If the most recent updates of Google’s search algorithm have taught us anything, it’s that the search giant is getting smarter about identifying experienced content creators — and competitors are certainly following suit. That’s why Google’s E-A-T guidelines gained an extra “E for experience” and why it keeps emphasizing that we should generate content for people, not search engines.
Knowing this, the goal for every marketer should be to gain unique insights and share them in innovative ways. That’s what makes your brand the original source for a piece of interesting information, leaving everyone else no choice but to link to you. But maybe you feel overwhelmed with this task, because you’re uncertain how to approach researching efforts or where to gather data points.
Fear not, we’ll walk you through some best practices and show you some examples of brands performing research for inspiration. Before we start, get your goggles on — safety first!
Why You Need Original Content
If you had a choice, would you rather attend Taylor Swift’s concert or that of a Taylor Swift cover band? Does the answer remain the same if the ticket prices are the same? Even if you hate Taylor Swift, you’d probably pick her. That way, you can at least say you’ve seen the real deal.
When faced with options, we always prefer the original source. That’s even more true in science, where coherent source information is meant to make experiments comprehensible for the next researcher so they can build on it. Google and other search engines are aware of this, which is why they increasingly take these factors into account in their evaluation of online content.
To prevent spamming users and having your site deprioritized by Google, you should avoid doorway pages or keyword-stuffed blogs that are only supposed to gain traction for affiliate clicks. Even if you steer clear of this obvious extreme, it can be difficult to judge when search engines consider your content too repetitive.
Here are a few guidelines based on our own experience with thousands of blogs on our site and those of our clients.
Don’t just generate words to rephrase what others have said. Try to understand the world in your little corner of the world. This requires:
- Data from your own surveys.
- Stats based on your research.
- Insights gained from both.
Before you panic, realize that you don’t need a degree in statistical data analysis to do this. While it takes some effort and creativity, original research can be easier to create than you might think. Simultaneously, it’s getting increasingly valuable over time, given that it gets you backlinks and the goodwill of search engines. Imagine the following situation.
Newspapers report that tea sales have declined across the country. As a startup in the tea scene, you know that while overall sales were flat last quarter, green tea went through the roof in New York. By performing additional surveys, you could find out what that was about — the song of a nearby band, your local SEO or a trend in Manhattan.
Creating those surveys would not only help you understand your own business better. It would also let you contribute to the news cycle or original research with ease. After all, you’re closer to the source and everyone curious about the topic will have to link to you.
Now, you may think that’s all fine and dandy, but that lab coat still seems too daunting. In that case, we’ve got a few ideas to get you started.
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How To Create Original Content
First, let’s get away from the notion that research for content purposes always requires elaborate studies. To do that, it helps to consider the different activities that can stand behind the intimidating word “create.”
Before you hire a research team, you should think of the data you’re already collecting for your ongoing business operations. Perhaps you’re required to publish annual reports to shareholders or you’re running Google Analytics on your website. Maybe your CRM sends out an automated email asking customers if they were happy with their product.
Whatever it is, you’ve likely got access to tons of data already. It may not all be in the right format, but it’s a place to start. Even if you can’t rely on an existing customer base yet, you could research what reviewers, bloggers and journalists have to say about your competitors’ offerings. Some companies like to organize focus groups to gather early feedback on a specific product or content ideas.
It’s also helpful to think of your in-house experts who are already well-versed in your brand and value proposition. Make internal announcements asking for ideas. An employee in your product development department may hand your marketing team data that would otherwise be hard to find — or, even better, reach out to their network to connect with thought leaders available for interviews.
Once you think about all your options, performing original research is less about data gathering and more about considering opportunities. If you don’t have such a strong online presence yet, surveys can be a great option. All you need is:
- A set of questions your audience wants answers to.
- 100 people or more to ask (employees and clients do count).
- Google Forms for asking questions (it’s free).
- Email, social media or in-person outreach.
In case you don’t have the resources to perform your own research, one easy entry would be to gather industry research from other reputable sources and benchmark it against your own internal statistics. That way, you can provide valuable insights into your own industry while showing off your unique value proposition.
Even content curation can count as research if you put in the time to gather and analyze information across your niche.
4 Original Research Examples to Steal
Another helpful way to get ideas for your own tailored approach to research is to look at what other companies are doing. You don’t need to stay within your own industry. Actually, getting inspiration from outside could be more beneficial in this case.
Here are some examples of brands sharing their research and insights online.
While it already was a popular communication and collaboration platform a few years ago, the rise of remote work has made Slack the standard tool for many teams around the globe. Because the company is marketing in large part to remote workers, it regularly shares research on work trends and productivity, which fits right into its brand positioning. Sometimes, Slack will reformat research from reputable sources. But since 2019, the company is probably best-known for its yearly State of Work report, which investigates different enterprises’ strategies around productivity, remote work, automation and flexibility.
If you thought that Netflix just wants you to watch yet another episode, think again. The streaming service shares its research on machine learning, its recommendation algorithm, analytics and encoding on its own research platform. Once you dive into this information, you’ll notice Netflix also references research its team published elsewhere and posts shared on the company’s tech blog on Medium. While that research certainly helps Netflix to fine-tune recommendations, the streamer also links to other reputable sources to demonstrate its team’s expertise and share some link juice.
The Google-owned producer of wearable fitness trackers has not only used its vast user data to conduct its own research on health and fitness trends, but can also invite you to do the same. That lets Fitbit help others contribute to public medical research, which the brand can subsequently share in its publication library. Naturally, Fitbit’s product category puts it in a unique position, but it’s a great example of leveraging data you already have to find new partnership opportunities.
We wouldn’t be giving all this advice if we didn’t know first-hand that it was worth following. Similar to Slack, we’ve performed our own surveys on remote work culture, the latest trends in marketing and more, but we’ve also created case studies around our most successful campaigns. Research is deeply embedded in our process, so you’ll find statistics and reports on every landing page and blog, even if they’re not always our own.
Don’t Make It Rocket Science If It Doesn’t Have To Be
Performing your own research can feel like a massive undertaking, and we won’t lie — it’ll require time and resources. But many brands only hesitate to make this step because they believe they’re required to split atoms. You’re not. Your research can be as unique as your brand, from its subject matter to the way you share it.
Once you realize you’re already gathering data anyway, the actual research can sometimes become simply a matter of formatting. Make sure you adjust to your current business situation, budget and resources. Follow up on questions your customers are already asking. If you’re doing that, you’re on the right track to building a solid research database that’ll win you traffic, brand authority and business.
Now go out there and create something truly original!