2 cups of milk, 1 tablespoon of butter, and ½ a teaspoon vanilla flavor. That’s how you bake, right? You measure different ingredients before adding them to ensure that the taste of your baked cake is on point. Content creation is pretty similar where you’ve to put together several ingredients with background research being the foundational component of the process.
It is what determines that the final piece is to the liking of your audience. But let’s be honest here – content research is vast. And there are numerous ways to research your audience and their content needs. To prevent challenges in this regard, we put on our researchers’ hat and went out to seek expert tips on content research for you.
So without further ado, let’s dig into their favorite tips and tools.
Here we go:
1. Dig into original research
The first step to research is looking up the prevailing studies and data on your key idea. Backing your content with research adds an air of authority to it. However, such research is only the tip of the iceberg. Ben Sailor, the Inbound Marketing Lead at CoSchedule, unveils the iceberg itself.
He suggests, “Consider doing original research in addition to gathering data from trusted third-party sources. It takes time and effort, but one well-executed survey can provide statistics and insights you can use in multiple pieces of content for months. Plus, original research makes excellent link bait, and Google has even said it’ll be prioritizing original reporting going forward.”
Ben is not alone in counting the benefits of original research though. 9 out of 10 businesses who have conducted original research have concluded that its very beneficial as per a study by Buzzsumo and Mantis research.
Here’s the graphic showing the response of the participants:
Moreover, 49% of the participants who didn’t conduct original research also agreed that they were going to dip their toes in it soon.
A case in point here is Andy Crestodina over at Orbit Media Studios. Every year, he conducts survey-based research on blogging statistics. It’s his survey conducted last year (2018) where we learned that only a handful of bloggers conduct original research.
However, bloggers who do administer original research tend to see approximately 3 times “strong results” than those who don’t.
This research is a good example of how beneficial original research is. Hard to believe? Numbers don’t lie. According to Ahrefs this study has 6000+ backlinks:
Buzzsumo also confirms that the study has amassed 1.9K total engagements with a brilliant engagement score of 80 and over 1600 social shares:
What’s more, findings from this research have served as an inspiration for new blogs too. These amazing results show there’s no reason why you shouldn’t conduct original research for planning and creating content. So what are you waiting for?
2. Tune into industry interviews
Senior Content Marketer, Andra Zaharia shares reading interviews as her top content research tip. She elucidates, “I love to read interviews with subject matter experts. It helps me dig into non-intuitive insights and see beyond standard practices.”
Undeniably, interviews from experts in your field offer extensive insight. They are a shortcut into the interviewee’s mind, giving you a wealth of information and a good idea of what’s going on in the industry. Not only can you enrich your content’s authenticity by adding quotes from interviews, but you can brew new content ideas too.
For example, in her newsletter, Ann Handley shares a quote from an interview she captured from the MarketingProfs podcast:
3. Conduct interviews yourself
While you can always eat the cake when you see it on the shelves, you can bake it too. In other words, not only should you consider reading interviews, but you should add conducting them to your content research list as well.
Interviews offer an in-depth treasury of insights. No wonder Allen Gannett put together his book, The Creative Curve on the foundation of 25 interviews from creative geniuses. Dennis Shiao recommends phone interviews in particular.
As an independent marketing consultant, Dennis favors qualitative research for getting to the bottom of the challenges that his audience faces and for “providing value to your audience. It’s about solving THEIR problems, whether it has to do with your product or not.”
He suggests, “Spend time interviewing your audience: customers, prospects, partners, etc. There’s a great piece of technology: it’s called the telephone. More modern tools like Skype, Zoom and BlueJeans work, too. Take a deep dive to understand the challenges your audience faces. Create content that solves those challenges and you’ll be a hero.”
The Buzzsumo and Mantis Research study that we talked about above also concludes one-on-one interviews as an effective method of researching with 36% of their participants agreeing to using it:
Not only can telephone interviews help you understand your audience’s needs, they can also provide fodder for your upcoming content plans. For instance, this post puts together opinions gathered from phone interviews on the best WordPress plugins. Similarly, this post on Mio also employs the same approach:
4. Use Quora and Reddit
I’m a fan of Quora myself and have used it multiple times to plan content topics. It’s one of my favorite sources for fresh blog ideas [insert internal link]. Turns out, I’m not alone in my love for Quora as Jenna Scaglione, Founder of Lady Content sings praises in its favor too.
She says, “I love using Quora to search out the topic I’m writing about. Consulting personas and satisfying keywords is valuable, but if I want to make sure I target the most burning questions my audience is asking, I go to sites like Quora. I simply enter the topic, review the questions people are asking, and then in my piece, address the questions asked the most.”
You can also review blogs on Quora (and the popular ones on the internet too) to unearth more questions. Scaglione adds, “To dig even deeper, you can also visit high-profile blogs and rummage through the comments. Readers will post additional questions in the comments of the blog.”
At the same time, Reddit is well-appreciated as well. Kevin, a content marketer and writer, insists, “Reddit is an awesome way to know people’s opinion. You can even make a poll.”
5. Survey past content on your site
Another crucial trick to pick when researching and planning content is thumbing through the content that you’ve already published. The Content Manager at Wave.video, Maria Rozhdestvenskaya, speaks in its favor.
She says, “Analyze your past content thoughtfully. For instance, use Google Analytics to find your top- and least-performing content pieces and define what they have in common. This way, you’ll get to know your audience better and see what works for them and what doesn’t.”
Maria shares her piece on motivational videos for business with templates as a product of this content research tactic. Wave.video’s analytics narrated that additional materials in their content such as templates, checklists, PDFs, and more increased engagement on their blog posts. This is why they shaped this piece to include them:
6. Go to platforms and forums where your audience is
A very important aspect of creating content is cutting open your audience’s pain points and addressing them in their language. This helps you in two ways. Firstly, you end up writing content that helps your reader as it solves his problem. Secondly, you write in a manner that makes your reader feel like you’re talking to him. This maximizes the chances of your content’s success.
Fortunately, review sites and forums are two places that can help you to this end. Find A Way Media’s CEO and Co-founder, Chris Gillespie, trusts them too. He points out, “Go to wherever people complain: G2 Crowd, TrustRadius, Clutch, Amazon Reviews, etc. Common complaints = people telling you what they care about + the terminology they expect you to use.”
On the other hand, the Director of Content Marketing at Mio, Dominic Kent vouches for “community forums for [searching] hot topics.” A case in point is Kent’s blog post, 78k Blog Views Later – Addressing Microsoft Teams Guest Access that is a product of scouting through community forums and picking problems that Mio’s audience faces.
7. Dive into keyword research
Several content tools can optimize your research as well. Sendible’s Inbound Marketer, Veronika Baranovska, ranks such research work as her topmost priority.
She notes, “I’ve recently taken a pain-point focused approach with a ton of keyword research. Once I know who the potential readers ARE & what their pain points are, I can feel out their pain.”
She elaborates, “It’s as easy as going to the content explorer, plugging in your target keyword, and exploring! Ahrefs pulls all of the articles pulling for that keyword, tells you which websites they’re published on, and can even tell you how many backlinks those pieces are getting. You can get a quick snapshot of which content works and why and then dig deeper if you’re hoping to discover exactly why a certain piece of content works for your competitors.”
On the flip side, Lauren outlines Answer The Public as a tool for ideating content for free. The Content Marketing Strategist at Zengrowth, Marta Olszewska also resorts to using Answer the Public.
She says, “I love using Answer The Public to see what kind of questions people are searching for. Then I make sure I cover them all in my article and make them my article headers. Sometimes they dictate the whole structure!”
Another good tool to add is Moz as recommended by Evan LePage, Senior Content Manager at Unitoio. He explains, “Use Moz to see the top-ranking posts for your target keyword and check their sources. Then use Google News to find new supporting research.”
Additionally, the Social Media Marketer and Content Writer, Fi Shailes lists Awario as a helpful content research tool. In fact, she shares she “was pretty impressed with what it managed to find from the www.. compared to other tools I’ve tried to monitor keywords and brands.”
8. Lastly, talk to your customer success team
Last on this list is a brilliant suggestion by the Content Marketing Manager at GetResponse, Michal Leszczynski. He proposes you sit with your customer success team and discuss the problems that they observe your customers are facing.
Leszczynski elaborates, “If they’re [your CS team] actively communicating with your customers or users via chat, ask them to tag their conversations. Naturally, you don’t want to add them too much workload. So, stick to those that are relevant to the areas of your interest.”
He also adds that “implementing this strategy can bring a lot of value to your teams. UX, CS, PD, and marketing too – all of them will be able to use the ideas generated by your very customers.
For instance, HubSpot’s blogging team has set up a page on HubSpot’s internal wiki where members of their customer and sales team submit blog topic idea that they drive from their interaction with prospects and customers.”
Of course, HubSpot’s comprehensive blog is a testament to how well this content research strategy works. It’s no surprise that Michal calls this tip, “a low hanging content research fruit for you.”
Content research is a vast field with lots of ways to understand your audience. These expert tips will help you get started. Remember to outline a solid research strategy before you start creating content. The more time and effort you invest here, the sweeter the fruit you’ll reap.