Posted by SarahGurbach
“We need more content.”
– Every brand ever, at some point in the history of their company
Having worked as a digital consultant over the past few years, I have been exposed to a good amount of brands in various industries. Some had content teams that consisted of one freelance copywriter, while others had a full-blown crew stocked with designers, videographers, and a slew of writers. Regardless of size, though, when discussing their content needs, there was always one common theme: they thought they needed more of it.
And honestly, my reaction would be something like:
“More content?! Easy! I know just the strategy to get you ranking for all the long-tail keywords surrounding your head term. I’ll do a keyword gap analysis, some competitive research, maybe a little trend reporting and come up with 15–20 content ideas for you to send to your copywriter. We’ll optimize those bad boys with title tags, H1s, and some not-so-secretly hidden CTAs, and we’re done. We’ll rank in the SERPs and get the masses to your site. Oh! And we can share this on social, too.”
Seriously, I won’t lie. That’s what I used to do. But then I got sick of blindly going into these things or trying to find some systematic way of coming up with a content strategy that could be used for any brand, of any size, in any industry, that would appeal to any consumer.
So instead of immediately saying yes, I started asking them “why”… roughly 5 times (h/t Wil Reynolds):
1. Why do you want more content?
“Because I want rankings.” (Well, at least they aren’t trying to hide it.)
2. Why do you want rankings?
“Because I want more traffic.” (Okay, we’re getting there.)
3. Why do you want more traffic?
“Because I want more brand awareness.” (Closer…)
4. Why do you want more brand awareness?
“Because I want people to buy my product.” (Ah, here we go.)
5. Why do you want people to buy your product?
“Because I want money.” (Bingo!)
Suddenly, it’s no longer just “we need more content,” but actually “we need the right kind of content for the right kind of audience at the right time in their journey.” And that may seem leaps and bounds more complicated than their original statement, but we aren’t dealing with the same kind of digital atmosphere anymore—and we sure aren’t dealing with the same consumers. Think With Google’s Customer Path to Purchase perfectly visualizes just how complex our consumers have become online.
And it doesn’t just stop there. At each of these interactions, the consumer will be at a different point in their journey, and they are going to need different content to help build their relationship with your brand. Now more than ever, it is imperative that you understand who your audience is and what is important to them…and then be where they are every step of the way.
Super easy, right? Let’s break it down. Here are some ways you can better understand your audience.
Who is your (right) audience?
“If your content is for everybody, then your content really is for nobody.”
– Kristina Halvorson, MozCon 2015
While Kristina’s entire presentation was gold, that was probably my favorite line of this past MozCon. Knowing who your audience is (and who your audience isn’t) is pivotal in creating a successful content strategy. When you’re a brand, you have a tendency to fall into the trap of wanting to make everyone your audience. But you aren’t right for everyone, which is why you have a conversion rate of 0.02%. You don’t need to be the best brand for everyone; you just need to be the best brand for someone…and then see if they have friends.
But I’m not saying you have to go out and do more focus groups, consumer surveys, and personas (although it wouldn’t hurt to do a revamp every now and again). Let’s work with what you’ve got.
As stated before, it’s all about targeting the right audience. Let’s say, in this case, the most important people for my business are those that complete a specific goal. Well, I want to find out everything I can about those people and what is bringing them to my site.
To do this, set up a segment in Google Analytics to see only the traffic that resulted in that goal completion:
- Add Segment
- Find your specific goal
- Change to > or = 1 per session
From there, you can use the demographics functionality in GA to take a deeper dive into that audience in particular:
You can look at age, gender, location, device, and more. You can even look at their interests:
I would also recommend doing this for particular groups of pages to better understand what kind of content brings in users that will convert. You can create groupings based on the type of content (i.e. help articles, branded content, top-of-the-funnel content, etc.) or you can just look at specific folders.
You can also use this segment to better analyze which sites are sending referral traffic that results in a goal completion, as this would be a strong indicator that those sites are speaking to an audience that is interested in your brand and/or product.
While analyzing your current followers may only help you understand the audience you already have, it will absolutely help you find trends among people who are interested in your brand and could help you better target future strategies.
Let’s start with Twitter. I am a huge fan of Followerwonk for so many reasons. I use it for everything from audience analysis, to competitor research, to prospecting. But for the sake of better understanding your audience, throw your Twitter handle in and click “analyze their followers.”
Followerwonk will give you a sample size of 5,000, which still gives you a pretty good overview of your followers. However, if you export all of the data, you can analyze up to 100,000 followers. As a cheap beer enthusiast myself, I analyzed people following Rainier beer and was pleasantly surprised to see that I am in good company (hello, marketers).
You can also use Followerwonk to better understand when your audience is most active on Twitter, so you can prioritize when you’ll post the content you crafted specifically for those people when they’re most active.
Additionally, I am a big fan of Followerwonk’s ability to search Twitter bios for specific keywords. Not only is it useful for finding authorities in a specific space, it allows you to find all of the additional words that your audience is using to describe themselves.
Search Twitter bios for a keyword that is important to your business or a word that describes your target audience. Once you do that, export all the bios, throw those bad boys into a word-cloud tool, and see what you get.
Obviously, “cheap beer” leads the way, but look at the other words: craft, wine, whiskey, expensive, connoisseur. Maybe, just maybe, cheap beer enthusiasts also know how to enjoy a fine craft beer every now and then. Would I love to read a cheap beer enthusiast’s guide to inexpensive craft beer? Why, yes, I would. And something tells me that those people on Twitter wouldn’t mind sharing it.
Is this mind blowing? Not necessarily. Does it take 5 minutes, help you better understand your audience, and give you some content ideas? Absolutely.
Utilize Facebook insights as much as possible for figuring out which audience engages with your posts the most—that’s the audience you want to go after. Facebook defaults to “Your Fans,” but check out the “People Engaged” tab to see active fans.
Simon Penson talked about how you can use Facebook to see if your audience has a greater affinity to a certain product/brand/activity than the rest of their cohort at SearchLove last year, and I highly recommend you play around with that function on Facebook as well.
What do they need?
Internal site search
I like to look at site search data for two reasons: to find out what users are looking for, and to find out what users are having a hard time finding. I’ll elaborate on the latter and then go into detail about the former. If you notice that a lot of users are using internal site search to find content that you already have, chances are that content is not organized in a way that is easy to find. Consider fixing that, if possible.
I usually like to look at a year’s worth of data in GA, so change the dates to the past year and take a look at what is searched for most often on your site. In the example below, this educational client can easily tell that the most important things to their prospective students are tuition prices and the academic calendar. That may not be a surprise, but who knows what gems you may find in your own internal site search? If I were this client, I would definitely be playing into the financial aspects of their school, as it’s proven to be important.
Similar to site search, it’s important to understand what questions your customers have about your product or industry. Being there to answer those questions allows you to be present at the beginning of their path to purchase, while being an authority in the space.
Don’t hit enter
This is an oldie but a serious goodie, and I still use it to this day. Start with the 5 Ws + your head term and see what pops up in Google Autocomplete. This isn’t the end-all be-all, but it’s a good starting point.
Use a handy tool
I haven’t been able to play around with all of Grepwords’ tools and functionalities, but I love the question portion. It basically helps you pull in all of the questions surrounding one keyword and provides the search volume.
This is a fun one. If you know that there are popular forums where people talk about your industry, products, and/or services, you can use advanced search queries to find anyone asking questions about your product or service. Example:
site:stackoverflow.com inurl:”brand name” AND “product name”
You can get super granular and even look for ones that haven’t been answered:
site:stackoverflow.com inurl: “brand name” AND “product name” -inurl:”answer”
From there, you can scrape the results in the SERPs and siphon through the questions to see if there are any trends or issues.
And sometimes, if you want to reach the human behind the computer, you have to actually talk to the human. If you are a B2B that has a sales department, have someone on the marketing team sit in on 10–15 of those calls to see if there are any trends in regards to the types of questions they ask or issues they have. If you are a B2C, try offering a small incentive to have your customer take a survey or chat with someone for ten minutes about their experience.
If you are not comfortable reaching out to your current customers, consider utilizing Google Consumer Surveys. After collecting data from GA and other social platforms, you can use that information to hyper-focus your audience segment or create some form of a qualifier question to ensure you are targeting the right audience for your questions.
While Consumer Surveys has its issues, overall it can be a great way to collect data. This is not the platform to ask fifty questions so you can create a buyer persona; instead, pick some questions that are going to help you understand your audience a bit more. Example questions are:
- Before purchasing [product], what is your research process?
- Are you active on social? If so, which channels?
- What prevents you from purchasing a product?
- What prevents you from purchasing from a specific brand?
- What are your favorite sites to browse for articles?
Side note: I am also a huge fan of testing potential headlines before publishing content. Obviously, this is not something you will do for every blog post, but if I was Zulily and I was considering posting a major thought leadership piece, I would probably want to set up a 2-question survey:
- Question #1: Are you a mom?
- If yes, question #2: Which of these articles looks most interesting to you?
The great thing about that is you only get charged for the 2nd question if they pass the qualifier round.
Give ’em what they want
Now that you have a better understanding of the kind of people you want to target, it’s important that you spend the time creating content that will actually be of value to them. Continuously revisit these research methods as your audience grows and changes.
I rambled on about my favorite techniques, but I would love to hear how you go about better understanding your own audience. Sound off in the comments below, or shoot me a tweet @TheGurbs.
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