Not too long ago, I wrote a post at SearchEngineWatch.com on how to use journalism principles like the 5 Ws and an H to unpack the context behind the keywords you’re targeting. I’m a huge fan of applying methodologies from outside the marketing industry to lend a new perspective into what we do.
So today, I’ll share with you another exercise you can apply to your keyword set that can help you understand what your audience is trying to accomplish when they use those keywords, so you create useful content for them.
The method is called “user stories,” and I’ve borrowed the concept from Mike Cohn over at Mountain Goat Software. User stories are a part of agile software development, and I was recently inspired to adopt agile practices in my business when I took a training course with Mike.
While I’m not a software developer, the ideas surrounding agile practices can be applied to almost anything, from marketing to housework and even planning weddings.
So let’s look at one concept within agile practices – the user story – and how it can be applied to Web marketing.
What Is a User Story?
Traditionally, a user story is a way to understand how to build features in software by exploring what it is the user wants to accomplish. You may already be having an a-ha moment in how this can be applied to marketing, but let me explain.
When we create a content strategy around our keywords, we want to be sure the content is what the user is looking for when they perform a search.
Since users are often at different stages of the purchase funnel, the intent behind their query is different (sometimes they’re just doing initial research, other times they’re refining that initial research and so on). And so should your content be.
User stories allow you to evaluate an individual keyword, or groups of keywords, by exploring what the user is trying to do at that stage in the process with that keyword.
What Does a User Story Look Like?
A user story has a simple template that Mike recommends using. Use this template to help fill in the blanks when you’re evaluating your keywords and you’re off to a great start.
Here’s what the template from Mike Cohn looks like:
“As a <type of user>, I want <some goal> so that <some reason>”
Take your keyword or group of keywords and use the template so that you can better understand the audience behind the query. Discuss it with your team, get different perspectives from various roles within your business or even outside your business.
The idea behind user stories in this scenario is to explore and discuss who your audience is and what they want.
So, How Do I Apply User Stories to Content?
Let’s say that you’ve looked at a particular keyword, “dog beds” and applied the user story to it. You’ve determined that it’s a broad keyword, and that people in this phase in the purchase funnel are simply looking for general information on dog beds.
For example, for the term “dog beds,” you’ve written out the following scenario:
“As a search engine user, I want to find more information about dog beds so I can decide if I want to get one for my dog, and which kind I want to explore further.”
Make sure you take your time with this step, and use the wisdom of experts in the field if you’re doing this on behalf of a client. Now that you’ve explored what your user is trying to accomplish for that query, you can begin to brainstorm a list of ideas for content.
The focus should always be on creating useful content that demonstrates your brand’s knowledge on the matter. So, what would be most useful to a person trying to find out more about dog beds, so they can refine their search next time? Can you think of anything?
People in the high-level research phase typically are looking for general information to help them decide or learn about something. In this case, it could be appropriate to create content around, “How to choose a dog bed.”
What Type of Content Can I Create from What I’ve Learned?
Once you’ve thought of a general direction for a topic, start thinking about how you will execute the content. The key is to think about multiple types of content that keep the user engaged.
If you’re a supplier of pet supplies, you might build out a section of your site with Web content on how to choose a dog bed by the type of dog a user has. You could also feature an interactive embeddable widget that users can play with and share centered on which type of dog bed is best for their breed of dog.
You could even host a social campaign on your Facebook with an interactive app that shows which dog beds are best for a dog’s personality type, for example, do you have a prissy dog? A lazy dog? This could be a lot of fun and drive user engagement, traffic back to your site and, hopefully, a sale down the line.
There are a lot of ways we can utilize user stories in our marketing efforts. In a future post, I’ll talk about more ways this concept can help in your content and marketing strategy. For now, I hope this exercise helps you understand your users and their needs a little better, so you can create useful content while building your brand online.