By Kerry Curran published May 29, 2014

Use Search Insights to Improve Your Content Marketing Strategy: 4 Steps

light bulb-represents searchDo you have content envy? Do you feel like your competitors’ material skyrockets while yours can’t get off the ground? The truth is, they are probably working with an “informant” — aka: search insights — and you should be, too. Below I’ll explain the power of search insights to inform your content marketing strategy, and provide you with a step-by-step guide to get the job done.

Understanding the value of search insights 

Everyone is scrambling to produce more content, but few take the time to develop a strategy (CMI’s research shows that 44 percent of B2B marketers and 39 percent of B2C marketers have a documented content strategy). Instead, content is often based on hunches, or on what someone thinks their audience wants. Not surprisingly, this approach can produce disappointing results. But there’s a better way.

Search insights contain a wealth of information that can be used to inform your content marketing strategy and help you make smarter content marketing decisions. In fact, it’s the first thing you should turn to before starting any content effort.

Available via free Google tools and premium third-party providers such as comScore, search insights can help you understand your target audience’s online query behavior. For instance, this data can tell the following:

  • The keyword phrases your audience uses most
  • The intent of those queries
  • Where a user goes online and what results they click on
  • When they search
  • Where they search
  • The device they use to search

In other words, your search insights can tell you exactly what you need to know to develop effective content. The “inside information” provided by search insights will help you develop material that meets the needs of your audience members, speaks their language, and demonstrates how your product or service is exactly what they are looking for. In turn, it will help boost the success and ROI of your content effort.

A step-by-step guide to using search insights 

From my perspective, search insights hold tremendous value. I can’t imagine anyone beginning a content effort without consulting this data first. The guide below explains how to make search insights work for you:

1. Identify your best keyword phrases to target: Don’t skip this step as you may be surprised by what you find.

When developing content, many marketers think they know their target keyword phrases, but later learn they were wrong. For instance, content today often includes corporate marketing language, or kitschy, unique terms. But if the target audience members aren’t using those phrases in their search queries, the content won’t have a shot at engaging them.

For example, a marketing team might want to use the term “power toothbrush” to describe and differentiate a new dental hygiene product. However, the search insights might point them to a better option. As you can see in the table below from the Google AdWords Keyword Planner, the search volume for the related keyword phrase “electric toothbrush” is 37 times greater than the term favored by the marketing team. When the difference in keywords is semantic and still highly relevant to your product or service, the data shows that you can connect with a larger audience by choosing the right keywords.

toothbrush keyword examples

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you know your keyword phrases. While a unique term might land you a No. 1 ranking position in Google, it won’t do you much good if your target audience isn’t searching for that term.

Before you start a content initiative, review your search insights and identify the best terms to use for driving the most qualified traffic, based on the keywords your target audience uses and the volume for each. Doing so could save you from making a big mistake or missing an opportunity. The next step provides more insight into further research to discover audience intent for different keywords.

2. Discover what your audience cares about: To develop content that will truly resonate with your audience members, you need to know what they care about. Fortunately, search insights can tell you a lot about your audience members’ needs, and what interests them most. For instance, these insights can reveal the intent of a keyword phrase by showing the types of content people are drawn to for each. This can help you understand the type of information your audience is seeking.

For example, a vitamin company might tend to develop content that is product-focused. However, data accessed through a comScore Search Planner subscription can show whether searchers are more likely to select less product-focused content from their search results. In the pie chart below, the comScore click-through data shows that vitamin consumers actually choose websites that offer editorial content that educates them more often than other types of websites. While the top destination websites for “vitamins” are WebMD, eHow, and Yahoo! Answers, aggregated at a category level, the pie chart below shows over half of “vitamin” searchers are choosing editorial and informational websites.

pie chart website breakdown

Clearly, such insights can help inform your content marketing strategy. Be sure to examine such data to discover what’s important to your target audience.

3. Learn about the format your audience favors: Now that you know what your audience is interested in, how do you decide what format your content should take? Should it be an eBook or a white paper? A video or a SlideShare? These decisions should be based on data, not a hunch. Examine search insights to learn what your audience prefers.

Both comScore and Google Trends have keyword phrase-level data on what searches are going to video content. For example, comScore data shows that YouTube has been a top destination for eye makeup, capturing 8 percent of search traffic. Compare this to the searches going to SlideShare, and the data could reveal that an eye makeup brand would be better off investing in video content creation than SlideShare presentations for its audience.

comScore Social Media

ComScore data can also identify new platforms drawing searcher traffic. For example, in April, Pinterest skyrocketed from less than 2 percent of search traffic in March to over 75 percent. While this is most likely due to fresh, optimized content launched by a fashion/beauty blogger on Pinterest, it indicates that Pinterest provides content in the format that is trusted and favored by searchers. (Note: YouTube is rolled into Google Sites in the above image.)

4. Uncover your audience’s unique regional qualities: Any brick-and-mortar business owner will tell you about the importance of location: It matters. A lot. But how does location apply to content marketing?

It’s important to keep in mind that search behavior can vary depending upon location. Whether your business has physical storefronts or is online only, you might be surprised to see the difference in the terms used by your audience in one area compared to another. The good news is that search insights can reveal important information about regional vernacular.

For instance, Google Trends can provide search volume from a regional perspective. As you can see in the graphs below, the term “clothing store” has 145 percent greater relative search volume than “department store” in Illinois. In West Virginia however, “department store” had twice the search volume over “clothing store.” Given that, relevant campaigns targeting each area should prioritize the terms with the higher local search volume.graph comparing regional search terms

As you develop your content strategy, first consult search insights and determine whether or not you should account for any regional differentiators or trends.

Staying on top of search insights

User behavior can change quickly with new platforms, pop culture, and competitor strategies. Be sure to examine search insights closely, looking for trends and correlations on a weekly basis. That way you can jump on the opportunities before your competition does. Free tools such as Google Alerts and IFTTT can be set up to provide alerts based on your brand or top non-branded keywords. Free social listening tools can also identify trending themes and topics relevant to your brand and offerings.

Overall, search insights can provide you with a wealth of information to guide your content marketing efforts. I encourage you to think of them as your content strategy “informant.” Before you start your next content initiative, be sure to tap into search insights.

How have you used search insights for your content efforts? Have they saved you from making any big mistakes? Thanks for sharing your stories and tips below.

Want to learn more about using data to inform the direction of your content marketing strategies? Read CMI’s eGuide, Measuring Content Marketing Success.

Cover image via Bing creative commons 

Author: Kerry Curran

A passionate digital strategist, Kerry Curran has helped Fortune 1000 clients across multiple industries drive business results through the search channels. With a focus on developing consumer-centric, cross-channel strategies to increase customer engagement, her experience includes developing enterprise search and social programs integrated with digital and traditional media plans as well as global search programs. Follow Kerry on Twitter.

Other posts by Kerry Curran

  • Peter Odryna

    Kerry, great article. It really underscores the importance and specific steps needed to gains insights into a content strategy. We at SocialEars use our own analytics, in addition to those you’ve outlined, to perform similar analysis in the social community.

    We’ve found that the velocity of information is much higher in the social sphere, especially in Twitter where SocialEars has a large audience. Leveraging social and organic search together provides a key benefit in that it joins the large information database that search engines provide with the recommendations and trust that an active social community provides. The result is that lead quality improves when entering the marketing and sales funnels.

    • Kerry SpellmanCurran

      Thanks Peter! I agree, social insights are a great resource for content … maybe that will be the topic of my next article :)

  • Sue Duris

    Hi Kerry, just so we are talking about the same thing, when you say free Google tools, are you referring to Google Trends?

    • Kerry SpellmanCurran

      Hi Sue, yes, Google Trends and the Google Adwords Keyword Planner.

  • BigcomDevloper

    Nice one Kerry, Content marketing can be started by implementing just one type of
    content at a time. So start with your blog. Then add one new type of content at a time. The key is to integrate it into the rest of your marketing plan, so it works together like cogs in a machine.

  • http://www.edudrama.in edudrama

    Thanks for the nice article. Very good and informative article. I also try to follow these simple steps to improve my CMS…
    http://www.edudrama.in

  • http://www.dadiehost.com/ Perfect money hosting

    SlideShare is probably the most futureproof of anything ever launched.
    As much as it pains me to use the word futureproof, if you are one of
    those people who likes to hold onto their device for a while —
    SlideShare is simply best!

  • Lauren- Content Strategist

    Hi Kerry,

    I was wondering regarding point 2 and how you can discover what your audience cares about, is this tool available for free via Google as opposed to a paid subscription with comScore please?

    Thank you.
    Lauren

  • Jitendra Padmashali

    Great post Kerry, To get the most value, you’ll want to read the whole thing! While you
    may not need to apply every section to your content plan today, you will
    gain an understanding of the concepts in each part.

  • http://plus.google.com/+KentLyagerLaursen/ Kent Lyager Laursen

    A new report about the use of Content Marketing in my country, Denmark, has just been published.It shows that only 7% of the Danish companies working with Content Marketing has “Traffic to website” as primary goal, while 24% consider “Brand awareness” as the primary goal of their content marketing activities. I think thats a shame. At the same time, not surprisingly, 34% tells that they have a hard time measuring the impact of their CM activities. In total only 29% has a strategy for CM.

    I think your post describes very well, what the starting point of all content marketing activities should be. Find something that’s actually searched for, and have clearly defined goals, so you can measure the succes of your efforts. That’s by the way also the way you secure new and larger budget for future activities. The risk is that you ruin your own motivation and the company’s attitude to working with CM if you don’t have clear goals and work focused towards reaching them.

    So I will share your post and message with intent of bringing companies a little step closer working in that direction.