If there’s one place to start for ensuring successful content marketing results, it’s learning how to create awesome content for your target demographic.
Content which ranks, gets traffic, converts, and contributes to the customer lifecycle.
So, while many of us are spending hours pondering our next big topic, there are more strategic ways of surfacing audience insights.
Here are a variety of things one can do to better inform content decisions.
1. Identify Your Exact Target Demographic
This should be fairly obvious but it’s surprising how many marketers forget to think about their target reader.
Writing broad content with the hope of attracting someone of interest from a broad audience is not a particularly good strategy — hope is not a strategy.
Instead, we should be focusing our content on one or multiple niches, as you’re more likely to create winning content with a very specific, even vertical-focused approach.
When I started DART Creations, I thought our awesome product (Joomla) would revolutionize web design.
But, it had a particularly steep learning curve.
So as our initial scope was teaching Joomla to newbies, as the years went by, I realized there were many people using CMSs such as WordPress and Joomla who were not technical.
In fact, I had identified content that was ranking in the search was those answering simple questions from Joomla users. From there, we kept our content focused towards that target demo of non-techies who need to do “technical stuff.”
In a nutshell, if you want to create awesome content, it has to be targeted at an audience you know and understand.
Bonus Tip: They may even be reflective of your current customers, so tap into any data you have around them for support.
2. Identify Places, Both Real And Virtual Where Your Target Readers Hang Out
Once you’ve identified the readers you want to consume your content, you need to start hanging around the places they frequent to better understand their needs.
Of course, being physically present is somewhat limiting, but there are real people behind the posts you create and they do frequent other places online besides your site, depending on their needs, interests, and preferences.
Thankfully, target demos are typically associated with specific keywords.
You can find or connect with other like-minded people in most places just by leveraging those target keywords or personas.
My target personas include web designers, webmasters, people interested in Joomla, WordPress, or anybody involved web design.
Here’s what the Google+ communities I belong to look like:
Notice a recurring theme?
These are the places where my target readers converge.
You can run searches on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ groups with your target keywords and key phrases for a variety of results. Find communities, groups and conversations that are bubbling with activity, engagement and value.
In my case, Facebook has yielded few good results, but LinkedIn and Google+ have plenty of chatty groups. Every target demo will be different, so make sure to test for yourself.
After you’ve identified all of the great communities in your niche, join them!
Spend some serious time running searches across various places. Your users may be on internet forums such as Inbound.org, Reddit, Quora, or a combination of many.
Bonus Tip: Googling your target demographic keyword + “forum,” “meetup,” “board,” “discussion,” might help guide you to a few gems.
If you’re an old-fashioned kind of marketer, you may want to put a face to a username, avatar, or IP address.
That’s when things like meetups are effective for inspiration.
For example, while Joomla users typically run local JUGs (Joomla User Groups), WordPress users run meetups.
Even if you don’t always attend, the conversations happening are crucial to be a part of as they can lead to some interesting discoveries and content opportunities.
3. Silently Monitor Or Actively Participate In Discussions
Once you’ve discovered the good places to hang out, how do you root out ideas for content creation?
After you’ve hung around these places for a while, you’ll get a feel for the types of questions users ask, and their answers. This will help you anticipate patterns which can be used for future well-performing content.
Notice which content is most popular, generating interest, comments, shares, views, Likes, +1s or whatever the upvoting mechanism is of the particular community.
You can even flag details of interesting conversations which are happening in Excel:
- The question / query asked
- The topic
- The target demographic or keyword it may hit
- The interest the question generated (low | medium | high | very high)
- The group where the question was asked
- Frequency – have you seen this or a similar question asked before
- Notes / observations
When you come to revisit this, you’ll quickly be able to decipher what content is worth writing about by glancing at your handy sheet.
Observe, participate and build up a reputation by adding your expertise to relevant conversations and through targeted responses, surface even deeper layers of audience insights for repurposing.
Bonus Tip: If you fill out a profile for Quora, you will be sent daily digests of fresh questions asked by people with your same interests. Monitoring the popular posts is a goldmine for content ideas.
4. Figure Out Exactly What The User Needs To Know
Now that you’ve observed a specific pattern of conversations taking place and questions being asked, you need to figure out exactly what the user needs.
Because after all …
For example, users might be asking why their social media content is not getting enough reach. When you monitor what they are doing, you might see them posting links to their content but with little engagement.
So, realistically, they want to convert social media activity into traffic to their website.
The trick is in recognizing their problem is either “deeper” than what they are asking at face value, or they lack the understanding of what reach means as a part of the overall content marketing funnel.
From there, you can come up with a full strategy for helping them deal with the problem via content that speaks to the different levels of the content marketing funnel and which metrics to be tracking for each.
- Your article could include the follow points:
- The foundation of the content marketing funnel
- How to drive top of funnel traffic with social media
- What content formats are available to them across different levels of the funnel
- How to measure the performance of content
- Determining the ROI of content
The crux of writing awesome content is in developing a full blown strategy around problem-solving for the customer instead of writing about single issues in isolations.
Turn to your own analytics for what content is bringing in the most search queries when looking to focus in on certain topics to elaborate on user needs.
It might appear to be a lot of work, but the payoff outweighs the time and resources in generating high converting traffic to your own site.
Basically, if you take the time to provide value to others, they will provide value to you.
5. Speak To A Customer And Put Yourself In Their Shoes
There’s nothing as powerful as actually speaking to your customers.
You can surf the forums and hangouts for hours on end, but you’ll never glean as much information as you can get from a single phone call, Skype, or face-to-face meeting.
By speaking to your customer you’ll be able to steer the conversation where necessary.
The best way to do this is by starting with existing and past clients. With these, you’ve got enough confidence to just give them a call or shoot them an email invite for a larger conversation about how things are going.
You could do this once a quarter. Heck, even just once a year. Just think of it as an account management call — you might even get some return business, or better yet, referrals.
For new clients – just make it a standard part of your procedure.
All you have to do is ask them, “What frustrates you the most in your line of work?”
Here’s an example of some outreach I’ve done which you can use as a template:
You’ll uncover plenty of specific examples of problems encountered including what they fear, and wish they could do better with.
Even horror stories will emerge, ones you might not have discovered through online means, granting you the opportunity to address common issues that could have potentially plagued new users.
On the brighter side, you’ll be able to ask for particular use cases or stories of how your company or product has helped clients.
And let’s be fair, repurposing amazing stories goes much further than typical content.
Speaking to customers directly is an invaluable lesson I learned as Product Manager of an international software company. You can get a lot of feedback from many sources, but only speaking to the client can put you directly in their shoes.
6. Research Competitors And Find What Content Is Working For Them
It’s time to see what you are up against.
You’ll need to research the topic you’ve invested in even further to see what your competitors are doing and then learn how to do it better.
Remember, as Google’s RankBrain and other machine learning technology get progressively better, you’ll have to create content which hits all the right spots.
Basically, your content needs to fully answer the customer’s query. Otherwise, you’re going to have a hard time ranking for top positions in the SERPs as Google will always choose the best content to display in search results.
Essentially, you’ll need a tool like BuzzSumo or Ahrefs.
These services allow you to enter the web address of your competitors (the ones who rank ahead of you in search engines) and see which content is generating most shares, backlinks, traffic and more than likely, sales.
If these are the pieces of content working for them, given the right treatment, this content can work for you, too.
Be mindful of competing with sites at the same level of yourself or a bit higher because trying to outrank the behemoths in your industry will only end in frustration.
7. Create Better Content Than Your Competitor
Brian Dean has embodied this with his Skyscraper Technique which is all about creating content that is better than anything currently available.
After analyzing the content of your competitors deeply enough, you’ll be able to identify gaps which they don’t cover, or don’t cover comprehensively enough. Provide ancillary content to theirs and develop unique angles audiences can’t find anywhere else.
At DART Creations, we spotted many people complaining about their WordPress sites getting hacked and needing to fix them. We realized many people were not doing enough to prevent their WordPress sites from getting hacked in the first place.
Of course, this took quite a lot of work and effort, but using all of the above techniques, you can see that the result of traffic to this blog. It has been growing quite nicely over the last few weeks:
8. Do Lots Of Outreach And Get Links To That Content
Once you’ve assembled your masterpieces of content, you’ll need to get it to rank.
You’ll also need to give the correct signals to search engines through plenty of authoritative incoming links.
Link building is still the king of getting content to rank well in search engines, so you’ll have to do lots of outreach and get links. Of course, successful outreach is a bit of a fine art as there are things you must not do, and some things you must do.
The advantage here is that the exceptional content you’ve created is going to make your outreach efforts much easier.
Here’s an example of a successful outreach email:
So what have we learned about creating better content for our target demographic?
First, that we really need to understand who our demographic is. Then comes researching all of the online and offline places where they meet and discuss their problems.
Before we actually write any content, we should listen and observe our target customers speaking about their problems, especially ones which seem to recur. By putting ourselves in place of the customer, we are then able to figure out their real problems and address them with content.
Only then should we start researching our competitors content, and what has been working for them. When we find awesome content which solves problems, we go a step further and create even better content. Of course, content without links is dead in the water, so plenty of outreach helps create valuable backlinks.
Personally, the above tips have helped us create content which ranks well for very specific queries, making our target audience quite easy to convert.
What are your tips for creating awesome content which ranks, and what has been working for you?