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Research and data-led content strategy: a practical guide

06.02.2016 - by Arlie Adlington


Graphic designer rustic tabletop workspace with computer keyboard, blank drawing paper sheets, pencils, coffee cup and sweet sugary donuts for breakfast, top view overhead shot.

Creating a content strategy that works is all about having the right research and data inputs.

Content marketing, inbound marketing, thought leadership – broadly speaking, these all fall under a type of digital marketing that focuses on providing content your customers need or want; content that answers questions they have and builds your reputation as an authority in your field. It’s primarily a form of organic marketing, although you might use paid channels to amplify the content you create.

It’s not original to say this approach should be part of your marketing mix. However, the only way to really live out the gospel that we (the digital marketers) preach is by having a research-led methodology for content development. And that’s the bit that doesn’t always get done.

In this post, I am going to talk about how you should approach developing a content marketing or thought leadership strategy. This includes:

  • The different inputs you’ll need
  • How to use those inputs together to make informed, strategic choices about the online resources you create


The inputs

Your business objectives

At the start of any project, the first thing you need to understand is your own business objectives. Having clarity on what those are will help you choose the right activities and milestones to achieve the outcomes you need.

With your own business objectives defined and recorded, you can refer back to them at any time; checking the work you’re doing at a micro level is contributing to those macro goals.

Audience research

Understanding your audience is crucial. This means knowing who your audiences are (demographically), as well as learning all that you can about they want from a business like yours.

  • What are their goals when they’re looking for content online
  • What questions do they have?
  • What role does online content play in meeting their needs in this area?
  • What devices do they use to access content?
  • How regularly are they accessing different types of content?

The easiest way to get this type of information is through surveys and market research.

The outcome should be a clearly defined set of customer goals. These should be documented – written out as statements or questions to be answered. You can then refer to them whenever you’re planning and evaluating content, and ask yourself “Does this content fulfil one or more of our customers’ goals?”

Digital landscape analysis

A digital landscape analysis is a piece of research into the content that already exists around your industry. You’re aiming to find out:

  • What content already exists online? (Categorised by topic, format, target region, and so on)
  • Who is creating the content? (Competitors? Peers? Customers themselves?)
  • How relevant is the content?
  • Is the content easy to find?
  • Anything else you can learn about the existing landscape for your industry?

It’s a good idea to find a way of evaluating the content you find. That might be via social media shares, Trust Ratio, organic search ranking or otherwise.

Your own research, data and in-house expertise

No one is better informed about an industry than someone who works in that field every day. Within your business you’ll have subject matter experts whose knowledge you need to tap into. Many businesses have existing research and data about their industry that could be used to create insightful, useful content. You may even have content – in the form of surveys, reports, white papers and more – that could be repurposed for the benefit of customers.

You need to identify the individual experts and existing resources within your business that could be applied to content creation for external purposes. You might want to do new research too, and for that it’s extremely helpful to know whose input will make that research the best it can be.

What next?

A digital landscape analysis only tells you what’s currently out there. It doesn’t tell you whether the content is meeting customer goals. Your own expertise is also not that useful without clarity on what knowledge is going to be most helpful to customers, and how they want to consume that information.

Outdoor portrait of young man using his mobile phone at night.That’s why you have to marry those two inputs up with your audience research. This will let you answer some core questions that will illuminate your way forward. You can now identify insights like:

  • When searching for keywords most relevant to known customer goals, the content that’s currently visible in search engines doesn’t fulfil customer needs.
  • A particular customer goal is being fulfilled primarily by content that’s aimed at a different region (e.g. US rather than UK).
  • There’s plenty of content meeting a particular customer goal, but most of it isn’t mobile friendly – and you know that 50% of customers are browsing for this information on smartphones.

Once you know what content customers find most useful – and what happens when they try to find that content online – you can see the gaps and opportunities quite clearly.


This approach to content planning – combined with a brilliant copy writer, a top notch designer and some time spent promoting the content you create – will help you generate great quality, credible content that meets customers’ needs. In turn, you can position your business as a thought leader, generate customer loyalty, increase organic search rankings and use the content to support paid media campaigns to drive direct traffic to your website.

To find out more about how we can help you with your content strategy, get in touch today.

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