Amid all the talk of the importance of content marketing and the big investment in time and effort that brands throw at content creation, marketers face an enormous barrier to success. Experts estimate that 80% of content on the web receives little or no traffic, which suggests just 1 in 5 pieces of content are likely to be providing any real value.
So, how can marketers ensure their content strategy actually delivers? An important lesson is to use search data and insights to drive the creation and improvement of your content, both to help meet the needs of your target customers and to rank highly in search results.
Why a data-driven approach is vital
Look at the facts. Search engines such as Google have spent years evolving and fine-tuning their algorithms to deliver the most relevant content to meet the needs of billions of searches a day – 365 days a year. Their success depends on having an intimate understanding of what makes good, helpful content for virtually any question a consumer will ask. Why wouldn’t it make perfect sense that marketers should tap into that pool of search data and knowledge to drive their content strategies?
Proper data analysis provides the foundation for a successful content strategy. Here are six ways in which search data can help:
1. Understand your existing content performance
Start by creating an inventory of the main landing pages on your website, analysing how each performs using a mix of free tools such as Google Analytics and Google Search Console, as well as the paid-for tools your SEO team is likely to be using. In addition to user signals (such as impressions, clicks, search traffic to individual pages, time on-site and bounce rates), look at business metrics such as sales and other conversions.
Many SEO platforms provide a visibility score, which provides a helpful way of measuring and comparing the search performance of different web pages. They might use slightly different ways to calculate this index score, but it’s usually centred around how frequently and how highly a page appears in search results for a database of millions of popular keywords. You can also ask your SEO team to give you an analysis of the ‘traffic value’ of your top content pages – i.e. how much it would cost to generate the same level of traffic through paid search ads.
This quantitative data will give you a good picture of which content is delivering, and which needs further work. You should marry it up with a qualitative overview that identifies the content areas you want to focus on given your business and marketing strategy and your target audience/buyer persona research.
2. Use search intent
You know that consumers search with a specific intent, whether that is researching and gathering information (informational); searching with a view to making a purchase (transactional); or looking for a specific website or organisation online (navigational). So, it’s important to analyse the main search queries and keywords that your target audiences use to understand search intent and ensure you create content that closely meets that intent.
Google is getting much better at understanding intent and delivering results that meet it. This means that simply by looking at the content displayed in search results you can work out the likely intent of specific queries. If product listing ads are heavily represented, the search query is likely to be transactional. If search results include Wikipedia, blogs and featured snippets/direct answers, the intent is more informational. If sitelinks come back as the first results, intent is more navigational.
All too often, the main focus of many content strategies is creating transactional, product related content. There’s not enough emphasis on informational content that potential customers need in the early stages of the sales funnel. The chart below on the left illustrates that in a Searchmetrics study of 2,500 product related keywords, over 30% were found to have an informational intent. Yet the chart on the right shows that a typical website only has top 10 rankings for transactional keywords and fails to rank on Google’s first search results page for any informational searches.
So for instance, if you are selling running shoes, it’s important to analyse how much of your content is aimed at capturing top of the funnel visitors (i.e. informational traffic to answer questions like ‘how to start a running programme’ and “do I really need special running trainers?”) versus those who want transactional content such as product content on the specific running shoes you sell. Interestingly, during the strict lockdown period earlier this year when people were furloughed at home with time on their hands, we noticed an uptick in these types of informational searches. People were unsure about making purchases due to economic uncertainties – but wanted to explore different hobbies and areas in which they might make related purchases in future