My content and keyword research was limited to what I saw on search engine results pages (SERPs) for a long time, especially at the beginning of my content writing journey. For instance, I would look at the content ranking for a specific keyword and try to emulate it in my content.
But, as I progressed, I realized a pattern. In addition to being similar to existing top pages, the content needed more expertise and unique perspectives. It quickly became clear that I needed to create content with authority and a voice of its own to stand out.
In this article, I will explain four research methods that help me identify unique takeaways and fill gaps in current ranking pages. These are yours to steal now!
Why only SERP analysis doesn't cut it anymore
Here's what's wrong if you limit your research to analyzing top-ranking pages.
You'll end up creating copycat content
If you search the keyword digital marketing, you'll see ranking pages discussing benefits, approaches, and strategies, but no unique angles or take on the topic. Scanning those pages will limit your creativity.
As a result, you'll create similar content, which Ryan Law, CMO at Animalz, describes as copycat content, a bunch of articles with lookalike titles, headers, and examples.
You won't be able to identify content gaps
As a reader, I often find articles, particularly informational long-form ones offering generic and non-actionable information. For instance, if an article talks about influencer marketing growth, it needs to back it up with statistics, insights from experts, and relevant data points. If these are not addressed, the reader will bounce from the page.
So, if you're looking at top-ranking articles as a guide for your content, your eyes will skip those gaps. It happens because top-ranking pages give you surface-level understanding. You need to expand your research beyond those pages to serve these gaps.
Moreover, suppose you end up ranking for the desired keyword creating such an article. In that case, there is one more issue, which Erin Balsa, Founder of House of Bold, puts well, “Ranking for keywords and driving traffic to a website is pointless if readers are turned off by what they see.”
You won't be able to satisfy the algorithm.
Google's newest E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) update emphasizes creating content by those with real-life experience in that field. Simply curating insights from top-ranking pages may not be enough to have your content recognized by the algorithm.
Consider whose content will be more useful when looking for information on using Notion, a project management tool, to build a to-do list. Would it be someone who compiled an article using already ranked pages or someone with hands-on experience with building to-do list templates or has talked to those who have? The latter individual would likely provide more specific and helpful information.
So, to satisfy the search algorithm, you must provide reliable, trustworthy, and unique information to the reader. You can't create an algorithm and expect to rank at the top. Ultimately, the value your content delivers to the reader matters, not just appeasing the algorithm.
To summarize why you need to diversify your research process, Nebojsa Savicic, Founder of Plainly, made an excellent point, “Google as a search engine acts as a filter for relevant content, it makes sense to see where the quality bar is. But I never focus too much on it because I feel it can lock me in a mindset of just creating slightly better content while my goal is to provide great value to my readers.”
Four tactics to level up your research process
In this section, I will share with you four research methods that I have started using, which helped me find topic ideas, unique angles and insights from subject matter experts. Let’s dive in.
Best for: Finding arguments, case studies, and questions related to a specific topic.
LinkedIn has become a popular platform in the past few years, with many people publicly sharing their experiences, knowledge, and insights.
How to use it
Step 1: Go to LinkedIn’s search bar and enter the keyword you want to search for.
Step 2: To narrow down and fasten your research, use advanced filters such as industry, recency of the content, company name, as shown in the image below.
Step 3: You can see relevant posts once you apply the filters. Browse through them and pick the most helpful to you.
Sometimes I remember seeing an interesting post by a specific creator, so I usually search for posts from that creator. So, for this article, I searched for Ben Goodey’s profile for the keyword SEO.
And LinkedIn didn’t disappoint, as I found this interesting post by him.
His post made a strong point that SEO is and will be important. If you're writing an article about the future of SEO, this post would be an excellent addition.
LinkedIn's comment section is also full of unique insights. When I scrolled through the comment section on Ben’s post, I found an interesting conversation on Google's new AI interface for result pages that was solid input for that article.
2. Google Alerts
Best for: Finding the latest reports, trends, or industry news.
Google Alerts give a variety of sources that might not be ranking but still have valuable content.
How to use it
Enter the keyword you want to get alerts—for example, content marketing, influencer marketing, SEO, etc. Once done, Google will send you curated content for the chosen keyword in your inbox at your preferred frequency.
I got this email alert for influencer marketing keywords and found some interesting links, such as reports and industry news. With these alerts, you can identify and save relevant links in your swipe file and return to this during your research process.
Best for: Identify questions, arguments, and related resources.
How to use them
Joining relevant communities and keeping a tab on the conversations has helped me find some unique angles. For this, make sure you are part of active communities in your industry. Some marketing communities you can join include Superpath, Email Geeks, and Demand Curve.
Then, I search for the keyword and instantly get an overview of questions and insights offered by community members.
Here’s one interesting question I got from the Superpath community when I searched for the keyword content metric.
Eric Doty replied to the answer, which was interesting and unique as it comes from his experience. Also, he shared the screenshots too! (It isn’t easy to find such takes among top-ranking pages!)
So, you can easily quote this in any article regarding content metrics. (Make sure to ask the person politely before you quote them.)
Another way to use communities is to turn to your network. If you are active on social channels and have built an engaged audience, they will be your source of information.
This approach is applicable across all channels, be it social media, communities, or forums. Engage with your audience by asking them questions and sharing their perspective as insights from which your readers can benefit.
Best for: Understanding a topic in depth with interesting visuals. Getting a snapshot of what’s happening on the web. (Applicable if you sign-up for a newsletter that does roundup content)
How to use them
Sign-up for and read relevant and industry-specific newsletters – and if possible, assign categories to each newsletter based on its type and content. It will help the research process be super smooth.
For instance, I have a content marketing label; within that, I have sub-labels for each creator. This categorization makes it super easy for me to research as I can search for a topic shared by a specific expert.
The research process is similar. Type the keyword in the search bar and browse through the newsletter that shows up and pick ideas and examples from the relevant ones.
I often go to a specific label, say SEO, if I’m writing about topics related to it and search within that to find more relevant ideas.
For this article, I searched for the keyword ‘persona’ and got a helpful newsletter edition of the MKT1 newsletter. While scrolling, I found a helpful link that led me to a more detailed newsletter on the same topic. (How helpful!)
Another way I use newsletters is to find examples.
Almost every newsletter offers something unique, such as job postings, interesting tweets, unique industry insights, or referral links.
So, when I had to write an article on newsletter ideas, I instantly browsed through the newsletter and found a few examples to add to the article, one of which was a referral link for Aleyda Solis's newsletter, SEOFOMO.
Power up your research process
Remember, the quality of your input determines the value your content will deliver. I’d encourage you to go beyond the top rankings pages and tap into social media channels, newsletters, Google Alerts, and communities.
Here are a few tips from my end to ease this process even more:
- Save links whenever you come across them. Better even drop them into your swipe file and organize it well.
- Build a network of people you can reach out to ask for quotes and curate insights.
- Keep yourself updated about the emerging trends and updates in your industry.
- Bookmark a few favorite resources (websites, podcasts, webinars) that you often refer to. Organizing relevant links into groups in your bookmarks is an even better solution. This way, you can access all the links in a group with just one click.
Finally, remember that research is never a one-time event. You’ll find interesting ideas to add at every stage of your content writing journey. So, allow yourself the flexibility to do that.