The content marketing world is in somewhat of an awkward transitional phase. On one hand, you have staunch advocates of — for lack of a better term — the old ways: writing exclusively for people, going by your gut, running on instinct. On the other, you have the forward thinkers, often of younger generations: their view of content is more analytical and practical, treating its production and distribution as a predictable science as opposed to an art.
For the former group, the good news is that there’s still plenty of room for stylistic flair in a modern content marketing strategy — but until they learn to refine their work, using the vast amount of performance feedback that can be gleaned from relevant analytics, they’ll never excel. Adopting a strategy that isn’t fundamentally led by data is just wasting time and effort.
However, being aware that you need a data-led content strategy is one thing — actually creating it is another. This post will cover how you can shape a plan that will allow you to squeeze the maximum returns from your time, effort, and resources.
Audit your existing content
Before you can move forward with , you need to know what foundation you’re building on. If your business is completely fresh or you have no user-facing content whatsoever — nothing accessible through your website or available for download —- then you can proceed to the next step, but otherwise this is an important process. Assuming you’ve been in operation for a while, you’ll inevitably have built up some kind of content collection, whether it includes in-depth guides, standard blog posts, or simply some internal training documentation.
This audit is a crucial first step because your existing content will likely have gathered some notable data, even if you currently aren’t aware of it. Just about every mainstream CMS of any variety will support Google Analytics, and some will have internal analytics systems that don’t require any set-up to function.
By delving into your existing analytics data, you can find out what you’ve accomplished so far. You’ll see which of your blog posts have performed the best, what kind of social media activity your content gets, and what notable rankings (if any) you’ve collected already (without your data-driven plan).
If you’ve picked up a reasonable amount of traffic, it could be a double-edged sword. If your existing content is high-quality and relevant, it’s a good thing. If it’s distinctly mediocre or even outright terrible, that’s a bad thing, because it could be harming your brand reputation. Regardless of the situation, analyzing past data will leave you in a position to look ahead and make the adjustments you need to achieve your marketing goals.
Review top-performing pieces from competitors
One piece of industry-leading content can do more for your business than a thousand pieces of average blog content, because influencers will go out of their way to share top-notch work and you’ll win traffic through backlinks. That’s why you’ll want to take a close look at which posts from your potential competitors are already performing spectacularly — you can learn from their performance data and even try to reverse-engineer their methods.
There are various ways in which you can do this, such as by simply plugging the terms you’re targeting into a search engine and looking at the top results. However, the fastest way is to do some competitor analysis with a tool like Buzzsumo and get an at-a-glance view of the top performers for terms. You can then take a closer look at their metrics and page composition to see how they earned that popularity.
You might discover that the key for your niche seems to be Instagram referrals, giving you a vital clue for your content strategy, or that every one of the top ten resources is a guide, leading you to put an emphasis on creating a guide of your own. Alternatively, you might see that all the posts lack something you think is valuable to the audience, allowing you to swoop in and meet that demand.
Carry out keyword research
Often the first step in a content strategy, keyword research isn’t necessarily that complex. It does, however, require a willingness to get very particular about language and spend a lot of time thinking about synonyms. To begin with, make a comprehensive list of all the terms you can think of that relate to the nature and goals of your business.
For example, if you sell vegetable smoothies, you could start by noting down vegetables and smoothies, then related concepts like health, fitness, and weight loss, then even more associations like recipes or refreshment. You can get very niche with this list because you’re going to narrow it down.
Once you have your list, drop it into a link checker and see how many searches the different terms attract. Write this information down, then continue to an autocomplete tool and start searching for the terms with the most volume. Once you get the results, sort for volume and save.
By the end of this, you’ll have a solid suggestion list for future content, with broad and long-tail keywords ranked by volume to give you an idea of what topics get the most attention.
Factor in current marketing trends
Trends are hugely significant for content success. Touch upon the most popular hashtag of the day and you’ll likely experience an increase in exposure and engagement. While you can sometimes anticipate trends, most of the time they can be unpredictable. Therefore, you should leave a strong degree of flexibility in your strategy to allow for course corrections.
The trends you can anticipate are oftentimes seasonal —- they inevitably overwhelm traffic through their ubiquitous appeal — and smart businesses take advantage of the huge increases in spending that greet them. Website flippers in particular can run exclusively on seasonal traffic if they do it correctly: before and after any seasonal period, I invariably see a range of Oberlo stores for sale online because, for example, a Christmas-themed dropshipping store has huge value during Christmas but very little use for the rest of the year. Holidays, sporting events, anniversaries, and really anything that can be set on a national or regional calendar well in advance would also be considered predictable trends. Think of the promotional impact of the Super Bowl whenever the NFL season nears its conclusion. The data tells you that big events drive traffic, which means your data-led content strategy is missing the mark if it doesn’t jump on them.
As for unpredictable trends, leaving some gaps in your content calendar (and some leeway in your creative approach) will give you the chance to work them in at the last minute to get some free engagement boosts. The bulk of your content should be evergreen (relevant at any time throughout the year), but the goal is to mix the timely with the timeless.
Identify and visualize your KPIs
Having been through all the preceding steps, you should now be in a fairly strong position to start setting out some content types, titles, schedules and promotional methods. The creation of an in-depth content calendar is certainly vital, but beyond that you’ll need to know how to measure the performance of your content in a way that can easily be maintained. There’s little point in formulating your strategy using data if you don’t refine it similarly.
First, you must determine your KPIs. These metrics will keep you on track to reaching your content goals. Keep in mind, there’s a layer of abstraction between your content and KPI success — instead of a resource leading to a direct sale, it might fall somewhere else in the sales funnel. Well-written content can lead to more brand interest, visiting other pages of your website, following your company’s social media accounts, or anything else that could ultimately lead to a sale. You need to chart those connections very carefully to determine a content piece’s true value to the company.
Start as you mean to go on
They key with this kind of in-depth data-led approach to content marketing is that you need to maintain it. You don’t get to create a campaign and then let it play out without any intervention — tastes change, social media platforms rise and fall, and formats fall out of favor. Depending on the amount of data, channels, and content pieces, you may need to implement a data visualization or dashboard solution to help you manage it all. It can be a major headache trying to keep track of campaign performance, particularly if your business lacks an exclusive marketer and there are other things you need to be thinking about. Being able to clearly visualize your KPIs will make it so much easier to monitor how your content is performing and where you can make improvements. If you accurately and efficiently follow the data on the entirely of your content journey, you’ll get the best possible results.
Are you looking for a tool to assist with your data-led marketing efforts? Click here to request a free demo of iDashboards.
Kayleigh Alexandra covers everything about startups and small businesses for Micro Startups, a well-meaning blog determined to help entrepreneurs everywhere find smarter and better ways to achieve their goals. Visit the blog for some advice and stories, and follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.
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