By Michael Raine
The purpose of an MI store’s website is pretty straightforward, right? You give visitors the standard information – address, contact info, brands carried, new arrivals, lesson registration, etc. – and maybe spruce it up with some fun photos and a few dropdown menus to navigate the site and, voila! Job done.
Not quite, says Will Mason, owner of the four Mason Music locations in Alabama, who, along with his colleague Nicole Patton, presented the “Practical Tips for Better Website Content” Idea Center session at this year’s Summer NAMM.
“I think one of the big [misconceptions] is that the purpose of the website is to only inform the visitor – like give the information – and they’re missing the opportunity to actually create some sort of meaningful connection,” says Mason. “It sounds touchy feely, but relationship and emotion play a big role in creating customers who don’t just shop for the lowest price, but who are looking for a brand that they can trust and a company that they might want to do business with again in the future versus just looking for, ‘What’s the bottom dollar place for me to get this?’”
Compared to in-person encounters, it’s difficult to foster meaningful connections with customers through a website, Mason concedes, but it can be done if you have the right content and execution. What is needed is content people want more of, that will have them coming back looking for more and not just visiting the site to find out what time the store opens on Sundays.
Of course, the website must work in conjunction with social media, where the former is the “hub,” as Mason puts it, which hosts the content, and social media is the distributor of that content.
“We’re trying to guide people to that website,” Mason says, before referencing social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. “The idea is just that, especially with social media, you’re not always selling. You’re giving content and creating value for your visitors and then when you do come across with that right hook – when you are selling something – they’re already engaged with your content and they’re already interested in what you’re doing and they like you and they’re more likely to want to buy whatever it is.”
The way this works with regards to website content is that the blog, for instance, is a resource of practical and useful content that you give to visitors. It provides content on a regular basis that is informative, entertaining, and/or useful. Importantly, this content does not serve as a direct sales pitch; it is there to be helpful and foster a sense of community.
“For us, the jabs are showing stories of our students who are learning how to play instruments, or maybe giving away content on a blog post like, ‘Six Tips for Beginner Guitar Players’ or ‘How to Tune Your Guitar,’” says Mason. “So those are jabs that we can put out on social media and, again, they’re bringing people and they’re driving traffic to the website where then the website is designed to get people to engage with as much content as possible so that if they come across a blog post like that, then I know for a fact we’re having a songwriting clinic in December that is a product that somebody can buy. So there will be links to register for that class on that blog post. You’re giving something for free. You’re not requiring any sort of payment or email address or anything like that, and the people who really appreciate the value of that content are going to be more likely to say, ‘Hey, I want more and I realize the value of what they’re giving so I’ll gladly pay a couple hundred bucks to go to a song workshop and get some more of that kind of information.’”
Mason Music’s blog content is a mixture of media – photos, text articles, and videos. There are product demo videos filmed in the store, how-to articles written by Mason and other staff, and community-focused content that highlights the stories of their students and local bands.
“Obviously you want your visitors to be engaged on a deep level and going through multiple pages and spending a lot of time because, a) they’re more likely to buy from you and like you, but b) it tells Google that your page is a good match for people who are searching for whatever it is you’re selling,” says Mason.
Just like on social media, video is becoming the most popular and effective way to get people to engage on websites and blogs. As far as how Mason Music balances its use of text, photos, and videos in its website content, Mason says that like everybody, they’re beginning to create more video content. “It requires less focus from the consumer to digest it than reading does, which is a sad statement about how lazy we’ve become, but it’s the truth,” Mason laughs. “We use all three for sure and we are trying to do more video work moving forward. We’ve budgeted for higher quality demo videos of products. We’re not at a point where we’re competing with Chicago Music Exchange or Reverb.com or Sweetwater or anybody like that, obviously, in terms of the video production quality, but when we put stuff out on YouTube, we want it to be really good quality. We don’t want it to be a distraction where people can’t enjoy the video.” That doesn’t mean you need to shoot in 4K and have a 10-camera set up; it just needs to be good enough that the production quality doesn’t distract from the content.
That said, while video is best at engaging website visitors, text still plays a big role in Google search results. That is because Google is simply better at crawling and indexing text than video. For that reason, Mason says that if they do a video, they will also transcribe the content from the video and pair that text with the video on their website. “If somebody is searching Google, they’re going to be able to find that and then once they land on the page, they can choose, ‘OK, well let me just click on the video and then afterwards maybe I’ll read the text.’ It’s not going to be completely redundant, but it is going to be a lot of the same content.”
Of course, creating website content on a regular basis takes time and planning. Outside of actually writing/photographing/filming the content itself, Mason says there are four initial steps that need to be taken:
- Build a team;
- Define your target audience;
- Brainstorm; and
- Create a schedule.
Unless you have a dedicated web content person, which is unlikely in smaller businesses, no one person can create all the content needed to update the website/blog regularly. “You probably already have people on your team who would be willing to pitch in and help out with your web content,” says Mason. If you have someone who enjoys video editing and/or photography, or someone who is an aspiring writer, take advantage of that.
In terms of defining your target audience, Mason says, “That is knowing who it is you’re writing for and who you want to be engaging with your content so that you’re not just all over the place, but you actually have a purpose. Like, ‘We’re trying to build an audience within guitar players,’ for example, or adult guitar players or kids. You need to know that kind of thing before you build content because otherwise you’re shooting in the dark.”
Once you have the target audience identified, brainstorm content ideas that meet the needs and interests of that audience. “What are some topics that matter to them and what do we know about? Where does that intersect? What is our wheelhouse and what are we experts at? What do we know best and then what matters to our customers? Wherever that overlaps, those are the topics that we need to be writing about and putting content out about because that is going to attract our target audience and give them value.”
As far as building a schedule, there is not a set timeline that is best for every business; it depends on your resources and personnel. The more content updates the better, obviously, but what is most important is that it is consistent, which also means being realistic. It may sound like a good idea to have a new article or video every week, but is that doable while still looking after the day-to-day needs of the business? “So for us it’s every two weeks,” says Mason. “We put out a new blog every other Friday and it’s #FeatureFriday and we put it out on all of our social media channels with sort of a platform-customized message.”
Lastly, be patient. Building an audience of engaged customers that becomes a community doesn’t happen overnight. “You can’t say ‘I’m going to write 10 blog posts this week’ and then next week expect to have a thousand subscribers. It just doesn’t work,” says Mason. “So you have to be committed for the long haul and if you know that upfront, you’re not going to get discouraged two months in when you have three subscribers because you realize these are irons in the fire and if you just keep putting out good content, eventually it’s going to catch and you’re going to have that article that gets shared.”
Michael Raine is the Senior Editor of Canadian Music Trade.