June 10, 2010, 6:41 PM

Content can be crucial for e-commerce sites, experts say

The number one request consumers make to fitness products retailer Beach Body is to add more content to its site, Steve Winshel, chief information officer, said Wednesday at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Chicago.

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The number one request consumers make to fitness products retailer Beach Body is to add more content to its site, Steve Winshel, chief information officer, said Wednesday at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Chicago.

Winshel, along with Ken Burke, chairman at e-commerce platform provider MarketLive, explained how using content in the right ways can boost search engine rankings, build customer trust and loyalty, keep customers coming back and drive new consumers to an e-commerce site.

“A quick rule is that 80% of your site should be focused on commerce and 20% should be the content supporting it,” Burke said.

E-retailers should think about hiring content managers to write much more than product descriptions, but also compose buyer’s guides, report on industry trends and information, and create videos, Burke said.

Beyond making a site an information hub that keeps customers coming back, content can also work in a different way, Burke said. A newer trend is for e-retailers to push out content and syndicate it to other web sites, Burke said. The content can mention the e-retailer’s name and, if possible, link back to its e-commerce site.

Burke says sharing content helps retailers in several ways: It builds links back to the retailer’s e-commerce site, which can boost search engine rankings; it can spread the word about a retailer to consumers; and it can help merchants benefit from other sites’ search rankings.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to get your content syndicated on MSN.com and get their Google ranking?” Burke said.

To do that however, retailers must prepare content correctly, adding metadata and tags so that it can serve content to other sites properly and in such a way that search engines can find and crawl it.

Retailers also shouldn’t be afraid to add content from third parties to their web sites. Burke points to Walmart.com, which adds health information from portal WebMD to its site, as a good example. 

“E-commerce sites are becoming portals,” Burke said. “So look at outside content you can bring to your site.”

Winshel of Beach Body says his company, which does around $100 million in annual sales, has the dual task of being an information site and an e-commerce site. Because Beach Body markets directly through TV, many consumers already know all about the products and exactly what they want to buy. Others, he says, have just heard of Beach Body, or its popular P90X fitness product, and want to know more about losing weight or getting in shape.

“We want content to help people make decisions, Winshel says. “Of course, we want the end decision to be to buy our product.” But he believes useful content that builds trust and offers information will lead to that sale, even if it’s down the line. That’s why Beach Body shares success stories, adds videos, posts user generated content and even suggests and discusses products from other companies on its site.

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