Ecommerce is more important than ever. Shopify surveyed shoppers in 2020 and found that 53% of them had shifted more of their shopping online on a permanent basis.
For retailers, that means doubling down on their online operations. They’re investing in elements like omnichannel marketing, order process automation, and making sure their content marketing strategy gets the conversions they need.
One great content marketing tool is an online product buying guide. This could be a straightforward product guide or a buyer’s guide disguised as a roundup. Think of seasonal gift guides you’ve seen that are all from one company’s site.
This is a great way to build your brand, but as we’ll see, it can also help grow your online operation in ways you might not expect. Let’s talk about creating a winning product buying guide step-by-step.
You won’t create a winning product buying guide without first answering the most important question. Who are you writing this for?
Countless brands are fighting for your customer’s attention and you’re only going to cut through if you know them better than anyone else. “Creating buyer personas” conjures images of UX consultations, walls of post-it notes, and in-depth surveys. But it doesn’t have to be complicated.
You can start by taking a look through your site’s analytics over a cup of coffee. You’ll notice patterns in traffic times, devices, location, and how different segments of your audience are arriving and moving through your site.
Your site’s internal data will only give you half the picture. Once you have your personas defined, you’ll want to get as much information about them around the internet as you can.
Search for surveys. Sources like Nielsen, Pew Research Center, and Harvard Business Review will be good for this. Think of relevant searches and hashtags on social media and see what your customers are posting there, as well as which pages and influencers they’re paying attention to.
This’ll get you information about what your customer wants now. But in the long term, you have to keep an eye on industry trends to anticipate their needs ahead of time.
You might set up some horizon-scanning practices with your marketing team, attend a SaaS event to hear from industry leaders and see what’s on the minds of the most innovative companies, or consult some big-picture trend reports for ideas.
Regardless, make sure you’re using a healthy mixture of data. No one source will give you the full picture. Numbers can’t tell you as much about your customers as they can in their own words.
If you listen to your customers, you can get creative with your buying guide in ways that seem obvious in hindsight. REI, a premium outdoor clothing brand, found that people were looking at their “expert advice” buying guides online before browsing at one of their stores.
They integrated their online buying guide into the in-store experience so both customers and staff could easily consult it, which is especially useful for expensive and often technical products like outdoor gear.
Leverage / optimize for SEO
With good buyer personas, you’re able to come up with an SEO and keyword strategy that will get your guide in front of your customers before everyone else can.
This isn’t about mindlessly stuffing your guide with as many keywords as possible. Not all traffic is valuable traffic, and those strategies aren’t effective anyway. It’s about understanding what questions your customers are asking and meeting their needs better than anyone else.
When you’re placing keywords throughout your buying guide, focus on getting them in the page title, URL, and headings. Use descriptive link text when linking to other pages.
Consider phrasing your keywords as questions and relevant search terms. Say you’re a B2B company, your guide is on inventory management software, and you’re targeting up-and-coming ecommerce brands. What are they more likely to search: A term like “landed cost formula” or “what is landed cost”?
Valuable, well-targeted content—like your buying guide—will boost your overall SEO strategy as well as your brand. Over time, your whole site will rank better in search engines and you will be seen as more of an expert in your field.
Use structure & strong CTAs
Now that you know your customer and what they’re looking for, you should think about how to structure your buying guide.
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and think about what they’re trying to find out. Make sure that your guide is skimmable and they can find the information they’re looking for in just a couple of seconds.
Keep paragraphs short. Keep sentences clear. Don’t be afraid to use bold and italics for key points.
Focus on the problem or need your customer is trying to address, and consider the following questions. What product is this a guide to? What types are there? What frequently asked questions are there? What factors should you consider when buying? Is there social proof?
You can think of different sections addressing those questions as “modules”, and they needn’t all be text. People process visuals 60,000x faster than text, so images and infographics are a great way to relay a lot of complex information quickly.
Consider Wayfair’s buying guide (below). They include comparative infographics with the pros and cons of every type of mattress. Customers who’ve just been educated about the different factors to consider can survey a lot of products at a glance for the specific features they want.
Another important part of your structure are strong calls-to-action (CTAs). Think about how your customer is using your guide. Should you put a main CTA at the end of the guide, inviting them to browse all your products in that category? Or should you put smaller CTA buttons next to relevant products so they can click through to that specific product page?
You want your CTAs to stand out visually and clearly describe the action the user wants to take. This is what’s going to have users looking at the products on your site and not your competitors’ site in the next tab over!
The #1 benefit of a winning product buying guide
Remember that this isn’t just about your ecommerce operation. A good product buying guide is a huge asset for your brand.
If your buying guide is for, say, a selection of coffee machines, this could be someone’s introduction to making café-quality coffee at home. If you’re successful here, you won’t just have some more money in the bank. You’ll have a customer who thinks of your brand like a knowledgeable friend they know they can always ask.
It’s not all about conversions and analytics. At the end of the day it’s about building long-term relationships with your customers by sharing the expertise you have and they need.