If the thought of researching blog post ideas makes you a little woozy, I don't blame you at all. The word "research" conjures up images of sluggishly wading through materials, running into dead ends, and ultimately wasting tons of time.
No one likes to waste time.
But then again, a quick search of your chosen topic on Google might help change your mind.
When faced with such odds, it's surprising that anyone bothers to create new content at all.
So, why do we do it? Because publishing fresh, relevant content is one of the best ways to attract people to your business. In fact, according to the Content Marketing Institute, 70% of B2B marketers and 73% of B2C marketers are planning to produce more original content in 2017 than they did in 2016.
So, perhaps it's time to shift your mindset - instead of thinking of research as a waste of time, try thinking of it as an essential first step toward creating content that generates results.
Convinced? Great. But, if you don't know where to start, keep reading. Here's a list of step-by-step instructions to help research your next blog post idea.
1. Researching Your Keywords
Keywords are at the heart of every content strategy, they're the words or phrases that your business wants to be known for. So, when researching keywords, it's important to remember that the reason you're creating content in the first place is because you want to be found.
When your target customer has a question or seeks a solution you provide, you want them to find your content, click on it and extract value from it. When you accomplish these three things, you make a positive impression and are one step closer to gaining a customer.
So, if the first goal is to be found, you obviously need to focus on the words or phrases that your ideal customers actually use to search, and while it's true that search engines are super smart (and are getting smarter every day) the precise keywords you target still matter - a lot.
So, below are some basic, step-by-step instructions for conducting keyword research:
Step 1: Document Your Findings
Get a notepad or (better yet) open a document where you can capture notes and screenshots. This may sound obvious, but I cannot stress enough how important this is.
Keyword research is rarely a linear path - it requires experimentation, meandering and the use of free tools that will lock you out after a few queries. If you don't take notes, you'll lose track of your findings, so document your discoveries as you go.
Step 2: Use Google AutoFill and Google Suggestions to Spark Ideas
You have a topic in mind. Now, ask yourself what someone will gain from reading your blog post. What problem are they trying to solve? What answer are they trying to find?
How might they phrase their query when they type it into Google's search bar?
For example, my working title for this post was "How to Research Your Topic and Competition So You Can Create Unique Content", but when I entered the term "research your topic" into Google, it presented me with advice for conducting academic research. In hindsight, this makes perfect sense, but that's not what I was planning to write about.
So, I cleared my browser history and tried again, typing slowly to see autofill suggestions from Google. The term "How to Research" didn't produce anything meaningful, but when I added "blog" to the end I saw this:
Now we're getting somewhere.
Repeat this process a few times, exploring different terms and variations, until you develop a list of potential keywords that are relevant your topic.
Step 3: Use a Keyword Research Tool to Identify Valuable Terms
Armed with your list of potential keywords, use a keyword research tool to examine the search volume and competitiveness of each term. The ideal is to find a keyword that has high search volume and low competition, but if your industry is super competitive this can be a challenge. In this case, look for terms with medium competition, then look at the sites that are already ranking until you find a term where you think you can compete.
If you don't have a subscription to one of these tools, conducting this research can be tricky. Google offers a free "Keyword Planner" tool to anyone who registers for an AdWords account, but if you don't advertise, the search volume numbers are vague. Tools like SEMRush or Moz's Keyword Explorer offer better data, but they limit the number of searches you can perform for free.
This is when that notepad will come in handy. Use Google's "Keyword Planner" to narrow down your options, then use one of the more robust tools to finish the job (taking screenshots as you go). Of course, if you plan to do this kind of research a lot, it might be time to consider a subscription. These tools start at $1,000 per year and are useful for a wide variety of tasks.
2. Researching the Competition
Once you decide on a target keyword, it's time to study the competition.
There's an incredible amount of content published every day. If you're looking to rank for a certain query, you need to think like a search engine. Google's goal is to provide the searcher with the best answer to their query, so your goal is to create content that's better than your competitors'.
How do you do that? Research, of course. But, this time you'll focus on the answers that are already ranking in the search engine results.
Step 1: Once again, get out your notepad
Step 2: Enter your term into Google
Focus on the first page of results and make note of the following:
- Who is ranking for the term already?
- What title(s) did they use?
- How did they approach the topic?
- What points did they make?
- Did they miss anything important?
- Do you agree or disagree with their position?
The idea here is to look for opportunities to create something better, or unique, and improve your chance of ranking. Perhaps you can provide more depth on the topic, or maybe you have an interesting, contrasting, or even controversial opinion that will help you stand out.
Step 3: Search the topic in BuzzSumo
This will enable you to see content that performed well on social media. You can then examine it to figure out why.
- Did the author choose a particularly compelling title?
- Was the content well done?
- Did someone influential share the piece on Twitter?
- Was the content published on a highly visible platform?
Once you understand what you're up against, you'll be much more prepared to create a new piece that can compete.
3. Researching Your Headline
By this time, you probably know how you plan to approach your blog post idea, but you still have one more bit of research to do. Now you need to develop a strong, clickable headline.
Too many people skip this step or decide to use something cute, but please don't make this mistake. Your headline can make or break the success of your blog post - the headline is often the only thing people see before deciding to read your post or move on to the next one. Your headline has to reel the reader in, quickly conveying what the article is about and why they should care.
To craft the perfect headline, follow these steps:
Step 1: Familiarize yourself with winning headline formulas
If creating headlines is a new experience for you, it may be comforting to know that most click-worthy headlines follow time tested formulas. A simple Google search for "headline formulas" will yield thousands of articles on this topic, but, when I want to go back to basics I still refer to CopyBlogger's eBook titled "How to Write Magnetic Headlines."
These headline writing tips can be tremendously helpful for stimulating your creativity, but sometimes you just want to know what works. In that case, look no further than BuzzSumo's latest research:
Step 2: Brainstorm a list of possible titles
Knowing the formulas and actually crafting great headlines, however, are two different things. So, next you need to brainstorm a list of potential titles.
Come up with as many as possible - taking care to include your keyword and a promise for what the reader will gain.
Step 3: Run your list through a headline analyzer tool
When you have exhausted your ideas, use a headline analyzer tool to see how you did. This will help you come up with additional titles, new configurations and narrow down your list to the best option(s).
If you happen to finish this process with several great headlines, all the better - use them when promoting your blog on social media. If one does exceptionally well, you can always go back and adjust your original title.
That's it - you're finally ready to turn your blog post idea into reality. Using your title as a guide, develop an outline to steer the creation of your post, and to ensure that you deliver on your promise to the reader.
The competitive research you gathered will help you cover all the important points, but be sure to add a couple of your own. When you're finished, craft a meta description that (once again) includes your keyword and you're done.