How To Do Content Marketing Research For A Blog Post 73
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“I need you to write a post about how the NASA space program will help you be a better blogger.”
“I don’t know anything about NASA!”
“…and it needs to be 2400 words. By tomorrow.”
That sounds like an unfortunate–but familiar–scenario. Don’t know what you’re going to write about? Not a clue where to start, beyond the keywords you’re going to use for the post? Have a headline and a word count requirement and nothing else?
It’s not that much of a problem. Really. You just need to know how to do great research, and it starts with being good with questions.
What Content Marketing Research Looks Like
Research that leads to great blog posts has a predictable set of steps. You’re probably already doing it (whether you’re aware of it or not) if you’ve been blogging for any length of time.
1. Start With Good Questions
Your blog post has the end goal of providing your reader with new information. The first step in writing that post is to start with the questions you yourself have. This is actually the trickiest part of research.
Once you have the right questions, finding the information isn’t difficult at all. So how do you find the right questions?
- Go where questions thrive. Why not go where other people ask questions, like Quora? If you know the general category, you can find the questions people are asking within that topic. You’ll probably find the terms and phrases you need to do additional research on your own.
- Start with your own curiosity. What questions come to mind? When faced with something we don’t know, most of us are curious and have a natural tendency to ask foundational questions. (e.g. what is it? how does it work? who made it? is it dangerous?). These are the kind of introductory questions that give you the next level of understanding which helps spur on better questions.
- Confront your assumptions. What do you assume about a topic? Even when we don’t know a topic well, we still form assumptions about it. Use those assumptions, create questions that challenge them, and honestly look for the answer.
Asking the right question is a kind of Catch 22. If you know nothing about a subject, you have to ask questions to get enough information to finally ask the right question. We don’t like doing that. It’s where the “there are no dumb questions” mantra comes to mind. We feel foolish asking such obvious questions.
2. Research Around Your Keywords
Start with your keywords, and do a basic search on them. If you search using Google, pay attention to the suggestions provided as you type in the search bar.
Google will also provide related searches others have made similar to yours at the bottom of the initial results page.
This helps you in three ways:
- You’ll find out the common phrases surrounding your keywords. You’ll find the questions people want answered.
- You’ll find content others have written. Other bloggers are doing the same exact thing as they researched their own posts. Follow their tracks, see what they came up with, and maybe get ideas of your own.
- You’ll find a new angle to approach your topic. People are searching for the same thing, but asking different questions. Their approach might lead you to useful information.
Don’t fear the “peripheral” information that surrounds your focused topic. You don’t want to go off topic, but you do want to get the most complete picture you can while researching.
3. Research Your Topic Directly
You could go to the library.
But most of us aren’t writing our blog posts with enough lead time (or spare time) to head over to the library and find books and magazines for research. Most research happens online, and most of us use Google search.
Using Google Search For Research
Google search is more than just a simple search bar. It can help you fine tune your online searching according to the type of source. You can specify videos, news, books, blogs, and discussions (forums and groups).
Google defaults your search to return private results, but you can hide the private results for a more global search.
Private results put more weight on search results from people in your Google+ circles, returning webpages, photos, and posts from those people, as well as your own Gmail and Google Calendar events. You can permanently turn this option off, or you can simply click the global button for that specific search to turn it off.
Even using some of Google’s most basic features can make that search bar much more powerful. Knowing how to formulate your Google search query will help narrow down what you’re looking for and save you time.
Searching Within Social Media Networks
Some networks are closed gardens, and they don’t easily let Google in.
Don’t let your only search effort stop with Google (or another large search engine). Go to each individual network and search there, too. Do customized searches on Quora, use search operators on Twitter, ask questions in LinkedIn groups…the places where people are sharing their knowledge is far more extensive than what you’ll find in a Google search. These networks have people, they have experts, they have wonderful resources.
Google+ results do show up in your regular Google searches, but visiting the network directly will bring up more results than you would through the main search effort. The nice thing about the Google+ network is that many people have been treating it like a blogging platform. Posts tend to be long, contain decent content, and share a useful link.
Use What You Know
So you think you don’t know anything about your topic, that you have to approach your research from the starting line.
The books and magazines you’re reading, even if not on the “topic” of the post, provide you with a way of thinking. The ideas found in good books will connect with what you’re writing about if you allow them to.
For example, you’ve just read a book about the American “Wild West” in the late 1800s. You’ve just been assigned to write the blog post “5 Requirements Of A Successful Startup.” There’s a pretty good chance you can use some of what you read in that book in relation to your blog post.
The best thing about this approach?
It can turn a dry post full of dry statements (“…startups should be willing to take risks”) into a good read (“…a startup is the modern-day Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”)
You might not know the specifics of the topic, but if you’ve made reading and learning new things a regular part of your life, it’s all going to come together when you write. The ideas are already floating around in there; they just need to latch onto each other. A 2400-word post with a looming due date has a way of encouraging them to do that.
What Content Marketing Research Does NOT Look Like
Content marketing research looks nothing like stealing.
Online research makes it so very easy to beg, steal, and borrow. Highlight, copy, paste, done! This is heightened by the pressure of deadlines which make it oh so tempting to just copy and paste and forget to the grab the link.
Plagiarism is taking someone else’s content, presenting it as your own, with no attribution and no permission. Bloggers toe the plagiarism line by copying and pasting huge swaths of a blog post (or all of it) prefacing it with a mere introductory statement and a link to the original post.
That is still a form of stealing. It is not research. It is not a commentary.
Taking a TV from someone’s house without permission is stealing, even if you tell all of your friends who you took it from. In the case of copying written property, you’re creating duplicate content on the web that could hurt their SEO.
Research is using the knowledge of someone else, combining it with other information you learned, formulating your own ideas, and writing your own unique content as a product of that effort. At most, you might quote a few sentences or a short paragraph, give complete citation (including the name of the blog or blogger) with a link. This should be a small part of your overall content. Your blog post should be 95% your content. Your words do the work, not someone else’s.
The same goes for images.
Be sure you have permission, or are using them according to their Creative Commons license. In early blogging days, it was a bit of a wild west, with people borrowing or embedding any image they wanted to without any reference to where it was found. Google Images and Pinterest have made orphaned images particularly common. Bear in mind that it is easy to find if someone has used your image with the Google Image Checker, so yes, your “borrowing” of an image improperly can be discovered.
Content marketing research is often done under deadline pressures on topics we don’t normally write about in our comfort zone. The more you flex your research skills and learn how to ask questions and determine which answers you’re willing to put your name to, the easier it becomes.
December 17, 2013