Evidence-based content decisions: Combining audience research with best practices

Audience research + best practices

  • By Team CSI
  • |
  • Jul 4 2018
  • |
  • Categories: Articles

Updated on: September 5, 2023

If you’re ready to start making evidence-based decisions about content you’re probably excited. You may also feel overwhelmed. It can seem daunting to not only get the information you need from audience research, but also to figure out what to do with it.

Making content decisions using evidence comes down to combining what you know about your particular audiences with best practices for content.

We’ve written about audience research before. Check out our posts on in-person, qualitative research, and online surveys for recommendations on these methods. There are a variety of things you can ask your audiences about, including their preferred formats, channels, and messaging. For the purposes of this article, we’ll use topics and tasks to illustrate how audience research works with content best practices.

Know before you go

Your audience’s topics of interest and key tasks will vary significantly depending on which journey stage they’re in. Before you start drafting your research questions, make sure you know which stage of the audience journey you’re addressing. Are you wondering about the awareness stage? Or purchase? This will impact the types of questions you ask.

Similarly, if you’re focusing specifically on one channel, like your website, make sure you know where that channel fits into the journey. If you need a refresher, we’ve written about mapping content to customer journeys previously.

Learn about your audiences

Vary your question formats depending on what you need to know. There are plenty of resources for the best ways to design interview or survey questions, like Survey Monkey’s best practices and guidelines. Here are a few quick tips:

  • If you have a general idea of key topics and tasks based on analytics or other sources, you can ask your audiences to rank two lists, one with topics and one with tasks.
  • You can use a Likert scale to ask how often your audiences read about certain topics or perform different tasks.
  • Open-ended questions are a good way to explore answers you may not have considered as options, or to get a general feel for sentiment.

Implement with best practices

Lucky for you, there’s already been a lot of research done into how audiences use content online. Companies like the Nielson Norman Group have articles and reports providing evidence-based best practices for content.

So once you know what your audiences consider priority information and key tasks at the various stages of their journey, you can follow best practices to implement your findings.

There are several aspects to making sure content is useful and useable to your audiences. A few key areas to look at are:

  • User-focused writing: How to write about your key topics using the principles of plain language.
  • Page structure: Where to put your topics on the page to ensure you’re prioritizing audience need over business need.
  • Navigation and wayfinding: Where to put key topics and tasks in the navigation to ensure they’re easy to find.

Because these best practices are evidence-based, what you end up with is a plan to put the right information for your audiences in the right place at the right time. So it’s almost like half of the work has been done for you! Almost…

Further reading

Nielson Norman Group’s eyetracking research

Survey Monkey’s best practices and guidelines

It’s all about the audience: From research to content tools