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The second biggest content strategy mistake

I served a huge dinner yesterday – and no one showed up.

I spent hours planning the menu, buying ingredients, cooking a feast of asparagus and beets, and setting the table for dinner at 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

So why wasn’t my table filled with hungry guests?

Because I served what I wanted, when I wanted and where I wanted without considering what my guests want or need.

Seems crazy, right?

Now substitute content for food and replace my dining room table with your website.

Are you doing the exact same thing?

In a previous column, I wrote about our biggest content strategy mistake: Writing content we want to push that our audience doesn’t want to consume. (That’s the asparagus and beets in this scenario.)

And our second biggest content strategy mistake is not knowing our audience so we can take that content to them. Instead, we expect that they’ll randomly come to our website or social channels at whatever time we publish it. (That’s the 3 p.m. dinner on Wednesday.)

How do you find your audience?

You can turn to brilliant consultants and costly programs to find and analyze your audience, but let’s assume you’ve got zero dollars and need to explore on your own.

Here are the three things I would do:

1. Search Google for my content subject matter and see who ranks high in search results.

2. Go to and perform a free analysis of those top websites.

3. Go to those websites and their social channels, see who their audience is, what content they are reacting to, how they’re reacting, when they’re online, etc.

(I personally like SimilarWeb because it crunches a lot of data and transforms it into reliable analysis without forcing you to spend money, but there are alternatives.)

Sounds simple, right? Let’s walk through an example.

An example: Travel in Chicago

Let’s say I want to create a website about things to do in Chicago. I Google “things to do in Chicago,” pull the top search results and then head to SimilarWeb to see what I can find about their content and audience.

Here is the data on the top 5 websites:

Then then looked at the top 5 travel websites used by Chicago residents and their traffic sources:

Lastly, I dug into their social media accounts and analyzed their posts, which ones were the most popular and which drew engagement (and what kind). And then I sourced information provided in the fans' individual social media profiles to determine their habits, needs and psychographic data.

What does this data tell me?

1. That there’s a lot of competition and appetite for things to do in Chicago

2. That the audience I want to reach is looking more on search than not social

3. When they are accessing content on social, it's on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings

4. The majority of social followers are not local to Chicago

3. What they care about, what content can I create to capture them when they’re searching on social?

a. Over tourism is causing travelers to seek unique, uncommon trips and experiences

b. It doesn’t happen if you have photographed/video’d and posted it

c. Achievement travel (trips that allows travelers to reach a goal or accomplish something new) is on the rise

d. Business travelers are extending their “bleisure” trips

e. Solo travel is still hot, but multigenerational travel is increasing

f. Sustainable, conscious travel is hot buzzword

So my content strategy needs to involve creating and optimizing content for search. Social is (always) important but secondary. When I do put content on social, I'll target it for weekends v. when I have time during my workweek. And I won't push a lot of content on Pinterest.

The data also tells me I should look at creating content that emphasizes unique experiences, is eco-friendly and appeals to families. And I'll make sure to include lots of photos that travelers can picture themselves in and would want share with friends.

A caution about data

You need to look at data with a skeptical eye and apply some human logic.

For example, the Chicago Tribune has huge traffic numbers, but I suspect travel is only a sliver of their overall traffic. TripAdvisor has huge numbers, but it might not be a great referral source for my editorial content. The numbers are significantly lower for Timeout Chicago, yet it is likely to be my closest competitor because it's content is solely focused on things to do.

You might also see the weak referral numbers from LinkedIn and think it would be a waste to post on that platform. But here's what my human brain sees and why I think low numbers may not indicate appetite for content:

1. Bleisure trips are on the rise and business people are on LinkedIn

2. My competitors aren't posting much on LinkedIn so low referrals may be because there's nothing to click on

3. My competitors aren't writing a lot about bleisure so maybe they're missing this content opportunity

4. Referral numbers can only tell you where they were when they clicked to get to your site. Research shows people are exposed 6-8 times before deciding to take action. Putting content on LinkedIn might not generate immediate direct hits, but it may be great brand exposure that slowly builds into great numbers.

Don't forget

Without a solid strategy, your content will never traction and produce the results you want. And your strategy needs to be about what the audience wants, and when and where they want it.

Without strategy, no one will ever find you in the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data that is created each day on the internet.

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