Collecting audience data

You can explore your audiences’ interests, opinions and preferences using data from existing sources or from targeted data collection activities. This is known as user research.

This section covers:

Existing data sources

Depending on the topic and publication, user data may already be available.

You can explore the following:

  • What users have engaged with in the past. Sources can include
    • sales data from previous versions of a publication
    • sales data from similar print publications
    • site analytics for existing digital content.

    Site analytics for existing digital content are particularly useful. These will tell you what users are selecting, what they are searching for, and the pages they ‘bounce’ from (ie pages from which they exit your site) when they do not find what they need. This will help you to develop your content plan and understand which topics most interest users, and which content is confusing or less useful.

  • What users have liked and shared on social media. General social media statistics and research, much of which is available for free online, can be used to find out about overall user interests and trends. You can look at both qualitative data (free-form text feedback in the comments section, hashtags associated with a post) and quantitative data (number of times a post or update is ‘liked’ or shared with other social media users, number of times an associated hashtag is used).
  • What users have told you directly. Direct sources of information include any feedback that you may have collected from previous publications and surveys or existing websites, including customer queries, suggestions, complaints and ideas.
  • What search terms people are using online. Tools such as Google Trends can
    • tell you what terms or phrases people are using to look for information
    • compare popularity of search terms and phrases
    • tell you how search terms and phrases vary across regions
    • tell you how search terms and phrases vary over time.
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Targeted data collection

At its simplest, targeted data collection can be asking your colleagues, friends or family for their opinions about your content.

More usefully, talking to or surveying audience groups can provide feedback specific to their context and needs. To find your target audiences, contact relevant community or professional organisations. You can also hire consultants specialising in market research to recruit members of the audiences you want to reach.

Targeted data collection methods include the following:

  • Surveys. These may be conducted over the phone or online, and can be a cost-effective way of gathering large amounts of quantifiable data. Online surveys are often useful because they automatically collate the data. There are several online survey sites to choose from. However, you should keep your audiences in mind when deciding whether to use an online survey (eg an older or remote audience may be less willing or able to access an online survey).

  • Focus groups. These are run face to face, usually with a facilitator and a set of questions or topic areas to facilitate discussion. The data gathered from focus groups vary with the discussion, and are not easily analysed using quantitative methods. But these data complement the more concentrated data from surveys, providing a forum for new ideas and an interactive discussion, and allowing deeper digging into interesting points raised by participants.

  • Ongoing feedback. This can be collected online or in hard copy, and gives you the opportunity to ask specific questions from audiences who have found and used your content. Both yes–no questions, such as ‘Did you find this brochure useful?’, and open-ended questions, such as ‘What else would you like to see on this page?’, will contribute useful feedback.

Targeted data collection allows you to home in on exactly what users want. You can explore user characteristics and preferences, such as:

  • topics – what do users want to know? What do they find most important?

  • breadth and depth – are users looking for basics or details? What do they know already, and what do they want answered?

  • completeness – do users want the content to be standalone? Do they expect to see everything in your publication, or are they happy to go to another source of information?

  • language – what is the most appropriate style? What reading level will users have?

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