Conducting a Content Gap Analysis That Uncovers Winning Topics
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Selecting the most effective content marketing strategy is a hard nut to crack.
However, nowadays — with over 4.4 million content pieces published every day — achieving solid growth through content marketing has become tougher than ever.
With such a fierce competition, relying on intuition is no longer an option. Instead, you should focus on applying a strategic approach to how you produce your content.
In this case, facts and numbers are your best friends, and analyzing your competitive landscape is a surefire way of acquiring insightful data that you can take advantage of.
One of the things that competitive analysis allows you to do is identify content gaps. These are particular content topics or topic hubs that are missing from your website (while your competitors might have them).
Such an analysis gives you an opportunity to create laser-targeted content that your audience is interested in and helps them move through the funnel.
In this post, I want to share with you my approach to identifying and filling in the content gaps.
Start by analyzing the buyer’s journey, interviewing your clients, doing keyword research, and then review content.
First, Download Three Templates to Do a Better Content Gap Analysis
There’s tons of advice packed into this post, and to make it easier to implement, CoSchedule has included these three templates:
- Content Audit Template: Export the URLs on your site. Then, use this template to sort which content to keep, which to discard, and identify missing gaps.
- Customer Journey Mapping Template: Understand your customer’s pain points throughout the buyer’s journey and ensure you have content at each stage.
- Marketing Calendar Template: Plan content at every stage of the funnel in advance.
What is Content Gap Analysis?
Content gap analysis is the process of finding the missing content pieces and topics in the existing media landscape. Some marketers claim that it’s also important to look at what your clients want to consume vs. what the market has to offer.
Sometimes, it even makes sense to create a demand for a certain type of content, and then steal the show by giving it to your audience.
Let me share a quick example.
I’m really into horse-riding and, specifically, dressage. Lately, I was searching for a new horse-riding helmet that would be both safe and good looking.
There are plenty of brands that sell equestrian gear online, but before making a purchase, I needed to get answers to a few questions:
- Do the helmets by Kep and Samshield have the same sizing?
- How do I know what size from a particular brand I should take?
- Should the helmet sit tight or rather loose, in terms of safety?
Having found no answers to my questions, I went to an offline shop and bought a helmet there.
By the way, I’m not complaining about the extra effort of having to purchase it in a physical store, as I think it looks stunning!
However, this situation illustrates the most typical mistake of many online stores. An online purchasing process requires content that answers all the same questions that the customer would ask a consultant in an offline shop.
Therefore, if the website fails to provide it, it’s often losing ready-to-act clients.
Content gap analysis allows you to uncover those missed opportunities and help your site visitors convert into clients.
Why Care About a Content Gap Analysis?
In content marketing, new methods are popping up here and there all the time, and it can be hard to keep up.
Content gap analysis isn’t just another fancy, new technique. It’s an actionable approach allowing you to identify blank spots in your content strategy that don’t allow your customers to move through the funnel.
To prove my point, let me show you why content gap analysis is absolutely worth your time.
It helps you shift the focus of your content from what you think is important to your audience to what is actually important to them
There's a big difference between what you think about your users’ interests and what your users actually think.
In the majority of cases, content marketers don’t go too deep into the analysis, which results in creating content that doesn’t really meet your audience’s needs.
Content gap analysis helps you choose the topics that truly resonate with your target group and match their interests.
Often, companies that are able to align their content with their users' needs eventually turn into learning hubs. For instance, most digital marketers know that if you’re new to SEO, you should start your learning journey at the Moz blog.
It allows you to establish an effective channel of attracting new customers
We deal with an overwhelming amount of information every day, which is why many of our purchasing decisions are triggered by emotion rather than proper analysis. The right content evokes that emotion and helps companies turn leads into sales.
One thing you can do to secure those leads is to leave the right lead magnets inside your content. All CoSchedule blog posts have them, which results in a constant flow of new leads.
For example, this post on how to write a press release features a template bundle as a lead magnet.
Content gap analysis helps you uncover less competitive sub-niches and take advantage of them
When the niche is oversaturated with content, it’s really hard to stand out.
You can spend hours researching, analyzing, and putting together your next ultimate guide, but if there are ten other guides like this one out there, your efforts will be in vain.
Content gap analysis allows you to identify sub-niches with lower competition. If there’s a shortage of high-quality content on a certain topic or in a certain format, your page would have all chances to rank high in the SERPs.
How to Do Content Gap Analysis
Now that I have explained to you what gap analysis is and why it is important, let's see how your company can benefit from it.
Moving further, I am going to show you how to perform a content gap analysis with these easy-to-follow and replicable six steps:
If you feel that any of the steps have already been taken care of, you can always jump to the next one. However, I encourage you to follow them one after another.
Let’s dive in.
Map Out the Buyer’s Journey
80% of marketers consider content to be more effective when it is personalized. For that, you need to have an understanding of your ideal buyer’s journey.
That is, you need to know how they are moving through the funnel and, in particular, how they are searching for products and services before deciding to make a purchase.
Apart from this, understanding your buyer's journey will help you create a demand for your product. The companies that were able to capture their potential clients at early stages are in the best position because:
- They tend to create more effective content marketing funnels that help them capture ready-to-act leads.
- They don’t need to spend their ad budgets on building brand awareness, as they’ve already done it through content marketing.
- High value of their content helps them build authority, credibility, and eventually be perceived as the market leaders.
Here’s an example from our good friends at Moosend, an email marketing automation tool. They have been able to significantly grow their paid and free user base, thanks to a single post about the best marketing campaigns.
Marketing campaigns are only remotely related to email marketing automation. However, Moosend discovered that their potential customers search for examples of marketing campaigns as part of their buyer’s journey.
After the research phase, when users learn more about marketing campaigns in general, they look for channels to run them. This is when Moosend becomes 100% relevant to their demand.
A typical buyer’s journey consists of three stages:
- Awareness. We realize that we have a particular need, and we are analyzing the landscape.
At this stage, clients realize that they have a problem or a need, but don’t have a right-off-the-bat solution to it. Therefore, they are looking for content around the issue they are trying to solve.
For example, lately I’ve been online shopping for a gown to wear to the European Search Awards, where I got invited as a head judge.
I looked through some Pinterest boards, researched evening-wear trends, and even checked various dress code requirements. As I began the search, I didn’t know exactly what kind of a dress I wanted, but all the content I browsed through helped me narrow down my choices.
- Consideration. We named our problem and now we’re actively searching for a solution.
Once the user knows what she wants, she’s moving to the stage of active solution seeking. At this point, users review all possible options that the market has to offer.
Lately, I’ve been involved in a few consulting projects where my goal was to find the right SaaS tool for a client. The tool that would fit their business goals and fulfill their needs perfectly.
Here’s what I did:
- I made a lengthy list of all the tools on the market with the features they offered.
- I have created a criteria list that could help us evaluate each product on a scale from 1 to 10.
By doing so, I narrowed my choice from 10 options to 3, which made it much easier to decide on the right solution later on with a client.
- Decision. We’ve researched the landscape, we picked the solution, and we’re ready to move forward.
At this point, the user is usually informed about the advantages and disadvantages of your product. What they need here is a gentle nudge to encourage them to take action.
It could be a good review, a discount, or any other kind of activity that makes your offer look more appealing — and the deal is closed.
Now, circling back to the story about the SaaS tools.
When assessing the tools, I wasn’t only looking at their features and pricing. I also reviewed businesses testimonials on G2 and searched for content where experts would recommend using those tools.
What I’ve noticed is that having a solid number of brand mentions and active social media presence plays in your favor when users are making their decision.
I believe, for a relatively small company, the only chance to stand out and win over big clients is by demonstrating expertise and showing that you’re a true expert in the field. This is the strategy that we’re following in our agency.
Recently, we’ve delivered an in-depth email outreach guide that helps our potential clients better understand what we do and, more importantly, WHY they should choose us.
The buyer’s journey can be mapped out differently, depending on the type of business you run. Some marketers also distinguish the phase of Interest and Purchase, as users might require specific content at these stages.
Once you have that sorted out, it’s time to move on to the next step.
Interview Your Loyal Clients and Industry Experts
We’ve identified the stages of your audience’s buyer’s journey. Now, you need to collect insight on how your clients act at each stage, what content they require, and how they move through the funnel.
To do that, I recommend conducting a series of surveys using tools like Typeform to collect the answers in bulk. This tool is great because it’s interactive, which makes your surveys more appealing and increases your chances of collecting more answers.
Here are the examples of questions that you could be asking:
- How do you describe your goals and challenges?
- What kind of data are you looking for to learn more about your goals/challenges?
- How did you come up with the list of possible solutions? Where did you look for information?
- What metrics/criteria do you prioritize above others in the active research phase?
- What pros and cons are you relying on heavily?
To encourage your clients to take up that survey, I recommend using a special something for extra motivation — an Amazon gift card, for example. This will show your clients that you appreciate their effort and value their time.
However, when it comes to the industry experts, it might not be as easy to get your answers.
There are still a few options out there if you haven’t yet established any connections.
The easiest solution is to look for well-known people in the audience of your website. To do that, go to Ahrefs and check which sites are referring to your domain.
Another option is to use the BuzzSumo tool, which allows you to see a list of users — including industry leaders and influencers — that have ever shared your content:
Reaching out to people with a request is much more likely to succeed if they’ve been following your work and find what you do worth sharing.
Perform Keyword Research
Thanks to interviewing your clients, you gained a solid understanding of how exactly your users are searching for your products or services.
What you need to do next is use this data to do keyword research and connect the dots (e.g. you need to ensure that your future posts are connected to search marketing demand).
In the broadest sense, keyword research is the process of identifying those phrases and combinations of words that people are typing into Google and other search engines.
For us, marketers having this information on hand means:
- Discovering how our potential customers interact with the topic (i.e. what kind of language and words they use to explore it).
- Learning how competitive the landscape of these keywords is (i.e. how much effort your company needs to invest into ranking high for these terms).
- Last, but not least, the key search terms we find are the basis of our content strategy.
Although there are different paths you can take when you start your keyword research, in the end, you should have a list of topics you want to explore on your blog.
Don’t be overwhelmed with a huge number of keywords to create your content around, as you will filter them later anyways.
Once you’ve compiled your keyword list, it is time to assign each topic to the stage of your audience’s buyer journey. Some topics will speak to the people in the “awareness” phase, and others will be better for the “decision” phase. This kind of content structuring will help you set your priorities and identify content gaps.
The next task for you to tackle is uncovering new keyword opportunities.
Millions of marketers use Google Keyword Planner (GKP) to find new keyword ideas. However, personally, I don’t think that’s the best tool to go with.
Let me explain why.
Keyword Planner is a free tool and comes with certain limitations. In general, Google designed the instrument for PPC advertisers and their needs. You shouldn’t be surprised to see that most of the functions are of no use to you.
Keep in mind that average monthly searches are given as a range (i.e. 1-1k), not as an exact number.
Be careful with the interpretation of the “competition” as well; it shows you how competitive these keywords are in AdWords context, not in the organic SERP.
That being said, GKP is a great tool to get underway, but I wouldn’t recommend you to structure your search string around it.
Now, it is time to look at some alternatives.
My favorite tool to run keyword research is the SEMrush Keyword Magic tool. Among the features that I find particularly useful are search volume, keyword difficulty, automatic keyword grouping, and related keywords.
AnswerThePublic is another great option. This tool scrapes automatically Google auto suggest and based on this data it gives you a list of search queries that users are currently searching for.
As you can see in a screenshot below, AnswerThePublic gives you a ready-to-go list of topics that you could start working with:
Finally, it’s never a bad idea to review your competitors’ keywords. To make things happen you could utilize either Ahrefs or SEMrush. Both tools have a set of reports that uncover the high-ranking terms of your rivals.
Here, SEMrush shows us the list of keywords that CXL is ranking for, search volume, and the percentage of traffic they bring to the website.
Performing a keyword research will help you compile a huge list of keywords that you then have to filter out and prioritize.
The next few steps will give you an idea of which topics have the potential to be best-performing.
Review What Content You Have on Your Website
Another milestone in your content gap analysis is to evaluate the type of content you already have on your website.
I keep seeing marketers doing the same mistake over and over again: neglecting the review of their existing content.
The idea here is you might have previously published a piece of content that resonates with your readers and just needs some tweaks.
This is how you do it.
You need to compile a list of the content pages that you’ve published.
You can do this easily using Google Search Console. Go to the performance report, and then select a tab that is called “Pages”.
Finally, don’t forget to choose a reasonable time frame, for example, 12 or 16 months.
Once you have all content pages gathered, you need to check:
- How many posts are aligning with your buyer’s journey.
- How many topics you haven’t yet covered, which have a decent search volume (e.g. what you found during a keyword research stage).
Besides having just a list of pages, I highly recommend adding, to each page, its current performance metrics like the existing number of visitors/leads it brings on board and the average SERP position. You can get this data from Google Analytics.
Monitoring the right metrics will allow you to see which content pieces are performing well and which ones should be updated or re-written.
This data is helpful in identifying blank spots in your SEO and content promotion strategy, so make sure to review your content on a regular basis.
Analyze Your Competitor's Content
Now that we reviewed our existing site content, it is time to get our hands dirty and check how our competitors structure their content.
It’s an easy process that anyone can replicate to learn more about the content strategy of their competitors.
Here’s how it goes.
Step 1: Compile a list of your competitors content pages.
To start with, you can use site audit tools to pull a list of your competitors’ content pages.
There are plenty of options to choose from, and our good friend Robbie Richards created a round-up post that ranked the best site audit tools, according to 51 experts. Most of the tools are paid, but they also have a limited, free version that you can still use.
Another hack is to use BuzzSumo, which can provide you with a list of the published content pages on a particular site.
Along with the list of pages, the tool shows your performance of each post on the leading social media platforms and the number of backlinks that a particular article has collected.
Step 2: Analyze your competitors top-performing content pages
After you’ve put together the list of all content pages published by your rivals, it’s time to identify the best performing ones.
To do that, you can use SEMrush organic research report. It will show you which pages bring the most traffic to their website, its top keywords, and the number of acquired backlinks.
What I find particularly useful is the option to check the same metrics for other countries.
In the example of ContentMarketingInstitute.com, one could also audit the performance in the UK, Canada, etc.
Connect the Dots
Now we are ready to design a killer content strategy. It will be based on analyzing the data that you’ve already gathered by following these steps:
- Mapping out the buyer’s journey
- Interviewing your loyal clients and industry experts
- Performing a keyword research
- Reviewing your own content
- Analyzing your competitors content
Now, all you have to do is put it all together in order to complete the process.
Start with the list of topics.
The topics you’ve identified should be matching the content gaps that you’ve uncovered during your analysis stage.
To ease the process of prioritizing these topics I would recommend creating a simple table that will consist of the following columns:
- Hours you need to invest in creating this content
- Expected time before you get some traction to this content
- Any additional resources you might need to produce it
Once you have all three columns in one place, you will be able to find those content pieces that don’t require tons of time and resources, and you will start to bring solid results in a short-term period.
Brainstorm content ideas
To come up with a decent piece of content, you need to double-check that you’re going with the right angle. What I mean here is that your piece is answering the most burning questions of your users and really helps them solve their problems.
Avoid — at any cost — publishing something just for the sake of publishing it. You need to make sure that the post actually helps people.
To give you more context, let’s imagine for a second that I want to write an in-depth guide about dressage saddles. To start off collecting ideas for my post, I am heading to Reddit and looking for threads related to my topic.
As you can see, there are plenty of possible topics ideas that you can draw inspiration from.
Another goldmine of ideas is the SERP itself. Simply perform a quick search in Google and see what comes up. Many people underestimate the power of the organic results as a source of ideas, but you shouldn’t follow in their footsteps.
As you can see, there are almost a million Google search results that you can, at least partly, go through to get some inspiration for creating your own content.
Update your content plan.
The last step is to update your content strategy, taking into account all the data you’ve gathered beforehand.
You can use Google spreadsheets to keep track of your publishing schedule and ensure that you create new, relevant pieces regularly.
Of course, apart from publishing, you should also think about promoting and distributing your content via other channels than your blog. You should think of designing a pre-outreach strategy, as well as invest your time and effort into social media and influencer marketing.
Lastly, it’s important that you integrate your content as a part of your sales funnel. That means it serves as a channel for generating leads, as well as converting your visitors into paid customers.
For lead generation, you should consider adding lead magnets and CTAs inside your content to encourage your readers to leave you their email address and add it to your email list.
There are multiple ways to do that.
For example, you could use pop-ups or make a chatbot for your website offering an ebook in an exchange for an email address.
The rule here is simple: Put yourself in the shoes of your potential customers and give them an appealing incentive in exchange for an email list sign up.
Don’t forget to keep your sales and support team informed about your new content pieces, as they can refer more people to check it out.
Well, that's it!
Now you have a ready-to-go approach of identifying and filling in the content gaps. To get the most out of your content gap analysis, I highly recommend to start with the buyer's journey and only then move to keyword research and content analysis processes.
Always do an extensive keyword research and validate your content ideas through websites like Quora and Reddit.
Keep in mind, the sole reason for publishing a new piece of content is to answer the real question, not just to post something that one will ever read or find useful.
Review your work and the work of your competitors. Use this information to spot the gaps in their content strategy that you could further take advantage of.
Now it is your turn: go ahead and put this strategy in action.
May 20, 2020