How to Make a Survey: 10 Steps for Winning Traffic, Shares and Links

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Andy Crestodina
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Let’s be honest. The Internet doesn’t need another medium-quality blog post with general advice. There are already millions of posts published per day. That’s a lot of content.

So here’s the most important question in digital marketing: How do you rise above the noise?

The answer is simple: create a survey that produces new data. The Internet wants originality. It’s the original research that gets clicked, read and shared.

A marketing survey is the easiest way to produce something truly original, something new and unique to your website. A survey can provide the data that will make your site a reference and resource for your industry.

But a survey of what? Here’s how to make a survey that will make you famous in your field. First you have to pick your topic.

Find the Missing Statistic

Every industry has conventional wisdom. It’s common knowledge that everyone agrees on, but it’s so common that no one questions it. They don’t research it. They don’t support it with data or statistics.

There are “missing stats” in every industry. They always meet two criteria:

  • They are frequently asserted

  • They are rarely supported

If you find the missing stat and support it with data from a survey, you’ll have proved the conventional wisdom, making your website a source of original data.

Here are some examples of industries, common assertions and hypothetical missing stats. Each of these could be discovered through a marketing survey.

ASSERTIONS_table2

That last one is a real example. It’s a statistic that we discovered through a simple survey, filling in a blank in our field. Everyone says “blogging takes time” but no one had answered “how much time?”

It was often stated, but never supported. So we created a blogger survey and asked the question. Here’s what we learned.

UPDATE: Our blogger survey has been updated with new data and analysis. View the latest Blogger Research Survey >

 BloggerSurvey1-1

With just over 1000 survey respondents, we discovered this “missing stat.” On average, bloggers spend about 2.5 hours on a typical post. We became the first site to publish that data. Here’s what happened next.

The Search and Social Benefits

This post was by far one of the most successful pieces of content we’ve published, which isn’t really a surprise considering it’s also the most original. Here’s the breakdown:

It was shared 1,800 times on social media networks.

shares

For our little site, that’s a lot of shares. It also triggered more than 100 comments. But the benefits went beyond social media and traffic. It attracted dozens of new email subscribers.

email-subscribers

Best of all, the survey was referenced all over the web. It was mentioned on podcasts, included in roundups and ultimately linked to by more than 170 different websites, giving us a durable advantage in organic search.

 source-domains

But those mentions didn’t happen magically. We did a lot of manual, PR-style outreach, pitching various angles to the big, authoritative blogs in our industry. This led to coverage and mentions on sites like Marketing Profs and Copyblogger.

Eventually, it was picked up all over the world. Our little marketing survey was translated into Russian, Italian, Japanese and Hebrew.

How to Create A Survey …that Finds the Missing Stat

We published a detailed post that describes how we created and promoted the survey. Here’s the short version:

  1. Create a list of survey questions, designed to discover a statistic that is new and supports your marketing message.

  2. Set up an online survey.

  3. Calculate the minimum number of respondents to create statistical significance.

  4. Build an initial list of potential respondents and places to post and promote the survey.

  5. Create an incentive to take the survey (optional, but effective).

  6. Promote the survey like crazy until you have a statistically significant dataset.

  7. Analyze the findings to discover the missing stat and any other insights you can find.

  8. Publish the survey with pretty charts, contributor quotes and an attractive featured image.

  9. Make visual, sharable graphics that contain the statistics you created. We made six of these, each of which contained a different insight. See the example below.

  10. Promote the analysis like crazy, making it visible to influencers, bloggers and the media.

BlogStats610-text-2

For us, the entire process took more than 150 hours, which is 10 times the effort of a typical post. But as we showed above, the results were far more than 10 times our average.

One Survey, Multiple Insights

A well-designed survey will produce several data points, each of which will be newsworthy. Even a single question survey can produce several statistics. Take a look at this survey from Lenovo.

howtomakeasurvey-4

Plan ahead and you’ll have data for several posts and several pitches. For more insights (and tips on writing press releases to promote a survey), see the ResearchScape Newsmaker Whitepaper.

Beyond the Typical Survey

Here are a few alternate approaches to making surveys that offer different benefits:

  • Surveys with Networking Benefits: The Phone Interviews
    Rather than getting a little data from a lot of people, get a lot of data from the few people who really matter. Make a list of 25 people who are experts in your topic AND fit a profile (or job title) of people you’d like to connect with. Now call each of them on the phone for a 10-minute survey. The data may not be statistically significant, but you make friends while you produce data.

  • Surveys with Promotion Benefits: The Blogger Dataset
    Survey a group of respondents who are more likely to share, mention and promote the survey, such as bloggers. Collaborating with content creators is a super powerful marketing tactic that gives you a natural advantage when it’s time to promote the findings.

  • Surveys with Credibility Benefits: The Meta-Survey
    Rather than creating a new survey, aggregate the results of past surveys within your own methodology. This creates new data in a way that is often more trustworthy than any single survey. This is Nate Silver’s approach to political polling. It’s also how Wikipedia publishes a credible list of the best Presidents in US history.

howtomakeasurvey-5

Be the Go-To Resource in Your Industry

No matter what business you’re in, there are “missing stats” in your industry. Baseless assertions are made every day, just waiting for data to back them up.

So find the gaps, make the survey and publish the missing statistic. Now, when people make the claim, your data will be there to support it. They’ll share, mention and link to you like crazy.

Publish the missing stat in your industry. The Internet will thank you for it.

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Comments (21)
  • Wow Andy, this is content marketing gold right here. Time consuming? Yes. Effective? Hell yes!

    With all the content that’s out there I’m surprised that no one has ever taken that “how long does it take you to blog” survey before. Can you imagine the possibilities of this strategy in a less competitive field than online marketing?

    • You’re absolutely right, George. There are so many unsupported claims in every industry. And it might take time to find the data and support those claims, but owning that data and being the resource that provides it to the rest of the internet is very very valuable. It’s worth the effort!

  • I want to kiss this entire post. So much useful info here! Thanks Andy!

    • Thank you, Laura! You’re exactly the kind of marketer who can get the most from this kind of advice. If you do this for any of your clients, let me know how it goes!

      If I ever started a marketing company, I would call it something like “Orbit Marketing and Research, Inc.”

  • Loved the survey — taking it and reading it! One question about this: “Calculate the minimum number of respondents to create statistical significance.” How do you determine that? And doesn’t the whole survey process — from determining statistical significance to how questions are formed to how data is collected and interpreted, etc. — require rigorous methodology?

  • One of the most common questions I get from people is: “How can I create content that stands out?”. The short answer I give them is, “create something unique”.

    Unfortunately, besides case studies, it’s hard to create something truly, 100% fresh. Now my new short answer is: “Read Andy’s post”.

    Excellent stuff here. Love the data you gave in terms of social shares and links. That shows that all of the hard work was worth the trouble…as hard work tends to be 🙂

    • Thanks, Brian. It always helps to show the numbers, right? You’re a champion at that. I was tempted the put the data into the headline, but they’re actually not high compared to the results that pros like you are getting! 🙂

      Glad if this is useful to you audience, Brian. If I ever do something like this again, I’ll be sure to get a contributor quote from you…

  • You said: “But those mentions didn’t happen magically. We did a lot of manual, PR-style outreach, pitching various angles to the big, authoritative blogs {..leading to coverage in..} JeffBullas.com and Copyblogger.”
    I’d loooooove to read a post about your process for that 🙂
    Have anything like that planned?

    • That’s a good idea for a post! I should write that up sometime. My secret weapon for creating guest blogging opportunities is to go to marketing events. I’ve meet a lot of blog editors and marketers at conferences …including you, Kim!

      But I certainly could write a post that outlines the steps of reaching out when you haven’t met first. Adding that to my big list of topics now. 🙂

  • As always, excellent post Andy. Keep it up. Jim

    • Thanks, Jim. You might want to share this with our friends at Simple Machines…

  • Trust Andy and team to introduce a fresh idea, show how to do it, and document the results. Perhaps like many, I’ve primarily thought of surveys as a selfish, learn more about my customers perspective. I never viewed surveys as a powerful content creation tool.

    Somehow, I feel that Andy’s “missing stat” term is going to become a familiar meme in months to come. Great screen shots, too.
    Roger

    • Thank you for the kind words, Roger. I don’t think that “missing stat” will become a household word, but I do hope that a few of our readers will try this.

      I’m sure there are many missing stats in your world, the world of publishing. No one would be better suited to discovering these gems of content than you, Roger!

  • Hey Andy – If it’s helpful, you need 30 response to have statistical significance. Professional researchers typically like to get at least 100 responses, preferably 300. That way you can cut the data different ways and still have statistical significance within those segments.

    • Thanks for that insight. Another approach is to use a calculator to find the statistical significance, which is supposed to be based on the size of the total population. Here’s a link to one:
      http://www.custominsight.com/articles/random-sample-calculator.asp

      …but I confess, I don’t know how many bloggers there are in the world. I don’t think anyone really knows. I think we assumed a million.

  • Terrific angle and love the insights! Provides a completely different angle on how to “rise above the noise”.

    • Thanks, Cindy! People love to share original research. And owning your own data is just a survey away… 🙂

  • keeping an eye on website analytics and checking what is working and what’s not can make us to measure our marketing performance.

  • Just in the process of hiring some content writers. Thank you for that statistic will help gauge how much in terms of cost I can anticipate. That is extremely useful information!

  • Hey Andy. believe me it was just awesome to read your articles. You always give a wake up call to gain more traffic and traffic to blog. While, I was very lazy before because I didn’t know the secrets how pro bloggers are doing. But, this is just awesome. I’ll going to follow all the steps you’ve mentioned.

    Thankyou so much Andy for your useful tips!

    -Mustafa

  • Great info. Gunna see what I can do with some surveys.

 
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