How to Research Blog Topics: Step-by-Step Instructions

Person in a library to illustrate a blog post about how to research blog topics.

Last updated March 7, 2021.

If the thought of learning how to research blog topics makes you a little woozy, I don’t blame you at all. The word “research” conjures up images of sluggishly wading through materials, running into dead ends, and ultimately wasting tons of time.

No one likes to waste time.

Yet, a quick search of your topic on Google might change your mind.

Google search results for "how to research blog topics."

When faced with these odds, it’s surprising that anyone bothers to create new blog content at all.

So, why do we do it? Because publishing fresh, relevant content is one of the best ways to attract people to your business. In fact, according to the Content Marketing Institute, nearly 50% of B2B marketers and 59% of B2C marketers were expecting to increase their content marketing budgets in 2020. When they checked back in July 2020 (in the midst of the pandemic), things were less certain. Still, nearly one-third of marketers said they expected to spend more on content during the second half of the year, while less than 20% were anticipating a decrease.

Perhaps it’s time to shift your mindset. Stop thinking of research as a waste of time. Instead, think of it as an essential first step toward coming up with blog post ideas and creating content that will drive more traffic to your website and support your marketing goals.

Convinced? Great! But, if you don’t know where to start, keep reading to learn how to research blog topics.

Step-By-Step Instructions for How to Research Blog Topics

1.  Conducting Keyword Research

Keywords are at the heart of every content marketing strategy. They are the words or phrases your business wants to be known for. So when researching blog topics, it’s important to remember why you’re creating content in the first place. You want your business to be found.

When your target customer has a question or seeks a solution you provide, you want them to find your content, click on it, and extract value from it. When you accomplish these three things, you make a positive impression and are one step closer to gaining a customer.

The best way to be found is to focus on the words or phrases your ideal customers actually use. While it’s true that search engines are super smart (and are getting smarter every day), the precise keywords you target still matter . . . . a LOT! So, below are step-by-step instructions for conducting this research for your blog:

Step 1: Document Your Findings

Coffee and Research

Before you start researching keywords, get a notepad or (better yet) open a document where you can capture notes and screenshots. This may sound obvious, but I cannot stress enough how important this is.

Keyword research is rarely a linear path. It requires experimentation, meandering, and the use of one or more keyword research tools. If you don’t take notes, you will lose track of your findings, so document your discoveries as you go.

Step 2: Use Google AutoFill and Google Suggestions to Spark Blog Topic Ideas

You probably already have a general topic in mind. Now, ask yourself what someone will gain from reading your blog post. What problem are they trying to solve? Or, what answers are they trying to find? And how might they phrase their query when they type it into Google’s search bar?

For example, my working title for this post was “How to Research Your Topic and Competition So You Can Create Unique Content.” But, when I entered the term “research your topic” into Google, it presented me with advice for conducting academic research. In hindsight, this makes perfect sense. But that’s not what I was planning to write about.

So, I cleared my browser history and tried again, typing slowly to see autofill suggestions from Google. The term “how to research” didn’t produce anything meaningful, but when I added “blog” to the end, I saw this:

Google Autofill Results for How to Research Blog

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Repeat this process a few times – exploring different search terms until you develop a list of potential keywords that are relevant to your topic.

Step 3: Use a Keyword Research Tool to Identify Valuable Terms

Armed with your list of potential keywords, use a keyword research tool to examine the search volume and competitiveness of each term. The idea is to find a keyword that has high search volume and low competition, but if your industry is super competitive, this can be a challenge. In this case, look for search terms with medium competition, then look at the sites that are already ranking until you find a term where you think you can compete.

If you don’t have a subscription to a tool, conducting keyword research can be tricky. Google offers a free “Keyword Planner” tool to anyone who registers for an Ad Words account, but if you don’t advertise, the search volume numbers are vague. Neil Patel provides a free tool called Ubersuggest, which is a viable alternative, but it requires you to log in (and provide access to your data) to unlock its potential. Tools like SEMRush or Moz’s Keyword Explorer offer great data, but they limit the number of searches you can perform for free.

This is when that notepad will come in handy. Use Google’s “Keyword Planner” or “Ubersuggest” to narrow down your options. If you wish, you can check your findings using one of the more robust keyword tools (taking screenshots as you go). Of course, if you plan to research blog topics a lot, it might be time to consider a subscription. These tools start at around $1,000 per year and are useful for a wide variety of tasks.

2. Researching the Competition

Once you decide on your target keyword(s), it’s time to study the competition. There’s an incredible amount of content published every day. If you wish to rank for a certain query, you need to think like a search engine. Google’s goal is to provide the searcher with the best answer to their query, so your goal is to create a piece of content that’s better than the competition’s.

How do you do that? Research, of course. But this time, you will focus on the answers that are already ranking in the search engine results.

Step 1: Once again, get out your notepad.

Step 2: Enter your term into Google, focus on the first page of results, and make note of the following.

  • Who is ranking for that topic already?
  • What title(s) did they use?
  • How did they approach the topic?
  • What points did they make?
  • Did they miss anything important?
  • Do you agree or disagree with their position?

The idea here is to look for opportunities to create something better or unique and improve your chance of ranking. Perhaps you can provide more depth on the topic. Or, maybe you have an interesting, contrasting, or even controversial opinion that will help you stand out.

Step 3: Research the blog topic in BuzzSumo.

BuzzSumo is a great tool that allows you to identify top-performing content for specific topics and competitors based on social media activity. When you research blog topics in BuzzSumo, you can see the content that resonated most with people on social media and examine it to figure out why it was a success.

Image showing a search for "how to research blog topics" in BuzzSumo.

For example:

  • Did the author choose a particularly compelling title?
  • Was the content especially well done?
  • Did someone influential share the piece on Twitter?
  • Was the content published on a highly visible platform?

Once you understand what you’re up against, you will be much more prepared to create a new piece of content that can compete.

3. Researching Your Headline

By this time, you probably know how you plan to approach your topic, but you still have one more bit of research to do. Now you need to develop a strong, clickable headline.

Too many people skip this step or decide to use something cute, but please don’t make this mistake. Your headline can make or break the success of your blog post. The headline is often the only thing people see before deciding to read your post or move on to the next one. It must reel the reader in, quickly conveying what the article is about and why they should care.

To craft the perfect headline, follow these steps:

Step 1: Familiarize yourself with winning headline formulas.

If creating headlines is a new experience for you, it may be comforting to know that click-worthy headlines follow time-tested formulas. A simple Google search for “headline formulas” will yield thousands of articles on this topic. But, when I want to go back to basics, I still refer to CopyBlogger’s eBook titled “How to Write Magnetic Headlines.”

These headline-writing tips can be tremendously helpful for stimulating your creativity, but sometimes you just want to know what works. In that case, look no further than BuzzSumo’s research:

       100m Posts Analyzed: What You Need to Write the Best Headlines

       How to Write Engaging B2B Headlines

Step 2: Brainstorm a list of possible titles.

Knowing the formulas and actually crafting great headlines, however, are two different things. So next, you need to brainstorm a list of potential titles.

Come up with as many headlines as possible. Be sure to include your keyword and a promise for what the reader will gain.

Step 3: Run your list through a headline analyzer tool.

When you’ve exhausted your ideas, use a headline analyzer tool to see how you did. This will help you come up with additional titles, new configurations, and narrow down your list to the best option(s).

CoSchedule Headline Analyzer Screenshot

If you happen to finish this process with several great headlines, all the better! Use them when promoting your blog on social media. If one does exceptionally well, you can always go back and adjust your original title.

Wrapping Up: How to Research Blog Topics

Whew! You’re finally done with your research. Now it’s time to turn it into reality! Using your title as a guide, develop an outline to steer the creation of your post and to ensure that you deliver on your promise to the reader.

The competitive research you gathered will help you cover all the important points, but be sure to add a couple of your own. When you’re finished, craft a meta description that (once again) includes your keyword, and you’re done!

Do you have any tips to share on how to research blog topics? Feel free to add them in the comments.

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