When it comes to conducting content strategy research for a website, there are 4 main areas that you will want to research to ensure that you have your bases covered. These 4 areas are simple, yet essential and powerful. If you choose to ignore them or research them lazily, I can almost guarantee that you will screw something up.
The research phase of creating your website’s content strategy is important and valuable for pretty obvious reasons, the more informed you can be, the better decisions you can make. However, don’t get caught up in the notion that you will need to know everything ahead of time or you may get stuck in fear of starting the unknown, which will likely kill your project before it ever gets started. There is plenty that will happen that you just can’t know until you get there, this is completely normal for marketing (and everything else), so don’t freak out.
“The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.” Sven Goran Eriksson
It is also important to note that the research your content strategy never really ends, it simply just has to begin. There will be things that you know before you get started and there will be things that you won’t discover until long after you launch your site. The thing to remember is that you need to document everything and update all of your research as you go along, there is no point in doing the work if you can’t refer to it later on. You can only act upon the information you have available (memory is a sloppy tool).
Now that you have been prepped to take on this article, let’s get you started with the first area of market research, the customers.
This is the the most vital part of the research phase. Unfortunately, most people or agencies tend to skip through this section and just make simple assumptions. This can and will seriously hurt everything you do from this point forward, so don’t skim over this lightly and assume that you are right.
When researching your target audience, you really have to really dive deep into the subject matter. Doing so will help reveal small subtleties that your competition is either unaware of or just ignoring all together. These small subtleties can be turned into a major competitive advantage for you. You do want to have a better chance than your competition, right?
So, what information do you need to know about your target audience in order to develop a content strategy that users will love and choose over the competition? Know what they are truly looking for and why. If you get nothing else out of this, at least burn that into your brain. It’s one thing to know that your customers are looking for a specific product, but to understand why they are looking for it and being able to cater to that why will help make your website really stand out to a user.
Other important information to discover or decipher are your customers’ pain points, their motivations, their demographics, their buying process, their purchasing frequency, and how your product or service fits into their lifestyle.
It is at this point where I like to create my marketing personas. A marketing persona is essentially a fictional consumer profile based on your research. The point of these is that you learn to stop targeting demographics and start targeting real world people who use your products and services.
The next phase of the content strategy research process is to execute the keyword research. Your keyword research should start with your marketing personas. Knowing who your customers are, why they are looking for your services, and how they find your services online will lead you into finding the keywords that really matter.
Take these keywords and start plugging them into Google and/or Bing and look at what it is recommending for related searches and results. This will give you a solid idea of good, related longtail keywords. You can also use the Long Tail Keyword Prospecting Tool (Instructions), it does essentially the same task for you in a Google Spreadsheet.
One of the free, go-to resources for keyword research by almost all online marketers and SEOs is Google’s Keyword Tool. This tool will help you discover what Google thinks are related terms to your keywords. You will have to think of a few basic search terms that your personas would type into a search engine, and then Google will create a list of related search terms to help you expand your list. Be cautious with this though, make sure you analyze these keywords to make sure they are a good match and don’t fall into the lazy habit of just checking them simply because they are on the list.
You will also be able to see and filter the number of local and global searches for these search terms, helping you find keywords that will match the volume of clicks you need to generate. As a bonus, this should also help you reduce costs from wasteful keyword targeting.
Finding keywords with high search volume and low competition is usually a good recommendation, especially for smaller or newer companies. However, you can’t ignore keywords with high competition either. It may be a good idea to target these at the start with PPC ads, it can be a decent way to get some brand exposure on the low level topics just so people become familiar with your name in the product category while generating some top of the funnel traffic.
Using other keyword tools will probably help you discover similar results, while also having the added bonus of a few other features or insights.
Other notable keyword research tools include:
Searching what your competition is doing to find success in the rankings is a great idea. This will help expedite some of your strategizing by giving you insights into what is working for other businesses that you can uniquely adopt for your own site and strategy.
You should be looking for who your competition is, where are they getting links from, what keywords they rank well for, what kind of content they are generating, how users are used to doing what you want them to do, and much more depending on your specific circumstances and competition.
To get your competitive research started, open an incognito or private browser window and start searching for keywords that you want to rank for. You can then see who is ranking for these key terms and go to their site to find out why they are ranking so well. You will want to be sure to check for how they are positioning themselves, what kind of content is popular on their site, and other notable aspects to their online presence. To get a more thorough example of how to do this, read up on HubSpot’s post How to Conduct Competitive Analysis to Step Up Your Content Strategy.
There are also a host of great tools for doing competitive research and finding great insight into the more technical aspects of why they are ranking so well. On the flip side, you also want to pay attention to what they aren’t doing to see if there are gaps in the rankings where you may be able to take over.
Some of these tools are free while others are paid. Do a little research and find the tools that will work best for your business. While these tools do provide a lot useful data, data is only as useful as the person who interprets it. Don’t think that just because you have a ton of graphs and charts flashing on your screen that your job is over and you are ready to move on. Take the time to carefully analyze this data and make valuable documented insights.
- Open Site Explorer
- Moz (formerly SEOmoz)
- Majestic SEO
- Add your recommendations in the comments
Social Media Research
Social media research is not the most important area to research for your content strategy, but it can lead to some interesting insights and help you learn who the influencers are. You will want to start by searching for some of your keywords across LiknedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+. Pay attention to what kind of content pops up, and again, what kind doesn’t. After you search around for a while and get familiar with the content (document your research!), it is time to start finding the key players.
You may have already seen some big names from looking at content, that is a good place to start. Once you have them listed, perform searches for Twitter Lists and other top lists of people to follow in the industry for sites like Google+ and Facebook. These are likely filled with a lot of big names in the industry, start to follow many of them and pay attention to what they are doing and how well its working.
At this point, you will also want to document key websites and people that you can connect with for blogging outreach and places to share your content. Social is a great source for this beyond search engines because it helps you discover what people are actually talking and excited about, not just sites that were chosen by a machine trying to understand people.