This Is The #Marketing Research Process That Will Take Your Content To The Next LevelClick To Tweet
1. Start With Good QuestionsYour content has the end goal of providing your reader with new information. The first step in creating that content is to start with the questions you yourself have. This is actually the trickiest part of the content marketing research process. Once you have the right questions, finding the information isn't difficult. 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.
Research questions that contradict your idea.Click To Tweet
- Book Blog: How far do most people read in a Kindle ebook? What kind of books don't get read very far?
- Tech Blog: Where do most Android phone users live? Is there a regional or economic connection to Android use?
- Writing Blog: How many self-published ebook authors have cracked the top 100 list on Amazon? Have the most successful gone on to use traditional publishers?
Ask the obvious questions first so you can ask the right question eventually. #MarketingResearchClick To Tweet
2. Research Around Your Questions And KeywordsStart 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.
3. Tweak Your Search Terms To Bring Up Better ResultsI'm a fan of word banks when copywriting, and I use the same idea when it comes to searching for information. I have a few lists of words I use for research for different types of blog posts. With the addition of a word or two, you can drastically change the kind of results you'll get back in a search. Great words to use when searching for meaty data research for your content marketing blog might include:
Tweak your search terms to get qualified research by adding the word 'science'.Click To Tweet
4. Use Something Other Than A Common SearchThe quickest and easiest way to find something is to toss a phrase into a search engine and mine data from the first few pages of results. Which is what everyone else is doing, too. There are two ways to counteract this lazy habit of ours.
Search Specific ResourcesFinding a great set of go-to research tools (besides that basic search) will help you not only research specific topics but get ideas for new posts. Where might you look to find the data you need for your research?
- Google Trends. This free service shows you trends in search activity all over the world. With access to maps, charts, and other tools, it can be a useful research tool as long as you remember that correlation does not equal causation.
- Google Scholar. This tool allows you to search scholarly articles, books, abstracts, court opinions, theses, and more from academic publishers, professional organizations, universities, etc. When searching on Scholar, you will have to try several times and observe the language you're seeing in the results. Often, it takes half of the time to learn what the keywords you should be searching on are before you start finding the best results. This is where Wikipedia can help in providing you with terminology.
- Google Books. You can search a large selection of books online, customizing your search to only show free books to read, books that have a preview, or no preview at all. Similar sites include Bartleby.com and Project Gutenberg, which specialize in classic literature and public domain sources.
- Google Public Data. With this site, Google says they make "large public-interest datasets easy to explore, visualize, and communicate." Looking for popular first names, crime statistics, or current oil prices? You can find it here.
- The Internet Archive. It's more than the Wayback Machine. This site has a massive archive of data, media, and material from across the web from days past. Just because the information isn't "new" doesn't mean it isn't relevant.
- U.S. Government. The USA.gov site is a simple way to start digging for information provided by the U.S. government. If you're looking for official data and statistics, you might be interested in the (rather ugly) FedStats website or (much prettier) Data.gov, which provide you with publicly available information from government agencies.
- Public Records. Niche blogs have different requirements for the kinds of research they need. Public records search, including court cases, might be something your blog would use in a post.
Back To That Example...Let's try that "productivity in the office" example over in Google Scholar as an example of using advanced search techniques to get more targeted results. First, I do a search. The results were wide-ranging, from air quality to telecommuting to a discussion on agrarian cultures and productivity. But what if I tweak it a bit and search on "psychology of productivity in the office"? Again, just as with a basic search engine search, the results are a bit more fine-tuned. I can see several in this list that are interesting (and have just gotten a couple of ideas for new blog posts). Adding in these terms is an extremely basic and simple way to tweak your results, but any little bit helps. This method, particularly in Google Scholar, is a great way for "accidental research" (which we'll talk about in a bit). You may even want to combine this with those custom search operators or Google Advanced Search.
Your researched content shares the same thing as everyone else. Here's how to stand out...Click To Tweet
Use Different Search EnginesWe all have our favorite search engine, but sometimes you need to use something other than Google or Bing if you want to find research no one else has already found. One thing I've noticed over the years is that a lot of the smaller search engines, meta search engines, and "deep web" search sites are closing down. That's a shame; when everyone uses the same search engines, we get the same results. Nevertheless, here are a few to try.
- Boardreader. Looking for questions from your audience or ideas from the industry? Boardreader searches forums to show you what people are saying about your topic.
- DuckDuckGo. This search engine doesn't track you like Google. Why does that matter? I have an Android phone and I don't want my Google serving up recommendations based on the topic I was searching about for a blog post. (e.g. I must have read an article about Gwyneth Paltrow once, because for several weeks Google was sure I wanted to read every article about her. I finally purged the topic from my account. DuckDuckGo helps reduce that.)
- Dogpile. The interesting name seems to suit the results it will show you since it searches a variety of engines and removes ads.
- Vimeo. Like YouTube, you can use Vimeo to search for videos on nearly any topic. It's a great way to curate awesome visual content to help you demonstrate a complex idea since you can embed those videos into your content.
- The WWW Virtual Library. This is a throw-back to the early web, listing links and resources based on categories. Definitely not "web 2.0" but who cares? There are a lot of great resources here, and you will find sites with information you might not have found otherwise.
- Yippy. This search engine uses "clustering" and gives you a search that can be sub-divided into the related clusters surrounding the terms you're searching on. You can fine-tune your search by topic groupings associated with your search term.
What is the go-to research tool you use for your content marketing?Click To Tweet
Searching Within Social Media NetworksSome 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. There are a few tools that are helpful in searching multiple networks if you want to save a little time. Buzzsumo and SocialMention are two services that allow you to search the social web.
Use What You KnowSo you think you don't know anything about your topic, that you have to approach your research from the starting line. Not true. 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 2,400-word post with a looming due date has a way of encouraging them to do that.
Turn a post of dry statements into a good read with inspiration from the sources around you.Click To Tweet
Use Wikipedia In Your Content Marketing Research Process CautiouslyIt's the online version of the kid who did his term paper the night before using his family's set of encyclopedias. Shallow, sketchy, unreliable. Even Wikipedia itself warns against misunderstanding how to use its site for research, providing you with guidelines on how to approach the use of Wikipedia.
However, as with all reference works, not everything in Wikipedia is accurate, comprehensive, or unbiased.While you, as a blogger or content marketer, aren't under the academic constraints that many researchers are, it is still valid to consider Wikipedia as a secondary source and not your main source of research. It is a good rule of thumb to at least verify and back up anything you find in Wikipedia with a non-Wikipedia related source. Wikipedia can still be a valuable tool for research, however.
- Extended dictionary. I often link to Wikipedia when introducing terms or concepts. If the reader would like to find out more, Wikipedia offers more than a mere dictionary definition. I let the reader do research on the basics of the term if they want to.
- Finding new sources. At the bottom of Wikipedia entries, you'll see the sections "See Also", "External Links", and "References". Click through to these outside sources and see if you don't find additional research or links that can lead you further into the rabbit hole of research.
- Finding correct terminology. One of the best uses I've found for Wikipedia is picking up the correct keyword or words to use in searching. I often find a Wikipedia entry using "common" language in a Google search. The article will provide me with scientific, industry, or technical terms that I can then use for deeper searches in scholarly sources.
- Understanding concepts. Wikipedia is a great place to learn about a complicated subject. I often use it in conjunction with studies and abstracts I've found from scholarly sources. While it isn't great as a source, it is a fine place to go to get a better understanding so that you can actually interpret the study you've found.
5. Gather Data Within Your Content NicheYou have the ability to create your own data if you aren't finding or understanding the research available. I can guarantee you that if you start discovering and publishing your own data, you are going to attract others in your niche who are looking for data to reference. It's a great way to get links, traffic, and attention.
How can you find research for a topic that no other marketers are using?Click To Tweet
TestTesting is a great way to create content that gives your readers comparisons and helps them come to conclusions on their own. Every niche blog can do this. Let's set up an example using a fictional food blog. What kind of data would your food-loving audience be interested in?
- I Baked 10 Different Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes. Here's What I Learned.
- Should You Choose Room Temperature Butter Or Not?
- Glass vs. Metal: Choosing The Best Pan, Backed By Research
SurveyAsk your readers questions and create surveys. Learn the basics of general trends and preferences from your own readers to really understand your niche audience. While it's true that readers don't always tell the truth (remember Vegas and that free lunch...), it is an attempt to gather some data. Present it as the results of your survey, and not the end-all results of all time. Your survey shouldn't be about how to make your site better (that's of interest to you), but on the topics in your niche blog's content core. Let's say you write a blog about healthy living. You might create reader surveys on:
- The diets they adhere to, and why.
- How they track their diet and exercise, and which methods work for them.
- Exercise habits.
- Sleep habits, and how they compare to other sleep data.
ReviewIn an interview, Tim Ferris revealed a technique he used in creating a cookbook. He started by asking his readers to list two of their favorite cookbooks. From there, he went on Amazon and pared down that list based on cookbooks that had an average of 4.5 stars or higher. Here's where it gets interesting:
[...] I looked at the 3-star most helpful reviews, or most critical/most helpful, and looked for the things that they identified as missing in those best books. Then I made a running list of all the things that were missing from even the best books. Like in barbecue, they neglect brisket a lot. I was like, “Okay, great. We’re going to do short ribs, brisket. It’s going to be my book.” I made like a hit list, because I knew the market was there.Data is everywhere. It's just waiting for someone to come along and gather it together.
Only using Google for marketing research? So is everyone else. Stand out.Click To Tweet
Track Results And Create Content From ThatWhat you discover from research, testing, surveys, and reviews must be turned into consumable content for your readers. You can track your results on Google Spreadsheets, and use those results to generate a chart. As a bit of a joke, I wrote a post about the psychology of the sayings on the wrappers of Dove chocolates. No one in the world needed that data, but it was a fun challenge. I carefully tracked my testing results on a Google Spreadsheet, and then generated charts. Use Google Spreadsheets to generate charts and graphs. We later designed this to add our personal touch and brand, but you get the idea.... Immediately something as ridiculous as chocolate wrappers became... data. It became available for someone else to reference should they ever talk about chocolate and psychology. And after eating all of the chocolate required to compile this data, I will never eat Dove chocolates again.
Blog posts that will use heavy research should be planned and started weeks in advance.Click To Tweet
Simple Tips For Using Online Research In Your Content Marketing
Understand The Research, And Be Able To Interpret ItI'm not a numbers person, and I'm not ashamed to admit that. That's why having peer reviews of blog posts helps when I write a post that has research and data. It's good to get another set of eyes on the content and interpretation. I want to be sure I've understood it accurately, and presented it to readers in a way that makes sense. It is frustrating when, as a reader, I find myself neck-deep in a blog post that had a promising title and realize that the blogger didn't know how to interpret the data and chose, instead, to merely share complicated charts and graphs and not bother to translate it into "human" language.
If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough. –Albert EinsteinClick To Tweet
- Read and understand data.
- Interpret that data for your readers on a level they can understand.
- Package it for your readers (via examples) so that they can make use of the data now.
Welcome Accidental Research Into Your Marketing Research ProcessAccidental research happens to be my favorite. By accidental research, I'm referring to the idea that you stumble across ideas and data that you don't have plans to use, but that you sock away for the future. Research arrives before the idea, instead of the idea instigating the research.
Any and all outside reading can be connected to what you're currently writing about.Click To Tweet
- To be a librarian. All the information in the world won't help you if you can't find it. The library is a fascinating place, with its organized system of numbers that helps you find every resource you need based on title, author, or subject searches. What's your plan for storing your own research? Are you just scribbling it down and hoping you'll find it when you need it, or do you have a system in place? I'm big on systems, and I use CoSchedule heavily in storing and stockpiling the research that I'll eventually turn into a blog post someday.
- To read outside your niche. You're writing a business blog? Please read more than just business books. Read fiction. Read poetry. Read blogs that have nothing to do with business. Reading outside of your realm keeps you prone to richer "accidents" and makes it possible for you to connect seemingly disparate ideas.
Apply Your Research To Original IdeasResearch 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.
Combine research with your own knowledge and cite your sources with a backlink.Click To Tweet
The Structure Of The Research PostEven though you're writing a blog post based on research, you still must follow the standard format of showing your reader why the topic matters, and then wrap it in some kind of story or narrative that they can relate to, all while presenting the facts. The inverted triangle that journalists use works particularly well for research blog posts, where you load your conclusion at the beginning, and proceed to prove its veracity in the rest of the post. Why use the inverted triangle method? Not everyone will finish your article. And with a research post, more than any other kind of post you write, you want to present facts and a resolved theory to readers. You need write so that your theory is clearly stated at the beginning. Whether they read the rest of post and see that you have supporting facts or not, at least they will know what the overall gist of your theory is.
- Show your reader why this matters to them.
- Tell them what your end results were.
- Share the research, interpreting and showing readers how it applies to their life.
- Conclude again.
Research posts should start with the conclusion. Readers need to know what you're proving first.Click To Tweet
What Does Your Content Marketing Research Process Look Like?Research posts take time; it's a deep dive into studies, searching, reading, and taking notes. It's always best to get started a few weeks ahead. The end result of a great research post, though, is a reader armed with knowledge and excited about your content. 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.
The Proven Marketing Research Process That Will Help You Create Better ContentClick To Tweet