It’s a given that solid research skills are critical to successful content development. With that in mind, we did some research to learn how to do it better. Here’s what we found out:
1. Always be researching – In the film Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin, as a real-estate sales manager, advises his crew to “always be closing.” Content developers should heed similar advice when it comes to research.
“In order to keep your queue filled with great content ideas, you need to stay in research mode at all times,” writes QuickSprout. “Research shouldn’t be reserved for planning or writing sessions only. The quality of your content will increase substantially if you do it on an ongoing basis, as ideas pop into your head.”
When you land on an idea, the site advises that you jot down the major points you’d like to make about the topic, URLs for sites that provide additional information and URLs for pages to illustrate your points.
“By stepping into research mode every time you browse the web, you can often have your entire outline finished before it’s time to sit down and write,” the site suggests.
2. Talk to an expert – Content developers are whizzes at scouring the internet, but sometimes it’s worth speaking personally, by phone or face to face, with a master of the subject matter you are developing content about. This can take longer than online research, but may be worth it.
“Briefings are a great way to provide you with the insights you need to be able to put down your ideas and begin creating content that is going to connect with your audience,” writes John Waghorn at Koozai.
“See if you can speak to someone who has the required level of knowledge to explain the ins and outs, so that the correct ideas can translate within your own content. If you are writing for a client, see if it’s possible to speak to a member of their team who fully understands the chosen subject matter. Alternatively, you might be able to arrange a briefing with an external contact that you know.”
3. Keep your Google results current – How frustrating is it when you find a great source via Google, only to notice right before you are set to publish that the info was from, say, 2003? It may still be accurate and even relevant, but its old publication date makes it innately suspicious. So, you make it go away and start over.
Fortunately, Google makes it very easy to keep your search results current, as Christina Newberry points out on the Hootsuite blog: “When searching for information in Google, go to ‘Tools’, then click on ‘Any time’ to bring up a drop-down menu that allows you select a specific date range for your search, or to search only for information from the last day, week, month, or year.”
4. Watch and learn from competitors – It doesn’t matter what organization you are writing for – they are sure to have competitors within their industry. And those competitors are busy developing content of their own. Keeping an eye on their websites, blogs, tweets, Facebook presence and email newsletters is a great way to gain and maintain a competitive advantage with the content you develop.
Paying attention to competitors’ content will help you understand the industry trends that are getting attention, and learn what subjects that are getting too much exposure, suggests Nick Stamoulis at Brick Marketing: “This will help you come up with topics for your own content marketing campaign and make sure you’re writing content that is relevant to your industry,” he writes.
“By reading what your competitors are writing, you’ll have a better idea of what they are not saying,” Stamoulis suggests. “What niche is being ignored or underdeveloped that you could take and run with? What angles aren’t being examined that you can take to help set your content apart?”
5. Give credit where credit is due – Always make it a habit to link to the sources you cite in your finished piece – this not only polite, but it also has the potential to help drive more visitors in your direction.
“When you reference another website’s content, make sure you hyperlink back to that site,” writes The Content Factory.
“It’s good internet etiquette, and you’d want the same courtesy. Always cite your sources, even if you’re afraid it’ll send your web traffic to another site — and you can always choose the ‘open link in another window’ option if you’re that concerned about keeping your traffic. Besides being the right thing to do, it can also help you get backlinks. Frequently, the sites you link to will see your effort and thank you for it with a reciprocal link or quote.”