You’ve already seen posts about the importance of providing your users with content that is valuable. Content that offers them something new and concrete that they can’t find in the countless other fluff posts about content marketing. Let’s talk about one of the ways you can actually create valuable content.

If you want to create content that is different, you need to do something different. Original research is a fantastic way to add something new to the mix–sure, it’s more work, but it’s more interesting and more fun work than writing run of the mill marketing articles. It’s also a highly effective way of producing longer, more meaningful content that will set your team apart as thought leaders. Users will come to regard your company blog as a resource.

As a writer for Venngage, a large percentage of my writing time is devoted to writing original research articles. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we decided to conduct a study based on the 36 Questions That Lead to Love that went viral around this time last year. Just to jog your memory, the exercise involved two strangers asking each other a set of 36 questions that become increasingly more personal. The idea was that sharing such personal thoughts and experiences with a stranger would lead to an accelerated feeling of closeness between strangers.

We took that exercise and added a twist: we paired up strangers and had them ask each other the same 36 questions, but entirely through text message, with no physical cues or indicators of what their partner even looked like.

Our study began by assembling 32 perfect strangers to participate. What we ended up with was:

  • A fascinating set of new data.
  • A heartwarming and timely story.
  • A beautiful data visualization.
  • Backlinks in a niche we don’t normally target.

So how do you conduct your own research? Let me break it down for you.

1. Identify a question that hasn’t been answered yet and tailor your research around answering it.

Realistically, it’s going to be hard to find a totally new question. But you can definitely find a new angle to approach a question from, or a specific part to hone in on. Take our study: we took an existing study and added a new twist to it, finding a new way to make it relevant. Dating apps are popular so people are thinking a lot about about text communication. While studies have been done about how many people use online dating, the length of relationships formed through online dating.

2. Plot your process and collect your data.

Now that you have your idea, you need a solid plan. Write out your methodology so that you have document to reference throughout the process, and to potentially share with anyone who may want to learn more about the process after reading the article. Outline your goals, the steps you will take, and any survey questions you may use to collect data.

You’ll have to decide what the best method of collecting your data is. Surveys are generally the easiest way, since you’ll end up with quantifiable numbers that you can turn into punchy percentages. A/B tests are also a nice and straightforward method of collecting quantifiable data. If your study involves measuring metrics like social media shares or backlinks, then a tool like Buzzsumo or Moz will probably become necessary.

For our study, we had participants fill out a preliminary questionnaire before the story, a questionnaire directly following the study, and another questionnaire a week after the study. This gave us three solid sets of data to compare and work with.

3. Find a story that readers will connect with.

Raw data isn’t enough. You need to find a way to make your data matter to readers. There is a story behind every data set and your job is to find it.

In our case, we decided to hone in on the story of two participants to create a connective narrative throughout the study. It’s easy to adopt a clinical tone when dealing with data, which is why it’s important to look for the point of human connection. This was easy for us, of course, since we were dealing with relationships, but even in cases where you’re dealing with a topic like performance metrics, you can use an experience of your own (a success story, or a failure that you learned from) to connect your research to your readers’ own experiences.

4. Come up with a creative way to visualize your findings.

You’re going to want your article to have visuals. Some visually interesting charts and graphs to illustrate your data. This is a great opportunity to make an infographic or some other data visualization of your findings. This will add another dimension to your post that can be shared across multiple channels.

We decided that we wanted to create a visual that was different from others we had made in the past, so for the Valentine’s study we created an interactive infographic and featured it right at the beginning of the article. Including the embed code for the infographic in the article offered readers the opportunity to share it on their own sites.

5. Reach out to audiences who will care.

You’ve done your research and turned it into an entertaining, insightful and evocative article. Great. Now you need to make sure people know about it. Unfortunately, unless you have a very large user base, simply posting about it on social media will only get you so far.

Effective outreach takes time and grunt work. For our study, we reached out to blogs and publications that had published articles about online dating in the past. We emailed editors and contributors directly asking them if they would be interested in syndicating our post or writing their own content about our study. Because our research was original, it caught the attention of writers in publications like Psychology Today and the French magazine Santé Magazine. This is a niche we had previously never reached out to, but now we had the opportunity.

Original research takes time and resources but the payoff is worth it. You’ll create a solid piece of longform content and accompanying infographic that offers something new and valuable to readers, and that you can link back to again and again in future content.