As fellow content marketers, we feel your pain. You’re asked to produce more content, better content, different content . . . and so on, consistently. It’s tough to manage, especially in 2018 when getting any type of traction is more difficult than it was in the past.
(And, no, this isn’t all in your mind. Buzzsumo’s Content Trends 2018 offers a startling snapshot that verifies it.)
There is no one thing that is going to make your job easier, but we believe there’s an opportunity with an underused yet very effective tactic: original research.
What do we mean by “original research”?
Original research means analyzing data in a new way, and publishing the results with the intent of getting attention, changing how your audience thinks, and elevating your brand authority. The data you analyze could be entirely original (such as what you collect through a survey) or it could be you’re analyzing data that already exists (such as publicly available data or owned user data).
Original research is not a silver bullet, but it does offer a new way to get attention because you are telling a data-driven story that no one else is. (Just think on that for a moment: how would you like to be the authoritative source for something your audience cares about?)
Only half of marketers are using research, yet data point after data point — and story after story — tells us research works.
Why original research?
- Marketers consider research to be effective
- 74% of B2B buyers say original research influences their purchasing decisions
- Research is the most efficient type of content for building links
- Journalists and PR professionals crave credible research
- Research is a catalyst for more — and better — editorial ideas
- Research establishes you as the expert, resulting in invitations to speak, write and more
- Research can be the anchor for your editorial strategy so you can tell a connected, compelling story
There are several ways you can use data-driven insights, but today we’re focusing specifically on how to build survey-based research.
This type of research is the most popular with the clients we serve — and it’s the most common type of research marketers execute. And, when done well, it can be a wellspring for your editorial–a cornerstone piece of content with many possibilities for related content.
We’re not going to sugarcoat it: this type of research takes time. Andy Crestodina spends 150 hours on his annual blogger project. Another scrappy, prolific marketer we talked to estimated his company’s inaugural project took 80 hours — and this doesn’t include the time they take to educate themselves on all parts of the process
But you can save time — and frustration — if you understand the steps and learn from others’ wins (and mistakes).
This guide is divided into 4 sections that cover each step of the process:
Strategy and Planning
Begin with the end in mind.
For any project, but especially one so resource and time intensive as original research, it’s important to carve out time and develop a basic strategy to address the “why” and “how.” (I know — you want to jump in and skip this part, but trust us, this is worth the time.)
Here are the things to consider during the planning phase.
Distill your why
When you think research, you may immediately think data. Yes, readers love to cite data — and you need to have the rigor that will result in accurate, valid insights — but at this point in the process, you should be focused on the story.
When we kick off any project, we always ask:
How do you want your audience to think differently as a result of reading your research?
Notice that this has nothing to do with data?
As Rachel Haberman, Content Marketing Manager at Skyword reminds us:
Don’t fall into the trap of simply presenting your data as is. Find the story behind your data–that’s what’s meaningful. Numbers alone are forgettable, but when you use them to tell a story, they reinforce an emotional appeal with data-driven evidence. It’s the best of both worlds.
As part of this exercise, we often ask clients to talk through their hypotheses; what do they believe the survey response data will show? What stories will emerge from it?
The intent of this question is to help you think about what themes might emerge from the research, how those themes will resonate with your audience, and how they will echo your brand’s message. (It’s important to understand that you’re not trying to create research that will deliver your data aligned with your hypothesis; rather, you want to test your predictions and report on what what is actually happening.)
As part of your “why process,” you also need to verify the audience you’ll share your findings with. If you have more than one primary audience, all with different perspectives, chances are you will need to choose one so the results are as meaningful to them as possible.
We have clients who conduct one project per audience, which is another option as well.Key question when deciding to create original research: How do you want your audience to think differently as a result of reading your research? Click To Tweet
Prioritize the goals of the research — and how you will measure success
Articulating how you want to change someone’s thinking with your research may be one goal; identifying and prioritizing the marketing and business goals for your research should be another. Of course, shares, likes and traffic are typical goals, but here is a list of more meaningful measures of success:
- Media mentions (both trade publications and national outlets)
- Website backlinks
- SEO rankings
- Email subscribers (we consider these to be people who sign up because they want more content from you; they anticipate something)
- Leads (we consider leads to be people who your sales team finds valuable)
- Invitations to speak at industry events
- Guest post and podcast opportunities
While it’s possible for research to achieve all of these things, which one or two goals are most important to you? It’s also useful to make sure your top goals are not at odds with one another. For instance, it’s tough to get both leads and media mentions. (Journalists are savvy and don’t like pointing to gated content.)
Choose a topic worthy of attention
In general, there are two types of ambitious, survey-based research reports to consider (and they have some overlap): State of the Industry reports and topic-based research.
State of the Industry
State of the Industry research offers an overview of your specific industry, such as adoption rates, where people are finding success, challenges and more. This type of research positions you as the source for industry benchmarks.
State of the industry research is ideal if:
- You are in a newer, unsaturated market that lacks industry data such as this. (If you are in a crowded industry, keep reading.)
- You are creating a new category for your product/solution and want to start building awareness.
Since launching in 2010, Content Marketing Institute (CMI) has surveyed marketers to learn if and how they are using content marketing (disclosure: we were involved in this research project from 2010 – 2017). The annual survey has been turned into more than 50 reports, and it has received almost-daily mentions and backlinks over the years.
The research project was one of our first ambitious editorial projects, and it worked so well because it was the first brand – in partnership with MarketingProfs – to survey the content marketing industry. CMI also used the data from research as a cornerstone piece in its editorial so it was something infused in a larger story instead of a one-off piece of content.
If your industry has broad “State of” research or you have a more defined idea you want to validate, consider a survey-based research project about a more specific topic.
Topic-based research is ideal if:
- You are in a crowded space and need to find a niche for your research.
- You are looking to get data about a very specific issue or validate your thinking.
Last year, DivvyHQ, a cloud-based content planning, workflow, and collaboration tool, published Content Planning Challenges, Trends & Opportunities. Its founder, Brody Dorland, explained the process they went through when deciding on a topic.
“We did not want to do a state of content marketing report because others had already done so. Instead, we decided to focus specifically on content planning, which is something that had not been covered – and it’s something our business directly helps marketers with. This research was a way for us to better understand the challenges our customers face, validate the direction of our product roadmap, and provide insights that marketers can use to benchmark their own content planning process.”
If it’s not evident which topic you want to focus on, consider these three questions.
1) Will the topic be interesting to my audience?
This sounds obvious, but this goes to an earlier point: your research needs to tell a story. Find an angle — what is that hook? — that is interesting to your audience.
It’s important to note that if one of your goals is media mentions, then a key audience is journalists and PR professionals. You need to find a topic that is interesting to them. If you are uncertain, bring them into the planning process early to help you identify your topic.
Not sure what would be interesting to your audience? Ask yourself: What questions does your audience have? What trend or idea do you want to validate with data?
Exercise: How to find an attention-worthy topic
If you aren’t certain what topic to cover, Andy Crestodina’s “find the missing stat” approach may work well for you:
“In every industry there are common statements. But they aren’t backed up with data. We call these gaps “missing stats” and they are ripe for research. These statements meet two criteria. They are:
- Frequently asserted
- Rarely supported
If you can find this gap in your industry and produce the research that fills it, you’ll have something truly share-worthy, link-worthy and even press worthy. Seriously, you may want to reach out to the media.”
2) Does the topic align with my brand story?
When you are conducting a larger study, your topic also needs to tie in with the overarching story you are telling. You will be able to repurpose your research in many ways, so the original findings will be the cornerstone piece of content with all stories leading back there.
3) Has this topic already been covered in this way?
The last thing you want to validate is that no one else has covered the topic in the way you are planning.
If you are in a crowded niche, what specific questions can you answer? For instance, if you work in email marketing, you know there is a lot of research on that topic. If you want to get attention, get more specific.
Exercise: See what other research has been published
If you are uncertain what research has been published about your industry, head to Google.
- Enter your industry (and variations of it) in quotes and then add + research or + benchmarks. (You can also use the term trends or “state of,” but these may or may not be research-based results.)
- Use “your industry” AROUND(10) “benchmarks” That ensures that the terms “your industry” and “benchmarks” are within 10 words of one another.
- Add a year to look for current research. For instance, let’s say you are in the email marketing space and want to uncover existing research. If you search for “email marketing” + research, you’ll see a slew of results returned.
- To expand your search, replace research with the words above (benchmarks, “state of,” index, etc.)
- Do similar searches under the image and video tabs in Google as they may return additional results.
Once you have your general topic, brainstorm the possible story you can tell. One way to do this is to imagine your research is complete. What headlines would you like to see about your research?
Of course, you never know the data you will get back, but thinking about headlines can help you tease out what is interesting to your audience. And, if the results you get back are different than what you hypothesized, that’s a strong story as well.
Consider how you’ll distribute and amplify your research
As part of the planning process, start brainstorming how you will share the results from your research beyond the initial report. A basic distribution plan covers how you want to initially launch the report and what else you will want to create from it. Learn more by reading the sections on Research Journalism and Amplification and Measurement.
Decide if you want to do an annual or a one-time survey
Single-year research is valuable, but when you repeat your survey, most typically on an annual basis, the research become exponentially more valuable.
Why? Because you not only have data, you also have trends. You can see — and report on — what is changing.
And, we guarantee you’ll learn a lot about the research process every time you go through it. You’ll become increasingly savvy about how to ask questions, report findings, and share results.
While much of the planning process is the same for a one-time survey versus an annual survey, the stakes are higher if you are conducting annual research. One of your goals will be to report on year-over-year trends, so you need to be extra rigorous with survey design (discussed below).Consider creating an annual survey for your content marketing. You'll become the source of authority as you present trends -- and you'll refine your process year-over-year. Click To Tweet
Decide if you want to partner with another organization
If you don’t have a large enough list to answer your survey, it may make sense to partner with a company that has the audience you’re seeking. Or maybe you need help promoting the research? You can partner to gain that benefit that as well.
The best partner(s) are those with a large audience and an overlapping mission.
Determine your budget
While this question is last, it’s not trivial: what is your budget for this project?
We have talked to several marketers who completed their surveys in-house (examples: Orbit Media’s Annual State of Blogging Trends; Buffer’s State of Remote Work; Co-Schedule’s 2018 State of Marketing).
If your budget is limited, consider where you most need help. While this will depend on where you have internal expertise, many people benefit from investing in data science, which is what we cover next.
If you have more flexibility, you may want to to hire out the project.
Once your strategy is set, the next step is data science. Data science is everything you need to do to get valid, accurate survey data:
- Define who you will survey
- Design and test your survey
- Choose the right survey tool
- Collect responses
- Clean and analyze the data
Even though your ultimate goal is to use the data to tell the story, you need to think strategically about how you design your survey, address how you will get enough of the right respondents and ensure a rigorous data analysis process.
Define who you will survey
Getting responses / reaching an adequate sample size is among the top challenges reported by marketers who use survey-based research. And at Mantis it’s the most-often asked question: “How many people do I need to take the survey?” Also, “If I send the survey to 10,000 people, how many will respond?”
Sadly, the answer is–as usual–it depends. Keep in mind, the issue is not simply attracting respondents, but attracting the right respondents.
There is no “right number” of survey respondents you should aim for. You may be surprised to learn that your minimum sample size need not be thousands of people in order for your study to be insightful and credible. We have seen very successful surveys with just a few hundred responses. That said, there are other factors that play into assessing an appropriate sample size.
1) How many segments will you study?
Instead of thinking about your minimum sample size for the whole survey, you should weigh how many respondents you need per segment.
Let us explain . . .
Let’s say you want to field a survey about the creation of eBooks. Are marketers designing the eBooks in-house or outsourcing them? Are they gating their eBooks? How long does the process take from start to finish?
You don’t just need 100 people to respond to your survey, but you need 100 people who are actually creating eBooks.
To qualify people, you’ll likely ask a question such as, “Does your marketing team create eBooks?” Let’s say 50% of respondents say, “yes.” That means you need responses so that you have 100 respondents who are using eBooks.
Now let’s say you want to look at the differences between those who work at large companies versus small companies. Now, you need a representative sample not only for eBook users but also eBook users who work at small companies and eBook users who work at large companies.
It’s easy to see that you’ll need an increasing number of respondents if you want your research to compare various segments of the list.
2) Is your sample representative?
One very common mistake we see marketers make is to send their surveys out to their own audiences only. It’s free, after all!
The problem is that your own audience may have some biases built in that will throw off your numbers. Perhaps your audience is more likely to be from a small company, but your aim is to assess opinions across all company sizes. Or maybe your audience is much more advanced in their understanding of a particular topic than the average.
Always be aware of what biases you may be introducing by polling a particular audience. The cost of a panel may be worthwhile in some cases, even if you have a particularly large audience.
Another option: If you use your own audience and are aware there may be certain biases inherent in that audience, be transparent about it.
3) What does your audience expect?
Even when a simple survey of just a few hundred may produce authoritative results, sometimes companies open the survey wider to give their efforts greater credibility. If you are a large, global brand publishing a landmark study in your industry, 300 respondents may not cut it even if statistically the results are perfectly reasonable.
The media may also be more inclined to trust (and publish) your survey if the sample size is in the thousands rather than hundreds. There is no magic number at which your study is awarded gravitas; yet it’s important to keep this issue in mind and judge the right size based on your industry, budget, and topic.
When it comes to getting responses for your survey, you need at least one of two things:
- Access to a sizable audience–be it your own audience or that of a collaborator
- Budget to purchase a list or panel
If you have a substantial email list, you may be in luck. How large should your list be? It’s hard to tell because response rates to emails vary widely; but, weigh your average open and click-through rates, and then assess whether your audience is large and representative enough to fit your needs.
To supplement your list, you can also do a lot of one-to-one outreach via social media if your network matches the profile you’re aiming to survey. While time consuming, this type of guerilla outreach can be very effective. Andy Crestodina explains the process he used his first year:
“I just did tons and tons of personal outreach emails. I didn’t use a tool. One at a time, I sent hundreds of LinkedIn messages and emails to people who I knew.”
If you don’t have a sizable list, can you partner with someone who does? This is an approach we used at Mantis Research for our first annual survey on original research. We had no email list, but we were fortunate enough to partner with Buzzsumo, which has published on the value of research for getting shares and backlinks.
It’s important to note that if you do want to partner with another organization, you likely need to make the partnership valuable for the other party. In our case, we did the “heavy lifting,” with the survey, including designing the questions, programming it, and writing the report.
If you don’t have a list or a partner, you can purchase panels, which essentially means contracting with a research firm or research technology to access a list of people who have signed up to complete studies. You pay based on completed surveys rather than on the size of the initial list. The price of panels will vary based on the demographic you are targeting, as well as the length of your survey.
Design and test your survey
For the uninitiated, survey design is the science of building and testing questions in a way that achieves an accurate response. While it may seem that putting a questionnaire together is relatively simple, there are hundreds of ways to get it wrong.
If this is your first survey–and particularly if it’s an ambitious undertaking–you should seriously consider tapping a data scientist to help you design your questions. You’ll likely be surprised how nuanced the process can be. Hailley Griffis, PR manager at Buffer explained what she learned when they created their first annual State of Remote Work report:
“When you’re getting started with research, get as much advice from experienced people. While it may seem easy to put together a survey, a lot of thought goes into properly crafting questions to get good results and that’s where experience can make a huge difference.”
Here are some other things to keep in mind:
Think about each question as its own story: If you are interested in using your research as a springboard for other editorial, consider how each question can serve as a jumping-off place for additional stories.
Keep questions to a minimum: The longer your survey is, the fewer respondents you will get (this is called survey fatigue).
Make sure your questions are easy to answer: It’s generally fine to ask one or two questions that require thought, but be wary of more than that because survey takers will be more likely to abandon the survey — or answer questions quickly to simply “get through” the survey.
Decide on your demographic questions: Don’t go overboard asking demographic questions, but focus on the areas that will help you uncover potential sampling bias and provide insights into key differences across segments.
Include a brief overview: At the beginning of your survey include a short description to orient the survey taker, such as what you are looking to learn and how long the survey will take.
Survey Design: Common Mistakes
- Asking a question that is unclear or confusing
- Asking a “leading question”
- Asking questions with an unusable answer
- Using poor assumptions
- Asking questions the audience does not have the information to answer
- Asking poorly defined questions
- Asking too many questions
- Going overboard on the types of questions you’ll ask
Choose the right survey tool
Knowing the the types of questions you will ask may dictate the survey tool you need.
We have talked to marketers who have used basic, free tools that worked well for their projects, and others who have needed a more sophisticated (and expensive) tool.
Here are some key considerations when choosing a survey tool:
Survey logic and piping: Does the tool allow you to segregate certain groups? For example:
- Do you have a “knock out” question that will lead some subset of respondents to the exit?
- Do you want to customize which questions appear to respondents based on how they responded to an earlier question?
- Will you build pathways based on which channels your respondents arrive from?
All of these can (a) make the survey more tailored to individuals and (b) cut down on survey length, all of which helps reduce survey fatigue.
Answer types: Does the platform offer a range of answer types, such as drop-down menus (useful for long lists of industries) or ranking grids?
Maximum daily sends: Does your research solution limit the number of responses per day (common in free plans)?
Geotracking: Do you need to see the IP address of your respondents (useful to avoid asking country of origin)?
Reporting options: What do final reports look like? Does the report include datagraphics for sharing with your team? Does it give you options to filter? Create crosstabs?
Once you have designed and programmed your survey, it’s time to pull in responses. This is often the most challenging and time-consuming part of the process.
There are a few things you want to do before you launch your survey:
Test your survey with 10 – 15 people: You may be inclined to skip this step, but people with fresh eyes will be able to spot issues–be it an unclear question, inappropriate answer responses, or some other problem you were not aware of. Testing is critical because you do not want to edit your survey after it is released to a wide audience.Marketers: Test your survey with 10 -15 people before you launch it. It's essential to fix anything that is unclear before you send to your list Click To Tweet
Set up unique URLs for the survey: This enables you to attribute responses to different channels. This can be especially useful if you are working with one or more partners and want to see how many respondents each partner brought in. Some survey platforms may even allow you to analyze data based on these channels, which may bring to light interesting distinctions.
Test your survey on social media: What image(s) appear, if any? Is everything else rendering as it should?
Collecting Responses: Common Options
- Send a dedicated email. Our experience is that the best response rates come from a dedicated email that briefly explains the survey and asks for participation. If possible, track who has responded to the survey so you can remove those names if you send additional email blasts.
- Share the link on social. You can also ask people to share your social updates to make it as easy for them as possible.
- Include a link on your website. If you get a lot of traffic to your website — or if you share various promotions, include a call to action for people to take your survey.
- Send personal emails. This may or may not be appropriate for your survey, but you can also consider sending emails to people you know who fall into your survey’s demographic.
Clean and analyze the data
The next step in the process is to clean and analyze the data. Depending on the survey tool you use, you may find the tool offers some automated, helpful hints about how to do this. For example it may flag responses that are problematic for you to review. Many research companies will also do the data cleaning for you for a fee. If you’re going to do it yourself, you should look out for:
First and foremost: Instead of deleting entries, disqualify them. Once you delete someone’s responses, you can never get it back. Most research solutions allow you to disqualify respondents, meaning you still have access to that individual’s response but he/she isn’t part of your sample for analysis.
Address incomplete surveys. Decide whether you will disqualify respondents who do not complete their surveys and if not, what guidelines you’ll use to include partial responses.
Remove any respondents who fall outside of a pre-defined profile (e.g. disqualifying those under the age of 21).
Fixing obvious errors. For example, you offer an industry drop-down list and someone chooses “other” and then writes in “marketing,” which was part of the original industry list. You can re-categorize them.
Removing red-flag responses. You may have multiple responses from the same IP address. Sometimes this is the result of individuals spamming a survey (though be careful; it can also be due to individuals taking surveys via a tablet at an event). You may also want to disqualify people who complete the survey too quickly.
Create a report of summary responses. Research solutions often offer excellent reporting options, including crosstab results and data visualizations.
Build a summary of high-level findings and themes. Document the high-level stories you can potentially tell from your findings.
Once you have your data, you need to decide how you want to share your findings. There is no one right way to release your findings. Below are some ideas to get you started.
On one end of the spectrum, you can present the findings from the research in a PDF with little analysis. Think of it like a slide presentation with each page presenting a single, important finding.
A simple presentation for your research findings works well when:
- There is more than one company partnering on the report. This type of presentation allows each partner to use the same data but tell the story in the way that makes sense for their business. (Keeping the findings simple often makes the review/approval process easier with a partner as well.)
- You plan to dig deep into the data in your editorial. Release high-level findings, and then use those as a jumping off place for other stories in which you link back to your initial piece.
- You want to post your findings on SlideShare. You’ll expose your research findings to a new audience by posting it on SlideShare — and it makes it easy for others to embed your report.
Example: B2B Content Marketing: 2018 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends — North America
Each year, Content Marketing and MarketingProfs publish research that highlights the trends in the content marketing industry. Their flagship report focuses on B2B marketers in North America, and the results are presented simply in a PDF with very little commentary. This provides an opportunity to do additional analysis throughout the year.
Another type of report you’ll often see is findings combined with detailed analysis. This format works well when the data and stories are rich and there is a lot to say.
If you aren’t gating your report, consider publishing your detailed findings as a blog post on your website and then use this as the place you point all of your traffic. (Your simple presentation can point to your detailed blog post as well.)
A detailed analysis blog post works well when you are looking for backlinks and SEO rankings. It can also save design costs if you don’t have a designer on board.
Example: 4th Annual Blogger Survey
We love the way Andy Crestodina presents the findings from Orbit Media’s annual blogging survey. It’s detailed, informative yet easy-to-navigate. Each survey question is presented with a chart, analysis and a quote. A great model to study!
Of course, there are hybrid formats as well, and several examples are presented below.
Regardless of the format you use for your findings, remember: your job is to tell a story with the data, not to present one data point after another.
Here are some suggestions to make your story come to life.
Clearly state what your audience will learn
Remember the question we asked at the beginning of this process? (Hint: How do you want your audience to think differently as a result of reading your research?) You need to clearly answer this for your readers.
One example we point to is Salesforce’s Fourth Annual State of Marketing. Salesforce’s 50-page report is dense — and there are a lot of data points to consider. However, to make the data digestible, they created four key takeaways — and all of the data fits into one of these buckets.
The executive summary is simple and elegant, presenting four key takeaways with a brief overview of the findings and page numbers so readers can easily jump to the section(s) that interest them most to learn more.
These takeaways are consistently presented throughout the report as well. Each page includes headers that show the associated takeaway so readers are consistently oriented to the bigger story.
Tell a story by comparing segments
Another great storytelling device you can use with larger-scale surveys is to tell a story by comparing two segments. Salesforce’s Fourth Annual State of Marketing also does this really well.
The report compares high performers, moderate performers and underperformers — and they are very clear about what this means. The third page of the report has a breakdown of marketing performance levels. Readers can easily understand how the segments are defined and what percentage of respondents fits into each category.
The comparison of high, moderate and underperformer is carried throughout the report both in name and color. Adhering to a consistent color scheme such as this makes it easier for readers to understand comparisons in graphs such as the ones shown below.
Embrace the differences between your hypothesis and actual results
Another way to tell your story is to talk about your hypothesis versus the results. While we haven’t seen too many findings take this approach, we love this example from Co-Schedule’s State of Marketing Strategy Report 2018.
As you can see in the example below, Co-Schedule tells the story by sharing what they predicted and then adds, “But here’s what the data actually says . . . “
Just as in the example above, the 4th Annual Blogger Survey, consider adding influencer quotes to your research. This is a simple and easy-to-implement idea. Not only does it give your findings some “color commentary,” but it can also spur influencers to share your piece.
One example comes from DivvyHQ’s research, Content Planning Challenges, Trends & Opportunities. There are quotes peppered throughout, and a Twitter icon links to each person.
Visualize your data with purpose
Another key aspect of developing your findings is deciding how you want to visualize your data in charts and graphics. Dataviz deserves a guide of its own; this is one of our guiding lights related to dataviz:
“When you get stuck with your graph, keep asking ‘What’s the point?’ If you find you don’t have a point, you probably shouldn’t bother with graphing the data. ”
– Stephanie Evergreen
The world of dataviz is huge, but here are some resources to get you started:
- The Data Visualisation Catalogue: This is our go-to source when we need to explain various dataviz options to clients.
- The Wall Street Journal’s Guide to Information Graphics
- Good Charts: The HBR Guide to Making Smarter, More Persuasive Data Visualizations by Scott Berinato
- Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic
Follow our Twitter list of data journalism sources we admire.
Congratulations! Your findings are complete. It’s time to set up your findings so they can be shared.
There are several steps to consider as you create your amplification plan:
- Establish a home base for your findings
- Share an advanced copy of the research
- Get the word out
- Create related content
Establish a home base for your findings
Ideally, send all of, or the bulk of, your traffic to one page. The more backlinks you have to a page, the more authority it will have and more likely it is likely to rank. As Brian Dean recently confirmed, “The number of referring domains is one of the most important ranking factors in Google’s algorithm.”
To be clear, you can present your findings in multiple ways, but have one primary page where all (if not most) roads lead.
Before you can decide on your home base, decide if you want your research to be gated or open-access.
- If your research was created with the intent of getting leads or it is something that will help people later in the buying cycle, gate it.
- If your goal is email subscribers, consider not gating your findings and instead creating a second piece of related content that encourages people to subscribe. (For instance: our research revealed people wanted to learn the steps involved in the research process, and this guide was created as a result.)
- For most other goals — such as building your reputation as a thought leader, ranking for SEO, increase backlinks, garnering media mentions, getting invitations to speak or write, etc — it’s best to keep your findings open access.
With that decision made here are a few ideas and examples of what an ideal home base may be for you.
Ideal for: Using research to build subscribers and leads.
Example: The Customer Experience of AI, Prophet from Altimeter
This example of a gated landing page works for a few reasons. It’s detailed and offers a report summary so readers can decide if they want to download this: audience for the report, executive summary key insights. We really like the “Related Resources” section in which they offer the option to download or embed the report graphics. This makes it easy for people to incorporate these images into articles and presentations.
Short blog post
Ideal for: Announcing research and building additional stories about the findings
Example: New Research Reveals Habits of Top Content Marketers, CMI
For each new research report, CMI shares high-level findings and one storyline in their blog posts that announce their research findings. Our blog posts were less comprehensive by design because we wanted to share additional stories related to the research throughout the year.
Detailed blog post
Ideal for: SEO rankings; backlinks
Hailley Griffis does a fabulous job with her write up of Buffer’s inaugural research on the State of Remote Work. It’s easy to navigate and shares the results in an easy-to-understand way.
Ideas to Steal: Tips for sharing research findings in blog posts
- If the report is long, use hyperlinks to link to each section (e.g. Buffer State of Remote Work)
- Include Click to Tweets with key stats and stories for increased social sharing. Add relevant hashtags.
- Ask industry experts for quotes to add color, commentary and increased social sharing.
- Include your logo and/or a link to your post in every chart. (People will grab these charts directly so make sure people know which report it is from and how to read more.)
Blog post “steroids”
Ideal for: Visual presentation of findings
Example: State of Marketing 2018, Co-Schedule
We really admire how Nathan Ellering and team present the findings from their first annual state of marketing report. Their landing page is very visually-appealing and easy to skim. To encourage subscribers, they offer a State of Marketing “Report Bundle” that offers a PDF of the report as well as a few additional assets that align with the challenges they uncovered in their research.
Simple ungated landing page
Ideal for: Annual studies
Example: Freelancing in America 2017, Upwork
Upwork’s landing page for their latest research is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, it allows users to easily access reports from previous years (which is also smart so people who have links to the older research will also see the latest research). Additionally, the page not only offers a copy of the findings, but it also links to a press release, an infographic and an interactive “Future City.”
Research hub / microsite
Ideal for: Including related assets about the research
PwC’s annual CEO survey — now in its 21st year — is the gold standard of how to present research. Study this aspirational examples that presents the findings — that you can customize to your region — and see several related assets such as key stats, a video of the findings, commentary from experts, interactive dataviz and more.
Share an advanced copy of the research
You want industry influencers and journalists to write about or share your research — and a great way to make this happen is to share an advanced, embargo copy with them.
Create (and then maintain) a list of influencers who you think would be interested in your story so you can easily reach out once the report is ready. While a bit time-consuming, one-to-one outreach often works best.
Amanda Subler from CMI shares her template she uses when communicating with influencers. It includes:
- Title of the report
- Author of the report
- The date / time the report will be released to the public
- Link for the landing page / blog post where influencers should point if sharing the research
- A one-paragraph summary of the research
- A bulleted list of the report highlights / key stats
If your goal is media mentions, you’ll also need to pitch your research to media outlets. Media mentions is tough — and there is no guarantee — but depending on your research topic, it may be worth the effort.
Start by pitching trade publications, and then once your story is covered, reach out to the more national outlets who will be more likely to respond favorably if the story has been published.
To increase the likelihood of your story getting accepted — and making life as easy as possible for the journalists — see what kind of story each trade pub is publishing and then mock up the story in a way that is most useful to them.
Consider this advice from Pricenomics, a site that publishes a lot of original research and published the Content Marketing Handbook:
“We tell people to start off by emailing 50+ journalists, because it conditions you to work very hard to spread your content after you write it. . . . Another reason we tell people to email journalists after they publish a report is that we want you to anticipate what you’ll say to them before you are creating the content. What’s the hook going to be? How will you pitch it to someone? Why will it be interesting?”
Get the word out
As marketers you are very adept at promoting your content. What you need to do for your research is no different.
There are three key ways to distribute and promote your content — and all have paid and organic options. We won’t go into depth on these because you use them extensively in marketing already).
SEO: People who arrive at your research via search are actively seeking answers to their questions. Optimize your findings and all related content for keywords people are searching for — and review your content to ensure you are answering questions. (Said another way: Will readers stick when they arrive at your content because it is helpful and useful?)
Social: Think about how you use social. Sometimes, you are monitoring key groups, people or keywords. What are the hashtags your audience is using? Think about how you can set up your research so it can be found.
But, also remember that many people aren’t necessarily looking for anything specific when they are on social. They are looking for something that captures their interest. As such, what are those stats and stories that are surprising? Or what data points would people want to share that validates — or shifts — their thinking?
Email: Email is a powerful way to distribute your content. For many, email subscribers are one of their most responsive audiences. (Of course, you can also use research to build your own email list.)
Create related content
Instead of looking at your initial publication of the results as the end game, consider your research as piece of cornerstone content from which many other assets and stories will spring. When you create your survey-based research with intention, you’ll see you have many, many opportunities to “atomize” your content and share it across multiple channels.
And, as mentioned, many marketers we talk to share that going through the process of planning and executing research serves as a way to publish a more cohesive story for their brand overall.
Remember that home base you created? All assets should point there!
The types of content you can create from your research is only limited to your imagination, but the list below offers some ideas. You can see examples of each at the link below.
13 ideas for related content to create from your research
- Blog posts on your website
- Articles on other websitesAdditional reports
- Webinars and presentations
- Stand-alone data graphics
- Video of high-level findings
- Video series digging into findings
- Online assessment
- Twitter chat
- Gated guides and eBooks
Creating survey-based research is a time-intensive process, but the results — for your business as well as your marketing team — are extensive.
Do you want more tips on how to execute original research? Sign up for our newsletter to get educational articles based on our experiences with clients as well as conversations with other marketers who are having success.
If you are wondering if research may be a good option for your business or you have created research you want to share, contact us anytime. We love hearing from you!