Marketers today are faced with many challenges, none of which are greater than providing their target customers with the right information at the right time.
Capturing your target audience's attention, however, takes a lot of finessing - throwing content at the wall to see what sticks just won't cut it. For most brands, a content marketing strategy is more than just a way to build authority online - it's the process of holding their entire promotional efforts together.
It's content that ultimately builds brand awareness, introduces products, connects and develops relationships with potential buyers, acquires more links, and fuels all efforts to increase search visibility.
With that said, some content marketers find it difficult to know what topics are important to cover next. As a result, they start creating pages upon pages of content hoping that some of it will manage to attract new traffic while disregarding their existing content altogether.
That's where a well-designed content map comes into play as part of your content marketing strategy. Creating a content map allows your team to align both the production of your content and the distribution channel to reach your audience at every stage of the buyer's journey. In this post, I'll cover everything you need to know about creating your own version of a content map - from evaluating traffic-driving content to creating necessary new content.
What is Content Mapping?
Content mapping is the process of planning and creating content along different stages of the customer journey. Content marketers must first define how each currently existing content asset relates to a customer’s needs in the hopes that they come across your content in an organic search.
From there, they evaluate the gaps in their current content in order to create new content within each topic cluster to expand their authority in the space and align to different stages of the buyer's journey. Which begs the question...
What is the Buyer's Journey?
In simplest terms, the buyer’s journey is a framework that outlines steps a consumer takes from identifying a need, researching relevant information, and making a decision. This process may vary between industries and product types. In general, however, the process involves going through at least three main stages:
|The stage at which a person realizes they have a particular need or pain point and begin learning more about it. Most buyers exhibit an informational intent at this stage, and their main objective is to explore the problem and general options at their disposal.||At this stage, buyers begin evaluating available solutions, products or vendors. Their research will focus on more transactional or commercial terms, as they look for data to justify their purchase decision.||Finally, a person has collected all the information they need and is ready to make a purchase. They use transactional phrases to find a vendor or a website to buy the item they’ve chosen.|
In short, when choosing products, a buyer:
- Develops an interest in a product or discover a need to solve a problem,
- Looks for more information about it,
- Considers different alternatives and finally,
- Settles on a one solution to buy.
Recommended Reading: Keyword Mapping Along the Buyer Journey
Why Map Your Content
There are three main benefits of content mapping, apart from allowing you to position content along the buyer’s journey strategically.
Content mapping helps you understand customers better. To map content, you must learn more about them, and how they search for products or services your company offers. All this knowledge is bound to enrich your strategies and improve the results you deliver.
Mapping content uncovers real customer needs. In fact, the process helps overcome one of the greatest challenges marketers face - Having to work off assumptions only.
As you’ll see shortly, content mapping removes any guesswork from the process, leaving you with hard facts and data that’s relevant to your buyers.
Finally, content mapping defines your content development roadmap. This is particularly important when you have thousands of keywords to choose from, and struggle to prioritize what to work on next.
We've discussed this idea of forecasting your content needs in an earlier post, SEO Forecasting: How to Identify Your Organic Traffic Potential
When you’ve mapped content ideas to the buyer’s journey, defining an SEO content strategy becomes ridiculously easy.
What Do You Need to Create a Content Map?
First, you must have a good understanding of whom you’re targeting in the search results – your buyer personas. In fact, I don’t believe that you can complete a mapping process without defining your target audience first.
Creating buyer personas is a vast topic, but I'll be brief: a buyer persona is a detailed description of the ideal customer you’re trying to attract to your brand.
The other thing you need is their buying journey. You must define specific steps people take as they seek purchasing products or services like yours. I’ve outlined a generic customer journey above; however, the actual process for your business and products may be shorter or longer.
My recommendation is to research it with the sales team’s help. No one else knows your customers' buying journey better within the organization.
Finally, you need to conduct a content audit to identify what content you have already. You need it for two reasons: 1) to understand what assets you can map to the buyer’s journey, and 2) not to duplicate those assets when creating new content.
How to Create a Content Map to Identify New Topics and Opportunities
What follows is a two-step process that will help you:
- Assess how your current content supports a person in their buying journey first. In turn, you’ll discover what information you’re missing and need to create, and then,
- Discover what topics or insights would enrich your content even further.
Part I: Create a Topic Authority Map
If there’s one thing that’s characteristic to every stage of the buying journey, it’s this:
In the early stages, buyers inquire about their problem and wonder why it is actually important to solve it. Later, when they’ve discovered more about it, they become curious about different ways to solve it. In the final stages of the process, they ponder how to implement a specific solution.
Of course, these questions will also vary depending on the buyer persona and other factors. In general, however, you can assume that they’ll inquire about relevant information at every stage of the buying cycle.
What is it?
Why is it important?
Why should I care?
How to use it?
What steps do I take?
How to implement it?
Has anyone else used this?
Your content, therefore, should aim to answer specific questions, relevant to the person’s particular stage of the cycle.
So, as the first step, you need to assess which questions you’re already answering. This, in turn, will help you discover the holes in the strategy.
I typically do it this an Excel document, following these four steps:
- Create a section for every step of your customer’s journey. You could use the most common division, like the one I listed above. However, there might be additional steps buyers go to in your industry that you might have to include as well.
- Create separate breakdowns for every persona you target (optional). The chances are that they’ll seek different information in their journey. And so, it’s worth to identify their individual needs to get a clearer picture of your content assets.
- List various questions these people would ask at every stage in separate columns. Again, if possible, do it for each persona separately.
- In every question column, start listing content assets (blog posts, pillar pages, product pages, etc.) that provide answers to it.
With this exercise, you’ll quickly realize where in the buying process you’re not providing relevant information.
Part II: Identify New Topics
In this step, we’ll dig deeper into the data to discover what insights would help you fill in the gaps in your strategy.
In particular, we’ll look into various SEO data points to discover audience’s preferences and information needs.
For this walk-through, I’m going to use our platform, seoClarity, and its many content marketing capabilities. You can find out more about the platform and how it could help you boost search visibility here.
Step 1. Assess Keywords Driving Traffic to Your Current Content
Keywords provide the clearest indication of what information your audience seeks.
But it’s worth it to note that I consider more than just the phrases that drove visitors to the site here. Any other query for which Google positions a page could reveal insights about your target customers’ preferences.
Using Search Analytics, I am able to identify the keywords that are driving traffic to my site.
Sorting by Impressions, I review the terms and phrases for content we already use to target a specific stage of the buyer's journey. I gather these terms and add them to my Content Map with the existing asset's URL. This research typically uncovers interesting insights about the audience’s preferences. I ask, "How are they finding the already published content and with what queries?"
Then, I look at what terms are ranking well and what terms are just out of reach of the SERP. To do this, I filter the results by Avg. Position between 11 and 30. This tells me a couple of things: either this piece of content missed the mark where it was supposed to rank or there is an opportunity I need to target in a NEW piece of content.
In the example below, based on what Search Analytics is showing me, I can see that there are several terms I can add to my map and use to plan new content or decide to optimize my current content.
I do this planning within my own content map in an Excel spreadsheet (which I've replicated here as a content mapping template for you to download below).
So, to recap the first step:
- Pick one content asset from your authority map.
- Research keywords that drive traffic to it. Depending on the number of results, you might have to filter to find queries with the highest potential. I typically look at those with the highest number of impressions and conversions first and assess where I could improve those results.
- List those keywords beside your content asset in your content mapping template (see below for download).
Step 2. Identify Additional Keyword Opportunities and Content Ideas
Topic Explorer is a great way to find the long tail keywords around the cluster you're researching or the term that has already been used in another content asset. This way, you can drill down even further to find the more relevant keywords related to that original term that is already driving traffic to your site.
Start with the topic you're researching and conduct a semantic search around that topic. We have covered this workflow in a previous post entitled, Why Topic Strategy Matters Most in Keyword Research.
Step 3. Determine How to Optimize Current Content Assets
Content Fusion is a real power-house when it comes to improving and enriching existing content.
Content Fusion collates various search query data and analyzes your content with a purpose-built deep learning algorithm to suggest what information could enrich it further.
Once you've found the key terms that are driving traffic to your site for a piece of content, use Content Fusion to show you what opportunities you may have missed in your original publication.
Let's imagine I'm a B2B brand looking to optimize a pillar page of content for the term "small business IT solutions". I put this phrase into Content Fusion along with the URL of the content I am looking to optimize. Then, I look at the Suggested Topics to Include.
I see a few opportunities to include further detail on my page about cyber threats and what my brand might provide small business. It's up to me and my content team to then craft additional content to this page based on these suggestions.
Recommended Reading: 5 Content Fusion Success Stories of Increased Search Visibility
Download the 2020 Content Mapping Template to get started building out your content strategy and finding new content opportunities.
Now you know how to discover holes in your content and also find the exact information to deliver the right content that would better position your brand along the entire buyer’s journey. Content mapping helps you do this strategically. By uncovering how your ideal customers search for your products or services, you identify ways to connect with them, drive those people to your site and engage them with your brand. The Content Mapping Template provided can help you get started with greater content wins today!
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in May 2018 and has been updated to reflect changes in the seoClarity platform.