What is content discovery, and how can you make it easier for your users to find what they want?

What images — literal or symbolic — does the concept of discovery bring to mind?

Maybe someone kneeling in a shallow river, noticing some gold nuggets in the gravel. Or seeing something ordinary in a new way, like when you take a magnifying glass to a blooming flower and discover a cute little beetle. Or maybe bringing home bags of desirable “discovered” items you threw in your cart on a shopping expedition.

Well, you’re probably thinking, that’s all nice feel-good stuff, but aren’t we talking about content marketing in the form of consumers discovering content?”

Thank you for paying attention. But the awe of discovery (of any kind) is cool, isn’t it?

Here comes the content

Back in 1996, the visionary computer geek Bill Gates predicted the golden age of content creation, leading off an essay published on Microsoft’s website with “Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”

Now here we are, more than 25 years later, swimming, and, frankly, sinking, in that vast sea of meant-to-be-engaging content.

Hashtag-heavy social media sites are just one time-consuming content kiddie pool bolstered by careful content curation. They can keep you paddling around checking out original content for hours, until, like your fingers and toes, your brain starts to shrivel.

Or maybe you’re addicted to watching home-flipping remodeling video content on YouTube. You don’t want to miss a minute of the flippers’ best content ideas.

You could be one of those miniseries-loving Netflix addicts who’s glued to your sofa.

Maybe LinkedIn is your preferred social media content hangout during the workday, where you scroll and comment on all the right content, maybe even watch a webinar in real time.

And of course there’s Reddit, and all those endlessly mesmerizing subreddits.

Does this ring true?

Help, help, we’re drowning

There’s so much trending content online that you may feel like you’re being dragged under by a riptide, like you’ll never conquer it, despite sticking to a subset of information such as the CNN RSS feed. And you could even be deluged by a single piece of content, like an in-depth article in The Atlantic (despite its warning that it will take you half an hour to slog through it).

With so much content floating in the sea of Cyberspace, it’s now imperative that people can find what they want or need in the teeming muck. We risk getting redirected and lost in endlessly scrollable posts on social-media platforms, titillating click-bait “stories” at the bottom of  legitimate news articles, a million mommy-blogger musings, detailed infographics on global warming and other pressing issues, and the intricacies of accumulated one-, two-, three-, four-, and five-star product reviews (legitimate input or marketing fluff written in exchange for receiving  a free item?) on ecommerce sites.

It’s no wonder that people have sworn off of Facebook and other social networks, or had to step in and limit their kids’ online gaming habit or taken any number of other drastic measures to get themselves or their loved ones out of the Internet content quicksand. When the Web threatens to wash away your off-line life with a content addiction you can’t kick, it’s a problem.

The rescue tube of content discovery

That brings us to the importance of content discovery, at least when it comes to the digital marketing side of things. Humans need to be able to quickly circular-file their piles of accumulating digital junk mail and discover those “cards and letters” they look forward to opening.

To some degree, consumers fall into informal content discovery through social media marketing, but in this post, we’re referring to a content discovery platform as a whole different marketing-campaign animal: a tool that’s specifically geared to help you increase and improve the quality of user engagement on your website.

Technically, content discovery (sometimes referred to as “search and discovery”) is seeking and locating one’s desired content. It’s the process of finding and perusing your brand content. It acts as a “bridge” across the information flood, connecting consumers with content they want.

For our purposes, the online content discovery process is not to be confused with online content discovery networks, ad platforms (such as Outbrain) that let businesses post links. 

So to sum up, content discovery is about being online and getting intrigued by information that can lead you to something you want. 

What content discovery means to companies

From a corporate perspective, content discovery is, of course, all about money: making relevant content easy for consumers to find with the express purpose of increasing ROI.

In the context of search and discovery, content discovery helps you better convert your web traffic. A great content discovery system helps people easily search for or navigate to what they need, which discourages their bouncing off the site to competitor sites and facilitates conversion, resulting in all-important higher revenue. 

At its best, a content discovery platform connects visitors to content in authentically helpful, inspiring, and relevant ways. It can also power an intuitive browsing experience, motivating users to both check out new content and reconnect with material they’ve browsed earlier.

On a website, people can discover the content they want in two ways:

While wanting something specific

To zero in on it, they start with the search box or site navigation features. As they type or click relevant keywords, their activity may trigger the appearance of promotional banners in their search results, promoted products along the side of their screen, or “editorial” content about items they may not have even realized they needed. Ultimately they reach a product page and make a purchase, even if the process takes them offline to a brick-and-mortar store or through other channels in their content exploration.

While just browsing

People might go to a site to simply surf around and explore what grabs their attention. A successful content discovery expedition could still start with the entering of a keyword in a search engine, but in most cases, it involves reading content like promotional banners, curated editorial, or recommendations. In this way, passively browsing people may be gently guided to relevant products and made into buying or subscribing customers who ideally also want to come back because they’ve so enjoyed the shopping or buying experience.

How to make content discoverable

So how can you make it easy for your customers to find the high-quality content for them — their personal gold nuggets? How do you create great content discovery experiences that could very well convert?

By displaying the best, most relevant content on your site to the right visitors when they’re asking for it.

You do this with the help of machine learning–based user personalization and recommendation, algorithm-driven tools for zeroing in on and serving up the most appropriate, intriguing content for your visitors to consider.

Should you choose to embark on this likely to be profitable journey, here’s the process in a three-step nutshell:

  1. Find out what you need to know about your prospects and customers: based on what they’re searching for and doing on your site. What do they want? A powerful aspect of site search is that people will naturally tell you exactly what they want. For instance, “How to clean BBQ grill grates” or “Buy products from Ukraine.” There’s no beating around the bush: you know exactly what they’re out to find. You do the research to definitively figure out, down to the individual shopper level, what people want to read about, chat about with their friends or colleagues, comment on in social media posts, buy for themselves, buy as gifts, buy multiple versions of, use as jumping-off points for buying other items in the brand, make a part of their lifestyle. With search and discovery analytics, you gather and make sense of all the data you need in order to share content to meet your customers’ needs.
  2. Apply what you’ve learned. Now that you’ve done your content research, you can appropriately and intelligently steer and guide people through various formats — banners, content carousels, content shelves — to the content they want.
  3. Provide on-target site search to drive content discovery. Based on what you learn about users’ desires and needs, you have your search algorithm embed relevant, personalized keyword-related “leads” in their search results.

You shape the browsing experience according to two things: your user trends and your business strategies. Your promoted content changes dynamically based on those trends and strategies.

This experience shaping encompasses two techniques:

  • Personalizing content for your users based on their profiles. Personalizing the browsing and search experience significantly increases the likelihood of conversions and improves the overall user experience. Search and exploration can be tailored based on a user’s transaction history, and not just for upselling.
  • Making intuitive recommendations based on what you know about people’s expressed interests. As in real life, most people can’t help but like appropriate suggestions offered to them as they’re looking to buy a product. (If you’re on Amazon and its recommendation engine suggests something expressly “for you,” don’t you urgently feel the need to check it out?)

You go through this refinement process not once but continually. You regularly review your common search queries and thereby decide how to continue optimizing your search results to improve your customers’ site-surfing experiences.

Search enables content discovery

So in essence, search is the great enabler of effective content discovery. It “answers” someone’s browsing behavior and influences how they receive content recommendations. Based on what you learn, you then have your search algorithm embed relevant, personalized keyword-related “leads” in their search results. This is akin to creating a proven organic marketing channel for personas in your target audience.

As part of your marketing strategy, do you want to offer excellent content discovery to your current and prospective customers?

You’d certainly be giving your business a leg up, as satisfied customers are always going to be your best asset. They’ll notice big time when you anticipate their content-discovery desires and strive to optimize their online experiences.

You’ve discovered Algolia 

Ever set out to find content on sites like Medium, Lacoste, or Hacker News? Then you’ve been a party to the benefits of Algolia’s technology. Our popular search and content discovery platform is one way you can enable personalized user experiences.

Our clients range from startups to behemoths across industries in more than 80 countries. Check out our inspiration library of ways they’re using content discovery tools to take their revenue higher.

Thanks for reading this guide to the content discovery process. We’re glad that you discovered us and now know how you can put content discovery to work for your site’s success. Get in touch and let’s get you started!

About the authorCatherine Dee

Catherine Dee

Search and Discovery writer

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