“Know your audience!” That is the mantra of every marketing professional. That is the cornerstone to every creative brief. That is the key to great results for all your marketing campaigns, product launches and, the focus of this post, content development. You need to understand your target audience – who they are, what they want, and how they want it.
Large companies have the advantage of employing big research budgets and experienced analytical teams to learn what their target audience wants. I’ve had the luxury of testing messages with focus groups, having access to usability labs, hiring 3rd party researchers to conduct interviews, running regular survey campaigns, and more. The data and analysis led me to a deep understanding of prospects and customers. But it was also incredibly expensive.
The good news is that for most content marketing purposes those expensive research techniques are probably not necessary. You already have access to the rich data you need to analyze your audience and to make the right decisions for your website.
Let’s take our discussion one step deeper. Ask yourself, “What decision am I trying to make?”
Most of the time, you are trying to make tactical content creation decisions, like what topics, headlines, keywords attract the most readers. However, you may also want understand the style or tone that resonates best. Or you may glean possible motivators based broadly on demographics.
The following types of audience data can help you make better content development decisions:
- Construct a general audience profile – Classic demographic information, location, language, title, job function, etc.
- Evaluate what your audience does – Visitor counts, pageviews, downloads, traffic sources, keyword searches, day of the week or seasonality.
- Gather verbatim responses and interaction – tone, emotion, attitude, direct requests.
The next step is to execute. Here are the best and easiest sources for that data:
You can get a lot of information on how visitors are consuming your content by looking at your website data. Web analytics like Google Analytics (free) or Omniture’s Site Catalyst (paid) provide many different types of metrics and actionable reports.
Some of my favorite audience and content statistics to look at include:
- Traffic source: Traffic source data answers “How did they get to your content?” You find out where you are most visible to your audience. The data also signals where you should be spending your promotional efforts and where you need improvement.
- Search keywords: This information reveals the terms and phrases used in both organic search engine and your on-site search that drive traffic to your content. Now you have the words to incorporate into your content that can boost readership and increase traffic through search engine optimization.
- Time on site: This metric shows the average amount of time someone is on a particular web page. It is a great indicator of your audience’s level of engagement. If readers are only staying on a web page for a few seconds, you can assume that you need to work on the content or how it is presented.
- Visitor Location: You should track what country your website visitors are located. This provides you with some basic language and cultural cues. You can create content with a geographic focus if you receive visitors from a specific country or region.
Social media is a great way to interact with your audience and to drive traffic to you blog or online content. Fortunately, most social networks also are rich with data. There are some simple social media analytics to track what articles, posts, are getting shared or mentioned on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, LinkedIn, or any social media platform.
I won’t list all of the social networks or sharing sites, but here are several social media tools that help you track social sharing and identify what content can go viral.
- Social Share Count: All of your web content should be easily shareable. You’ve probably added social media buttons that allow readers to like on Facebook, tweet, +1 on Google, or bookmark on Stumbleupon or Reddit. These buttons usually show the number of times your content has been shared. Simply look at the count. Which articles or post topics gets more shares? Which network do your readers share on most?
- Facebook Insights: If you have a Facebook Page, I recommend checking out Facebook Insights. Facebook Insights is like web analytics and provides you with raw data and trend analysis for subscription growth, Facebook likes, content consumption and demographics.
- Twitalyzer: Twitalyzer is a fantastic Twitter analytics tool. It provides easy to understand trend analysis on key metrics like followers, retweets, effective reach, and various influence measurements. Twitalyzer is a paid service, but well worth it.
- Hootsuite: I am a heavy user of Hootsuite Pro (affiliate link) to schedule my posts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. However, Hootsuite also offers custom reporting that shows which links are being clicked the most. Hootsuite has a free version and a pro version for a small monthly subscription fee.
Polls, Surveys and Lead Generation Forms
Solicit your audience for information. Create opportunities for visitors to voluntarily submit personal data and opinions via polls, surveys and lead gen forms. This is the best way to gather demographic data.
- Polls: Adding a poll to your website is a fantastic way to accumulate information on visitor preferences without being too invasive. Polls can be integrated within articles on a regular basis or they can be posted standalone in the sidebar of your website.
- Ratings: Another form of a poll is to ask your audience to rate your article or blog post. Readers will give you a clear indication of what they like and don’t like just like rating products on ecommerce sites.
- Surveys: Occasionally you can send a survey to your subscribers or email list. You can gather customer satisfaction metrics like net promoter score (NPS), ratings on subjects and verbatim feedback on what content your readers want. I recommend that you provide an incentive for survey completions and that you keep your surveys short.
- Lead Generation Forms: Requiring readers to complete a simple form to access special content is another way to capture information. In addition to asking for contact info like email addresses, I recommend gathering a few demographic data points and asking one open-ended question like “What is your biggest challenge?”.
The last source of information I recommend is obvious, but often overlooked. Have a conversation with your audience and listen to their direct feedback. Talk to prospects and customers face-to-face whenever you can. Go to events and trade shows and setup meetings. Ask questions, but most importantly listen to what folks say and how they say it.
There are many other ways to uncover what content your audience wants too. But if you leverage some of the types of audience data mentioned, you can get eye-opening insights and can make better content development decisions. As a result, you can grow your customer base and get a much deeper level of engagement.