I wrote a post on SEO essentials recently because most of the organizations with which I work sell some form of online knowledge or learning product, and many are not taking advantage of search engine optimization (or search marketing) to drive visitors to their catalog pages. Here’s an idea that complements search engine optimization quite well and also generates value for your current and prospective customers: Curate your catalog with a blog.
I’ve written about the concept of the digital curator over on Mission to Learn and have also spoken about it a couple of times with Jeff De Cagna. In a nutshell, a digital curator is a person or an organization that filters the flow of information about a particular topic from across the Web, provides context for it, and augments it in ways that add value. Many bloggers play this sort of role (though a slim few do it really well) within their particular niche.
So how can this idea relate to your online catalog? You catalog is a collection, and much as the average museum has a collection of artifacts that benefit from being properly curated, you catalog will benefit from the same process.
If, for example, you offer a course on a specific topic – let’s say its “Building Leadership Skills” – potential purchasers of that course most likely have a more general interest in the topic that you can help satisfy. In the case of leadership, they may want to know what the leading experts are thinking about leadership these days; they might be eager to hear an audio interview with a respected leader; or online sites that offer leadership assessments might be of great use to them.
You get the picture – there are many types of value, in addition to the course itself, you can offer to potential purchasers of a leadership course.
So where does a blog come in? A blog gives you an easy, low cost way to publish a continuing stream of resources for current and potential purchasers of your digital products. Thinking from leadership experts? An audio interview with a leader? Links to leadership assessments? These can all easily be published in a blog. And while you want to stay away from aggressively pitching your products in your posts, it is certainly appropriate to reference your leadership course (with a link to the catalog page for it) while discussing these resources and to include information about it at the end.
The key is to freely provide the reader with substantial value while also making clear that your catalog contains products that might be of interest. Take a minute to think about the wide variety of digital knowledge and learning products in your own catalog. Couldn’t you – or other staff members or volunteers – write a little something of value about the topics each one covers on a periodic basis?
For inspiration, you might want to take a look at the MindBites blog. MIndBites is a company that sells user-generated instructional content. On the blog, you’ll find a variety of stories and insights from authors of tutorials and courses as well as links to other helpful sites. And, of course, you will find links to items in the MindBites catalog that related to the blog postings. While you are there, you may want to check out some of the other approaches used in the MindBites community.
MindBites has obviously put a lot of work into getting its community and the blog within it up and running, but don’t let that concern you. Getting a basic blog set up and tweaking it a bit to reflect your branding is really not very difficult. If you are new to blogging and have little tech support, I recommend going with a hosted service like WordPress.com or Typepad. If you are a bit more advanced or have a tech team willing to help you out, having your own installation of the WordPress software – either at one of the many hosting providers who support it or on your own servers – is the way to go. Personally, I use my own installation of WordPress with the Thesis theme.
A blog is a very easy publishing tool – a great benefit in and of itself. Additionally, blogging about items in your catalog should be relatively non-controversial and thus less likely to run up against some of the legal issues that hold many organizations back from blogging.
But there is another key benefit: search engines love blogs.
If you post regularly on topics related to your catalog, Google and the other search engines are going to find you. And the more you post items that contain valuable information and resources and that relate to other items on your blog and in your catalog, the higher you are likely to rank in the search engines. And guess what? – all of that is likely to lead to more clicks to your catalog pages. Of course, even in a blog you will want to make sure you are adhering to search engine optimization basics, and you will also need to make sure that your landing pages are ready to receive and convert potential customers.
One final benefit: For organizations that are concerned about sending too much e-mail to members and customers, having a path to your catalog that does not involve interrupting the potential purchaser can be highly valuable. If you do it well, it may eventually become as valuable or even more valuable than your e-mail marketing.
I’d be remiss if I did not note in closing that this strategy will not produce results over night. You may not notice any difference in the initial weeks, or even months, of attempting to be a curator for your catalog. But stick with it. This is a strategy for building value over the long haul.
If your organization has tried this approach or plans to, I encourage you to comment and share your experiences.
Hedgehog & Fox
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