The mark of a successful content marketing strategy is efficient collection and usage of data on the needs and preferences of the brand’s audience to generate more leads, drive more sales, and ultimately, make better business decisions. To do this, you need to consistently analyze the content you create, dig deep into sources of more content, track your audience’s reactions to your messaging, and keep improving their experience at every touchpoint.
Last Wednesday on #SEMrushchat, Grant Simmons, VP of Search Marketing at Homes.com, and a very experienced marketer with over 25 years of experience strategizing and producing marketing communications for local and international companies. We asked Grant to share his insights on understanding audience intent, making connections with them, targeting them with contextual, data-driven content strategies, and measuring content performance with the right metrics.
Here are some of the amazing ideas and tips that Grant and our other chat participants shared:
Q1. How do you define a data-driven content marketing strategy?
Grant explained that data-driven measurement is a rear-view mirror approach to content strategy. The basic requirement for any content to stand out is that it has to be based on data. Data helps us justify the content strategy and tactics that we have chosen to implement. However, starting with what works is not enough to make content decisions if you haven’t done it before.
As a result, he boils it down into a simple two-step approach: One, use data to create awesome content. Two, measure the effectiveness of that content so you can make it even better next time. You only need ask yourself “How?” to define your strategy.
A1 The data driven component of measurement is a rear view mirror approach. In a sea of distraction, content that stands out starts with data #semrushchat
— Grant Simmons (@simmonet) August 8, 2018
A1 The best thing about data is it gives us content + justification of what works
Starting with what works though, doesn't help you decide what to do if you haven't done it yet #semrushchat
— Grant Simmons (@simmonet) August 8, 2018
A1 I think for the purpose of context. Let's say I'm thinking of the following:
a) How can we use data to create kick butt content?
b) How can we measure effectiveness so we create 'kick buttier' content the next time?
— Grant Simmons (@simmonet) August 8, 2018
Before you even look at your data, you should make sure you get your goals right. Then go about collecting the right data on your audience demographics. Finally, solidify your campaign with appropriate Key Performance Indicators (KPIs); this will allow you to identify the tactics that do and don’t work, and assist in making better decisions with regard to the direction of your content strategy. Making a decision based on data, trends, and market shifts rather than intuition, gut feeling, or resources on hand are critical to creating a strategy that works for you.
A1: Quite subjecting this one! A the basic level I'd say a campaign that takes in 1 or more datasets when devising the strategy. More than that though, #data should include goals, data on demographics, #KPIs & use all to help solidify the overall plan. #semrushchat
Your content should be laser-focused on your target audience, and data is your only recourse to getting better at that! You can use historical data from transactions as well as user behavior to target specific audiences who have common interests with content that is relevant to them.
The numbers that you draw from user interaction with your site and how they move through your sales funnel will help you make informed decisions, give direction to your content marketing, help you execute your strategy better, and improve your conversion rates. Data beats guesswork any day!
Make sure you have goals in place for your site’s functionality and conversion rate. These goals should be based on how closely your content caters to and fulfills the needs of your audience. Analyze every piece of content and determine how much traffic and engagement it is bringing in. Tie those metrics back to your goals. Don’t forget to tweak your blog content, copy, creatives, and even social posts to help you meet these goals consistently.
Q2. What steps can a company take to a build a data-driven content marketing strategy?
In all his years of experience, Grant says the biggest issue with brands is that they have no clue as to what content marketing success looks like! They have a hard time comparing content performance with campaigns on other channels and have little idea of the metrics they should be measuring. That makes most of their campaigns mediocre at best. He outlines a step-by-step way to go about it:
Define key metrics that will indicate success.
Define a goal and a plan to reach it.
Monitor and measure your progress.
Assess where you stand on the path to achieving your goal.
Pivot and tweak your strategy.
You can start out by reviewing the content that you already have. Identify the pieces that are driving traffic and engagement for you, determine the formats that work best for you, and use them as templates for creating more effective content. If you don’t have any data on your existing content, gather it first. The more relevant and accurate data you collect, the more effective your content will turn out to be. Set goals and define key metrics based on this data. Pull more data, keep measuring, tweak your strategy accordingly, repeat.
Whatever you do, make sure you have a way to measure success before you begin a content marketing campaign. Google Analytics is your free ticket to tracking visitors and other data sets. You can start small and then move on to bigger, more complex measurement systems. Break down your metrics into micro-conversions — small, on-page behavioral signals that indicate engagement with your content – that support your overall conversion goals. Once you get the hang of it, you can build your own measurement and decision-making model like Google’s Heart Framework.
While analytics enable you to gather data across broad categories, the best option is to collect it directly from your audience. Audience targeting isn’t a simple affair, though. You need to understand your buyer personas and their purchase journeys, identify where they are located and reach them there, and accurately document your strategies if you want your content marketing to bring you consistent returns in the short as well as long term.
Q3. With consumers inundated with content craving their attention, opinion, loyalty, and emotion, how can brands and publishers gain exposure that really matters?
The best way to gain customers’ attention and loyalty is to answer their queries with unerring precision. Appeal to your audience’s emotions with the right messaging on the right media. Don’t stop there – make sure you stand out from your competitors with a unique viewpoint based on your data.
It helps to have the pulse of your audience; determine the kind of content they like, the content they find useful, and the content that is relevant to them. Then, create it and share it on the platforms where they hang out. Don’t produce content just for the sake of spraying it all across the web, instead, create it to help your audience.
Understanding who your customers are and the solutions to their problems is critical. Also, interacting on an emotional level is key to providing better customer service than your competition; this will help you keep targeting the right audience, even if it is a niche audience.
The user experience (UX) that your audience feels will ultimately determine your content marketing success. They don’t care about your organization or your revenue goals. If you don’t make it easy and straightforward for them, they will have no trouble finding the exit. Use existing models and best practices – such as text above the fold, bold headings, segmented blocks, and related links – to keep their attention while they are consuming your content. Use data to increase footfall, attract specific visitor profiles and personas, encourage action, and trigger conversions.
Q4. What are some good data sources for content creation?
Grant differentiates between two types of content sources:
Owned: You create it or have organizational access to it.
Found: You curate it from the public domain and leverage it with attribution.
There are a lot of sources of content. The best and most reliable off-line resources are your customers and employees, especially your customer-facing employees. It also depends on your market – whether it is broad or niche. You have various sources where industry news and trends originate, such as media publications, forums or Q&A sites.
Then you have data that you collect in-house, from both traditional and digital channels. You also have the option to mine third-party data or carry out some in-depth competitor analysis. You can repurpose or update your existing content to be more contextual based on these new findings.
Our chat participants said that they diligently mine social channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Reddit for content ideas. They don’t leave out top blogs, feeds, podcasts, or on-site search queries either.
And then there are tools and processes. A joint study by SEMrush and CMI found that the key to a successful content strategy is a simple approach: Plan, Create, Distribute, Track. The SEMrush Content Marketing Toolkit walks you through this process with an exceedingly simple workflow. The Content Audit tool helps you analyze the existing content on your site for effectiveness in terms of SEO and engagement. Topic Research allows you to mine the web for ideas, headlines, and audience questions related to your keywords and visualize them in the form of cards or mind maps. Finally, our new SEO Writing Assistant lets you create easy-to-consume, targeted content, highly optimized for Google rankings.
Other tools that assist content marketers in various ways are Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Moz, Ahrefs, Buzzsumo, Google Trends, Quora, AnswerThePublic, Scribe, Power BI, Tableau, and CoSchedule.
According to Simon Cox, the best source of inspiration for new content ideas is cheese - @simoncox.
Q5. What are some of your favorite data-driven content campaign(s) you’ve produced?
Grant is of the opinion that the best campaigns are those that deliver beyond the goals and expectations of the marketers running them. These fetch the brand everything from links and mentions to traffic and engagement. He cites two successful campaigns from his employer Homes.com:
#IsHaunted, created from listing and Google Maps data, portraying Homes.com as a fun brand
TV Floorplans, which got them a ton of interviews and engagement, in addition to a whopping 350 links from high-quality sites
Some #SEMrushchat participants chipped in with their favorites, among which were CEWE Photoworld and our friends at Distilled, UK. Others also talked about how well their campaigns were working for them.
There is a multitude of ways you can go about marketing your content on different channels. These include:
Promoting infographics along with an embed code to go with the image.
Emailing offers to lists segmented on the basis of past purchase behavior.
Running PPC campaigns based on data from Google Analytics.
Using heat maps to study how people browse your web pages.
The best campaigns are those that work. They might differ by industry, platform, vertical, and target market, but the basic premise remains constant: to reach your audience and convert them. Just make sure you base them on data and not solely on creativity.
We simply couldn't stop talking about data. Or content marketing. Or data-driven content marketing. No wonder we went well past the end time on this edition of #SEMrushchat. But eventually, we had to take a break and recap all the information for you. However, you can continue the conversation by offering your best tips and strategies in the comments.
Do join us live this Wednesday as we discuss AI vs. Human SEO with Shannon Steffen!