When marketers hear the term ‘content marketing’, they’re most likely to conjure up the latest shiny marketing campaign from a big brand like Starbucks, such as its admittedly excellent ‘Upstanders’ campaign in the US, featuring uplifting stories from around the country.

It was expertly done, yet this kind of thoughtful, unifying content creation is a luxury that mustn’t come at the expense of critical but less exciting content that converts browsers into buyers. All too often the hero content that sits at the top of the sales funnel to engage new customers is let down by poor content that damages conversion rates at the end of the funnel, close to the point of purchase.

It’s  illogical for companies to invest in hero content that drives traffic to their websites, only to overlook the content that helps customers make informed purchase decisions once there. Yet aside from a handful of digital-first e-commerce disruptors, the large majority are still getting the content basics wrong.

We call the content that sits at the tail-end of the funnel (e.g. product descriptions, category descriptions, buying guides, shoppable videos) primary content. It’s the content that measurably and demonstratively improves performance online. And it does so in several ways.

Average order values

The likelihood of a customer buying something – and the number of items they buy – is impacted by whether or not the retailer has provided enough product information to inspire confidence in the customer, without them being able to see, touch or interact with the item in person. Yet, one in five consumers fails to complete an online purchase due to incomplete product information.

Furthermore, consumer research has shown that 31% of shoppers are more likely to buy from a retailer if it offers useful online buying guides, but only 18% of online retailers offer a broad range of high-quality guides on their e-commerce websites. These guides also offer a clear cross-selling opportunity to boost basket size by recommending complementary products, making their impact on performance even more valuable.

Product returns

Online returns cost UK retailers approximately £20 billion per annum. Even though fit-for-purpose product descriptions can significantly reduce product return rates, they’re being under-utilised by most retailers. For instance, nearly half of consumers say they’ve returned an item of clothing ordered online due to ‘poor fit’ – yet less than three in 10 online apparel retailers satisfactorily describe garment fit in their product descriptions.

Search rankings & traffic

There’s a marked difference in the level of intent to buy between someone starting a Google search with ‘black trousers’ and someone entering ‘H&M women’s super-high waisted black skinny jeans’. The latter search is likely to take a user to a product they probably want to buy, but will only do so if the product description provides the information expected by the consumer.

Likewise – bearing in mind that 95% of traffic comes from page one of Google – category descriptions have a significant role to play in SEO, for both generic and long-tail terms. Despite this, at Quill our own audits of leading online European retailers show that over 85% of them haven’t fully optimised their category description content for SEO.

Brand integrity

The toughest one to measure, but still worth touching on, is brand integrity, which can so easily be undermined by poor content. Imagine walking into a shop to find no sales assistants, scant product labelling and no fitting room. You’d likely walk out. That’s the digital experience that some brands are still offering online users.

Sometimes this is down to the focus on ‘hero content’ mentioned before, but often it’s an operational issue. Brands with hundreds or thousands of products simply don’t have the specialist content creation resources to hand, or technology that streamlines large-scale content production projects. Consequently, they leave primary content production to merchandising teams, SEO agencies or juniors who don’t specialise in content creation, risking their brand’s reputation and customer loyalty.

Primary content has a direct impact on revenue, driving engagement, conversions, traffic and revenue. It cannot be thought of as a ‘nice-to-have’ or something deserving only perfunctory attention – it’s a key part of the fundamental goal of retailers to sell products to people who want to buy them. Investing in quality content at the end of the sales funnel has a significant impact on the ROI of all the other marketing activity you do. Without content geared to drive performance, not only will you sell less, but people simply won’t be as likely to discover your products. Which is an incredible waste, both for marketers and consumers.