Original research is one of the most valuable foundational pillars you can have in a content marketing program. Because it’s original, it’s automatically unique, and it sets you apart from competitors who might only be recycling secondhand information. Because it’s rare, it imbues your content with an extra layer of value and appeal. And because it often contains new insights or valuable information, it makes your content easier to share, which leads to more brand exposure, more links, and ranks higher in search engines.
Here’s the only problem: original research is highly valuable, yes, but that high value comes with a high cost. If you want to execute some high-level original research, it could cost you thousands of dollars to work with an outside firm, or tie up your company resources trying to do it in-house. It can be a messy, complicated, and expensive process, making the benefits only marginally worth it.
Not all original research has to be this way. Just like every article you write doesn’t have to be a revolutionary game-changer, not every round of original research needs to make a landmark discovery or take you months of effort. There are cost-efficient ways to perform light original research and still reap some of the most important benefits.
Option 1: Research something observable
Your first option is to forgo the usual route of researching something that must be hunted down, as this is usually where the cost factor comes into play. If, instead of drilling down to find tiny nuggets of data, you can simply skim off the surface and collect as much data as you want, you can end up with a similar amount of information at a much lower cost and a much lower degree of difficulty.
I’m going to use marketing research as an example. If I want to write an article about which website design trends are currently popular, I have two ways to get this information. First, I could contact webmasters of various popular websites, ask them all about their design motivations, then spend hours agonizing over their analytics data to form a final conclusion. Second, I could collect a large number of recognizable modern websites, see what they have in common, and quantify my own results.
That second route serves as the path of least resistance. It counts as original research, since I did take effort to find these results and turn them into something meaningful, and while it isn’t quite as detailed as the former route, it will give me a similar return for a much smaller investment.
Option 2: Use surveys
Qualitative research is still research, and people care about what other people think. If you can figure out a way to create meaning from a series of user responses, this is your golden ticket. It only takes about an hour to design a survey, especially if you’re using a tool like Survey Monkey, and from there, the only initial effort you have to make is offering the survey link to the masses. At that point, your survey participants will be the ones doing the work.
You can collect, quantify, and analyze the results you get from your survey in relatively short order. For more complex surveys, or for surveys that rely on particularly busy or specific demographics, you may have to offer an incentive—for example, you may offer a $5 gas gift card to survey participants in order to get a better turnout. But even then, your investment in this strategy is minimal, and your results are both new and significant. You can’t ask for much more in the world of original research.
Option 3: Conduct your own experiment
You don’t even have to rely on others in order to get your research (though it can help in many cases). In my first two options, I try to mitigate the expenses of seeking outside sources of complex information. In this option, we’ll forgo the outside sources altogether and focus on collecting information that you can create yourself.
I’m going to use another marketing example here. Let’s say I’m researching the effects of different types of copy on a user’s response to a call to action. In this case, all I have to do is set up a series of landing pages, each with a different variant of copy, and start funneling traffic to each of them. At the end of the experiment, I’ll collect the data and make a firm determination about which one was the most effective and why. It might cost a bit of money to get that initial traffic, but if I use landing page styles I would have used in my advertising campaign anyway, I’m essentially using a marketing expense to cover my original research costs.
These types of individual experiments are great because they take advantage of resources and expenditures that are already available to you. You don’t invest anything extra, but you do take additional rewards.
Just because you have a tight budget doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of the benefits of original research as content fuel. Take your findings and present them in your articles, infographics, or standalone research-based whitepapers. If you end up selling your research to others with paid content, you may even turn a decent profit. In any case, you’ll wind up with better, more authoritative content, greater networks of offsite links, and more visibility for your brand.