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Finding Topics Your Audiences Loves: 9 Sources of Data-Driven Empathy

Finding Topics Your Audiences Loves: 9 Sources of Data-Driven Empathy

Andy Crestodina

Finding Topics Audiences Loves

Glance back at your internet browsing history. Take a trip through that list of websites you recently visited, and think back to your mindset in those moments. Why did you visit each site? What were you looking for? Did you find what you needed?

This is a useful exercise for marketers because it immediately reminds you of the basic reason we all visit websites: information and answers. 


In 2016, user experience consultancy Nielsen Norman Group analyzed 215 visits to 45 websites, measuring visitors’ success at finding what they sought. When those visitors failed to meet their goals, the group analyzed why. The visitors failed because they didn’t find the answers to their questions, so they gave up at completing their tasks.

Data-Driven Empathy

If the main reason people visit websites is to find information, the job of the brand is to provide it. Visitors ask, websites answer. This sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly difficult to write great web copy because it’s not obvious what information visitors are looking for. Luckily, clues are everywhere. Here are a few places you can listen and learn about the information your visitors need. 

1. Site Search

If your website has a search tool, you can report on what your visitors are searching for. Every query typed into your search box is reportable in your analytics, and is a clue into what your visitors need but aren’t finding. Visitors prefer the mouse to the keyboard. If they had to search, there was probably some friction, frustration or a content gap.

In Google Analytics, the report is in Behavior > Site Search > Queries.

2. Top-Rated Topics

Marketers are often too quick to say, “We’ve done that already.” If you’ve done it, but did it a year ago, it’s probably time to do it again. Many of your readers never saw your top articles from a year ago. Those who did may need a refresher.

Set a long date range in Google Analytics and check your Behavior > Site Content > All Pages report. Scan through the average time on page column, and find the articles that people spent the most time with. 

A related piece on this topic may do extremely well. It’s also an opportunity to create an internal link between two pieces, encouraging visitors to dig deeper into your content.

3. Chat Logs

If your website has a chat tool, every question ever posed through it should be accessible to you in its reporting tools. These reports also show where visitors were when they started their dialogs. What did they ask, and where did they ask it? You just found another content gap.

4. Key Phrase Research

The first step in search optimization is key phrase research. What is your audience searching for? What phrases do you have a chance of ranking for on search engines? An SEO expert picks these battles carefully. This is another bit of data-driven empathy; keyword research is an act of reading the minds of millions. Within minutes, you’ll see dozens of topics that may be relevant to your business. Many of these are likely content gaps and questions your website can answer.

Google Trends is an excellent tool for researching keyphrases and topics. It shows you changes over time, regional interest and which related topics are on the rise. 

5. Collaborate with a Relevant Influencer

Think about who your audience trusts. Who are they reading? Who is speaking at relevant events? Create a shortlist of these influencers and start building relationships with them. 

Influencers are often on the front line of important topics. They are pushed by their audiences to answer top questions and keep producing relevant information. They’re exposed to new research and responding to trends.

When an influencer agrees to an interview or any type of content collaboration, let them guide the conversation with open-ended, direct questions. 

  • What is the one thing that people really need to know? 
  • What is the biggest mistake people are making? 
  • What would you do if you were in this situation?

Then ask probing follow-up questions. The topics you discover may be so valuable, you can create many pieces of content from them. 

6. Competitive Analysis

What phrases are your competitors ranking for? There are tools, such as Similar Web, that will show you. What questions are answered on their sales pages? Read them carefully. Do they have an FAQ section? Should you? 

Some competitors answer the tough questions, such as pricing. Some will offer specific examples and results. Seeing how much information competitors are willing to share may inspire you to be more forthright. The more vague and indirect your sales copy, the less compelling the experience will be for your visitors.

7. Sales Conversations

Listen to sales call, and you’ll hear the questions of your prospects firsthand. While the sales associate is providing answers, you should write down the questions. Within an hour, you may learn: 

  • What was happening in the customer’s business that sent them looking for a solution.
  • What is most important to them in their buying decision.
  • What else they have tried and why that didn’t work.

The first tells you their context. The second tells you their priorities. The third tells you how you need to differentiate. In the ideal content-driven organization, the sales team is consistently passing along prospects’ questions. The marketing team takes these topics and turns them into articles, which the sales team can then use when responding to future questions. This is the ongoing cycle of questions, answers, topics and content. It reduces both arbitrary decision making by the content team and inconsistent messaging by the sales team.

8. Online Tools and Forums

Enter your business category into Quora. Find your industry and review the top up-voted answers. See anything you haven’t explained to your visitors?

Enter your business category in BuzzSumo, which will show you the most-shared articles on any topic. The paid version of Buzzsumo also has a question analyzer that scrapes the web for top questions. In seconds you’ll see the questions people ask related to your industry. 

Enter your business category into Answer the Public, an online service that scrapes the web for top questions. In seconds you’ll see the questions people ask related to your industry.

Here’s one more: There’s a LinkedIn group for virtually every job title. Search for groups named for the job title of your typical buyer and ask to join. You’ll be able to scan through the posts and discussions to see what people are asking and discussing.

If you uncover a topic you haven’t addressed or a question you haven’t answered, you’ve found an opportunity to help your visitors a bit more.

9. Search for Your Brand

Before you hit enter on Google, see if the site suggests any key phrases. Hit the spacebar after your name, then type a letter or two. See a few more suggested phrases? If you’re a big brand, you probably found quite a few. These are the topics that people search for when they search for you. These are the brand-specific information needs that must be answered. This is what prospects want when they search for you. 

They’re asking. The phone is ringing. You need to answer that call, or at least know how the search results are answering it for you.

Now that you know the questions your customers areasking, you can fill your site with the answers. But where to put them? Howbest to deliver the content? We’ll answer that in part two of this series “The Two Kinds of Website Visitors.”​

This article was adapted from “What to Blog About” from Orbit Media​.

Andy Crestodina is the co-founder and CMO of Orbit Media. He’s an international keynote speaker and the author of Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Guide to Content Marketing.