In the previous lesson, we learned how to put focus on the user and the content first. We learned that the medium and the technology doesn’t matter as much as the user. What matters is the user that is consuming the content, and the content itself.
We marketers are content creators with a goal. We craft communication to grow our brand online and get attention from users. We leverage that attention into trust. And we leverage the trust into a transaction that the user can make with us. Without transactions, there will be no profit, and without profits, we cannot fund the content creation in the first place. C.A.T.T. Content, Attention, Trust and Transaction.
So the most important piece of the puzzle here is attention. And without learning what our audience wants, we cannot create the right content to get their attention. That’s why learning what the audience wants through research is very important.
Many times we assume what our audience wants to read and do not experiment with new content. Learning what the audience wants will help us move away from our regular type of content which has probably become stale.
If you are going fishing, you wouldn’t add chocolates to the hook because that’s what you like. You would add worms in the hook, because that’s what the fishes like. Similarly, we marketers need to what our audience likes, and create content accordingly.
Online research is not a replacement for meeting people in person and understanding their needs. However, offline interactions have to be supplemented by online research so that we can have a data driven approach to content marketing.
There are many ways to discover what people want. Earlier companies used to hire focus groups to understand how they would react to their products and services. Such offline focus groups were costly to organize and not that effective. With digital marketing and internet, it is much easier than ever to do research online and learn what people want, without the high costs involved.
So let’s discover the most effective ways to do online research and find out what our audience wants.
Online Groups & Communities
Online groups and forums are an excellent way to interact with your audience. If you are just getting started, you can join relevant groups on Facebook and interact with the community there. In the long term, you should focus on building your own online group and community.
For one of our clients, who sells plants online through an e-commerce store, we participated in online groups where people used to discuss about plants for their home gardens. It gave us a lot of insights about our target audience. And we also created our own Facebook Group where we can ask users about their challenges in creating a home garden. Most of the ideas for the blog content came just from interacting with the audience in the groups.
You can create content based on what people want to read about and then share a link to the content you have published on the same group. Apart from giving people what they want through content, you are also building your brand as being a helpful brand and that helps in long brand recall and trust. You are not just getting “brand impressions”, but “brand engagement” which is much more powerful.
I have a group called [Learn Digital Marketing] on Facebook with more than 1,30,000 members as of now. I constantly run polls in the group to understand the needs of my audience.
I also ask open ended questions like: [What is your biggest challenge in getting a high-paying digital marketing job?].
If most of the people on the group respond that finding the right opportunities is the biggest challenge with their digital marketing careers, then I would write an article, or an ebook, or create a YouTube video delivering content about how to find the right opportunities in the digital marketing field. I can share the article on the same group, as people are looking for answers. This is one of the best ways to drive traffic to the blog.
Another question I got because of this open ended question was: [How to make the interviewer believe that I am worth a high paying salary?]. Now that’s an interesting question, and an important challenge.
How do we communicate our value to them? This is something I haven’t thought about consciously before, though I have applied many tactics and methods in my own job interviews to communicate my value and negotiate a high salary.
Now I know that if I write an article about it, people will read, because they have clearly expressed their need to read content about it. Understanding the needs of my audience also helps me motivate myself to write content in the first place. As soon as I finish writing, there is an audience ready to gain value from it, and give feedback on it. Without knowing that there is an audience waiting to read your content, the motivation to create the content will not be there.
When people find content online that strikes a chord with their needs, they will consume the content, and also share the content with their peers who might find the content useful. This helps you get traffic, grow your brand’s image and people feel comfortable transacting with your brand because you listen. Everyone wants to be heard, so hear them out.
Marketers can also ask their audience what they want on email. Email is one of the online mediums with the highest possible engagement. Email is a very personal space and people pay good attention to the interactions inside an email inbox.
If you have an email newsletter, I’m pretty sure that a small percentage of people reply to the newsletter emails and interact with you directly. You can reply back and ask them further questions. (If you do not have an email newsletter yet, we will discuss about email newsletters and email marketing in the future chapters).
In one of the newsletter emails I send out when people subscribe to me – I ask people what their biggest challenges in digital marketing. I’ve got 1000s of responses over the years and it helps me have a better understanding of what my audience wants. I have added all the email responses in a Google sheets so that I do not lose them.
You can also automate your replies using automation tools like Zapier. You can filter messages with certain subject lines and add rules to it so that you need not reply with questions to your audience manually. We will discuss about marketing automation in the future chapters.
Keywords are the phrases that people search for when they are looking to find something they want to learn about. Mostly, keywords are typed into the search bar of the search engines, but keywords are also the words that people use to describe their problems.
Keyword research is a great way to find out what the audience on the internet wants to read. It gives a relative scale on which topics are higher in demand compared to other topics. It gives you a clear direction on what content you should create and how to prioritize them.
Let’s have a look at the question we discussed in the previous section. One of my followers asked me the question on the Facebook Group – [How to make the interviewer believe that I am worth a high paying salary?].
Note that he did not use the word “employer” or “hiring manager”. He used the word “interviewer”. Now everything means the same, but if I use the word “interviewer” in my communication on email, websites and other channels, it has a better chance of striking a chord with my audience.
The “key” words that your audience uses to describe the problem are the “keywords” you should be focusing on.
There are many ways to do keyword research.
Here are the top 5 ways to do it from my 10+ years of digital marketing experience:
- Google Autosuggest: Search for keywords on the Google search engine. You will see suggestions related to your keywords. These suggestions will auto-populate as you start typing. If you enter the keyword “digital marketing”, Google will show suggestions like: “digital marketing jobs”, “digital marketing courses” and so on. These suggestions are being shown because people are searching for it. The suggestions will not show up without the keyword having some demand. The fact that you are seeing these suggestions confirms that people are searching for that keyword.
- Google Ads Keyword Tool: There is a keyword tool available in the Google Ads Console. This was the first orignal keyword tool before there were numbers other tools in the market. The keyword research tool helps you find out keywords based on seed keywords, or based on website URLs. You can enter the URLs of your competitors and you will be able to find out what keywords they are advertising for, and how much is the cost per click (CPC) for ads for competitive keywords. The monthly search volume numbers that you see here are not accurate, but they give you a rough estimate of how popular the keyword is.
- Ahrefs: Ahrefs.com is a 3rd party tool who have their own web-crawler just like Google’s web crawler. They collect data from the internet on how the sites link to each other and how they perform in the search engines. Their web-crawler is the second most active crawler apart from Google’s own crawler. It is great for keyword research, rank tracking and find out the performance of your competitors on the search engines.
- Google Search Console: When you get your website up and running, it is important to sign up with Google Search Console and monitor your website’s performance on the Google Search Engine. Search Console gives you data about the keywords that people are searching for and the pages on your website that get the traffic for it. You will also be able to see the keywords which are triggering your website pages to be shown on the search results, but are not getting clicks. These are great keyword opportunities because it a clear sign that there is a demand, but you are not getting clicks because you are not ranking high enough. (Do not worry if you do not understand how Search Console works right away, we will have a deep dive on the future lessons).
- Google Ads Search Term Report: When you run a search ad on the Google Ads platform, you will be able to gather data on the different keyword variations that people are using to look for what they need. There is report called the Search Terms Report on Google Ads and it is a valuable gold mine of good keywords. (We will have an in-depth look at Search Terms report in the future lessons).
There are many keyword research tools in the market, but the above five tools are more than enough to give you enough keywords to understand what your audience wants and create relevant content for it.
If you are looking for more tools, then I suggest having a look at UberSuggest, KeywordTool.io, SEMrush, SpyFu and AnswerThePublic.com. All these tools give you keyword suggestions based on your seed keyword.
Keyword research tools are excellent for finding out what people are searching for, and create content to serve the needs of people. It is very data driven, and it is hard to go wrong with a data driven approach. My investments in content for my blog through proper keyword research has always given me a high ROI.
Keyword research takes time and thought, but once you have a list of keywords that are having a high search volume, you will be able to create content around these keywords and get free search traffic from the search engines.
Reviews of the Competition
Reading online reviews of your competitors is an excellent way to find out the gaps in the market. Reviews are a gold mine of customer voices which is otherwise very difficult to get.
When people are satisfied with what they have purchased, they are not THAT likely to write a review online. However, if someone is unsatisfied with a product or service, they are highly likely to voice out their opinion on a public forum.
I did some research on what the customers of my competition feel about the products they have bought. I learned what people want, why they are frustrated and what’s the gap in the market.
I found out that digital marketing course providers do not give high quality course materials, there are problems with the communication and a huge disconnect between the benefits that was marketed and the performance of the actual product.
This research not only gives me ideas about how to serve my customers better, but also warns me about the mistakes that could be made in the product and delivery. We can learn from our competitor’s mistakes.
The best way to read through customer reviews of competitors is on the Google My Business listings. If you search for your competitor’s name on Google, there is a high chance that you will be able to find out a listing that shows up on the right side of the search results (on desktops/laptops). Click on the reviews section and you will be able to see their positive and negative reviews.
There are other places to look at such as customer complaint forums, third party listing and review websites and more. Almost all the platforms keep the review public and you will also be able to see the responses from your competition to the unsatisfied customers on these platforms.
The way a company responds to negative feedback talks a lot about how much they care. More often than not, you will be able to find out ways to satisfy customers that your competition is missing out on. This gives you a competitive advantage.
Do not check reviews on the website’s of your competitors. Your competitors can remove negative comments on their platforms and only retain the positive comments. Unbiased reviews are only available at third party platforms where negative reviews cannot be removed. Those negative reviews are where you will find your opportunities.
Books are the oldest and most reliable form of content delivery. People have always respected and relied on books for learning new things. Irrespective of the business vertical you are in, we can be sure that there will be books around the subject. You can find reviews of such books in online platforms like Amazon, GoodReads, Flipkart and other online book sellers.
Not many people read books, and out of the people who read books, not many people leave thoughtful reviews of the book. The views by this small cohort of people are extremely valuable in getting insights about the market. They represent the needs of the larger market.
I am in the digital marketing training industry and I constantly read reviews of digital marketing books on Amazon and GoodReads. I usually read the 1 star and 2 star reviews because these are the people who are frustrated with the purchase and they have a need that was not fulfilled.
A read a few 1 star reviews of Fundamentals of Digital Marketing by Pearson on Amazon and I learned that people expect more about digital marketing than basic marketing concepts. They expect more diagrams and flowcharts. They expect more actionable and practical points and less of theoretical concepts. Now this is a market gap and an opportunity. If I create content related to digital marketing, I would definitely make sure that all the above needs of the users are fulfilled. This gives me a competitive advantage.
Customer support is often an ignored area for market research. Most of the customers who are not satisfied with your product will not complain.
It’s a counter intuitive mindset to welcome and embrace customer complaints. Customer complaints help you improve your offering and cannot be ignored. People who complain also care about the business.
You should be more worried about the people who are indifferent to your brand than the people who actually fight back to get a better product / service.
If you get a customer complaint via your customer support channel, embrace it. Go beyond solving the customer’s issues. These are the people who took time to contact you and get a response. They will be happy to give you further feedback – but only if you ask for it. Use customer complaints as an opportunity to ask further questions and get deeper answers from people.
Your customer complaints are going to reveal many secrets about your business that has been just hiding under your nose. You might think that your product is great in certain aspects, but it might not be. You have to come to harsh realizations and destroy old assumptions to come out as a leader in your market segment. This is necessary for any business to grow.
Listening to your customers not only gives you ideas about your content, but also ideas on how to improve your product or service.
In many organizations, even the CEO will answer customer support once in a month. Such involvement from the top management is necessary because customers only talk to customer support, and that gives you an accurate idea about where your business is winning and failing.
Comments on Blog Posts
About 1% of people who read a blog post, leave a comment on it. They take time to comment and give feedback because they are extremely happy with your content, or extremely disappointed.
Comments on your own blog posts reveal the gaps you have and comments on the blog posts of other blogs reveal the gaps in the market.
Comments, just like customer support, are gold mine of data about what the market needs. Schedule a time to review such content and do it regularly.
We have a natural resistance to look at negative comments and reviews, but we have to read it for our own good in the long term. Read the comments, and respond to the comments. Take the comments seriously and change your course of action based on the feedback from your readers.
I hope this chapter helped you get plenty of new ideas on how to find out what your audience wants. You will not only find out the content that your audience wants to read, but also the products and services they need from you.
If you give what your audience wants, your audience will be attracted to you. And the best way to attract them early on is to give content that is useful for them.
Right now, I am creating content that is useful for you. You are paying attention to me. Now if you create content that your audience wants to learn about, then you will get their undivided attention. And that’s how you build a brand online with content marketing.
Content is the centre piece of digital marketing and every digital marketing method will fail without good content.
In the first chapter we discussed how content can help you get free traffic. In the second chapter we discussed how you should create content specifically for the user, and keep the user first in your mind.
Today, we had a look at how to find out what content your audience wants to read. In the next chapter, we will learn about the different channels through which you can distribute content.