The benefits of running a blog are as versatile and numerous as the stars in the sky (or the blogs on the web). Still, niche recognition, SEO rankings, better traffic and more leads cannot be expected without great content. It requires time and hard work, and essentially boils down to these 9 principles:
- Steer clear of any content that’s not original.
- Engage readers by sparking their curiosity.
- Offer expert advice that’s actionable.
- Provide answers to your readers’ questions.
- Draw attention with strong headlines.
- Reaffirm your points with images and video.
- Stay relevant, succinct, and on point.
- Regularly update evergreen content with fresh info.
- Be factual, accurate, and citable.
You can call these guidelines the 9 Postulates of Blogging, print them out and hang them on the wall above your writing desk. Together, they guarantee what we call “successful”, “stellar” or even “10x” content, which could never be created without some good old-fashioned research.
Here’s how to conduct it, where to begin, and which sources to use.
Deconstructing Successful Content
The 9 Postulates of Blogging says it all – a successful piece of content is the one that your readers would actually like to spend their time reading. It walks a thin line between education and entertainment in that it should provide solutions, answers, and advice while simultaneously being a fun and interesting read.
In a word, successful content is very much like pop science. The topic encourages readers to broaden their horizons and learn something new, while the unique viewpoint from which the topic is interpreted makes it easier to comprehend and relate to. It’s playful, intriguing, and applicable to life.
Now, anyone with talent and some writing skills could craft a blog post to entertain the masses. But, that’s entering the realm of fiction. If there was no postulate number 9 – be factual, accurate, and citable – every piece of fiction that reveals universal truths could be marked as successful blog content.
But, why is this postulate so important in the first place?
Remember Stephen Glass? Or James Frey? Both of their careers ended the very moment someone noticed inaccuracies in their work. With the first being a reporter, and the second a writer, their audiences could simply not forgive them for breaking their trust and lying the entire way through.
The problem is, you cannot answer your reader’s questions about business, health, or technology with fiction. You need hard facts, case studies, and expert sources to support your claims with. If there aren’t any, or if they are proven to be inaccurate, there goes your integrity and your blog community.
How to Research a Blog Post the Right Way
Aside from wordsmithery, an aspiring blogger should possess great research skills. Without them, our fictional blogger is nothing more than a good copywriter. Researching adds authority to your name, showcasing you as a niche expert who’s equipped with knowledge, experience, and critical thinking.
Here’s how to do it right.
1. Always Opt for Expert Sources
In today’s digital climate, starting a blog is not a big deal; it’s running one that’s getting increasingly harder. While most strategies include a little side note about basing your blog articles on research, only a few of them extend this guideline to how and where this research should be conducted for verifiable results.
And, as expected, not one of them mentions libraries.
Sure, it takes much less time for credible sources to appear online than to be printed out and published in physical form. It might be a shocker, but digital libraries do exist. Searchable databases are stacked with academic journals and eBooks, waiting for you to pay attention and acknowledge their existence.
Here’s a list of the most prominent ones:
- EBSCO – In partnership with libraries, publishers, and other content providers, EBSCO has built an extensive hub for white papers, articles, videos, and success stories.
- JSTOR – JSTOR provides access to more than 10 million academic journal articles, books, and primary sources in 75 disciplines, as stated on their website.
- Google Scholar – Unlike Google itself, which offers indexed and personalized search results, Google Scholar includes all the available sources from the so-called “invisible web” as well.
- Microsoft Academic Search – Just like Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic Search can hook you up with over 120 million publications, not all of which are discoverable via search engines.
Sweet Search – Though designed and marketed as a search engine for students, Sweet Search can be used by anyone. It leverages Google to search only for a fully vetted whitelist of websites.
- OAIster – OAIster offers its own collection of expert sources, but also includes publications from other libraries worldwide, mainly those connected to WorldCat’s global library network.
- RefSeek – Billions of free documents, including vetted web pages, books, encyclopedias, journals, and newspapers can be dragged up from the middle of commercial results with RefSeek.
- DOAJ – Directory of Open Access Journals, or DOAJ for short, boasts a collection of around 11,000 academic journals and 3 million searchable articles from 123 countries in the world.
Each of these databases and search engines offer reputable sources from multiple disciplines. If you’re interested in niche-specific topics, but cannot find anything useful there, there’s a myriad of others designed to find the exact type of sources you need.
2. Pay Attention to Domain Names
If you look closely, you’ll find that URLs for most of these engines end with .edu. Their domain names thus refer to educational institutions, guaranteeing unbiased resources for preliminary research. Being supervised and controlled, they are universally deemed as verified, trusted, and reliable.
Other domain names that can help you with blog research end with .gov. They point out to resources that are being published, collected, and vetted by government organizations, the best of which are CIA’s The World Factbook, Science.gov, and NCJRS.
3. When in Doubt, Search for Studies
When in doubt, start your blog post with a convincing study reference. Be that an experiment, a clinical trial, or an observational study, such a research paper must undergo a series of verification protocols before it can be published and labeled as a “study”. Millions of them are available in digital libraries.
4. Cite or Conduct Expert Interviews
Sources like EBSCO and RefSeek can give you access to thousands of newspapers and expert interviews as well. But, if you’re covering contemporary topics from the world of business or technology, you can find them on leading niche websites too. Luckily for us all, expert interviews are pretty difficult to fake.
Then again, the age of connectivity allows you to conduct interviews yourself. Whatever your niche might be, you’ll be able to find an expert on a variety of subjects on ProfNet and Blog Tours, HARO and Media Shower. Prepare questions and send them an email. That way, your content will be both credible and original.
5. Cite or Conduct Public Surveys
Exemplary bloggers use surveys in two ways – by citing results from external sources, or by conducting their own inquiry. When it comes to the latter, a topical survey can back up your arguments, but public opinion can also help you improve your posts and understand what your audience actually wants to read about.
So for instance, if you need to persuade your readers that blogging is indeed one of the best marketing techniques, turn to your fellow writers and ask them to participate in a survey. Or, if it seems like you’ve exhausted all great topics, invite your readers to suggest a couple of interesting ones.
6. Discover Relevant Statistics
Survey results can be transformed into statistics. In terms of powerful headlines, Neil Patel finds numbers to be “brain candy”, given that they spark engagement by providing information in a straightforward and organized way. Whenever you see fit, include verifiable statistics in your blog articles.
7. Use the Power of Selection
While the aforementioned expert sources don’t need to be double-checked for accuracy, all other web publications should be taken with a grain of salt. If you’ve ever clicked on some of the references provided by many online articles, you know that they usually lead you to a fishy “Error 404” page.
So, how do you avoid this dodgy data? How do you know whether or not a web source is actually reliable?
Always click on the link. A linked reference should always lead you to a credible source.
Snoop around for disclaimers. When you come across phrases like “Though it can’t be proven”, “According to some sources”, or “Experts claim”, know that that’s a reputable author trying to signal that a piece of information is incomplete, vague, or misleading, but that they need to use it nevertheless.
Take a look-see on the author. If you can’t be certain, research the article’s author. You should be able to find a bio section or a LinkedIn page that confirms their authority in the field.
Count the references. Digital libraries like Google Scholar offer an overview of the document’s specifics, where you can find how many times a particular source has been referenced, and by whom.
Verify the domain. In case there’s neither an .edu nor .gov index in its domain name, but a website still seems credible, the right tool can help you determine its ownership info, history, or rank.
The list of blog post research tips is a long one, but can always be sized down to a simple piece of advice – be skeptical about everything you read. In blogging and beyond, this is an unwritten rule. It’s also the first axiom of critical thinking, a skill that every trustworthy blogger must develop. Trust nothing until it’s been proven right with a lot of clicking and research on your part.
As the Romans would say, “caveat lector”.