Creating great content has long been the only true way of creating long-term audiences of value.
If we look back at the history of mass media, a certain process has played out time and time again. Print, radio and television have followed the same path from the original obsession with technology to the eventual love for the content that technological breakthroughs deliver.
With that shift now occurring in interactive media, the love for content has created a huge amount of opportunity. Content marketing has exploded in 2013 as businesses across the Web have moved to a content-led approach. You only need to look at search trends to realize how that shift is affecting the competitive landscape.
A strategy that consists of blog post, blog post, blog post (by the way, that’s no strategy!) simply won’t cut it anymore. With a deluge of new content hitting the Web every day, how do you find a way to see through the murk? Much more creative, well-thought-out strategies are required to stand out. That’s what I want to look at in this post.
Content-Led Semantic Microsite Strategy
Rather than battle head-to-head with our competitors, the smart thing to do is apply some lateral thinking. Look where they don’t. Win where they don’t play.
Increasingly, I have been looking once again at “other” ways of making content work, and in recent weeks, I have begun testing microsite strategies. These make a lot of sense in light of algorithmic changes in search that place extra emphasis on semantic association and content more generally.
Such a strategy has existed for many years. It is, however, something that should now resurface after a period in the shadows.
Why? For two main reasons:
- Increasingly, we are moving to a more semantic Web and Google is focused on delivering it for us, promoting more relevant results wherever possible. This change also means that mapping your content to semantic opportunity is critical in ensuring you maximize the size of your footprint.
- Recent changes, including the advent of rel=author and the Caffeine indexing system, as well as the explosion of social, have made content more valuable from a traffic-acquisition perspective.
The same “other” reasons for microsites still exist as well, of course. Because they are focused, they convert better, attract a better quality audience and are also easier to manage from a content perspective.
Creating The Strategy
So, where do you start when building out such a plan? Done properly, creating multiple sites is not something that should be undertaken lightly. Running them requires time, effort, people and/or money.
For this post, let’s use the flight/hotel booking niche as an example, so you can see exactly how the process works and how it can offer a fantastic way of growing into new areas and creating new revenue streams.
The Web, to date, has been pretty two dimensional in many respects, making it harder to grow into other niches, as search engines’ understanding of relevance was pretty basic.
But, over the past few years, Google has been very busy collecting data about how we search in a way that allows it to map relevance. It started with related search suggestions and predictive search and is developing now into works-in-progress, such as Author rank and Google Now. The search giant even hired renowned artificial intelligence expert Ray Kurzweil to create a “computer brain” to power the company into its next phase.
Brains understand connections between stuff, and in hiring Kurzweil, Google grabbed the best in the business. You could say, therefore, that they have serious ambitions.
So, we know Google is planning to map together large tranches of data. That means that the Google system will be based on data, and using it to create your own strategy will be more important than ever.
So, that’s where we start. A deep dive into a few key data pots to inform our microsite strategy.
Understand Semantic Keywords
Semantic understanding is a critical component of any future-proofed digital strategy.
As discussed above, Google is embarking on multiple projects to understand associations between pages and sites — and that creates an opportunity for marketers.
By understanding how that relevance map works, you can leverage those connections to not only find related niches to profit from, but also to ensure that any investment in niche microsites benefits the main domain.
I wrote here in depth about how you can integrate this approach into your overall outreach strategy and why it is important; but, below are a few great tools to help you research your market and create said strategy:
From this data you’ll easily see the areas your brand can extend into in a super relevant way. That doesn’t mean you cannot play elsewhere; but, if you are looking for that “halo effect” and want to kill two birds with one stone (new revenue stream + authority enhancement for the main site), then this data is priceless.
So, once you have a view on how ‘wide’ you can go for max effect, the next stage is looking a little deeper into the keyword data.
If your background is SEO or you have several years of experience in the digital marketing industry, then chances are you have experience in how best to aggregate, sort and analyze keyword data.
I won’t deep dive into this much-covered topic. But, below is an overview of the process we use on a daily basis to create and refine existing strategies, and to make sure no stone has been left unturned.
This is the basic process we work through:
This process gives us two things if you have gone wide enough with your data set:
- A high-level understanding of where the opportunities are and the competitors are not, which is useful for defining the site or sites you launch with initially
- The actual page-level strategy for those sites
With it, you will be able to choose those sites you want to launch with, create a priority order based on demand/opportunity, and also set the meta strategy for those sites.
We then move onto mining the social graph for insight into audience relevance.
For me, right now, the social graph is where the party’s at. Search data is great, of course, but the richness of the social Web is going to be so much more insightful in time, as we marketers get our heads around analyzing its underbelly.
Social data is the qualitative to the quantitative of the link graph and, in the future, it will help us all build very thorough pictures of our audiences as people.
With our present capabilities, mining it is not easy, but good insight is still possible if you combine a variety of data sources.
As an example of what I mean and how it can help us in developing a microsite strategy, let’s just consider, for a moment, how much data Facebook holds about us.
Austrian student Max Schrems asked just that and, to his surprise, the Palo Alto company sent him back a 1,200 page PDF containing everything from ‘last known location’ to every click he had ever made on the site.
It’s pretty obvious then that being able to mine this data can really help understand audiences and the associations between the things they “Like.”
After all, if you are talking to an audience and you know “what else they like,” this can be hugely useful when designing content portals for them. It means you can market to the existing audience initially, knowing the new content will be relevant. This way, you immediately lower the cost of traffic acquisition from the get-go.
And, while tools can help you gather this info, it is still possible to get by with plenty of spare time, a snippet of analytical ability and Facebook’s Power Editor.
The editor is a tool few know exists; it allows you to group sets of people together to understand audience size based on “Likes.” From it, you can cross reference to see how many of them like X and also like Y.
This allows you to build out a complete picture of their interests and how that correlates with the Facebook audience generally. That way, you know if your audience is especially predisposed to certain other things, as compared to the average person.
Knowing this should tell you to build that niche into your potential list of microsites.
Other New Data Sources
This data can then be mixed in with similar quantitative interest-set data from an awesome Google tool set within the AdWords Display interface.
The AdGroup interface gives you more information about other things your audience is interested in. To see how Google currently “categorizes” you, log in and visit this link.
Another great and underutilized tool is the search giant’s Display Network Ad Planner. Its GDN Research Tool, or Audience Builder does not dive very deeply but provides easy access to data sets around specific interest points. You can work out potential audience sizes based on everything from location and language to specific interests and even sites.
Out of it come correlations that can inform a much more lateral approach, either to the creation of actual microsite sets or — once they’re built — to help improve their respective content strategies. Here’s an image from our tool that combines the ad planner data with Facebook data — the output gives us a clear view on other interest sets for our audience, indexed against the average.
The objective of all this work is to generate a list of potential options for your first content portal. In our earlier travel sector example, for instance, we have discovered that the audience also “Likes” several specific sports:
Non Travel-Related “Like” Correlations:
- Health and Beauty
If we then research opportunity size using keyword data, we can see whether there is an audience there waiting to be tapped into. And, we already know that our existing audience would like content around these subjects.
Based on this, and awareness of other business objectives, we can build out a list of launch sites, as well as those that may be added in stage two, should the pilot prove successful.
There is also plenty to write about across these subjects and because of that, we know a content-led microsite would work well, which brings us nicely to the content strategy piece.
The Content Strategy
The challenge of a multiple platform approach is how to structure the content creation and planning process to maximize impact and minimize effort across a number of possible microsites.
If we go back to our example in the travel niche, our data has shown us that there is a large correlation between our existing data and a “Like” of sport.
If we then look at the opportunity at a keyword level, it is clear that there is a huge opportunity in this area to service a major sport ‘holiday’ requirement. If we just take golf, for example, we can see plenty of audience:
There is also a huge amount of traffic to long-tail phrases, and these can be expanded upon with the use of Ubersuggest
By then entering this into a semantic indexing tool, we can see further areas to target and create content around:
Social (and Google) data then adds further depth to the process, as explained in detail above. Here, in our live example, we can quickly gauge the size of the prize using Google’s Ad Planner tool.
Firstly, by mapping the potential audience reach, you can see what you’re aiming it. It’s quite clear so far that a golf website would be a great fit here.
What is critical, however, is that there should already be some affinity with the brand’s existing audience. This would mean there could be some quicker wins in audience growth and possible conversion improvement.
By mining their existing Facebook Page data, we can see other interests that their audience “Likes,” and, bingo, “golf” is right up there amongst some other areas that we could certainly exploit.
We can even look at stealing some strategy from the established players. It’s a relatively easy job by simply Googling those top terms.
But, if we go back to the Ad Planner tool again for a moment, there is a tab called ‘Search for Placements.’ It’s a brilliant and vastly underrated tool for extracting content marketing outreach targets — but for this, it helps us define a competitor list, such as you can see below:
From it, you can then enter each of those into a tool like SocialCrawlytics or SharesByUrl to work out what content is being shared the most across their sites. You end up with a list of content ideas that are ready-made for social success!
Pulling It Together
The above process may seem incredibly complex, but all of this can actually be pulled together quite quickly. The key is taking that raw data into a brainstorm and strategy session where you can then pull it all together.
I’ve written previously around how to plan content around a 6-month plan and a structured idea creation process that includes all of the elements mentioned above, which should supplement this process.
The one I use looks a little like this:
Why Split It Out?
Delivering successful content is obviously the key to a content-led semantic microsite strategy. In many ways it is the ultimate made-for-digital brand-as-publisher model, as it exploits opportunity created by general digital trends while also making best use of content.
And, by staying focused around specific areas, you ensure you deliver better content to a more targeted visitor, who will engage more with your output than he or she would have done without that structure.
The key pillars of any digital content strategy are two things – ideas and content flow. By creating a process and microsite structure that makes it easy to consistently deliver great content ideas over time in a way that provokes ongoing interest, you will get a positive return on any investment made.
Of course, there will be those thinking, “why not just do this on your main domain?” It’s a worthy question; and undoubtedly, there is value in doing so, in ensuring your key domain gets the lion’s share of content and resources.
The point, however, is that these smaller, focused-but-relevant sites could well pass more ‘”juice” back to the main domain in the future, as semantic associations are mapped more closely and given more weight.
We also know that Google is attempting to deliver more relevant results; and so, done correctly, small, focused sites led by great content can deliver that — and their effect is magnified.
And then there are the conversion rate optimization (CRO) and lifetime value of each user to consider. More focused content lowers cost of acquisition over the long term.
There are also CRO benefits once your user is on the site, as well, as he or she will have a higher propensity to convert if the service or product you are selling is related to the subject matter.
For our flight comparison business, that means being able to offer flight deals, hotels and packages on routes known for their golf tourism before taking a cookie-cutter approach to other relevant niches within their grasp.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.