5 Things You Need to Know About Content Targeting

It used to be that digital content was anyone’s game. You wrote or filmed or drew something, pressed publish, and let the Internet decide whether it was worthwhile. If your content was good, it rose to the top—the classic oil and water analogy.

Now, the space is more than just crowded—it’s suffocating. Content on every possible topic, in every possible format, presented in every possible way battles for our attention. The old ways of building an audience (creating relationships with other sites, link sharing, syndicating, cost-free social media promotion, and, above all, patience) are no longer enough to get your content seen. If you’re covering a subject that’s already saturated—like, say, beauty, or finance, or parenting—then you’re guaranteed to be fighting with umpteen other brands and publishers to be seen.

Does this mean there’s no point in even trying? Should companies pack up their content departments and shut off the lights in defeat?

Not at all.

Rather than wring our hands about the influx of competition, we need to get smart about a concept that’s become necessary for success: amplification.

Amplification is just another way of saying “finding the best new way to get my content within eyeball range of my desired audience.” These new ways don’t always involve money, but they usually do. While the classic audience-building strategies are mostly still free of charge (not counting time and resources), they’re also massively time-consuming, and rely heavily on luck. Does it happen to be the right day at the right time with the right influencer retweeting you to the right people?

The new generation of amplification is all about tools, and those tools dig deep into solving the two most important questions for success with content marketing: 1) What is the audience this post needs to reach and 2) How do we get it to them?

Where the targeting part comes in is in answering these questions using—what else—data.

Since data and the tools to use it properly cost money, it’s critical to understand what your targeting options are, how they work, and which one is right for your content. Here’s a breakdown of the types of targeting at your disposal.

The basics

The content-amplification juggernauts, which most of you are already using, are Facebook and LinkedIn. While both used to offer substantial organic reach, these social networks got wise to the fact that they can charge brands that want to get content in front of their gazillions of users and shrank organic reach accordingly while ramping up their content targeting offerings.

Today, paid distribution is arguably the most effective way to use both social networks.

The targeting ranges in price, but it’s all based on information that users provide in their profiles. So when you’re trying to figure out where to allocate your amplification dollars, you’ll need to do some analysis. Are you B2B? Looking to reach CMOs? LinkedIn is probably the better choice for you. Is your desired audience mothers of small children? Go for Facebook all the way. The pricing all depends on how many people you want to reach.

Keep in mind, however, that the only data these networks have to work with is the data that users provide. Which may be perfectly adequate for your needs—or, if your audience is more niche, it may not.

The next level

Beyond the social networks are tools that target content based on basic info that they can obtain from large data management sources, such as Bluekai. So you can choose a demographic for your content based on data that the social networks may not have, like age, household income, recent browsing behavior, and other data points. Then the targeting tool dips into their data management source and pulls a population to target based on the data points you chose. Then your content gets spread out to this group, either via a social network or as an ad-esque unit on a well-trafficked site.

These tools can be useful to spread a wide net while still keeping some targets in place, but they keep it somewhat surface level when it comes to the actual demographic you’re reaching. For example, women in urban areas might be the top layer of your audience/customer demographic, but adding even more specific criteria (education level, profession, marital status, online spending habits, etc.) will dramatically decrease your cost-per-lead.

(Note: If you’re creeped out by the fact that all these services have such detailed data on you and everyone else, welcome to the club.)


These are the tools, such as SimpleReach, that focus specifically on people who’ve already visited your website and/or interacted with your content. It nabs their identity, then sorts them by demographic info (household income, etc.) and targets them with a sequence of additional content.

The idea here is to keep people who’ve already expressed interest inside your orbit. The limitation, however, is that you’re only playing with a group that have already showed up. What about the masses who don’t even know there’s a game going on?

Going deeper

Tools on the somewhat cutting edge of amplification treat targeting like a chess game. It involves seeing into the minds of your desired audience, then conducting large-scale surveys asking key questions that will help determine who the most likely people are to become your potential customers.

For example, let’s take a shoe-delivery service. It’s meant for busy people who need great, stylish, in-season shoes, but don’t have the time or energy to shop for them. The top layer of info about this target demographic would be: gender, geographic location, education level, occupation, household income, etc. But there’s another key question here: Who among that group is the type of person who would let a service pick out their shoes? That takes a level of trust, and a certain type of personality.

The job of these amplification tools, such as Storylift, is to craft surveys to this demographic that point to whether or not X or Y person will be more likely to use this service. An example survey question might be “Are you someone who’s willing to let a travel agent plan your yearly vacation?” or “Do you subscribe to a meal-delivery service that chooses a menu for you?” Once you’ve narrowed down those people, and targeted your content to them (usually through a Facebook post, though some tools use other methods) your cost per lead drops dramatically.

Paying for it all

So how much can you expect to spend on all this? Cost for each tool varies based on volume, targeting level, and other factors. Facebook tends to be the cheapest option, but that doesn’t mean it’s the lowest cost-per-lead. Picking the right tool that will give you exactly what you need—but no more—to reach your desired audience is critical to keeping your cost-per-lead optimized. How to pick? Working with a skilled content strategy firm (shameless plug alert!) will help you figure out which tools are worth your time and money—since choosing the wrong ones, or not using any at all, can severely limit the effectiveness of everything you produce in content marketing.

Melissa Lafsky Wall (@Lafsky) is the founder of Brick Wall Media.

Image by Neung Stock Enterprise

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