Content Merchandising: An Evolving Definition

At content26, we help companies merchandise their products online. Why do we use the term “merchandising” instead of “marketing” to describe the e-commerce content we create?

What is content merchandising? Merchandising 2.0

In the offline world, merchandising takes the form of product packaging, shelf placement, and in-store promotions.

Online merchandising takes place once the shopper is at the product page. Content, in the form of lifestyle images, video, and written product descriptions, becomes essential to merchandising a product online.

Content Merchandising Defined

Here’s how I define content merchandising:

Using content to describe accurately the features and user benefits of products for online research and sales.

Content merchandising is often confused with its many progenitors and distant cousins, namely marketing and search engine optimization. Let’s have a look at how it’s different from these concepts.

Content Marketing: The First Cousin of Content Merchandising

Lee Odden of TopRank Online Marketing has been a leading practitioner of content marketing for years. While he admits that the idea of content marketing varies with different people, his most recent attempt at distilling its meaning to a core definition resulted in this:

Aligning business and consumer information needs with content.

Content marketing uses the “pull” of content to draw eyeballs to your site. It’s a powerful idea, made all the more powerful by Google’s focus on high-quality content and semantic search. No longer (at least in theory) can companies get away with cutting and pasting irrelevant, keyword-rich content; the content must be on-topic and unique.

Simply put, if you want to optimize your site for search, your content must provide user value. Say goodbye to content farms and hello to information-rich web content.

The idea of content marketing comes straight out of an Iowa cornfield: build interesting, relevant content, employ best-practice SEO and social media strategies, and the Shoeless Joe Jacksons of the world will emerge from the trees to visit your website and embrace your brand.

Like content marketing, content merchandising also uses a wide variety of content types.

But the difference is that content merchandising specifically uses content to inform consumers about the features and user benefits particular to your products. And while content marketing occurs through a wide variety of platforms and locations (social media sites, emails, websites, and so on), content merchandising almost exclusively occurs at the product page, at the point where the consumer decides whether or not to “buy now.”

How Is Merchandising Related to E-Commerce Marketing?

9-8-14-Crowell-sample3Content merchandising relies on marketing to bring it eyeball-traffic.

Simply put, online advertisers and marketers are paid to drive consumers to the product page; content merchandisers are paid to help those same customers hit the buy button.

As we discussed in Make Product Content a Billboard-Free Zone, when it comes to creating your product-page content, you should thank your marketing department or agency for their work and politely whisk them away.

When customers arrive at your product page, they have already been convinced by marketing that your brand or product is worth consideration. Remember, the vast majority of Internet users research products online before they buy, and over 60 percent abandon the product page if it does not have sufficient or accurate information or images (according to Brandbank’s 2010 Retail Media Report). So give them what they are looking for: complete product information in clear, plain language.

If you recall from our User Benefits Explain Product Features post, a content merchandiser’s job is, more specifically, to convert your product’s innate features into user benefits for the edification of the consumer. While good content merchandisers create thorough and engaging content to merchandise your products, their job is not to prettify your product content with the use of an amazingly incredible and superbly unbelievable number of adverbs and adjectives. Their job is to provide information your customers can use.

How Does Content Merchandising Use SEO?

I admit to entering into some hazardous territory here, but let me get this out of the way.

At the product-page level, the job of a content merchandiser is to focus on your product, not on keywords or SEO.

That’s not to say we should ignore SEO.

Good content merchandising follows SEO best practices for creating and tagging enhanced content for the product page and creating the product page’s metadata. But informative, easy-to-understand product descriptions should ALWAYS trump keyword usage.

Let me rephrase that: if your SEO folks give you a keyword list for your product descriptions, and you cannot create easy-to-read, conversion-optimized product descriptions using the words on that list, jettison the list.

The Takeaway

Content merchandising is not marketing, advertising, or SEO, though it’s related to all those. Content merchandising relies on engaging, information-rich content to describe products for potential consumers.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on 7/20/2011 at content26’s old blog, For this update we made minor edits, improved our images, and added a link or two.

Let's work together.