Research is the bedrock of content that converts shoppers into buyers. Why? Because it helps ensure your content is credible, helpful, and engaging.
- Credible: Strong content weeds out the junk on authoritative insights. Authority builds trust that strengthens bonds between buyers and sellers.
- Helpful: When you answer questions already on people’s minds, they feel grateful and inclined to reciprocate, either by sharing your content, recommending your business, or, ideally, doing business with you.
- Engaging: Market research helps you figure out what motivates your customers, so you can produce content that inspires them to act. It’s not always about buying; you may just want to encourage them to sign up for your newsletter or download an eBook that explains business challenges in depth.
Research helps you uncover original insights that capture people’s attention, inspire gratitude, and differentiate you from your competitors. If prospects find your content repetitive, uninteresting, implausible, or unhelpful, they’ll keep surfing until they find something better.
Let’s dig in a little deeper on the impact of research in content marketing.
Fundamentals of high-quality content research
Content is more than a readable blog or an entertaining video — it’s an overt act of persuasion that builds a credible argument with facts, logic, and reason. The trouble is that facts can be fraudulent, logic can be faulty, and reason can be unreasonable. If you build your content around unreliable research, you can hurt your reputation more than you would have by producing no content at all.
The quality of your research depends on the credibility of your sources, which come in three varieties:
- First person: This is what you know from direct experience. If you’ve spent years mastering a topic or skill, you have built-in credibility because you can say, “I saw this myself,” or, “It happened to me.” To build trust, it’s a good idea to acknowledge your biases, state the limits of your knowledge, and disclose your potential conflicts of interest.
- Primary: Gathering data on your own, interviewing experts, and conducting surveys all constitute original (or primary) research, which has built-in value because it hasn’t been conducted anywhere else. The challenge is that research methodology can be shoddy: surveys have unscientific samples, interviews restate inaccurate insights, and data is used to confirm biases rather than reveal original knowledge.
- Secondary: Newspapers, television news websites, magazines, books, and published studies constitute secondary sources, meaning you did not conduct the research yourself. It’s crucial to identify the biases of secondary sources, as many cater their coverage to specific audiences and ignore viewpoints of those outside their audience.
Sharing first-person knowledge and conducting original research are two of the best ways to build credibility with your audience — assuming your knowledge is helpful and authoritative, and your research methodology arrives at credible conclusions. Many companies partner with professional research firms to ensure their insights are accurate and trustworthy.
If you lack the resources for original research, you can always turn to secondary sources — if they are reliable. News organizations and scientific journals build their business models around providing accurate summaries of events, trends, and discoveries. They’re not perfect, but they are, for the most part, more reliable than organizations that pursue causes, lobby for legislation, or try to influence the political process.
These are some key questions to ask yourself when assessing the value of sources:
- How credible are the authors? How extensive is their expertise and what credentials do they have?
- How biased is the publication? Does it have an “ax to grind” or does it have an incentive to produce trustworthy information?
- Are the facts current or out-of-date?
- Is it possible to assess the reliability of the source — can you identify the author, the publisher, and any inherent biases?
- Case studies provide powerful first-person illustrations of the work your company does.
- Academic journals and professional associations specific to your industry often supply a wealth of reliable insights.
- Google Books can point you to books you can buy or borrow from the library.
- Interviews with top experts in your industry have built-in credibility.
Research vs. writing — finding the right balance
The challenge for content creators is deciding how much time to devote to research and how much to devote to writing.
You can produce a superficial blog post based on the first few hits that show up on Google in a couple hours. However, when your prospective customer finds your content reflects what they’ve already read somewhere else, they’ll hit the back button and forget all about you.
At Blue Star Design, we take a much more in-depth approach. We aim to spend six hours on a standard 600-word blog post, divided up like this:
- Research and outlines: three hours
- Writing: two hours
- Editing: 30 minutes
- Headlines, SEO, keywords: 30 minutes
We assign these tasks to separate people on our teams:
- One person handles keywords, SEO, research, and outlines.
- One person does the writing.
- One person sets the strategy and does the final edits.
- We get client approval at each step of the process to make sure we haven’t veered off track.
All these steps ensure we produce content that helps our clients nurture the trust of current and potential customers.
Recognizing the value of strong research
The more research you do upfront, the quicker it’ll be to produce your content and get it approved by key stakeholders. When accurate facts and insightful observations infuse your content, you remove opportunities to bog down processes.
Content research is a lot like doing your homework: It ensures you understand the subject matter so you’re prepared for the inevitable tests to come.