Data-Driven Content: How to modify your content using data

JP Rains leads the Laurentian University digital strategy team and will be presenting Data-driven Content at the 2017 Content and UX Academy. It’s a two-day deep-dive, immediately before the HighEdWeb Annual Conference, in how to research, plan and build content strategy based on user experience best practices and analytics.


You’re in a meeting determining what will be the opening headline for an academic program’s webpage description. You’re joined by the program’s academic chair, a professor in the program, a student recruiter and a corporate communicator. The wording of your headline comes into question:

Recruiter: “In this opening headline, should we use University Experience or Student Experience?”
Program chair: “University Experience. It’s more than just being a student, it’s critical thinking.”
Professor: “I agree, however, respectfully would add that it’s also about research.”
Recruiter: “What are we trying to sell though? The Student Experience.”
Communicator: “We’re trying to use university more to differentiate ourselves.”
You (digital marketer): “The data I have shows that search volume and SEO impact is greater for university.”
Everyone: “Great. Settled. Thanks digital marketer!”

Now, it’s unlikely that with one wave of your hand you’ll have convinced them that these aren’t the droids they’re looking for, but, with that data you can pull the debate out of the anecdotal preferences and influence it with keyword search terms and align the content with user vocabulary.

How do I create a Content Marketing Strategy?

Within our team, there’s a symbiotic relationship between the collection of data and the production of content. It’s a cycle and often one that can overlook the strategic portion of that cycle.

A graphic representation of the content lifecycle that includes plan, create, publish/promote, and analyze.

Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sggottlieb/8029565032/in/photostream/lightbox/

The “data” mentioned above can come from a variety of sources and each one brings a unique point of view. Bringing these sources together to draw conclusions is key. Here are a few sources you should consider when putting together your content strategy.

Google Analytics

The most critical of all tools, leverage Google Analytics to better understand your audience, how you acquire them and their behavior on your site. Explore each area as it relates to a specific page and draw informed conclusions.Readability score of B for using too many long words.

For example, if you know that a specific page on your website sees a lot of traffic from international students with limited knowledge of the English-language, make sure to simplify the vocabulary. You can use one of the many free “readability” tools to do this.

SEO Tools

Every page you create will have certain keywords associated with it based on how you’ve placed your content on the page. Proper use of header tags will allow search engines to know which keywords should be associated with your page.

Above all of this, SEO Tools (like the tool I use: gShift) can provide you with additional keywords that would be related to this search. Finding these keywords and bringing them into the content can positively influence your page traffic. These same tools can also monitor your page rank progression so that you can demonstrate progress to your budget committee.

Google AdWords

While Google AdWords is a paid activity, it can deliver key insights on the keywords being used by your audience to find your content. These may be “broad match” keywords that you can be brought into your ad copy, but more importantly, on your page as a keyword.

You can find this data within Google AdWords, by choosing a campaign and looking through “Keywords” and “Search Terms”, for words that would be a good match and add them to the recommended ad group.

Competitors

Naturally, you can find this data through your SEO tool, however, many of us do not have a paid tool to find this information. You can discover these keywords by visiting the higher ranking competitor web pages and finding out what might be their top keywords. Keep in mind, your original Google search will be biased by your past history so try to use a private browser.

Student Journey Map Data

Has your organization completed a Student Journey Map? Do you have a full understanding of where this particular web page fits within the student journey? This information can be very helpful in preparing content, being mindful of the student’s previously visited pages and what is likely the next page in their journey.

For example, if we know that within the student journey, a student will visit the “Student Fees” page, before visiting the “How to pay student fees” page, you can use a link to the next step in the process more prominently than the previous step. Furthermore, their search terms leading to this page might be related to questions identified in their student journey.

For example, “how much do I need to pay?” is a question that should be associated with the “Student Fees” page.

Voice Search

Google has told us that 20% of searches in the Google App on Android are done by voice. Others have also predicted that by 2020, 30% of all search will be done without a screen. This means that the work you’re doing for proper tagging and accessibility for those with screen readers will soon start to pay dividends for screen-less searchers.

All of this means that our content should be delivered in a similar way that users are searching for it. Increasing use of questions (a common one is “how to…”) in headings will allow us to take a step in this Voice Search world.  

Further to this, you’ve probably noticed Google highlighting specific results on a search page, providing you with the answers you need to famous questions like “what does on fleek mean?”. These are called “Featured Snippets” and they are automatically generated by Google based on your page’s authority and content layout.

Screenshot of a Google search to show highlighted top result.These snippets are being read out loud in voice search and can be very helpful to driving traffic to your page.

Overall, I like to think of Google search as waves on the water, we’re either going to adjust our heading to ride the waves, or we’ll be bailing water out of our sinking ship.