Using Surveys to Create Unique Content: A Step-by-Step Guide

Good content marketers know that data-backed research is the best way to increase our content’s credibility. We spend hours scouring the internet for the best, most authoritative data to support our arguments.

But wouldn’t it be awesome if other people were citing YOUR research in THEIR content?

The potential benefits of creating your own studies are huge, ranging from earned media coverage in your industry publications to a major influx of high quality backlinks to serious lead generation.

So why do only a handful of content marketing teams conduct their own research projects? I suspect that it’s because the idea of replicating some of the most high quality projects feels nothing short of overwhelming.

The questions the crop up first are usually:

  • What questions should I ask?
  • Where do I find people to take the survey?
  • How do I present the data?
  • How do I know if the data is even accurate?

Fortunately, myself and my colleagues over at SurveyGizmo spend A LOT of our time answering these exact questions. We’ve pulled together years (possibly decades) of survey expertise into this easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide to driving your content creation with surveys and research.

The Power of Survey-Driven Content

The aim of this guide is to break down the survey process into clear and concise steps, but I’m not going to sugar coat it for you; running a high quality survey can be a time consuming project. The good news is that that will be time very well spent.

Each project will earn its own unique “wins,” but some of the best possible outcomes include:

  • Earned media coverage
  • SEO Magic (i.e. backlinks galore)
  • Serious lead generation numbers
  • Easily atomized, reusable content

Before we jump into the steps themselves, let’s examine each of these wins in turn.

Earning Media Coverage With Custom Research

When you uncover a major trend with your survey, people will want to share that discovery with their own audiences. They’ll write about it on their blogs, talk about with their networks, and use it to support arguments in their presentations.

This comes with free, earned coverage in a wide variety of media.

You could even snag some traditional media coverage, complete with requests for interviews, if your research topic is sufficiently mainstream.

Making SEO Magic With Survey Content

All those media mentions come with a secondary benefit: they almost always include a backlink to your published research.

Let’s look at an example to show you what I mean:

Every year the Content Marketing Institute publishes multiple studies about content marketing. A recent one, B2B Content Marketing 2016: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America, was released late in 2015.

CMI has masterfully atomized this piece, so its content is available in multiple places. Let’s look at an article their founder Joe Pulizzi wrote revealing their findings to start our example.

custom research example

(all backlink data is from Majestic SEO)

Since it was published in September 2015, this page alone has received 3,800 external backlinks from 396 Referring domains.

The PDF that Joe references has garnered even more coverage: it has 6,218 external backlinks from 750 referring domains.

Not too shabby.

Proving ROI With Lead Generation

For those of us tasked with driving qualified leads through content, custom research can be a gold mine. You may need to trade some of those shiny backlinks for leads if you put your final report behind a form, but this will make it easier to prove your research’s value to the organization.

One way to walk the fine line between SEO benefit and lead generation is to offer an executive summary or overview of the results without requiring any details in a form.

For those who are looking for more insight via the full study, it’s not unreasonable to ask for their contact information in exchange.

Easily Doing More With Your Content

If you have a full, authoritative study that’s highly interesting to your target audience, consider how many different ways you could distribute that content.

The Content Marketing Institute creates nifty, ultra-shareable graphics like this one:

shareable graphics

They also create Slideshare presentations of the most interesting points, draft multiple blog articles covering the results, and share their findings with their email subscribers.

You can also present the outcomes in a thought-leadership webinar or as a podcast.

And, of course, you’ll be sharing all of this on social media.

A single study can provide dozens of content opportunities, particularly if you plan your questions to make them interesting on their own as well as in the context of the larger investigation.

The Step-by-Step Guide to Driving Your Content with Surveys

Running a content-focused survey can feel overwhelming, but each time you run this type of project, it will become more efficient. Eventually, you’ll be able to produce annual reports that people look forward to seeing and sharing each and every year.

These steps represent a compilation of hundreds of hours of experience from the SurveyGizmo team (and of course we recommend that software as the best option for high quality, cost-effective research), but this guide will translate to any type of tool that works best for your team and project.

Step 1: Determine Your Survey’s Goals and Audience

There are two distinct approaches here, and it’s important that you choose one before you write a single survey question. The purpose of your survey should guide the entire process.

  1. Create a study all about your audience: People love comparing themselves to their peers, and this type of study makes it fun and easy for your audience to indulge in this past time. This will involve accessing your audience directly, which could make the survey process easier or harder depending on the audience (more on this later).
  2. Create a study all about something your audience is interested in: If your audience has shared interests you can help them explore that topic in new and interesting ways through custom research. This approach may be preferable if your audience is elusive or hard to reach.

Step 2: Figure Out How to Reach the Right Respondents

If you choose option one above, hopefully you already know quite a lot about the respondents because they are the audience you regularly create content for. You may also be able to reach them quickly, easily, and cost-effectively through an email campaign.

Keep in mind that people are sometimes hesitant to respond to surveys, so you may want to consider offering audience members an incentive for providing their answers. Also, keep a strict limit on how many of surveys and how often you distribute them to your own audience. The last thing you want is to harass them to the point that they unsubscribe from your email list.

americans tired of surveys

In the case of the second option, creating content based on your audience’s interests, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a ready-made pool of respondents at your fingertips.

Getting Responses Outside Your Audience

Panel companies provide a collection of people who meet particular demographic criteria, and they will complete your survey for a per-response fee. The level of specificity that you need will play a big part in how much a panel costs.

For example, if you want to survey financial advisors in the United States, those people will be fairly common and easy to reach, and therefore a less expensive audience to survey.

If, on the other hand, you’re after financial advisors with careers longer than 15 years who live in the Eastern United States and own a pet, the pool of potential respondents is much smaller and more expensive to access.

When it’s important that respondents fit a highly specific profile, disqualifying questions are vital.

These are questions that you include at the very beginning of a survey, and if someone doesn’t answer correctly, they don’t see any of the subsequent questions.

For the hypothetical financial advisors, we definitely want to ask their profession, length of career, where they live, and whether or not they have pets right at the start. If they don’t fit all of these criteria, we aren’t interested in their response so it’s best for everyone that they get a nice thank you message and go on their way.

Step 3: Design Your Survey

When setting up your survey, you want to balance concerns for your audience’s time with your own needs to collect high quality data. Asking 40 detailed questions without compensating respondents for their time isn’t going to get you very good responses or endear you to your respondents, so be considerate.

avoiding survey fatigue

To fight survey fatigue, you need a thorough understanding of your survey’s goals before you get started; you’ll be able to narrow down your questions by eliminating those that don’t serve the larger aim of the project.

You also want to select questions that are easy on respondents, including radio buttons, checkboxes, and short-answer text boxes. Huge grids, on the other hand, are mentally taxing and will increase the number of people who abandon your survey without completing it.

For a detailed walkthrough of questions to avoid, as well as color choices and other crucial aspects of survey creation, we recommend SurveyGizmo’s free Guide to Great Survey Design.

Step 4: Distribute the Survey and Monitor Results

Once your survey is ready to go, it’s time to send it out into the world. Whether you’ve chosen email, social media, or panels as your data collection method, you’ll want to keep an eye on the project as it proceeds.

If you’re getting high rates of abandonment at a certain point the survey, you may have an error in your logic or in the design of that question.

With advanced tools like SurveyGizmo, you can get email notifications each time someone completes the survey, or you can just check in periodically. You want to ensure that responses are coming in at a good pace and that people who fail the disqualifying question(s) are getting removed from the respondent pool properly.

If you’re using a panel, you’ll also want to check on how long people are taking to complete the survey. Take the survey yourself to get an idea of the average completion time and manually disqualify responses that speed through questions too quickly.

Step 5: Create Eye-Catching Content

Once you’ve got all your responses, you need to pull it together into meaningful, visually appealing results. Charts, graphs, and word clouds are the go-to methods of presenting data, and they should be a big part of your content.

Consider atomizing your content as much as possible. Turn it into a high quality PDF report that you can gate if needed, but don’t forget more bite-sized pieces of content like Slideshares, infographics, blog posts, podcasts, and webinars.

Also, even though your content will be based on time-sensitive data, you can still use it to create content that people will use long after the results come out. Jeff Bullas’ guide to creating evergreen content offers some great suggestions for keeping research results relevant in the long term.

Step 6: Amplify Your Content’s Reach

Last, but certainly not least, you need to spread the word about your research and the content you’ve created with it. To get the most bang for your survey buck, consider any (or all) of these distribution strategies:

  • Guest post: Share your results on relevant industry websites via guest posts.
  • Slideshare: Create some well-designed slides that give a high-level overview of your research project, and drive people to the full gated version with a final call to action slide.
  • Social media: If your budget allows, use some social media advertising to get the word out about your survey results. If not, organic social media work can be just as impactful if your posts are well crafted.
  • Press release: If your results have broad implications, you may get some additional coverages by leveraging a traditional press release.
  • 1:1 sharing: Contact influencers in your niche and share the results with them directly. Don’t ask for them to do anything with it and make sure it’s actually on a topic that’s interesting to them.

A lack of amplification is the downfall of many content marketing efforts. Don’t let it be the reason your amazing survey results don’t get shared with the world.

Are You a Research Veteran? Share Your Wisdom!

We’d love to hear all about your own amazing survey projects and how you use them to drive your content marketing. Give us a shout in the comments.

Ready to try your own survey project? Check out SurveyGizmo’s free 7-day trial option and get started today.

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Andrea Fryrear
About the Author:

Andrea Fryrear

Andrea loves to dissect marketing buzzwords and fads looking for the pearls of wisdom at their cores. Her favorite topic is agile marketing, which she believes holds the key to a more fulfilling (and less stressful) marketing career for individuals and a more powerful marketing department for business. When not scrutinizing the latest agile methodologies, Andrea can be found on the volleyball court, at the park with her two delightful kids, or baking “calorie-free” cookies. Connect with her on Twitter @AndreaFryrear, or on LinkedIn.

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