How to create engaging and effective functional content

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Functional content is the lifeblood of any content marketing campaign – so how do you make sure that you get it right?

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Look beneath the splashy hero campaigns and the on-brand informational hubs, and you’ll see a kind of content that arguably works harder than any other to keep a website’s head up in the crowded online marketplace.

Placed mainly on product and category pages, functional SEO content is used to keep the wheels of e-commerce turning, by deploying a mix of the most relevant keywords and phrases in order to provide higher search visibility. When implemented correctly, functional content can engage the reader and increase the time they spend onsite, finding out more about your brand, and ultimately aims to sell them on your services.

So keen are some brands to make the most of the search benefits of functional content that they miss out on improving the customer journey – and as a post-Panda Google has made clear, this oversight can prove costly. Our recent whitepaper, Redefining SEO: What your agency should be telling you in 2017, highlighted some of the issues that can arise from poor functional content, so it is something that needs to be a prominent consideration in both your SEO and content marketing strategy.

Creating functional content should achieve two main goals: tick the boxes for SEO purposes while giving real, tangible value to the prospective customer. Nailing both these targets should see a massive improvement in your reach.

Why functional content matters from a search perspective

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Your functional copy should be relevant to the reader on every page it is published, no matter where and how your reader finds it. That means establishing the broader points like what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to. Without the aid of these signifiers of context, you risk losing your place in the virtual shop window that is Google’s SERPs. A store locator page, for example, can be useful in establishing a relationship to the reader – just so they know where to find you.

Keyword research is essential when it comes to how people are finding your website via search. Focusing on a key group of terms around the products you promote, pages should be populated with a mix of these most-searched keywords, as well as any other pertinent information that someone who’s buying what you’re selling would want to know.

While hero campaigns aim to put certain elements of a brand’s identity at the front and centre of social and news feeds, without thorough deployment of functional content, your website won’t be able to back them up.

Identifying and closing these potential gaps in content coverage is essential. But how can your functional content serve readers too?

How functional content supports the customer journey

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While it may not be as sexy as web design or as attention grabbing as striking imagery, functional content can still pack one hell of a punch. It’s the underdog of any digital customer journey. View it as your linchpin to keeping customers engaged and moving smoothly through your site – from clicking through via search to clicking confirm at the checkout.

If you arm yourself with rich functional content, you’ll be able to deploy it as a conversion tactic. How? Because you’ll be creating a valuable user experience.

Focus on the visitor and step into their shoes – think about what they would expect from a page. The key is to pack your functional content with pizzazz and need-to-know information in a succinct manner. Provide answers to key questions, install helpful tools and create clear calls-to-action. That way you’ll be able to inspire and inform your audience, and help them make better buying decisions.

Bringing functional content to life

It’s not just your readers who can tell the difference between a piece of flat, broadly informational copy and something which drives readers to stay onsite.

Since Google’s Panda algorithm first took effect, we’ve seen the soulless regurgitation (or outright plagiarism) of content taking a deep dive in the rankings for the sites it’s staged on. In the post-Panda age, websites like TripAdvisor and Yell prosper because of fresh user-generated content, while news aggregators and lyrics databases have been heavily penalised for their stock approach.

The key here is to stay fresh, engaging and relevant on each page. It can be harder than it looks when it comes time to produce a block of text about the bag of screws you’re selling on special offer, but not so hard that you can’t still establish a connection with your reader and stay relevant in search simultaneously.

Functional copy: The good, the bad and the ugly

Let’s look at some examples. If we were searching for the term ‘dresses for weddings’, the brand in the coveted number one spot on Google (at the time of writing) is ASOS. They’re a heavyweight in the digital world, with a razor-sharp SEO strategy. For this search term, they’ve created a dedicated landing page – click through to it and ‘Dresses for Weddings’ is sat comfortably as a H1 heading. It’s followed by a small slice of functional content which speaks the language of the audience. Plus, there’s plenty of filter options and tags to help the user find what they’re looking for.

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Delve deeper into the product pages themselves and you’ll find they sparkle too. The functional copy perfectly blends inspiration and information, with a number of handy tools chucked in to further encourage a purchase. #ASSEENONME demonstrates how other customers have styled the item of clothing and a short snippet of video provides a 360-degree perspective of the product. A size tool also helps the user discover the perfect fit for them, according to their height and weight.

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On the flip side, & Other Stories, the seriously cool Scandi fashion brand, has completely missed the mark. For the same search term we used in the example above, it doesn’t rank in the first 10 pages of Google. Put their dresses category page under the microscope and it’s easy to see why. The filter system is limited and there’s little in the way of functional copy, with no drivers to action either. Their product pages paint a similar picture, with a basic size guide, minimal content and a lack of engaging inspiration.

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If substance matters to your brand as much as style, functional content should be placed at the heart of your digital strategy. Before you turn your attention to more creative forms of content, sink your teeth into a healthy batch of functional copy. Not only can it come up trumps for SEO, it can also enable more sales – which for many brands, is the ultimate goal.

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