A beginners' guide to conversation mapping

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Often in content marketing research there is a single, overriding question to fix the challenges of producing content that delivers ROI: 'How do we create a content strategy that aligns to search growth, consistently?' This post is designed to answer the 'how' element with an appreciation that designing such a digital content strategy has never been more complex and nuanced.

Where do we start?

With multiple touch-points and a plethora of different journeys through to your product or service it has become necessary to find a new process – that we call Conversation Mapping.

It's a concept that borrows from the world of User Experience and is designed to focus on the shift towards 'conversational search' and Google's quest to solve the entire journey and follow the intent.

Start with people. Always. All marketing must start and end with people.

Any good marketer will understand the value of personas and understanding their internet use motivations. With a clear picture of who it is that is likely to be interacting with the products or services, it means you can more accurately map that conversation and the corresponding Conversation Map because there is clear understanding about the likes, dislike of the intended audience. It becomes much easier to imagine their conversations with this picture in your head!

With the personas clearly outlined, the next phase is to gather all the data insight you can to better inform the understanding of the key questions that a consumer - let’s call him Tim - is asking around the product or service.

In this example Tim is in the market for a new gaming PC and we want to understand what his journey is at present and where he is obtaining his information. Do this and then build a super-targeted content plan around it. This should all be backed by data of course.

What else do you need to know?

By diving into organic search engine traffic, we are most likely to be able to tap into buying intent – therefore impacting traffic, conversions and revenue fastest.

The upside to this approach is that search really is aligned now to the wider audience picture anyway, so in building out a search-focused content plan first you are working on solving the biggest pain points that your customers have and helping them in the process. Here’s a quick visualisation of those all-important ‘micro-moments’ you need to consider for your consumers.

In focusing on these pain points, you stay front of mind and add value, meaning that you’ll be the first port of call when they do decide it’s time to buy.

Through your audience insights, and content auditing, as well as competitor analysis, you should be able to explain the following things:

  • The types of content that work for your target persona (for example, listicle, video, whitepapers etc);
  • Which social networks you should be promoting on, and where your personas are likely to share;
  • What the ideal word count is (if written content);
  • Any topics that work well ( for example, ‘how to’ guides or reviews).

Some other beneficial things to gather are below:

  • Most popular content types;
  • Traffic by word count.

Mapping Conversations

The challenge, of course, is bringing all this to life in the context of the user/visitor and this is where our ‘Conversation Mapping’ concept comes into play. To bring that to life let’s follow our current example journey for Tim.

The idea here is to use the usual ‘brainstorming’ meeting to work through every possible conversation around the purchase journey for your product or service. Instead of looking for individual content ideas, we instead think about the buying process and journey Tim might take through our fictional PC component site.

Clearly this can be a lengthy process that will spit out multiple examples. For the sake of this story however we will look at one – motherboards.

And to do it requires a second voice, not just a list of questions that Tim may ask, and as a result this is where we can also start to think about the emerging voice search opportunity and where Google is taking search more generally and following the logical user journey from beginning to end around intent.

Not following what I mean? Let’s look at an example:

This theoretical 'conversation' is one of many Tim will be having around this product and the idea is to take the 'motherboard' concept and sit in a room to brainstorm the potential conversation variations that may exist around the product.

You may find there are only one or two - or it may be there are dozens, in which case set about distilling them down to a core of the most important ones post brainstorm, to make it easier to then think about designing the content plan around it.

Content planning around the conversation

The next phase is to then map content opportunity against that conversation, as in the below example:

So, what we have done here is to think about all of the opportunities there are along that conversation to create content to help make Tim a smarter consumer.

With your informational and functional plan in place and your conversation mapping exercises complete you’re already looking good for returning a greater ROI when it comes to measuring impact at year end.

Summary

In short, the key to getting over this clear disconnect between content strategy, production, marketing and a return on growing investments is to double down on data and make search the key focus for activity.

Of course, by becoming successful, content has the unique power to positively affect many other key indicators as it never works in a silo.

And with search engines now much better at rewarding people-based marketing efforts with more traffic, rather than keyword focused strategies, a content-led approach is the only way to attack.

Data plays a critical part of that as the days of subjectivity are behind us. By leveraging search data, we can truly understand what our audiences are looking for, what pain points they have and how we can make their journeys more informed and easier to navigate.

The process for doing that starts with the insight piece, defining key persona groups within your target audience and then in understanding their I Want to Go, I Want to Do, and I Want to Know moments through the informational content research process.

Simon Penson is founder and managing director of Zazzle Media

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