June 6, 2012, 10:12 AM

IRCE 2012 Report: Turning massive web content into gold

Lumens.com and Healthy Directions tell how to capitalize on content.

Lead Photo

Ben Quigley

At Healthy Directions, a publisher and retailer of vitamins, supplements and other health products, an ample supply of doctor-produced educational content hasn’t always helped to drive traffic to its e-commerce site and generate sales. But reorganizing how it presents content to consumers has nearly doubled traffic from natural search engine optimization, Ben Quigley, vice president, Internet channels, said at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2012 this week.

“We doubled SEO traffic in the first three months,” he said in a session titled “Product + Content + Asset Management: Tools that improve efficiency and the bottom line.” “Now consumers find an article on our site, and they can buy the product after they finish reading it.”

Healthy Directions, a company with its roots in newsletter publishing formerly known as Phillips Publishing, has long had extensive educational content, written by medical doctors, that dives deeply into specific health issues. But much of it wasn’t easily managed by three content management systems that served a group of five web sites. “We had loads of unstructured content, thousands of articles by doctors, but it wasn’t all on our sites,” he said.

But with consumers hungry for information on products they expect to ingest to improve their health, Healthy Directions figured it had an opportunity to better use its content to increase sales. At the same time, Quigley said, it realized that consumers were looking for relevant product information both more often and earlier in the Internet search process before deciding to make a purchase.

In preparing HealthyDirections.com to better support its content, the retailer ensured that its site architecture and navigation structure supporting making relevant content—including educational articles as well as product descriptions and images—were easily accessible from any web page. This enables the retailer to make all relevant content available wherever a shopper is in her purchase cycle. “No matter where the customer is in the purchase cycle, give them what they want easily and right away,” he said.

With much of its educational content in a separate company blog, HealthyDirections also made more of its content available directly on its e-commerce web pages so that shoppers wouldn’t have to toggle back and forth to research and buy products.

Even when a retailer has plenty of content available on its web pages, it’s also important to ensure that product information is consistent, said Richard Tawney, director of e-commerce, Lumens.com, a retailer of lighting products. He noted that Lumens at one time had more than 150,000 items online representing more than 300 brands from vendors throughout the world.

But many vendors provided product information in different formats, so that a number of products, though similar, were displayed with different sets of attributes. One lamp description might list 15 attributes, while a similar one would offer only four. The lack of standardization made it difficult for customers to compare products and make a purchase decision, he said.

To fix that situation, Lumens now uses a product information management system to help standardize product data, and also provides product templates that vendors can fill out to provide consistent information. But most important, he added, is hiring the right people and getting them ready to change the process for managing product data with vendors.

Such changes can be difficult, particularly since many vendors usually resist changing their ways, he added. To motivate employees to work through the changes, Tawney offered a motivational technique: “Bring everyone into a room—bring ice cream and hugs—and make everyone feel OK about making the changes going forward.”

Shannon Wu-Lebron, former director, e-commerce searchandising, Office Depot Inc., advised that retailers should take advantage of the many sources of helpful content that can help to convert shoppers to buyers. It’s becoming more important to present rich media, including product videos, on e-commerce sites, but many quality videos are often available for free on the web sites of product suppliers, she said.

She also advised retailers to get to know consumers who champion their brand and products in social media, then solicit them to provide content in the form of written articles and images of them using the merchant’s products. Office Depot is No. 6 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.


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