Blog content is a key digital marketing tool for online bridal merchant Azazie.
The bridesmaid dress retailer revamped its blog in Q2 2023 with a strategy, plan and one goal in mind: to have Azazie.com show up higher in search engine results, says marketing manager Keily Hernandez.
Azazie has had a blog on its site since 2019, with search engine optimization as one of its goals as well as using it to promote giveaways and promotions without significant financial investment. But SEO wasn’t the primary focus, and the merchant didn’t have a team dedicated to managing it. As a result, Azazie did not rank highly in search results for its targeted keywords, Hernandez says.
Now, Azazie updates the blog one to two times a week. Each month, Azazie picks a keyword to focus on, such as “bridesmaid” or “bridal gown,” and focuses all its marketing content, including social media posts, influencer content, content across the website and its blog, on that keyword.
“We have everything point back to us as the leader of that keyword,” Hernandez says.
This focused and integrated effort has led to a 24% increase in sales revenue attributed to organic search (which includes blog content) from April until September 2023, compared with that same period in 2022, Hernandez says. And the content is resonating with shoppers, as sales from shoppers who viewed Azazie’s blog content increased 50% from January through September 2023, compared with the year-ago period.
Azazie is among the roughly half or so retailers that offer a blog or editorial content on their site, according to Gartner data. A Gartner analysis of 300 U.S. retailers (75 luxury retailers, 105 multi-brand retailers and 120 monobrands) in March 2023 finds that 47% of retailers have a blog or editorial content on their site, such as articles related to the products they sell, content about that category’s trends, company history or policies.
Merchants cite several reasons why investing in editorial content can help their bottom lines, including more traffic from search engines, higher conversion rates and low return rates. But execution is key, as retailers will not see any return on their investments if they are not thoughtful and thorough with their strategies. And investments can be significant, as merchants may have to invest in internal employees to generate the content or hire outside agencies.
Only 6% of online shoppers say blog content is an important feature for a well-designed and functional online shopping experience, according to a Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 999 online shoppers in October 2023. But shoppers put a higher value on similar content, which retailers could publish on a blog, such as how-to guides, at 19%, and an About Us page, at 12%.
Data from research firm Forrester Research Inc. also finds that only a small subset of consumers consult a blog before a purchase. 3% of U.S. online adults who purchased clothing or footwear (online or in person), and 5% who purchased furniture or home improvement products in the past six months visited the retailer’s blog in the past month, according to data fielded between November 2022-March 2023.
Yet, only 17% of shoppers say online retailers have met or exceeded their expectations with providing detailed product information such as origin story, history, business policies and sustainability. And only 12% said online retailers have met or exceeded their expectations with additional content such as how-to guides and blogs.
Retail blogs boost SEO value, organic search traffic
While shoppers may not rely on blog content to make a purchase, retailers and analysts still believe it can be an important component in the online shopping journey. In fact, shoppers may not realize that a blog post was how they landed on that retailer’s site to begin with. If brands write their blogs and editorial content with search engine optimization in mind, it can have a large impact on bringing in organic traffic, says Brad Jashinsky, director analyst at Gartner.
And organic traffic is important for Azazie. The wedding apparel retailer says about 10% of its site traffic and sales come from organic search, which includes shoppers finding its site from the blog articles.
“I would think and I would hope that every company and every brand in every industry has a blog,” Hernandez says. “It’s kind of like the low-hanging fruit of organic content.”
Chip Malt, CEO and co-founder of cookware brand Made In, says that roughly 25% of its site traffic comes from organic search, which includes shoppers who come to Made In’s robust blog. On average per month, its blog receives 2 million page views, and each reader views about six pages in the blog, Malt says. This shows good engagement, Malt says. On average, this is about 20% of the site’s overall page views, he says.
What’s more, when Made In sends content-focused emails, the click-through rates are three times higher than its selling-focused emails, Malt says. Similarly, its content-focused ads on Google produce click-through rates at four to 10 times higher than selling-focused ads, he says.
Education through content has been a part of cookware brand Made In’s strategy since Day 1, Malt says. Made In launched a blog six months prior to launching products on its cookware site and the fourth employee the brand hired was a part-time content contributor, he says.
“Education is a part of the brand’s story,” Malt says.
Made In sells high-end cookware that’s designed for cooking enthusiasts and is popular among professional chefs. For example, its 10-inch blue carbon steel frying pan is $109, and the brand’s average order value is $330, according to Digital Commerce 360 estimates. The blog helps to explain the value of its cookware.
Today, the brand has 10 full-time employees on its content team, it publishes roughly 50 blogs per month and the blog ranks for 56,000 keywords within Google Search, Malt says. About 50% of these keywords are in the top 20 search terms on Google, with 25% of those on the first page of search results, he says.
One of the top navigation tabs on MadeinCookware.com is “Learn,” where the brand publishes its founding story, recipes, care for its products and cooking techniques. As Made In has expanded its product lines to include bakeware and wine glasses, it also has added content to support these products as well.
“If we are offering this line of cookware, we also want to keep up the pace of content. …. It’s something we wanted to do for our community,” Malt says.
Retail blog content connects to shoppers post-purchase
This large breadth of content distinguishes the brand from its competitors, such as All-Clad, Malt says.
“Long term, we believe if you are shown All-Clad or Made In, and you walk out the door and you are on your own, and you went with Made In, you have all this helpful content behind you. And that makes the consumer go with us overall, because they see us as a value-add,” Malt says.
All-Clad has a blog on its site with recipes and other product content. All-Clad did not provide a comment as of press time.
Top online floral merchant 1-800-Flowers.com Inc. also invests in editorial content as a way to engage with shoppers, says chief marketing officer Jason John.
It operates six blogs across its 17 brands, which include a variety of giftable products such as cookies and chocolates as well as flowers. The goal is to deepen the relationship with shoppers, so they don’t just view the e-retailer’s ecommerce sites as shopping destinations, John says. It updates each blog multiple times per month.
“It takes us beyond one transaction and helps solidify us as a part of the customer relationship,” John says.
1800Flowers.com addresses themes within each brand’s product assortment and customer base to appeal to shoppers. For example, topics that have resonated with consumers are about how to write sympathy cards, including pet sympathy cards, for its 1800Flowers.com blog, and articles about hosting holiday dinners for its food and gifting brand HarryandDavid.com.
Results from retail blogs
Web visits to its blog have increased 70% year over year, John says. Even more telling is that shoppers who view a brand’s blog content convert at a 3%-5% higher rate than shoppers who don’t. This speaks to the quality of its blogs, John says.
“You need a North Star with content,” John says. “A lot of companies, you can tell they are putting out content to put out content, and they are putting out content for a commerce outcome. We don’t believe there is authenticity in that type of content.”
While conversion metrics are a clear performance indicator, Made In says privacy regulations can make it difficult to track a direct conversion to a blog post, because many shoppers don’t accept cookies and may visit the site several times before deciding to make a purchase. The path to purchase becomes more muddled especially with products that are high-ticket and more considered, like Made In’s relatively pricey skillets and knife sets. Instead, Malt describes its investment in content as a “brand tax that we absorb,” meaning a cost of doing business for higher-end products.
Besides increasing site traffic, results from investing in a blog shows up in other ways, Malt says, such as aiding in the customer journey, helping its customer service team and low return rates. If shoppers are more informed about the products they buy from reading the blog, they are more likely to purchase the right product for their needs and not return it. He points to its stainless-steel products, which have a less than 2% return rate, without sharing more.
Roughly a third of the visits to Made In’s blog come from shoppers already on the website, and the rest from outside the site, such as search results, emails and ads. If Made In was only doing the blog for SEO purposes or completely focused on that as the goal, Malt would expect 99% of the traffic to come from outside sources. But that’s not Made In’s primary goal.
The fact that a third is internal traffic shows that the content is providing value to shoppers as they consider the brand’s products. Instead of having an article only live in the blog section, Made In peppers relevant content throughout the site to aid in the shopper journey, Malt says. For example, on the search results page, it may surface a post about the difference between nonstick and stainless-steel cookware.
“We believe content should be intertwined in the customer journey and are happy to have internal traffic get there,” Malt says.
Using blog content in multiple ways is smart, Gartner’s Jashinsky says.
“If you are going the extra mile to make great content, you need to make sure it’s discoverable, across social, across search, and product pages and search pages,” Jashinsky says.
How retailers know what to feature in blog content
Made In surveys its shoppers via email and uses that feedback to inform its content strategy. Based on 20,000 comments, Made In determined it needed more blogs about how to care for its products post-purchase, and now publishes such articles regularly.
“The nice part of being a direct brand is that people tell you exactly what they think,” Malt says.
Made In’s editorial team plans the focus of its blog posts for each month. Each of the brand’s departments, such as its product, customer service and marketing teams, give input on their teams’ current priorities. For example, the product team may say that it is launching a bird beak’s paring knife that month and request at least two articles featuring the product. The customer service team might say it’s had an influx of shoppers calling in about how to season their carbon skillet and propose a video blog and step-by-step instructions on how to do this.
“Customer service acts as a very direct line to our actual customer. So our customer service team has direct input into the content calendar,” Malt says.
The customer service team’s input gets particularly high priority when planning the blog’s editorial calendar, as the articles they suggest can help them assist customers much faster, Malt says. For example, with the “how to season the carbon skillet?” question, instead of taking 10 minutes to write out tailored instructions for each shopper, agents can direct shoppers to a video or blog that addresses their need.
“It’s an efficiency play,” Malt says. While Malt doesn’t have a direct KPI figure to tie to its retail blog, he knows speeding up solving customer service issues keeps agents and shoppers satisfied.
Azazie also taps its customer service team for input on what it should include in its blogs.
“If they have a question about a trend, we can respond and create a content strategy to that, that tying into what’s trending, and what we are also offering,” Hernandez says.
For example, a common question shoppers call in about is sizing for a bridesmaid dress while pregnant. Azazie has a blog that provides examples and tips on this topic, but it was first published in 2016. So, the content team refreshed the blog with examples of Azazie’s current maternity dresses and relevant links to its products. The customer service team refers to this blog while helping shoppers and directs shoppers to read it.
Azazie also looks to any interactions it’s gotten on social media and trends in the bridal industry to inform its content strategy.
The blog is under the purview of its digital marketing team, and Azazie also employs an SEO consultant to help determine its content and execution. Overall, the blogs that gain the most traffic and lead to the most sales are the ones that are integrated into its overall marketing strategy and are tied to press releases and influencers, she says.
“It’s a lot of moving pieces and work, in order to put a campaign behind a keyword, but those are the most successful, the ones with a content strategy,” Hernandez says.
Involving multiple departments in content creation will serve retailers well, Gartner’s Jashinsky says. Retailers would also be wise to track which types of content shoppers click on, and use that information to personalize product recommendations and for ad targeting. This is a way to gather first-party data directly from the consumer, which is especially valuable now that cookies that track shopper behavior across the web are increasingly being phased out, and can greatly benefit retailers in the long term, he says.
If retailers do decide to make a focused effort on improving SEO through blog content or guided selling tools like a quiz to match shoppers with suitable products, they should expect it could take a year or two to see results, not months, Jashinsky says.
“We always tell clients, this is not something you can get up and running in a week or month,” Jashinsky says. “This takes many months to get up and running, and takes a year or two to start to see significant payout. So you really need to make sure you have a long-term strategy and you are ensuring you reallocate this content as many places as possible to make sure that investment pays off.”
For something like a quiz that guides shoppers through a series of questions and links to relevant product pages, retailers should expect to pay thousands to tens of thousands of dollars to a vendor to build it, Jashinsky says. But to do an editorial program at scale — which may take a team of writers to publish content daily and collaborate with different teams, plus the technology to plug into personalization software — that could take hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions, he says.
For Made In, these marketing costs show up as the salaries for 10 employees dedicated to digital content instead of spending these dollars on ads. Similarly, the cost of the blog for Azazie shows up in its marketing staff resources. 1-800-Flowers also has an editorial staff that “fluctuates” depending on the time of year, John says without revealing more.
Retailers that do strategically invest in content often see an increase in traffic from organic search, and small increases in basket size and conversion rates for shoppers that engage with this content, Jashinsky says. This, of course, varies by how well the content strategy is executed and product category.
“Whether you are selling online or in-store, it is a pretty cost-effective way to increase SEO and increase conversion rates, and typically almost every retailer is already creating content and already has a lot of these pieces in other parts of ecosystem,” he says.Favorite