Content research is the foundation of the content creation process.
Yet, if you ask most content marketers, they’ll tell you they never set out to create a repeatable content research process.
After all, modern content marketing is a fairly new idea. Most content marketing pros simply built up their own process from scratch.
Now, of course, we know better – and that means we can do better.
Having a process in place accelerates the time it takes to produce any piece of content, from the simplest blog to the most complex case study or whitepaper.
Plus, it gives you the opportunity to help new members of the team adjust and add value faster.
Luckily, content research isn’t really that different from most other forms of research. And, once you understand it, you can deploy it to great effect no matter what project you’re working on.
Pick Out Sources You Trust
In content marketing, most research will be what’s technically called secondary research: That is, you’ll be picking out a constellation of existing sources and weaving them together to create a new product. Rather than discovering all-new facts, you’ll be arranging and focusing them.
That contrasts primary research, including things like customer surveys where you generate entirely new facts that have to be interpreted. While many larger firms engage in primary research, it has its own processes that could fill a whole book.
(Technically, even dropping your LinkedIn contacts a message to get their opinions on a topic is primary research – but you’ll almost never need to do this to complete your average blog post.)
So, exactly how can you get started building a base of trusted sources?
Start With Your Keywords
If your content project has focus keywords, you can always start by running Google searches on those phrases. This not only gives you a sense for some basic facts on the topic, but also lets you know what bar you have to clear to produce the best content around.
It’s always a good idea to do at least “one better” than the most comprehensive resource you can find on the SERPs.
Bookmark Industry Publications
Every industry has respected publications, and you can never go wrong by tuning into what they’re saying. For example, general business news and information comes from places like Forbes, Inc., Harvard Business Review, and Fast Company.
But, by putting your customers first, you can go a step beyond.
Your bookmarks should always include the specific publications and platforms your customers trust. Your analytics suite can clue you in on this; also consider the platforms you might be running display ads on. Content inspired by existing content on already-trusted sites has a ring of truth to it.
Start collecting these in a separate folder within your bookmarks manager so you can check sources quickly and run site-specific searches on the topic du jour.
Mix in Some Cutting-Edge Research Sources
If you’re in a field where the newest research is always relevant to your readers, such as technology or the sciences, take time to bookmark research journals where groundbreaking new information appears – if you can, that is.
The catch with the latest research is that it’s almost always behind a paywall. And services that facilitate cost-effective access, such as JSTOR, are generally used only by libraries and colleges. Still, you can search your topic area with Google Scholar to snag some high-ranked papers.
Get Value from Those Sources
Once you have your sources, the next step is to extract as much value from them as you can. The thing is, you probably don’t have time to read ten articles from beginning to end to get a fix on what your content will include. Luckily, you don’t have to!
Come Up With Your Content’s Basic Idea (if You Can)
Before you can do excellent research, you need to know a little bit about how your content will add to the conversation. Even if you have keywords, there are many different directions you can take them in – so, try to determine a main idea you’ll riff on throughout your content piece.
An example from marketing: If you’re going to talk about the best way for B2B brands to implement a YouTube channel, you’ll probably want to get some facts on the size and value of YouTube itself, the benefits YouTube offers B2B brands, and then the step-by-step process.
Skim Through the Latest Articles on Your Topic
To get rolling, all you have to do is grab the latest articles on your topic and scan them – just like your site visitors are probably doing. It’s an open secret that nobody reads on the Web: Strong research has shown it over and over since at least 1997.
What are you looking for? Start by highlighting the most interesting facts, figures, and info. You might do this by copying snippets into a Word document, rewriting details in your own words, or copying the entire text into a separate file and using the highlight function.
Categorize and Organize Your Information
Once you have an idea what other sources are saying about your topic, you can start to outline your content. With an outline in hand, you’ll know which key ideas you plan to cover.
In our example above, there are three major ideas:
- YouTube is a worthwhile channel for marketing.
- YouTube has specific benefits for B2B brands.
- There are best practices for a B2B YouTube channel.
These would be the big sections of a blog post – so, you can skim your notes and collect the relevant facts under each heading. When it’s time to sit down and actually write out your text, the process will be much easier, since you won’t have to hunt details down.
Content research isn’t a mind-bending process, but it gives you the basic structure you need to tackle literally type of content marketing challenge. Before you know it, you’ll have your own go-to sources and approach you know you can trust.