At Siege, “we aim to make the world better through content.” Great content consists of a lot of things: great ideas, great SEO, great design, great writing and most of all: a great research foundation.
I always spice up my copy with at least one piece of data. It’s a habit I created during my six years of studying Psychology.
Science professors and students love data. We live for it. Although I’m a content marketer now (not a psychologist—whoops), I still love including stats and data in my writing.
My education taught me a thing or two about finding reputable information and avoiding illegitimate resources. It meant the difference between passing a class or failing it.
Regardless of whether you’re writing a lifestyle piece on the origin of a flower or a statistics post on the average age of first-time homeowners—it’s crucial to base the research on evidence.
It bolsters your authority and reputation (or those of your client).
So let’s dive into what research really means and how you can leverage it to make the internet a more reliable source of information.
“Googling” vs. Research
I recently saw a TikTok (yes, I got sucked into it) of a fairly aggravated young man complaining about the fact that in this day and age, you can Google pretty much anything and find “evidence” that supports your hypothesis. He gave the following example:
When we ask Google “does coffee cause blindness?,” this is the quick answer result we’ll see:
Are you ready to give up on coffee now? Or would you like to know what happens when we ask Google “can coffee improve your vision”? Here’s what the search engine spits out:
If you’re anything like the man in the TikTok video, you’re outraged or at least confused. Here’s the thing though: Searching something does not equal research. In other words: Just because Google’s quick answer tells us something, does not mean it’s true.
In the example above, all Google did was bring up information that matched our search query. The search engine couldn’t care less whether or not the information is true, it brought up exactly what we were looking for.
As the average user, you’re probably only going to Google one of these questions and then go about your life believing whichever result came up on your screen is the truth.
As content marketers, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to create content that is based on research and evidence that is up to present-day standards so Google can show users information that is actually accurate.
How can you do that? Let me show you!
How To Support Your Copy With Research
Spicing your copy up with a few numbers, percentages and surprising facts will draw your reader in and make your post more interesting. Exhibit A:
It’s easy to get caught up in your own biases and opinions and as the coffee example above shows, you could very likely find a source that backs up your claims, regardless of whether or not they’re true.
But unless you find a credible source to support your point, it’s best to cut it. No matter how painful that may be.
I had to do exactly that while writing this piece. During my research for this post, I found multiple articles that stated:
“Statistical evidence is more persuasive than story evidence.”
Unfortunately, upon checking those resources, I discovered nothing but broken links.
“General populations do not favor one evidence type (narratives or statistics) over the other[…]”
Did I want to tell you that including statistical facts in your research paper will make people believe you more? Absolutely.
Can I support that claim with evidence? Nope.
So instead of lying to you to embellish my post, I cut it out of the paragraph above (and then used it as an example here, ha!).
Let’s take a closer look at how you can find reliable sources to support your copy.
Work Smarter, not Harder
There’s nothing wrong with pulling inspiration from another person’s research as long as you cross-reference the facts with other sources before adding them to your own copy.
I recently had to write a piece on the benefits of meditation. Headspace (DR 88 and a leading meditation app) was the perfect starting point for my research.
They created a wonderful article full of “science-backed benefits of meditation.” It’s also one of the first articles to pop up on the SERP when you Google “benefits of meditation.” This article proved itself as a goldmine packed with links to scientific research papers.
Rather than scrolling through hundreds of articles on Google Scholar, I opened all of the studies linked in the article and picked the ones that fit my copy best. Like cherries from a very ripe tree.
Editor’s note: Since writing this article, Headspace has updated the page and no longer features the links to the original research.
If the blog post you found misquoted or misinterpreted the original source, either adjust your copy to match what the original source says or cut the section from your post to prevent spreading false information.
Use Reliable Sources
Depending on how unique your post idea is, you’ll have to do more of your own research rather than piggy-backing off of someone else’s. Generally speaking, you’ll want to look for high-authority resources.
Google Scholar is a great tool to find original research and reliable sources. But even within this specific search engine, you’ll want to look out for the best resources. Some of the most prestigious and well-known publications include:
Articles published by these journals are peer-reviewed, which means that academic scientific quality can be ensured.
You may also find full journal articles every once in a while like this one that aren’t protected by a paywall.
Don’t limit yourself to these three journals but know that they’re some of the best resources available.
Besides Google Scholar you can also find trusted journals, ebooks, and surveys on LexisNexis. They make legal and journalistic documents more accessible electronically.
You may need to put in your email address to access some of these ebooks/surveys but give it a try if you find something good!
Some of the best places to find original data if you don’t have the time or resources to conduct your own survey include:
Finally, citing official government (.gov) or education (.edu) sites is always a good idea. And if you’re writing about news-related topics, check out reputable publications like The New York Times or The Washington Post.
Although, journalists are on hard deadlines and make mistakes too so take their research with a grain of salt.
Pro tip: Check out ResearchGate if you hit a paywall—you may get lucky and find the full PDF there!
How To Find an Original Source
Not all of the information you’re including in your posts will come from scientific journals, databases, or government sites.
Especially when you’re on a deadline, it’s near impossible to scour through that much information just to include a couple of stats in your post.
That’s why the piggy-back method works. As long as you do it right!
When you stumble upon a fact that you’d really like to incorporate in your own research, there are two reasons you should make sure to find the original source first:
- It allows you to fact-check the information before blindly following someone else’s research and possibly spreading false information.
- You can cite the original source in your copy which will give your post a higher authority.
Let’s say you’re writing a piece on compliance audits and read this in a post on the subject:
Those $3.86 million will be a great supporting point in your own copy.
Unfortunately, this article does not link to the original source and it sure doesn’t seem like their own data. This is how I’d go about my further research:
Step 1: Ask Google
Avoid using the data you’re trying to verify in your search string so you’re not influencing the SERP (e.g. “data breach cost $3.86 million”).
Instead, simply ask the question you seek the answer to.
Step 2: Find another post that mentions this stat or topic
One of the first posts that comes up on my SERP is this article by The Digital Guardian.
Under a graph, I can find a hyperlink with the anchor text “Cost of a Data Breach.”
Step 3: Work through the SERP
Fortunately, in this scenario, my research is done.
The link in The Digital Guardian article leads me to IBM’s website where the cost of a data breach is listed right below the highlights of their official report.
Step 4: Uncover the original source
Since IBM is a high authority in the space (DR 92 and a well-known multinational tech company) and this data stems from their original research, this is not only the correct source to cite but also a great fact to support or embellish an article!
However, the $3.86 million is already an outdated number at this point so this is a pristine opportunity to use the newest data available for my research piece.
Step 5: Link to the original source in your copy
Like this, for example:
“If you’re worried about the audit costs, which can vary between $10,000 and $50,000, guess how much the average data breach can cost your organization? It’s about $4.23 million.”
How To Spot Unreliable Sources
How do you know if a source is not the original one? Here are a few signs to look out for:
All of these signs are generally big, red flags. So move on to a different resource or drop your point.
How To Cite Your Sources Properly
The final part of conducting proper research is to give credit where credit is due.
Besides avoiding plagiarism, this also allows your reader to easily do further research if they’re interested.
Since this is not a research paper but an online blog post, you’re likely going to cite your sources using anchor text within the copy.
What the best anchor text for your link will be depends on the way the sentence is structured and the type of fact you’re referencing.
When you’re citing numbers, facts, and quotes, stick to the following best practices.
Use the amount, time, or percentage and any other facts that are relevant to the information as the anchor text for the link.
Keep in mind that you’ll want to keep the copy that’s used as anchor text to a minimum so you don’t disrupt the flow of the article too much.
Example from How to embrace the new normal:
Just like you would for internal links to other relevant content on your blog, use the most pertinent piece of information as the anchor text. Again, keep it short but relevant.
Example from The 7 best foods to boost senior health:
When you’re writing a quote-heavy piece, it’s especially important to cite the original sources.
Sites like Pinterest or Brainyquotes can be great starting points, but should never be your only source.
Instead, try to uncover the author’s personal website, their book (or a review of it), or their social media (e.g. Twitter or LinkedIn). You can also try to find the interview or article where the quote originated from.
When you’re quoting an expert, use their name or their organization as the anchor text for the link.
You can link to the article or website where the quote was first published or link to their website or social media if it’s an original quote (e.g. from HARO).
Examples from Find cooking inspiration at home with these expert tips:
APA style in-text citations
If you’re a writer working in the medical or legal field, you’re likely going to use a lot of resources and quote them multiple times within the same post.
In this case, you can use in-text citations that look like this → .
When you use bracketed numbers to cite, you’ll also have to add a “Sources” section to the bottom of your post. In this section, you’ll list all of the resources you referenced throughout the post in the order of appearance, corresponding to the bracketed numbers.
Examples from How to Prevent Burnout and Care for Yourself:
At the end of the day, it’s just a blog, not an academic research paper. Google won’t kick you off the internet for spreading false information or forgetting to give credit.
However, an angry Gen Zer may try to cancel you for not doing your research properly and blatant plagiarism can diminish your brand authority.
So, let’s all do our best to create well-researched, credible content and make the internet a better place, shall we?