
      • Our arm workouts 10 minutes are designed for people who are in a time crunch. You’ll find a variety of arm workouts 10 minutes listed below, including bicep curls, tricep dips and more. Browse our arm workouts 10 minutes now!
    • And here’s an improved version that incorporates the exact match keyword as well as variations:
      • In a time crunch, but want to do some arm workouts? 10 minutes is all you need to burn through these arm exercises. Build muscle and strength with bicep curls, tricep dips and other 10-minute arm workouts that are guaranteed to work up a sweat.
        Copywriting Hack: In the above example, you’ll notice that there’s a question mark between the phrases “arm workouts” and “10 minutes.” Don’t sweat it — Google will still read this as “arm workouts 10 minutes.” Same goes for other punctuation (exclamation points and dashes)

  • Keyword density and LSI/TF*IDF keywords

Keyword density (the amount of times a keyword is used on a page) used to be one of the only ways that google could evaluate ranked a page, and as a result, SEO’s and marketers began keyword stuffing. Google quickly became wise against this type of rankings hack, and nixed it in one of their algorithm updates.

LSI keyword shave become the next evolution of keyword density, LSI keywords or Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords are semantically related to the target keyword you are attempting to optimize. The keywords are not necessarily synonyms but are keywords that are frequently found with your target keywords because they share a similar context (i.e. semantically related).

For example, if you’re writing SEO copywriting, and your target keyword is “SEO copywriting” you may want to target words like “keyword research”, “meta description”, “title tag” or “copywriting tips” since they are semantically related.

You are probably wondering, how do I find these LSI keywords? Well that takes us to TF*IDF tools.

  • Finding TF*IDF using Ryte

While LSI keywords are the type of keywords we are targeting, TF*IDF (term frequency-inverse document frequency) is the concept/methodology. TF*IDF is a complicated formula, but basically it’s the way Google evaluates and analyzes where they should rank you based on semantically related LSI keywords which gives us a better look at some of the keywords, topics, and phrases that Google deems relevant to the type of content you are serving. Like keyword density, “TF” (term frequency) shows how frequently a phrase or word appears in the content. “IDF” (inverse term frequency) tells us how important and relevant the repetitive word is and scales more unique words (vs. “stop” words such as “the,” “but,” “a,” “how,” etc.).

Currently, our SEO team loves using the tool Ryte, which uses the TF*IDF methodology to identify these semantically related terms for us and even lets you compare your current page to others ranking for your target keyword. This tool allows you to display either 1 word or 2 word keywords, our team finds the 2 word LSI keywords more helpful. We then include these keywords throughout the copy, either adding sections to cover the keyword, or including them naturally throughout the copy.

So, is keyword density still important? Yes, but the keywords should be included in the copy naturally and stuffing should be avoided.

  • WE CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH. Use keywords naturally. Re-read the content after it is written and ensure that nothing sounds awkward. Search and readers are very aware of over-optimized content nowadays, and it will limit engagement/linkability of the content in the long run, and could impact rankings negatively. The primary goal of the content is to help users and provide them with what they are looking for. Engaging, informative and well-written content is everything. Help the user solve what they are trying to accomplish.

  • Use the more important keywords more frequently than the less important keywords, preferably 2-4 times on the page for a primary or target keyword if the content is long enough to warrant (500+ words). There is no magic number or ‘density level’ that we are trying to target; however, if you only use the keyword once in a 400 word page, it is not as clear to Google what the focus of the content is…and thus, it won’t rank as well without several external/internal mentions to the content involving those keywords.

  • The primary/target keyword, along with unique words of the secondary keyword phrases, from the keyword matrix should be used in the headline and meta page title. The primary keyword should be used as close to the beginning of the meta page title as possible, as this position holds more weight with search engines. Using unique words from the secondary keyword phrases later in the meta page title, and not repeating words used in the primary keyword phrase, allows for a more semantically descriptive and keyword-rich meta page title.

For example, “how to choose hiking boots” (primary), “how to choose trail hiking boots” (secondary), “how to choose mountain hiking boots” (secondary) could be combined into the following meta page title: How to Choose Hiking Boots for Mountain Trails.

However, ensure the meta page title reads naturally and is compelling since this will impact CTR…and thus, traffic. To get titling ideas, review the paid search ads at the top of Google’s search results. Part of the reason they rank there is that their titles/messaging are compelling and get higher CTR. Engagement is very important.

  • Primary and secondary keywords need to be used within subheaders of the page. These locations are viewed as important areas within the body content since they outline the focus of the content. Use primary and secondary keywords here via <h2>, <h3> and <h4> sub-headlines.

Formatting Content for Online Readability

Online readers have much lower attention spans than print readers (novels, magazines, etc.). Most online readers are scanning/searching for information most relevant to their specific needs or query. Therefore, it’s important to break up content with different formatting styles in order to create an easily scannable (and visually appealing) web page of content. Such formatting creates hierarchical relationships between different elements of the page. We’ll discuss the popular methods below.

Boldfacing & Italicizing

  • Bold/italicize key information and points to emphasize them to both readers and search engines.
  • Try to spread these out on the page, rather than clustering them.
  • Don’t overdo it.

Subheadings

  • Subheadings (aka “subtitles” – h2, h3, h4) help to segment content into sub-topics.
  • They are good places to put primary, secondary and tertiary keywords, as they are given a little extra weight by search engines.
  • Subheadings should provide transition, flow and organization to the content.

Using Lists

  • Lists help users to quickly scan content and comprehend it…and also make it more attractive.
  • Lists should indent slightly (20-50 pixels).
  • Bulleted lists should be used to detail user benefits of the topic at hand.
  • Numbered lists should be used to outline steps of a process, prioritize or order the topic at hand.

What to Avoid

  • Table HTML interferes with most mobile designs. As users go mobile, websites are following with responsive design. In order for the content to reshape itself (via CSS, not magically!), fewer restrictions are required. Table HTML is very restrictive.
  • Lack of whitespace can make content difficult to read. Ensure that there is ample “breathing room” in between sentences, between images and paragraph content, between the end of a paragraph and a succeeding subtitle.
  • Overly large or overly small fonts make it difficult to read. Typically, 11-13 point font for the main paragraph text should suffice.

Off-color subtitles and other stylistic elements can make great content look like a circus of color. It’s important to keep within the scope of a color palette to ensure that content appears professional.

Internal Linking Helps Other Content Rank

  • Within the content on each page, link to 1-3 other related pages on the website. Internal linking passes link equity throughout the site, and helps the other pages rank higher in search engines. It also helps users to click deeper into the website.
    • Use keyword rich internal text links to point to the pages. Keyword-rich internal links are much, much safer than keyword-rich external links to your site.
      • As a starting point, use the primary keyword for the page being linked to as the anchor text (be sure it sounds natural).
      • Vary the link text and do not use the exact same text every time you link to a page. It’s not natural to do so.
      • The higher up in the site structure an optimized page is, the more internal links should be pointed at it.
      • Try to spread the links throughout the content instead of clustering them together, unless there is a valid reason to do so (such as a bulleted list of links to related resources).

Optimizing Metadata

Web pages use metadata to allow search engines and social media sites to better understand different elements of the page, and how to use them for their own purposes. Common metadata include: meta title tags, meta description tags, meta keywords, alt tags, image title tags and link title tags.

Meta Title Tags

When creating title tags for the pages being optimized, follow the following rules:

  • Use 65 characters or less (including spaces and punctuation). Google will use ellipses after roughly 65-70 characters. Push your luck = lose your message. Target 50-60 characters.
  • Use the primary keyword phrase (exact match is preferable) at the beginning.
  • When appropriate, use unique words from the secondary and tertiary keywords later in the meta title to help naturally include more keywords.
  • Limit unnecessary words such as conjunction words (use “&” instead of “and”), prepositions and other unnecessary words in order to keep character count under 65 and focused on keywords.
  • Get creative. You can blend keywords to maximize space. For example, if your keywords are “diamond earrings” and “earrings made in USA,” you could use “Diamond Earrings – Made in the USA | YourBrandName” as your meta title.
  • Make your meta title compelling. It has the biggest impact on your CTR. Look at the paid ads atop Google’s search results to get ideas of what titling gets good engagement for searchers.

EXAMPLE: Here is what an optimized meta title looks like within the SERPs. Notice the primary and secondary related keywords, and how they are bold faced by Google in the SERP. Also notice how character count is kept within the ideal limits.

Here is what an optimized meta title looks like within the SERPs.

Meta Description Tag

Create a meta description for each of the pages being optimized, follow these rules:

  • Meta descriptions used to be 156 characters or less (including spaces and punctuation). Google would use ellipses after roughly 145-155 characters. This has recently changed.
  • The meta description does not directly impact rankings in Google, however it can impact CTR which can lead to other engagement metrics that Google does monitor.
  • Google will boldface keywords in the meta description, so here are some tips:
    • Use the primary keyword phrase (or a variation) somewhere within it. Variations to consider:
      • Singular/plural
      • Synonyms
      • Different word order
      • Different tense
      • Different word form (noun to verb, etc.)
    • If you are unable to include any of the researched keywords in full/exact order in the page title, try to include them here.
  • Understand that the meta description tag is an “elevator pitch” for a web page within search engine results and it should:
    • Be compelling to the search (focus on the benefits to them)
    • Have proper grammar
    • Include a call to action
    • Promise what the page delivers

EXAMPLE: The following meta description example shows how ellipses are used by Google when the meta description is too long. Notice, however, the compelling nature and call to action in addition to keyword usage.

The following meta description example shows how ellipses are used by Google when the meta description is too long.

Meta Keywords Tag

Search engines don’t use them, so neither should you.

Image Alt and Title Attributes

One commonly overlooked on-page optimization technique is to optimize the image alt attribute and title attributes. Image alt attributes are used by search engines to help the visually-impaired know what images are used on a page. Image title attributes are used to display a message when readers hover their mouse cursor over the image. Basic tips include:

  • Accurately describe what the image is
  • Keep it relatively short (10-15 words max)
  • Use one of the keyword terms assigned to the page or a variation of it or a part of it.
    • Note: If a lot of images are used on the page, it’s important not to use the same keywords in each alt tag, as this will make the content appear over-optimized to Google and other search engines.
  • Image title tags are great places to put compelling messages and calls to action related to images and the overall goal of the page. Use them creatively!

Link Title Attributes

Also a commonly overlooked web page feature, link title attributes display a message to the user when hovering a mouse cursor over them. So, just like image title tags, these should be used creatively to combine keywords with calls to action.

eCommerce SEO Copywriting for Page Types

Category Page Optimization Details

We offer the following specific guidelines to copywriters and clients (who are doing their own copywriting) to ensure that we get a relatively consistent end result. We’ve found that, without providing these specific guidelines, both copywriters and clients cannot easily read our minds. Go figure!

Keyword research – to be conducted using any of the following tools:

  • AHREFs (for current page rankings, competitor keywords, and keyword ideas)
  • SEMRush Keyword Tool (for current page rankings, competitor keywords, and keyword ideas)
  • Moz Keyword Explorer (for current page rankings and ideas )
  • Google Search Console (for a current pages ranking keywords)

Inflow has also created a guide on competitor keyword research using SEMRush, this can be replicated using AHREFs as well.

Once your find the keywords, sort them using the methodology below to find the following keyword types, and used by copywriters within elements of the category page.

  • Primary Keyword – this keyword has the best combination of relevancy and search volume.
  • Secondary Keyword – this keyword has the 2nd best combination of relevancy and search volume, and should be rather unique from the primary keyword.
  • Tertiary Keyword – this keyword has the 3rd best combination of relevancy and search volume, and should be rather unique from the primary and secondary keywords.

Meta Title (under 55 characters, including spaces) – Target primary keyword first, then secondary keywords, needs to accurately describe category

Meta Description (under 150 characters, including spaces) – Target all keywords, action-focused, mention core benefit(s)

H1 tags On-Page Title (typically 2-5 words) – This is the category name, which should target the primary keyword phrase and be very specific. For example, “Men’s Outdoor Hiking Boots” instead of just “Men’s Boots” if the specific products are all outdoor hiking boots for men.

Basic Descriptions (75-100 words minimum atop product grid, add extra 200+ words of content to the bottom of product grid if possible) – Target all keywords once (primary, secondary and tertiary keywords) and target multiple keywords with one usage where possible (such as when the primary keyword is part of a longer secondary keyword phrase). Boldface the primary keyword once using <strong></strong> tags.

Interlinking – link to 1-3 related categories/sub-categories contextually within the category description.

Category Maintenance – The client should maintain categories by fixing broken links (from other pages) as categories/sub-categories are deleted.

General Copywriting Tips:

  1. The purpose of introductory/descriptive content on category pages is to help users understand what types of products are available in this category, the benefits to them and to be clear about the category topic (using researched keywords such as big purple widget or large purple widgets for a category page that sells particularly large purple widgets).
  2. A secondary purpose is to assist with navigation, which is why it’s suggested to link to 2-3 related categories/subcategories.
  3. To bring attention to a popular product or time-sensitive promotion related to this particular category. As things change (popular product removed from site, promotions end, etc.), however, the category description needs to be maintained in order to stay up to date.
  4. The category page introductory/descriptive content can also be used to build the brand’s credibility about the topic at hand within the user’s mind. For example, if “Brand X” is the largest retailer for “big purple widgets,” then that should be expressed in order to build buyer confidence and potentially increase conversions.
  5. Avoid usage/overuse of exclamation points as they tend to trivialize the content. Also avoid putting words IN ALL CAPS since it reads as if you are shouting at the potential customer. The words and user benefits, as they are written, should make points clear to the customer on their own.

Optimizing Product Pages

Product pages are a completely different animal, compared to category pages. Almost always, you don’t have to do keyword research for product pages. Guess why. Yep, the product name or model number is the keyword (including brand/make/model/color etc…). These are highly converting pages, so make them read naturally, make them compelling (focus on the benefits to the customer) and make them unique. Be specific in your descriptive details. Get excited, dammit (but hold the exclamation points). You want someone to buy this product? Earn it.

You’ll typically have many more product pages than category pages, so this is where most eCommerce sites can separate themselves from the pack and convince Google’s algorithm that their product page content (and overall site) is of higher quality than competitors. If your CEO disagrees, then ask him to start putting 85-octane gas in his Ferrari. You’ll probably get fired. Don’t do that.

Product Page Optimization Details

Keyword research – to be conducted using a keyword research tool like AHERFs, SEMRush, GSC, etc, to quickly find secondary, and tertiary keywords that can be used by copywriters in conjunction with the product name (which is the primary keyword) within the various elements of the product page.

Meta Title (under 55 characters, including spaces) – target product name then generic keyword and at end. If room is available, the brand name can be added to the end as well. However, Google will only show the first 55 characters in its search results before ellipses are used. Example: “2015 Nike Air Jordan – Basketball Shoes | Foot Locker”

Meta Description (under 150 characters, including spaces) – target product name and generic keyword, action-focused, mention core benefit(s) to the potential customer.

Headline 1 On-Page Title – simply use the product name.

Interlinking – do not link to any other page from within actual the product detail/description content.

Product Detail Description Length Options:

Basic Descriptions (75-100 words) – This is for standalone short descriptions and should use the primary and generic keyword 1-2 times.

Standard Descriptions (130-200 words) – Ideal for long product descriptions where product pages have both a short (top of page) and long (bottom of page) description. The first paragraph (25-50 words) could be used as the short description, and the full description can be used as the long description. Use product name and generic keyword 2-3 times.

Premium Descriptions (250-500+ words) – This is for clients’ top products, so they should dive deep into the details and benefits of the product. Use product name and generic keyword 3-4 times. Answer common questions about the product, such as “What does the fabric feel like?” or “What kind of material was used in its construction?”

General Tips:

  1. Focus on user benefits. The content should be written with the user’s perspective as the focus, not the store/website.
  2. Use bulleted lists where it makes sense to illustrate user benefits.
  3. Do not embed images into the actual product description, however, adding video (only of the specific product) can be a nice complement and usually increases conversions.
  4. Avoid usage/overuse of exclamation points as they tend to trivialize the content. Also avoid putting words IN ALL CAPS since it reads as if you are shouting at the potential customer. The words and user benefits, as they are written, should make points clear to the customer on their own.

Product Page Examples

Standard Product Copy

Short + Long Descriptions – This is probably more typical of a product page, in which there is a short description followed by a tabbed area with lots of bullets/specs: The short description is only 34 words, and is repeated in the long description area below. The entire long description, which includes the short description, is 136 words (excluding the boilerplate disclaimer in bold).

Main Description + Tabbed Content – Here is a product from Gaiam with typical content. 100 words in main description area. 300-400 words at the bottom.

Expanded Product Copy

Expanded Descriptions Including Tabbed Content – Here is a product from Best of Signs with expanded content. It has 172 words in main description area. 300-500 words in other tabs.

Expanded Descriptions with User Benefit Bullets and/or Word from Author – Here is a product from Artists Network that focuses on user benefits at the top of the product page along with a word/excerpt from the author to add unique value to the product page compared to any other store where this product is sold. 412 words.

Expansive Product Descriptions – For high end products (and in a more ideal world), a product description may be as expansive as the ones found on Crutchfield.

SEO copywriting and eCommerce copywriting can be tricky, but with the tips and tricks listed above, you should be in good shape to start writing or rewriting your current on page copy and improving your metadata. These tricks should help you rank better for the keywords you are targeting, therefore increasing traffic and conversions, and ultimately making your site more revenue. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team!