The internet is a vast and crowded place: if you wait for the right people to stumble across your content, it will sit there gathering dust instead of helping you attract and convert leads. That's why channel strategy is a critical part of your content marketing mix.
But as the number of channels continues to grow, it's increasingly important to choose them wisely so that you can focus your resources and energies where they will deliver the greatest ROI.
If you Google "marketing channels," you'll come across hundreds of articles with titles like, "The 10 Channels Every Marketer Must Try," or "The Top 20 Channels for 2020." But the truth is that the best channels will be different for every organization, and finding the ones that are best for you will take research and trial and error.
In this blog post, we'll look at five types of data that marketers can use to evaluate channels and select the ones that are most likely to attract new audiences for their content.
Behavioral data shows you how your audience actually behaves, making it a type of data that's hard to argue with. Web analytics services such as Google Analytics will show you, in near real time, how people are finding your website content, including your resource center and landing pages. By reviewing the volume of traffic generated by sources such as organic and paid search, social media sites, and backlinks, you can get a clear sense of those that are currently the most effective.
But remember that traffic volume won't tell you the whole story. You also need to factor into the equation the resources you're allocating to those channels. For example, Google Analytics might reveal that only 10% of your traffic comes from social media and 40% comes from paid search, but if you have been spending 80% of your marketing budget on paid search and next to nothing on cultivating your social media channels, the data could be telling you to prioritize social.
Behavioral data is also limited to telling you what IS, rather than what COULD BE. In other words, it gives you insight into the effectiveness of the channels you're already using—and it might uncover channels that are performing better or worse than you expected—but it won't reveal new channels that you should expand into. If you're not using sponsored content as a channel, for example, behavioral data can't tell you whether that's a channel worth exploring.
The demographics, firmographics, and psychographics of your ideal customer profile should factor into the decision to adopt or ramp up activity on a specific channel. If your customer is more mature, Facebook may be a better fit than Twitter, which skews younger. If your market is restricted to North America, it's helpful to know that more than 40% of Quora traffic comes from India.
Analysts such as Pew Research, Gartner, Forrester, and other organizations that conduct unbiased research can be invaluable in supplying the quantitative data you need to identify the channels whose audiences align most closely with your ideal customer.
Here are some examples:
- The Content Marketing Institute identified the top channels for the manufacturing industry.
- Quartz researched the channel preferences and patterns of people in executive roles.
- Pew Research examined some of the changing demographics for Facebook.
It takes time to track down this type of research, especially when you're looking for information on a specific audience segment, but the insights you uncover can make it well worth the effort.
Some people believe that once you start following your competitors, you've already lost the race. But you can gather a lot of valuable information by analyzing your competitors, including the channels they're using, how they're using them, and, in some cases, the levels of engagement they're maintaining.
This information can help you decide which channels might be worth exploring further, and can also give you an idea of the level of activity you'll need to maintain on that channel in order to attract attention.
There are a host of useful tools—and some are free!—that can help you monitor your competitors' channel usage.
Alexa Backlink Checker can show you the sites that link back to your competitors through listings or guest/syndicated content.
Spyfu can show you how your competitors are using paid and organic search and how that compares to your own participation.
BuiltWith (free) lists the technologies that are running on a competitor's website. That can tell you what social media platforms they're tracking and advertising with, whether they are remarketing/retargeting, and what other ad channels they're using.
Quintly can help you identify the social media channels your competitors use and collect data on performance metrics such as likes, retweets, and upvotes, and social listening platforms such as Talkwalker enable you to listen in on the conversations competitors are having with their audiences.
Social platforms often let you see the ads your competitors are running:
- Type a competitor's name into the Facebook Ad Library to see all of their recent ads.
- For LinkedIn, visit the competitor's company page and click the "Ads" tab.
- For Twitter, enter the competitor's name into Twitter's Ads Transparency Center.
Competitor research is a great way to discover new channels you hadn't even considered or collect ideas for ways to use your channels more effectively, but keep in mind that your research is unlikely to reveal the results competitors are seeing from those channels. They may have a bevy of slick LinkedIn ads, a ton of company-page follows, and lots of likes, but all that activity may not actually be translating into qualified leads and opportunities.
“If you're competitor focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.” —Jeff Bezos
Monitoring your competitors will tell you where they think your customers are, but why not go directly to the source? Talking to your customers can be enlightening in many ways, and it can help you round out your channel research by:
- Confirming that your ideal customers actually use the channels you have prioritized
- Identifying any additional channels that your research didn't uncover
Ideally, this input will be collected through interviews with a mix of customers and prospects who fit your ideal customer profile. If you haven't updated your buyer personas in a couple of years, or you haven't validated your personas through direct input from your customers, you can accomplish two goals by adding some channel-specific questions to a broader persona interview. (For more guidance on creating personas, check out the Definitive Guide to Marketing Personas.)
Here are some examples of the types of open-ended questions you can ask people:
- How do you keep up with information that's relevant to your role and your industry?
- When you face a challenge at work, where do you go to find answers?
- Are there industry experts, publications, podcasts, and blogs that you respect and follow?
- Which social media platforms are you active on? What do you do on those channels?
The answers will give you a deeper view of the ways in which your ideal customer seeks out information: the media they consume, the influencers and organizations they trust, and the networks they're part of. This qualitative data can be layered over the more quantitative data that you collect from analyst research to round out the picture and bring it into sharper focus.
The data that measures the performance of your channels is the last piece of the puzzle. For channels you currently use, you'll want to collect data that quantifies the impact your marketing efforts have. For new channels, you'll want to determine the ultimate goal you want to achieve and measure performance against those goals.
For example, if the goal is:
Awareness: Measure impressions and views on each channel.
Channel engagement: Measure likes, shares, and other engagement metrics for each channel.
Web traffic: Measure clicks, pageviews, and time on page for visitors referred through each channel.
Lead generation: Measure and attribute form-fills to specific channels.
Impact on revenue: Track and attribute MQLs, SQLs, and opportunities to specific channels.
Ultimately, you want to be able to track a channel's impact as far down the pipeline as possible so that you can focus your energies and resources on the channels with the highest ROI. It's not an easy task, but it's a goal well worth working towards. It not only helps to prove marketing's contribution in a tangible way, it can also help you push past the surface metrics—those that are easiest to collect—and start tracking the metrics that deliver deeper insight into a channel's ability to attract people who are most likely to become satisfied customers.
Check out How to Get Real About Revenue Attribution to learn more about building an attribution model for your content, channels, and campaigns.
Build a data-driven channel strategy
Channels are a critical part of your content strategy, and choosing the right ones ensures the right people can find and consume the content you've worked so hard to create.
Adding a new channel or deprioritizing an existing channel can have a significant impact on your content marketing efforts, so make sure your decisions are driven by well-rounded, well-researched data from key sources including behavioral data, analyst research, competitor analysis, customer input, and performance metrics.