3 Killer Survey Questions to Generate Useful Content For a Link Building Campaign

The quality of the content you create is influenced by the quality of the material on which it is based. However, that material may not be complete – a client’s knowledge of their own customers is often far from perfect.

A customer survey can be a source of rich content. But to gather the sort of material you need, every customer survey should include these three often-overlooked questions.

In creating content, it’s important to grab as much information from your clients as you possibly can – the more you can absorb from them the better the creative content ideas that you come up with. And asking clients detailed questions shows you’re interested and curious – the better the questions you ask, the more trust you build.

But clients often don’t know what they don’t know, especially small and medium-sized companies.

SEO professionals and link builders are increasingly taking on tasks that would normally be the territory of marketing consultants. Many have discovered that surveys can be a great source of publicity and editorial links (see 6 Reasons You Should Use Market Surveys in Link Building Campaigns).

Surveys can and should go much further than link bait. A well-constructed survey can give you useful insights into the market you’re trying to penetrate and help you create solid content (see 18 Ways to Create Unique Content From Survey Results).

But don’t expect clients to say, “Survey? Yeah, great, when do we start?” It’s more likely they’ll have done a survey in the past and not used the results. This is an opportunity for you to talk about how you can use a survey to get fresh and unique insights into their customer base. And how you can create compelling content based on these fresh insights.

Here are three killer, but often overlooked, questions that will maximize the potential for creating useful content. Include these every survey you conduct for content generation.

1. The Categorization Question

This is a simple question that has big implications for the content you’re able to create afterward. It’s one that the client will often say isn’t needed, but it’s essential for savvy marketers.

It’s simply the question, “To which of the following sectors do you belong?” Then list the main sectors that your client serves and make sure to include an additional option of “other” where the customer can specify their sector.

The client will often say they already know which sectors they serve, so it isn’t necessary.

The value of this question isn’t in the answer itself, but in the ability it gives you to dice up the answers later, and create content that is razor-focused on specific niches.

If, for example, your client has three main sectors (e.g., travel, retail, and nonprofit), then you can easily look at the results for each of those sectors in isolation. So if you isolate the travel sector, which your survey software should allow you to easily do, you have material that will be directly relevant to bloggers, journalists, and customers in the travel niche. You get sector-specific research on which to base sector specific content.

This gives you so many more options when you do come to create content.

2. The Customer Story Question

A question along the lines of “Tell us a story about…” your experiences with using our product or how you’ve used our product to solve a specific problem, complete a task, save time, and so on.

Give plenty of space for the answer so that people get the message that you want them to give you detailed answers. Customers will take up the offer, especially if they have a burning issue or a recent important experience. Answers here can be rich in detail and provide you a ton of inspiration for content.

The answers are qualitative in nature so won’t give you nice looking data and charts because they can’t be easily measured – but they give you great customer stories. Spend the time reading individual answers, line-by-line, and look for replies that you can develop into meaningful customer stories.

Rich as this material may be, you can’t just cut and paste the answers and drop them into your content. You’ve got to ask their permission first and that’s where you’ll be in trouble if you haven’t asked the next killer question.

3. The Contact Permission Question

The answers people give in a survey are confidential and can’t be used directly in content. However, if you tell people that you’re compiling quotes and case studies and would they be interested in participating, then you can use that material.

And the more you build a good rapport with the customer, then the more detailed content you will get.

With this type of question you’re doing important two things that bring you unique, quality content:

You’re telling people that you will be creating publicity material that features customer stories, which will pique the interest of respondents who are PR savvy and recognize the value of being featured in case studies.
You’re getting their express permission to get in touch with further questions – and that gives you an opportunity to build a rapport and dig deeper into their opinions. Any additional material they give you can be published without a problem.
When you do follow up, your prime objective is to get people to tell you more about their answers – it’s not the time for you to ask new questions. Say things like, “I was interested in what you said about … could you tell me more?” Skype is a great way to do these interviews because you’ll quickly identify customers who are articulate, are potential brand ambassadors, and whom you may well be able to use in podcasts, videos, or testimonials.

By asking those three questions, you’ve given yourself numerous permutations. You can isolate people who are in the travel industry (Q1), who have a great story to tell (Q2), and have given you permission to get in touch (Q3).

8 Lessons for SEOs from Muck Rack’s “Today’s Journalist” Survey

(This article was originally published in my regular column on SearchEngineWatch.com)

One of the things that SEO and PR have in common is that many practitioners in both industries are self-taught. People in them tend to learn by doing — just jump in and learn from experience and by sharing with colleagues.

Media coverage can boost search rankings through brand mentions, authoritative editorial links and a cascade effect as stories spread — see 10 Reasons Why Public Relations is a Must-do for SEO in 2013.

To help understand what journalists want from a pitch, Muck Rack recently conducted a survey of journalists on its database, “Meet today’s journalist.”

Muck Rack is a database of journalists and bloggers on social media. According to Greg Galant, CEO of Muck Rack, “As Google constantly updates their algorithm, it’s clear that one of the best surefire way to improve SEO is very old fashioned: to get editorial mentions from major media outlets and blogs. Because of that, it’s extra important to know how to find the right journalists and bloggers and pitch and build relationships with them in a helpful way.”

Here are eight lessons that SEOs can draw from the report’s findings.

1. Don’t worry if you know ZERO journalists.

One of the biggest myths about PR is that you must have good contacts. Having contacts will of course make your life easier and your pitches more successful. But that doesn’t mean that you must have media contacts to be successful.

What you really need is a good story, pitched in the right way — having no media contacts should never be a reason for ignoring PR.

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91 percent of journalists responded to people they didn’t know, according to the Muck Rack survey.

But of course a relationship helps — so your first PR efforts may not be very successful, but they will start the process of building your contact list and over time that will bring you more success.

2. Pitch by email first.

Almost 93 percent of journalists prefer to receive pitches by email. That’s a huge percentage that you should not ignore.

But once you establish a relationship you might find that some journalists like to be pitched on Twitter or even by phone — so find out their preferences and adjust your pitches accordingly.

3. Keep pitches to 2 to 3 paragraphs maximum.

The writer Mark Twain reportedly once said, “If I’d had more time, it would have been shorter.” And in public relations it is important to take that advice. Spending time editing your pitch to the barest minimum is an essential task.

The Muck Rack survey showed that pitches must be brief. 60 percent of journalists wanted the story in just 2 to 3 paragraphs. A further 37 percent wanted even less — just 2 to 3 sentences.

That leaves just 3 percent of journalists who will appreciate anything longer.

So keep your pitches brief and provide a link where interested journalists can get more details if they wish.

4. Make sure you’ve got real, relevant news.

Irrelevant pitches are the biggest grumble that journalists have – but after that it’s lack of personalization and pitches that are too long or badly timed. One of the hangovers of the ways SEOs used press releases in the past, just to get links, is that there was little focus on what was really newsworthy.

As Christina Binkley of The Wall Street Journal says in the survey report, “Pitch me a real story, I’m not here to write free ads for your client.”

5. Get your timing right.

Journalists like getting their pitches early in the day — that means their day, not yours. So take account of time zones if you’re looking for international coverage and time your pitch accordingly.

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43 percent of journalists wanted pitches to arrive between 9am and 11am. A further 27 percent wanted pitches even earlier — between 6am and 9am.

Only 16 percent wanted pitches to arrive between 2pm and 6am the following day.

So it’s worth working out what time your pitch email will arrive in your target journalist’s inbox.

6. Don’t be afraid to follow up (appropriately).

Should you follow up? This is probably one of the most common questions that the inexperienced PR might ask.

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The answer is a resounding, “YES,” but with some caveats.

The main caveat is not to make a nuisance of yourself and follow up only once. Journalists are busy people and can forget about that press release they meant to do something with.

So one follow up call is appropriate — but anything more is risky — only 5 percent of journalists are happy with multiple follow-ups.

7. Follow target journalists on social media.

Social media makes journalists easily accessible as never before, so the report advises, “Be sure to follow the journalists you plan on reaching out to with a story idea. Understand what they are tweeting, their beats and preferences before you contact them.”

• 88 percent of journalists look at how many times their articles have been shared.
• 93 percent said they appreciate it when communications professionals follow them on social media.

8. Make sure you do your own SEO job.

Journalists spend a lot of their time on Google working under the pressure of deadlines — and want to be able to get information or have their queries answered as quickly as possible.

So, as the Muck Rack survey says, “Make sure your company’s website has good SEO and that the representatives at your company who communicate with the press can easily be found on the website.”

And if you really want to maximize your chances of an editorial link, be sure to publish some additional information that is worthy of a link — as Muck Rack has done with its own survey at “Meet today’s journalist.”

Finally

Journalists who sign up to Muck Rack are likely to among the most tech-savvy journalists on any media outlet — but the appeal is spreading. According to Galant, “We do have a broad community of journalists on our platform. We work with social media editors at many publications where they encourage all of their journalists to join Muck Rack.”

In addition, Galant adds, “Muck Rack’s a great entry point for journalists just getting on social media, since it gives them more visibility with their colleagues even if they haven’t built their own following yet. We’re constantly seeing journalists join who are so new to social media they have under 100 followers.”

By signing up for Muck Rack, journalists are making themselves available — and explaininh the stories in which they are interested – and, just as importantly, the stories in which they are not interested.

You can get a copy of the research at “Meet today’s journalist” here.