Do you blog, as an ecommerce merchant? You should! It gives you a headstart over similar merchants that don’t blog, and it gives you a headstart over bloggers who don’t know where to begin. It’ll improve your search traffic, and do a whole lot more.
Where do you start?
First, kill the idea of profiting from your blog.
If your blog is written with the intent of hard-selling stuff, you’ll turn your audience off. People get suspicious of anxious retailers who try too hard to make a sale. Be classy! You have to warm them up to you first and get them curious about you and whatever you’re selling. Don’t just tell people to go to your store and buy stuff, show them why they should. Win their affections with useful and interesting information.
The best hack for a great blog? Sell great products.
A great product is the ultimate form of content marketing. It might sound cheesy, but it’s absolutely true. Build a beautiful product and people will be all over you. They’ll want to know how you did it, why you did it, what your childhood was like, all that fun stuff. If you play your cards right and make something really newsworthy, you might even get free publicity from the media.
If at any point in time you find yourself thinking, “Should I spend time improving my product, or should I blog?”, the answer is to improve your product. Always. You’ll have time afterwards to blog about what you did, what you learnt, how fun or challenging it was, and what the colour of the sky was when you were doing it.
Blogs get much more interesting when bloggers spending their “downtime” away from the blog building or doing cool stuff, and interesting blogs get better readership.
A fantastic blog with a crappy store… will still see sales.
It’s tempting to suggest that “great blog + crap store = no sales,” but this is actually untrue. Webcomics are great examples here.
Nobody cares very much about the actual quality of XKCD t-shirts. They buy them because they want to support the creator. They’ve developed an emotional attachment to the comic, and they want to feel like a part of a phenomenon that they believe in. The t-shirts are just fabric with lines on them, but they become great products in the eyes of the customers.
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it, and what you do simply serves as the proof of what you believe.” – Simon Sinek
Once you’ve got a world-famous blog or webcomic, making money from selling t-shirts is pretty easy. Getting to that stage is non-trivial, though. Nobody ever builds an amazing blog overnight. It’s almost always something that’s built over time, as a hobby or passion for which there is no monetary reward for years. And the path to webcomic superstardom is trecherous, littered with countless bodies of derelict artists clutching their iPads. It’ll take a lot of intrinsic motivation to get there.
What if both your blog and your store aren’t particularly great?
Then you should work towards becoming great, or give up and do something else altogether.
How do you decide? It boils down to how you feel about putting in the work into making things better. Here’s the metric I’d suggest: Can you imagine writing 3 blog posts a week for an entire year, for absolutely no financial reward?
You’ll become a better thinker, a better writer, you’ll understand your niche a little better, you’ll possibly be contacted by a few people with similar interests to your own. But would you do it if there were no guarantee of any sort of return? If the answer is “Yes, and I’ll even sacrifice my personal hygiene!”, then you’ve got a pretty good shot at developing something decent.
But please do brush your teeth.
Tell your story. Refine it as you go.
Think of your blog as an opportunity to communicate your personality. Use it to build the story that your customers ultimately pay for. This is powerful stuff, because it can colour your customers’ perceptions of your product, and perception is reality. Kanye West sold plain white t-shirts for $120, and they sold out. Why? It wasn’t the t-shirt that they paid for, it was the association with a perceived superstar.
People pay for stories to tell themselves. So tell a great story.
ZenPencils is a webcomic with “cartoon quotes from inspirational folks”. While researching this article, I dropped by the ZenPencils blog to see what the artist blogged about. He wrote about his favorite comics, his personal journey as an artist, and he does regular “Reader Spotlights” where he writes about what his readers have been up to. It adds a human dimension to his artwork, and I actually found myself idly thinking about buying a print or two to support him. The blog definitely improves his sales.
Nobody buys “just a product”. Even a cheap product is part of a story we tell ourselves about how spendthrift and sensible we are. If you’re selling common products cheaply, you could write blogposts about how to hunt for bargains and how to get the most out of your money. You could write about your struggles as a former dumpster-diver. You could talk about the common plights and worries that frugal folk have. Build something for your would-be customers to have an emotional response to. Make them laugh and cry with you, and they’re far more likely to buy your stuff.’
Talk about trends, talk about taste, talk about passion. Ask questions and try to answer them. If you’re lucky, you’ll start conversations and learn from your visitors, and they’ll get invested in your brand. Win-wins all around.
A blog’s greatest function might be as a tool of inquiry.
A blog forces you to be precise. If you keep at it, you start exploring conceptual territory that you might not have properly evaluated earlier. By talking about your products and your niche, you start identifying your own strengths and weaknesses. This gives you the insights you need to improve your product, your store, your workflow, your customer relations.
The end result is a better product. And there’s always room in the marketplace for better products. This is what you’ll ultimately be rewarded for. This is how you “profit” from blogging.
That’s the real power of a great blog: It’s a distributed tool for thinking, learning, reiteration and product development.
And it’s free.