Trustworthy. Credible. Authoritative.
These are the hallmark characteristics of high-quality content that establish your company as an industry leader and subject matter expert. If you want to acquire more organic web traffic and generate leads for your company, every piece of content you publish must aim to achieve this holy trinity.
How do you create content types that build trust and credibility for your company?
Two words - content research.
It's not the most exciting concept, but any dedicated content marketer, business owner, or industry expert understands that a well-executed content research strategy is the key to content marketing success. It requires you to dig deeper than the competition and back up your claims with data and statistics.
Today, we'll cover everything about content research, including its benefits, best practices, and some research tools that can help you outrank the competition.
What is Content Research?
Content creation starts way before you type in your very first word.
Many people think that content research simply amounts to Googling a specific topic and brainstorming with creative team members. And yet, there's more to content research than Google.
Content research is the process of analyzing online content and creating a marketing strategy based on the information you gather. The ultimate goal is to increase brand visibility, generate traffic, and stimulate the long-term growth of your company.
Effective content research requires a well-planned combination of competitor analysis, high search volume keyword research, and thought leadership examination.
Why Does Content Research Matter?
As an essential element of a holistic marketing strategy, effective content research helps increase audience engagement, develops brand presence, and drives both web traffic and sales.
Below are some quick content marketing statistics that highlight the importance of content:
- According to a survey by the Content Marketing Institute, 92% of marketers say that their company treats content as a business asset.
- 95% of B2B customers consider content a worthwhile way to evaluate a business, as per DemandGen.
- According to a recent Backlinko report, B2B companies that publish blog posts consistently receive 67% more leads than companies that don't blog at all.
- 61% of U.S. online consumers have bought a product based on a recommendation from a blog, as per the Content Marketing Institute.
- According to a Techclient infographic, websites that publish blog content have 434% more search engine indexed pages than those that don't blog, making content marketing one of the most effective SEO techniques.
However, content marketing is only beneficial when you put in the work it demands. Without a solid amount of research in place, your content marketing efforts are likely to be plagued with inconsistencies and a lack of focus.
Let's take a look at some of the most significant benefits of effective content research.
Guarantees That You Understand Your Target Audience
If content is king, then distribution is the all-important queen. You can work countless hours producing the best content in your industry, but it will be a waste if you can't find the right audience. Content research, if done correctly, empowers you to find and understand your target audience.
You'll have a good handle of which topics and formats are interesting for your readers. Plus, the insights you gain will help develop long-term content strategies and organize your content teams more efficiently. Moreover, intimate knowledge of your target audience will allow you to create tailored content for each phase of the buyer's journey.
Proper research will help position you to aim your marketing message towards an audience that's more likely to become paying customers.
Helps You Create and Deliver Value-Driven Content
Research is the foundation of a strong content marketing strategy. Content research can provide you with definitive answers to the following questions:
- Where does my target audience go online?
- How likely are they going to respond to my piece?
- Which topics will resonate best with my target audience?
Furthermore, effective research will give you insights into what your competitors are up to by answering questions like:
- What type of content are they publishing?
- How does their audience respond to their content?
- Do they publish compelling and authoritative content?
- Are they converting visitors into paying customers?
With answers to these questions in hand, you'll be in a better position to create and deliver truly valuable content to your audience.
Research also adds a degree of validity to your content.
Let's face it; people won't give you the time of day if your content is based on conjectures and speculations. With thoroughly researched content, you're showing your readers that you are willing to go the extra length to provide them with valuable and relevant information.
Boosts Leads and Drives Long-Term Organic Visibility
Thorough content research helps grow your company's brand visibility, organic traffic, and leads.
Effective lead generation is only possible with interesting, compelling, and relevant content to attract a specific persona, and this is only possible with a sound research plan. Personalized content has the potential to get you enough leads to keep your sales team busy all year round. It's about making your readers feel wanted and compelling them to take a specific action.
Moreover, content research and organic visibility go hand in hand.
High-quality content based on thorough research will work wonders to strengthen the credibility and authority of your company, primarily through link building. Engaging SEO content will attract high-quality links to your site and send Google a signal that you're providing actual value to your audience, thus boosting your authority.
5 Strategies for Effective Content Research
Content research is the cornerstone of a strong content marketing strategy. Below are some strategies that will help get you on the path to researching content like a pro.
1. Get to Know Your Audience
Who will be reading your content? Before you think about what you're going to write, you need to get to know your audience:
- What are the age, sex, and specific demographics of your ideal audience?
- What are their interests?
- What type of content receives the most shares and views?
Just like your company might have more than one type of customer, your content plan should cater to more than one type of reader.
Once you know the basics about your audience, you need to understand what pain points you'll be solving for them. A top-shelf content creation process should support prospects on both sides of your product or service:
- Users who are still figuring out their main challenges.
- Users who are already using your product to solve these challenges.
Determining your target audiences and figuring out their needs and pain points will guide you in developing content ideas that interest them.
2. Review The Competitive Landscape
After analyzing your target audience and their content preferences, you'll want to look at what both business rivals and industry experts are writing about. While you're not looking to plagiarize or copy their strategies, checking the competitive field can give you valuable insights that will help you create an informed content marketing plan.
You know that your competitors target the same audience, but you want to understand how they're targeting them. Your competitors are likely focusing on a small range of content that revolves around their products. It would help if you also noted your rivals' content volume, successful blog posts, backlink profile, and any other trends worth noting.
Once you have a good feel for the competition, there are two things that you can do. First, attack their weakness by creating content about topics they don't cover. Second, go after their strengths (but only if you think you can beat them).
3. Research Keywords and Topics For Your Industry
If you want to build a solid content marketing plan for your company, the next step is to know which keywords and topics to target. Here are some resources to help you get started:
- Google Search - The quickest and easiest way to engage in keyword research is to search for relevant topics and keywords using the Google search bar. As you type your seed keyword, you'll receive a couple of suggested search terms. Once you hit "enter," you will also be provided with related keywords and similar searches.
- Google Trends - This free service allows you to see trending topics and top searches worldwide. You also have access to in-depth data such as interest over time and by region, related topics, and related queries.
- Quora - This Q&A community site is a great resource to see the questions people ask regarding your product or service. Once you have this information in hand, you can get your content team to write blog posts and articles that answer those questions.
- Reddit - As one of the busiest online communities, Reddit is a goldmine for content creators and covers virtually any subject you can think of. Search for your relevant subreddit and threads, and look for popular topics (i.e., most upvoted threads) and industry news that look compelling to cover for your audience.
- BuzzSumo - Another great place for acquiring fresh ideas is BuzzSumo. Simply type in a search term, and the service will show you a list of topics with the highest levels of engagement (i.e., clicks and shares). You can then use this information to determine which keywords and concepts are likely to become popular in the future.
Keyword and topic research tells you precisely what your target audience is searching for, rather than what you think they're searching for.
Once you have your head wrapped around basic keyword research, you should consider using the Keyword Golden Ratio for finding more niche keywords. See our Keyword Golden Ratio guide to learn more.
4. Audit Your Current Content
Content audit - it's enough to strike fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned bloggers and marketers. However difficult of a process, a properly executed audit can deliver extraordinary insights into your overall content marketing campaign.
More often than not, people just publish a piece and never look back. Over the years, old content becomes outdated, irrelevant, and in some cases, contradictory. An audit ensures that your content repository is as fresh and valuable as the day it went live.
A successful audit involves creating a comprehensive list or inventory of your existing content. Look into each of your blog posts, page, article, keywords, etc., and determine how successful your past posts have been. With this information in hand, you will be able to decide on which content types to focus on and if there are old pieces that need optimization.
5. Develop Robust Content Ops
Content operations (also known as "ContentOps") is a set of processes, people, and technologies for strategically planning, producing, distributing, and analyzing content. Content ops help businesses not only in creating truly valuable content but also in unifying the customer experience across all channels.
Your research efforts can't exist in a vacuum. Instead, content research is an essential pillar of any successful content ops development workflow. Without content ops, the research process becomes fragmented, and your content will fail to reach its full potential. Developing robust content ops will go a long way in helping you improve and streamline your overall content plan.
To learn more about content ops and how you can combine it with your content research initiatives, check out our recent guide on the topic.
11 “Must Have” Content Research Tools
Content research can be downright daunting at the start. Fortunately, there's no shortage of content research tools at your disposal that can streamline the procedure and help you come up with some compelling content ideas.
1. Demographics Pro
Do you know the buyer's personas relevant to your company? If so, how much do you know about them?
Buyer personas (also known as audience profiles) are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers based on data and research. When it comes to building and analyzing buyer personas, very few tools can compete with Demographics Pro.
Using Demographics Pro, you can source key audience demographic data, including age, gender, occupation, personal income, location, and more. You can even dig deeper to understand your readers' likes, dislikes, interests, brand affinities, media preferences, and other in-depth information.
BuzzSumo simplifies content research by pulling popular topics based on keywords. It's an excellent tool for generating new ideas as you look into what other people are writing.
The tool gives you a birds-eye view of the best-performing content for any topic or competitor via results that are sorted according to their performance on social media platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
Also, BuzzSumo offers a Competitor Intelligence feature that comes in handy for analyzing the competitive industry. You can track the competition's performance metrics and determine their most popular content pieces, as well as who's sharing their posts and how they stack up against your own content.
As mentioned earlier, Quora is one of the best resources for content research and fresh content ideas. Quora is a place where people ask a question and other users answer in the form of opinions.
Try typing different keywords and terms, and a handful of suggestions will come up - these questions may spark a creative idea and provide you with inspiration for content topics.
Quora is also a great starting point for increasing brand awareness because thousands of people can see your answers. Many users will see your profile/brand, and your helpful answers will compel them to trust your brand and buy your products or services.
MarketMuse is an AI-powered content marketing platform that lets you research, create, and optimize content in less time. This tool boasts machine learning for content analysis, topic suggestions, and content brief development.
Also, this full-featured marketing suite enables you to research topics and keywords, analyze the competitive industry, evaluate your marketing goals, and optimize your content library.
Regarding the content research process, MarketMuse's standout feature is its ability to provide qualitative content analysis. This feature proves effective in streamlining the content audit process. For example, MarketMuse gives you an overview of your content library, so you know how strong your current content is and whether or not you have topic gaps.
If your company invests in content marketing, MarketMuse is a must-have software.
Ahrefs is a robust keyword and competitive research tool with many different capabilities.
Of all the functionalities that Ahrefs has, Keyword Explorer is arguably its bread-and-butter. When you type a search query like "content marketing," for example, it will show you different keyword suggestions pulled from its 7-billion keyword database.
The keyword suggestions are sorted into various categories like "Questions," "Also rank for," "Newly discovered," and "Having same terms." The "Having same terms" functionality, in particular, can help you get tons of topic ideas that are easy to rank for.
Ahrefs, as one of the top SEO tools in the industry, boasts world-class technology and an excellent UI as well.
6. Link Explorer (Moz)
Moz's Link Explorer (formerly Open Site Explorer) is yet another powerful SEO tool to make the content research process a lot easier.
Link Explorer is a backlink management tool that lets you access complete link metrics for any website. With Link Explorer, you can analyze your competitors' backlink profiles and see where their links are coming from. Using the same function, you can also study the top-performing content of your business rivals.
Majestic is a top-rated SEO tool that crawls the internet for links to your site. This backlink tool works to analyze your own site and those of your competitors.
Majestic is a top-tier tool because it boasts one of the most extensive crawl depths on the market. As a result, you can quickly find the majority of links that connect to your website - we're talking about 8 trillion indexed URLs and counting.
Another noteworthy feature of Majestic is the Keyword Generator - a functionality that pins down the link context of websites which helps with keyword discovery. Using AI-based NLP algorithms, Majestic streamlines the processes of generating content ideas and targeting the right keywords.
8. Screaming Frog
Screaming Frog is a freemium site crawler that's best known for its search optimization auditing capabilities and other technical features.
Screaming Frog is a one-stop shop for your site and content audits. With its impressive crawling capabilities, the tool can find broken links and redirects almost instantly. These are technical problems that can prevent your content and pages from ranking correctly.
It's also one of the best resources for finding keywords your competitors are using. After entering a competitor's website, pay attention to the URL slugs. These can be used as topic ideas and keywords that you can incorporate into your own campaigns.
Woorank is one of the most reliable tools in the content industry, and for a good reason. Woorank not only functions as a competitive analysis tool, but it can even check your site's performance on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Woorank's competitive analysis solution lets you take a closer look into your competitor's SEO strategy and performance, providing you a search score, on-page performance data, and targeted keywords. This information will provide a significant competitive advantage down the road as you look to play to your competition's strengths and exploit their weaknesses.
10. Google Tools
Google offers a lot of tools that will take your content research to new heights. Below are a number of Google Tools that you can use to source new content ideas.
- Keyword Planner - Keyword Planner is a free tool but needs a Google Ads account. Although it's designed for advertisers on Google's platform, it's a terrific tool for researching keywords because it provides synonyms (alternate terms) and keyword stats.
- Scholar - Unlike "regular" Google, Scholar lets you search through books, articles, dissertations, preprints, theses, and court opinions from universities, academic publishers, online repositories, and other reputable sources.
- Search Engine - Google Search is a great free resource for content, topic, and keyword analysis. From the "Search Suggestions'' to "Related Searches" to "People Also Ask," Google Search remains the go-to keyword research tool if you want to keep it simple.
Honorable mentions include Google Alerts, Google Trends, and Google Analytics.
Hubspot is an all-in-one inbound marketing solution for businesses, marketers, and content teams. Hubspot impresses with its extensive SEO marketing features that will help you build your content strategy and search authority.
Hubspot's content strategy tool makes it a breeze to discover and rank for topics that are relevant to your business and customers. The topic suggestions are based on relevance, popularity, and your competitors.
Another neat thing about Hubspot is that the SEO tools integrate into all its functions, so you never miss out on optimization opportunities. Hubspot adopts the "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to content marketing, and I'm all for it.
3 Content Research Pitfalls to Avoid
When it comes to researching content, there are several pitfalls that you should avoid.
Failing to Identify Outliers
When you're looking for quality content with the most shares and engagement, make sure that you can identify the outliers.
For instance, if a competitor website has an average social share of about 10k per post, and you found a blog post with around 8k shares, that's not considered an outlier. This is because the post with 8k shares has fared worse than average share rate for each post, despite looking like a successful piece.
The content pieces you want to emulate are the outliers that perform better than average, not the other way around.
Focusing Too Much on Format
Pay attention to the idea rather than content formats.
As a content creator, it should be your priority to tell a compelling and unique story. Content format is determined based on purpose, distribution channels, depth, and more. If you focus too much on using the appropriate format, you'll end up with a one-off piece that won't have the engagement or lifespan you're hoping for.
Identify the content needs of your target audience first before moving on to format - it's a whole lot better than starting with a "we need a blog post" mentality.
Developing Valueless Content
One of the primary goals of content research is to create valuable and data-driven content that has impact.
If you're going to produce run-of-the-mill listicles and other pieces of fluff, why bother researching at all? Unless you're a company with a huge social following, you'll want to avoid making listicles and other low-effort pieces as receiving backlinks from high-authority websites are next to impossible.
Content Research: The Key to Compelling Content
Effective content research is an essential element in the quest to develop value-driven content.
Although a traditionally labor-intensive process, there are a number of amazing tools available on the market that can help streamline your research and content marketing workflows. I encourage everyone to experiment with these tools and see how they can assist you as you look to develop topics and keyword ideas relevant to your audience.
What does your content research process look like? Let us know in the comments!