There was a saying in print that "no one knows their audience better than the editor."
It's the premise behind the creation of the now legendary "Fleet Street" stereotypes, type A personalities that were fueled by drink and cigarettes and had almost unbreakable work ethics. They were also never wrong!
That belief permeates journalism even to this day and for good reason. Collecting the data to paint the true picture of the reader traditionally hasn't been easy. And changing the way seasoned writing professionals look at that isn't easy.
The good news? Change is coming.
We now share more data than we ever have in history. To put that into perspective, consider that in the past two years alone we have "created" 90 percent of all of the data in the world.
And for marketers that's gold dust.
The ability to accurately map the other interests, loves, and hates of your audience, how old they are, and what they are doing is rocket fuel for your content strategy (and wider marketing plans).
There are a myriad of ways that data can be utilized but for this post I want to concentrate specifically on how you can use the best bits to inform you content strategy.
So, how do you go about it? Below we walk through some of the best data slices around to make the job of sorting the "wheat from the chaff."
Such is the growth, and value, of social data that it should now be first port of call when it comes to content insight.
The reason is its "richness." While search data is great for quantitative information, we all share our likes, hates, and loves on social platforms. It's precisely that information we want to tap into with the content we produce.
If you can push someone's buttons by covering the topics they care about you massively increase the propensity to share, engage with, and link to and therefore improve both organic search and social visibility.
So what metrics should you look at and how can they help?
A critical metric that should always be included within any social strategy measurement piece, engagement gives us a real view on what works and what doesn't.
Below you can see an example of how it can be captured by monitoring every post you publish on any social platform and you simply then look for spikes and troughs. Do more of the things that create engagement spikes and less of those that dip below you average.
You can make the data even more powerful by then tracking your key competitors on the same chart, giving you extra relevant data to play with. After all, the best ideas are stolen!
2. Time of Publication
Working out the best times of day to publish key content is also critical as it ensures your content flow is as close to perfect as possible. To do this you need to keep track of how posts and tweets are interacted with at different times of the day.
Tools like SocialBro, Followerwonk, and Tweriod can really help by analyzing your followers and telling you when your audience is around during the day and when they are highly engaged on social media, both with your content and with others.
Below you can see an example output from Socialbro showing when your followers are reading your tweets:
Knowing this ensures that you only publish your best content, and share reminders, at the most effective times of the day.
You can then look at days of the week and as this is a little easier I find it best to track this manually within excel. Below is an example of the output and you can see how easy it is to spot the right time to share:
3. Engagement by Post Type
Understanding the 'types' of content that your audience like and engages with will also really help you to shape your content plan.
To do this you can again employ the help of existing social tools such as Social Bakers analytics. You can also track it yourself by simply using excel to track reach or engagement by post type and then visualizing the result. Here's one I made earlier for reference:
There is no arguing against this kind of data when it comes to pulling together your final strategy and deciding on the best content to create.
4. Competitor Activity
Although we have covered this to a degree by looking at engagement earlier it is also worth adding in an extra element.
One of the best ways of finding the most shareable, engaging content is to crawl competitor domains for the most tweeted, or Liked posts.
The easy way to do this is to use a tool such as Social Crawlytics or SharedCount. The two tools allow you to run reports on requested domains to pull out the most shared URLs. You can also combine this work with use of CognitiveSEO's social visibility report, which correlates social sharing with links earned as well to build an even more in depth picture.
5. Social Listening
The social graph is generally full of great content clues and you can find out a lot about what your community is talking about by monitoring the conversation.
Again, tools help here. Social mention is a favorite and SocialBro reports give you key information around most shared/tweeted terms and phrases, ensuring you don't miss a beat.
Facebook's new Trending column can also be really helpful here and has the potential to be an extremely potent weapon for those looking to react to trending content should they begin to roll out more data and search functionality within it:
Monitoring social can also mean keeping abreast of web mentions as this can help you understand conversations outside of your owned media sphere.
A tool such as Moz's Fresh Web Explorer or Ahrefs will allow you to track and record any non linking mentions within blogs and news articles and so on. This can then overlay across your engagement and sharing data to give you a full picture of just what content is sparking the most conversation.
Search Graph Data
While search data is not as rich that is not to say it isn't useful. Far from it. There are a number of data pots you can dip into to really help shape your strategy.
The measurement of most linked to posts can be a really telling way of discovering much loved content.
Below I have captured the Top Pages report from Ahrefs and you can see how easy it is to spot the key content. By looking specifically at the /blog/ section of the site we get a really clean view of the most linked to posts. You can also download this data as a csv to analyze it in more depth if you have lots of pages.
7. Keywords & Visitor Flow
Although technically this should sit under Analytics, often extracting the data can be tedious and long winded. I have separated this out, as the two metrics are perhaps the most useful from a search perspective.
Understanding where people come from when interacting with your content and then where they go afterwards can really help you understand the mindset of your audience and where you fit into their journey.
A great tool to help make this easy is this on by Similar Web, which manages to present this data in a really user-friendly way. Below you can see how visitors interact with our own agency site and where they go afterward:
It also gives you keywords, social media referral breakdowns, and really interestingly, audience interest info based on sites visited and relevance.
Your data analysis doesn't end there. Pots of data will sit in other areas of the business and should also be utilized in pulling the strategy together. Below we look at a few, less obvious, other sources of insight.
8. Post Velocity
Good content strategy is not just about the "what" but also the "when" and "where." Monitoring the effectiveness of frequency of publication can also really help you plan out timings and volumes for your editorial plan.
You can monitor this easily enough via social, or also from within Analytics. To do it you can use the Real Time dashboard when you post any specific piece to capture 'as-it-happens' data on every new piece of content published. The real value comes though when you run week-long tests with the following structure:
- Week one: 1 post
- Week two 2 posts
- Week three: 3 posts
- Week four: 4 posts
- Week five: 5 posts
On week six you can then analyze the visit data to those posts for the week to see if the extra effort involved in creating extra content translate to more traffic or if it simply dilutes. Often you will discover that the law of marginal returns exists and there is a "sweet spot" that you should stick to.
It may also be interesting to record subject matters and content types within this as an argument can be built off this data to produce more on specific subjects and invest in "bigger," more resource intensive content to better service that need.
You can also think about who should be creating what content. One way to do that is to create a custom report that enables you to understand the engagement each of your content creators has over time.
This will give you a Custom Dimensions based report that will give you everything from how many visits every piece of content written by a certain author has had through to conversions and more.
Google has it's own example walk through on this page to help you as the implementation is not a "click-and-walk-away" situation.
10. Call Centers
If your business talks to customers on a regular basis those in call centers are at the cutting edge of that dialogue and a mine of information. You can easily collate great data on key conversation topics within a decent CRM or customer experience analytics system.
Running monthly focus groups with key call center staff can also help you collate this data.
11. Email Metrics
Email analytics will also tell you a huge amount about what content works. Testing email subject lines and then measuring open rates against topics as below will give you a real view on where your audience's interests lie in real time.
You can then dig deeper into click-through to individual content to get a more granular view on what is really "tickling their fancy."
12. Internal Search
Last, but certainly not least, is the data that your own site can give you. Examining keyword data from people using internal search can give you some great insight into the content you should create and also which content should be easier to discover.
Pulling it Together
There is a real danger with data that you can end up drowning in it. And so it is really important to stay focused and add structure to the process.
The first stage of this is to create a list of key insights to focus your thinking. That may look a little like this:
- Content on social data is the most popular at present. We should create more of this.
- We should post on a Monday and share on Facebook at 10 a.m. and Twitter at both 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to capture more U.S. traffic.
- Josh should write more of our key posts.
- Make our Facebook updates more image led.
This is where a solid editorial calendar comes in – one that allows you to capture timings as well as dates. These are easily constructed in Excel but to make life easier you can download my ready-made version right here.
Once you have the blank document in front of you it is then a case of "playing" with content ideas until you feel as if you get the right "flow" and are confident that the variation services the need proven from your research.