Written by Kristi Hines –
There’s an old maxim in the marketing world, “content is king.” This has been true as long as search engine optimization has been around, and probably dates back even further in the world of general marketing.
But as simple as that adage is, it leaves a lot of room for interpretation, namely what kind of content?
In those early SEO days, it meant identifying your keywords and jamming them into pages anywhere they would fit.
But modern digital marketers are smarter (not to mention that strategy doesn’t work anymore).
These days, successful content starts with a plan that’s backed up by numbers, a data-driven content strategy, if you will.
But what exactly does that mean?
In simple terms, it means developing content using an approach built on user information. This can include information like demographics, survey answers, consumer preferences, etc.
You probably don’t need to be told why this is important, but just to make sure there’s no doubt, let’s be clear: Using a data-driven content strategy helps you decide where to spend your time, effort, and money.
In other words, you have finite resources. You don’t want to waste them on people who aren’t likely to convert.
A data-driven content strategy allows you to tailor your marketing campaigns to generate the best ROI.
For the purposes of search engine and PPC specialists, it can help you decide which keywords to go after, ensuring you’re targeting the right audience.
Sounds simple enough, right? All you need to do is pop open your content research tool and look for commonalities, right? Sorry to burst your bubble, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
But never fear, that’s why you’re here.
In this helpful guide, we’ll give you a step-by-step approach to developing, implementing, and optimizing your very own data-driven content strategy.
Ready to get started?
1. Set Your Content Goals
The very first thing you need to decide is what you’re hoping to accomplish. You can’t be all things to all people, so you need to make some choices.
Do you want to increase traffic? Are you looking to make sales? Do you want more leads?
Determine what your content goals are and identify the channels best suited to meet them. Once you’ve done this, you can establish your key performance indicators (KPIs).
Be sure to keep this in mind while you’re creating content.
Everything you add to your website or campaign should serve a purpose. If you’re not sure what it’s doing, your audience won’t know either.
2. Define Your Target Audience
Now that you know what you’re trying to achieve, it’s time to figure out who to go after to make it happen.
Comb through the demographic data and other information you have access to. Spot commonalities that occur across many or some of your targets.
Many marketers find it helpful to create customer personas. Using your data, imagine a typical person for each of the various roles you’re targeting.
For example, you may have a prospect persona, a lead persona, a buyer persona and a repeat persona.
Put yourself in the shoes of these imaginary people.
What type of language resonates with them? What is their highest level of education? Do they want professionalism or personability? Why are they on your website? What do they hope to accomplish with your help? Be as detailed as you can.
Many marketers even give them a name. For example, if you were creating personas for your plumbing supply company, you may have:
Lead Larry – 45 years old
A mid-career plumber, Lead Larry owns his own one-man business. He makes $75,000 a year. He went to a trade school and his work van is 6 years old. He’s looking for a way to reduce overhead and find cheaper parts than his local supply company. He values hard work, honesty, and professionalism.
Be as creative and detailed as you like, just remember this isn’t a fiction-writing exercise. You’re creating personas based on your typical target, so keep your persona in line with who they actually are.
3. Review Your Competitor’s Content And Do Topical Research
Now it’s time to take a look at what the competition is doing. Maybe they’re just flying by the seat of their pants, but they’re probably putting some effort into their campaigns, too.
Review what they’re doing and look for what appears to be working.
For example, if they’re blogging, they may have a view counter on the page. If so, what type of blogs are getting the best results?
Look for trends in your industry. What’s everyone talking about? Is there a big trade show coming up? Or a new technology about to be released?
Figure out who you’re competing with for clicks, not just to see what’s working for them, but also to gain ideas for content of your own. Start making a list of things you want to cover.
If there are influencers in your niche, this is also a good time to check and see what they’re posting about.
4. Conduct Keyword Research
Once you’ve settled on what your content should be, it’s time to perform that old SEO staple: keyword research.
This will help you in more than just the SEO aspect, too.
Using keywords in your content demonstrates to your audience that you speak the same language they do. And that doesn’t mean English, it means using the nomenclature everyone in the niche will understand.
Going back to our plumbing supply example, that means referring to a product as a “three-fourths full port threaded ball valve,” rather than a “metal connection thingy.”
Okay, that’s a ridiculous example, but you get the point.
The good thing is that you probably already have a working, if not expert knowledge of this.
5. Create Content That Aligns With Your Goals
If you remember, the very first step to creating a data-driven content plan was to determine your goals.
Now, equipped with everything you’ve done since then, it’s time to create the content that addresses them.
Don’t be intimidated. You don’t have to be F. Scott Fitzgerald to write the kind of content your audience wants. And you’ve already done a lot of the foundational work – now it’s just time to put everything together.
Your content could take nearly any form, videos, blog posts, infographics, case studies, or white papers.
If you’re not comfortable doing these on your own, it should be reasonably easy to find a writer or videographer in your area or extended network. Just ask your connections for recommendations.
If you’re still not confident in your ability to deliver or you can’t afford to hire someone, don’t worry. We have an excellent piece that will walk you through everything you need to know about content creation.
6. Promote Your Content On The Right Channels
You’ve created your masterpiece of relevant content. Now it’s time to share it with the world. But how do you do that? Do you just post it on your corporate blog and wait for Google to index it?
You could take that kind of passive approach, but this is great stuff you’ve just made. Everyone in your niche will want to consume it. And to make sure you get the eyes you want on it, it’s time to promote it.
But before you go linking to it on Facebook, Digg, LinkedIn, and every other social media platform and aggregator site you can think of, pause for a minute.
When you were developing your user personas, you hopefully received some data about where your targets live online.
Are they regular Twitter users? Do they haunt industry-specific forums? Are you connected to them via Slack or other instant messenger apps?
Find out where they hang out and post away. In most cases, if you’re not sure if your targets use a platform or not, you should just go ahead and post anyway.
There are some sites where you can be dinged for unpopular content (Reddit, for example), but most of the time, there’s no harm.
This is also a time to start thinking about how you can repurpose your new content.
Do you have an opportunity for a guest blog post on another site? Or, would your new infographic fit perfectly in your next investor report?
If your data-driven content is built on the solid principles we’ve discussed, it will get engagements.
7. Use Analytics To Measure Results
After your content goes live, you can begin measuring your ROI to see what you did well, where you missed the mark, and what could be optimized to perform better.
This is where the KPIs discussed back in step one come back into play.
Some of these are easier to track than others.
If increasing sales or conversions was your goal, you should have data that backs up performance. Likewise, if you set out to improve traffic to your website, you should have the analytics to track that.
Things like brand visibility can be a bit trickier.
Regardless of what it is you’re using to determine success, you should find the data you need to track performance in Google Analytics.
For a detailed walkthrough of this process, we’ve provided information on exactly how you can measure content marketing success.
A Data-Driven Content Strategy Is A Winning One
Data is a marketer’s best friend. It tells you exactly what works, what doesn’t, and often, why that’s the case.
And a data-driven content strategy is vital for success in today’s hyper-competitive business and SEO environment.
Use the tools available to you to gather data – that’s why they’re there.
Learn to identify what the numbers are telling you and use them to help you craft the kind of content that not only attracts views but gets shares and achieves your goals.
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