The Best Research Tools to Write Killer Content
Katie McKenna Jul 6 2017
The longer I live in Seattle, the deeper my obsession with mountains and all the tools required to enjoy them becomes. One of the first tools I fell in love with when I started mountaineering was an ice axe. An ice axe probably doesn’t sound like something you could love. It’s certainly not warm and fuzzy, and it could definitely be used as a weapon. But hear me out! It’s essential for scrambling and climbing on snow and ice and is jaw-droppingly versatile. It can be used like a walking stick to keep balance, for self-arrest if you fall, and to maintain control when glissading down a slope. It’s literally a lifesaver.
Thinking about how much mountaineering tools make my adventuring life easier, made me wonder what tools I could use to make my work life easier, which is why I came up with a list of the best research tools to create content. If you currently write content and don’t want to drive yourself crazy in the ideation process, here is a list of my favorite online research tools:
In Content Strategy for the Web, Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach write:
“Great content meets users’ needs and supports key business objectives. It keeps people coming back for more.”
When you’re ideating, it’s important to think about what’s going to make people return to your site. One way to do this is by answering people’s questions.
But how do you discover what questions people are asking? If you don’t have the time or budget to interview users, or you just want more ideas, try using Quora. Quora is a website where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users. Its sole purpose is to solve people’s problems by responding to questions, just like you do with the content on your website.
Let’s pretend your company sells coffee beans. If you search “coffee,” it pulls up questions people asked around the topic. The inquiry below is an excellent potential topic to explore on your website or social media platforms:
Try typing in different keywords and seeing what questions come up, some will most likely be potential content topics or help you verify your current ideas.
Answer The Public is another tool that collects questions. But instead of using questions from users within its site, they’re provided by Google & Bing. These questions are put in a shareable, visual list and the data is shown in question, preposition, or alphabetical form, and then exported to a CSV file or as a PNG.
For example, if you search for “hotel” this time, it brings up questions like “What hotel was used in The Shining?” and “Are hotel prices negotiable?”. You can then mold these questions into potential blog posts or content hub pages such as, “Learn About the History of the Hotel That Was Used in The Shining” or “How You Can Save Money By Negotiating Your Hotel Price.”
A search engine’s goal is to match up a searcher’s intent with a quality piece of content that satisfies that purpose. When someone enters a query into the search bar, the engine will attempt to find the most relevant pages to display in its search results.
A great tool for discovering what potential customers are searching for is the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. This tool allows you to research new keywords and ideas using specific targeting features, and filters or broadly related keywords and their search volumes and trends, or you can expand your research to Google product categories or your existing landing pages. Although Google will hide info for certain terms with extremely high volume, not only will the keyword planner tool provide you with the average search volume for specific terms and phrases, but it can also show you how competitive the market is for that query and how expensive a paid search bid might be.
One of our favorite ways to use the Keyword Planner is to find the Wikipedia page for your topic and then plug that into the “Your landing page” field. Some of the keyword ideas from looking up the Wikipedia page for “Hiking” are:
- “hiking boots”
- “walking holidays”
- “backpacking gear”
Once you uncover what real people are searching for, you can either optimize your current content for those keyword phrases or create new content.
In Storytelling for User Experience, Whitney Quesenbery and Kevin Brooks write:
“While brainstorming is a technique that’s been around for a long time and is practiced widely, it is not always as productive as you would like. While it is good to collect all the wild and crazy ideas a team might have, what might be more useful is to have a sort of ‘brainstorming helper,’ something that can trigger creative ideas – or at least ideas that are different and new for that team.”
One of our favorite tools to kick off a brainstorm is Ubersuggest, and the way it works is simple. Type in a keyword, medium (web, images, news, etc.), language and region, and click suggest, and it will pull a list of relevant keywords in alphabetical order. The length of the list is dependent on the specificity or broadness of your keyword.
Here’s an example of how to use Ubersuggest to initiate a brainstorm. In this scenario, you work for Denali National Park & Preserve in Alaska. Oh, and don’t forget to set the mood for a great creative marketing brainstorm.
First, type in the word “Alaska”. Next, pick a random group of keywords. Let’s go with “E”.
After that, choose 2 or 3 topics to focus on, and create a tree chart, narrowing it down until you unearth new content topics. In this example, we narrowed it down to the top “Employment” and came up with the idea, “The History of Work Camping in Alaska.”
Repeat this exercise a few times with your team and you’ll have dozens of new content ideas.
One of the best ways to generate new content ideas is to take a peek at what other people are writing. We’re not suggesting you copy what you see. Instead, use your findings on Buzzsumo to initiate a brainstorm.
Buzzsumo shows you what content performs best for any topic or competitor without having to search the web yourself. You can also sort results by social network to figure out what topics performed best on what site.
Since we love the outdoors, we’ll use that example again. This time, imagine you work for an outdoor gear company based in Bend, Oregon. Type in the search query “hiking” and you’ll see topics such as:
- Doctors Explain How Hiking Actually Changes Our Brain
- 10 California Hiking Trails with Insane Paranormal Activity
- “Camping With Dogs” Instagram Will Inspire You To Go Hiking With Your Dog
Here are a few examples of how these search results can turn into ideas for new content just by changing a few words in the previous article titles:
- 5 Reasons Why Hiking is Great For Stress Relief
- 5 Ghost Town Hikes in Oregon
- Follow These Oregonian Instagram Accounts for Hiking Inspiration
There are other sites that pull articles from across the web. Try paper.li, which allows you to enter keywords or an article URL to discover similar articles on the same topic. If you don’t want to keep revisiting the site, they will collect and send you content via email. Alltop is another site that gathers content from across the web. Type in a keyword related to your industry and see what surfaces.
Reddit may seem like a place where you find trolls, not new content ideas. But there are 234 million unique users discussing different topics on Reddit, all which you can use for ideation research.
Reddit is also made up of thousands of communities called “subreddits” where users post links, stories and videos. Users vote to determine which posts rank the highest on the subreddits.
Let’s go back to the coffee example. If you go to Reddit and search “coffee”, you’ll find the coffee subreddit and topics such as:
- What coffee accessory can you not live without?
- Coffee festivals
- How can I make coffee for my wife that is more like the fancy shops?
You could turn these results into content topics such as:
- “Coffee Accessories You Need to Own Now”
- “Coffee Festivals to Attend in 2017”
- “How to Make the Best Cup of Coffee for Your Loved One This Valentine’s Day”
Explore the different subreddits and see what ideas you come up with. As of 2015, there are 853,834 subreddits, and it’s likely you’ll find some that are relevant to your industry.
We hope you’ll experiment with these tools the next time you’re staring at your screen. And if you need ideas for non-promotional content for your social channels, some of these work well for that too.
Do you have any favorite ideation methods? Let us know in the comments below!
Katie is a Content Strategist at Portent who graduated with a Bachelor in Journalism from Indiana University. She loves helping brands tell stories through the content they produce and creating positive user experiences. Read More