Best Practices for Unique Content in Multichannel Selling

In our previous post on duplicate content, we discussed why you might decide to use it, how Google‘s Hummingbird update reacts to it, and how you should adjust your marketing efforts accordingly.

At content26, we produce thousands of pieces of enhanced product content every year, so it’s easy for us to blithely say that you should create different versions for different online retailers. In this post and in our interview with Marianne Sweeny of Portent next week, we get into the nitty-gritty of how to avoid the duplicate content trap and the dreaded “other results” link on the search engine results page (SERP).

Know What Your Retailers Want

Most online marketplaces have very specific requirements for third-party product content, and it’s based on years of accumulated experience and data. While many retailers won’t share much or any of that information with vendors (we’re looking at you, Amazon), they’re generally more than happy to tell you what they require from product-page content.

When you have a specific set of attributes to aim for, it’s easy to create distinct iterations of your product information, which in turn makes it easier to create unique content for each channel.

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Know What Customers Want

Different retailers have different customer bases, and you can usually get an idea of what they are with a little research. Compare the site’s style guide or requirements with the content they present and any demographic information you can find, and you’ll have a rough sketch of the customer they’re targeting.

This usually creates a simple set of choices to help you tailor the content to each segment of your customer base. A description of a pair of women’s over-the-knee boots on Walmart would be far more general than the description of the same boots on Zappos. The headers of a professional-grade SanDisk SSD on Newegg would prominently feature specs and other more technical information, while its description on Rakuten would focus more on benefits and use.

When you know who you’re writing for, you know what information to highlight and, to a degree, to what kind of language your shopper will respond.

Know Your Writer’s Limits

We’ve found that two channels per writer is the most you can expect without compromising the quality of subsequent descriptions.

Even when you’re writing to very different templates, you have to make word choices. You naturally pick your first, best choice for phrases for the original version; the second version gets your next-best choice, which is usually still pretty good (especially when a sharp-eyed editor reviews it). But, as fine cinema has taught us, more copies means more degradation and more mistakes–especially when you’re making word choices for the sake of being different rather than better. Better to enlist another writer than to compromise the quality of the writing being produced.

Possible Problems

Best practices are all well and good, but what happens when real-life roadblocks make them impossible? Read on.

1. Your legal team can’t review more than one version of content.

It’s difficult for many larger organizations, especially CPG companies, to clear multiple versions of content with their legal teams, even if the content basically says the same set of facts over and over again. However, the benefits to both consumers and SEO make it clear that it’s a goal worth striving for.

It’s possible to create a strategy to make this easier, but it depends on how responsive your legal team can be. A company may find that publishing the same content over and over is ultimately best for them, but they’re losing a lot of benefits by allowing their legal team to define their content strategy.

2. Your available content isn’t enough to create the product descriptions some online retailers demand.

Many of our clients get worried when they see the rich product descriptions on Amazon, thinking that you couldn’t possibly say enough about shampoo or aspirin or dog bowls to fill that much space.

However, by creating a blueprint for your product descriptions that combines product-specific information with more general information about, say, the product line and your company, your product descriptions can meet Amazon’s 300-word minimum.

3. Your online retailer doesn’t give you content or design direction.

Not all online marketplaces freely provide their vendors with a style guide–if they even have one. While content’s importance is being more widely recognized with every passing day, not all companies have evolved to account for this.

If that’s the case, you need to create your own set of retailer-specific guidelines, as that will ensure your content is consistent across your product line and across each individual site. For this, you’ll need a skilled, experienced writer (or a company with that skill and experience, such as content26), some budgeted time for research, and a good relationship with your contact at the retailer.

Some retailers without style guides don’t hesitate to critique or reject submitted content, so it may take a couple of passes to get it right by the retailer’s definition. But once you hit on a mutually approved formula, your content will shine.

Creating a Cohesive Strategy

Making rich, easily available online content tailored toward all your online marketplaces is a best practice unto itself, of course. But by tailoring it to the needs of your customers and retail partners and accounting for the natural limits of the writing process, you can create an ecosystem of content that spreads your consistent, accurate product information across multiple sites.

Better yet, you’ll be able to benefit from the considerable effort your online retailer partners have put into climbing up the SERP rankings–and better serve your customers too.