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How To Build An Engaging eCommerce Website

Everybody will tell you that to make any business headway at all in the 21st century, you need to get online. This is great advice and true, but it poses a conundrum to modern entrepreneurs: Now that you have a website, what do you do with it? We aren’t all born charming entertainers with great media skills.

The obvious starting point in filling a website is to put up whatever content is related to your business. Menu listings if you’re a restaurant, description of your items if you’re running an online store, or a mission statement with your commitment to quality if you’re offering a service. That fills a few pages. But how do we make it engaging? As this article will hopefully demonstrate, this is actually easier to do than you think.

Why Engagement?

Engagement is different from other forms of marketing. It is mostly defined by a philosophy, which would hold that a business should have a personal connection with its customers. To pull off engagement well requires giving your business a personality. That personality can be molded by your brand’s strategy. Your business can be the helpful neighbor, the savvy adviser, the trendy taste-maker, the vigilant protector, or the gossipy friend who’s good company.

Types of Engagement

Engagement can be many things, each with a different marketing approach.

#1. Utility

Offer something useful to your customers for free, tied in with your business. It’s the same psychology as a bank handing out free pens that display their business branding. Financial firms can host an online calculator for computing tax withholding, mortgage interest, or 401(K) returns. Fitness and health coaches can offer a free phone app to track exercise and calories burned. Whatever business you’re in, figure out anything you can do as a “freebie” that will make customers think favorably about your business the next time they need something.

#2. Information.

This is the great catch-all function that almost any business can provide. No matter what industry you’re in, you can launch a blog to advise the public about your field and create long-form content to become a “thought leader.” This encompasses handy household checklists from home repair companies, safety and security tips from home or business security companies, legal advice from lawyers, info-graphics on pairing wine and food for wine retailers, and so on. Similar to providing utility, providing free advice serves the dual function of drawing Google searchers to your business and having potential customers look up to you as their helpful problem-solver.

#3. Hype and Promotion.

For artists, creators, or other public-facing services, sometimes plain self-promotion is engaging. This lends itself well to a social media strategy, so you take to Twitter or Facebook to announce the next band playing a gig at your nightclub, the sell-out show that just had a run at your playhouse, or the next magazine to sport a cover-page photo of a model your agency represents.

#4. Entertainment and Customer Participation.

The hardest to do well, but it can be done. There are several moving companies out there that host blogs with reader stories about their trek from state to state. A pet supply retailer can count on a steady stream of adorable cat videos. A web design firm can run witty commentary on Internet trends. Lately, some companies have become a bit bolder with “sassy” marketing targeting the younger generation. For example, several chain restaurants have made a name for themselves with snarky and silly Twitter accounts.

Engagement Is Just Advanced Marketing

In 1900, the Michelin Tire company began publishing its Red Guide, a series of tourism and travel guides for the United States. It seems odd at first that a tire company would become an authority on restaurant ratings. But consider that people on the road will consult the guide for advice on where to go, and incidentally, when it’s time for new tires, there’s this branded piece of marketing in the glove compartment.

In 1955, Guinness Breweries began publishing the Guinness Book of World Records. Again, it seems non-intuitive at first that a beer company would be the authority on the world’s tallest man or biggest ball of twine, but bar patrons typically get into deep debates about trivial matters, which this book can help settle. It gives them time to order another Guinness.

Since 1924, Macy’s department stores have hosted the world-famous annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was originally more of a fashion parade, which makes sense for a clothing retailer, but today both the parade and the store have become symbols of Manhattan culture in their own right.

These and other off-internet success stories are examples of deep, long-term marketing. Usually, the best online implementation of this is to create long-form content, offer it on a website, and promote it through social media. If you don’t feel up to the creative effort (or lack the programming skills to craft a utility app), it’s easy enough to hire freelancers online to do the creative lifting for you, at your brand direction.

Hopefully, we’ve gotten your creative juices flowing. In Internet marketing, you’re not just building a business, you’re creating a character!

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