Three Ways to Use Content to Engage Your Audience

Marketers face a never-ending challenge trying to get more and more people to come to their Web sites. While paid search and e-mail are effective traffic drivers, they have their limits. Another cost-effective way to extend online reach is to make your Web site stickier by giving customers useful information at every point in the purchase process. Given that consumers spend over 40 percent of their time online with content, according to the Online Publishers Association’s June 2009 research, this makes good business sense.

Toys “R” Us has done this successfully. In addition to its various retail Web sites, it has Toys.com, a site dedicated to providing budget-minded consumers with up-to-the-minute deals on toys and baby products. Among its offering is a deal of the day. Toys “R” Us also runs ePregnancy.com, a content Web site targeted at parents-to-be where Babies “R” Us is a prominent advertiser. Further, Toys “R” Us has expanded its social media footprint with a variety of Facebook fan pages that contain both user and company generated content. To date, Toys “R” Us has over 71,000 fans and Babies “R” Us has over 18,100 fans.

Three Ways to Cost-Effectively Add Content to Attract Your Target Audience

What’s important in online marketing is to have a mindset where you think creatively about how to build relationships with customers. Here are three ways to enhance your content offering cost-effectively to achieve this goal:

    Socialize With Customers

    At their core, social media sites are composed of user-generated content and engagement. With the ever-increasing expansion of social media Web sites (as epitomized by Facebook’s 194 percent increase in visits in the past year, according to Hitwise), these are a prime arena for marketers to build and expand their customer relationships. As a marketer, your goal is to engage with your customers and leverage their content. Ensure you have internal resources focused on and engaged with the right social network. Your employees must understand the dynamics of the social network’s audience and be able to present your company appropriately for the medium. This isn’t a tactic that you implement and then just move on. Use your Facebook fan page to deliver content and other information of value to your best fans. For example, the NHL offers virtual goods for free to build good will, not to sell products directly. Maintaining a Twitter can complement your other online efforts. Again, it’s important not to use Twitter to just promote your latest sale, but rather to provide customers with information they find interesting and important. Depending on your product offering, you should consider more targeted social media environments, such as Dogster.com for dog related products.

    Reach Out to Bloggers

    As content creators and authorities in their fields with loyal followings, bloggers are another resource that marketers can use to extend their reach. Be careful in how you approach them. To achieve a good working relationship, it’s important that your exchange validates the blogger’s standing. In addition to providing them with links back to their Web site, consider inviting them to be members of your media advisory board, give them advance information, and/or provide them with a bio on your “about us” section. For companies that have a blog incorporated into their Web site already, ask other bloggers as well as your fans to write guest posts where they can expand on their area of expertise. Include their bio and a link back to the appropriate area of their Web site. (Note: before you do this, you may want to check out B.L. Ochman’s Blogger Outreach Manifesto.)

    Barter for Content

    As a marketer, your Web site attracts an audience that can be attractive to a publisher looking to expand its online footprint. By integrating a publisher’s content into your offering, you can provide useful information for your customers while enhancing the value and stickiness of your Web site. According to DivineCaroline.com’s Rebecca Weeks Watson, it’s important to possess a mindset where you think creatively about forging relationships where both the marketer and the publisher can meet their goals with little or no cost. This content can help your search optimization efforts if it contains important keywords and gives prospects a reason to return to your site. Also, consider other possible options to work with third parties, such as a mailing to your e-mail list, a cross registration posting, or an ad on your Web site where appropriate. It’s important to not deal with head-to-head competitors.

Content-Related Metrics to Track

As with any other marketing program, monitor your results to ensure that you’re on track. With these recommendations, some of the impact may be hidden by the exchange.

  • Track the number of unique visits to the relevant areas of your site, as well as the size of your overall audience. What’s the overall trend? Are the newer forms of content attracting visitors? Remember that it can take time until the new content appears in search engines.

  • Monitor the number of comments and the content of the comments. What are customers saying about your offering? Remember that only a small percentage of prospects will actually take the time to comment.
  • Count the number of referrals that you get from the different sources. Assess the quality of leads from various partners’ content. Do certain types of information yield better results? Can you identify differences in your content placement that affect the quantity and quality of the prospects they attract?

When using content to attract and engage prospects, consider your customers’ underlying emotional motivation to purchase your products. What makes your brand stand out for your best customers and how can you extend this aspect of your offering? Once you determine these factors, assess the type of content that will resonate with your customers at different points in the purchase process. Think about where to place and position this content, depending on who you’re trying to appeal to and when. While marketers are facing reduced budgets and head count, content can cost-effectively help extend their digital reach.

Meet Heidi at SES Chicago, December 7-9, 2009 at the Hilton Chicago.

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