When you see a problem every day, it can stop looking like a problem.
Lots of businesses dutifully publish content to a weekly schedule, but get no results. As a content marketing agency, it’s sad to see these businesses give up having resigned themselves to a Google Analytics dashboard that looks like this:
You might expect us to tell you that you need our team of fantastic copywriters to sort you out with a fancy-pants content marketing strategy, but the truth is, not every piece of content that ranks #1 on Google is written by a professional copywriter.
In fact, many businesses’ existing content could rank, if only those writing the content used a data driven content marketing strategy. Yes, even your content. No, I’m not lying to you.
Your real problem isn’t that your industry isn’t juicy enough, or that your company isn’t popular enough, or that your writing isn’t good enough – so stop with the excuses. The real problem is that you’re not taking a data-driven approach to content marketing.
Without data-driven content marketing, your content will never rank on Google, it’s really the only one of all the digital content strategies that is guaranteed to improve your rankings. And you’re not using it?!
Today, we’re going to change that. This is the day that you emerge from the fog and start using data as your lighthouse to help you avoid the rocks and increase your position on Google.
Here’s what your new data driven content marketing strategy will entail:
- Benchmark your current search engine rankings
- Benchmark your current website traffic
- Find your best performing pages
- Find out what Google wants
- Improve your existing content
- Track your performance
Note: Before gathering your data, it will help if you have already set up Google Analytics and Google Search Console. These are both free tools from Google that you can use to get useful information about your newly data driven website. While it’s not crucial to creating a data driven strategy, if you have access to a keyword research tool such as Ahrefs or Moz, that will come in handy, too – and it doesn’t hurt if you have some understanding of your average buyer persona, either.
Benchmark your current search engine rankings
Before you can start using data to plan your course ahead, you need to find your current data coordinates. (I’m going with a kind of ship-based metaphor here, bear with me.)
This benchmark data will be the backbone of your new data driven content marketing strategy, and you’ll primarily get that data from two places:
If you have an account with Ahrefs, Moz, or any other kind of keyword research tool, you can get some of your data from there too.
Right now, we’re going to concentrate on finding your current search engine rankings using Google Search Console.
Step 1: Go to the Performance Tab of Google Search Console
When you log in to Google Search Console, you’ll see the following page:
Click “Search Property” and select the website you want to track data for. (Most businesses will only have one search property, but businesses with several websites will have more. The process is the same for each.)
Once you’ve logged into your search property, navigate to the ‘Performance’ tab on the left hand side of the page.
This page has all of your basic Google search information, including the number of impressions your website has received from Google SERPs, the number of clicks, your click-through rate, and your average position. (The example I’m using for this post is for my personal blog and I’ve previously written all about how I started ranking my website on Google for free, which you’re welcome to read.)
Step 2: Export your current position data
In the Performance tab, you should check both the Average CTR and Average Position Filters until you end up with a crazy graph that looks something like this:
This is a quarterly view of all of your content’s search performance, showing all data for the last three months. Quarter-on-quarter data tracking is great for businesses to track Google search performance over time.
You can use the Date filter at the top of the page to get a short-term tracking benchmark from the last 28 days, too. This will give you a good place to start looking at incremental improvements month-on-month.
That Export button at the top there? Click it and you’ll see this drop down menu:
Personally, I like Google Sheets, so I’ll work in that for the rest of this guide; but if you prefer Excel, or importing CSV files, you can use those too. Captain’s choice.
You’ll end up with a Spreadsheet that looks something like this, with all your keyword rankings over the last 28 days (or three months) as well as tabs to show you which pages rank the most highly, which keywords get you the most clicks, and even what countries you’re most popular in. That wasn’t too hard, was it?
Note: You don’t need to be a financial business or a large corporation to get benefits from using Excel or Google Sheets. In order to make the most of your new data driven content marketing strategy, I’d recommend getting to know the basics of spreadsheets so you can understand the data you’re working with.
You can save this spreadsheet as it is, or make a new spreadsheet tracking your main content metrics. The main things you need to track are:
- Your highest-performing keywords (Those ranking in pages 1-3, or – if you don’t have any that high – the top 10 keywords you have.)
- The pages that rank for those keywords
- Your click-through rate, clicks, and impressions for your highest ranking keywords
This information can be found in the first two tabs of your exported data.
Benchmark your current website traffic
Now we’ll be working in Google Analytics to find how much of your website’s traffic comes from organic searches.
Step 1: Go to the Acquisition Tab of Google Analytics
When you login to your Google Analytics account, you’ll see a very busy page full of vanity metrics that we don’t need right now. Ignore them.
What we want to do is navigate to the ‘Acquisition’ tab on the left hand side, and select ‘Channels’.
Now you’ll see the following information, telling you how many of your website’s users came to your website organically, vs every other channel (paid ads, social media, referral traffic, etc.) Make sure you have selected the same time period as you did for Google Search Console. In my case, that was the last 28 days.
Step 2: Export your current user data
Again, you’ll find a handy ‘Export’ button in the top right corner of the page. You know what to do.
Once you have exported your data into your favourite data medium, you’ll have something that looks like this:
We’re mostly interested in the number of organic users, and the total number of users. Ideally we want to see both of those numbers increase over the next 28 days (or whatever data tracking period you have chosen).
If both of those numbers increase after following the rest of the steps in this guide, then congratulations, you’ve just successfully implemented a data-driven content marketing strategy.
Find your best performing pages & keywords
Now that you have the data you need, you can work with it to begin creating your data driven content plan. The next step is to use this data to find the pages that perform best for your website.
The reason we want to find the best performing pages is because those will be the easiest to improve. It’s much easier to move an existing page from position 11 to position 1, than it is to move an existing page from position 100 to position 1.
Step 1: Identify your best performing search engine rankings
In my Google Search Console example above, the best performing keywords are these ones, listed under ‘query’:
And my best performing pages are these ones, under ‘pages’:
If you want to be thorough, you can also check Google Analytics to make sure that your best performing pages correlate to the landing pages you get from organic users on your site, just as below:
Step 2: Select which pages you want to improve
Deciding which pages you want to improve is a little more subjective. In a perfect world, the top ranking page that isn’t already number 1 for your chosen keyword(s) would be the best choice. However, you might feel that a different page would benefit more from the extra attention or help you meet your business’ KPIs.
When it comes to selecting the pages to improve, we’re using the data to inform our decisions, not make them for us.
In my example, I’m choosing the 3rd highest-ranking page to improve – “How to host a home poker game”. I’m choosing this page because the keyword I want the content to rank higher for has a higher search volume in the keyword research tool, Ahrefs.
If you don’t have a keyword research tool, that’s okay – just pick the top one or the one you feel like needs the most work.
Find out what Google wants
Now we’re going to use our data from Google Search Console and Google Analytics, and compare it to data we can get for free from Google’s SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
Step 1: Get Googling
Let’s choose the keyword ‘home poker night’ for which the website currently ranks #5 in the UK. Not bad, but how can we get to number 1? (That’s right, we’re going to use the data.)
Step 1: Meta Data audit
Right here in the SERP is where we’ll find our first clues to what Google wants. We’ll do that by looking at the metadata. That is, what do the results in positions 1-3 have in their meta title and meta description that I don’t?
Here are a few things I have noticed:
- Words like “Everything” and “Ultimate” in the top ranking results imply that I need to make my post sound more comprehensive.
- The #2 result has a “downloadable guide”. Perhaps the users (and thus Google) are getting the most value for this search term when they are provided with downloadable resources.
- The #3 result has “10 Keys to Success”. Perhaps adding a numbered list to my meta title would help me increase the rankings for this post.
Make a note of all of these potential improvements, we’ll be using them later.
Step 2: On-Page Audit
Now we’re going to look at what the content on those top ranking pages has, that my post doesn’t have. We’ll be looking at 3 key content data points:
- Word count
- Keyword density
- Copy to heading ratio
To find the word count, I’d recommend downloading and installing a browser plugin such as Word Counter Plus for Chrome. Then you can use the plugin to select all the words on the pages ranking from 1-3 on Google for your selected keyword, and find the average content length.
The #1 result on Google for my keyword has 2646 words, the #2 result has 5119, and the number #3 result has 2367. That’s a total of 10,132 and an average of 3,377 words per post.
My page already has 3,350 words, which implies that I don’t need to increase my word count in order to improve my ranking for this keyword. The search for improvement opportunities continues…
However, if you find that your content is far below the word count of the current ranking pages for your chosen keyword, this would be a signal that you need to increase the word count for your chosen page.
Next, while on your competitor’s page, you want to press CTRL+F (or Cmd + F on a Mac) to bring up the Find on Page function of your browser. Go ahead, type in the keyword.
Your browser will tell you how many instances of exact match keywords are in your competitors’ content. Compare this to the number of times your content uses the keyword.
You don’t want this to be far above or below the number your competitors use.
In my case, neither my content, nor my competitors’ used any exact match keywords. This means that I may be able to adjust my ranking for this keyword if I can use an exact match keyword in my content one or two times. (Don’t overdo it, and make sure it sounds natural.)
Heading to copy ratio
Now we’re going to look at how much copy there is vs headings. This is important because users, and Google, prefer that content is frequently broken up using a proper H1-H6 heading structure. We want to see how many words are used in between headings for our three competitors.
- Competitor 1 has 10 headings
- Competitor 2 has 38 headings
- Competitor 3 has 12 headings
That gives us a total of 60 headings. I’ll divide the total word count (10,132) of my competitors’ content by the number of headings. So that’s 10,132 ÷ 60 = 168.8.
On average, my better ranking competitors have a heading for every 169 words.
My post has a word count of 3350 words, and a total of 20 headings. Or 3350 ÷ 20 = 167.5.
On average, my page has a heading for every 167 words.
This is close enough that I don’t feel that I have to add or remove any of my headings.However, if you find that your competitors’ content has many more, or far fewer headings than your content – you might want to decide to add or subtract some headings from your content.
Improve your existing content
By now, you should have a list of data driven improvements that you can make to your website.
These improvements can include:
- Editing your metadata
- Increasing or decreasing your word count
- Adding or deleting the number of headings and subheadings
Go ahead and make those improvements.
Make sure that your content still reads naturally. If your aim is to increase your word count, do not add flowery words for the sake of it – find extra points and subjects to talk about within your overall topic.
You can go back to your competitors’ content to see what subjects they have written about, and consider how you might improve on what they have covered. (I hope I don’t have to say this – but do not steal their content! It’s not a nice thing to do and Google hates duplicated content so it won’t work anyway.)
Note: You should edit your current, live on-page content. DO NOT create a whole new page, as it will take far longer to start ranking.
Track your content’s performance
Once you have made all of the improvements to your content, you need to become patient – like a sailor at sea waiting for the first signs of the shoreline. (I’m back on the boats again.)
Depending on the size and domain authority of your website, it will take some time to see the first changes to your website’s rankings. Give it at least 28 days before tracking your content again.
To track your content, repeat the steps you took when benchmarking your data for the following time period, and compare it to your original benchmark data. You should see at least modest improvements, if not grand sweeping ones!
You’re looking for:
- Increased impressions and clicks (on Google Search Console)
- A lower search position – the lower the number the higher the ranking (on Google Search Console)
- Increased organic traffic (on Google Analytics
Congratulations, you can now proceed to repeat these steps for every existing piece of content on your website. Welcome to your new data driven content marketing strategy.
What if it doesn’t work?
Of course, if this is all a bit complicated for you (understandable) or you’re not seeing the improvements you would like – you can get in touch with your favourite content marketing agency for help. We’ll look under the hood of your website to make sure everything is running properly, and use some of those tools we mentioned to craft you a brand new shiny strategy that’s guaranteed to move the needle.
You’re never a hopeless case!