Using questions to inform your content strategy: A guide

Using questions to inform your content strategy: A guide
Laura is the founder of Silverthorn, a PR, social media & content marketing agency. Prior to that she was Communications Director at Branded3 where she started the PR team in 2012 and went on to oversee PR, Social Media, Content and Design. Laura is a regular trainer and speaker at industry events such as INBOUND2017, Learn Inbound, UnGagged Vegas, Yoastcon, SMX München and BrightonSEO, where she has delivered the link building/Digital PR training since 2013. She won PR Moment’s Young Professional of the Year 2017, was named in The Drum’s 2017 50 Women in Digital Under 30 and was nominated for the CIPR’s Outstanding Young Communicator 2017.

It can be really hard to think of content topics to inform a content strategy, especially when you’ve been working at it for a long time. But wouldn’t it be awesome if we could get these ideas directly from our audience without having to pay for expensive surveys or focus groups? Well, actually you can.

Your audience and customers are constantly asking questions online that relate to your key topics, product or service, and these questions will form a perfect content strategy for you as you know it’s of genuine interest to the audience.

Here I’ll outline all the different sources we use for mining questions and then how we use these question to form the strategy.

Step 1: Mining for questions

Before you start mining for questions, set up a master spreadsheet for yourself where you can paste the questions you find in one column and also write the source in the next column so you remember where the question came from.

Search Analytics (Google Search Console): Within Google Search Console you have access to your ‘Search Analytics’ report which is essentially the queries that your site has appeared for – but not necessarily where a user has clicked on your result.

Log in to Search Console > Select site > Search Traffic > Search Analytics

You can either download this report or filter directly in Search Console to find all the queries that are questions, then add these to your master spreadsheet.

Search terms reports (Google AdWords): If you use Google AdWords to drive traffic to your site you’ll have access to the search terms report (if you don’t have direct access, ask your paid team to at least send you the report). This report shows you all the search terms that people have used where one of your ads has been triggered. Your ads should only be showing for relevant keywords to your company, therefore any questions in this report should be relevant to you.

Log in to AdWords > All Campaigns > Keywords > Search terms

Again, you can download this report and then filter to find all the queries that are questions, then add these to your master spreadsheet.

People also ask (Google search): This is probably the simplest way to find questions people are searching for but the least scalable as it’s a very manual process. The box won’t appear for all searches, but for some searches you’ll get a ‘People also ask’ box which is fairly self-explanatory – it’s questions people also ask in addition to the one you’ve asked.

For this you simply need to perform a Google search and scroll down the first page and see if the box appears. Once you click to expand one question it will add more questions within the box as well. Paste these into your master spreadsheet.

Answer the Public: Answer the Public is a really useful (free) tool that lets you enter a topic and it will then generate a report for you of what people are searching for in Google around that topic.

Answer the Public > *enter topic* > Get Questions

Again, this can be exported and the questions then added into your master spreadsheet.

Your own site: If you have site search set up on your website, this is another excellent source of questions.

First of all, ensure you have site search set up for reporting within Google Analytics – here’s Google’s guide on setting it up.

Google Analytics > Behaviour > Site Search > Search Terms

Again, you can download this report then filter for questions to add to your master spreadsheet. If you’re an advanced GA user (or have one in your team), you can use RegEx to filter just for questions before you export the report to save filtering afterwards.

Other sites: If people can’t find an answer to their question through Google or it requires an in-depth answer, they’ll often to turn to other websites with communities that will answer their question. Again, these sites can be mined to find the questions being asked about your topic/product/service.

Buzzsumo has a feature called ‘Question Analyzer’ which allows you to input a topic and it will then return questions asked about that topic across Forums, Ecomm sites, Q&A sites (like Quora) and Reddit. This is awesome as it saves your trawling all of these sites individually.

Buzzsumo > Content Research > Question Analyzer

You can filter by a specific date range and export the report (all questions) to then add to your master spreadsheet.

You can also use Twitter search to see if people are asking any questions about your topic/product/service on Twitter.

Twitter advanced search > All of these words > *enter topic of interest plus ?* > Search

This is then a manual process of scrolling to find any relevant questions and adding these to your master spreadsheet.

Customer service/sales teams: Finally, one of the most useful sources of questions your prospects/customers have is your customer service and sales teams. If people are actually taking the time to call or email someone with their question, then you know they’re invested in the answer. These are perhaps the most engaged questions of all.

Arrange some time either to sit down with them and ask them to talk you through the most common queries they get (I record this so I can type up later) or ask if they mind emailing you over the common questions they get asked. The face-to-face approach is nice as it helps to build a relationship with these teams and sometimes it can be quicker for them to say the questions to you than for them to spend time typing them up for you.

This is especially good for your company as, answering questions through your website is a lot cheaper than paying a customer service advisor to answer it over the phone/email/live chat.

Step 2: Forming your strategy

If you’ve used some or all of the above sources then your master spreadsheet should have a lot of questions in there now, next step is to narrow these down into the ones you actually want to address.

The first step is to remove any duplicates in Excel, then go through them all and see which apply to your product/service as, no matter what source (aside from customer service/sales teams), you will probably have some irrelevant ones in there to get rid of.

As you’re working through it may also be useful to start grouping the questions together. For example, are there multiple questions around price, or sizing, or whatever is relevant for your industry? Also, try to assign a priority score to the question or group to determine how soon content should be produced, so for example 1 could mean content needs producing within the next two weeks where 5 means within the next six months.

Now ask yourself the following questions:

From this you should have your content strategy easily divided into two types of content: content that needs reformatting or more detail added in order to surface for questions, and brand new content to be written.

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