While it’s easy to blame “content shock” for lack of brand engagement or decreased SEO ranking, others argue that most brands are still producing low-quality content in hopes of skating by with old content marketing rules.
The reality is, businesses need to invest time into developing quality, informational material geared toward their target audience for any valued SEO play. According to marketing solutions platform Blue Corona, 97 percent of people do not click past the first page of search results. It’s like they say, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”
So, how does your brand earn visibility on Google’s front page and rise above the noise?
The answer: authoritative content.
What is Authoritative Content?
Authoritative content can be defined as material that provides unique, informed perspectives on a given subject in order to offer value to prospects and customers. It must come from a trustworthy, well-founded source or group of sources.
Google and Authority
In the era of “fake news”, it’s now more important than ever to produce trustworthy content that provides insight to your consumers. People want helpful information from brands they view as credible, and Google has been taking note.
The dominant search engine’s initial core (or “medic”) update last summer prompted drastic changes in search rankings, giving clear prominence to sites with high authority and credibility. The latest core updates have followed in a similar suit.
In order to become reliable and build a reputation that Google views as credible, you must consistently publish factual information that people will reference in their own content. An effective way to do this is through original research, otherwise known as “analyzing data in a new way and publishing the results with the intent of getting attention.”
The Benefits of Original Research
A study by BuzzSumo and Mantis Research reported that less than half of marketers create original research. Of the remainder who do generate original research, 56 percent of respondents said their results met or exceeded their expectations (with only three percent stating they were disappointed with results).
An obvious benefit of original research is that your brand would be the original source with exclusive content. This is extremely efficient for building backlinks—a critical factor of page authority. Proof of this is articulated by BuzzSumo, whose recent findings say research can achieve more links.
Backlinks aren’t the only notable benefit. Your brand will have promotional opportunities from journalists and PR professionals looking for timely, trending information. It also sets up your content marketing team and writing staff with additional content possibilities to fuel your editorial calendar for months at a time.
If you’re serious about getting more eyes on your content and establishing authority, original research provides long-standing opportunities.
There are two main types of original research businesses conduct to produce authoritative content: primary and secondary.
Primary research can be defined as any research you conduct yourself (or hire someone to do for you) in pursuit of first-hand information. It means going straight to the source (i.e. current customers or target market) to ask questions and gain insight.
A few examples include:
- Focus Groups
Generally, when administering primary research, the information retrieval process is two-fold:
- Exploratory—asking general, open-ended questions to determine areas of focus that may need further attention.
- Specific—asking precise questions aimed at solving an important problem found during exploratory research.
This strategy takes longer, is more expensive, and requires more resources than secondary research.
Secondary research is conducted by analyzing primary research that has been organized and published by others. It involves drawing conclusions from things like: trend reports, market statistics, industry reports, competitor insights and more.
This strategy tends to be more cost-efficient in nature, with free access to things like your own internal data and public studies (i.e. government statistics provided by the U.S. Census Bureau).
The idea of conducting original research brings about some common concerns for many marketers.
While larger companies can afford to hire a market research firm to conduct a study and analyze results for them, most brands don’t have additional funds for such a partnership. However, if you’re working with limited funds and resources, there’s still a way to create original research. Even simple, low-cost methodologies (if done right) can provide long-term benefits. However, don’t commit to it without taking certain factors into consideration. At the very least, you do need:
- Time. The general consensus is that it can take about four months for an experienced team to conceptualize, research, plan and execute a project. If you’re new at it, it will likely be longer.
- A willingness to learn. You should know the difference between quantitative and qualitative research methodologies or have access to someone who does. You’ll also need to be able to interpret the data you collect.
Prepping for Research
To ensure your research offers up the desired results, there are tasks to complete in preparation.
1. Topic Creation
Michele Linn, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research, says the formula for a quality research topic is:
This is where many brands struggle. It can be difficult to marry all three of the above aspects. A great place to start is by observing your buyer personas.
Think about what information would be important to each persona. Then, select one that you want to optimize for. After you have this sorted, select a segment of the persona and start doing exploratory research to identify any common problems that could be helpful as topics. This can be done simply through social listening on Facebook, Quora, and Reddit, polling customers or talking to your sales department.
Once you’ve chosen a buyer persona and identified needs or pain points to that group, write down your objective for the study and form a hypothesis.
Pro Tip: You’ll want to analyze your proposed topic against competitor material to see if the information is well covered or already exists. If it’s easy to find the information, it’s not worth researching for your brand. Conversely, you may find gaps in the content that can be filled.
2. A Plan to Engage Participants
Now that you have your topic, you’ll need a list of qualified participants to engage in the study. Chances are you won’t be able to tap a market research firm for access to pre-vetted lists, as these can be costly. So, a few ways you can start building a list manually include:
- Compiling a list of recent clients or customers. You can usually get this information by reaching out to your sales rep or running a report in your CRM.
- Calling for participants on social media who have used or have thought about using your product or services. You will want to be extra careful here though, to ensure it’s a qualified consumer.
- Offer an incentive. Consider giving participants access to exclusive content, an extended trial period of a new tool feature, an exclusive discount on goods, or even a gift card in exchange for their time.
3. Research Question Development
Question design and development is the most important determinant of success. For that reason, you’ll want to allocate most of your resources to this step. According to Harvard University’s Program on Survey Research, questions should be:
- Short and to the point
- Kept in order
Additionally, avoid technical jargon, double-barreled questions and the use of emotional language that could sway a choice.
Most importantly, you’ll want to write out thorough instructions for the moderator and respondents.
Once you’ve prepped for your research, there are two budget-friendly methodologies you can utilize: surveys and content analysis.
Online tools such as Survey Monkey or Zoho Survey allow you to create surveys, distribute them to your list, and analyze findings for free. Survey Monkey also allows you to calculate how many people constitute a valid sample size. Survey Money’s paid version is offered at a pretty reasonable price, which is recommended to ensure the flow and design of your survey will produce results.
Before rolling out the survey, test it with a small group and make any necessary adjustments.
Pro Tip: For every question included in the survey, Linn recommends asking yourself how you will use the data from the question and the story you’re going to tell. If you’re unable to come up with the answer, you probably don’t need the question.
This strategy can be done almost completely for free, however, it will take an ample amount of time. Rather than conducting new research, you would be analyzing information that has already been published or is publicly available.
For example, do top performing websites in a specific industry vertical have any similar web-design features? If this is something your target audience would be interested in, it may be worth pursuing.
Usually, this involves reviewing many materials and reports, drawing similarities (or lack thereof), and then settling on a conclusion.
Have you successfully conducted original research in the past? Let us know!
For more information on how to build the best content for your brand, download ‘The Intelligent Content Playbook’ for free.