Inside Vertical Leap: Data led, content fed

Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to take you on a tour of the various specialist teams at Vertical Leap to give you some real insight into how we approach the work we do for our customers and how everything starts with being data led.

My name’s Laura and I’m one of many brand journalists within the content team.  It’s a varied bunch, made up of all sorts of writers, a designer and a team of campaign delivery managers (CDMs). We have Jack, who we all envy for having the ability to craft the most eloquent sentences you’ve ever read; Graeme, whose writing is always faultless; and our pony-loving head of content Sarah, to name but a few of our brilliant specialists. You’ll never meet a more committed person than Sarah; she loves what she does!

Content writers at Vertical Leap

In fact, we all do, and I want to show you just how much hard work, time and specialist knowledge goes into everything we produce. Our team’s motto is: “Never send out anything you’re not proud of”, and we stick to it. From start to finish, everything we produce is carefully crafted and we use our own in-house software, Apollo Insights, to help us do this.

Here’s a little sneak-peek into what the Vertical Leap content team does to get such great results.

Crafting a data led editorial calendar

Before we do anything, we need to come up with a great editorial plan. Firstly, we talk to you, to find out what your own aims and objectives for the month are. For example, you may be focusing on selling a particular product or service, or your business might be attending an event this month that you want to push.

If this is the case, and you are also a PPC, SEO or social customer, all the specialists will get together for a strategy meeting. This is to ensure everyone is on the same page and will be focusing their efforts on the same product, service or event.

Next, we look at the data and identify any content opportunities we can find in Apollo. Dai Howells, one of our content strategists, says he always heads to the Words section first to see if there are any gaps that content could fill.

“I type in the question words (who, what, how, etc) and see what people are asking, whilst also looking generally at some of the biggest traffic-driving terms. Armed with a few ideas, I then check the relative success of other related pieces of content. For example, knowing blogs aimed at the Chinese market have done well, I’ll tailor some ideas to this.”

Sometimes ideas for content come from SEO, social or PPC specialists, who have already looked at the data in Apollo to identify any content gaps or opportunities. If this is the case, we take their ideas and turn them into engaging and customer-friendly content.

One client we do this for, is a flooring retailer. Naturally the searches made by its customers aren’t all that exciting, but they are queries that need to be answered. Our writers use Apollo to see what needs to be addressed within the piece, and then use a light and sometimes humorous writing style to make the topic entertaining as well as useful. This ensures that more people come to the website to get their questions answered, giving the business authority and making it look knowledgeable.

If you’re a new client, we’ll also conduct an audit of the content already on your website. This shows us where possible improvements could be made. Using this information, we can produce a draft data led strategy with editorial recommendations and discuss it with you. If you’re happy to go ahead, a shared editorial calendar is provided to you and other agencies (where applicable), so everyone has full visibility of what’s going on and can contribute accordingly.

Then it’s down to one of the journalists to either write or make changes to the agreed upon pieces. This part of the process involves Apollo too, as the journalist uses Words to see what relevant terms and phrases should be included in any data led piece.

For example, if I am writing a piece for a client focusing on bulk text messages, I can search for the word ‘bulk’ to see what relevant phrases people are searching for. Including these terms, where appropriate, should boost visibility for the article.

Searching for bulk related terms

Graeme Parton, brand journalist, explains how finding these relevant terms can also help form the structure of content.

“With longer pieces, like e-books and whitepapers, we tend to produce a framework before we actually start writing – this includes subheadings. Apollo is really useful at this point because it helps us align our headings with what users are actually searching for. This is exactly what we did with a recent Cobweb e-book about Windows Server 2003’s end of life.

“We went straight to the Words section and filtered queries, looking specifically at those relating to Windows Server 2003. This way we knew exactly what information the audience would be looking for and could tailor the wording of our subheadings accordingly.”

What exactly is Apollo and what do we use it for?

It may sound like a space ship, but Apollo is our own deep data platform. It collects everything about your domain you need to know, as well as everything about your competitors’ sites, and the sites linking to you. Every page is documented and analysed. It allows you to see what your target audience is searching for, and highlights every person who likes and shares your content. You’re provided with improved marketing intelligence, and we get actionable insights.

Essentially, us content marketers use Apollo for four things:

  • Coming up with content ideas
  • Measuring the impact of content through impressions, visits and page data
  • Monitoring how everyone is contributing to a client’s successes
  • Reporting

Here, Dai explains how he primarily uses the Words data function.

“Words allows me a resource of key words and phrases that people are actually searching for – as well as the ways they are wording it all,” he says. “For clients in a niche industry, it’s great for coming up with ideas when I might otherwise be stumped. For others, it allows me to drill down into their business traffic, knowing that certain products, services or locations are performing better than others.”

Data helps us hugely when it comes to content auditing. If certain pieces attract traffic but have low engagement metrics, we know the content needs to be amended in some way.

Using all of this data, we can come up with content ideas that serve the needs of your target audience, which should increase impressions and clicks.

Vertical Leap content team

Measuring success

Apollo can also help us see how the content has positively impacted your website. Sarah Howard, head of content, notes that a new piece of content often generates a lot more impressions to the site.

Impressions graph in Apollo

“For Property Personnel, estate agency salary was a term we identified as an opportunity, so we were able to see results as soon as we published content on this subject,” she explains. “As per above, we can use Apollo to measure the success of a new article via many different metrics such as entrances, bounce rates, shares, etc.”

We also achieved similar success with another one of our clients, County Stone Granite. Using Apollo, we noticed there were opportunities to create Lapitec and Aga-related content, as County Stone was receiving no impressions for either of these terms.

Big data example - how to clean lapitec blog

Since we published the content, we’ve seen a huge uplift in impressions for these terms! The graphs below really say it all.

Visibility graph for electric Aga - big data led content example

Visibility graph for Lapitec - big data example improvements

As you can see below, our piece ‘Can I afford an Aga? Running costs explained’, is the website’s top landing page too. Since it was first published (March 2014), it has brought in 16,777 people into the site!

Example results of using big data led results on campaigns

Moreover, Apollo allows you to go much deeper than, say, Google Search Console. GSC is restricted to a rolling three months; you can view both impressions and visits over much greater periods of time using Apollo – several years in fact! This isn’t just useful for measuring success of course; you can find a whole wealth of data here, including:

  • Which type of content is most likely to succeed
  • Content that isn’t performing as well as it once did
  • Gaps in your content
  • New search trends
  • Opportunities for seasonal content
  • Content that’s working but could be improved further

We use Apollo to record statistics that matter to you too. These can then be pulled from the software into a report, making that part of the process much easier for us. Plus, it means you can log in at any time to see how your campaign is doing and what actions we’ve taken recently.

Vertical Leap content team

Data can’t work alone

Just like the character in Star Trek, data cannot work alone. It is logical, yes, but it needs to be interpreted; it needs that human touch.

“Mark Twain’s ‘lies, damned lies and statistics!’ comes into play at the interpretation stage, as you could follow the data blindly without taking into account audience personas,” Sarah explains. “Likewise, data doesn’t inhibit creativity, it’s there to help and give direction. If you fully understand your audience and what the client wants to achieve, then you should be able to use the data to your advantage.”

Vertical Leap data-led content team

Striking a balance between the two is the key to success. After all, we are writing for human beings, not robots. If we, or our clients, come up with a good idea for a campaign born outside of data, we still go ahead with it. As we’ve shown you, we don’t just use data for idea generation – data is used in every step of the process!

Hopefully we’ve given you a fascinating insight into how we work – we won’t bore you with the amount of caffeine and sugar we consume every day to keep us going. What we can tell you is that we have all the data, and we’re going to use it wisely.

Find out how our other specialist teams work

Want to learn how we use data (and big data) to power the other services in our business? Then check out these articles below for a sneaky peak:

Inside Vertical Leap: SEO works when you have ALL the data

Inside Vertical Leap: Launching successful design from a data platform

Inside Vertical Leap: What goes on behind the PPC metrics?

Inside Vertical Leap: The serious data behind the social showmanship


Laura Varley profile picture
Laura Varley

Laura was a Content Marketing Specialist at Vertical Leap. Laura joined us in 2013 and was responsible for managing the content produced for various SEO clients.

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