Blog research is critical, whether you’re creating content for your blog, guest posting, or writing a thought leadership article. The importance of quality sources is immeasurable.
“Opinion on its own is not enough. It has to bring something else, some evidence behind the assertions made,” explains Gareth Lofthouse, co-founder of Longitude agency. Lofthouse is talking about thought leadership in particular, but the concept applies to all content. You need to properly source and support your blog articles with valuable resources.
If you don’t know how to do proper blog research to find sources and data to support your writing, use this article as your guide.
Why Research is Essential for Quality Content
First, you need to understand why this is such a critical aspect of professional writing (or any writing). Simply put, data-backed, high-quality sources legitimize ideas, findings, and content in general.
Here’s some additional data on why you need data:
- Provides value to the reader: External links serve as additional resources and supplemental value for the reader who wants to dive further into that topic.
- Strengthens your point: Claims are much more powerful when backed up by a statistic or source. Notice the difference between these two statements:
Bad: Lack of workplace engagement is a serious issue, costing employers a lot of money.
Good: Globally, 85 percent of employees report not being engaged at work, which equates to a $7 trillion loss in productivity, according to a Gallup report.
- Builds Trust: Jayson DeMeyers, CEO of AudienceBloom, tells Forbes: “Including citations for [many] facts in the body of your work makes your content more trustworthy. It shows that you’ve done your research and that you haven’t come to these conclusions without consulting multiple different sources first.”
- SEO: Well-placed and value-driven outbound links matter for SEO and boost your ranking. Check our Yoast’s explanation of this macro-level concept for further understanding.
Remember: You don’t want to plagiarize ideas or steal content. If you read a great quote or see an awesome stat, you should give credit where it’s due. Read Hubspot’s guide to sharing content for a deeper dive into how and why you should cite sources.
How to Use Blog Research to Ideate Your Article (or Vice Versa)
Research can be helpful in two ways:
#1: Outline your article then find sources to support each claim or idea. Ideally, I shoot for at least one source per section.
#2: Research to find valuable stats, data, or quotes to then build your article around what you found. Perfect for days when you have writer’s block or are feeling stuck.
Either way, researching and collecting good data points and sources can help you jump start your content creation process. Depending on the blog post, I’ve done it both ways.
Whatever the process, when writing content, you should be in the mindset of not making any generalizations or wide-sweeping claims, without a source to back it up. Unless you, as a writer, are an expert in the field or topic-area, you need to substantiate your argument with a source. Even then, it’s still wise to bring in data.
Checklist for Finding Acceptable Research Sources
With the Internet, there are millions of potential sources at your fingertips. But not all sources are created equal. In fact, much of what you find may not be considered as a valid source of data or insights.
Get the most out of your blog research by choosing the best sources to support your content. Use this checklist (with examples) to find acceptable and valuable sources while writing.
Always aim for sources published within the last two to three years. This ensures that you support your content with the latest research and data, not something out-of-date or irrelevant.
Example: If you’re writing an article about the value of working with a real estate agent, you would want to link to this 2018 Forbes article (for a quote or stat), as opposed to this 2009 Investopedia article. The real estate and housing market is constantly evolving, so the older article might have incorrect information.
✔️ Scientific Journals
Any scientific study or research published in a legitimate journal can provide science-based backing to your claims.
Example: You want to find a source to support the idea that infographics help your audience better understand complex topics. You could use this study with relevant research and you can reference it like this: “A recent scientific study showed that visual explanations help students break down and comprehend complex systems or processes.”
Pro tip: Google likes the anchor text to be descriptive; the idea being: the reader should know what they’re clicking through to. While “this study” works well for sources that are hard to cite otherwise, it’s always smart to name the study, journal or study author when you can.
✔️ High-Quality Outlets
For SEO purposes, you don’t want to link to low-value websites. Additionally, you want to support your ideas with high-quality publications, media outlets, or websites to add to your authority as a brand or author. Look for the prominent industry leaders, and when in doubt, use the Moz toolbar to check a website’s Domain Authority. As a rule of thumb, I only link to DA 40+ sites.
Example: For sources on business and entrepreneurship, high-quality industry outlets include: Forbes, Entreprenuer, Inc., and Business Insider.
✔️ Expert Opinions
To substantiate your ideas, pull in the opinion of an executive, a leader, or an entrepreneur—someone who has proven success related to your topic. Don’t quote another freelance writer or blogger’s opinion. Instead, look for someone who can provide expertise on the topic to authenticate your point—and include their title to show the reader why they should care.
If an article or content piece doesn’t elaborate on the author of the article or person they’re quoting, do a quick google search to check their background and confirm that they would be a reputable source.
Example: Notice in the intro of this blog content strategy post, I included a quote and sourced an expert opinion: Successful content can capture leads, according to Robert Rose, a founder at Content Marketing Institute. Rose says, “Companies that create and clarify a foundational documented content strategy succeed in greater numbers.”
Pro-tip: If you can’t find a relevant quote, consider using HARO to get your own. Check out #5 in this JTC blog post for a deeper dive into using HARO.
✔️ Surveys and Reports
Surveys and reports prove insights using an extensive data set. Both can provide accurate and valuable data and stats for you to use in your blog posts.
When doing blog research for relevant surveys and reports, you’ll notice that the organization that conducts them will also typically list how many people participated.
The sample size can help you make sure their methodology and results are legitimate, and thus a good source to use. Aim for a minimum participant size of 200 people, for scientific participant studies and more than 1,000 for broad topic, survey-based studies. In general, more is always better.
Example: For an article on employee engagement, you could use this 2019 study from ADP. Notice how they surveyed more than 19,000 employees in 13 different countries to create very accurate and authoritative data.
✔️ Proprietary Data
Proprietary data is unique data created by a company or organization. A good example is case studies, which show that another reputable business or company has experienced proven success with a particular method. You can include a reference to that within your article to explain a similar strategy or support an idea.
Example: Check out the JTC case study for Selz.com, which includes hard stats on the value of an effective link building campaign. This could support an article or claim about link building strategies.
✔️ Consider the Source and Get to the Root
Beyond the above options for acceptable sources, you don’t simply want to source a quote as: “according to Forbes.” You always want to find the original source. Large publishers like Forbes often report findings, but the original source is the appropriate one to link to in your blog post.
This is especially common for reports, polls and surveys. In many cases, the publisher will link to the original source when referencing it. If not, you’ll need to search for it yourself. Get to the root and link to that as your source.
Example: You’re writing an article about holiday office parties and search for stats on how many employees actually enjoy them. You find this blog article with a stat that says: “In a 2017 Robert Half survey, only one-third of employees reported liking the company holiday party.”
That is not their data. Instead of linking to that article, search for the actual survey data, which you can find in this press release, and use that as your source instead.
Tips and Tricks for Finding Great Blog Sources
How do you find all of the above sources? While there’s no shortcut to blog research—quality work takes time—you can expedite the process by using these tricks.
Google what you need: Say you’re looking for a stat on the effectiveness of email marketing campaigns. Try a Google search like “Recent reports show email marketing success.” This will ideally bring up sources that use this text; you can then click through to find the best data and original sources. Conversely, you can use queries like, “email marketing statistics 2019,” or “email marketing benchmarks 2019.”
Don’t forget to click through the “People also ask” boxes, which pulls from other sources that may be helpful.
Get inspiration: Find articles similar to what you’re writing and see what other writers have linked to. Exercise caution, you don’t want to plagiarize their work or steal their source. Instead, follow their links and see if that source has a similar study or report you could use.
Go straight to the source: If you know of publications, websites, or research-driven companies that are industry leaders, go straight to their website or blog and do a keyword search. When I’m writing articles on HR or employee engagement, I go to Deloitte because I know they have a lot of valuable reports and data on similar topics.
Develop a source list: Make a spreadsheet list of all the great sources you find so you can source them again without having to search. We do this for JTC content and it’s always helpful. Check out the screenshot below to see how we organize the data so it’s easy to use as a reference.
When using the same data set again, be careful to use fresh wording. If you’re writing on a wide variety of topics, you should have no problem with this, but it can be easy to fall into the trap of saying the same thing when sourcing the same data for a new blog post. Duplicate content should always be avoided, so keep this in mind.
Do Your Blog Research to Create Value-Driven Content
No matter who you’re writing for, or where you plan to publish, blog research and quality sources are a critical step to producing valuable content. If you’re struggling to create great content, consider outsourcing your content marketing and creation. Jessica Thiefels, owner of Jessica Thiefels Consulting, has written more than 700 blog posts for sites like Forbes, Glassdoor, AARP, and much more. Get in touch to see how she can help you!