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Content Writing Research. Is it Important? And How To Get It Right.

magnifying glass scanning computer screen. content writing research. code. flowers

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Content writing research is a bit like putting together a puzzle. You turn all the pieces up so you can see the colors, then find the corner pieces and start making sense of the overall picture. Hunt down the biggest patches of color and divvy them into piles of like-for-like. Then only you can begin to put the picture together. Research, keywords, write. After that, you need to edit. And my analogy completely falls apart because editing is the equivalent of breaking up the puzzle and starting at the middle.

Content writing is fun. Content writing research is fun for a specific kind of person. One who likes puzzles and screaming at their computer screen.

Do Search Engines Prefer well-Researched Content?

Your well-researched content will have staying power that sensationalist nonsense doesn't. It's always worth remembering that Google and other search engines are constantly updating their algorithms. As they get better at sifting out the junk content, the more valuable quality content becomes. While sites like Google might not be motivated to reduce misinformation through the goodness of their hearts, it is likely to be motivated by backlash and increased awareness around fake news and misinformation. Google snippets, for example, received a massive amount of blowback. Not only because Google was essentially stealing content but also because the featured snippet was frequently providing wildly false information. I, as a user, noticed how inaccurate the information was, and I'm sure many other users did as well, diluting trust in Google's reliabil

Why Inaccurate, Misleading Misinformation Just Plain Sucks

While researching for this blog, I stumbled on a great example of how misleading google snippets can be. It really highlights how important it is for a content writer to drill down and become content researcher to find accurate information. When I typed into Google, "How much time do content writers spend on research?" I got this snippet response at the top of my page.

"Data from Orbit Media shows that bloggers spend 9.5% of their time on research and planning. For most writers, the bulk of their time gets wrapped up in preparing images, editing, and of course, writing."

I clicked into the article, and from there, I followed the link to the article by Orbit Media and read it. Instead of finding a case study or an aggregation of bloggers' time, I found a blog post detailing the process of ONE blogger who broke down his process and time spent writing one blog post. A blog post where he is "already familiar with the topic, so I don't need to spend a ton of time reading related articles." While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and it's a nice post, it is not a study. It is the process of one blogger. ONE. Citing it as "data from orbit media shows that bloggers…." Is misleading. Mistakes happen, and I'm not looking to call the content writer out, but I will be more hesitant to use them as a source in the future. I'm definitely not going to join their membership program or take their course. Trust has been diluted.

10 Top Tips to Improve Your Content Writing Research Game

two magnifying glass tinted in yellow. searching content

1. Use a VPN

This seems weird, but I really wish I had stumbled on this idea earlier in my career. VPNs are so useful for researchers.

  • Change your location, so your search results are tailored to a specific location. I am South African, but my clients are primarily American. So when I'm doing research, I change my location to American, maybe even a specific city where my client is located or one where they want to target. That way, I can ensure that the SERP results are for the correct region.

  • Hiding your IP helps to mitigate some of the Google bubble. Google personalizes search results based on search history. I found that using a VPN and turning on incognito mode goes some small way to stop this.

2. Don't take information and data at face value

Follow links to their root, and check if the website is reliable. Reverse-search the information to see if anyone has used or debunked it. If the website doesn't have a link to its source, then it's suspect. See if any other sites have reported the same info and whether they have links.

3. Good researchers go past the first page

I often skip straight to page 3 or 4 of the search results. The websites on the later pages might not rank as high in the search engine's algorithm, but that doesn't mean they aren't valuable. Often the best info I find isn't on the first page, which in Google's case, is basically adverts.

4. Don't get caught up in your opinion

I like to use Reddit and Quora to sense-check the general opinion around any given subject. Often, those websites have members who spout nonsense with the utmost confidence, so fact-check them. Still, it's good to know people thinking, and it is often the most informed and entertaining read.

5. Search both sides of an argument

Content writing is hard, AND content writing is easy.

6. Go along for the content research ride:

I love and hate the research spiral. Following links, fact-checking, and finding out everything I've ever believed to be true is a lie. It's a ride. It's fun and horrifying and wrapped up in one.

7. Cite your sources when stating other people's facts and opinions

There is no point in going through all the effort of researching and not including links. Please cite your sources, if only so I can use your content as a reputable source for my content.

8. Don't forget to go to the source

If you are writing an article on Hemmingway Editor, check to see what information Hemmingway Editor offers about their own services. It's honestly weird how easy it is to forget, but somehow it is easy.

9. Ask the right questions using the right keyword

As many SEO specialists spend their days trying to figure out what keywords to use to get their content to rank, researchers spend their days trying to figure out what keywords to use to find the right information.

  • I start simple, who, why, when, what and how and work my way up the basics.

  • Once I have a handle on the basics of my subject, I start getting into the long-tail keywords SEO loves so much. Queries are limited to 32 words on Google, and I like to use them all. I consider it a success when Google only throws up two answers to a query. That's when I know there are no more worlds to concur.

  • Know your filter keywords. When looking for information on writing, I almost always use 'writing a book' followed by my query. When I want statistics, I include 'stats' regardless of the question that follows. When I want negative information, I use negative words and positive words. When I want the reverse.

10. Use misinformation to your benefit

Sometimes misinformation is in itself intriguing. If you can disprove it, then sharing a common misconception makes for an interesting read.

What About Opinion Pieces, They Don't Need Any Research... Do They?

Not all opinion pieces will require research to back up an argument of perspective. Sometimes you are going to need to research to contribute to the actual content. A movie review, for example, will likely need the date the movie came out and the actors, actresses, and directors' names. You might also want to include other people's opinions on the movie, the general public reception at the time of release, and other movies that share traits with the one under review.

To speak with authority on a subject, you will need to understand the various facets of it. Even content that entirely omits any base information will likely need a lot of research. You might not include any of the information you research, but it's the building blocks that support the writing, even if they are invisible. A lighthearted joke or a snarky aside falls flat if it is based on a false premise. So it's always advisable to sense-check any information you might otherwise take as a given.

How To Juggle Opinions and Facts In Your Content Writing

You need to manage opinions and still formulate a well-reasoned, persuasive argument. To do that, you can support your views with facts and expert opinions. If I want to state my case that well-researched content is better—arguably a fact, in my humble opinion—I could cite Google’s increasing emphasis on quality content. And then, I could cite other content writers who agree that research is important.

When I wrote my Grammarly review, I started with the premise that Grammarly annoys me and worked backward from there. I found Reddit pages that dedicated their screen space to insulting the writing assistants' many bad qualities and tested it against other content to see if my innate instinct was correct- Grammarly is annoying. Of course, I use Grammarly and find it incredibly useful, so I had to write both sides of the Grammarly argument to assuage my conscience. TLD: Grammarly is useful, but way overprices and stifles creativity. Use the free version.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Content Writing, and Research

SEO written in yellow against a black star background

A lot of research goes into SEO, and not all of it is done for a single article. Most of the time, a larger SEO strategy is at play, and a good content writer will take that into account.

Keywords research is a massive part of an SEO strategy and a content writer's life. Most content writers will read articles and blog posts to find which keywords and queries are ranking. This is not much of a hardship as we read those articles anyway to find information and opinions to validate and weave into our writing.

You can also use keyword tools like Google keyword planner, Ahrefs, and Semrush. One of the biggest benefits of keywords for a content writer researcher is that it provides inspiration. Keywords can help generate ideas and improve your research.

By the time I start writing, I have at least twenty tabs open on my browser. All of them are invaluable, and I can't bear to part with a single one. Except I have to because this needs to be whittled down into something coherent.

  • Jot down keywords, phrases, ideas, and questions while you research

  • Don't forget to keep your sources saved

  • When you find a valuable website that has good information about your topic, save it

  • Follow the rabbit hole of research. Let one query breed another.

  • Consider what questions and queries a searcher might have

  • Check the 'People Also Ask' (PPA) Google SERP feature and see if the questions factor into your article

Content Writing Is Mostly Research With A Dash of Writing

I never did find a reputable answer to my question, only various writers estimating the time it takes them to research, varying between 30 minutes to hours.

I would estimate I spend at least half my time on research—even when I know the topic well. Maybe I’ll do a breakdown one day like Orbit Media did. My process is wildly different from what they recorded, but then everyone is different. And it depends on the article. Some are going to be more research-heavy than others. When I wrote web pages for a legal website, each page took me hours to research. I love law, I find it extremely interesting, and I even follow a couple of lawyers on YouTube, but I'm South African, and the firm was American—your legal system makes no sense to me.

When I first started writing voice over content, I knew absolutely nothing about it. So it was an uphill climb to wrap my head around the voice booths, conversational voice over versus corporate. I even got into the nitty-gritty around DAW, audio engineering, and the benefits of this microphone over that one. Now when I have to write a voice over page, it's not nearly so complicated because I have my favorite sources of reputable and reliable information. And I have the info neatly packed in my head.


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