Every successful content strategy starts with data.
The term "data-driven content marketing" has been thrown around a lot in recent years, and there's a reason for it. In today's competitive landscape, you can't rely on guesswork and gut feeling – that's just a straight way to burning away your budget and ultimately ending up nowhere.
Whether you're a small business or a large corporation, data should be the fuel that drives your marketing engine. By using data to inform every decision, you'll be able to create an effective content strategy that will help generate more leads and conversions for your business.
This blog post will discuss eight steps for developing a data-driven content strategy. You'll also learn what it means to be data-driven, why it's essential, and how to implement it successfully at your own company.
A data-driven content strategy is an approach to developing and executing content that relies heavily on insights from data. All content decisions are informed by data gathered through research and analytics rather than intuition or guesses.
The goal of a data-driven approach is to enhance the content performance and ensure favorable audience reception.
To achieve this, you need to understand:
You also need to apply data at every step of the content journey: pre-production, production, and post-production. Data will help you create a well-thought-out content strategy, write optimized texts that appeal to your audience and improve them even more after publication.
With data-driven content marketing, it’s best to rely on content analytics tools for research, analytics, and data collection. Crunching data by hand is time-consuming and often ends in inaccurate results (due to smaller samples).
According to Google, "nearly two-thirds of leading marketers say that decisions made with data are superior to those based on gut instinct." And according to Forbes, “64% of executives surveyed ‘strongly agree’ that data-driven marketing is crucial to success in a hyper-competitive global economy.”
But why does being data-driven pay off so much, and how can it help your marketing? There are a few reasons.
Data-based decisions will reduce the risk of wasting your resources on lackluster projects. You can also use data to develop content ideas instead of spending time on random brainstorming.
With data, the visibility of your content will increase. You will be able to choose the right publication and distribution channels and use them correctly. You will also create a more personalized experience for your audience and generate more leads and sales.
Dominating the search engine result pages (SERPs) is a dream of most content marketers. But SEO is getting more demanding. To rank and keep ranking, you need to go beyond simple keyword research. Your content needs to be valuable, trustworthy and tailored to your users' needs... And you need data to make that happen.
If you do your research right, each piece of content you release will be high-quality and in line with your audience's needs. This will improve your company's image and strengthen your brand, and visitors will keep coming back for more.
You'll know what to create, where and when to post, and how much content you need to succeed. Plus, you'll be able to leverage all your existing pieces to the fullest with distribution and optimization. Once you get a grip on your data-driven framework, your content strategy will be a self-fueling machine.
What kind of data should you collect, how to do it, and how to use your research to improve results?
Let's go through nine battle-tested, data-based strategies that will take your content marketing up a notch starting with creating a framework for all your hard work.
Here's a step-by-step process of how to use data at every step of your content marketing journey. You can steal this framework as-is and expand it or incorporate it into your current strategy.
You need to know why you need content marketing in the first place. Content Marketing Institute put it best: define "why your content exists, what you want your audience to do once it has consumed your content, and the value you expect its actions to provide for your business."
Of course, the answer may be different for every piece you produce, but you still need a list of marketing objectives to choose from. Assign an appropriate key performance indicator (KPI) for each objective.
You have to know who you’re creating for and what your audience needs from your content. We'll talk more about this step later in this guide.
You'll get a better view of what type of content will resonate with readers. You'll also learn about the trends in your industry, identify potential sources for new ideas, and figure out who you're up against.
Do you already have an idea for a blog post? Time for keyword research. If done correctly, keyword research will help you write more interesting and accurate content while maximizing your chances of performing well in search results.
With all the knowledge you have now, you’re all set to deliver content that delights your audience and has the potential to rank high. To make double sure your content is high-quality and in line with the SEO standards, it's best to use content creation tools that will provide you with proper guidelines.
To squeeze the most out of your content, get it in front of as many people as possible. Find out where your audience hangs out (Facebook groups, Slack channels, other Internet communities) and share away. You should also try repurposing. Sometimes, an infographic or slideshow is more engaging than just sharing a link to your website.
Remember the KPIs you set? You should start monitoring your results and tracking your success rate. If your content has any shortcomings, optimize accordingly.
Now that you know how to incorporate a data-driven mindset into your work, let's talk about a few proven techniques for elevating your content marketing.
If you don’t know who you’re creating for, your content marketing is doomed from the start.
Who are you trying to reach? What do they want and need, what motivates them, what keeps them up at night? Where can you find your audience online or offline so that you know how to connect with them authentically?
You need to know the answers to these questions before you write a single word. Skipping this step would be like shooting arrows without seeing the target: you might hit something, but it would be unlikely and coincidental.
Here's a list of data points you should know about your audience:
How to find all this data? There are a few easy ways that will get you started.
Getting to know your audience will help you create your buyer personas, which are fictional representations of your ideal customer. And they are necessary to make your content marketing more personalized.
We all know that one-size-fits-all clothes don't really fit anybody well. The same goes for content.
As Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers says: "Never write for a faceless crowd. Write for one person that needs your solution." Each piece you write should be for one reader, have one message, and one purpose.
Before you plan new content, always ask yourself: who is it for? Mark it down, and keep it in mind when writing.
The buyer personas will help you answer this question and then prepare accurate, made-to-measure messages. Your article aimed at a middle-aged working mom should probably sound a little different from an article for a young, fresh-out-of-college, ambitious career woman – even if they're both a part of your customer base.
There's one more thing you should know before you map your content: the step in the customer journey your reader is most probably at. Are they still finding out about your niche and skimming through educational articles, or are they close to buying and are now going through your guides?
You need to tailor your content to one of the three stages of the customer journey:
Sure, the customer journey is not always that easy. People circle back and forth between the stages, and the journey will be slightly different for each business type. But your audience research will help you discover the most prevailing patterns—and that’s what you should focus on.
So you know your content marketing goals, you know who you're writing for, and you have your topic.
Now you can just open Google docs and type away, right? Well, no.
You have to make sure each piece of content you write is well-optimized for its main keyword (or keywords). That's the only way to rank high and appeal to your audience at the same time. And here’s why.
While Google is getting more and more sophisticated, it's still a machine. There's a recipe to ranking high for every keyword, and your top competitors got it right. Using their content as a benchmark is an excellent way to replicate their success.
Plus, writing SEO content is a way to appeal to your audience, too.
User signals are a ranking factor for Google. So if a site ranks high, especially for a competitive keyword, you can be sure that's what your audience wants to see.
So, here's what you should pay attention to when preparing guidelines for your content:
Does optimizing your content based on the SERP competition make you rank number one every single time? No. Is it a relatively easy way to maximize your chances of SEO success? You bet!
You can get a lot of data straight from the SERPs. The type of content that dominates the query will reveal the search intent; for example, if all you can see are “ultimate guides,” the intent is informative.
And closer investigation of your top competitors' pages will tell you a lot about the ideal formula or keyword density.
But performing SEO research manually takes a lot of effort, and it’s hard to get it right—for competitive keywords, simple math will not be enough. If you want to make sure your content is as optimized as possible, it's best to use tools that will provide you with guidelines.
Just one more thing: never sacrifice quality and originality for “optimization”. If your text is boring and hard to read, it won’t rank no matter how well you did with keyword density.
Content optimization is one of the best ways to improve content marketing results.
No SEO efforts would be complete without post-publication optimization. First, it’s better to work with what works, than start from scratch. And second, Google's algorithms are constantly changing, so even if an article ranks number 10 today, tomorrow its ranking might be lower due to an update.
And when you’re diligent with optimization, your content is always up-to-date with your product and niche trends. You don't want to serve old news and half-truths to your readers, right?
To monitor your content performance, consult Google Search Console and Google Analytics regularly. Google Search Console will help you keep track of your SEO, while Google Analytics will reveal information about your audience, channels, and conversions.
Your KPIs will dictate your optimization action plan. Fix all the places where your content is underperforming. If your rankings are plummeting, it's time for serious SEO lifting. If your bounce rate is extra high, make your content more engaging. And so on.
When looking for your best optimization opportunities, always choose pages that:
These are the pages favored both by Google AND your audience. Run an SEO audit for them and fix the shortcomings. To speed up the optimization process, you can also use a tool to run an audit for you.
Content repurposing helps to get the highest possible ROI from your existing content. It’s the very essence of the “more results with fewer resources” formula that every data-driven content strategy should follow.
Content repurposing will help you in the following ways:
Just look at how many birds you can kill with one stone. To start repurposing your content in a data-driven way, you have to identify the channels your audience frequents and the types of content they prefer. You can:
No matter which method you choose, you still have a lot of testing to do. Try different forms of repurposing and check which performs best.
Influencer marketing is a fantastic way to scale your content and get more eyes on it. You can gain new audiences for your brand, get all the word-of-mouth marketing benefits, and tap into the influencers’ engaged, purchase-ready followers. Plus, since influencers are the ones creating content, you save a lot of time.
But to really use the power of influencer marketing, you need to approach it in a data-driven way. Here are a few rules.
Each channel has a different set of metrics you can track. To monitor and properly interpret your content marketing results, you need to understand how each of these metrics contributes to your overall goals.
Assign each metric from each channel you own to at least one of your goals, and set up a KPI specific to this metric. This will help you identify your most promising channels, as well as places for improvement (both for the specific channel and your entire content strategy).
What does it mean in practice? Let’s use an example.
Getting a lot of likes and retweets on Twitter means that this a promising channel for you. This sort of activity will help you with general visibility, branding, and increasing audience engagement.
But if right now your content goals are more connected to lead generation and conversion, chasing Twitter virality will get you nowhere. Try to redirect your Twitter audience to your website instead, via links and persuasive messaging. If this doesn't work, then you should focus on another channel, no matter how many likes your witty Tweets are getting and leave Twitter for another rainy day when you can afford to focus on brand-building activities.
If you’re present on many channels, you will have a lot of metrics you track. You could keep up with it yourself in an old-fashioned spreadsheet or use one of the many data tracking tools out there for time-saving and better overviews.
The main purpose of content marketing is not to release content – it’s to support business and marketing goals. But in order to see if you're actually succeeding, there are certain metrics that need tracking over time.
We can differentiate four categories of success metrics for content marketing:
Exactly what it says on the box: these are the metrics that reflect how your audience behaves on your site. Pay attention to page views, average time on page, bounce rate. You can track this data by monitoring the “audience” and “behavior” tabs in Google Analytics.
Monitor how your audience interacts with your content. Do they just skim through it, or are they inclined to share, like, leave a comment? Each channel you use will have different engagement metrics (for example, comments on a blog, likes and retweets on Twitter, reactions, comments, and shares on Linkedin). You can also use social listening tools to look for mentions or shares.
Check how well your content is performing in search engines. You will find information on your rankings and keywords in Google Search Console, while the organic traffic coming to your site is easy to track in Google Analytics. You can also use other SEO tools to follow backlinks, monitor your performance, and audit your content.
The be-all, end-all of all marketing efforts: does your content earn money? Did you bring in leads, did the leads convert, and how did these conversions influence the ROI? You can monitor leads and conversions by setting up and tracking goals on Google Analytics or using other dedicated tools.
Since not every piece of content leads directly to a sale, you should prioritize different metrics for different pieces. If you properly defined your content marketing goals and the stage of the customer journey each piece corresponds with, you should have no problem doing that.
To track all the metrics you need, use tools. The most popular one is Google Analytics, but be mindful that it takes a while to set up. You can also go with other data analytics tools best suited to your needs.
Data-driven content marketing is the only way to succeed in today's competitive market.
With the data-first approach, you will be able to maximize your chances of getting your KPIs right, and you'll save a lot of time and resources.
You should learn to use data at every stage of the content lifecycle, from shaping your initial plan through creation, distribution, and optimization. And whenever you come up with a new content marketing ploy, like influencer marketing or trying out a new platform, you should have data to back you up.
Since doing the research and collecting all the necessary data by hand can be a daunting task, it's best to use dedicated tools. The human mind just can't beat algorithms when it comes to data crunching!
Leverage the power of data and technology to make your work faster, more accurate, and goal-oriented. That's how you become a modern-day content marketer that's ready for any challenge.
Is your current content strategy data-driven? If not, you might be using the wrong content marketing software. Let us fix that.
Marta Szyndlar is a Content Marketing Specialist with a deep love for the written word and measurable results. Always ready to preach value-based marketing and holistic brand communication. Combining creativity with hard data, she now helps the Surfer team deliver content about on-page SEO and content marketing.
Is your current content strategy data-driven? If not, you might be using the wrong content marketing software. Let us fix that.
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