How Content Teams Can Conduct Original Research with Michele Linn

Original research is one of the best ways to attract backlinks and traffic, so it should be a part of every content marketer’s tool kit…


…but there’s a catch.


Conducting original research is difficult to execute, from discovering where the gap in information exists to composing and delivering survey questions, there are a lot of difficult pitfalls.


That’s why we brought on Michele Linn, the founder of Mantis Research and previously the first hire that Joe Pulizzi ever made at the Content Marketing Institute. 


She dives into how to conduct research for the first time, from finding a good research partner to composing the right questions. 


Is there a backstory on why you switched from a heavy focus on creating multiple types of content at CMI to focusing solely on research at Mantis Research?


Michele was the first person hired by the founder of CMI, Joe Pulizzi, back in 2010. Joe started his own research project, the first annual content Budgets, Benchmarks and Trends.


She always loved that project at CMI and when she went out on her own she saw original research as the best way to help content marketers.


How much did this research help grow CMI as a company?


The growth came from a lot of different directions, but the project definitely did help. 


When analyzing which piece of content was driving the most sales, traffic, and leads, it was always original research.


Even now, if a content marketer doesn’t know what the CMI is, if she mentions the Budgets, Benchmarks and Trends, most people know what that is.


Transitioning into Mantis Research, what are usually the problems people are facing before they look to you as a solution?


So usually people are looking to get more leads, subscribers or backlinks. Another reason people might be interested in doing original research is that they may want to be considered a thought leader.


On the other hand, some marketers have already decided to do original research, but they don’t know how to do it well. 


So I think a lot of marketers agree that original research is helpful, but figuring out where a gap of information exists can be challenging and how do you go about helping them create a strategy?


We use something called the Idea Model.



This is where you decide what kind of impact you want to have on the industry. How do you want to change the current thinking? What kind of impact do they want that research to have on their business goals?


D= Data

Make sure that you have credible data. This includes survey design, testing and analysis.


E= Exploration

You explore all the ideas from your data. Your research should be a cornerstone for your editorial and a lot of different story ideas come from the data.



You need to do more than just publish the findings if you want to make an impact with your research.


I think a lot of marketers struggle with the amplification process. Can you tell us more about how you help clients amplify their research?


According to a Buzzsumo study we did, marketers that do 6 things with their research achieve more of their company’s goals. 


So we recommend that you prioritize those 6 activities based on what the company’s goals are.


So, for example, if your goal is backlinks, you might want to do a video or guest posting. 


However, if your goal is leads you might want to invest in an online assessment or webinars.


A lot of SEOs are used to doing guest posts for backlinks, so I’m curious if you recommend any additional methods to promote research for backlinking purposes?


Guest posts are still very much so a useful tactic as it allows you to get your research in front of another audience. 


Therefore, consider how you can better leverage guest posts rather than looking for alternative ways to backlink.


Videos, however, do also work very well as YouTube is the second largest search engine.


Another option is research roundtables. We have data and convene a panel of experts and present the research to the experts. We then ask the experts to weigh in on what they think of the research and how marketers can better leverage it. 


Press releases are also a great way to get your data out there.  


You can also create data graphics, which are short visuals that tell a story about your research.


Can you walk us through how you go about putting together a survey and some of the pitfalls you should avoid? 


It’s very helpful for organizations to partner with other organizations if they either don’t have the list or the resources to complete a research study on their own.


So what should you look for in a partner?


Consider finding a partner that also values research, has a similar vision and wants answers to the same questions.


When she started the original Marketing Budgets, Benchmarks and Trends research, CMI didn’t have a big list. 


Therefore, she partnered with BuzzSumo as they wanted to find the answers to similar questions and they did have the list.


CMI did all of the design and orchestrated the survey and both parties benefited from the research results.


So if you are a brand new startup, surveys are a cost-effective form of research you can probably do?


Absolutely. That said, she does still recommend that you learn from others or hire outside help the first time you do this. Getting credible research can be tricky and there are a lot of pitfalls along the way.


One of the biggest pitfalls is understanding how to ask survey questions.


What are some examples of poor survey questions?


One that she saw recently was “how many hours does it take you to produce a page of content?”


On the surface, this question seems fair. However, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that the answers could be coming from various perspectives.


Do they mean a page of blog content? A page of web content?


If it’s a blog post, what font are you using? Is it double spaced? 


Then you also have to consider, what does “produced” mean? Does that mean to write the piece of content? Does it mean the writing and promoting process? Does it include editing?


This is going to through off the data.


A better solution is to break those questions up into really specific chunks so that you get the benchmarks that you want.


After a business has worked with a mentor or another agency like Mantis, is there a way that they can bring this strategy in house?


Absolutely. It takes a lot of education to figure out the process to follow. For example, a lot of marketers don’t verify their list or won’t go back in and clean out poor data. 


After you learn these pitfalls, it’s very possible to bring this in house.


In addition to surveys, what other kinds of research do you conduct?


Michele focuses on mainly just surveys. 


She’s experimented with other types of research but her love for surveys has always brought her back to that!


Get in Touch

@michelelinn on Twitter


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