In the content-marketing world, the most successful businesses are those that produce the highest-value content — which is almost antithetical to the popular notion that quantity is what really matters.
By producing better content, you’ll be building a better reputation and earning far more links and shares per post. So, even though you’ll invest more time and money into your work, it should, on average, pay off.
Original research, the art of gathering or producing entirely new information for your audience, is one of the best ways to improve the quality of your work. The problem, however, is that original research is costly, in terms of both time and money. You’ll either pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to conduct the necessary research, or you’ll invest dozens of hours to do it yourself.
Is there any way around this, or are you stuck making the investment?
Why original research is so important
To start with, let’s examine why original research is important in the first place:
Novelty. People love to see and read new things. Sure, it’s easy and cost efficient to recycle existing ideas with subtle new twists, but it’s always more exciting for your customers to encounter something they’ve never seen before. Original research gives audiences this opportunity, introducing them to a concept or hypothesis they’ve never encountered. And offering something new also highlights your business as a thought leader in the industry — since you’ll be the first one to cover it.
Value.The next advantage of original research is that the data you produce will have some measurable value for the people reading it. For example, if you publish a home buyer’s guide with new data about real estate price fluctuations, people will be able to use it to make smarter real estate investments. Empirical research is objective, and therefore more trustworthy.
Legacy. The value of your original research will last a long time; depending on the nature of your research, it could be valuable for many years. Throughout that time, you’ll gradually accumulate more links, shares and comments, turning your one-time piece of content into a perpetual traffic-generating machine.
Understanding these fundamental values of original research will allow you to make better judgments and set appropriate priorities when you’re determining the budget, direction and execution of your campaign. As long as you can preserve the novelty, value and legacy relevance of your data, you can feasibly cut costs and still see long-term benefits.
Here are five strategies to help you conduct original research faster and less expensively:
1. Look for data that already exists.
The internet’s a big place, with lots of resources to inspire and guide you. Rather than trying to pluck entirely new data sets out of the sky, turn to resources that already exist. For example, if you’re trying to publish statistics on small business websites, you could collect a sample group from small business websites you find on your own, and use their sites to inform your research.
You could also opt to conduct a “review” of existing studies, consolidating several existing studies into one convenient package for your audience.
2. Conduct surveys.
Surveys are always an inexpensive option for original research. Within your audience, each individual will spend five to 10 minutes on your survey, but you’ll only have to spend time at the end of the survey period, reviewing the information you’ve gathered.
If you have an email list or a sizable following on social media, you can reliably get enough responders to justify a survey; otherwise, you may want to consider buying a list or conducting the survey in a public place. If you have trouble getting responses, incentivize participation by offering, say, a gift card.
3. Delve into your personal metrics.
Instead of looking outward, you can publish original research based on data you’ve gathered for your own site and business. For example, perhaps you’re a marketing firm studying the conversion rates of blog posts. You could examine the metrics you’ve gathered so far, conduct an experiment and measure how your experiment changed your results. As long as you’re okay with publishing this information, it’s an inexpensive and unobtrusive way to inform your readers.
4. Ask around.
If you’re stuck, ask other business owners in your professional network for information you can use in an original research report. They may have access to data that you don’t; in this case, you could join forces and work together to create a finished piece, benefitting both your brands. You could also conduct more qualitative surveys — asking for opinions and recommendations — and publish your findings accordingly.
5. Divide up the work.
If you’re trying to reduce the costs of content production, you can always divide up the work, distributing small chunks among your team. For example, you could ask that each member of your team look up information on 10 local companies, or spend one hour each week, yourself, finding new information.
This way, no single person in your organization has to spend much time, and soon, you’ll have access to a wealth of new data. However, if you use this strategy, you’ll need to ensure that each member of your team uses the same procedures and formatting; otherwise, you’ll cause more headaches for yourself.
Original research doesn’t have to be exclusive to major firms with massive budgets, or to specialists in analysis. Even small business owners and modest marketing teams can make use of these strategies to bring more relevant, original information to their audiences. Aim to produce at least one new landmark piece of original research every quarter, and soon you’ll develop a reputation as a true leader in your industry.