Writing web articles or blogs that have a chance of ranking in Google and other search engines requires a proper content research strategy.
In this tutorial I will show you my process to research like a pro.
Before we start, however, I am assuming that at this point you have identified the keyword or topic you will be tackling.
So now, it’s time to roll your sleeves up and get cracking with some proper research before starting to write your article.
Here is the Table of Contents for this tutorial.
- Why is research important
- Blog Research Tools I use
- Research Content Article Structure
- How to Research Content topics
- My 6 Sources for Content Research
Why is Research Important in writing for the Web
When you do some research before you post an article you are giving yourself a better chance of covering all the relevant sub-topics that relate to your main keyword.
This is important from an SEO standpoint because search engines will favor those articles that give a more complete coverage of a topic.
From your research you will also be able to identify what type of article to write, how long it should be, and what level of quality you need, to have the best piece of content on the internet.
Note: For the Research and Publishing tutorials I will be using, as an example, a content piece I have on my own website.
I will be researching, writing, and publishing this post while I build these tutorials so that I can show you my process, step-by-step, with images and the final outcome.
The Keyword I chose for this example is ‘WordPress Gifs’.
Blog Research Tool
For my research and planning process I use two main tools, AHRefs and Dynalist.
I use AHrefs for identifying keyword metrics and finding websites which are ranking for these keywords and what related long tail keywords these competitors rank for.
On the other hand, I like to use Dynalist to document the key points and prepare the skeleton structure of each article I publish.
Those of you who followed my WordPress Tutorials might remember that we already used this tool to document and help set up our website structure.
For the research process, I open a new Dynalist sheet and in the Heading section I insert the Draft title of my Article.
I like to put a number in front of the title so that when I see an overview of all my lists in Dynalist, I can order them by number and put the latest ones at the top.
Content Research Outline
Once I have my new Dynalist document titled, I will start inserting the structural outline of my research steps in bullet points.
Which Keyword are your targeting?
In the first bullet point on Dynalist, I include the main Keywords around which I will be building the content article.
Which Content Template to Use
Next, I need to identify which Content template I will be using and jot it down in a separate bullet point.
Is this going to be a detailed study type article, a listicle, a Q&A post, or a How-To article?
To identify which type of article I will be writing, I Google the main keyword and analyze the layout of the top 3 results that come up.
If you are targeting visitors from another country from where you’re based in, make sure to use the Google search of your visitors’ country of origin. For example, for US audiences go to https://www.google.com/?gl=us&hl=en&pws=0&gws_rd=cr to search google in the US.
Tip: If you have invested in AHRefs you can just type in the KW there instead of using Google. AHRefs will show you the top 10 results for each keyword in that country, within its Keyword Explorer’ section.
As you can see from the above image, when I type in the keyword ‘WordPress gifs’ Google is showing me that the top results are Q&A Type posts.
This is evident from the way the Title is written, with the top-ranking results starting with How.
I will document this in my second bullet point on Dynalist, so that I know which template to follow when I come to write the article.
How Long Should the Article Be?
For the third bullet-point in my Dynalist, I will include the target length for my article. Meaning, the number of words I will need to write.
You can find this estimate by checking the length of the articles that are ranking in the first page of Google search.
I usually check the top 3.
Tip: I also check AHRefs ranking results for my keyword and look for the one with the lowest DR.
DR is AHRefs Domain Rating function. This gives an indication of the site’s strength from an SEO perspective.
I’m looking for the lowest DR, because an article’s ranking will depend partly on the site’s SEO strength (DR) and partly on the quality of the article. This means that some articles can rank just because they are published on a very authoritative and strong website.
On the other hand, the result that is showing the lowest DR is probably ranking because the article itself is extremely well written and not because the website is strong. So, I will want to research how this article was written, including how long it is, what keywords it included, how it is sub-divided in sections, etc.
To find the number of words in a web article, you can use two options.
- Through an extension on your Chrome Browser, or
- by copying the page content into the Hemingway website.
Using Extension for Word Count
Install the extension ‘Article Word Counter’ into your chrome browser. This will show you the number of words on every page you visit.
Using Hemingway Website
Alternatively, if you prefer not to add more extensions to your browser, you can copy the text from the website and paste it in the Hemingwayapp.
To research how long my article should be, I took into consideration the top 3 results showing on Google’s first page, and also the result with the lowest DR.
When I analyzed these results, I first confirmed they were addressing the exact same query I intended to write about. I then checked their word count and found that they range between 900 and 3,000 words long.
Given the data I collected I decided that my content piece should be around 3,000 words long if I want it to cover all the main sections and try to be the best and most complete content out there.
Now that I have collected the initial research information, here’s a snapshot of my Dynalist bullet points which I created up to now.
How do You Research Content Topics?
In the next phase I will show you my process to research content topics before writing an article.
The research you need to do for writing your articles is not really that complicated. It’s just a matter of collecting information about the topic or query you are going to tackle.
In the first part of the research, all I usually do is collect the information.
This process helps me understand what the main sub-topics are and gives me better insights into the general topic. This is especially useful where I am not very familiar with the topic.
By the end of this stage in my research process, I usually feel much more prepared and knowledgeable about the topic, just by reading through some of the articles I collected.
I am outlining this because doing the research may sometimes feel like a waste of time, especially if you already know something about the subject matter. However, when you invest the time in doing good research, you are arming yourself with the knowledge to prepare an outstanding piece of content later down the line.
Keep in mind that content quality is and will keep becoming extremely important as Google’s algo is improved to recognize the best content to serve its users.
Having the best possible content on the web will eventually pay off.
You’ll also realize that because of the research you are doing in this stage, once it’s time to write the actual article, it practically writes itself because you have so much information already stored in your brain.
Tip: In this research stage we are going to concentrate purely on the findings. Do not worry about sorting the findings, or setting the article outline just yet. Keep it simple and just concentrate on absorbing what your research is showing you, and jotting down any important points.
Now that that’s out of the way, let me show you where I collect information for my research.
Sources for Content Research
The research info will be collected from 5 main sources. The process for collecting this information will be done in the following chronological order.
- Researching Content on Google Search Engine
- Researching Content on Related Articles found during previous step
- Checking the ‘People Also Ask’ Section in Google SERP
- Researching content on YouTube
- Researching Social Media Communities
Let’s go into detail on each of these.
1. Researching Content on Google Search Engine
Google is a major source of information for our subject topic. When you query the main keyword in Google, you will be presented with a curated list of what the search engine believes to be the best articles about the topic.
I use these articles to start my research because they help me learn more about the topic and discover all the sub-topics that the various articles are including.
In this step, I will be jotting down, on my Dynalist, the most important points I come across.
Here’s the step-by-step process I follow.
Document Relevant Websites URLs
I start by opening my Dynalist. The same document I used before, where I already inputted the Draft Title, Keyword, type of article and expected length.
I create my next bullet point, which I will title as SERP (Search Engine Results Page).
Next, I open Google Chrome in a separate window and start Googling my target keyword.
In the next few minutes, I will be clicking through the top relevant results (those which seem more relevant to my query).
Next, I copy the URLs of all the websites I opened and paste them in my Dynalist under the SERP section.
Document Findings from Top ranking Websites
In the next section of my Dynalist, which I will title Notes, I am going to include the findings that I notice while reading through these articles.
What am I looking for here?
I start reading through the articles and learn as much as possible about the topic. I identify things like:
- From what angle are they tackling the topic?
- What sub-topics are they including?
- What is the main question or issue they are trying to solve?
- What is the User Intent they are trying to satisfy (why is the user searching for this query)?
- Is there a particularly unique way they are presenting their advice or results?
- What sources do they quote, if any?
- What related pages or articles do they link to?
- What type of images are they including?
- Are they going very deep into the topic or just skimming the surface?
- Do they have videos in the article?
- Do they get qualified persons to give their opinion or write the article for them?
- What is the conclusion they arrive at?
- Are they suggesting a particular strategy that is unique to them?
- Are there any useful tips or actionable items they are mentioning?
- Are they promoting a product or service within the article?
- Anything else I feel I should jot down so that I can consider it for my own article.
Remember, the idea here is not to blatantly copy content from other articles.
We are just taking inspiration and finding relevant sub-topics that we can then expand on with our own ideas and concepts.
Here is an example of what I took into consideration on my Dynalist for the ‘WordPress GIFs’ article I am researching:
- The URLs of the best sites I found in Google search results (including sub-URLs of other relevant pages within the same site).
- A list of the sub-topics I come across. Took note of how they use Headings and how they divide the topics in their article.
- Noted new concepts, tips or ideas that seem unique.
- Listed down any products or services that they are mentioning which is relevant to the customer intent and which I could recommend and review.
- I list any follow-up questions that come to my mind as I read the articles. I will Google these questions later to find an answer.
- Noted any good infographic I come across. Would it make sense to have a unique infographic for my article?
- I take note of any features they include in their article that can be helpful for readers, such as Highlight Boxes with Important Points, Top Boxes, Bullet Point Lists, etc.
- What videos are they including if any? (I note the YouTube channel they are taking them from).
- I list down any studies, journals, or other sites they quote from, or refer to (if it’s related to a relevant concept I want to explore further).
- Are they concluding with an action point, some advice, a list of preferred products or services?
I do this for all the results that come up on Google’s first page for my Keyword and keep jotting points on my list.
Note: If you don’t find enough relevant articles on Google’s page 1, keep browsing on page 2 of Google’s search results.
During this research phase, it’s important that you do not go down a rabbit hole of information that never ends.
For this reason, I try and set myself some limits.
For example, I may decide that I will research a maximum of 8 sites for the first stage. Sometimes I also put a timer in and set it for 1 or 2 hours. That’s the limit I want to dedicate for the first part of my research.
This is something that depends on the complexity of the topic, on the time you have available, on success in research findings etc. So, it’s up to you, what limits you want to set, if any.
Tip: I suggest you don’t set any limits for your first and second research attempts. This way you can take your time and follow the process properly. Get into the rhythm and find your own technique and flow.
Once you master the research process, you might decide to start setting some time limits for yourself.
Here’s my updated Dynalist showing the points I took down for my WordPress Gifs article.
2. Researching Content on Related Articles found in Previous Step
In the second part of my research, I go through the related websites I found in my previous step.
These are the reference links I came across during my website reviews in the previous research step. I only go through those which seemed relevant or interesting enough to warrant further investigation.
As I go through these sites, I keep jotting down notes on my Dynalist, following the same process I did in the previous step. Taking down any observations or ideas that I come across which are unique or new to me.
In this part, I might come across other links that are relevant, so I jot them down and visit them also.
Once again, this could be a never-ending loop of sites, so I set a time limit for myself.
Tip: the main Keyword, or query you are trying to address in your article should always be at the back of your mind when doing the research.
Try and not to deviate into articles that don’t have much to do with the topic in question.
In some cases when I come across a sup-topic on which I can go in a lot more detail, I take note of this sub-topic and consider it for a stand-along article in the future.
3. Check the ‘People Also Ask’ Section in Google SERP
As part of my content research process, I like to check what other search queries Google is suggesting.
In the Google Search Results page, there are two sections displaying search query suggestions from Google.
The first one, in the middle of the results page, is the ‘People also ask’ section. This shows what related questions most people search for.
Further down in the Google Results Page (usually at the end of the page) they display another suggestion box, this time showing ‘Related Searches’.
Both these suggestions boxes can be used to find ideas of relevant sub-topics that you can include in your articles.
In my case, after checking these 2 boxes, I have included the following points in my Dynalist.
4. Researching Content on YouTube
In the next phase of my content research, I will move away from Google search engine and look at other sources, starting with YouTube.
YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world, after Google.
It is a useful part of your research because the video content results found on YouTube, are often quite different from the text content found in Google.
One of the reasons for this is that many videos on YouTube contain practical advice on how to do things which are much easier conveyed in video then they would be in written form.
So, YouTube offers us an opportunity to find new information, in the research phase, which we didn’t find on Google.
Side note: I find that the content on YouTube is often much more detailed and professional than the same content on websites. The reason for this could be that to produce a proper video you need time and money.
Since they are investing more, then they will conduct proper research for the video. On the other hand, it only takes a few minutes to write a crappy piece of article on a website.
Another thing to keep in mind, is that the content on a website can easily be updated or amended later, while with YouTube video, once you publish it, you will not be able to amend it.
The Content Research step on YouTube will be similar to the first two research steps. In other words, I go through the YouTube videos and jot down relevant ideas, tips, recommendation etc.
The only difference here is how to find relevant videos. This is my step-by-step process.
First, I go to YouTube and put in my Keyword in the search bar.
For a YouTube search you don’t need to put in your exact query term. Play around with a few different search queries but try and keep your main Keyword included in each query.
I will open the first result that comes up, and start watching the video, while at the same time jotting down notes on my Dynalist.
I put ‘YouTube Search’ as heading for this section on my Dynalist.
Remember to copy the URLs of the YouTube videos and paste them on your Dynalist just in case you need to go back to them at a later stage.
Tip: When watching YouTube videos for research you might want to speed them up slightly.
To do this, go to the settings icon, found under the video, and click on it. You will see Playback Speed as one of the options in the settings list.
Click on this and adjust the speed to 1.25 or 1.5. This way you will still be able to understand everything that they are saying on the video, but you will consume it much faster and save some time.
When I’m conducting YouTube research, I only need to watch the video for what is relevant. So, if the video digresses into another area, which is not important to me, I tend to skip ahead onto the next section of the video.
In 2020 YouTube introduced chapters within their video progress bar. Some of the latest videos now have this feature, where progress bar is split into the different chapters of the video.
This makes it super easy to skip onto the next section. Just hover your mouse over the different sections of the progress bar and the chapter title will come up.
Another tip I can recommend is to switch on the subtitles of the video. It helps me understand the video and I can also go through it faster.
Once you’re ready from the first video, skim through the rest of the results that come up in YouTube and click on any other video thumbnails which seem relevant.
Once again, make sure you don’t go down a rabbit hole while doing your YouTube research. With the thousands of YouTube videos available, you could easily spend hours going through these.
I like to set myself a time limit and/or a pre-defined target number of videos that I will be watching. This way I stop when the time runs out or once I watch 5 videos, for example.
Here are the extra points I included in my Dynalist from the YouTube research.
5. Researching Content on Social Media Communities
The next phase of my content research process will be done on social media.
The advantage of social media and their communities is that you can find a lot of practical feedback and opinions from people who are actually engaged on a daily basis within the topic you are researching.
They might not have a website to share their knowledge on, but they have a social media platform where they can share their thoughts and tips.
What I like about social media, is that people tend to share anecdotes or personal tips that can be really helpful for your readers.
Obviously, you must be careful about what you read on Social Media groups, as you there’s a lot of noise to sift through.
The main Social Media platforms I like to use for my research are Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, depending on the subject matter in question
Using Facebook Groups for Content Research
The first type of social community I like to look at is Facebook groups. This is one of my favorite places to find useful information when I’m creating content.
Go on Facebook and do a search for something related to your niche.
From the results that come up, choose groups that have a high number of members and active engagement within the group (meaning, regular posts from members).
For example, for my research on WordPress GIFs I searched Facebook for the term ‘WordPress’.
I found quite a few WordPress groups with plenty of members. Now let’s see if I find anything relevant to my query in these groups.
If the Groups are public, you can search directly within them by clicking on the magnifying glass and inputting your search query.
In most cases however you’ll have to apply to join a group. Very often they will ask a few basic questions in the application process. These are not complicated questions and the reason they ask them is mostly to avoid automated bots getting into their groups.
Once I’m accepted in the group, I do a search by clicking on the group’s search icon to find posts that are relevant to the keyword I’m writing about.
If I don’t find any information that already exists in the group chat, I usually post a question directly within the group.
So, for example, in this case, I can post ‘Hi guys, what are your favorite research methods for creating a blog post on your sites?’.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to get actively involved in the groups and communities of these Social Platforms. You could end up making valuable connections that will help you out on any future content you have planned.
I never mention that I am asking questions to publish it on an article or on a website. People might think that I have an alternative motive for asking these questions and they won’t help as much.
Remember to document your Social Media Research in Dynalist.
For any relevant posts I find in these groups, I copy the link of the Post into my Dynalist. To get the link of any Facebook post, all you need to do is, right-click on the date of the post and click on ‘copy link address’ from the drop-down options.
Using Reddit for Content research
The second social media platform I use for my research is Reddit.
I go into Reddit and type my keyword into their search bar. This will bring up a few subreddits that I can join.
What I’m looking for here are the Reddit Posts, rather than the Reddit sub-groups.
There are two types of posts on Reddit,
- a link to an article from a website, or
- discussion threads.
I’m not interested in the first type since I already researched websites in my Google research (first step).
What I’m looking for is reddit discussion threads where people submit their own feedback or opinions and engage in an active discussion with other members.
Here I can find some valuable source of information for my article.
The Reddit search results page also shows the number of comments each post has. This is a good indicator of how engaged the community is within that post.
Another good thing about Reddit is that people can upvote the answers in the thread. So, you will find the best answers (i.e., those with the most upvotes) at the top of the thread.
You can also sort the thread posts by Relevance, by Most Comments, by Hot Topics or by New Topics.
Apart from this, you can also adjust the settings to show only results published within a certain timeframe. For example, you can choose all posts within the past year, month, week etc.
Using Other Social Media Platforms for Content Research
Other Good Social Media Platforms I sometimes use for my research include:
LinkedIn: I mainly use LinkedIn when the website I’m working on is more of a technical or professional nature.
Pinterest: This platform is all about sharing images, so any topic that is represented well though an image can be found here, such as training, fitness, recipes, design tips, furnishing, home-makeover etc.
Pinterest can be a source of inspiration if I’m thinking of including infographics for my site. However, the images themselves can also give me ideas on points to write about in my article.
Any good points, questions, ideas, or sub-topics I come across though these social media channels I will jot down on my Dynalist.
I always jot down the URLs of the social groups or threads from where I got the ideas, just in case I need to refer back to them at a later stage when I’m actually writing my article.
6. Researching Content from Other Sources
In this day and age, where we can get access to loads of information from the internet, we are quick to forget that there are other sources out there.
The only problem is that they’re not a click away!
Now the following research methods I am going to highlight are a bit more time-consuming, however when I’m writing a post for a highly competitive keyword, I like to go the extra mile in my research so that I can offer a content piece that really stands out, and that cannot be found anywhere else on the web.
My go-to resources in this case are:
When I start a new website, especially if it’s in a more specialized niche, I like to buy a couple of good books about the topic in question.
By reading these books before starting the content on my site, I familiarize myself on the topic, especially if it is a completely new topic for me.
This helps me to understand better what I should be looking for in my research.
Where possible, I prefer to buy a soft copy of these books, on Kindle, for example.
Kindle allows me to easily bookmark, highlight or add my own comments to certain sections on the book, which I can then come back to when doing my research.
My preferred source for finding books is Amazon, especially because they offer you the Kindle software for free.
Research Study from the Library
My local library gives me access to various Journals and Studies that I can refer to for my research.
I use this method when I want to create long-form Research Study Type posts, which requires me to analyze data and statistics on a particular topic.
There are also websites where one can get this information, however these usually require a paid subscriptions.
My go to site is Statista.
This site offers free statistics on a limited number of areas, but if you want to get access to their full library you will need to get their paid subscription.
This can be quite expensive (on average at $600/year), and unfortunately Statista does not offer monthly payment option.
Talking to Professionals
You could also reach out to professionals and experts within your niche and arrange for an interview with them.
Some of these professionals might not have the patience or time to dedicate to you unless you pay them.
From my experience, however, you will always find someone within the professional community who is looking for more exposure, especially the young up-and-coming talent.
I usually convince them to sit down for a free interview by telling them that they will be featured on my website, and I will put a link to their LinkedIn profile.
Works like a charm!
Getting Opinions from friends and family member
You would be amazed how much people are willing to help out, especially if it’s a topic they are passionate about.
Bring up the topic while talking with friends, family and colleagues and see what they have to say. You can find some rare gems in these conversations.
Not only can they give you their own feedback, but they might know of an industry expert that they can introduce you with.
So, take a few minutes to get away from your computer and think about the people you know who can help you with your article. Share what you’re doing with friends and family, so they keep you in mind if they ever come across something or someone relevant to your niche.
Get Cracking on Your Content Research
I showed you my process, now it’s your turn.
Go through the Research steps I mentioned above and try to find and extract concepts, opinions and ideas that will help you create a better article.
The more detailed your research, the more angles, and sub-topics you will manage to include in your findings.
Also, don’t be afraid to test things out for yourself.
If you’re preparing a How-To article, for example, try it out yourself first. As they say, the devil is in the detail.
You could come across certain pitfalls which you want to mention. You could come across solutions for certain intricacies that you can offer as tips. By including your personal take and solutions, you article will be that much more unique.
Note: Feel free to organize your Dynalist Research Points with Headings and categories as you see fit. Whatever makes it easier for you to navigate through the list at a later stage.
A final point I want to mention, is to be careful trusting certain information you come across in your research and always understand if the information is substantiated with facts.
Keep in mind that anyone can put up all sorts of garbage on the internet so make sure the information you get is based on sites that are reliable and trustworthy sources of information.
Once you’re done with your content research phase, it’s time to plan and write your article.
If you’re still on the fence about starting your own WordPress site, then browse through my WordPress tutorials and see how easy it is to set up a website from scratch, with my step-by-step guides.