Crash Course in Content Gaps – And How to Fill Them

Crash Course in Content Gaps – And How to Fill Them

Ever heard of “random acts of content”? It describes how some content marketers (or all of us, at one time for another) publish content willy-nilly.

Random acts of content happen a lot. It’s easy to get caught up in the “Just publish more! More!” mindset and forget about the larger strategy.

When content marketing first started, many of us were particularly susceptible to this. But as we’ve gotten smarter, we’re more likely to plan things out, and have reasons behind our content creation and promotion. We have defined personas. We map the buyer’s journey. And we build our content accordingly.

Despite all that work and sensible planning, gaps still happen. These “gaps” are steps along the buyer’s journey that we don’t have content for. Or, they’re steps along the journey where we don’t have content customized for a particular persona (“persona” = a particular type of buyer or user).

These gaps are like little disconnects in our messaging. They can crop up over time. It’s not a big deal, but when you’re planning content (like for 2017) it’s a good idea to prioritize filling these content gaps.

So… how?

Finding and filling content gaps isn’t hard, but it’s got a couple of steps to it. Basically, we’re going to do a modified “content audit”. It’s a great way to assess what you have versus what you need.

Content audits are somewhat similar to social media audits and to SEO audits, except they focus… obviously… on content. And for this particular type of content audit – a content gap analysis – we’ll focus specifically on the buyer’s journey and how your existing content assets support that journey.

Make sense? So here are the steps:

  • Define your buyer personas.
  • Map your buyer’s journey.
  • Assign existing content for each persona to each phase of their buyer’s journey.
  • Look for places you’ve got a persona or a certain stage of the journey where there isn’t enough content. Or any content. Those are the gaps.
  • Develop a creative brief for each one of those gaps.
  • Assign and schedule the content creation.
  • Fill those gaps!

Not so hard, right? Many of you have already done part of this work – you know who your buyer personas are, and you’ve written a description of them. If so, it’s time to bust that out.

If you haven’t defined your buyer personas, we have an ebook/workbook, “4 Steps to Creating a Content Marketing Plan Right Person, Right Message, Right Time” that will help.

Here’s an example of a properly fleshed-out buyer persona. This worksheet is from that same ebook I just mentioned:

This image shows how you can develop buyer personas using Act-On's workbook, 4 Steps to Creating a Content Marketing Plan

If you haven’t created buyer personas before, take note: You don’t need one for every customer, or necessarily even for every group of customers. Having dozens of personas will just make your work confusing and ultimately less effective. Create as many as you need, and no more.

So how many do you need? Does this potential buyer persona need to be talked to differently than other customers? Yes? Then create the persona.

Define their buyer’s journey (in other words, “figure out how they go from never having heard of you to becoming a repeat customer”) 

Good analytics software can help with this, but you can get by without it. But before you start getting too granular, consider the five phases of a typical customer journey:

  • Attract
  • Capture
  • Nurture
  • Convert
  • Expand

You need to figure out what someone from each persona type would want to know at each one of those phases. So when persona #1 (say, Marketing Director) is in the attract phase, what do they want to know (or, what do they need).

Sometimes these different phases are referred to as TOFU (Top of Funnel), MOFU (Middle of Funnel) and BOFU (Bottom of Funnel).

Don’t get too hung up on the TOFU, or the five phases I’ve mentioned here. It’s all just different ways to describe the steps people go through as they become customers. Use what makes sense for you.

We’ve been almost entirely focused on your audience so far, but it is important to include yourself in all this work. Namely, your business goals. Attach a business goal to each stage of the buyer’s journey. For instance, from attraction to capture would probably be a lead generated. From capture to nurture would be getting that lead to open a series of email messages. Nurture to convert would be taking that warmed-up lead and getting them to place an order.

Here’s an example of a spreadsheet that pulls all those threads together. This is what a well-defined buyer’s journey might look like.

This image represents what a well-defined buyer's journey might look like for some companies
Thanks for Strategic Content for use of this image

For a more detailed dive into how to define your buyers’ journeys (and the questions to ask yourself while you do that), see Lisa Cannon’s post, “Don’t Let Prospects Get Lost: Create a Customer Journey Map.” Or, if you’d prefer an interactive version of how to understand and define buyers’ journeys, check this out.

We’ve also created a blank worksheet for when you’re ready to write your buyers’ journeys down.

This image shows a downloadable worksheet which may be used to analyze where you have gaps in your content marketing plan.

Quick note about the “user journey” you see on that sheet. User journeys are just for people who won’t become buyers – folks like marketing influencers, editors and journalists, or prospective employees.

Assign content to each phase of the buyer’s journey

So now you know who you are creating content for. You know what they’ll need to know along the way — from the top of your marketing funnel all the way to the bottom of it. Now your job is to gather up all of your content and assign it or “map” it to each of those steps, and for each buyer.

To do that, you’re going to need a sane way to manage your content inventory. There are software packages that can help with that (we sell one), or you could use something as simple as a spreadsheet. Just use something – if you’ve been creating content for a few years, there’s no way you’ll be able to remember everything you’ve published.

Once you’ve got that database of content nice and tidy and organized, assign each piece to wherever it makes sense along the buyer’s journey. Do it for every persona you’ll use.

When you’ve assigned every piece of content you’ve got, look for steps along the buyer’s journey where you have no content. Voila – you have found your content gaps.

Create content for the gaps

Now that you’ve got your list of content that needs to be created, the rest is pretty straightforward. Except this time, when you create the content, you’ll be more aware than usual. You’ll know exactly who it is for and at which point in their “education” they’ll need it. You’ll also know what your own business goals are for this content.

This tends to result in far more effective content. It fulfills that original goal of “right person, right message, right time”.

Conclusion

Does it seem like a lot of work to find and fill these content gaps? Maybe it is… but consider this: How much more work is it to just blindly publish content without a strategy? How much wasted effort does that take?

Back to you

Got any thoughts you want to share about content audits, content strategy and content gaps? Leave a comment.


About

Nathan is an award-winning freelance content marketing producer (words, video, audio, strategy). He also was an award-winning newspaper reporter. He has an MBA and a BA in Editorial Journalism. He is a past director of SEMpdx's digital marketing conference. He has two great kids, likes to sail, ride his road bike, and make beer.