[Column] Fleur Willemijn van Beinum: Data for content
A data-driven content strategy is easier and cheaper than you realize. With smarter usage of Google, you can produce content your audience actually wants to read. As the days that brands dictate what they communicate, are over by now. Time over time again I am shocked by the inside-out content arrogance by brands. It is time to flip and to capture your audience's needs to produce content. And to have your content efforts contribute to your business objectives.
Don't be ancient. Do your homework before you start producing content. Three easy steps:
- Research: Google data and other data
- Plot the outcome on your themes
- Competitor SEO analysis
* Warning: this is a long read *
Research: Google and YT data
A simple, cheap, and excellent check to gain insights into what your audience actually wants. In a nutshell: discover the Google and YouTube search queries related to your industry, brand and products. I promise you, you will be surprised by the outcome.
Having done this research for several clients, time over time again, the top 3 searches revealed content needs the brand never imagined.
They all have in common that the searches relate to the ‘help’ content, the bare basics of your products. None of them had this specific content in place. The good news is, neither had their competitors…. From the different roasting processes of coffee beans, the how-to booze recipes plus hacks, to the specific details on the local road-taxes and warranty related to electric cars.
This Google and YouTube research will cost you roughly between € 7k for local and € 15k for global. With the condition, you have a crystal-clear and tight briefing for your agency. This can be your media agency or your creative agency. You can also hire a specialized data agency. Keep in mind it takes more time to brief a new agency as they do not know your brand and are not familiar with the organization.
Speaking from experience, my advice: use your creative agency. As the media agency is more inclined to develop an SEO and SEA strategy. That is exactly not what you are looking for. You want to gain insights into the audience's needs to use in your (creative) content strategy.
How to brief your agency
As this type of research is quite new for agencies, a few suggestions for what to include in the brief. Drill down the desired output and make sure they get your objectives and what you are looking for. Your executive brief should fit on 1 A4 in simplicity. If you need a death-by-PowerPoint-deck, you have to learn to brief. The better your brief, the better the outcome.
- Objective: insights for content strategy
- Themes: list of topics you want to be found on
- Keywords: industry, brand, and product
- Competitors names: stick to main competitors
- Countries or region: stick to the most important
Don’t include the details of your audience or personas. Keep it open to discover.
Ask the agency to do broad research. The goal is to find out if there are more keywords or specific combinations used. Can these be grouped, is there a common theme, is there a trend? What are the top 10 searches for your industry, brand, and your competitors?
Research: Google Analytics
Do a scan of your website and deep dive into the GA. What are the most and least visited pages? Include the origin of the traffic in this overview, the internal and external sources. This gives insights into how your www is actually used and what generates traffic.
This research often reveals a dis-balance between your content production and the actual audience behavior. If the majority of your content is on product features and the top 3 pages are ‘sustainability’, ‘marketing campaigns’, and ‘contact’ — then you have some amazing opportunities to stand out and to be distinctive. And you have some work to do.
Research: Google content needs
Research by Google and Kantar (2018) reveals the needs of the audience for the content. In a nutshell, there are six categories: ‘surprise me’, ‘thrill me’, ‘impress me’, ‘educate me’, ‘reassure me’ and ‘help me’. Note these are consumer-focused and not product or feature focused.
Plot your existing content and planned content against these categories. Do they line up or are you way off track and too much inside-out focused? Again, to create an impact with your content, your audience's needs are central. That defines what they actually want to read. It is not about you as the brand and about your products.
As Vogue wanted to increase their online readers base and their reach, they flipped their perspective. Research amongst their readers revealed their content needs. No surprise these align with the Google categories.
With some local differences in the order of importance:
- Inspire me: the minority of actual content — most wanted
- Teach me
- Entertain me
- Keep me up to date: 38% of actual content — least read content by the audience
- Make me socially responsible: 2% of actual content — 53% of the audience wants this
- Connect me
Easy to change category
There is no direct need to produce new content once you know the preferred categories. It is easy to adapt the ‘keep me up to date’ to ‘inspire me’ content. First, write a more inspiring title, and second, showcase different perspectives and points of view in the text itself.
Please view the talk by Sarah Marshall, head of audience growth by Vogue International to get all the insights and details.
Research: Customer care and webcare
This department has the first line of (social media) contact with your audience. They know as nobody else what triggers them, their questions, and frustrations. Use them as a source to define what content is needed.
A few years ago, I was responsible for the setup of the new in-house webcare department for an insurance company. As sitting next to the boys and girls, I was reading and listening in on their conversations. Noticing the majority of the cases were questions by pregnant women on the insurance coverage.
Presuming our clients preferred to be independent and actually not wanting to chat with us, and presuming we do have these insurance conditions and fine print online… we concluded that our www-information was too hidden and scattered on several pages. And when the content was found, it was not clear enough. Hence, we did the content audit and rewrote the existing content. Furthermore, we created a merged overview-page with all pregnancy-related information. Provided with a short url and a targeted social campaign, we decreased the workload on the webcare team by significant numbers.
Plot the outcome on your themes
Pretty much an open door, you should use these insights to (re)define your themes to structure your content.
Imagine, you are a coffee company and the research shows your audience wants to know the difference between arabica and robusta, light roast, and dark roast. This could be your first theme to explain the basics of coffee beans.
The same goes for when your audience is looking for how-to and recipes for a cappuccino. And they want to know the difference between an iced coffee and a cold brew, or a ristretto and espresso... here you have your second theme.
Read more on 'How to structure content'
Competitor SEO analysis
Once you know what content to produce, check out your competitors, and how they rank on SEO.
Sneak preview how-to:
- Open an anonymous window in Google,
- type in the keyword and
- make a list of the first 10 content items.
- Check these pages on their H1, H2, and url,
- use these insights to produce your own content accordingly.
Fleur Willemijn van Beinum is an experienced Content and Social Media Strategist with a proven track record for over 35 top notch clients.