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How Marketers Use Research-Based Reports to Build Backlinks and Brand Authority

By Kathryn Hawkins. Content Marketing Content Strategy Newsletter
Computer data depth of field
Kevin Ku via Pexels

Learn how and why to create data-driven reports to support your company's marketing and PR efforts.

Your customers crave credible data. Nothing adds more weight to an article than verified data—whether it’s a survey of consumer preferences gleaned from thousands of email surveys, or a collection of the most popular locations for Instagram photoshoots gleaned from top hashtags. After all, how much more do you trust an article that says “a recent Gartner study reports,” v. “my friend Rebecca says…”?

If your brand can become a go-to source for legitimate data—whether proprietary or collected—you’ll be reaping rewards for years to come with enhanced credibility, brand recognition, and backlinks.

But how do you go about gathering data, developing a research-based report and conducting outreach to get exposure for the report? Follow along to find out how your brand can capitalize on the power of data.

How to gather data

Before you collect any data, you must figure out what story you’re trying to tell with this information and who your target audiences are. Without a plan in place, a research-based report could fall short of the goals you’re trying to achieve, such as obtaining backlinks or generating leads.

For instance, if you’re a marketing executive with a B2B real estate company, it might be a brilliant idea to assemble a report based on data about U.S. trends in office space. But if you lack a clear vision for this report, your final product could flop.

To avoid any missteps, ask yourself:

What types of data do I need to accumulate for this report?

Can you rely on publicly available data? Would it be best to dive into proprietary internal data to come up with a compelling story? Should you commission an opinion survey to obtain the sorts of data you’re seeking?

Coming up with an answer to these questions will help shape your report.

How will the data be gathered?

Do you have the in-house resources to effectively collect the data? If so, who will tackle the project? If not, you might want to consider outsourcing this work to a data journalist, a content marketing agency or another partner.

And what if you’re contemplating a survey? Will you do it in a more informal way with a tool like Google Forms? Will you turn to a more complex survey tool like SurveyMonkey, Typeform or Zoho? Or will you hire an outside survey company to poll people?

The answers to these questions depend, in large part, on the internal resources you have at your disposal, the size of your existing audience, and how much money you’ve budgeted for research.

Where can I find reliable sources of data?

As noted by HubSpot, a developer of marketing and sales software, too many folks cherry-pick data from “questionable” sources and then cobble together a few statistics that are incomplete or irrelevant. Obviously, you want to avoid heading down that road.

Instead, you want to search for data from credible sources. Among them are government agencies and research groups.

(By the way, Wikipedia is not one of the credible sources. There’s a reason college professors forbid students from citing Wikipedia in research papers — the information can’t be fully trusted.)

So, where can you begin hunting for high-quality data? Here are seven suggestions:
Don’t overlook data from well-recognized brands, either. Companies as varied as Allstate, DirecTV, Indeed and Zillow regularly crank out their own data — based on surveys and internal data, for instance. This data can be a valuable addition to the pool of data for your report.

  1. Data.gov. This website is a massive storehouse of statistics from the federal government.
  2. BLS.gov. The website for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics posts an array of labor and economic data.
  3. Census.gov. The U.S. Census Bureau website is a treasure trove of data about myriad subjects, including population, housing, health insurance and small businesses.
  4. FRED.stlouisfed.org. This site is a goldmine of economic data courtesy of the Federal Reserve of St. Louis.
  5. Google Public Data.This database lets you explore datasets about hundreds of topics.
  6. Google Scholar. Looking for academic data? This is a go-to source.
  7. Pew Research Center. Pew, a nonprofit organization, represents the gold standard for polling. On its website, you can find survey data about everything from politics to technology.

If you’re generating research from your own audience, make sure that you’ve developed a consistent set of questions for your survey and that you understand who your audience is so that you can segment them appropriately. You’ll need to have a large enough sample size for your data to matter, so if you only get 25 respondents to a survey, you’ll need to expand your respondent pool from there (unless your total subject pool is 26 people!). SurveyMonkey has a tool for assessing the sample size you need for achieving statistical significance.

In the end, remember that your reputation rides on the accuracy of the data you put out there, regardless of whether you’re tapping proprietary data or aggregating data from other sources. If you’re using proprietary data, comb through it to ensure it’ll stand up to scrutiny from readers. If you’re aggregating data from other sources, be sure it’s timely and accurate.

Developing the report

OK, so you’ve collected all of this fascinating data. What do you do with it now?

First and foremost, examine the data. When scrutinized as a whole, what story will you be able to put together with the pieces of data? Will the story resonate with your target audience? Is it interesting? Will it grab the attention of readers, media professionals, social media influencers and others who’ll be critical to your outreach efforts?

If you’re satisfied with the answers to those questions, consider how you’ll weave the data into a cohesive narrative and how you’ll present the data.

The data can’t stand on its own. You’ll need to stitch it together with words and images. The words are the thread that’ll hold the report together. Data charts, infographics and other visual elements will be a vital part of the fabric of the report; without them, the report will fall apart.

Now, you must be wondering how you’re going to package the report.

If you’re blessed with an internal team that can crunch the data, and then write and design the report, then you’re set. Just be sure to designate someone to shepherd the project from start to finish.

If you lack in-house resources, though, don’t wing it. Instead, outsource compilation of the report to a writer/designer or a content marketing agency. The last thing you want to do is put out a report that reflects poorly on your brand and fails to drum up interest.

Conducting outreach

Once the report has been compiled, reviewed and proofread, then it’s ready for prime time. You can’t just publish it and forget it, though. You’ve got to tell the world that you’ve put together a unique data-rich report!

This is where your outreach work comes into play. By this point, you should have a fairly good notion of where on your website you want to post the report (on the blog, for example) and how you want to distribute it.

“Your content must be searchable, snackable and shareable in order to reach your audience,” the Content Marketing Institute says.

One way to share the report is through social media. You must approach this task with a strategy in mind, though. A key part of this strategy is figuring out where you target audience spends the most time on social media. If it’s a B2C audience, perhaps Facebook is a good venue. But if it’s a B2B crowd, your social sharing might pay more dividends on LinkedIn. Don’t guess at this, however. Do some research to maximize your social sharing.

“A strong social strategy helps drive traffic to your content and increase your exposure, which is great for your brand and also your link building efforts. As sharable content gets spread around the internet and more people see it, the odds that other websites will link to the page also goes up,” notes Alexa, an Amazon-owned producer of SEO and competitive analysis software (not to be confused with the Alexa device you might have in your home).

Another component of outreach involves seeking backlinks to your report. To map out your backlink strategy, Alexa recommends:
In addition, reach out to news media outlets that you think might be interested in reporting on your data. This could be a local newspaper or TV station, a national cable TV network, a consumer magazine or a trade publication. Your media outreach strategy will depend on the nature of your data and your target audience. For instance, a local newspaper might be willing to report on your data if their market is highlighted in some way, but it probably will take a pass if the data is squarely aimed at a B2B audience.

  • Determining which backlinks will improve your search rankings and which ones won’t. A site with a high domain authority (the highest is 100) will crank up your search rankings far more than a site with a low domain authority will. Download the Moz toolbar to get an instant read on a site’s domain authority.
  • Identifying sites that link back to your competitors. Ahrefs, MajesticSEO and SEMRush are some of the best-known tools in this arena.
  • Pursuing guest-blogging opportunities with high-domain-authority sites to showcase your research report.
  • Monitoring mentions and asking for backlinks. If a website cites your report but doesn’t link back to it, contact them to ask for a backlink. Sometimes a site will comply; other times it won’t.

Among the top databases for media contacts are Agility PR Solutions, Cision and Meltwater. Of course, you also can go to Google to search for media contacts, but this can be a tedious, time-consuming process.

Once again, if you have an internal team that’s equipped to perform outreach, that’s great. But if those resources aren’t available, then you should weigh whether it makes sense to hire a content marketing agency or PR firm to handle media promotion.

The rewards of research

Research-backed reports can be a lot more work to put together than just writing an article off the top of your head, and you might wonder whether the pain is worth the gain. Fittingly, let’s wrap up with a few useful stats that demonstrate the value of data-driven reporting.

61% of marketers said that their most recent research project had met all or the majority of their expectations (Mantis Research), with successful marketers’ metrics for success including:
Whether you’re gathering a collection of existing stats for a relevant audience, or developing proprietary research, if you’re able to get your data to the right audience, they’ll soon begin sharing and linking to your stats, helping you gain broader visibility among your target audience. Better yet, those increased media mentions will help your credibility climb—enabling you to build your reputation as an industry thought leader worth paying attention to.

  • Media and influencer mentions (72%)
  • Social shares (66%)
  • Backlinks to your site (64%)
  • Sales leads (58%)
  • Subscribers (51%)
  • Improved search ranks (51%)
  • Invitations to speak or write (39%)

Whether you’re gathering a collection of existing stats for a relevant audience, or developing proprietary research, if you’re able to get your data to the right audience, they’ll soon begin sharing and linking to your stats, helping you gain broader visibility among your target audience. Better yet, those increased media mentions will help your credibility climb—enabling you to build your reputation as an industry thought leader worth paying attention to.

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than a decade.

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