Developing a content strategy can be overwhelming. Whether you’re unsure what to write about or simply don’t love the writing process itself, understanding where your audience is coming from is a critical step to creating compelling content.
The challenge of coming up with enough ideas to drive your content strategy is particularly challenging when you’re dealing with a “boring industry.” But if you invest the time to understand what your customers want, you’ll create content that will attract future customers, build your brand and go viral within your niche. Sound good? Read on for all the tips you need to get started.
Define Your Audience
One of the biggest problems with an under-researched content strategy is that you may be writing for the wrong people. Laura Roeder wisely wrote in Problogger, “Make sure you’re writing for your customers, and not your peers.” This is one of the key problems I see in content published by businesses.
For example, let’s say you’re the CEO of a local roofing company. If you’re writing an article for a construction journal, you might discuss the challenges of building a reliable roofing team, navigating the insurance process and outlining the benefits of a new roofing technique. If your content is geared toward customers and prospects, you might write articles entitled “How Often Do I Need to Replace My Roof,” “How To Choose The Best Roofer,” and “Special Considerations for Roofs in Earthquake Zones.” In other words, your content needs to be geared toward the questions and concerns your customers have during the buying process.
Once you’re clear that you’re writing for your customers and prospects, spend a little time developing a customer profile. What do you know about your customers? Chances are, you have a wealth of demographic data already—age, location, marital status, gender and income. These facts alone can tell you a lot. But take the time to really round out your customer’s profile. Look at buying habits and purchase data to better understand how and why they buy. Is the buying process long and fraught with in-depth research? Are you catering to impulse buyers who like to shop online?
Finally, take the time to uncover the motivations behind their shopping. What problem, concern or interest is getting customers to spend their hard-earned money on your products? How does what you’re selling solve their problems? By creating as detailed a picture as possible of your customer, you’ll be able to filter all your future ideas through that filter and ask yourself, “Would this topic be interesting to my ideal customer?”
Create Your Strategy
After you fully understand who your audience is, you can map out your strategy. Here are seven ways to bring your customers’ perspective into your content strategy.
1. Understand keyword searches. The same terms that inform your general SEO strategy are a great source of inspiration for your content development strategy. Every article, blog post or page of content gives you another chance to rank for a specific keyword. People’s use of keyword searches is incredibly informative. Searches help you hone in on the most pressing issues that your customers are facing.
By mining general keyword data, you can develop compelling titles and entire content streams. You can accomplish this with general, free tools such as Google’s Keyword Tool. If you’re going more in-depth, paid tools such as Market Samurai and Long-Tail Pro are good places to start.
2. Get to know industry publications. Industry publications can be an effective source of potential topics. This is especially true for companies in the business-to-business (B2B) space. Trade publications and association newsletters often contain articles that are geared more toward your peers than your customers. But some of the content—for example, some of the latest innovations or trends in your industry—can be fascinating to your readers.
By taking these ideas and changing them around to the customer’s perspective, it’s possible to be speaking about some of the hottest topics in your space ahead of your competition. You can also identify interesting experts to interview for your content—for example, Q&As with thinkers in your space are a great reason to host live Twitter chats. Interviews are also a great strategy to get more traction for your posts. Often the people you interview will share the content with their audiences, getting your name out there and attracting more traffic to your site.
3. Talk to your customers (or do a survey). Depending on what industry you’re in, I recommend starting a direct conversation with your customers about what they really need to know. If you’re in a business with a lot of face-to-face interaction, ask people what brings them online, gets them to listen to a podcast or prompts them to pick up a brochure. Often, we assume that our customers’ needs for content are much more complex than they really are. As experts, we think about our subject areas in more depth than the average person. In reality, people’s questions or concerns may be more basic. Simply asking is a good place to start.
If you’re in the online space, consider a couple of approaches. Sending a survey to your existing customers starts a conversation about what they value. It’s also possible to send a welcome letter when people sign up for your list that asks them for feedback. Just ask them to respond to the email with a short message or bullet points. Effective questions might be prompts like, “What’s your most pressing issue?” or “What questions can I answer for you?” The responses are pure gold, and can be the jumping off point for some of your best content.
4. Explore what your competitors are talking about. One approach to developing great materials is to take a look at what your competitors are talking about. Let me be clear: You should never, ever copy someone else’s content. Not only is it bad form, it’s also terrible for your SEO. However, that being said, doing some competitive recon can give you great insights into areas you could cover in your content. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- You and your competitors are going after the same customers. Therefore, what interests their customers will also interest yours.
- No two experts or companies will approach the same topic in exactly the same way. Take a general topic of theirs, for example “link building” or “how to purchase an SUV” and put your own spin on it. If you’re in doubt about the uniqueness of your content, run it through duplication detection software such as Copyscape.
- Understanding your competitors’ perspective helps you more authentically and effectively articulate your points of differentiation. For example, if your competitors are all emphasizing the benefits of a DIY model, you might stand out from the crowd by talking about the benefits of Done For You services.
- Seeing what keywords are powerful for your competitors may give you a different set of terms you want to target. It can be easy to get stuck in a keyword rut, and new terms may be emerging that are worth developing content around. Watching what’s working for your competitors is one way to find these keywords.
- Pay special attention to titles and calls to action. By following what’s being shared most often, you can get inspiration for hot topics to adapt for your own site.
5. “Newsjacking” or track what’s trending right now. Another approach to creating content that speaks to your customers is to track what trends they’re interested in. Many writers tie their ideas to a recent event or news story that’s captured people’s attention. This can provide a great hook to capture broader interest. It’s important that there be a genuine connection between your topic and the angle you’re taking—always take this approach with integrity. People can easily get frustrated if your article doesn’t deliver on the promise in your title.
Watching tools such as Google Trends can also be helpful. Google Trends pulls from the search engine’s data in two ways. First, it can show you trends in searching over time—for example, the term “Halloween” is seasonal. Other terms, such as “Backstreet Boys,” may have been more popular in the past but are on the decline now. Second, Google Trends can show the current hottest searches. If you have content that’s related to a story getting a lot of traffic, producing and publishing that content now can give you a nice bump in views on your site. It’s also a good way to get links, if you produce highly valuable content that readers are compelled to share.
6. Employ social listening. Another approach is to follow what terms are hot on social media. Many people treat social media as a purely one-way conversation. We create content and put it out there. One step up the ladder of interaction is focusing on engagement: starting conversations, participating in discussions and sharing other people’s content. But one of the best ways to use social media is through observation. Take the time to observe and use the discussions that are taking place. This approach is known as social listening, and there are a number of tools that can help you get started.
For example, are specific hashtags showing up in your feed? Are certain pieces of content getting significant shares? Use a tool such as hashtags.org or Hootsuite to track mentions on topics related to your industry. By employing social learning, you’ll be able to mine for new topics, answer frequent questions and more. Social listening also helps you spot trends before your competitors, by paying attention to what’s happening at the grassroots conversation level.
7. Answer the regular questions you get. In any business, there are questions you get over and over again. From landscapers being asked about how to keep lawns green to SEO professionals being asked the fundamentals of search rankings, you can capitalize on these questions by sitting down and brainstorming a list of your most common FAQs. Many people are shocked to find that they can come up with 20, 50 or even 100 topics by doing this simple exercise.
If you’re struggling to develop a list of questions, try the following exercises:
- Think of the most recent conversation you had with a specific client. What concerns did she express? What questions or topics did you discuss? If you hone in on a specific customer, deconstructing the conversation can help you break down the questions and concerns he or she brought to the table.
- Consider what questions are important to your customers at different stages of the buying relationship or customer funnel. A person researching your product or service may have questions about how that item/service solves a problem or how best to evaluate a provider. Others further along in the process may want specifics about the potential purchase, tips for evaluating a warranty or strategies for using the new item. Finally, long-term customers and those in maintenance phases are likely to want to know about more advanced topics, product upkeep and recommended resources for further exploration. By thinking about customers at various stages of the purchase process, you’re likely to create content that’s effectively targeting different segments of your audience.
Creating powerful content doesn’t have to be difficult. Instead, start by focusing on the audience you’re writing for. Define who your customers are and what general issues they’re interested in. Once you have a clear sense of that, it’s easy to employ specific tactics to help you develop lists of topics, questions and discussion points to flesh out your content strategy.
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