How To Analyze Content Needs

Rebecca Lieb's picture

We’ve previously discussed how to conduct a content audit. Part of that process is to perform a gap analysis, a rather fancy-pants way of saying “figure out what isn’t there, then figure out how to get it in there.”

Easier said than done. Knowing you need content is not unlike moving into a new, empty house and knowing you need furniture. Of course you do. But what kind? What style? What color? What pieces for what rooms? How much do you require to be functional and practical, and how much would make things cluttered and impractical?

Even once you’ve boiled it down to “sofa for the living room,” you must still determine if it’s a sectional, if it has arms and if you ought to order the matching footrest.

Fortunately, there are are systematic ways to go about analyzing and assessing content needs. This includes determining not only what kind of content is required and in what format, but other factors, as well, including how often, when and where to reach which target audience segment effectively.

Where To Start?

This might seem painfully obvious to some, but one of the most effective ways to assess content needs is to ask. Interview customers, clients and prospects about their content needs and their content consumption habits.

Sources To Tap

Ask how these various constituencies consume content, and what sources they turn to for content.

Do they:

  • Subscribe to newsletters?

  • Read blogs?

  • Listen to podcasts?

  • Use search engines when researching a purchase or service?

  • Visit company websites?

  • Read customer reviews on retail sites?

  • Download white papers?

  • Watch online videos?

  • Follow links on social network sites or Twitter?

  • Do they use their mobile devices?

  • Subscribe to RSS feeds?

  • Read online publications? Which ones?

  • Do they participate in online user groups or forums?

It’s also helpful to uncover the specifics of these channels. For example, it’s useful to know if they read blogs or not, but if they do, it’s even more significant to know which blogs — or bloggers — they most avidly follow. What’s their favorite publication? Their must-see or must-read sources of digital information? These may or may not lie within your professional sphere, but will nonetheless help when it comes to assessing taste, style preferences and predilections.

How Much, How Often?

We’ve all been there: subscribed to a newsletter or eagerly started following a cool blog, until suddenly it all became too much. Way too much.

That eagerly awaited weekly newsletter? When the publisher bumped it up to twice a week instead of once per week, it started looking and feeling more like spam.

Creating too much content is an onerous task for you, and at the same time, it can quickly sour your brand in the minds of its audience.

You don’t want to create content so infrequently they forget about you. At the same time, you don’t want to inundate your audience. It’s not impolite to politely inquire about their desires regarding the optimal frequency of content — and overall brand touches — when assessing content needs.

For many users, a white paper is too long. So is a video on YouTube that runs over five or 10 minutes. Some users will want the content equivalent of a snack; others will prefer a five-course meal. Many may want something in between (and all of this may be contingent on where they are in the consideration and buying cycle).

Scoping out content “serving sizes” is an essential part of a content needs assessment.


Sure, lots of digital content just sits there, waiting for you to find it. A website, a video on YouTube, a white paper, a slide show.

One of the wonderful things about the internet is that you can access all these channels in your proverbial pajamas, whenever you want. But for some types of content (not to mention some consumers) its effectiveness is all in the timing.

Ask when they consume content: At home? At work? Over the weekend? The type of business or service you offer can play a big role in this. Mainframe computers are probably an at-work type of content affair. If you sell pizza or movies or skiing, you may be better off sending that newsletter or tweeting late in the week, perhaps after the workday is done (or just before it’s time to call it a day).

Common sense dictates that most people would rather be exposed to messaging about coffee in the early morning, beer in the late afternoon (Yes, there will always be exceptions to those guidelines, but that’s why we establish guidelines in the first place).

Another reason “when” matters is because while there’s plenty of digital content waiting for you to come ‘n’ get it, digital channels are increasingly about real-time or near real-time messaging.

Tweets and posts on social networks such as Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn, in particular, are more likely to get readership — as well as to be promoted, “liked,” amplified and passed along by readers — if they appear at the right time of day or on the right day of the week.

Quantitative Research

Interviewing key audience members and members of a target market is only the first step in assessing content needs. Turning to web metrics and other analytics sources is another essential part of the task.

Elements to look for in this arena, both on a website and on external sources such as social media and social network sites include traffic, comments, “likes,” pass-alongs and other shout-outs.

What kinds of content, and in what channels, is attracting the most traffic, attention, recommendations and chatter in terms of comments and re-tweets? Conversely, what’s dormant and attracts little to no user attention and engagement?

When it comes to assessing and analyzing content needs, an essential tool in a web analytics package is search keywords: the words and phrases searchers use to find you on the web.

These terms can help quickly identify user needs. “What toothbrush is best for fighting plaque” is an example of a search term that reveals a problem the searcher is eager to solve. How can you create content that addresses that problem — and content that uses those terms — so more searchers with that problem are likely to find your content?

Keyword research reveals the words and phrases searchers use to find you. Combined with the free keyword research tools offered by the major search engines, these words and phrases can be greatly expanded upon.

A recent project with a client, for example, involved conducting keyword research around the products and merchandise they were targeting at “readers.” A quick dig into Google’s keyword research tool quickly revealed that searchers don’t look for products for “readers,” but they do search for items to buy for “book lovers,” and even for “bibliophiles.”

It’s not that they don’t ever search the word “readers” (It’s important to keep keyword research information in context). The point is when searchers are shopping, they’re not shopping for “readers.”

This one nugget of information has made the company’s content marketing more effective, influencing the content and even the categories on its blog, the posts on its Facebook page, and even its tweets on Twitter.

Sure, you can always go with your gut when it comes to creating strong content for marketing. But backing up gut instincts with research, observation and hard data will always make a content marketing initiative that much more impactful and effective.

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Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb is a strategic advisor, consultant, research analyst, keynote speaker, author, and columnist.


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