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Data-Based Content Marketing

By Alexandra Lavorato

Too often, marketers suffer from tunnel vision when trying to determine content marketing goals. A 2012 survey by software provider Curata asked B2B marketers to list their main objective for content marketing.

81% said their goal was to engage customers while only 24% said their goal was to help drive visitors through search engine optimization (SEO).

But choosing whether to work toward SEO or customer engagement for a campaign is not a zero-sum game. With the right data, any business can create a content campaign that balances marketing to target search engines and online communities. Here are some simple ideas for integrating data into every step of your content marketing strategy without stifling creativity or forgetting about what your audience wants.

We’ll walk you through the four steps of integrating data into your content marketing strategy from research to KPIs. After reading this guide, you’ll feel ready to begin your content marketing strategy.

  • Step 1: Topic Research
  • Step 2: Sizing Up the Competition
  • Step 3: Pinpointing Your Content’s Location
  • Step 4: Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Step 1: Topic Research

Data for Topic Research

Brainstorming topics should involve a combination of leveraging internal brainpower and ongoing research for targeted terms and customer expectation management. Start by interviewing your subject matter experts, the people who have been around longest and know your business. Find out what topics they think are big in your industry, what conversations they are having and what your customers care about. Even better, crowd source to get data directly from your audience. Use this as a jumping off point and use data to determine if this is really what your target online community cares about.

Develop a content matrix or editorial calendar, but don’t let it become a content cage. It’s okay to veer from your pre-determined plan based on ongoing research or changes in market demands. Your campaign should be flexible enough to allow writers and content producers to react to current events and search behavior shifts in your industry. Here are some tips for gathering topic research data:

  • Google Trends can help you to identify “breakout” terms, which are terms that have recently experienced a change in growth greater than 5,000%. Get ahead of the curve by producing long tail content around these breakout terms.
  • Use social listening tools to see what people are talking about in relation to your business. Try Social Mention or Topsy – they’re free. Set up Google Alerts around terms in your industry and take a stand or react to current events so your company’s content is timely. Google’s algorithm heavily weights recent, trending content.
  • Go into Google Analytics and look at your organic and internal search terms. Sort by bounce rate, from highest to lowest. Are there key phrases that were bringing people to your site, but they left because your content wasn’t good enough? You already know the demand is there, so build content around those topics.
  • Want to produce and market content that has nothing to do with your keywords? Great! Your content marketing campaign should be a mix of keyword influenced content and unique content created with no “sell” in mind. Still, use this as an opportunity to point people back to other great keyword rich content on your own site with backlinks for an SEO benefit. Data shows that the number of links to a page directly correlates to ranking position.

How do I know which exact keyword phrases to use in my content?

Content marketing is all about the long tail, so don’t spend too much time focusing on exact keyword phrases to use. As an aggregate, these long tail terms can yield plenty of relevant traffic and can be very effective as they are usually very targeted to a subset of your audience. Long tail keyword research is less straight forward than targeted keyword research, so here are some tips on how to do it.

  • Google predicts queries in the search bar based on user search behavior. Use this data to determine trending long tail topics. Take our topic at hand for example. Type in “content marketing for” and consider the exact phrases that pop up. We can also draw some larger conclusions. The common denominator is that small businesses, startups and nonprofits all tend to have limited resources. So, we may conclude that Google users are looking for tips on how they can make the most of their limited staff and resources while executing a campaign.
  • Another great source for long tail keyword data is your own Google Analytics data. Try narrowing down your queries by using a filter that displays searches with 4+ words.
  • Identify query searches or searches that appear to ask a question. There might be a piece of content you were planning in your editorial calendar or content matrix that can be enhanced by answering one of these questions.

Step 2: Sizing Up the Competition

Data for Gauging the Content “Arms Race”

Moz CEO Rand Fishkin once dedicated his popular “Whiteboard Friday” to show creative ways to separate your content from the competition in the content arms race. Fishkin noted the increasingly competitive nature of content marketing and the ways many marketers are responding its rise in vale.

As Fishkin suggests, you aren’t operating in a silo. Your competition is also out there producing and distributing content. If the search demand drops for your key phrases and the number of articles and webpages dedicated to that topic is increasing, you will need to fight harder. Gather intel on your competition and the search marketplace before developing your strategy so you will be more prepared for the arms race. This is also a good way to grow your content infrastructure if your competitors have a good content plan that you could possibly leverage.

To begin competitive data research, list out key phrases and keywords you’re planning on frame content around. Then, try these tactics with your list of keywords (scroll to learn more about each tactic):

  • Google "Allintitle" Search
  • Google Trends
  • Search Competitor Website

Google “Allintitle” Search

Do an “allintitle” search in Google to figure out how many other webpages include the key phrase in the title.

Watch this number over time to monitor the competitiveness for this type of content. If the competition is growing, you may need to spend more time on that topic with more in-depth content to make a difference. In the case of 265,000 results, you may want to focus on a more long-tail keyword instead. You need to get more specific.

So, make sure to check SEO competition of long-tail keywords, as well:

If you type in "content marketing," you will see that there are over 1.8 million results with these words in the title. However, if you narrow it down to "B2B content marketing," there are only 27,200 results. This shows us that it is still a very commonly searched for a used variation of the more well-known "content marketing," and a good place to start our own marketing.

This is where SEO meets engagement. Use your audience and subject matter expert research to dive one level deeper on the topic while making sure to use “content marketing for small business” in the text to win searches for variations of this query.

Google Trends

Enter the keyword from your phrase into Google Trends to look at search demand over time.

Check out the sustained interest for the term “content marketing” throughout the year of 2017. The implications here are two-fold:

  1. This is a trending topic, so to stay in the game, you must join the conversation
  2. Two, the viral nature of this graph suggests that there’s a whole lot of content out there with which you’re going to have to compete.

Search Competitor Website Content

Is your competition generating a lot of interaction with a piece of content around one of your keywords? If you can do it better, go for it. If it worked for them, it could probably work for you as well. Rank your competitors’ content engagement with metrics such as total shares, total number of comments and time between initial posting and when commenting dies down.

Step 3: Pinpointing Your Content’s Location

Where to Market Content: Check Your Data

Creating quality content is all about understanding your online community’s interests and needs; marketing such content is about locating them. The first place you should always put your content is on a domain your business owns. This creates ownership of the piece and a clear user experience where the canonical piece exists on your property.

Now it’s time to promote your content in front of your target audiences outside of your website. But where do you put it? The answer: wherever your audience interacts and visits the most. This can be a myriad of external distribution channels.

Make a list of the top 20 websites where your audience interacts with content. This can be everything from Facebook to a credible, well-known blog. Now, visit each site, note what type of content is used on each and rate the online interactions. What type of interaction does your audience engage most in? Is it answering polling questions, commenting on a good article, sharing a well-done infographic or video interaction? Businesses are quick to market content by posting and tweeting on Facebook and Twitter. But beware of following the crowds when there is little to zero supporting data that your audience spends time there.

Step 4: Key Performance Indicators

Content Marketing KPIs

No better data provides you with insight than your own. If your marketing team has produced five white papers and they’ve had no effect on your selected KPIs, it’s time to try something new.

Map content attributes (content type, length, day published, general topic, online promotion locations, etc.) to the success of each content piece. This will help you refine your strategy moving forward in better identifying what does and doesn’t work.

Track the following performance indicators during your campaign to see if content distribution is paying off (keep scrolling to learn more about each one):

  • Total Domain & Referral Traffic
  • Total Linking Root Domains (LRDs)
  • Entrances / Landing Page Visits
  • Total Number of Social Shares
  • Average Time on Page
  • Blog Pageviews

Total Domain & Referral Traffic

You’re marketing your content off-site, but the ultimate goal is to generate brand awareness and attract users back to your site. Use tagged URLs to name and track content campaigns in Google Analytics. Keep a close watch on the amount of referral traffic coming to your site from places you’re marketing content online.

Total Linking Root Domains

If community members like your content, it’s likely they will share it on their own sites and link back to you. This is a great way to earn natural links (vs. building) that can increase the total number of root domains that link back to your site. It’s oaky if your audiences link to the site you shared it on rather than your own domain property, because it will create a tiered linking effect. However, this will be more difficult to track.

Entrances / Landing Page Visits

If you place content on your site before marketing it, these pages will serve as long tail SEO keyword landing pages. This is a great test to see if your long tail keyword research is paying off via earning new site traffic visits.

Total Number of Social Shares

Content marketing is about creating shareable content. Data shows audiences are more likely to share content that evokes strong emotions, namely positive emotions. If you’re not getting shares, reexamine whether or not you understand your audience and what they care about. Return to the Topic Research stage outlined in Step 1 for additional direction if this reflects your company’s current content status.

Average Time on Page

The better your content, the longer your visitors will digest your expertise. The very definition of engagement dictates that users remain interested long enough to interact with your brand and/or learn something from your organization. If users aren’t sticking around to read your content, it may not be engaging enough or not embody their research topics.

Blog Pageviews

If you’ve dedicated a portion of your site to post content (i.e. blogs), track the total pageviews your media channel is contributing to each month’s total. Blog posts that become top landing pages indicate they are bringing in direct traffic from the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

Using data to boost your campaign’s effect on SEO doesn’t mean you will end up with dull pieces of content. Strategic marketers let data guide topics, content types and where to market content, all while allowing content producers to add their own twists to make articles both unique and creative.

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