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What Is Content Analysis And Why Is It Important To Marketers?


Ask any sports fisherman - or fisherwoman - how they choose which lure to use and they’ll tell you it depends on a variety of factors: the season, the time of day, the type of fish they’re after, what their pals are saying back at the dock and yes, a good dose of, ahem, gut instinct. 

Not just any old piece of shiny metal will do, especially not in a lake crowded with others all angling for the same catch.

The same holds true for content-based marketing. Offer customers useful, relevant, engaging information and they will find their way to you. It’s that simple.

And like fishing, it’s that complicated, too. No marketing strategy is going to deliver much payback if just any old piece of writing gets pasted up on a Web page. “Post it and they will come” is not a good working principle. In order for it to rise above the din of the Web, content must be matched as best as possible to the specific needs and interests and inclinations of your intended audience.

So, you need to fine-tune your content, making sure it contains the tastiest, most alluring ingredients, puts forth a compelling story, and encourages others to pass it along one way or another. And that, in brief, calls for an exercise in what’s known as content analysis.

I asked Dana Todd, vice-president of performance innovation at Performics, a search-based marketing agency in Chicago, about content analysis and why it's important to marketers.

“It’s all about seeing ‘who do we want to reach and what content do we have on hand to give them’,” she said.  “Then, ‘what is the gap between these two, and how do we close it?’” 

The first step, Todd says, is simply to make an inventory of all the digital content you have: Web pages, blog posts, whitepapers, social media items, videos, emails, FAQs, and so forth. Taking stock of your content and sorting it by type and target audience may be a time-consuming, even tedious task, she says, but it can yield immediate insights.

You may find old and irrelevant items that should be tossed or updated. You may find inappropriate items, prepared when your organization’s focus or main marketing message was different. You may find inconsistencies, too: differing technical terms and jargon, for instance, that may confuse your audience or lower your prestige in their eyes - and in those of Google, as well.

You may also be surprised to discover items - even whole streams of items - that can be re-used to good effect, Todd notes. All those emails you’ve written over the years to customers requesting technical support with your products, for instance? They might be perfect fodder - “blog food,” Todd calls them - for new blog posts. Keep an eye out for all such under-employed nuggets of wisdom. Technical gaps may appear, too, such as content written in Adobe Flash, which is strictly incompatible with the Apple iPhone.

For most small businesses, the main gaps to consider are in the content of the content, so to speak: What information is it conveying, and of what quality is that information? Does it address the needs of your audience at that point in the sales cycle when you most want to influence them? Are Web pages designed for easy navigation, getting their messages across up top? 

Do your blog posts contain more air than substance - watery prose written mainly to put keywords in front of a search engine, or compelling story-telling that hits customers' hot buttons? Are posts written in a distinctive voice that will make a lasting impression and keep readers coming back? No sense of humor, or too much? Is your information presented with clarity and accuracy? 

Keywords still matter, too, of course, so make sure you’re employing the right ones.  But the main goal is to evaluate your content through the eyes of your prospective reader, the one you want to make friends with and influence.

Clearly, the bigger your marketing budget, the more deeply and precisely your content analysis effort can be. Todd points to sophisticated demographic clustering methods that Performics and other search-based marketing agencies are starting to use.

Alas, there’s no shortcut to content analysis, no magic program that will do the job automatically. It’s largely a matter of common sense - and yes, time, which is inevitably scarce, no doubt. But when performed conscientiously, any effort at content analysis will definitely pay for itself many times over, hook, line, and sinker.