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Trust. Authority. Influence.
What do these three things have in common? They’re all traits of successful content that establishes brands and content creators as real thought leaders. Every piece of content you publish should seek to achieve this trifecta.
So, how do you create content that truly shows you’re a trustworthy and authoritative source? The answer can be summed up in one word:
Not the most exciting answer, right? Well, it is if you’re a dedicated content marketing nerd and you’re committed to blowing minds with amazingly in-depth stuff. The kind of stuff that digs deeper than the competition and doesn’t just make bold claims, but backs them up with facts and real data.
The key to successful content research is to put a clear and repeatable process in place. In this post, we’ll cover thirty different ways you out-research and outsmart your competitor’s content marketing with better information.
Roll up your sleeves and get ready to think outside the box.
This post packs in tons of tips to improve your content research skills. To make your entire research process more consistent and more effective, we’ve prepared this comprehensive content research checklist. Put this and the rest of this post together, and you’ve got everything you need to elevate your research game.
If you’re doing to do content research right, you’ll need to the right apps, services, and resources at your disposal. Here are some that we recommend (and that will make applying the advice in this post easier).
A leader in the content research tool game, BuzzSumo makes competitive research easy. Enter in a keyword, and it’ll immediately find all the top-shared content for that topic on social media. That saves tons of time doing manual searches, and surfaces stuff you might not have found otherwise.
This free Chrome extension makes it easy to analyze the authoritativeness of your (or another’s) website). It also makes analyzing technical website elements simple, too.
A classic keyword research tool, Ubersuggest gathers Google autocomplete queries for a given seed term. That makes finding tons of related ideas easy.
This freemium website crawling tool is immensely helpful for finding content on your own site. You can also use it to crawl URLs on competitor’s sites, too. We’ll go over this more in a little bit later in this post.
It’s less useful for non-paid strategies than it used to be, but no content research tool collection is complete without the Google Keyword Planner.
Finding related topics and keywords is fast and easy with LSI Graph. Enter a term, and it’ll quickly generate tons of related ideas. This is useful for tapping into the power of latent semantic indexing while doing research.
We’re finally ready for what you came here for. No less than thirty actionable pieces of advice to help you do better research now.
The first tip is also the simplest one. Google is probably the first place you’ll go when doing research for a new piece of content, right? Probably, but let’s look at some ways to make search engines work harder for you.
What are people sharing on social media the most? That’s the question Buzzsumo was built to answer. This freemium tool lets you type in a keyword and surface top-shared content in moments.
Start by entering a topic or term:
Then, browse through the most-shared results on social media:
Wolfram Alpha is like an educational search engine on steroids. The computational search engine has a “long-term goal to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and searchable to everyone.” In plain English, that means it has a lot of cool functionality to help you crunch data and facts to gather the knowledge you need to support deeply-research content.
Okay, so maybe that wasn’t quite plain English. This video can help explain a bit better:
If you’re looking to surface timely content ideas, search for relevant hashtags on Twitter. The things people are sharing right now in real time can give you insight into what people might want to read from you. Fortunately, this is also easy to do with Hashtagify.me.
Enter a search term, and you’ll immediately find:
All useful stuff to know when you’re researching your next content piece.
Contrary to what some may say, print isn’t dead. In fact, odds are there are some successful print publications out there in your industry or niche, too. Look them up, subscribe, and absorb all that valuable industry knowledge.
Twitter polls are an easy way to get fast feedback on an idea.
Start by creating a new tweet. Then, find the Create Poll button:
Then, add your tweet copy and poll questions:
By default, you’ll see two question blanks. However, you can add up to two more:
Lastly, adjust the length of your poll (from one day to a full week):
Click “Tweet” and then watch the responses come in. That’s all there is to it. In a matter of minutes, you can gather at least a small amount of data from your followers to help inform your content.
Here are some important things to note when running a survey:
Ever notice those “Related Searches” suggestions at the bottom of Google SERPs? You can use those to figure out valuable details about what your audience is looking for.
Here’s an example:
From this search, I can figure out what else someone interested in content marketing might be looking for (assuming my content I’ll be creating is going to be about content marketing). That includes:
These are all data points I can use to determine which type of content I should really be creating, depending on my audience’s needs and my overall marketing goals.
Autocomplete suggestions are great because they’re based on things people have actually searched for. Ubersuggest is an awesome free keyword tool that surfaces autocomplete suggestions based on a seed keyword.
Enter your search term:
Then, get potentially hundreds of related topics:
This can help you:
Screaming Frog is a freemium website crawler that’s awesome for doing SEO audits and other technical work. It’s also useful for finding your competition’s targeted keywords.
Download Screaming Frog for free:
Then, enter a competitor’s website URL and click Start:
Next, you’ll see a report listing tons of URLs from the website you’ve crawled. Look through these and pay attention to the URL slugs:
Typically, scanning a website’s URLs can you the topics and keywords that site is targeting. That can give you tons of ideas for:
To quickly find possible relevant competitor keywords, do a CTRL-F search for your planned content’s topic or keyword. That can help surface tons of related content to help with your competitive research.
This is a much more straightforward tip, but one that’s easy to overlook. Keep tabs on what other organizations are publishing in your industry. You’ll absorb a lot of knowledge this way, possibly without even realizing it.
There are a couple ways you can make this easier, too.
Sure, you’re smart, but you can’t be an expert at everything. If you’re surrounded by other smart people though, lean on their knowledge to power your content. This is especially important (and likely essential) when you’re writing about something you’re not knowledgeable on (which is often the case if you’re in a new industry or working with new clients at an agency).
Here’s how to make sure your interview is time well spent:
For a more detailed guide on getting the most from your SME interview, follow this guide from Nectafy.
This is a smart and passive way to be doing content research all the time with little effort. Set up Google Alerts for terms and topics related to your industry. Then, you’ll get updates when those keywords pop up on the web.
First, visit Google Alerts:
Then, enter keywords relevant to your industry, business, and competition:
You’ll now get email notifications when your selected terms appear on the web. Easy stuff.
While less popular than they used to be, message boards and forums can still be a great place to do content research. If there are any you’re aware of in your industry, browse through them to see what people are talking about. To find forums and message boards, try searching [your industry] + “forum” or “message board.”
Did you know there’s an entire search engine dedicated to finding infographics? It’s called Infographiqs, and it’s useful for finding infographics on just about any topic you can think of. Enter a keyword and find tons of info-packed images you can review, cite, or embed in your content.
Don’t stop at reading your competition’s content. Read the content they cite, too. Click through the links on their pages and see where they go. You might find some insights or data they missed, adding more weight and credibility to your own stuff.
You can find everything you need to know on the Internet, right? Well, maybe. Books are often better for diving deep into a topic. Plus, reading on paper yields certain advantages that desktop and mobile screens can’t quite replicate.
Looking for research inspiration on the printed page? Here are a few places to start:
Serious about keeping track of what you read? Get some color page markers.
Why rely solely on your own research when you can leverage someone else’s? Obtaining research reports can give you powerful insights into things you wouldn’t have otherwise thought about while keeping you informed about what’s coming next in your industry.
Here are a couple ways to find relevant research reports you can use:
You can also look around for white papers, case studies, and other smaller research resources too.
No matter what industry you’re in, there are probably various news sources covering it. We don’t just mean blogs (although they’re important, too). We mean news sources, with journalists reporting news that’s relevant to you (and the audience you’re marketing toward).
Follow them on Twitter, subscribe to their email newsletters, and make them a part of your daily news diet. This will keep you in-the-know and make doing research much easier.
Think your industry is too boring for anyone to want to write about it? You might be surprised. For a starting point, turn to Google to find relevant blogs and publications.
In our own space at CoSchedule, we follow a lot of marketing news sources. Some of these include:
Do some digging and find where the real news is at in your niche.
What better place to find which questions people have, than a website dedicated to answering other people’s questions? Browse around Quora (signup required) and find out if there are questions related to your business or content project.
You don’t always have to reinvent the content wheel. Sometimes, doing more of what you know works is the best way to go.
How do you find your past top-performing content? There are a few different ways.
Let’s start with Google Analytics. Then, drill into Behavior > Site Content > All Pages in the left-hand navigation:
Then, scroll down to find your top-performing URLs:
Reddit is an awesome research resource for marketers. Like message boards and Quora, it’s useful for finding out what kinds of questions your audience really has.
Marketer and CoSchedule guest writer Dale Cudmore wrote a great guide on mining Reddit for ideas here. He also built an awesome tool called Keyworddit, a research tool that mines Reddit for keyword ideas.
To use it, type in the name of a subreddit:
Next, you’ll get a list of keywords pulled from that subreddit, combined with their monthly search volume:
Clicking the Context link for each term will bring you to a Google search result, displaying pages on Reddit where that keyword is being discussed:
Cool stuff, right?
Google Scholar is designed specifically to look up academic literature and research papers. That means the kind of stuff that can lend weight to your content with deeply researched data and insights. Just enter a keyword related to your content topic and see what you can find:
If you’re creating content to address your audience’s needs, who better to work with than your sales and customer support teams? They’re on the front lines, talking directly to customers and prospects about their wants and challenges.
That information can easily translate into great content that directly tackles those topics.
Reach out to them and ask if you can set up a time to talk. When you do, go into the conversation prepared by following a couple simple steps:
All it takes is a simple conversation. That’s it.
You never know when inspiration might strike, or when you might learn an interesting piece of information that’s useful for something you’re working on. So, consider carrying a pen and notebook with you wherever you go to jot things down.
So, what’s the point of writing things by hand, anyway? Didn’t we invent computers and smart phones so we could leave hand cramps and dead tree media behind?
It turns out that writing things down by hand affects the way you remember it differently than using a digital device. According to Psychology Today,
Much of the benefit of handwriting in general comes simply from the self-generated mechanics of drawing letters. In one Indiana University study, researchers conducted brain scans on pre-literate 5-year olds before and after receiving different letter-learning instruction. In children who had practiced self-generated printing by hand, the neural activity was far more enhanced and “adult-like” than in those who had simply looked at letters. The brain’s “reading circuit” of linked regions that are activated during reading was activated during hand writing, but not during typing.
In short, when you write by hand, your brain draws different mental connections than it does while typing because it requires more physical effort.
For those paying attention, this tip applies the exact advice this post is trying to drive home. I could have just told you that hand-writing notes has advantages over typing them. You could also easily ignore that advice and disregard it as baseless.
But, when that statement is backed up by actual academic research? Now, that’s a little bit different, right?
Consider this tip 25.5: your own opinions are easily cast aside. Hard facts and real research, however, are not.
If old-school pen and paper isn’t your thing, Evernote and Google Keep also work well. Both give you access to your notes on all your devices, so you’ve always got access to your notes. Write something down on your phone, and it’ll be there when you can get to your computer.
Here’s something else cool about Evernote: it integrates directly into CoSchedule. If you’re a CoSchedule customer, that means you can quickly access your notes directly in your marketing calendar.
This step-by-step guide shows exactly how to sync your Evernote account with your CoSchedule calendar. You’ll be ready to go in just a few clicks.
Google Keep has a cool feature of its own, too: you can pull notes from Keep directly into Google Docs. That makes it easy to see your research in the same place where you’re writing:
While Evernote has free and paid options, Google Keep is completely free. Once you start using one (or both), you’ll likely find them indispensable for storing and accessing your research findings.
Twitter is a gold mine for finding timely information and insights (if you’re looking in the right places, at least). One way to find new sources of information is to scroll through the accounts your competitors follow.
Visit one of your competitors on Twitter and click Following:
Then, scroll away. You might find some awesome research sources you hadn’t heard of before.
Let’s say you’ve found an interesting web page or blog post that you want to cite in your own content.
Sure, but you can dig deeper by reading through content that links to that content, too. One way to do this is by using Open Site Explorer. This freemium tool (part of the Moz platform) makes it easy to see which sites are linking to a given URL.
Start by visiting the OSE page or logging into your Moz account (if you have one) and finding it there. Then, enter a URL:
If you’re not using a paid Moz account, you’ll be able to see the top five linking domains (with a paid account, you’ll have access to a much larger link index):
Now, start clicking into the sites linking to your source content. This can help provide:
If you’re working at an agency or as a solo consultant, odds are you’ve already researched your clients and have gotten to know them. However, it’s worth asking whether you’ve really dug as dig into your background research as you possibly can. Here are some places to start:
Did you know the U.S. federal government makes tons of research data available to the public? Using the resources on data.gov, you can find a wealth of information on all kinds of different topics. It also includes links to apps built by private citizens to put that data to use.
To use the site, enter a keyword or topic to find a data set:
If any data sets are available, you’ll see a results page like this:
You can filter these down by topics and topic categories as well. This is useful for narrowing down information that might be most useful for your particular industry:
You can also narrow results down by:
Deep stuff, right? Fortunately, Marketing Land published a great piece on how marketers can leverage Data.gov to extract consumer insights. It’s well worth giving it a read.
We’ve covered an incredible amount of actionable content research tips in this post. However, we certainly haven’t exhausted every possible method or tactic there is under the sun. Do you have any additional tips you’d add? Drop us a comment below and start the conversation!
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