How to Employ Segmentation to Improve Your Content Marketing

Evaluating your content marketing specifically for each audience segment will yield insights that a program-wide analysis won’t capture. Audience segmentation isn’t just good for reaching the right people with the right message. Done well, it can help you learn more about your audience.

Audience segmentation isn’t just good for reaching the right people with the right message. Done well, it can help you learn more about your audience. And learn more about how better to meet their needs.Your content marketing should be a part of that process.

  • First, if you are’t creating content specifically for different audience segments, please start doing so now.
  • Second, if you aren’t creating your audience segments based on their attributes and behavior, that’s another change you should make immediately. (“People who buy Product A from us” is not an effective audience segment.)

Assuming you do have useful audience segmentation in place, here’s how you can use it to learn more about your audience.

All Content Is Not Created Equal

Begin by evaluating your content marketing efforts on their own. Identify the 20% of your content that performs best and the 20% that performs worst. (We’ll come back to those bottom-of-the-barrel content elements in a bit.)

Your evaluation can be based on key performance metrics, running the gamut from page views to revenue generated. But you should include a range of process metrics and outcomes metrics.

We define process metrics as those data points, like page views, time on page, CTRs, etc., that can provide valuable insight into your audience’s interests, but don’t measure actual business performance. Outcomes metrics are those that relate to revenue generation, lead quality, lead volume, and so on.

You may be tempted to lean more heavily on outcomes metrics, if you have them. They are clearly more important in the long run. Page likes don’t pay the bills, after all. But our goal is to evaluate the health and effectiveness of our entire content marketing program. So, understanding how well we’re doing with early-stage prospects is important. The data points from early funnel activity are almost always going to be process oriented — content consumption, measures of engagement, micro-conversion numbers.

Cross-Referencing Your Results

With your raw performance information in-hand, look at these numbers again — broken down by audience segment. Here’s where you’ll see real value. If you can identify what content is resonating best with each audience segment, you can tailor programs to those audience segments, based on what they’re most interested in.

Rather than simply trying to double down on your best-performing content, you can provide content that performs best for each audience segment.

What About Your Underperforming Content?

You may also find that, rather than eliminating your less effective content, you can tailor it to a specific audience segment and have it perform much more effectively. This will likely require a deeper dive into whether any of the laggards are weak overall, despite being strong in one particular area.

Some of this work may require updates to your coding or your analytics reporting. Discuss what that investment is going to be with your tech team. Chances are, costs will be recouped quickly.

Once you get the hang of this approach, you’ll see benefits beyond your immediate results. This kind of deeper dive into your analytics data can help you evaluate information from disparate parts of your marketing efforts and yield insights that can impact your broader marketing effectiveness.

The Value of ‘Old’ Marketing Content Is Finding What’s Evergreen

There is such a thing as having too much marketing content. Here’s your guide to evaluating the content you have to determine what you should keep, what you should update, and what you should delete.

It doesn’t take too terribly long to build up a library of some size if you’re generating articles and other content consistently as part of your content marketing. If you’ve been at it for a while, then you may have more content than you realize, more content than you need, and more content than is good for you.

You’re probably asking yourself, “Is that even possible? Having too much content?” The answer is “yes.” But the real questions you should be asking are, “how much is too much” and “How do I know what to keep and what to delete?”

Age Is Just a Number In Content Marketing

Your first thought might be the old rule about, “First in, first out,” which is an excellent rule of thumb for milk, meat, and other perishables. However, there’s no reason that your oldest content needs to be tossed first. In fact, if it’s still performing, it’s worth keeping.

A quick review of your analytics data will tell you what content is working, old or new. Just be sure you’re looking at your traffic data intelligently. Cumulative page views for a piece that’s been live for six years is likely to have far more page views than a 6-month-old piece over that 6-year period. Be sure to compare like data periods

Be sure, as well, to adjust for other factors, like any promotion you may be doing for one piece and not the other. (In this regard, the younger piece may look like the better performer, if you’ve recently featured it in social media posts, email marketing, etc.)

Once you’re sure you’re comparing apples to apples, it’s time to look for context. Is the traffic flow holding steady? Is it seasonal? Can you identify traffic sources for each piece? (Different sources will be of greater or lesser value.)

All of those data points should factor into your decision about keeping or deleting a piece of content, and on how to treat that content, if you do keep it. More on this below.

Engagement Matters, Part I

Knowing how many people are consuming a piece of content is great, but knowing how they’re consuming it and what the content is encouraging them to do is far more valuable.

Gather data points that tell you how frequently visitors take the action you desire. You may need to customize your calls to action (CTAs) to differentiate between actions taken in various places on your site. With that tracking in place, you can identify the pages that create more conversions. Digital marketing lives and dies by conversions, so developing content that converts reliably is critical.

Engagement Matters, Part II

Other engagement metrics matter, as well. Time on page, bounce rate, number of pages visited in the same session, and other metrics can all tell you how deeply your audience is connecting with a particular topic. These are no substitute for CTA engagement, but it is still worth examining these metrics as additional evidence for or against an article’s value.

Options Beyond ‘Kill or Keep’

There’s going to be some content that it’s clear should be kept and some that should clearly be killed. In the middle, you’re likely to find some that could go either way. A few options you have are:

Combining Content

If articles aren’t quite connecting with your audience as you’d like, perhaps combining two or more of them would help?

Refocusing Content

If a mid-pack piece is being outperformed by similar articles, change its focus. You don’t want to keep writing minor variations on the same content targeting the same keywords. Doing so almost always pits you against yourself in competition for top listings on a search engine results page. But a new take on a similar topic is worth exploring for SEO and conversion improvements.

Don’t Fear the Purge

Finally, resist the urge to keep everything. It can be tempting to keep the lid on your desktop trash icon firmly sealed. You worked hard, or invested resources, to generate the content you have. But your business changes, the market changes, and your content library has to change along with them. Purge anything that isn’t relevant to your business goals and is not helping you answer your audience’s most pressing questions.

Channel Collaboration or Web Cannibalization?

Multichannel marketers experience the frequent concern that online is competing with, or “cannibalizing,” sales in other channels. It seems like a reasonable problem for those responsible, for instance, for the P&L of the retail business to consider; same goes for the general managers responsible for the store-level P&L. I like to do something that we “digital natives” (professionals whose career has only been digitally driven) miss all too often. We talk to retail people and customers in the stores, store managers, general managers, sales and service staff.

Multichannel marketers experience the frequent concern that online is competing with, or “cannibalizing,” sales in other channels. It seems like a reasonable problem for those responsible, for instance, for the P&L of the retail business to consider; same goes for the general managers responsible for the store-level P&L.

I like to do something that we “digital natives” (professionals whose career has only been digitally driven) miss all too often. We talk to retail people and customers in the stores, store managers, general managers, sales and service staff. Imagine that … left-brain dominant Data Athletes who want to talk to people! Actually, a true Data Athlete will always engage the stakeholders to inform their analysis with tacit knowledge.

Every time we do this, we learn something about the customer that we quite frankly could not have gleaned from website analytics, transactional data or third-party data alone. We learn about how different kinds of customers engage with the product and their experiences are in an environment that, to this day, is far more immersive than we can create online. It’s nothing short of fascinating for the left-brainers. Moreover, access and connection with the field interaction does something powerful when we turn back to mining the data mass that grows daily. It creates context that inspires better analysis and greater performance.

This best practice may seem obvious, but is missed so often. It is just too easy to get “sucked into the data” first for a right-brain-dominant analyst. The same thing happens in an online-only environment. I can’t count how many times I sat with and coached truly brilliant Web analysts inside of organization who are talking through a data-backed hypothesis they are working through from Web analytics data, observing and measuring behaviors and drawing inferences … and they haven’t looked at the specific screens and treatments on the website or mobile app where those experiences are happening. They are disconnected from the consumer experience. If you look in your organization, odds are you’ll find examples of this kind of disconnect.

So Does The Web Compete with Retail Stores? Well, that depends.
While many businesses are seeing the same shift to digital consumption and engagement, especially on mobile devices, the evidence is clear that it’s a mistake to assume that you have a definitive answer. In fact, it is virtually always a nuanced answer that informs strategy and can help better-focus your investments in online and omnichannel marketing approaches.

In order to answer this question you need a singular view of a customer. Sounds easy, I know. So here’s the first test if you are ready to answer that question:

How many customers do you have?

If you don’t know with precision, you’re not ready to determine if the Web is competing or “cannibalizing” retail sales.

More often than not, what you’ll hear is the number of transactions, the number of visitors (from Web analytics) or the number of email addresses or postal addresses on file—or some other “proxy” that’s considered relevant.

The challenge is, these proxy values for customer-count belie a greater challenge. Without a well-thought-out data blending approach that converts transaction files into an actionable customer profile, we can’t begin to tell who bought what and how many times.

Once we have this covered, we’re now able to begin constructing metrics and developing counts of orders by customer, over time periods.

Summarization is Key
If you want to act on the data, you’ll likely need to develop a summarization routine—that is, that does the breakout of order counts and order values. This isn’t trivial. Leaving this step out creates a material amount of work slicing the data.

A few good examples of how you would summarize the data to answer the question by channel include totals:

  • by month
  • by quarter
  • by year
  • last year
  • prior quarter
  • by customer lifetime
  • and many more

Here’s The Key Takeaway: It’s not just one or the other.
Your customers buy across multiple channels. Across many brands and many datasets, we’ve always seen different pictures of the breakout between and across online and retail store transactions.

But you’re actually measuring the overlap and should focus your analysis on that overlap population. To go further, you’ll require summarization “snapshots” of the data so you can determine if the channel preference has changed over time.

The Bottom Line
While no one can say that the Web does or doesn’t definitively “cannibalize sales,” the evidence is overwhelming that buyers want to use the channel that is best for them for the specific product or service, at the time that works for them.

This being the case, it is almost inevitable that you will see omnichannel behaviors when your data is prepared and organized effectively to begin to see that shift in behavior.

Oftentimes, that shift can effectively equate to buyers spending more across channels, as specific products may sell better in person. It’s hard to feel the silky qualities of a cashmere scarf online, but you might reorder razor blades only online.

The analysis should hardly stop at channel shift and channel preference. Layering in promotion consumption can tell you how a buyer waits for the promotion online, or is more likely to buy “full-price” in a retail store. We’ve seen both of these frequently, but not always. Every data set is different.

Start by creating the most actionable customer file you can, integrating the transactions, behavioral and lifestyle data, and the depth that you can understand how customers choose between the channels you deliver becomes increasingly rich and actionable. Most of all—remember, it’s better to shift the sale to an alternative channel the customer prefers, than to lose it to a competitor who did a better job.