Thin content was one of the
first SEO issues Google targeted with its Panda algorithm update in 2011. That
update rocked the entire industry and kick-started the search giant’s war
against low-quality content.
It also made life increasingly difficult
for black hat SEOs trying to game the SERPs. However, there are plenty of
genuine, technical reasons why you might end up with thin content on your
website. In this article, we explain exactly what thin content is, how to find
it on your site and what you need to do about it.
What is thin content?
Google describes thin content as
having “little or no added value”. This is the description you’ll see if you’re
unlucky enough to get a manual action warning in Google
Search Console, informing you that you’ve been penalised for having thin
content on your site.
You definitely don’t want one of
The question at this point is:
what kind of content does Google consider to have “little or no added value”?
Back in the early Panda days,
Google was mostly targeting deceptive uses of thin content – for example:
1. Content that’s automatically created
In this case we are looking at
low-quality content, often created by basic machine concatenation, and offering
limited, if any, value. For example, grabbing a news story in Spanish and then
running it through Google Translate before adding it to your site – a big
We are starting to see examples
(or ‘robots’) writing high value content and this is something that will
become more prevalent as AI and machine learning continue to improve. This does
not fall into thin content but you would still want a human editor to
review this type of content before publishing it.
2. Low-value affiliate content
Affiliate websites offering
useful, comprehensive purchase advice have nothing to fear from Google. However,
pages filled with affiliate links that offer no useful or relevant information
for the end user are prime targets for getting hit by a search penalty.
If you’re in the affiliate game,
stick to the following guidelines:
Make sure your website has a purpose beyond that of any affiliate offering alone. Affiliate pages should contribute to a tiny percentage of your total website.
Add something new to the affiliate audience. Not only will this provide access to new online niches, fuelling your affiliate ROI, but will create value to encourage SEO success.
Be objective; ask yourself whether there’s a reason why a user should land on your website before going to the actual product/service originator website. Remember, your site is an added step in the process between the user and their end destination, so there has to be a value-enhancing reason for them to take this detour.
Only offer affiliate opportunities that are closely matched to your target audience. This helps to overcome diluting your offering, mixed messaging signals and barriers with user engagement and interaction.
When you refresh and improve your main website copy, remember to review, update and add depth of value to your affiliate content too. Don’t have scraped, duplicate affiliate content on your website – make it unique, better than any other examples and something of value to your website audience.
3. Content scraped (copied) from other sources
If you systematically add content to your website from external sources, you’re also at risk of a thin content penalty. There are a number of ways in which content is copied (or scraped) from other sources, a few of the more common ones being:
Copying and pasting full articles that were not created by you.
Adding external content in part, or in full, to your site without any extra unique value.
Completing minor tweaks and changes to predominantly copied content.
Using automated means to re-purpose content that exists externally, trying to display this content as unique.
Embedding lots of other content types (video, images, infographics etc.) without bringing anything new or adding value.
4. Using doorway pages to rank in Google
Doorway pages are a means to spam the search engine results pages (SERPs) with very thin content that target a very specific term or close group of terms with the purpose of sending this traffic to another website or destination.
This creates a poor user search experience and adds unwanted steps for the user to get to their desired end result. Often, doorway pages mean that the user ends up on a lower quality and less relevant search result page than required, resulting in excessive searching to discover the content they needed.
It’s all about adding value
Essentially, if your content is
copied from anywhere else, generated by software or you’re creating pages with
little or no content, you could be in trouble. Even if you’re not trying to be
deceptive (for example, reposting relevant news stories), you have to question
why Google would choose to rank your page when it’s simply repeating content
that’s already available – it has nothing new or valuable to offer.
“One of the most important steps in improving your site’s ranking in
Google search results is to ensure that it contains plenty of rich information
that includes relevant keywords, used appropriately, that indicate the subject
matter of your content.
“However, some webmasters attempt to improve their pages’ ranking and
attract visitors by creating pages with many words but little or no authentic
content. Google will take action against domains that try to rank more highly
by just showing scraped or other cookie-cutter pages that don’t add substantial
value to users.”
It all comes down to adding
substantial value to the end user because this is what Google aims to deliver
as a search engine.
For more info on thin content,
take a look at this video from Google’s former head of web spam, Matt Cutts:
Thin content with little or no added value - YouTube
It’s not a particularly recent
video but everything Matt Cutts says is still relevant today.
What are the dangers of thin content?
While the most publicised danger of thin content is getting hit by a Google search penalty, your problems run much deeper than this if you’ve got too much of it. If Google’s algorithms can tell you’re using thin content deceptively, then you can bet the majority of users who visit your site can see it as soon as they land on the page.
Whatever your objectives are with the page, you’re not going to convince many people to take action this way. You’ll struggle to keep users on the page, encourage them to engage with your brand or inspire them to convert.
Essentially, this is the real
danger of thin content: your marketing objectives are going to fall flat.
Now, in terms of the Google
Search penalties, these can be pretty devastating and it helps to understand
how Google’s Panda algorithm works.
Thin content and Google Panda algorithm updates
The Google Panda update was
first released in 2011 with the purpose of de-valuing low-value and thin
websites, to stop them from appearing so prominently in SERPs.
The other, lesser communicated,
side of this update was the additional ranking gains (tied to content quality
signals) rewarding websites creating high-quality content.
Google Panda updates can impact
(remember, this ‘impact’ can be positive or negative) a single page, a whole
topic or theme, multiple themes, or entire websites.
The Panda filter applies a
number of perceived content quality criteria as well as questions that the
Google Quality Raters would be asking themselves when manually viewing content
– things like:
Does the content convey expertise, authority and trust (E-A-T)?
Are the ‘Your Money or Your Life’ (YMYL) pages present and providing everything needed (think about pages tied to transactions, financial details, private information collection and more)?
Is there depth of content? For example, do core service pages cover the main topic, plus supplemental information, and enable the user to immerse themselves into the topic (and discover more information easily, should they choose to)?
Is the content accessible? Can it be accessed easily within the site structure? How quickly does the content load? Does the content work effectively on mobile devices?
The above is just the starting
point for Panda protecting your website and content.
It is important to get a second
opinion on your content. Be objective and honest with yourself and your team
about the quality of what is being produced, and how it needs to improve.
Not all thin content is deceptive
While the penalties for having
too much thin content can be severe, there are quite a lot of scenarios where
you’re naturally going to end up with content that could fall into this
Search results pages
If you have a search function on
your website, the results pages are going to offer very little or no original
content. This can’t be helped, of course. The purpose of a search results page
is to show snippets of other pages across your site and help users choose the
most relevant option.
Solution: Prevent Google from indexing results pages by adding a disallow line for these pages in robot.txt file.
Photo / video galleries
In many cases, it’s perfectly
reasonable to have a photo or video gallery on your website. You might be a
wedding photographer, a marquee hire company or a business with a bunch of
video case studies to show off.
If the purpose of this page is
to allow visitors to browse your photos or videos and choose which ones they
want to view, this causes some thin content issues. You probably don’t want a
load of text getting in the way on the gallery page itself and your problems
get worse if each image or video has its own dedicated page.
Solution: This really depends on how you structure your gallery. You might choose to create content for your gallery page and no-index the individual image/video pages, for example. Or you might take the opposite approach and create unique content for each image/video and no-index the gallery page.
Alternatively, you could create a carousel that displays all images/videos on the same URL – it all depends on what you want to rank for and the kind of content you’re planning to create.
Shopping cart pages
Shopping cart pages aren’t there
to provide users with valuable content; they’re designed to help people manage
orders and complete purchases. Technically, we’re in thin content territory
here but the fix is pretty simple.
Solution: Once again, stop Google from indexing these pages by no-indexing them in your robot.txt file.
Duplicate pages are a natural part of managing a website. Moving over to HTTPS from HTTP creates duplicates, as does having www and non-www domains while managing multilingual websites and recreating pages for multiple locations can also result in duplicates.
Technically, duplicate content
isn’t quite the same thing as thin content but the two do overlap in certain
Solution: Mark the page version you want to rank with canonical tags, use 301 redirects if you’re sending users to a different URL and use hreflang tags for international languages/locations.
In many cases, thin content
isn’t detrimental to the user experience at all. In fact, it’s sometimes better
to forget about content and simply deliver the functionality users need – eg:
Luckily, keeping these pages
safe from search penalties is relatively simple. By no-indexing pages, telling
Google which version to index (canonical tags) and/or using 301 redirects to
send users to the right place, non-deceptive thin content shouldn’t be a
Can I have thin content on product pages?
This is one of the most common scenarios where thin and/or duplicate content occurs on a website. This is especially true if you’re selling multiple versions of the same or very similar product.
Naturally, brands try to avoid having duplicate content across these pages but it’s difficult to say the same thing in a hundred different ways.
It becomes a battle of thin
content vs duplicate content and this causes a lot of confusion for website
owners, SEOs and marketers in general.
The truth is, duplicate content
is the lesser of two evils here and it’s better to provide users with
comprehensive product details – even if they’re the same or similar – than
publishing pages with very little (albeit unique) content.
Here’s What Google’s Andrey Lipattsev had to say about duplicate product pages during a Q&A on duplicate content with fellow Googler John Mueller.
“And even, that shouldn’t be the first thing people think about. It shouldn’t be the thing people think about at all. You should think, I have plenty of competition in my space, what am I going to do? And changing a couple of words is not going to be your defining criteria to go on. You know, the thing that makes or breaks a business.”
So, when it comes to product
pages, don’t worry too much about duplicate content for very similar products
or variations of the same product. Instead, focus on optimising for the best
experience and giving Google any clues you can about which page to prioritise
in terms of indexing.
Here are some tips:
The key takeaway from the
Q&A on duplicate content is that when pages are similar (or the same),
Google is looking for a way to differentiate between them and product
descriptions are just one of the hundreds of factors it looks at.
Provide full product details on every page
List the key benefits of each product
Include images and videos where relevant
Create unique content where you can
Avoid copying product descriptions from other
sites (eg: Nike’s descriptions of its shoes you’re selling)
Allow users to select different versions of the
same product from a single page (sizes, colours, etc.)
Use canonical tags if you want Google to index
one version of the same or very similar pages
Focus on adding value beyond product
descriptions: page speed, mobile optimisation, navigation, etc.
How do you find thin content on your site?
There are a number of ways to discover thin content (levels of words, duplication, and value) and a few of the more common actions can be seen below.
Using Copyscape (and other free tools), you can
crawl the web to look for any content that has been copied from your domain, as
well as any content that may have been added to your own site over the years
copied (in part or full) from external sites.
2. Google search operators
You can also use Google search
operators to manually check Google for instances of content copying/scraping or
Here’s an example of what you
need to do:
Copy a selection of content that you feel may have been copied (consider more successful content types you have added to the site)
Paste into Google (in this case assuming it was text content) within quotes (“”)
Review the results
Here’s an example of the above in action. In this case checking any duplication of content from a post I created for Search Engine Journal:
As you can see, the first site
appearing is the originator website, and as this content is opinion-driven, it
is intended to be distributed, shared socially and used on other websites.
An important aspect of this is
the purpose of the content, whether it’s to drive traffic back to the main
website, encourage shares or something else.
3. Deep data platforms
I’ve been using our machine learning software Apollo Insights for nearly ten years. One of the ways in which I use the data is to locate pages that are not contributing towards total site success.
You can see this in action below
(the ‘Page Activity’ widget):
Another metric I use Apollo
Insights for is locating content with a limited word count.
Although more words doesn’t
always mean better quality content, in most cases a page with very few words is
unlikely to be providing the depth of user and search value needed to deliver
an optimum search experience.
You can see this below using a
deep data grid – in this case I am looking at depth of content based on
expected content structural elements, things like presence of multiple levels
of header tags, and checking that the page is active and real:
Remaining with Apollo, ‘Auditor’ tells me how many pages have fewer words on them than I would expect from a high-quality website page. I can also look at the bigger picture and combine this knowledge with items like: external linking, framed content, pages orphaned off from the main website and much more.
How do you fix thin content?
The first stage in fixing thin content is understanding what high-quality and value-enhancing content looks like in the first place. The example below is from Think With Google: ‘The Customer Journey to Online Purchase‘.
Some of the key points which
flag this as high quality for me include:
If your mobile rankings have suffered recently, simply telling you to improve the mobile experience isn’t going to help you diagnose the specific problems you’re having. So, in this article, we look at nine reasons your website might not work on mobile and how to fix each issue. These are:
Before we get into the specific reasons your website is struggling on mobile, let’s answer some of the most common FAQs surrounding mobile optimisation.
How do I make my website mobile friendly?
There are various approaches to
creating a mobile friendly website but the two most common are:
Responsive design: Create a single website that adapts layouts, content and element sizes to suit different display sizes.
Mobile sites: Build a separate mobile website in addition to your desktop site.
Responsive design is generally the
recommended approach for most types of website, especially since Google has
moved over to mobile-first indexing (more on this later).
How do I optimise for mobile devices?
This is a tricky question to
answer in a short space but you’ll be getting a more in-depth answer throughout
the rest of this article. For now, here’s a list of the key areas you need to
optimise for the best mobile performance:
Element sizes (text, images, buttons, etc.)
File sizes (images, code files, etc.)
Your priority is to create the
best possible experience on mobile devices and it helps to focus on the
limitations of these devices. You’ve got limited screen space to work with,
potentially weak data connections and all users really have to navigate and
interact with your site is their fingers.
It pretty much comes down to
visibility, navigation and speed.
Why are mobile friendly websites important?
With the majority of traffic now
coming from mobile devices, this is where the majority of your marketing
strategies are going to generate leads. The majority of consumer journeys now
begin on mobile devices and poor experiences are going to kill your chances
before they’ve even begun.
That means poor mobile experience could cost you
53% of visitors
Today’s consumers move between multiple devices,
making a consistent experience increasingly important
Ask yourself how much time, money and other resources you pile
into lead generation, increasing traffic and your other marketing strategies.
Now, tell yourself 53% of that is wasted because you don’t have a mobile
That’s why it’s important.
How much does it cost to make your website mobile friendly?
Probably a lot less than not
having a mobile friendly site will.
Now, that we’ve covered those,
here are the top nine reasons your website isn’t working on mobile.
#1: Your site isn’t mobile responsive
Let’s state the obvious to begin
with. The number one reason why your website might be failing to work on a
mobile device is that it is simply not mobile responsive. This means the
website doesn’t proportionally resize to different size screens.
Responsive design isn’t the only
approach to mobile optimisation but it is the one Google recommends and it
makes a lot of sense from an SEO perspective (see reason #2). There are
challenges with taking the responsive route, though – especially when it comes
to optimising page content for multiple screen sizes.
The biggest mistake brands make
is designing layouts and content for desktop and then trying to scale them down
for smaller screen sizes. This isn’t going to create an intuitive experience on
mobile. Instead, you need to create content with all devices in mind and
consider the needs/limitations of these devices from the very beginning. This
will enable you to make design choices that create a consistent,
highly-optimised experience across each device.
Aim for a consistent experience
across all devices so users can move from mobile to desktop and understand
chunks of text on mobile and place a “see more” button users can click to read
the full text. By using the display: none
CSS property, this text remains visible to search engines but doesn’t show in
the browser, allowing you to create page layouts that are perfectly scrollable
#2: You haven’t optimised for mobile-first indexing
As I say, responsive design
isn’t the only approach to mobile optimisation and many brands have opted to
develop separate mobile websites. The thing is, Google is changing the way it
indexes web pages to reflect the fact that most searches now take place on
essentially means Google will now show the mobile version of a page by default,
only showing desktop pages when no mobile version is present.
For responsive websites, nothing
really changes because the mobile and desktop versions of each page are the same.
However, websites running any separate mobile pages need to optimise for the
Here’s a quick list of what you
need for mobile-first indexing:
Your mobile and desktop pages contain the same content
Both versions of your page have the necessary structured data
Both versions of your page have the necessary metadata
Both versions of your page are verified in Search Console
Any rel=hreflang tags for internationalisation include separate links for mobile and desktop URLs
Your servers can handle any increase in crawl rate for the mobile version of your site
Your robot.txt directives are the same (and optimised) for both desktop and mobile versions
Correct use of rel=canonical and rel=alternate link elements between mobile and desktop versions
Mobile-first indexing is still
rolling out and you should have received a notification from Google in Search
Console if your site has already been moved over. Don’t wait until your site is
moved over to take action, though, because this will affect pages that are
poorly optimised for mobile.
Although mobile-first indexing
will apply to your entire website, any ranking changes will happen on a
page-by-page basis. So start by optimising the most important pages on your site
and work from there. For more information on mobile-first indexing, take a look
at our previous posts:
Despite all of the research showing
how slow loading times kill conversion rates, the vast majority of website fail
to deliver this performance essential. In fact, Google’s
own research suggests the average web page takes 15 seconds to load on
The recommended best practice is
no more than 3 seconds.
As of July 2018, mobile
loading times are now a ranking factor which means slow loading times can
hurt your position in the mobile SERPs. However, slow loading times also
negatively impact multiple other signals that Google uses to determine where
your pages should rank: bounce rates, time spent on page, pages visited, etc.
More importantly, slow loading
times kill your conversion rates and just about every other KPI in your
Work with agencies/developers
that make page speed a priority because this is one of the most important
performance factors for the end user. If you’re using a WordPress website, take
it easy on the plugins, optimise your images and files (CSS, JS, etc.) and use
speed optimisation tools like Google’s free PageSpeed
#4: Unfriendly navigation
The menu is one of the most
important, if not the most important thing on a website. Small websites have
quite a simple job, with the desktop menu being easily duplicated on the mobile
version of the website. Large sites however can have difficulties.
Some menus display many pages
going up to third tier navigation levels.
If this is transferred across to
the mobile site there is the potential that the user will spend a long time
scrolling through the vertical menu trying to find the right page. If you amend
the mobile menu to only include top level pages you may be able to keep users
on your pages, but they might be missing out on valuable information from the
lower level pages.
Create a menu that works on a
desktop and then try other ways of integrating the lower level pages on the
main page to let users navigate to find out more if they choose to do so.
#5: Page content isn’t immediately obvious
Scaling is always an issue with
a responsive website and getting it to scale correctly whilst showing the
correct information can be the difference between engaging the user and the user
leaving your website. Having a logo, menu, slider and breadcrumbs before the
content can look great on a desktop. When this is scaled down, the user may
need to scroll a lot before they actually get to the page content. This has
other issues as well if your pages all have the same header, with the user
thinking that the page didn’t even change.
Test, test and test again.
Mobile sites should be simple for the user to use and do not require all the
flashy gimmicks of the desktop site to succeed.
#6: You’re using popups / interstitials
Many websites use overlays or
interstitials to promote the brands app, get a user to sign up to their
newsletters or give special offers. When these are displayed on a mobile device
they tend to have a negative effect on the user experience, causing
Use a banner instead to promote your content on a mobile device.
#7: You haven’t optimised your CTAs for mobile
Optimising your website’s layouts
for mobile devices is great but your success is going to be short-lived if your
CTAs aren’t getting results on mobile. The effectiveness of your calls to
action will depend on how you optimise the content surrounding them, their
visibility on mobile, where you place them on the page and all kinds of other
Don’t assume your CTAs are going
to perform on mobile just because they’ve been getting results on desktop.
Effective mobile CTAs need to be
incredibly concise and so does the rest of your page content. Remember that
text is going to bunch up on mobile displays, pushing your CTAs further down
the page and forcing users to scroll further to reach them.
Make sure you hammer home the
key benefits of your offer using the appropriate headings and don’t be afraid
to add extra CTAs for mobile displays.
#8: Clickable elements aren’t optimised for touch
This is something else a lot of
brands overlook while optimising for mobile. If you want people to actually
interact with your website, you need to optimise for touch. Navigation menus, CTA
buttons, web forms, media players and just about everything that turns casual
browsers into potential customers revolves around touch gestures.
Above all, make sure touch
elements are large enough to interact with (padding is your best friend).
Don’t try squeezing too many
touch elements into a small space because people are only going to end up
hitting the wrong thing. Also, make sure users can still see all the content
they need to when touch elements pop up on the screen. For example, don’t leave
people typing blind because their device’s native keyword has covered up the
text field they’re trying to interact with.
Find the largest set of thumbs
you possibly can to thoroughly test your website on mobile; they’ll soon find
any potential issues.
#9: Your mobile forms are killing conversions
Frustrating web forms can be the
bane of users searching on a desktop. When this experience is switched to a
mobile device it can be the difference between missing out on a lead to a
competitor, or making the sale yourself.
First of all, make sure you’re
building your web forms with the
correct HTML5 code so the relevant keyboard pops up for messages, email
addresses, numbers, etc. Stick to single column layouts and, once again, use
plenty of padding on every element so they’re nicely optimised for touch.
Always remember how much of a
pain typing on mobile is. Enable auto-complete and stick to the minimum number
of fields necessary to reduce users’ workload.
Don’t make your form validation
too strict; the aim is to help users complete your forms, not prevent them from
There are a few things you can
do/tools you can use to test the mobile-friendliness of your website:
Check in Google Search Console for messages which would
have arrived in March 2015, alerting you to ‘fix mobile usability
Finally your own mobile
phone is always a good indicator. Perform a site search (type
site:www.yourdomain.com) into your mobile browser. Next to your listing you
should see a tag which states ‘mobile-friendly’.
If you’d like one of our SEO or design experts to
take a look at your site, call us today on 0845 123 2753. In the meantime, you
might find these other mobile-related articles helpful:
A new report from Episerver has revealed eCommerce marketing insights from more than 4,500 consumers about the current state of online shopping and how marketers need to adapt to the latest trends. Its findings confirm a few things widely known in the industry, but there are also a few surprising revelations about consumer expectations that eCommerce marketers should pay attention to.
Key findings from the report
You can download your own copy of the Episerver report here if you want to read it in full, but here’s a quick summary of the key findings:
Consumers want guidance: Only one-in-five shoppers say their online purchases are pre-planned.
Shipping matters: Consumers want free shipping (67%), shipping tracking (61%), and information about returns (52%).
Personalisation vs privacy: 88% of online shoppers say personalisation is important but 93% say companies need to respect their anonymity.
Simplicity sells: 46% of consumers say they have failed to make a purchase because there were too many options to choose from.
Content woes: 98% of online shoppers say incorrect or incomplete content on a brand’s website/app has stopped them from completing a purchase.
Social influence: 52% of consumers who use social media have clicked on an influencer’s post and 31% of those have made a purchase directly from the posts.
Marketplaces dominate: 46% of consumers who know what they want to buy head straight to marketplaces like Amazon. While 39% of shoppers who don’t know what they’re after still start their eCommerce journey on marketplaces.
The Amazon standard: 87% of online shoppers compare what they find on brand/retailer websites with Amazon.
Voice search vs shopping: While voice search is becoming more popular, people aren’t yet using the technology to buy products in great numbers.
As you can see, these insights touch on some of the most pressing issues in eCommerce marketing right now – personalisation vs privacy, the constant presence of Amazon and the true role of voice search in online shopping.
These are worth exploring in
What do these insights mean for eCommerce marketing?
With the average eCommerce conversion rates sitting at around 2.86% (Incespcro, 2018), there’s still a lot of scope to increase the number of visitors who become paying customers. Luckily, the findings above offer up some solid clues about how to go about this in 2019.
80% of online shoppers need buying advice
The fact that 80% of online
shoppers know they need help with
making purchase decisions should be encouraging for eCommerce marketers. Consumers
are open to marketing messages that genuinely help them buy the right products.
The challenge for marketers is identifying which kind of messages consumers are
open to, influenced by and where to deliver them.
Most consumers look for buying advice before making purchases
Know the problems your target audiences face when comparing and buying your products because this is where the search process starts. Plenty of studies suggest UK shoppers prefer to research online but then go on to buy in store (85%, according to data from ONS), which means retailers need to bridge the online-offline divide.
inventory ads are a great way to show people in your area that you have the
item they’re interested in, ready for a live demo.
This doesn’t mean eCommerce marketing should focus purely on in-store traffic or that online-only retailers should be discouraged. Other studies indicate more UK shoppers are buying online every year and some even put online purchases ahead. EmpathyBroker found 51% of UK shoppers actually prefer to buy online. Make sure to do your research and understand how your target customers prefer to buy.
Consumers are overwhelmed by too many options
Episerver says almost half of online shoppers (46%) say they’ve failed to make a purchase due to being overwhelmed by too many options. This only reinforces the fact that people need help when it comes to making purchases, which should influence the kind of content, messages and experiences you create.
The more varied or complex your range of products, the more important it is you help shoppers make choices without feeling overwhelmed.
However, it’s not only product options consumers say they’re confused by. Today’s constant barrage of marketing messages is also getting in the way of sales, according to Episerver.
“To mitigate the risk of overwhelming customers online, brands and retailers must intentionally decide how and when they reach out to shoppers… they must take care to avoid inundating customers with brand communications.”
Today’s eCommerce brands need to understand how consumer needs change, before and between purchases. The frequency of messages and content they’re going to respond to varies greatly along the way. Generically blasting shoppers with special deals doesn’t cut it anymore.
Content makes the difference
One of the most telling stats in the Episerver study is that 98% of consumers say incorrect or incomplete content has stopped them from buying products in the past. This is particularly important as today’s shoppers move across different devices and search on various platforms before making a purchase.
“Regardless of where shoppers choose to engage a company, they should
be able to trust the accuracy and completeness of the information they find…
Disjointed content experiences result in major financial consequences.”
Consistent messaging across platforms is crucial so users can pick up the consumer journey where they left off from the previous session. Make sure your campaign messages, special offers and featured products users have seen on one device are still there on others. These are what bring a lot of top-funnel visitors back to your website, social profile or Amazon page.
Visitors further down the sales funnel must be able to get to the parts of your site that matter most. Navigation couldn’t be more important here, especially for users who don’t have an account or aren’t logged in.
Things are a little easier with
repeat visitors who stay logged in. You can personalise the experience with the
products they’ve most recently viewed and product recommendations based on the
items they’ve previously engaged with and/or purchased.
At the very end of the sales funnel, accurate and complete product information is what matters most – and again, this needs to be consistent across every platform/touch point. The same thing goes for shipping details, information about returns and honest transparent pricing.
costs are the top reason shopping carts are abandoned (Baymard Institute,
Users are conflicted about personalisation vs privacy
One of the biggest challenges in eCommerce marketing today is the conundrum of personalisation vs privacy. As Episerver’s study shows, consumers want a personalised experience but they’re understandably concerned about privacy issues.
If consumers want a personalised
shopping experience, they need to hand over personal data and eCommerce brands have
to prove to users that the exchange is beneficial to them. Sadly, GDPR has done
little to improve this relationship in its first year – in fact, most reports
suggest it has only added
to the confusion and frustration for all parties involved.
The common implementations of consent simply aren’t working. Online retailers need to innovate their own solutions for GDPR compliance without adding friction to the shopping experience.
It’s all about Amazon, not Alexa
Episerver’s findings on
marketplaces like Amazon probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, but they’re
emphatic regardless. Almost half (46%) of all consumers who know what they want
to buy head straight to marketplaces and 39% of those who haven’t decided still
go to marketplaces to browse first.
Even more telling is that 87% of
online shoppers compare what they find on brand/retailer websites with Amazon.
There’s not much point in trying
to fight against Amazon. If you haven’t already, get your brand established on
the marketplace and turn it into an eCommerce marketing channel. Amazon’s
ad platform is growing faster than both Google and Facebook’s (even if the
top two still dominate) but it all comes down to being where your target
audience is – and they’re almost certainly on Amazon.
As for Alexa and voice eCommerce in general, more consumer journeys are starting with voice search but only 17% of shoppers are making regular purchases with the technology, according to Episerver.
Need help with your eCommere marketing?
We have a team of eCommerce specialists in-house who are highly skilled at managing and optimising eCommerce campaigns. Submit your details here if you’d like to chat to us.
The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project is an open-source library designed to make mobile pages faster. With the majority of web sessions now taking place on mobile, and the number of mobile-only markets increasing, loading times have become a major UX barrier and conversion killer.
AMP aims to solve this problem by providing a relatively simple framework that makes it easier to create fast, engaging experiences on mobile.
The AMP Project: English Introduction to AMP - YouTube
Project Manager Eric Lindley provides a “high-level” explanation
What problems does AMP actually solve?
The framework makes mobile web pages faster and helps brands monetise their pages with non-intrusive ads designed for the mobile experience. There are three key speed killers that it solves:
Server requests: Cuts the number of server requests – the biggest cause of slow loading times.
AMPHTML ads: A faster, lighter and more secure alternative to traditional HTML ads that don’t slow down pages or get in the way of the user experience.
By cutting down on the number of
resources your pages need to load, this means less time is spent between your
website’s server and people’s web browsers trying to sort everything out.
AMP results showing in Google Search display more prominently than regular results
In most cases, your AMP pages
are served by an AMP cache as well, which loads your content almost instantly.
Crucially, your content loads before any ads appear on the page so people can engage with it right away. If you don’t have ads, your text content still loads first while the images progressively load as users scroll down.
According to the 2019 Content Marketing Benchmarks report, roughly 50% of all marketers expect to invest more in content marketing this year. If you’re not in the half of marketers preparing to up their investment, or you’re still debating the idea, this article will hopefully show you why it should be on your priority list.
To give you a better idea of the role content marketing plays in your wider marketing strategy, we asked our specialists to answer the most common questions they get asked. Here’s why it’s worth the investment.
What is content marketing?
Content marketing is the strategic process of building valuable relationships with audiences through various types of media. This is where you craft the stories and messages that capture people’s attention and guide them along the consumer journey until they become another happy customer.
While many strategies focus on a single channel (e.g. social media), content marketing is a multi-channel approach that integrates with your SEO, social media and email marketing efforts. These channels act as platforms to deliver your content to the right target audiences. The aim is to create a strategy that guides users towards purchase as they move between these channels.
Why is content marketing important?
Content is the substance of everything people do online before making a purchase – from the very first search to the moment they hit the buy button. Without content there are no web pages, search results, online reviews, demo videos or anything else that helps people make buying choices.
In a world where people are overwhelmed by purchase options and bombarded by ads, content marketing allows you to connect with your target audiences on a personal level and guide them towards buying from you.
Your other strategies are also going to fall pretty flat without content marketing too. Good luck trying to hit your SEO, social media or email marketing targets without integrating them into your wider content marketing strategy.
What are the benefits of content marketing?
Above all, the key benefit is guiding people towards buying from you with confidence. When there are hundreds or thousands of other businesses like yours that people could buy from, content is how you differentiate your brand and show them why they should be doing business with you.
This will always be your goal, although there are other benefits worth mentioning too:
Meaningful relationships: A successful content marketing strategy builds meaningful, lasting relationships with people likely to buy from you.
Trust: These relationships earn the trust of your target audience, which is crucial when it comes to choosing who they’ll buy from.
Engagement: Keep your target audience engaged over a long period of time so your brand becomes a valuable part of their lives and the first one they think of when they need what you’re selling.
Awareness: Grow your audience to increase brand awareness and earn more customers.
Branding: Allows you to craft your brand story, differentiate yourself from the competition and demonstrate what you can do for people that your rival brands can’t.
Repeat purchases: Keep your audience engaged and excited about your brand after the initial purchase to turn them into repeat buyers and brand loyalists.
ROI: Over time, content marketing should be your most cost-effective lead generation and nurturing strategy – another key finding from the Kapost and Eloqua study we linked to above.
Another important benefit is that it’s a truly multi-channel strategy. It allows you to target people on their favourite channels (Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc), different devices (mobile, desktop, etc) and platforms (browser, in-app, offline, etc) and create a single strategy that reaches them at every stage of the consumer journey.
It allows you to pave these consumer journeys in front of your target audiences, reach them every step of the way and provide the message they need to take that next step.
How do you measure content marketing success?
As with any kind of marketing strategy, you need to be able to measure your results to prove its success and find opportunities for improvement. Before you can do this, you’ll have to know exactly what your content marketing goals are and which KPIs illustrate success or failure.
As you can see from Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI’s) The Complete Guide to Influencer Marketing, the metrics you need to measure vary depending on what you’re trying to achieve. The biggest mistake marketers make when it comes to measuring success is chasing the wrong metrics to begin with.
Once you’ve identified the right metrics, your biggest challenge is going to be attribution. How do you know that blog post is generating leads or how much of the traffic from those social media campaigns is resulting in conversions?
This becomes increasingly difficult with a multi-channel marketing strategy where one piece of content doesn’t necessarily achieve any of your goals but might still contribute towards them. You need to be able to identify which pieces of content are adding value to your marketing efforts and which platforms users are using as they move through the consumer journey.
To achieve this, you’ll need to pull in data from all of your channels (Google, Facebook, email, etc) and attribute engagement across all of them to understand how people are interacting with your content as they move along the path to purchase.
How is content marketing different to SEO?
This is a common question and it’s important to understand the difference to do both effectively. Content marketing is a broad strategy that targets users across various channels (search, social, email etc) and engages users as they move between them. Without these channels, nobody would be able to see your content and a key part of your strategy is understanding which channel(s) to deliver each piece of content on and how to target users on them.
SEO is about making your content as accessible as possible for search engine users and helping it perform effectively. This starts with optimising your pages and content for visibility in the searches that matter most but also involves broader, technical factors that affect how people engage with your pages (mobile optimisation, loading times, etc).
Why does my business need a content marketing strategy?
According to research from CMI, 91% of businesses say they do content marketing but only 37% say they have a documented strategy guiding their efforts. With this in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that only 9% of B2B marketers describe their efforts as sophisticated, according to the same study.
Without a strategy, you’re shooting in the dark – you have no way of measuring performance or spotting opportunities to improve results.
Keep in mind that effective content marketing requires an understanding of which platforms your target audiences use, what their consumer concerns are and how they move between different channels as they progress along the consumer journey. Once you have these insights you can craft messages for each stage of the buying process that address user needs as they change and encourage them to move on to the next step. You can also determine where these messages need to be published, which content format to deliver them in (blog, video, podcast, etc) in order to move people along your sales funnels.
Crucially, you can also measure results for an overview of how your entire strategy is generating and nurturing leads. This tells you what’s working, what’s not and where new opportunities are hiding.
What kind of results can I expect from content marketing?
This depends what your needs/goals are. For example, an online news portal looking to build its online presence will have very different goals to a small business looking to increase its customer base.
Generally speaking though, you should expect one or all of the following results from your content marketing strategy, once it has matured:
Brand awareness: You should be seeing more traffic from search and social, more referral traffic from third-party sites (via links) and an uptake in brand mentions across the web.
Engagement: Over time your content will get more likes, shares and other engagement on social media, as well as more inbound links from third-party sources.
Search visibility: As your content marketing strategy matures, your pages should rank higher in search engines for your target keywords and your overall domain authority should also increase.
Authority: As your strategy matures, your brand will build more authority within its industry and earn trust from a wider audience of people.
Lead generation: You should be generating a higher volume of leads from search, social and potentially offline as well.
Lead nurturing: A higher volume of leads turning into customers as your content marketing strategy guides them along the buying process.
Customer retention: A higher proportion of customers buying from you more than once.
Return on investment: A solid strategy should always pay for itself (and then some).
It’s important to have a solid understanding of what your real goals are and to stay focused on them. A common mistake marketers make is looking at the wrong KPIs or getting distracted by other goals.
For example, if your aim is to generate more leads then increasing traffic is probably going to be one of your objectives to make this happen. But getting bogged down in traffic numbers can take your attention away from attracting the right kind of visitors or increasing the percentage of users who convert into leads after landing on your site.
Higher traffic numbers don’t always equate to more leads – so make sure you know what you’re really trying to achieve.
What return on investment (ROI) can content marketing deliver?
According to data from HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2018 report, 41% of marketers or marketers say content marketing yields a significant ROI – which is very high considering most marketers don’t even seem to have a strategy.
The image below shows content marketing generates 3x more leads than paid search per every pound spent – Content Marketing ROI study from Kapost and Eloqua.
Calculating your ROI depends on how much you’re going to invest, what your goals are and a number of variables such as customer acquisition cost (CAC), the price of your products/services and the profit you make for every sale.
How much does content marketing cost?
This is difficult to answer as it depends entirely on the type of content, what you want to achieve and how quickly.
As we mentioned earlier, content marketing should become your most cost-effective strategy, once it has time to mature. In theory, you can do content marketing on almost any budget but it’s important to consider the time and other resources involved in creating a strategy that works and producing the right kind of content that gets results.
Also, keep in mind that the high-ROI nature of content marketing means you should always consider the return vs your initial spend. Sometimes it’s worth investing more to make more and it often pays to get results as soon as you possibly can.
For example, it’s generally much harder for a brand ranking below you to overtake you in the SERPs than it is to maintain your position above them. Likewise, search competition is always increasing and stealing leads from your rivals after they’ve already established a relationship can be tricky.
In this sense, the sooner you build a strong search presence the higher and more stable your ROI should be. It’ll be harder too for competitors to knock you off your spot in search. Hopefully you’ll be spending less to convert leads into customers, thanks to having a stronger search presence boosting your content marketing efforts – all of which increase your ROI further.
Need help with your content?
So that does it for our content marketing FAQ, but you can reach out to us if you still have any questions about what your content marketing strategy should look like for 2019. You can get in touch with us on Twitter, fill out the contact form or give us a call us on 02392 830281 to speak to our team directly.
Despite this though, only 52% of businesses describe their content marketing efforts as “moderately successful” (Smart Insights) and a mere 20% say they have a “very successful” content strategy.
In our latest expert interview, our head of content, Joanne Littlechild, explores the current content marketing landscape and explains why data is the key to creating content that stands out from the crowd.
Q1: What are the biggest challenges facing content marketers today?
“The biggest challenge is getting results from content. Just about every brand is publishing on a regular basis these days, so it’s difficult to get your content seen, let alone clicked and engaged with.
“Content marketers need to know what kind of content their audience is going to engage with and what kind of narrative or messages are going to turn that engagement into valuable actions, but many are still using guesswork.
“Lots of brands are struggling to create content which captures audiences/customers and makes them want more, but this is where data insight can help.
“Our content marketing team use our own AI platform, Apollo Insights, to help them zero in on the kind of marketing intelligence that informs great content. Apollo uses machine learning to analyse vast amounts of data about our clients, their businesses, their competitors and their target markets, so that we can identify exactly what content opportunities there are available. Then, we can create data-led content that addresses these opportunities in a unique and valuable way.”
Q2: A recent study reveals 91% of content receives no traffic from Google Search – what are marketers doing wrong?
“I think the problem is due to the kind of content brands are producing. People turn to search engines when they need something or need to know something. Content marketers have an opportunity to provide this information, which starts with knowing the biggest problems your target audience faces and what they’re searching for.
“A lot of content marketers also underestimate the value of major publications. A piece in The Times without a backlink is just as valuable as a piece with a backlink on a site with lower authority. It’s about getting a balance of appearing on sites with good authority, gaining backlinks and creating content which provides answers to questions people are searching for.
“The other problem is that Google is flooded with articles that are based on copying other content marketers, who are all blindly following the same formulas, the same keyword research. Truly useful and engaging content should be based on knowing what your audience is looking for, not what the content marketing industry is telling you to write.”
“By understanding the type of content and the topics that will be of interest to individual journalists and the outlets they write for. Pitching ideas, engaging journalists, bloggers and outlets in conversation so you provide the stories that are valuable to them.
“It’s about finding a hook to what an editor or a particular publication is looking for. In the same way you need to understand your audience, you also need to understand the publications that talk to that audience, and the kinds of things they like to promote.
“Every other brand and link builder is trying to reach out to the same influencers and platforms, based on the volume of their profile. It isn’t a scalable model and has diminishing returns as it becomes harder to cut through the noise. Algorithmically identifying the people scientifically more likely to engage, promote and broadcast your content is how brands can cut through.
“One of the aspects of link building that takes so long is sourcing the websites that would provide relevant value. We are fortunate to have Apollo Insights that does all this for us and gathers backlinks to thousands of websites. This helps us to identify, for any client site, opportunities for gaining new links on relevant sites.”
Q4: Backlinks and traffic are great but they’re not profitable in themselves. What are content marketers really trying to achieve?
“Content marketers really need to build a strong brand that resonates with audiences at every stage of the customer journey.
“The goal is to achieve brand awareness with your target audiences when they are researching and considering, and then when they’re ready to make a buying decision. They may move across multiple channels, so you want to be there every step of the way, providing information and engaging them in your brand ethos and values.
“You have to get under the skin of how your consumers move through the stages of the customer journey so that you can develop content that aligns with them, and it needs to appeal and inspire.
Q5: How can marketers prove their content is making an impact and contributing to conversions, sales and other goals?
“If you know what you’re trying to achieve at the outset, you can go on to assess how successful your content is. We set clearly-defined objectives before we do anything else, this way we can measure results.
“We use a five-Ps framework for content marketing, and we think this is the best way to think about content for marketing. It also scales well. All content is about people – you are talking to individuals, and you need a purpose. Planning is essential, as is working in partnership with stakeholders, writers and publishers. Finally, promotion is an essential element of the publishing process.
“At the heart of all these elements is data – data for planning, data for identifying opportunity and data that tells you whether your content is effective.
“Sharing content via social channels, and engaging bloggers and third-party outlets also allows you to gauge how consumers are interacting with your content. Customers will often move between paid and unpaid channels before they convert. Being part of this journey allows you to build trust and credibility.”
Q6: What kind of content is making the most impact for Vertical Leap customers right now?
“Data-driven content is getting the best results for our customers right now and we don’t see this changing anytime soon, even if the topics and formats evolve over time. Data allows us to better understand what our clients’ customers are looking for and to develop outputs which meet these needs.
“We’re making increasing use of data journalism, or data storytelling as we call it; using visual elements like graphs, charts and infographics to illustrate a key message or narrative in a more eye-catching way. This allows us to present a story in a different way, and appeal to wider audiences.
“Content hubs – sources of collated, branded content related to a specific subject – are also working well at the moment. They provide a range of content on a topic in a variety of forms, led by data from Apollo Insights. They are a really valuable resource for consumers.
“We know that it’s a mix of strategy, planning, research and delivering output that achieves results, and it’s data that gives us the edge at each of these stages.”
Q7: Content tends to have a short lifecycle. Are there ways to make sure old content keeps getting results?
“Yes, if you regularly review it to see if there’s more it could be doing for you. We review content regularly through content audits, which enable us to decide which pieces we should keep, which require attention, which perform well and any that could be improved.
“If content isn’t performing, we might update it by either re-purposing it so that it better meets customer need or by introducing new imagery, updating titles and refocusing messages. We use data insights from Apollo Insights to support the changes we make so that it is directly relevant to the audiences we want to reach, contains relevant key messages and search terms which answer questions or provide information audiences are looking for.”
Q8: What will Vertical Leap’s content marketers to be doing differently in 2019?
“We are already developing, in Apollo Insights, methods for identifying strengths and weaknesses in content, and classification models to enable us to group content by type or theme. We will be using algorithms more to analyse content for various factors – word count, structure, keyword presence, article type and more. With this kind of algorithmic analysis, we will be able to easily see what works well and what doesn’t in different situations.
“With millions of search queries and web pages in our database, we have a wealth of data against which we can seek out content opportunities.
“We’re also developing our competitor analysis tools, which will enable us to apply that same analysis to content on other websites. Once you start overlaying that kind of information using algorithms and machine learning, you can automate a lot of the research that takes time manually.”
Got a question about content marketing?
Feel free to send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be more than happy to answer them. We’d love to hear from you.
Today’s consumers are bombarded with promotional content and ads yet the latest research from BuzzSumo suggests engagement is declining. As Steve Rayson puts it, “If you’re sticking with your content approach from three years ago, it’s now 50% less effective.”
Marketers aren’t the only ones facing this problem. Publishers are in the midst of a content crisis and the big names in media have turned to data journalism over the past few years to re-engage their audiences – with great results.
Now, marketers are following suit with their own take on data journalism to create compelling stories that people can engage with. Here’s how you can do the same.
Why should marketers care about data journalism?
In a world of fake news, affiliate marketing and content overload (where every brand claims to be the best), people’s faith in content is at an all-time low. A study from Ipsos into public trust reveals advertising and marketing are among the least trusted sources of information.
Source: Ipsos OXT and 4As
Another problem facing brands and marketers is content saturation. One of the key findings in the BuzzSumo study we mentioned earlier is that, the more content being published about a single topic, the lower engagement typically becomes.
Data journalism (or, as we describe it, data storytelling) is a good way to tackle both the trust factor and to overcome the saturation problem. Content with visual appeal is more eye-catching and suited to the modern audience, who tend to scan rather than read. Even better if it is interactive, for them to engage with it. Factual data overcomes the accusation of spin or bias.
Data journalism, or data storytelling, means telling your story with charts, graphs or diagrams, enabling your reader to view the data that forms the story.
As a marketer, you can employ the same approach with your content. To make people notice and read your content, the key is finding something new and compelling to say, and presenting the data in a visually appealing way.
This is what data journalists excel at and, as you’ll see in the following examples, some of the best data journalism simply shows people the role that brands and services play in their daily lives.
BuzzFeed News’ spy plane tracker
BuzzFeed News revealed the flight paths of thousands of US spy planes – including state and local law enforcement – by training a machine learning plane tracker. At a time when public faith in the government is on the rocks, the publication lifted the lid on covert operations at the nation’s border, the use of unregistered aircraft and some bizarre flight paths over populated civilian land.
Hidden Spy Planes by BuzzFeed News won the JSK Fellowships award for innovation in data journalism at this year’s Data Journalism Awards, highlighting what machine learning technology has to offer this kind of content.
The Uber Game
The Uber Game, by the Financial Times, turns data journalism into a playable game, “based on real reporting, including interviews with dozens of Uber drivers”. The aim is to put you behind the wheel as a full-time Uber driver and see if you can earn enough to pay the mortgage and support your family. There are different difficulty settings which affect your credit rating and ability to earn, plus a bundle of troublesome customers to deal with.
High-speed rail has transformed the way people travel around China, cutting the time it takes to get from Beijing to Nanjing down to just 3.5 hours – a journey that can take 10-15 hours by road. Thanks to China’s modern train network, people can easily access parts of the country that were previously out of reach – and this interactive map shows people all the places they can get to using high-speed rail.
Once again, it all comes down to showing the impact this system has on their daily lives instead of it being another soulless infrastructure development project.
How to write like a data journalist
Storytelling is central to data journalism but there’s extra emphasis on reportage compared with the broader concept of data storytelling (hence the journalism nuance). So your aim is to discover fresh insights and deliver them as breaking headlines, new findings and exclusives people won’t get elsewhere.
This is a little different to the branded storytelling you might be used to. Here, your role is to report, not sell, and the trick is to pinpoint those data insights that are going to point readers towards your brand without using any of the corporate spiel they’re fed up with.
Here’s how you can write like a data journalist:
Know your angle. Start with the questions you want to answer, and the angle you want to take.
Find the data: Source data from several places – The ONS is a good place to start. You can also compile your own data.
Visualise your data. For your data to have an impact, you need to present it in a visual way – charts, infographics, interactive visualisations, etc.
Structure your story. You don’t need to tell the whole story in one piece of content. You can run a series of posts, unveiling snippets of your insights and revealing more of the story as you go. You’ll also want to publish across multiple channels in different formats with content tailored to user habits on each platform (e.g. Facebook videos vs Twitter graphs).
Consider Google News. If data journalism is going to become a crucial part of your content strategy, consider submitting your site on Google News Publisher Center. This will give you a new channel for users to discover your content, the chance to show up in Google’s AMP carousel and make your data visible in Google Search.
People trust facts and figures more than anything you have to say about your product or services. Most brands have spent the past decade or so publishing repetitive, overly promotional content that has nothing to offer except another sales pitch.
With data journalism, you’re dropping the sales pitch in favour of practical insights and proving their worth with solid numbers. Then you’re crafting stories around this data that people can relate to, giving you the chance to provoke an emotional response that brings them closer to your brand.
Here to help
If you’d like to create your own data stories, we can help. Just drop us your details and one of our content specialists will be happy to chat through things with you.
Storytelling is a well-proven method of engaging with audiences. 65% of the most popular Ted Talks are ones where the speaker is sharing a personal story. Viewers respond well to such narratives. Researchers from Spain have proven that, when people hear stories, their cerebral cortex lights up. It literally activates your entire brain and helps you memorise the content better.
Apart from being “sticky”, good stories also create credibility, especially when they are based upon solid facts, rather than speculations. With the rise of fake news and all the high-profile cases of online opinion manipulations, modern consumers are becoming more cynical about the information circulating online. According to an Edelman survey, only a quarter of the UK population tends to trust social media as a source for news and information.
To reach the sceptic consumers, you need to raise both the quality and credibility of content you produce and share. Data-backed content is now in high demand. And data science should become your tool to elevate your brand’s authority and credibility.
What is data storytelling?
Data storytelling uses elements such as infographics, charts and others types of data visualisation to help tell the story. According to the Institute For Advanced Analytics, data alone isn’t convincing. It needs to be combined with a compelling and easy-to-understand narrative.
Of course, it takes more than simply adding some data and graphics to a story to create something worthy of attention. So here’s the right recipe for mixing creative storytelling with data science.
Use your proprietary data
Some of the best data you have is likely stashed in your own servers. The data in your customer support tickets alone can be valuable. Just from that, you can identify commonly asked questions, points of confusion, desired features, even some customer demographics.
Not only is this great information to pass along to product development team members, your content teams can make great use of this as well. Data science can help you spot repeating patterns and trends that could be further turned into unique stories and industry research. In fact, 74% of B2B consumers say that original research published by brands significantly influences their decision-making. Original research also raises your profile with media outlets and improves your PR efforts.
And your search doesn’t have to be all-serious. Spotify, for example, analysed and pinpointed unusual user behaviour patterns, and leveraged those insights in a series of funny, unique and creative ad campaigns throughout 2017 and 2018.
In content marketing, relevance is key. In fact, the purpose is to provide people with content that is useful to them right now. So the questions you should be asking are, “What are people searching for?” and, “How does that tie into my business goals?” While these two questions alone cannot determine the data you should be using, they can guide you in the right direction.
First of all, you can use data available from public sources and through APIs to understand what’s hot in your industry right now. The good sources for that are:
Data provided by government agencies llike COI and ONS.
Then you can match those records against the customer data you already have in your CRM systems and see whether there’s an overlap. For instance, if you are offering a personal investment product you may be interested in publicising a top-chart featuring suitable portfolio allocations for investors of different age and income.
Or if you are in the travel industry, you can follow the lead of Citizen M hotel chain and use data science to pinpoint and study the habits of your micro-niche audience and create stories that would resonate deeply with this particular audience.
Make your narratives more relatable with real life examples
We love stories because we often see ourselves as the heroes or can relate to some of their traits, woes or struggles. You are probably using personalisation to some extent on your website and in email campaigns. And it could be further extended in the realm of brand stories using data science. Crunch some numbers for your clients to let them learn something new about themselves and your brands.
Airlines have been using these tactics for ages. Almost every other in-flight magazine features a spread telling how many passengers they carried last year, what was the percentage of delayed flights, the number of routes available and so on. The ‘serious’ facts are often spiced up with some curiosities e.g. listing the number of surfboards carried during summer or sunglasses forgot by vacation takers.
EasyJet took the idea one step further and for its 20th anniversary presented each customer with their personalised travel history with the airline. They used available data to create individual stories, featuring information on when, where and who the passenger travelled with for the first time and where they may want to go next. In total, they used 28 key data points in their narrative, complemented by graphics, destination visuals and unique copy.
This data-driven campaign turned out to be a huge success – 12,473,608 unique emails in total were sent; open rates more than 100% higher when compared to the average newsletter with 25% higher click-through rates.
Ultimately, data science can and should play an important role in every part of your content marketing strategy, not just the part the audience sees. It can be leveraged to select better topics, conduct advanced audience segmentation and run highly-personalised campaigns, and, at the same time, share unique stories only your brand is capable to produce.
Europeans now spend more time searching for flights than they do on airplanes (Sabre), while 80% of travellers prefer to book things themselves rather than go through agencies (Booking.com, TechRadar). In other words, today’s traveller likes to be in control. They’re happy to invest a lot of time in creating the ideal holiday and getting the best deal for themselves.
This journey of research, bookings and travel purchases starts long before people step on the plane (or their preferred mode of transport) and continues throughout their holiday. As a travel marketer, you need to understand this journey and how purchase intent changes along the way – so you can capture leads at every stage and bring them closer to your brand.
Audience #1: No travel plans in mind (yet)
Casually browsing the web and going about their lives
Your first target audience doesn’t even realise they want to go on holiday yet. They’re simply going about their business – just like any other day – and your first job is to spark that initial travel interest.
Social advertising is the ideal place to start with this target audience. This is where people see all their friends’ holiday pictures and follow influencers leading the kind of luxury life they dream of. Your goal at this stage is to show them this dream is only a short holiday away, so start with Facebook and Instagram ads that show people the kind of travel experience they’re craving.
If you’re in the hotel business, forget about promoting your rooms at this stage because nobody goes on holiday to see the interior of your bathrooms. Focus on those dreamy images people have of travelling abroad and create visuals that capture this – all you need to do is look at the top Instagram travel influencers to get an idea of what people want from their travels.
Look for influencers that resonate with your target audience (e.g. luxury travel vs adventure travel) and what kind of content is making most of an impact with their followers. This gives you a good idea of what your audience will respond to as they’re scrolling down their feed.
Audience #2: Deciding where to go
Researching and comparing locations for their next holiday
Once someone decides they’re going on a trip, the first thing they’re going to do next is choose where to go. These people aren’t casually browsing anymore; they’re actively looking for travel destinations and search engines are going to be the first place they turn to.
This is where your organic SEO strategy comes into play and ranking for the right keywords is crucial. People aren’t interested in booking anything at this stage. Instead, they’re searching things like ‘best winter getaways’, ‘tropical island holidays’, ‘cheapest places to visit in August’ and other research queries to help them decide where to go.
Make sure you know what your target audience is searching for at this stage of the research process. Most of this is done on mobile and ranking in the top positions for the right keywords when people are looking for travel inspiration is the ideal time to introduce your brand.
Audience #3: Making the first bookings
Looking for flights, hotels, etc.
With their next destination decided, a traveller’s next move is to look at flights, hotels, rental cars and any other essentials like travel insurance. Once again, search is the first place people are going to turn to. Google recently updated its own flights and hotel search platform, meaning travellers can browse and book most of their holiday essentials without ever leaving Google.
Keep in mind that a lot of people still use platforms like Booking.com, Skyscanner and Moneysupermarket.com – and mobile apps will keep some users away from search engines.
For the majority of users who still turn to Google Search at this stage of the booking process, you’ll want to create campaigns in Google Ads. Create campaigns for each location and use ad extensions to improve your chances of attracting clicks. Rating extensions make your ads stand out visually and increase user confidence in your brand while sitelink extensions allow you to make multiple offers and direct users to more specific parts of your site.
If you’re not in the flights or hotel business (or anything that fits into this early booking category), you can still introduce your brand by creating campaigns for the Display Network and targeting comparison sites, airlines and other websites people visit at this stage of the research/booking process.
Audience #4: Secondary bookings
Looking for attractions, activities, restaurants etc. (before they travel)
Once the flights are booked, people turn their attention to planning the best holiday they can in the limited time they’ve got. During the period between booking flights and departure, travellers have time to do their research; they’re going to be looking for the ‘unmissable’ things to do in their travel destination.
Search is crucial here too so take a two-pronged approach, with PPC ads and organic content. Think about a user session that starts with ‘places to visit in Cambodia’ and develops into ‘Angkor Wat tours’ and ‘best time to visit Angkor Wat’.
Aside from flights and hotel search, Google is also positioning itself as a travel planning tool. This is an important new channel for tourist attractions, tours, events, restaurants and local services.
Audience #5: Travelling in your area
Looking for attractions, activities, restaurants etc. (after they arrive)
Your final travel target audience is people who are currently in your area, looking for things to see, eat and do. Mobile has empowered travellers to make buying decisions on the move, all they need to do is open up Google Maps to find the best local restaurants, attractions and photo spots.
This tells you how important it is to have a strong presence on Google Maps if you’re a local service travellers are likely to be looking out for.
Of course, mobile search is also going to play a key role in helping people make quick decisions. It could be a case of looking up a tour operator to see what their reviews are like on TripAdvisor, trying to find a 24/7 store or looking for the most ‘Instagrammable’ places in your area.
Make sure you know what people are searching for while they’re in your area because this is a key part of your SEO and PPC strategies.
People don’t take a break from social media just because they’re on holiday either – quite the opposite. Facebook and Instagram both have a targeting option that allows you to target people who are currently travelling in specific locations. Which means you can plant ideas in people’s heads about what to do the next day, where to eat later that evening and where to buy some local crafts to take back home.
The travel booking process is a journey in itself and people’s mindset changes a great deal along the way. Understanding how needs evolve throughout this process is crucial to a successful travel marketing campaign. Your aim is to spark that initial travel inspiration before people even realise they want to take a trip, and to make sure everyone planning a trip in your locations knows what your brand has to offer. Finally, by targeting people while they travel in your area, you can secure those final high-intent leads that many brands ignore.