Using first-party data to inform your content strategy

Jimmy McCann

Head of Digital Strategy

Analytics and Data Science

When executed well, content marketing can be an invaluable tool, enabling brands to connect and engage with their target audience and provide value to their customers, thereby driving traffic, increasing conversions and improving customer retention rate.

However, a content strategy needs to be well informed if it is to attract, engage and ultimately convert your target audience. Keyword research, media audits and competitor analysis are all good tactics to find out general themes to write about, but when it comes to creating a killer content strategy, the best place to look is your first-party data.

First-party data refers to any data which you have collected directly from your audience. As it is this exact audience you are creating content for, it makes sense that first-party data is the single most valuable asset you can turn to when creating a content strategy.

You can learn more about first, second and third-party data here.

Where to find relevant first-party data

Any business with an online presence has access to first-party data which can be used to inform your content strategy. In this blog, we will run through several sources of first-party data and which insights you should be looking at for your content marketing.

Customer personas and the customer journey

Before you create a content strategy, you should have a solid idea of who your customer is, from their purchase habits to their wider interests.

You can use your customer personas and customer journey map to guide your content strategy in two ways; by ensuring the content strategy contains verticals for each persona, and by ensuring there is content for every stage of the customer journey.

You can find out how to create a customer journey map in this whitepaper.

Web analytics

Your web analytics is home to huge amounts of first-party data which can help inform your content strategy.

Analysing the performance of your existing content offers valuable insights on what is genuinely engaging your audience. Are certain topics more popular than others? Is one format particularly standing out? By identifying what works, and what doesn’t, you can build an idea of what content should be included in your content strategy.

The following analytics metrics are a good place to look for insights.

  • Conversions and assisted conversions

Conversions and assisted conversions show what content customers are reading before they go on to convert. Once you know the type of content that plays a role in conversion, you can begin to replicate this content across all customer verticals to improve conversion rates.

  • Traffic, time on page, bounce rate and top pages

These metrics tell us what topics and content formats are working best at attracting and engaging your audience online – i.e. content which should be included in your content strategy.

They can also provide insight into whether your current content needs rejigging. For example, if a page is driving a lot of traffic but has a high bounce rate with little time spent on the page, it may be worth re-writing this content to make it more engaging. The traffic suggests that the subject is definitely of interest to your audience, but the bounce rate suggests the content itself is lacking. Re-writing the content to make it more interesting or more informative, or including different content formats within the post, may make it more valuable and useful to those landing on the page, which means these visitors are more likely to read to the end and check out other pages.

  • Referrals

A great way of getting your content in front of a wider audience is to get links from relevant publications which your target audience reads. The referrals metric in Google Analytics shows what content is being linked to by online publishers. If you find publications are consistently linking to your content and they have a readership which overlaps with your target audience, you might want to consider reaching out and seeing if you can offer regular or exclusive content for that publication.

  • Interests

Interests highlight what your customers are searching for, outside of your site. This is useful if you want to create content that is not exclusive to the products and services you offer. For example, a fashion retailer whose audience is also interested in beauty might want to consider creating upper-funnel content which covers beauty so that they get in front of potential customers early on. While this type of content may not directly lead to sales, it can put you at the forefront of a prospect’s mind so when they later are in the market to buy clothes, they click on your ad or listing instead of a competitor.

If you do not want to cover non-product related content on your website, you may find this is a good strategy for improving engagement on your social channels.

  • Site search

Site search is a great tool for identifying if there is any content your audience thinks you should be providing that you currently are not.

  • Location

Your analytics might reveal that certain locations are driving a higher than average amount of traffic or conversions. For locations driving high traffic with low conversions, you could test running localised landing pages to see if this improves conversions. For locations driving low volumes of traffic but exceptionally high conversion rates, you might want to create top-funnel localised content which improves traffic from this area.

  • Source/ medium

Source/ medium highlights which channels are generating the most traffic, and is useful in informing which channels to focus your efforts on. For example, if you find Facebook is generating high-quality traffic while Twitter does not, creating engaging content for Facebook is a better use of time than it is doing the same for Twitter.

Paid media platforms (search and display)

Your paid media platform is also home to a first-party data which can help to shape what content you need to create, and even the words you should be using in your content.

An additional benefit of using paid media insights to guide your content strategy is that you can run multiple ads at once. Comparing the performance of these ads means you can directly compare how successful the ad content is with your target audience.

  • Click-through rate (CTR)

Ads with a high CTR help inform what headlines and descriptions drive traffic from SERPs. Using copy from these ads in your meta descriptions and headlines/ titles for the relevant keywords and search terms can help your content to rank and drive organic traffic.

You can also pull out the call to actions which perform well and use these on blogs and landing pages to improve conversions.

  • Cost per click (CPC)

Keywords with a higher CPC typically drive better leads and more of them. Building up organic visibility for these terms so you gain valuable traffic without needing to rely on paid media can help to reduce your costs. By identifying these keywords, you can factor in content and PR campaigns around these search terms to improve your position.

  • Imagery

In addition to the writing element of your content strategy, you should also consider what imagery you use on your website and social channels, as they play a huge part in brand sentiment and even driving conversions.

Split testing imagery in your display campaigns to see which drives more conversions is a useful way to inform what kind of image should be used in social and website content. For example, does lifestyle pictures lead to more click-throughs but product images lead to a higher conversion rate? Knowing this information can help you decide what type of imagery to use at every stage of the customer journey.

Social media platforms

Your social media engagement metrics can also offer insight as to what content resonates with your audience. In addition to the metrics available within your social analytics, you can look at certain metrics specifically for social traffic within Google Analytics such as bounce rate and time on page which tell you whether the content onsite matches up to what content they expected or hoped to see from the social post.

Social media metrics to also look at include:

  • Social shares and tagging

People typically only share content (either through sharing to their page or tagging their friends in the comments) which aligns with their beliefs or provides their followers and friends with value. If a piece of content is being shared, that means it has hit the mark with your audience. Identify what it is about the content which is so compelling and see how you can replicate this in future pieces.

  • Click-through rate

Similar to click-through rates in paid media, the CTRs of your social media posts suggest what copy is compelling enough to drive interest and engagement. Where paid media normally focuses on more commercially driven pages, social media is more about informational content which means you can use this metric to identify what content works in the upper-funnel sales cycle.

  • Follower growth rate

How many followers you gain or lose is a good indication of how valuable your content is. If your growth rate is slow, or you are losing followers, it is a sign that the content you are producing is not of interest to your audience. On the other hand, seeing consistently high growth suggests that the content is engaging and of value.

Email marketing

Your email marketing campaigns are another source of first-party data that informs how well received your content is, and what topics are most of interest to your customer base.

  • Open rate

Your email open rate tells you how compelling your customers find your headlines. Split-testing subject lines is a good way of seeing which content angles are likely to drive higher levels of engagement.

  • Click rate

This metric tells you, of those who opened the email, how many clicked through to an article or page on your website. Emails are often ignored so when someone clicks through to read more of your content, it suggests that the description you have used to sell the content is working. Incorporating this into your meta descriptions or social media copy may help to boost traffic.

  • Unsubscribe rate

Where open rate and click rate tell you when content is working, unsubscribe rate highlights content which your audience dislikes. If you see a sudden increase in unsubscribes following a particular email, analyse what it is that has caused this so you can avoid content which causes this issue.

Using first-party data to understand what content attracts and engages your customer will help you to devise a fool-proof content strategy that targets prospects at every stage of the customer journey and pushes them along to convert.

These metrics can all be used to analyse content themes and formats that are received well by your audience. If you want to gain even deeper first-party insights into the content your audience likes, you may want to consider sending out customer surveys or even hosting focus groups to get qualitative data on what does and doesn’t work.

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