Filling in the data gaps: How content can be used as a tool for targeting audiences

Inbar Yagur of Taboola gives a talk at the CMA Digital Breakfast entitled 'Harnessing content's untapped potential'.

Have we been measuring content the wrong way?

Inbar Yagur, Senior Content Strategist at Taboola, gave a talk at the Content Marketing Association Digital Breakfast on how content can be used as a targeting tool, and why we might be looking at the wrong metrics.

Data plays an incredibly important role in modern digital marketing, and using data to inform your marketing can help you to much better target and tailor to the right audience for your product or service. We have access to more data nowadays than ever before, allowing us to fine-tune and personalise marketing messages in ways that used to be impossible.

But Inbar Yagur, a senior content strategist who goes by the handle ‘@content_fairy’ on Twitter, believes that data can often fall down. “You forget there are people behind the numbers,” she said at a Digital Breakfast on Wednesday, hosted by the Content Marketing Association.

“Data can put blinders on us – especially when it comes to targeting.” She gave the example of a nappy company which decides to target its marketing at women aged 20 to 35, believing that this demographic would be most likely to be the mothers of young children, but overlooking the fact that these same women might have male partners or older parents who would also share the responsibility of buying nappies.

These additional demographics wouldn’t be reached by the company’s marketing efforts, representing a missed opportunity to sell the product.

Filling in the data gaps

While this is a slightly simplistic example, it illustrates the potential pitfalls of over-relying on data to target your marketing. Yagur pointed out that missing out on 10%, even 5% of a potential audience can be a big deal. She believes that content can “fill in the gaps” left by data in order to reach the whole of a marketer’s target audience.

So how does this work? Yagur gave the example of one of Taboola’s clients in the US, the food delivery company Plated. Plated delivers pre-portioned ingredients to its customers based on recipes they have selected online, simplifying the process of cooking.

A thumbnail of a hand holding a pair of chopsticks and eating from a bowl of rice and vegetables with a fried egg on top. Underneath the headline reads, "This Dinner Hack Has Millennials Ditching Delivery".

The company initially aimed its content marketing at people who were learning to cook, believing they would be the ideal target audience for its products. They later put out an article via Taboola which was simply about the company and what it did – and were taken aback by how well the piece performed.

From the reception to that piece of content, Plated learned which users were really interested in their product, who turned out not to be beginner cooks at all. They were able to market more effectively by people ‘opting in’ to their marketing, using the content as a tool to discover who they should be targeting.

Measuring content the wrong way

Yagur believes that our data ‘short-sightedness’ also extends to looking at the wrong metrics to determine the success or failure of content. “We measure our content wrong,” she stated.

While a lot of companies value the ‘pages per session’ metric to judge how successful their content is, “With all due respect to pages per session, that does not sell shoes. At the end of the day, content marketing – you want to sell something. Pages per session is not what’s going to sell it.”

A pair of red high-heeled shoes
“Pages per session does not sell shoes.”
Image by lulek41, CC0 public domain image

Bounce rate is another metric which Yagur reckons marketers focus on excessively, because a high bounce rate might not necessarily mean the content has failed. “If your time on site is enough to engage with the article, that’s okay.”

In terms of metrics that are more informative, Yagur recommended looking at percentage of new users: that is, the percentage of visitors to the site who are there for the first time, versus those who are returning visitors.

She believes that the way content can help with targeting efforts is by creating a pool of people to target with down-funnel messaging. But how do you create content that will do that effectively? Here are Yagur’s tips for creating content that will help you in targeting your audience:

  • A/B testing can do the heavy lifting for you. Set clear goals for your content, and test multiple strategies against those goals to find what works.
  • Start with just four pieces of content to begin with. These should be specific to your brand and products, for example a customer story from your business, the story behind your product, maybe a recommendation for the best products for summer.
  • Once you’ve found a winner in terms of content, then start testing other variables like page design and word count. Even such simple factors as these can influence people; page design, when done right, can make people behave in a very specific way.
  • Test what happens if you start using bold text or subheadings, if you cut your word count in half, if you double it. Yagur recommends using Optimizely, a platform which allows you to easily test out different page appearances on your site.
  • Based on how many people click on the call to action button for each design, you can determine which design is the most effective for your content marketing.

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