Content comes in all shapes and sizes. Helpful how-tos, news, guides, opinions, roundups and rants. But there is one type of content that stands above them all.
This format crushes almost anything else you can publish. And it’s not as hard to get into your content mix as you might think. Here’s a quick how and why on research as a content format…
Original research is the most powerful and effective format for content for many reasons.
That last point is important since links and shares are the key to search and social, the two big sources of traffic.
This was discovered, through research, in a collaboration between BuzzSumo and Moz. They analyzed 1 million articles and found that most content doesn’t get traction in search or social. 75% of the articles had never been linked to, and 50% had fewer than two Facebook Interactions.
This chart shows the stark reality for marketers. The vast majority of content get no results.
But, as we all know, some content gets tons of traction. According to the research, this content tends to fall into two categories:
Creating opinion forming journalism on a regular basis is difficult for most of us, so let’s focus on that second group, research.
Most content gets almost no traction in search or social. Research-driven content is the exception.
The rest of this post is a guide to producing original research.
There are five types of research you can add to your content mix.
You tried something. Did it work or not? Anything that you or your company tried is potentially publishable research, as long as it produced a datapoint. There’s an audience out there that wants to see your findings.
It’s a case study with a different angle. The key is to publish a conclusion that is relevant to a broader audience. It’s not about you. It’s about the truth.
Example: The A/B Test Results on the Mad Mimi Pricing Page
Copy Hackers has a data driven approach to helping clients. They run tests to measure the results of their work. Sometimes, they publish the results of those tests.
A great example is the Mad Mimi Pricing Page. The experiments they ran resulted in a 500% lift in conversions. It also produced a beautiful, visual piece of content.
case study experiment and its results have appeared in many marketing presentations. It’s also earned 21 links and 107 shares.
No need to produce new data. Just find it in the wild and run your analysis. Look for patterns, form a hypothesis, gather information and analyze. The Moz/BuzzSumo study cited above is a great example. Here’s another:
Example Article: Web Design Standards
A client once asked us if search tools are standard on websites, our instinct was to give a quick answer: it depends. But instead, we decided to find out.
The post was far more successful than a typical post on this blog, earning 178 links and 610 shares. Also, the post is optimized for the phrase “web design standards” so it gets a few hundred visits per week.
When the research is already out there, you can combine and repackage it into new metrics and statistics. The new piece is often more credible since it’s an objective look at subjective data.
Example: Who was the best US president?
Tough question. A lot of people have tried to answer it by surveying scholars and historians. Rather than creating a new survey (time-consuming, expensive), an editor at Wikipedia aggregated past surveys and applied a simple methodology.
It’s not new research, but it’s new data, and it gives a highly credible answer to the question and creates a list of historical rankings of the best presidents (Lincoln, FDR, Washington are the top three).
It’s also gotten lots of traction. This Wikipedia page has 214 links and 1000+ shares. That’s a lot of shares for a Wikipedia page. Imagine how aggregating existing research could be a huge hit in your marketing mix.
This is the classic approach. Get a group of people to answer a few questions in an online survey. Analyze the data. Publish.
There are many benefits to this kind of research:
Note: Since this was one, multiple choice question, it’s really a poll, not a survey.
Example: Annual Blogger Survey
We first discovered the power of research two years ago when we asked 1000 bloggers eleven questions about how they work. This produced new statistics, new soundbites and new answers to old questions.
It was a hit, earning 644 links and 1700 shares. The results were so big that we’ve turned it into an annual survey. If anyone writes an article about how much time it takes to blog, it’s only natural to reference our research, showing the average post takes 2.5 hours to write.
Repeat your research to show trends. Trends are fantastic soundbites, great for sharing and linking. If anyone writes about blogging trends, it’s only natural to reference the article showing that the typical post is now 900 words, 100 words longer than last year.
ProTip: To create data that is statistically significant, put the sample size and total populations into a statistical significance calculator, to measure the margin of error.
Getting ideas for how an online survey could work for you? This next idea is even more powerful…
Online surveys are about quantity; phone surveys are about quality. You gather less data, but in a more direct way. You pick up the phone and call people.
The hidden benefit to this is obvious. This research gives you an excuse to reach out to high-value connections, like sales prospects and influencers.
The call starts with you asking questions about the industry. It’s a brief interview. It may or may not lead to other topics. It ends with an offer to share the research once complete.
Here are examples of how phone surveys, subjects and content outcomes.
Getting a few more ideas?
This is a powerful way for B2B marketers to get right in front of decision makers. The key to success is to be very considerate and follow up.
What are the most important skills for succeeding at C-level jobs? It’s a subjective question. But Boris Groyberg produced a high quality, research-based article on the topic by surveying “several dozen top senior search consultants.” It was published in the Harvard Business Review.
This page won 35 links and 351 shares. The networking benefits were probably priceless.
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:
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.
Because it’s work. It requires forethought and planning. It’s not more difficult, it’s just more time-consuming. It will take ten times as long to create, but you’ll to get 100x the results.
Don’t take shortcuts; they take too long. – Sonia Simone, Copyblogger
If you’re ready for a huge upgrade to the quality and results of your content marketing, here’s where you can begin:
The world is not waiting for another medium-quality blog post. Publish something truly original. Make a contribution to your field. Find the truth and share it with the world.