Today, I want to share my entire process for researching a topic to write about. If you follow my process, or adopt it and modify it to fit your own process, or even if you just implement most of the concepts, you will find that you write much more detailed guides and create more helpful resources for your audience, which ultimately end up bringing you more traffic because of that.
Keep in mind that topic research is not the same as keyword research, which is another topic (hehe). While keyword research is still very useful, and is a bit more technical and precise, as search engines get smarter and learn to understand language better, it may be getting a bit outdated, or at least its best years are behind it. That’s why you are much better focusing on learning how to do proper topic research.
When to research a topic
Your blog posts are valuable to your audience because of three things – your knowledge, your experience, and your research.
Before you even start writing a single letter in your blog post, you will have some level of experience and knowledge on the topic you choose to write about (hopefully).
The level of experience and knowledge you already have will determine how much topic research should you do.
In affiliate marketing specifically, researching a product will be one of the most critical steps when you’re doing product reviews, and researching the topic will be something you do for educational articles but also all of the time.
Topic experts will either have thorough knowledge and experience with the topic, and may require either no research at all, or just do some light brushing upon. The same applies when you’re mostly writing based on your own unique insights and experiences, or maybe even introduce a term or a topic yourself.
This article may be a good example of that – I’ve already been deeply involved in blogging for a long period of time, I’ve already done a lot of research on it, I’m already aware of the message I’m trying to communicate and how I will communicate it to my audience, and I will write this entire article without referencing another resource.
If you have some knowledge of the topic and you’re not sure if it’s enough, I recommend just thinking about it for a few minutes. Spend 10 minutes just being focused on the topic. Trust me, this can be much harder than it sounds. Think about everything that you know that’s related to it, but also other principles you know from other areas and how they might be relevant as well.
This short but intense period will usually guide you and inform you on how much additional research you should do. You will know how much you know, and how much you need to learn.
If you’re very unfamiliar with your niche, you will tend to spend a lot more time researching all the topics. That’s why I always recommend choosing a niche that you already have some expertise in to begin with – that will be a huge advantage to you.
You will usually find that you either need to do some quick research (about 30 minutes), or go more in-depth (2 hours or more, sometimes even 8 hours if needed).
How to research a topic
I recommend three essential places where you should do your research. There are more, and I will mention most of them, but if you use the following three, you will get most of the value.
Researching a topic on Youtube
Youtube is not the best place for topic research (it may even be the worst), but it’s a good starting point. It’s often not enough for me, and I believe you will find the same to be true. Whenever I feel like I need to do just some quick research or get a few ideas, I start with Youtube.
After you type in your topic in the search bar, don’t just blindly go for the first few suggestions – sometimes the algorithm promotes new videos with less relevancy. Newer videos are fine, but try to watch at least one older video with a lot more views, as that gives you a great perspective of how the topic has evolved over time.
Pay attention to the channels that have posted the videos as well. The more related they are to the topic, the better, but even if a completely unrelated channel has something like a guest on their show that’s an expert in your topic (and they are actually discussing the topic), that may be valuable to you.
Also, try and find a controversial video, one that has a large number of dislikes as well as likes. This will quickly educate you on some of the things that the community is passionate about, about potential scams or dishonesty or any other controversy in the industry, and sometimes even on hotter subtopics around your general topic.
At the very minimum, aim for three videos:
- a recent one with a fairly big number of views and that’s well-received, from a bigger channel on the topic
- an older one with a ton of views and likes, also from a big channel
- a controversial one, with a high number of both likes and dislikes, and a passionate discussion in the comment section with several comments with lots of replies
Of course, you will not always find one of each of these types, but I’ve found that this mix provides a good level of insight into the topic and covers a lot of different angles in a very short time.
I strongly recommend actually watching the videos, instead of just listening to them and doing something else with the rest of your brain. Fully immerse yourself in the video, and pay attention to the people speaking on the topic as much as possible – humans learn with every single one of their senses, and good educators use their whole body to express a point, so you’ll find that some of the best experts will teach you not just with their words, but with their gestures and body movement as well.
That’s also why I recommend Youtube over podcasts as well – podcasts can get the job done, but Youtube will be much more effective.
Dig into the comment sections as much as possible, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve found gold there. Look for the comments with lots of replies under them, and of course, the ones with lots of likes, but that are more than just “if you’re watching this in 2021 you are so unbelievably awesome” or “nice video, check my channel for a better one”.
Watch the videos at a faster speed, as fast as you can consume it. I’ve found that I can easily understand the vast majority of the points being made even when watching at x1.75 speed (also, my videos are much cooler to me when I watch them at that speed).
The final and most important tip – take notes! Try not to stop the video, and for that, I recommend either using good old pen and paper, or resizing the browser window to take up half of the screen, and your notepad app to take up the other half.
You can link to the videos from your blog post as resources, or you can even embed them if you can’t find any good images or media for the post.
Researching a topic on Quora or other forums
Whenever possible, I try to do at least some research on Quora.
Currently, Quora is the highest-quality online discussion forum in the world, and the number of topic experts writing there is mind-blowing. I’m not even sure how they manage to maintain such a high level of professionalism and dignity about their content. It’s a publicly available online forum, just like any other, and yet, somehow, spammers and trolls don’t get much attention, and true topic experts often surface to the top.
By simply typing your topic in the search bar, you will either find an actual Quora topic for it (in which case, cha-ching!), or you will find some questions and answers related to it.
The best thing about researching a topic on Quora is that you can have a very good insight into how much expertise does the author truly has on the topic.
Look for the answers with many upvotes and comments to learn from the most, but even more importantly, check the author’s profile and see how many answers they have on the topic, and whether their credentials include expertise in the topic.
Usually, topic writers will have at least 50 answers around the topic, and the more they have the better.
And, a neat little trick that will help with your SEO – often, the serious writers will cite their sources in their links or the footnotes, and you can and should cite the same sources in your own blog post and link to them as well. Google loves this, and even though most of your audience will probably not care, a small proportion of them will truly appreciate it and consider you to be a professional in the field.
And also, another super-useful tip – once you finish writing your article, you can promote it on Quora as an answer to the same question you used for your research! You will already have everything you need and you will not need to write another sentence – you can just use your blog post’s intro and the first few paragraphs, or maybe you can go a bit more in-depth, but at the end, you will always say something like “you can find out more in the complete guide here” and link to your article. This will probably not bring you a flood of traffic, but it will do many good things for your article, including bringing it a quick link from a topically relevant place, and exposing it to some people passionate about the topic.
Researching a topic in Google Scholar
If you’re creating a big and high-quality resource, that will try to outcompete some strong competition, and become an evergreen article on your blog, you will need to bring out the big guns.
That means researching on Google Scholar.
The content you find on Google Scholar is of the highest scientific rigor and quality.
In case you’re not familiar with it, Google Scholar is a search engine for scholarly literature. A search query typed in Google Scholar yields different results than a regular Google search – it brings back scientific journals and articles, research papers, patents, and other academic material. Almost all of the time, it’s papers written by doctors, professors, PhDs, and other recognized experts.
The benefits of researching a topic on Google Scholar are unrivaled. You will be using actual scientific research to learn about your topic, and that’s almost impossible to beat. Plus, linking out to scholarly articles like this is a very good SEO practice (especially linking out to .edu domains).
There are a few downsides though, and that’s why this research tool can’t always provide you with meaningful results.
First, this research will take you more time. You can sometimes get away by just reading the abstract from the paper you’ll use for your research, but even that will require you to read it very carefully, and be as certain it is related to the point you’re trying to make as possible. I don’t want to scare you, but the language used in many of those research papers is very often domain-specific and you may struggle with some of it. Plus, for many of the studies, you will need to know at least some basic level of statistics, as that’s a tool used frequently.
Second, some of the materials and research are behind a paywall, and often the payments required can be pretty expensive. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t pay $200/month to access a research paper. Not saying it could never be useful, but for the current level I’m at, I believe it’s not worth it. Luckily, even if the research paper is behind a paywall, often its abstract will not be, and you can maybe get the gist of it for free.
Third, and probably most important, it often happens so that there are no related studies or materials for your topics. For topics related to health and nutrition, for example, this will not be a problem, but if you’re writing on the best vacation destinations in France, you will probably not find any scientific literature.
Now, there’s a bit of blogging jiu-jitsu you can apply here, and with some clever use of language, manage to use research that’s just tangentially related to your topic, but that’s more for the purpose of linking out instead of actually educating you about the topic.
Despite these downsides, when you manage to find solid research with Google Scholar, you’ve hit gold! It’s probably the most payoff that topic research can provide you with, both because of the high-authority information you will quote and piggy-back on its expertise, and the relevant link out to a trusted domain authority in your post.
How to add your own value to the topic
As we said previously, the value you provide to your audience with your blog post is your knowledge, your experience, and your research.
What happens then, if you have no knowledge or experience, and all you’ve done is the research? Even though that has some value, it will not be of much interest to your audience because they can go straight to the research, right?
Well, there are two things you can do here, and you will have the minimum requirements for a valuable blog post.
Number one is your take on the matter. If you’re not an expert, your take may not be all that important, but as someone that’s at least interested in the field, it will hold some merit, and a portion of your audience will appreciate it. Try generalizing and abstracting away some bigger point, relating it to some other concept that might make sense, or think of an analogy that may be useful for explaining the concept better. In a way, that’s still your own knowledge and experience you’re giving to your audience.
Number two is your presentation. Ok, we said it’s three things that give a blog post value, but it’s actually four, since presentation does play a role. In fact, at times, it’s even the most important role, and in our day and age, it seems like it’s becoming the most important one, period.
What you will always have is your own unique way of communicating. You can (and should!) constantly work on improving that and learning to write and express yourself better, to express ideas better, to present them in both an educating and an engaging way, to build a relationship with your audience, and that’s a unique value for your audience that only you can bring.
For example, think of a person you may know (or it may be you), that hates math because they had a bad math teacher as a kid. That person may even be a secret math genius, but if they’ve learned to hate math from an early age because of the way it has been taught to them, not only are they at a loss, but the entire world is.
So, you may have a way to reach a certain group of people and present ideas in a new light that brings them to valuable realizations. Even if you just add that to thorough research, you may be doing someone a favor and your blog post probably has value.
Topic research vs keyword research
While topic research and keyword research may touch at some points, they are mostly different techniques used in different phases of the blogging process. But I see how some people may easily confuse the two.
We will talk about keyword research at length and how to do it properly in another article.
For now, let’s just say that it’s a somewhat simpler process, usually not as creative as topic research, and as time goes by, it gets less and less relevant. Today, in blogging and SEO, you will mostly end up doing keyword research in the planning phase of your blog, and the keywords with the correct ratio of search volume and competition will end up becoming your topics, roughly speaking.
But other than that, there’s not that much to it. It used to be true that the number of keywords you used in your article played a role for SEO and you could game the algorithm by adding the keywords more often in your content (aka “keyword stuffing”), but today it seems that search engines, and especially Google, are smarter than that and don’t really care about the number of times you use the keywords in an article. Of course, you should still use the main keywords in the title and in the URL, and whenever they come naturally in the sentences, but other than that, you don’t really need to worry about keywords and your time is much better spent on getting familiar with the topic and presenting it well.