Last updated: 21st August 2019
Data is ruling the world–and we’re creating more of it than ever before.
In fact, 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years alone.
There’s no doubting that data gives a competitive advantage in business. You can use it to learn more about your customers, find people with similar qualities, and create personalized messaging to convert them.
…Yet the majority of businesses analyze just 12% of the data they have access to.
That data can set you back–especially when it comes to content marketing. Why? Because you can’t just publish content and hope it reaches your target audience. The ‘spray and pray’ method doesn’t work; neither does promoting content to the wrong people.
You need to be smarter about who you’re targeting. And once you’ve got a solid grasp of the people you’re talking to, you’ll need to find out what type of content they want to see, watch or read from you.
Relying on guesswork to do that? Don’t expect to see groundbreaking results.
You’ll need to use the data you’ve got to create a solid content marketing strategy that actually generates ROI.
What is data-driven content marketing?
A data-driven content marketing strategy uses historical information to make smarter decisions.
You’ll be able to piece together the elements of a new strategy that answers problems you’re facing based on data that’s already been collected. That way, you’re making fewer risky decisions–and prioritizing tasks with the highest chance of paying off.
Let’s put that into practice and say you’re looking to answer these questions:
- Which type of blog content should I create? Listicles or how-to posts?
- Where is the best place to promote my content?
- What should I write about?
With a data-driven content marketing plan, you’ve got a quick and easy way to find the answers. Simply dig through the data you’ve collected, and take a look at the information you’ve got for each choice. Run with whichever comes out on top.
How to use data to find a never-ending list of content ideas
Letting data dictate your content to-do list means you’re not wasting time (and cash, if you’re investing $$$ into content marketing). The average blog post takes 3 hours and 28 minutes to write. Yet if you’re spending all of that time writing something that won’t:
- Meet your business’ goals,
- Result in ROI,
- Or drive website traffic (at the very least)
…it’s a total timewaster, right?
Let’s add data into the mix.
Instead of picking the first topic idea that comes to mind, you spend a few extra hours diving into a variety of data sources like Google Analytics, Ahrefs, or customer surveys.
You’re not only left with a better understanding of your audience, but you get tons of insight on the type of content you should be creating to catch their attention.
The content you publish is almost guaranteed to perform well because it’s something your target audience has already expressed an interest in.
So, how can you find those pools of data you can dig into?
We’ll talk about the following data sources that you can use to discover new content ideas. Click to jump to one, or continue scrolling to read more:
1. Google Analytics
You don’t need me to tell you the benefits of having Google Analytics in place to assess your website’s performance when it comes to traffic, conversion rate, and ROI.
Yada, yada, yada. You already know the drill.
What you might not realize are the different ways you can use Google Analytics data to find content ideas, such as:
Failed search terms
Does your website have a search bar? Use the Site Search report to see what your visitors are currently trying to find (and failing).
Simply head to Behaviour > Site Search > Search Terms to what your existing audience is looking for. If people are searching for something you aren’t covering, it might make sense to publish a piece of content to answer their query.
This method of using data for content ideas works so well for one reason: It’s a sneaky way of asking your audience what they want to read–without actually asking.
Plus, when future visitors use the search bar to find content on the same topic, they won’t bounce.
You’ll have a shiny blog post to solve their problem, resulting in superb engagement metrics (like average pages per session and session duration), which impact everything from user experience to SEO.
Find (and replicate) your top-performing content
I know, this one is super obvious. But bear with me.
You can use Google Analytics to find-performing pieces of content that you can build on or replicate. Head over to Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages, and filter the data by various engagement metrics such as:
- Bounce rate
- Average time spent on the page
- Session duration
(Or, just type “page with the best bounce rate” into the search bar to see a quick answer.)
Which pages your visitors are lingering on? Brainstorm what you can do to replicate that success again–whether it’s publishing a follow-up piece, or writing more content in-line with the topic cluster model.
While you’re here, take note of the pages that aren’t convincing people to stick around. Work out which types of content are serving your audience the best.
For example: Do your visitors spend more time on pages containing video? Do visitors from Facebook bounce straight off when they’re directed to a long-form tutorial?
Use the data you find to refine your content marketing strategy. There’s not much point in following the same strategy you’ve always used if the content isn’t doing its job.
2. Google Search Console
Another platform in Google’s toolkit, you can use Google Search Console to find content ideas.
Alicia Ward does this by digging into Performance reports:
“I’ll head over to the Performance section and find what we’re ranking for, what people are searching for and look at the positions for where we can improve.
I tend to look for queries that are relevant to what we do and where our search ranking could be improved.
For example: One of the services we offer is web design, and our web designer wrote some blog content comparing various CMS platforms.
I noticed we started ranking for queries related to comparisons of Squarespace, Shopify and WordPress, but that there was room for improvement in rankings.
This would indicate to us that there’s interest in this topic and opportunity for us to expand on content in this area.”
Let’s take a look at my report and see what content ideas we could pull.
I want to find the search terms people are using to see my site in Google, but not clicking through. So, I’ve organized my report by CTR from lowest to highest.
I’ve highlighted the search terms I could turn into blog posts. For example:
- “what is B2B content” > Your Go-To Guide for B2B Content Marketing
- “b2b companies in the UK” > 20 of the Best B2B Companies in the UK
- “content marketing plan template“> How to Create a Content Marketing Plan (Free Template)
The best part about using these keywords to inspire content ideas?
You’re already showing in Google for them. Granted, you might be lurking below page four. But with a brand new URL and an optimized page targeting that keyword, you’ll move up the ranks quickly.
Related: Learn how I increased search traffic to my website by 54% using Google Search Console.
You’ve probably heard of Ahrefs. (And if you’re a freelancer or small agency, you’ve also probably crossed them off your list because it’s an expensive piece of software.)
But, it’s the only software I pay for to find content ideas because of these two features:
The recently-revamped Content Explorer details a list of top-performing URLs for a specific keyword.
It’s worth explaining that Ahrefs consider “top-performing” content as blog posts with a large volume of:
- Social shares from Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook
- Backlinks to an article
- Monthly visits from organic search
It takes all three into consideration when displaying your results (unlike Buzzsumo, which only displays social shares.)
The goal of my data-driven content is to rank organically. So, I’ve organized the results for “SaaS content marketing” by organic traffic value:
(Sort the results by your goal. If that’s social shares, organize by “total shares”.)
Browse through the list of top-performing content for your search term. Note the different angles and approaches each post takes. For example: In the list above, top-performing content for “SaaS content marketing” covers:
- What SaaS content marketing is
- How to start a SaaS content marketing strategy
- Tools you’ll need when doing SaaS content marketing
You could grab their spot in the top-performing list by creating one single pillar page to target all three search terms.
Ahrefs’ Content Gap feature shows a list of keywords your competitors are ranking for, but you aren’t.
It goes without saying that the keywords shown here aren’t uber-relevant to my blog. (I don’t cover call tracking or social media.) But, that said, it’s thrown several keywords I could target–like “content for ecommerce websites”–which I’m not already covering on my site.
Mention is a social media monitoring tool, most commonly used to find brand mentions (such as people talking about your business on Twitter without tagging your account.)
It’s not just a good tool for spying on what your customers are saying, though.
You can use Mention to find content ideas by:
- Looking for negative comments about your competitors’ product/service;
- Creating content that demonstrates you can solve that problem better than the competitor;
- Sending a link to your new content to the original complainer.
Let’s say you’re a SaaS accounting company, for example. You enter your competitor’s brand name into Mention, and find tons of people complaining about how they can’t use your competitor’s software to store receipts from their mobile phone.
Create a blog post titled “How to Store Receipts from Your Phone“. Go into detail about why digital storage is better than paper (to reinforce you understand the customers’ pain point), and include an indirect pitch to your product as a way to solve the problem.
Finally, send the link to people who complained about your competitors’ product.
…But if you’re not into that type of marketing, you can still use the tool to generate content ideas–as Mention’s very own Sandra Chung explains:
Near the end of last year, we anticipated naturally for there to be tons of online chatter about retail brands and the retail industry – being close to the holiday season and all.
So we decided to use our tool to monitor the top retail brands in the world and analyse what people were saying about them across social media, the web, and more.
Based on the data they found, Sandra’s team launched an integrated marketing campaign which included:
- “A Live Retail Industry Tracker Product Hunt: This was a live dashboard that tracked specific metrics such as the volume of mentions, top locations, and sentiment of the top global retailers.
- Downloadable Industry Report: We analyzed the full 50 top retail brands and compiled our insights into a comprehensive report about retail trends.
- A series of related blog posts: Based on our findings, we wrote a series of related blog post about digital trends in the retail industry.
- Webinar: This is still in planning, but we reached out to a partner company to organize a webinar together about best practices in retail for 2019.”
The result? Sandra’s team “saw in a month the campaign brought in as many leads as total leads combined from our other major downloadable content pieces.”
5. Customer surveys
One of the best sources for content ideas is your customers.
After all, they’re the people who have first-hand contact with your product or service; they’re guaranteed to have questions and suggestions aplenty.
Give them the opportunity to have their say by speaking to them regularly.
Ask your customers–not readers, since you want your content marketing to result in purchases–to provide information related to your plans, such as:
- Which blogs do you enjoy reading?
- Which influencers do you follow?
- How to you find new content? (This could be a checkbox: Twitter, forums, LinkedIn, organic search, niche communities, etc.)
Analyze the data and highlight common denominators.
For example: Do 90% of your readers treat HubSpot’s blog as their bible? Use Ahrefs’ Top Pages report to find the most popular content on HubSpot’s website, and write your own spin on top-performing content–making it bigger and better than theirs.
Your survey might also highlight the fact your customers follow influencers like Britney Muller. In that case, reach out to Britney and ask her to:
- Publish a paid guest post on your website
- Post a review of your software on Twitter after giving free access
- Contribute to one of your blog posts by giving a 150-word quote
Your target audience like, know, and trust Britney. Those two things are required to turn a piece of content into a money-making machine.
Remember: Your customers are your best source of information. Find out what they’re interested and who they’re following–then base your data-driven content marketing strategy on their answers to attract more potential buyers with similar interests.
6. Data from sales/customer support teams
Your customer service and sales team talk to your customers day-in, day-out. That makes them a perfect data source for your content brainstorming session.
You could ask:
- FAQs: What questions to leads tend to have? Answer them within middle-of-funnel content, such as product videos and white papers. Solve their problems before forcing them to ask.
- Competitive advantage: When onboarding customers, ask them why they chose your business over a competitor. For G2 Crowd, that might be the fact their software helps companies like Adobe, Nike, and Facebook make better buying decisions every month. Why not create case studies for those customers to impress more leads?
- Referral traffic: Where do the majority of your customers arrive from? Ask your sales team (or dig through Google Analytics) to find the referral website that drives the most customers. If 70% of website traffic from Growth Hackers converts, for example, take a look at the top-performing content on the forum and replicate it.
- Words used by customers: You’ll want to replicate your customer’s language within your content to help with relatability. Pick the brains of people on your customer support team, and ask for common phrases or words that your customers use. For example: Do your customers use phrases like “worth the cost” instead of “ROI”? This could prove useful when brainstorming headlines.
Regardless of the information you’re extracting, you can use this data in middle-of-funnel content–where the goal of your content is to nudge customers towards hitting “purchase.”
We all scratch our heads thinking of ideas for content that our audience will read, enjoy, and purchase from.
But really, the secret for content ideas lies within the data you’ve already got access to.
Use these six data sources to find out who your customers are, what they’re reading, who you’re competing with, and the type of content they want to see from you.
(There’s a reason why 87% of marketers consider data to be their organization’s most under-utilized asset.)