• Marketers spend a lot of time trying to get inside the heads of their audience. We build buyer personas, invest in market research, and pore over analytics in the quest to understand our customers better. But one of the best ways to learn what your audience really thinks is to ask them directly with a survey.

    By fielding your own research and analyzing the survey data, you can also turn the results into a powerful content strategy that earns your business greater exposure, mentions (and links) around the web, and improved SEO.

    Launching a survey can benefit you in two key ways. It enables you to:

    • Create a content strategy based on the original research to earn links and increase your website’s authority
    • Learn insights about your audience’s actual interests and needs, so you can create more relevant content

    Is Creating a Survey Right For Your Business?

    As with anything that brings great benefits, creating a survey and using the information you get from it effectively comes with a cost. If you hire a firm to conduct the survey for you and deliver a tidy report with all the results, the cost can range from $20,000 to $100,000 — sums that are simply out of reach for many businesses.

    But before you despair, Michele Linn, Co-Founder of Mantis Research, has good news for people who can’t afford to hire an external resource. “I talk to a lot of marketers, that are doing their own research,” she told me.

    Some of the most commonly used survey software like SurveyMonkey and Google Forms are free, so if your business wants to do a survey project on your own, you don’t even need a financial budget. The tradeoff is that you will need time.

    Michele estimates that businesses should plan on committing at least 80 hours to developing their strategy, designing the survey, and producing reports – not counting the time it takes to learn to do everything. Andy Crestodina, who produces an annual Blogger Survey for Orbit Media, says the full process takes them 150 hours.

    The main thing you need to figure out to determine if a survey is right for your business is whether or not the cost in time or money is something you’re willing to commit.

    Creating Content Based on Your Survey Data

    SEO professionals rank original research as the most efficient way to earn links and boost your rankings.

    If you’re conducting a survey with SEO and press coverage in mind, Michele recommends making sure you choose a topic for your research that accomplishes three main things:

    • It’s interesting to your audience. That includes both your brand’s main target audience and people like journalists and bloggers if you want to get coverage.  
    • It aligns with your brand story. It should relate to the topics you generally write about and your overall content strategy.
    • It covers new ground. For people to care and refer back to your research, you want to provide survey data no one else has.

    From there, start writing questions, but be careful how you word them.

    “Your job as a researcher isn’t to get data to validate your story, it’s to be curious and to test and to see what the results actually are,” Michele points out.

    She recommends, before you ever release your survey to the public, putting dummy data into your survey draft to get an idea of what the answers will look like. That will help you figure out the story your survey data will tell and craft the right questions. After all, the story the data tells is what will matter most when it comes time to publish and promote your results.

    Speaking of promotion, Michele recommends strategizing how you’ll get the most from your results early on.

    “Put together an amplification plan of all the different assets you can create from your research,” she says, but have a “home base” for your findings that all the links that cite your survey will point back to so you get the full SEO benefits.

    When creating content to share and promote your results, make sure you tell a story—don’t just provide numbers and data points. Tell your readers what the numbers mean and why it matters.

    Take Orbit Media’s annual blogging survey as an example. To publicize the research, Orbit Media creates a detailed blog post filled with images and insights from the survey to share the results. This is the “home base” for the research.

    Andy Crestodina, the company’s co-founder, promotes the survey by granting interviews on relevant sites around the web such as Search Engine Journal and Copyblogger. This content strategy pays off. Orbit Media has earned over 170 links to the blog post sharing their research and gained dozens of new email subscribers because of it.  

    Use Survey Data to Create More Relevant Content

    The press and SEO benefits are big, but getting answers from your target audience about what they think and feel on a relevant topic can strengthen your overall content strategy moving forward. Their answers become data points that help your team understand your audience better.

    “By having that data and having everyone on your team understand that data — it will start getting infused into your stories and within your actual strategy,” explains Michele.

    Your survey data can help you pinpoint the actual problems your audience has and the information they’re most interested in. In addition to using content to highlight the survey results themselves, you can also begin creating content based on what the data shows your audience cares about.

    The Content Marketing Institute conducts research surveys every year. In addition to publishing the research, they also release podcasts, craft blog posts, and host webinars based on the topics that come up in the survey.

    The research results help them gain PR and links, but just as importantly, the insights they get from their survey data help fuel useful content topics for the rest of the year.

    If your current content strategy isn’t based on actual data, then you’re stuck guessing at what your audience wants to hear. But once you have that data, you can create content that tackles the subjects and answers you know they care about. That inevitably leads to better results. Having the data is just step one though. To learn how to create data-driven content that engages your audience and gets better results, make sure to register for RampUp on the Road New York and attend the session, “Winning at Information-Based Creative.”

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