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23 Jan 2014

Content Questions

Surveys offer fantastic opportunities for a plethora of high quality content as well as editorial links.  Instead of writing about the same topics everyone else is writing about, survey data can give you concrete numbers and evidence to communicate a message in a unique and effective manner.

In this article we’ll discuss how to create high quality surveys, how to turn a survey into blog content, and how to transform those content pieces into links.

As research for this article I had the opportunity to interview Ken McGaffin, a specialist in online marketing with a background in Press Relations.  Ken shared his formula for survey success, which I now have the opportunity to share with you.

Part 1: Preparing for your Survey

Start with a Plan

Before you do a survey you need to understand what are the questions that are going to give you great content for publication.  The biggest mistake that even large companies make is that they brainstorm the questions they’d like to ask, then do the research, then give those questions to the publicist or link builder, and say – get us coverage.  But it’s already wasted time because the only way you get really good content from a survey is to plan it step by step.

Interview the Marketing Director or CEO

content questions

Insights into the business will help you frame the survey and identify the areas that will have the most traction.  Ask questions such as: What are your customer’s difficulties? What are your business’ strengths? What is your unique selling proposition?

Get them talking as much as possible, and listen with a sharp ear.  A minute detail that they take for granted may completely frame your survey and content strategy.

Study Quality Publications on the Topic

Once you have some ideas and topics, go to major publications such as Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post etc and find a few relevant articles written by established journalists.  You can use search operators such as ~keyword

Journalists will research extensively and share issues they feel are important to the public.  Then you make a simple mind map of all items that you came across in their article.  The client sees the information from the inside, while the press is exposed to a different point of view that can help you gain a more comprehensive understanding.

Complement with Keyword Research

As the final step of your preparation, do some keyword research.  See the types of queries people are typing in to learn about this industry.   You can use Google’s keyword planner tool, which also shows you lateral industries/ideas.

You can also search for questions such as “How do I __________ (keyword)”.  In addition, go to Twitter, Google Plus, Quora, and Yahoo Answers to search for questions that people are asking related to your topic.

This research will help get you familiar with how people search for this topic and will help you create content that will rank for those particular terms.

Part 2: Creating the Survey

Qualifying Questions

One of the survey questions should qualify your audience, helping you segment them effectively.  A great qualifying question is: “What market sector are you in?”  Non-Profit? Small Business? Large Corporation? Government agency?  Asking qualifying questions helps you to sort all the answers.

You can then create content based on specific segments.  For example, if 20% of recipients work for non-profits, you can write an article and/or create an infographic based on how this issue affects them in particular.

Matrix Questions

Matrix questions are gold-dust because, once again, they give you the ability to segment the data.  You can make them as provocative as you’d like.  For example, you can ask:

Social Media is an effective way to increase your bottom line

Then you number your answers, from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree.

You can then ask 6 or 7 other relevant questions.

These matrix questions can allow you to create specific statistics and content pieces.  For example, of 100 people surveyed, 80% strongly agree that social media helps drive revenue.  You can then further segment that to say, of those in the Non-Profit sector, only 10% agree that social media helps increase their bottom line.

Create a Connection & Follow Up!

At the end of the survey, include the question: Would you mind if we followed up via email to your answers? And gather their contact info.  Between 30 and 50% of respondents will agree to this.

This is wonderful as it lays the foundation for a potential case study in the future.

If you ask simple questions, you can offer the opportunity to “comment on your answer if you wish”, and then follow up with them to learn more about their answers and why.

Send out the Survey

content questions

We recommend SurveyMonkey for surveys, as it’s a comprehensive platform which facilitates the survey process.  It’s intuitive and allows you to analyze the information in a variety of ways.  You can upload your own lists of customers or use their custom audiences.

Give people 7 days to answer your survey.  You want them to respond quickly, so ask them to respond by a set date, and send a reminder email a couple of days before the closing date.

Part 3: Analysis & Content Creation

Analyzing the Data

Once you’ve completed the survey and have all the information in front of you, the next step is to analyze all the data and come up with a list of conclusions.  Many people make the mistake of summarizing the data and publishing a report with this data.  This is a total waste of amazing content opportunities!

You can build up your survey into an industry-leading piece of content.  Why not have the report analyzed by experts and get them to weigh in? You’ll get some positive and negative comments, which will in turn create debate and maybe even controversy – which gets noticed.

Start Creating Content!

The first piece you’ll likely want to write is a press release announcing data found in the survey.  Avoid writing a self-promotional press release touting your company’s positioning in the industry.  Instead, focus on the FACTS.  Make the press release a worthwhile piece of content.  Take the most startling of these facts and share them in interesting ways in your press release.   Try to get an expert or the CEO of the company to chime in with their interpretation of the facts.

If you have access to a database of journalists, send the press release through this database and do some outreach on journalists who show an interest in this topic.  Services like PRweb may not have enough reach into specialized journalists, so explore additional press release services until you find one that can offer you the most genuine coverage.  You actually have something newsworthy to be shared, so make the most of it.

The qualifying question may also allow you to create a series of press releases based on each target audience.  For example you can write a press release geared towards the non-profit sector, using data specific to those that responded belonging to that sector. This is much more attractive to journalists in that sector.

Final Considerations

You can spin out your survey into many content pieces.   You can create an infographic based on the statistics found in your survey.  In addition, you can do a webinar, hangout or podcast discussing your findings and adding commentary.  For every matrix and qualifying question you can spin out multiple blog articles.  It’s a great way to generate a large quantity of high-end content!

It’s important to make sure your survey stands out by being different from other similar industry surveys.

If the survey goes well, you can turn it into an annual survey and follow the same process on a yearly basis.  Every year you can add more content based on previous year’s results and how the industry/sector is changing.

Further reading:

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Search engine marketing expert with 15 years of experience in the industry, working with small mom and pop shops as well as large corporate websites. I have experience with all aspects of inbound marketing, including SEO, Link Building, Social Shares, Usability, Conversions, PPC, Email Marketing, and more.