What is a content gap analysis? A content gap analysis is a process used by marketers to identify “gaps” between popular search queries on a given topic and the content that is currently available online.
We’re going to explore the key components of a content gap analysis, highlighting its importance to any content/SEO strategy. But first, content producers, we need to talk.
With all the great content out there these days, the landscape that content professionals inhabit is littered with glaring omissions.
Juicy pieces of conversion-rich content packed full of actionable insights and contagious copy that practically likes and shares itself are missing at highly trafficked intersections of the internet where you would most expect them to be.
It’s evidence of a silent epidemic coursing through the content marketing world, known as the content gap.
Understanding the content gap epidemic
Content marketing and brand messaging have always been an exercise in future-telling. Our goal as marketers is to anticipate the next move our audience will make. But whatever we’re doing, chances are it’s not working.
How else can we account for the fact that in the last major survey undertaken by the Content Marketing Institute, only 10 percent of marketers “strongly agree their organization is delivering the right content to the right person at the right time?”
Even the emergence and proliferation of new, adaptive technologies designed to make content management more humane and more humanoid in form has done little to stem this tide. In the same survey, 84 percent of respondents report that their organization is not “using [technology] to its potential.”
What we need to do right now is reinstill in ourselves the principles of sound gap analysis.
This article doesn’t purport to solve all of the challenges or answer all of the questions surrounding content gap analyses, but our hope is that you leave this 15-minute breather with the confidence to say, “Hey, content gap analysis, I’ve heard of that!” And then go out and crush one on your own.
What is a content gap analysis?
As mentioned above, content gap analysis contains a series of steps marketers can use to identify and fill content “gaps” between what people are searching for on the internet and what is currently available to them online.
As Mike Wagaba at Humanlytics puts it in his Comprehensive Guide to Content Gap Analysis, a content gap represents “the content you need to be creating next in order to attain your content goals.”
As we will explore below, content gap analysis is one component of a larger process of content discovery, creation, and implementation critical to SEO in a world where content still reigns as the once and future king.
Gap analysis can be undertaken in several ways, but to do it properly involves research, active audience listening, and diligent implementation.
6 steps to a comprehensive content gap analysis
Here are the six key steps we’ll delve into to achieve the content gap analysis of our dreams:
- Competitive / SERP Analysis
- Content Audit
- Intent-Based Keyword Research
- Content Gap Analysis
- Metrics and Measurement
1. How to understand the competitive landscape
Your first step to filling a content gap is understanding the competitive landscape that surrounds your content. There are tools for this, which I’ll touch on shortly, but let’s go through the fundamentals.
Unless you’re just starting out, your business or organization likely has some idea of who its competitors are. It’s OK if you don’t! There are plenty of niche SMEs that compete broadly for leads and so struggle to know their exact location in the marketplace.
The important thing to consider, from a content perspective, is what types of content are out there already in your industry? What topics seem to be covered most thoroughly? Begin to extract or reverse engineer for your own benefit the questions that these pieces attempt to answer. Ask yourself how well do these pieces of content answer your list of questions?
Once you have a clear understanding of what’s out there, of the topics and keywords covered, begin to analyze the SERPs or Search Engine Results Pages that correspond to top search queries for your industry. SERPs tell us what kind of content ranks highest for a given query and, therefore, how effective a given keyword is at moving your audience toward conversion.
Some nifty sites include Ahrefs, Semrush, ScreamingFrog, and Moz, which all have great tools for competitive and SERP analysis, as well as individual keyword performance. Tools are there to help you dive deep, from an analytics standpoint, into both local and regional performance metrics for different keywords and topics.
Your brain is also a great place to start. A series of strategic Google searches and some good ol’ due diligence, sifting through results to uncover trends, works well in most cases to give you a quick lay of the land.
At this stage, don’t be afraid to put extra effort into your analysis. It will pay dividends as the stages progress.
2. How to conduct a content audit that actually works
A hearty content audit, which requires making a detailed survey of all indexable content on your website, marks the next stage of your content gap analysis. The purpose of your content audit — as it relates to your content gap analysis — is two-fold.
- Map your existing content. By combing through all of your indexed URLs, you can create a map of existing content to show you how various topics and content types are distributed throughout.
- Map your existing data. Understanding the data behind your content will help increase your audience intelligence, giving you an unvarnished look at how and when visitors interact with your website.
The challenge that so many content marketers face when undertaking a content audit isn’t so much the cataloging and review process as it is ending up on the other end with actionable insights.
Here’s how to conduct a content audit that actually fits into your larger gap analysis.
Map existing content
In order to map your existing content, you’re going to want to create a list of the pages on your website and start to categorize them, or really triage them, according to their importance to your overall messaging.
There are dozens of useful tools designed specifically for this purpose, but they’re not always necessary, depending on the size of the task at hand. If you’re managing content on a website that has hundreds or even thousands of pages, sure, we recommend using a crawling tool to help you weed out the important stuff, such as Google Search Console, Ahrefs’ Site Audit tool, Moz Pro’s Site Crawl, and others.
Otherwise, there are ways to use search to see which of your pages rank highest for your most industry-relevant search terms. To search for pages within your website, enter the phrase “site:” into the search bar followed by your URL, including www. at the beginning. If you omit www. from your search, the results will include entries from any subdomain, such as blog.yourwebsite.com.
A site: search will immediately reveal the number of indexable pages under your URL. By adding a space after your URL, followed by a keyword term, you’ll be able to see which of your pages ranks highest for that term.
For instance, on a hypothetical site we’ll call www.hypotheticalmarketing.com, if we conduct the following search:
site:www.hypotheticalmarketing.com “content strategy”
we might find that the highest-ranking page for that term (as of March 26, 2021) is a blog post from a year prior. The primary navigation page for that topic, however, www.hypotheticalmarketing.com/content-strategy/, we find ranks third.
This is an example where, if the goal is to have inbound traffic funnel directly through the content strategy main page, rather than through an explanatory blog post from a year ago, Google tells us we should improve the content on the main page.
You can repeat this method using other target keywords on your website to unlock valuable insights about how and where to adjust content to get your site ranking in an optimal way for your user experience.
You can dive deeper, using browser plug-ins, such as WooRank and Lighthouse, to gauge the SEO performance on a page-by-page basis.
Map existing data
Mapping data related to your content gives as much insight as the work you put into it. Google Analytics and other common tools provide a view into user behavior as they enter, peruse, and ultimately exit your site. Knowing where the most common entrance and exit points are is critical to understanding which pages, and thus, which types of content resonate the most with your audience.
Are your primary and secondary navigation pages not generating the click-through rates you expected? Is your blog stealing too much thunder away from conversion pages? These are important questions to ask if, like so many businesses, you struggle to get the right content in front of the right audience at the right time.
Data points, such as the number of sessions, the number of unique visitors, average time on page, bounce rate, exit rate, etc. can quickly tell the story of your content — how it’s being received, whether or not it’s conversion-worthy, and what’s missing.
Combine insights from your data map with your content map, either in a spreadsheet of your choosing or some other organizational format, to gain full command over your content. The end product also makes for something you can brag about to your two other content marketer friends, or the books above your desk, or the Russian stacking dolls that look with scorn at your every keystroke. Dammit, babushka, stop staring at me.
3. Intent-based keyword research
If you’ve been on the keyword research train for more than a few years now, you know that SEO looks drastically different than it did even four years ago.
It used to be enough that marketers could identify the top keywords in their target industry and produce a plurality of content around those terms to send their page rankings through the roof. SEO firms made a living gaming the system, publishing keyword-stuffed content that was barely readable but checked enough of Google’s optimization boxes to compete with information that was actually useful to the user.
Those practices are now obsolete as Google’s search algorithm has evolved to be smarter than your honor student and can now more effectively interpret the usefulness of a webpage based on hundreds of factors measuring everything from readability and user experience to domain authority and contextual searches.
It’s more important than ever that our keyword research focus on the intent behind a search query as much as it does on the term, itself.
Researchers at the 38th International ACM SIGIR Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval in 2015 hypothesized three types of pre-search contexts that can be used to gauge search intent.
These factors include:
- Browsing Events (Previously Searched Webpages)
- Search Events (Previous Search Queries)
- Location Data
They took a random sampling of 6,000 browsing-search pairs out of a collection of 1.8 million such pairs and determined, by looking at the ways in which a search event triggered a browsing event and vice versa, that “pre-search context is useful in predicting search intent.”
In 2018, Kutlwano Ramaboa, a researcher at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, found that the length and arrangement of words in a user’s search query correspond consistently with how concrete their understanding is of their purchasing goals, i.e., where that user is along their buying journey.
“Research,” writes Ramaboa, “has shown that more words are typically used to express the specificity of a consumer’s goal intent.”
Therefore, it is incumbent on content marketers to create customer personas that are as accurate as possible — to delve into the customer experience to uncover, at each stage, not only when search queries become more specific but why and based on what insights.
If a company can unlock these long-tail keywords that have the highest rate of conversion, says Ramaboa, it is possible “to design campaigns that attract large numbers of high-quality search users.”
4. Finally, it’s time to talk about content gap analysis.
Once you’ve done the hard work of identifying your competition, mapping out content, chewing on data, building customer personas, and grinding through intent-based keyword research, we can get on to the good stuff.
Using our competitive analysis and SERPs, we can confidently say which topics and which types of content (i.e., long-form, short-form, videos, infographics, etc.) represent a way forward to reach our content development goals.
Insights from our content and data mapping exercises will spell out, more specifically, how our immediate audience engages with content. Will they spend seven to 10 minutes reading content or watching how-to videos? Will they click on social share buttons to make your “How to Avoid Macrame Injuries” infographic go viral? Great questions.
As Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute lays out, too many marketers are not actually listening but “waiting to talk.” Instead of patiently listening to what our target audience wants, “we’re ‘waiting to content’ rather than… observing what’s really happening with the audience we’re trying to serve.”
The content gap we’re trying to fill, he says, “is almost certainly due to today’s overreliance on ‘waiting to content’ and the pressure for speed.” It’s better, he suggests, that marketing teams work toward identifying true audience needs and improving internal communication and collaboration strategies.
It is important to note, according to HubSpot partner SilverTech, that “your customers are not necessarily on a linear journey.” They may skip steps, return to previous stages, etc. on their journey toward conversion.
One of the biggest mistakes we can make at this stage is to over-anticipate the direction of our audience. Once you’ve done all of the necessary pre-prep, finding and filling a gap in content should feel right. It should hit a sweet spot uncovered by your research and not seem like a stretch for your target audience.
This is where your customer persona profiles are crucial to the success of your content gap analysis. Understanding your customer and their journey through your content is critically important to your ability to deliver relevant content at each stage along your sales funnel.
STAT Search Analytics laid out the five types of buyer intent in their 2017 whitepaper. “Intent,” they reported, “should be structured and classified in a way that makes sense to your business.”
STAT listed the following categories of intent:
- Informational Intent: The searcher is in the beginning phases of their query and wants to explore possible solutions.
- Navigational Intent: The searcher is aware of a specific brand or provider and wants to navigate to a specific website.
- Commercial Intent: The searcher is zeroing in on their available solutions with the intent to purchase and wants to compare options.
- Transactional Intent: The searcher has narrowed down their options and is ready to make their purchase.
- Local Intent: The searcher is interested in making an in-person purchase at a store.
If you’re utilizing one of the content exploration tools mentioned in previous sections of this article, it’s possible that your SERP analysis and long-tail keyword research have already revealed actionable insights related to these intent categories. What’s important here is to identify which content, existing and yet-to-be-written, belongs at which stage of buyer intent.
Researcher Ravneet Bhandari provides an alternative taxonomy of intent, stating that “a client looking for data on the Internet will ordinarily repeat” the following steps:
- Question detailing: The client presents the search engine with their initial search inquiry, using broad keywords.
- Determination: The client determines their goals, using more specific search terms and longer keyword phrases.
- Surfing: The client browses available content and resources derived from these more specific terms.
- Inquiry adjustment: The client will adjust their inquiries and repeat the four steps outlined until a choice is made and a transaction is realized.
Either way we look at the buyer funnel, gauging intent through active audience listening helps us to be as precise as possible with our content. Perish the thought you deliver content with a transactional intent to someone simply browsing for information! The right message at the wrong time runs the risk of being too preachy or sales-oriented at an early stage, and you can end up alienating promising leads.
5. Implementation: fill your content gaps with confidence.
At the implementation stage of your content development, it’s not absurd to assume, if you’ve taken all the prescribed steps toward a fulfilling content gap analysis, that some level of confidence is creeping its way into the room.
Begin now to write, delegate, or edit content with precise and confident abandon. Once your content is cooked-through and golden brown, deploy it through whatever platform is most appropriate for the intent stage you’re attempting to capture. Hopefully, your content is integrated into a fully realized content strategy, so you can make the most of your team’s hard work.
Sharing and repurposing content to different streams ensures coherence across multiple marketing channels and increases the chance that your message will find the right set of eyes and ears. Complementary marketing campaigns, such as email and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising can enhance the impact of implementation. Social media, especially utilizing targeted paid advertising, can also be used to deploy content to narrow, high-quality portions of your audience.
6. Metrics and measurement
It would seem to go without saying, in this data-obsessed age, that metrics and proper measurement are not so much a preference as they are a requirement for any comprehensive content gap strategy.
To ensure that your use of metrics lines up with your content gap analysis, consider that there are, according to researchers in the International Journal of Research in Marketing, at least six different categories of metrics, including those indicating customer awareness, consumer confidence, customer satisfaction, sales engagement, consumption, and expenditure levels.
For content gap analysis, our goal is to gauge whether or not our new content is indeed resonating to the degree that our research would suggest. If you’ve had success measuring performance using an existing combination of metrics, there’s no reason not to stick with that approach.
But if you haven’t settled on the right mix of metrics or KPIs, I liken the process of discovering the right formula to finding the perfect recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Over-reliance on one ingredient results in the wrong texture. Over-reliance on another, the wrong flavor. The same principle applies to metric analysis.
Professor Sridhar at Texas A&M’s Mays School of Business has examined how measurement errors and the failure to account for bias and ‘noise,’ among other worst practices contribute to pervasive marketing overspend. “Virtually all metrics,” he states, “unreliably reflect their unobservable constructs.”
In other words, we have a tendency as marketers to use objective metrics to arrive at subjective conclusions. Such as the use of page impressions, eye-tracking data, and click-through metrics, all hard data points, to track a subjective phenomenon such as consumer behavior. The metrics, themselves, have a certain concreteness that the end result understandably lacks.
The resulting “adverse statistical consequences,” as Sridhar terms them, speak to a general unreliability of statistics to complete the circle of our content gap analysis. We must do that on our own accord.
We began this article asking questions about how and why we conduct content gap analyses. Hopefully, the importance of the content gap analysis to both your content and SEO strategies is now abundantly clear. Sound strategy, in both regards, is virtually impossible without a careful gap analysis at your disposal.
Follow the six-step process laid out above and adhere closely to the intent of your audience. You can’t go wrong when you give the people what they want. Whether they know it or not.
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