What to Write in the Time of CoronavirusIdentifying that shift is not easy. In normal times, SEOs and content marketers have a firm grasp of who their audience is and what they want. We also have trusted tools built on years of data that make it easy to identify the types of content their audience wants to read. For this particular situation, there are no really solid precedents or data to draw from. There hasn’t been a pandemic of this scope since 1957—well before the internet was a thing. As content marketers, your biggest tool in a time like this is empathy. We need to have a pulse on what people are feeling and going through on a human level if we hope to continually put out effective content during this crisis. Luckily, there are qualitative and quantitative means to help us unearth these insights.
How to Gauge Your Audience in a COVID-19 WorldAs an example, let’s say that your brand sells travel accessories. No industry has been nearly as impacted by COVID-19 as the travel industry. According to the TSA, travel is down more than 90% year over year in the United States, which is what you may expect in a global pandemic. In an ordinary world, your content likely would look something like this: You may split your content efforts over three buckets like those in the diagram. If you sell travel accessories, your audience is full of people who like to travel, perhaps even frequently. Writing helpful travel content around tips, self-care and trip ideas is a great way to get in front of your target audience. But what happens when people aren’t allowed to travel in the way they are used to? Or more importantly, what happens when people don’t want to travel as they usually do? The answer isn't to simply continue writing the same types of content with shoe-horned references to the pandemic. The answer is to figure out how your audience’s moods, wants and needs have changed as a result of the pandemic. It’s time to put yourself in your audience’s shoes and branch out your content buckets to find where your audience actually is. Using our travel example, we come up with the following: In the above diagram, I made educational guesses about my audience. For the “Travel Recommendations” bucket, I assumed that the desire to travel is likely still there, but the mode of travel may change due to restrictions. This “modified travel” may come in the form of local trips, non-aviation travel and small, weekend trips. Long, lavish and distant vacations are likely on pause for a long time and won’t resonate with the audience anymore.
How to Branch OutAs mentioned, these ideas are educated guesses about where this brand’s audience may be right now. We will get to quantifying that data next. For now, qualitative research is a great place to start for generating topic ideas and branching out from your usual bread and butter content. Consider these resources to help turbocharge your qualitative research:
- Subreddit discussions
- Twitter and other social media
- Trending news articles
How to Quantify Your IdeasContent marketers love hard numbers, so it's important to have a way to quantify the findings from your qualitative research phase. Turning to traditional content marketing tools like SEMrush may not cut it here because these tools generally struggle to capture month-to-month search fluctuations. So how can you check the findings from your qualitative research?
Polls and SurveysPolls and surveys are incredibly useful tools for gauging people’s thoughts and moods about the current moment. For many large industries, surveys and polls should be easy to find. Sticking with the travel brand example, the following polls tell a compelling story. Based on a recent CBS News poll, an overwhelming majority of people are not comfortable with getting on an airplane—and may not be for several months. On the other hand, another recent survey found that people are eager to take a trip of some sort when restrictions are lifted or when the virus is less of a danger. While the desire to travel is still there, what we consider “traditional” travel in 2019 must be reconsidered in a post-COVID world. This tracks well with the “modified travel” content bucket we created during the qualitative research. If your brand sells travel accessories and the majority of your content discusses lavish international trips, you probably won’t be resonating with your audience. Content about smaller scale trips like weekend getaways and non-aviation travel is more likely to strike a chord. You can also go one step further and use the other data from these polls to write even more tailored content. For example, people are eager to “go on a trip” and also “go on a hike” after the lockdown ends. Mashing that with the fear of getting on an airplane, you can easily come up with articles such as “best places to hike xyz state after lockdown” or “how to hike during coronavirus pandemic”. Here are some great locations to find reliable polling and surveys: Generally searching the following also yields results:
- [your industry] + polls
- [your industry] + trends
Create Your Own SurveyIn some cases, you may be able to create your own data by polling your audience. Tools like Hotjar and Crazy Egg allow you to create forms and surveys on your website. If your daily website traffic is high, you may be able to gather enough data to make some meaningful conclusions about how your audience feels about current matters.
Getting CreativeIf your website traffic isn’t particularly high or your audience isn’t responsive enough, there are some creative tactics you can explore with Google Forms. One potential tactic involves posting a Google Form in Reddit subgroups related to your brand’s niche. Simply create a free survey in Google Forms, find the Reddit subgroups or Facebook groups most relevant to your niche or brand, and kindly ask people to take the survey. Generally, you should find enough people interested in taking a survey, but you can earn more responses by tying your ask to a greater cause or some sort of incentive (gift card, discount codes, etc).
Getting Search MetricsWhile polls and surveys are great, they still won’t be enough for most SEOs. We like hard search numbers. We want to be able to tell stakeholders why we are pursuing certain content ideas with relative certainty of return on investment (more on this below). Luckily, there are some tools that we can use to help us get these numbers.
Google Keyword PlannerA tool often ignored by SEOs and beloved by PPC experts can actually be really helpful in this case. Google Keyword Planner can show relative keyword search volumes from the preceding months and it can display search volumes by localities. However, there is one major downside to Google Keyword Planner. Unless you have an active campaign running, you cannot access this data. Without an active campaign you can only get search volume ranges and you can’t even see those ranges over a historical period. If your Google Ads account is being used by your brand’s PPC team, this won’t be an issue. But if your brand doesn’t use Google Ads, this may not be an option. Even so, you don’t need to spend much to unlock these features. We unlocked these features by spending about $30. Click image to expand
Google TrendsOne tool nearly every SEO has used in the past is Google Trends. Despite its ubiquity, Google Trends is often either underutilized or utilized in the wrong capacity. To be clear, Google Trends is not ideal for determining search volume. However, it is excellent at diagnosing whether a keyword is getting more popular or less popular over any defined time period up until 2004. Top-tier publications like NYMag are likely highly dialled into Google Trends as they had the prescience to write an article about the “best pulse oximeters,” a search that skyrocketed as coronavirus spread. Click image to expand
The Issue with Google TrendsGoogle Trends may be a great data source, but as you may know, one of its major issues is the scale. You can only do 5 keywords at once, which makes it challenging to track hundreds or thousands of keywords. There is a relatively simple solution to this problem, though. Google Trends has an “unofficial API” that can help automate and conduct Google Trends research at scale. Since the API is unofficial, there isn’t any public documentation. Thankfully, there are people who created packages in R and Python that make life easier. Using R or Python, we can compare hundreds of keywords to see how they are moving on a week-to-week and month-to-month basis. In this case, we used R to see if “hiking near me” and related terms are spiking in interest. Here is an easy script to use in R: Running this script took about 4 minutes, and we got a list of about 40 keywords out of the 200 we put in that gave us meaningful results. Here is a sample of the data we received:
|Keyword||Popularity April 2019||Popularity April 2020||Percent Change|
|best hiking near chicago||12.5||44.75||258%|
|best hiking camping near me||12.75||39.5||210%|
|best hiking trails near nyc||13.75||39.5||187%|
|best hiking near ny||19.75||37.5||90%|
|best trails for hiking near me||19||34.5||82%|
|best hiking views near me||16.75||30||79%|
|best hiking near nashville||12.5||19.5||56%|
Other Trend Tools to ConsiderThere are some other tools available that measure search and interest trends that can give you an extra source of data to draw from. In this case, let’s consider Exploding Topics and subredditstats.com. Exploding Topics is particularly useful early in the process of branching out your content buckets if you are struggling to find ideas. The tool allows you to sort by 33 different categories such as fashion, sports, lifestyle, etc. and see what topics on the internet are trending over the past month, 3 months, 6 months, all the way up to 15 years in the past. In general, you’ll find the best insights within the 3-month bucket. As noted, this tool can be helpful for finding trending topics in your brand’s industry. However, it does have its limitations as there is no way to export the data and it only shows a handful of results. In addition to leveraging Reddit for data, you can do the same with subredditstats.com. Reddit generally has a subreddit for just about any topic. Odds are you can find some good insights into which topics are growing in the user base on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Similar to Exploding Topics, subredditstats is a great way to trigger ideas for how to expand your content.
Summary: How to Find New Content For Your UsersThe world is changing and so is your brand’s audience. Some industries will never look the same once the pandemic is over, and whoever can adapt their content strategies the fastest will be best suited to thrive in the long run. The steps for adjusting your content strategy are as follows:
- Understand your brand’s purpose
- Determine how your brand’s purpose relates to your current content buckets
- Use qualitative research to branch out your content buckets to where your normal audience is shifting
- Quantify your research with polls, surveys, keyword planner, Google trends and other tools