Profitero Blog
A Q&A with content26: Optimizing Your Product Content for Discoverability

Mark White

As part of our continuing Podcast series, Profitero’s Keith Anderson interviewed Mark White, a founding partner and president of content26 which provides enhanced eCommerce content development for Amazon and other leading online marketplaces.

In this episode, Keith and Mark discuss exactly what ‘above the fold’ and ‘below the fold’ content means, as well as the key connection between product content and search results to drive discoverability and sales.

QI think some folks in the industry know you have been around in the product content and eCommerce space since way before it was cool. Tell me a little bit about your background and what you’re doing with content26.

content26 has been around for 10 years but it’s only been about four years since we’ve been in the actual business model we’re in now. In 2004/2005 we entered this space as a prime white label content provider for Amazon.com.

Around 2007 to 2010, brands within the product details space started becoming interested because they realized the importance in enhancing their product content not just on Amazon but across all retail channels.

Enhancing content and creating a best in class brand specific messaging for their content was very important. It increased sales, but also more fundamentally, brands didn’t want to give up a very important part of their marketing and messaging efforts to a company like Amazon or Target or Walmart.

We started working directly with brands to create that content. Amazon has always been a big part of that, but 2012 was when the business model that we’re now in really took shape.

Q: You mentioned enhancing brand content. Can you take a minute and just decompose the anatomy of a product detail page and maybe bucket things into the areas that matter most to brands?

If you want to envision or get in front of a web browser and go to an Amazon page or a Walmart product page, there’s probably 15 components of content that go into that page. There’s what we call above the fold content or basic content. That includes the title of the product, the actual hero image or the image above the fold of the product, and then the five major features of that product.

Then there’s a really basic product description that’s usually somewhere between 50 and 100 words, just a single paragraph. All this content that I’m describing now is the ‘above the fold’ basic content,  content that you need in order to get your product listed and sold on your retail site. It’s part of the item setup process. That’s a core need, that’s something that you need to provide to retailers.

Amazon calls enhanced content its A plus content (WebCollage, one of the syndicators we’ve worked with, calls it a power page). This is the content that sits below the fold and it allows the brand or manufacturers to enhance the messaging of the content.

It’s usually somewhere from 250 to 400 words, has a lot of lifestyle images, really scannable headers, easy to read paragraphs, kind of at a glance features. This is the content that allows the consumer to really be certain that this is the product that they want to buy.

It gets a little deeper into the features, a little deeper into the user benefits and it actually adds more search valuables internally for retailers, as well as organic search value outside in terms of Google or Bing searches.

The breakdown of the content is basic content and that’s what sits above the fold – the title, the image, the five bullets – and then the enhanced content with a deeper product description sits below the fold.

Basic content is now in some ways taking precedence over enhanced content because a big trend right now with retail-based product content is discoverability.

Q: Talk a little about how product content and discoverability play together. What should brands be thinking about?

If you have a basic fundamental knowledge about search engine optimization as it relates to Google you can take that knowledge and apply it to a retail site. Let’s take Amazon as an example because Amazon is really the most advanced in this field. It’s not the only one but it’s the most advanced in this thinking.

Amazon has its own search engine called A9 which has its own sets of algorithms. It lends importance to certain attributes of the product and the product page just like Google does to searches, and it’s constantly evolving.

One of the things that Amazon looks at is the actual content. Does the content have good images and by good images not just a certain number of images but how good is the resolution of the image? Is the product page optimized for page load time? Amazon is very strict about that. Is the title optimized with a certain number of character count so that it can be optimized for mobile?

Amazon has all these rules that goes into the content that gives it a weighted average. When you search for this product it goes into the algorithms and kicks out in terms of the search result page so you might be 7 or 8 or maybe on the third or fourth page of the search results.

How do you get to the first page? Well once somebody is in say spots one through three, one through four it’s very hard to displace them. Some strategies that brands are now using to displace on those internal searches outside of content are to buy what’s called sponsored ads. Just like the Google sponsored ads which help drive traffic directly to these product pages, one of the drivers of the A9 algorithms.

If the enhanced content is very relevant to the product, very relevant to the consumer search, those numbers are going to go up. The amount of time a consumer spends on that page and whether or not they hit the buy now button or add to cart number. Those go into the A9 search.

Q: It’s a flywheel effect. You’ve got more eyeballs on your product, you’ve got better sales through the enhanced content, and those two factors really lead to this virtual cycle of the better you sell, the better your product is positioned in search, the better its position at search, the better you sell.

Exactly, it’s really striking, a recent search I did was for ‘coffee’ on Amazon. If you do a search for coffee, coffee that you drink, the beans that you grind and put in your coffee maker, it’s not until the fifth or sixth search of the organic A9 search result before you see a major national brand.

You have brands like Koffee Kult, that until very recently nobody had ever heard of, but they figured out how to manipulate some of these algorithms in terms of keywords, in terms of smart use of sponsored ads, in terms of content to get out there in those first, second or third slots. It’s a really great opportunity for smaller brands to really usurp the power of these big brands.

Q: How do brands uncover the keywords that they should be optimizing for?

How people search on Amazon is different than how people search on Google or Bing. It’s too early for me in terms of the data that we’re looking at to truly understand that difference, but the keywords that are optimized on the A9 engine or within Amazon are not the same keywords that are going to get you some good results on Google or Bing.

The nuance here is that it’s all in the details of the interface and the data support that Amazon would give for those keywords. Again it’s really important that you apply very good SEO principles, keywords along with relevancy and readability, and the strategic use of keywords within Amazon, separate from how they’re used on Google and Bing.  It just can take some time and effort to figure that out.

Q: Let’s spend a little more time  on the enhanced content piece and just expand a bit on what it really is. I know you described that the descriptions tend to be a little longer. I’ve seen so many incredible examples of really rich content. Help bring to life that idea of enhanced content a little bit.

In terms of numbers, 100 people come to a product page, it’s probably going to be maybe high single digits, maybe up to 15% 20% of the people that are actually going to go through all the enhanced content. The rest of them are going to scan the enhanced content or look above the fold.

The enhanced content fundamentally is there to create the confidence in the consumer that the product that they are looking at is the product that they need.

What it needs to give is really good strong user benefits such as exactly what does this product do, or how will it change my life? If I buy this product will it fit under my counter or is it compatible with windows 10? Really particular technical details and particulars of what this product does and doesn’t do is very important at this stage.

For the most part you want to take the 80/20 rule. What 20% of my SKUs are going to be 80% lift here and focus on your enhanced content as a starting point on those products. Then the second part of the analysis is, can I support these products with strong assets? That is with good images, lifestyle images. Is there enough information about these products beyond just the small amount of technical details that get shipped over from china with the product?

Q: How should people think about the return on some of these investments?

I can give you a good case study of maybe half a dozen to a dozen products across a couple different product lines we did with one of our consumer package goods partners.

We did three things: we started with products that had no content or just basic content.

In this test we took these half a dozen to a dozen products across a couple of product lines. The first thing we did was change keywords and then spend some time looking at the sales results over the next couple of weeks. How much of a lift, how much did this keyword change.

Then we took those same products with the keywords in there and we enhanced the content so we created A plus pages or power pages. We created those pages across these product lines. We spent a couple of weeks to see what kind of lift happened there.

Finally, we added sponsored ads to the content or to the process so that we could start driving eyeballs to the page through the AdWords concept I described earlier.

The first part of the process in adding keywords resulted in a 7% lift, adding the content brought it up to about 13% lift, and the final piece brought it to a 18-20% uplift.

Q: One last topic I’d love your input on is mobile. We see sometimes conflicting stats about the amount of traffic in conversion that’s happening on mobile, but there’s no question it’s becoming a more significant and possibly primary source of traffic and sales. How should brands be thinking about optimizing their content for mobile?

It’s always going to be about the platform you’re publishing but I would take two approaches to answer this question. In terms of content creation, best practices of short paragraphs, simple sentences, just good readability issues that we all are pretty familiar with.

The second thing to keep in mind when you’re just thinking about those numbers is that mobile is driving individual sales but it’s not driving high volume sales.

If you have to go online and you have to shop for 25 things, you’re not going to use your iPhone to add 15 things to your cart – and that’s where the desktop is still very important and where the high volume sales are still happening.

Q: Mark this has been really interesting if people want to reach you where can they find you?

Our twitter feed is @content26 and that’s the best place to find me.

To hear other industry thought leaders discuss the key eCommerce trends impacting the CPG and retail sector today, including our latest episode with Pieter van Herpen of Syndy, visit our brand new Profitero Podcast Series.

We’ve also summarized some of the most important guidance in our Podcast series to date – download the key takeaways here.