How to Choose the Best Topic When Publishing Original Survey-Based Research

April 17, 2018

Why use surveys to publish data-driven insights?

Marketers use surveys for many reasons: audience research, reader surveys, customer satisfaction polls and more.

All of these data-driven exercises are useful for making internal decisions, but you also have an opportunity to use surveys to publish data-driven insights for public consumption (think: industry benchmark reports, salary guides, "State of" reports, or trends analysis). 

Consider these stats:

  • 74 percent of B2B buyers say original research influences their purchasing decisions. 
  • Research is the most efficient type of content for building backlinks
  • Research is a catalyst for more and better editorial ideas. 

Yet, only 37 percent of B2B marketers are publishing research as part of their content marketing efforts. 

This is an untapped opportunity to create content that works that the majority of marketers are not (yet) using. 

Benefits of Using Survey-Based Original Research 

  • Increases traffic
  • Gets backlinks
  • Secures media mentions
  • Generates leads and email subscribers
  • Builds credibility

What topic should I focus on?

There are many reasons to consider publishing original research, but it is much more time consuming than your average blog post, e-book or video. As such, you want to make sure you hone in on the right topic that will position you to get the results you desire. 

Here are three ideas for survey-based research with tips on how to focus in on a topic that makes sense for both your audience and business. 

State of the Industry 

“State of” your industry reports are broad-brush looks at your space and typically provide adoption rates, challenges, success factors and more. Their reports become increasingly more valuable as you repeat them annually because you are able to report on year-over-year trends. 

This is an ideal type of research to conduct if:  

  • You are in a newer, unsaturated market that lacks industry data such as this. (Keep reading if you are trying to cut through the noise of a saturated, mature market.)
  • You are targeting a new market segment for your product/solution or are creating a new category and want to build awareness.
  • You want research to be a cornerstone piece in your editorial. “State of” reports can typically support many types of content assets such as blog posts, webinars, infographics, videos and more.
  • You are looking for website traffic; backlinks; SEO rankings; email subscribers; invitations to speak at industry-specific events; opportunities for guest posts or podcast interviews; and more.

Example: When Content Marketing Institute (CMI) launched in 2010, the first ambitious editorial project they undertook was surveying marketers to learn if and how they are using content marketing (disclosure: I was involved in this research project from 2010 – 2017). 

The now-annual survey has been turned into more than 50 reports, and it has received countless mentions and backlinks over the years. The research has been so successful because CMI was the first brand – in partnership with MarketingProfs – to survey the content marketing industry, and it’s now the longest-running research in that space.

Tip: As mentioned, this type of report works best if you are early to market and no one has yet conducted a similar type of study. If you don’t know what research has been published about your industry, head to Google.

  • Enter your industry (and variations of it) in quotes and then add + research.
  • Add a year to look for current research. For instance, let’s say you are in the email marketing space and want to uncover existing research. If you search for “email marketing” + research, you’ll see a slew of results returned.
  • To expand your search, replace research with benchmarks, “state of,” index, etc.
  • Do similar searches under the image and video tabs in Google as they may return additional results.

Survey-based research on a specific topic

If your industry already has a broad “State of” research or you have a more defined idea you want to validate, consider a survey-based research project about a more specific topic. This type of research can work well as an annual survey, but it can also be a one-time survey.

This is an ideal type of research to conduct if:

  • You are in a crowded space and need to find a niche for your research. 
  • You are looking to get data a very specific issue or validate your thinking.
  • You want research to be the catalyst that generates many types of content assets such as blog posts, webinars, infographics, videos and more.
  • You are looking for increased traffic; backlinks; SEO rankings; email subscribers; invitations to speak at industry-specific events; opportunities for guest posts or podcast interviews; and more.

Example: Last year, DivvyHQ published Content Planning Challenges, Trends & Opportunities. DivvyHQ is a cloud-based content planning, workflow, and collaboration tool. Their founder, Brody Dorland, explained the process they went through when deciding on a topic. 

“We did not want to do a state of content marketing report because others had already done so. Instead, we decided to focus specifically on content planning, which is something that had not been covered – and it’s something our business directly helps marketers with. This research was a way for us to better understand the challenges our customers face, validate the direction of our product roadmap, and provide insights that marketers can use to benchmark their own content planning process.”

Tip: Ask these questions as you think through your topic: 

  • What questions does your audience have?
  • What trend or idea do you want to validate with data? 

If you still aren’t certain what topic to cover, Andy Crestodina’s “find the missing stat” approach may work well for you:

“In every industry, there are missing statistics. I call it "find the missing stat"  . . . The first hypothesis is that there's a missing statistic in your market and that the internet will knock down your door if you can just find out what it is and create the soundbite, create the stat.”

Trending topics

The third type of survey-based research you may want to consider is a mini-survey aimed at uncovering data based on a topic that is “of the moment.” This type of research can work especially well if you publish these data-driven insights as a series. 

This is an ideal type of research to conduct if:  

  • You want to experiment with survey-based research.
  • You are looking to get media mentions.

Example: Search Engine Journal started publishing results of short polls that answer pointed questions such as Which Project Management Tool is Best for SEO and How Many Hours do Digital Marketers Work Per Day? 

Tip: If you decide to create research around trending topics with the goal of getting media mentions, include a PR professional from the outset. This person will be instrumental in helping you understand which topics are of interest to journalists.


While all of these research projects are different, all worthy topics have three things in common:

  • It is of interest to the audience (it’s not about the company’s products or services)
  • It aligns with the brand’s overarching story
  • It has not already been covered 

The best way to learn about research is by doing. As you develop your plan, consider how crowded your industry is, where your customers have questions, and what you want to accomplish. 

Michele Linn is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research, a consultancy that helps marketers publish and amplify original research. Before starting Mantis, Michele was the head of editorial at Content Marketing Institute. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.  


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