One of the keys to success in copywriting is solid research.
Ask veteran copywriters about the role of research—and they’ll tell you that it’s one of the top skills to have in your professional toolbox.
More often than not, it’s not enough to rely on your knowledge and experience on a topic. You need to get the facts straight, cite the correct figures, and understand the consensus among experts in the industry.
This blog post will show you how to do effective research for copywriting to create content guided by emerging trends and informed by the most recent research in any industry.
1. Know Your Audience
The first and, arguably, most important step is to begin with a good understanding of who you’re creating content for.
Getting this part right will help you identify the type of information they need, where on the Internet to find it, and how best to present it to them.
Suppose your readers are young parents who work full-time in need of childcare providers in town. They will be looking for a different kind of information than policymakers interested in the relationship between the nutritional knowledge of childcare providers and childhood obesity.
I know this may sound obvious to some or even most of you, but it baffles me how often I see (otherwise well-written) content that ultimately fails to answer the questions its readers are asking.
So the next time you sit down to write a piece of content, ask yourself:
- Who is the reader of this content?
- What group of people do they belong to?
- How familiar are they with the topic in question?
- Are they looking for beginner’s, intermediate, or expert content?
- What kind of opinions, facts, and/or data points are they expecting to see?
As soon as you’ve clarified this, proceed to the next step.
2. Understand What Questions They’re Asking
If you think you know what others are asking online about a topic, you’re probably wrong. The more knowledgeable you are on it, the more likely you will not guess the questions that beginners have (this is called “expert’s bias”).
Rather than guessing, use a search listening tool like Answer the Public (freemium) or Answer Socrates (free, at least for the time being).
Search listening tools collect the suggestions that come up on the autocomplete of search engines like Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo—and give you the bird’s eye view of them.
It doesn’t sound like much, but autocomplete is a powerful and often underappreciated source of insight. Most copywriters are unaware that online platforms will suggest only the terms that enough people are searching for.
If a phrase is on autocomplete, this means that plenty of Internet users are searching for it. So tapping into this data is a sure-fire way to get the “real” frequently asked questions on any topic.
Here’s an example.
Say that you’ve been hired to write a long-form article titled “The Ultimate & Unofficial Chrysler 300 Owner’s Manual.”
You could probably write a several-thousand-word article without tapping into the insights from a search listening tool. But will you answer the questions that this car’s owners are actually asking?
I checked what questions people were asking about it. Some pretty specific ones, like “Are Chrysler 300 rear-wheel drive?”, “Can Chrysler 300 tow a boat?”, and “Can Chrysler 300 be flat-towed?” came up.
3. Don’t Underestimate Quora, Reddit, and YouTube
I’m going to be a little controversial and tell you not to underestimate Quora, Reddit, or YouTube as your primary research sources. They have a lot of people who have an interest or firsthand experience with nearly any topic imaginable.
When you’re looking to find out how others are solving a problem, check the threads on Quora or Reddit, and the instructional videos on YouTube. Nine times out of ten, you will be able to find a solution (or at least a few workarounds).
You should always double-check the facts that their users are citing, and these platforms definitely shouldn’t be your only source of information. However, when you’re researching copywriting, don’t gloss over them when they appear in Google’s search results.
4. Read Through the Academic Papers on the Topic
Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic Research, and RefSeek are three search engines for academic research that you can (and should) use to dig deep into any topic.
Three other good sources of articles are ScienceDirect.com, the Wiley Online Library, and JSTOR.
The more you do this, the faster you’ll see that most academic papers follow roughly the same structure:
The trick to making scientific literature work for you, according to academics, is to know how to read it properly.
“I start by reading the abstract,” Jesse Shanahan, a graduate student in astronomy at Wesleyan University, tells Scientific.
“Then, I skim the introduction and flip through the article to look at the figures. I try to identify the most prominent one or two figures, and I really make sure I understand what’s going on in them. Then, I read the conclusion/summary.”
Now here’s how a non-academic (like yours truly) does it.
When I’m reading scientific literature as part of my research for copywriting, I usually read through the abstract to determine if the paper is relevant to my topic in the first place.
Then, I skim through the introduction and the conclusion to get a sense of what the approach and key findings of the study in question are going to be. That helps me make sense of the details later on.
Next, I read each section carefully, taking notes (I’ll either print the article out or, if it’s too long, use Adobe Reader’s highlighter, making sure I don’t forget to save the document before closing it).
Last, I look at the references to see if any other papers that this one has cited can help me dig deeper into my topic.
5. Read Non-Fiction Books or Listen to Audiobooks
When creating a piece of content, most copywriters will skim through the top three to five results in Google and rewrite them in their voice.
If you do the same thing, you won’t like what I’m about to say, but that’s simply a lazy way of doing your research! And yes, that’s coming from someone who also did this when he was a copywriting newbie.
Trust me on this; no matter what topic you’ve been hired to write about, there are several well-written books or perfectly narrated audiobooks that no one else has taken the time to read or listen to.
Unless you do original research and read the works of experts on the topic, your work will be the same as everyone else’s, no matter how well you spin the words.
Original research isn’t limited to just literature.
6. Take Time to Do Original Research
If you want your content to stand apart and be helpful to your readers, you have to be willing to do what others are not—and that’s original research.
While mainly for bloggers, here’s a good video on the topic of original research by Jim Harmer and Ricky Kesler of Income School:
Writing an article on the best material for a fence?
Pick up the phone and call a few fence companies in your city or state, asking them for a comment that you can cite. Sure, not all of them will get back to you, but those that do will supply you with their expert advice and insight your readers are looking for.
Writing a review of the best email marketing apps for newbies?
Sign up for a trial on each of them, try them out for yourself, and write about your experience with their onboarding processes.
Were they intuitive and usable right out of the box, or did you keep having to refer to the documentation? Was the documentation good enough, or were you compelled to search for how-to posts or instructional YouTube videos on the topic?
If you want your copy to be original, you must go out into the field and do original research. Even when you’re not getting paid by the hour, dedicate some of your time to it (your readers will thank you, and your clients keep throwing work at you).
To do effective research as a copywriter, it’s essential to know your audience.
The more you know about who they are and their needs, the better able you will be to write content relevant to them.
Keep in mind that people go online with questions they want answered; many of these questions can often be solved by reading articles or watching videos on how-to topics related to those problems.
Doing original research is also an option – but make sure it’s reliable! When in doubt, refer to the nonfiction books on your topic (or other trusted sources), and don’t forget to do your original research, so you have something new and helpful to share with your readers.
What tips or strategies do you have? Share them in the comments below!