Data-Informed Content Strategy
Session description: Learn how to analyze copious user data so that you can plan and budget for content strategies that work for audiences… and business plans. Organizations can effectively create and profit from content their audiences really care about.
Speaker: Clare O’Brien, co-founder of Content Delivery and Analysis (CDA)
Extreme feedback from the microphone startles everyone! “I’m really nervous, and I saw this happen yesterday and thought, ‘God, I hope that doesn’t happen to me!’ ” Don’t worry, Clare, you’re doing great.
What she said
Clare says she has always been struck by how easy it is for practitioners and clients to sit back and say, “We know our audience because we can track everything.”
Everyone here has seen a Google Analytics dashboard. We use it every day. But the appeal of instant analytics can obscure meaning and insight. “This data doesn’t tell us what it means, it doesn’t tell us about our audience.” It’s just numbers. How can I possibly say I understand my audience based on traffic movements when I haven’t talked to them, I have only counted them? Think about it in the context of an aerial traffic photo: is this traffic on a freeway, or cars in a parking lot? It’s hard to tell from a snapshot.
Do you have a a giant spreadsheet of monthly online key metrics? As her business partner said, you might have “a classic case of very in depth reporting with absolutely no associated analysis.” The data is the starting point, but “we have to turn data into facts that we can know and understand and trust,” she said. “This is what I mean about data-informed content.” We absolutely have to have real insights into who is using the content, not just numbers. We have to know whether or not the content being produced there is what this audience needs or expects when they come to the site.
“I’m here to make a plea that we should start talking about insight.” We need to lift ourselves up higher than data. Insight is understanding, having that sense of knowledge, of hidden truths, especially of characters or situations.
The starting point for most kinds of data we’re used to is Google Analytics. But it’s not the only kind of data we should be looking for to get to know our audience, Clare said. We should be routinely asking our clients, bosses, managers to get information from any number of sources: market profiles, focus groups, panel data, online surveys, quantitative research, keyword analysis, consumer data, usability testing, surveys, user testing, gap analysis, anecdotal evidence, search logs, buyer decision testing…. and so on.
It takes a certain kind of brain to absorb and provide insight about all of this data. Consider how the brain works: stroke victims with left hemisphere damage draws the outline of a complicated image but not the details; a person with right-hemisphere damage draws only the details. We need both sides of our brains. Because our industry has been built on a technical basis, and because we have these amazing analytics, we have become sucked into relying on something that never looks at the whole. As content strategists, we’re creative, but we’re also detail oriented. We can combine the data and the strategy to get insight.
“Good data is fallow ground, good ground that will grow good insights in time. Data is the growing medium for our insights.”
Clare shares several examples of how drilling down into small data sets in Google Analytics can help you get more knowledge about your audience. One of the things she cites is Raven’s SEO Competitor Analysis Checklist to show how one can find audience patterns by using custom segments in Google. (Ahem. She might have had help with this example.) Also, Pampers, which before as a brand simply sold “dry baby bottoms,” took years to follow mothers, to learn about new behaviors, to listen, to experiment. They iterated their online voice and purpose during that time. Now, because they better understand their market and have the participation of the mother, they have completely changed the way they communicate with their market. They are more connected and therefore more important to their audience.