Creating Surveys That Get Brand Name Sites Interested in Linking to Yours A 9-step plan for developing surveys that grab attention…and get those well-known sites wanting to link up.

By Eric Ward and Garrett French

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The following excerpt is from the Garrett French and Eric Ward's book Ultimate Guide to Link Building, 2nd Edition. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes

If you're starting to think about creating a winning survey that generates links and press online, it might help to stick to the "S.U.C.C.E.S.s" framework from the Heath Brothers, authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Random House, 2007). Ideas that are "made to stick" check as many of these boxes as possible:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Credible
  • Concrete
  • Emotional
  • Stories

When thinking of a potential idea for a survey, you should ask yourself if the potential answer you're going to get will check most of these boxes.

Related: Market-Defining Keywords: Find Out Where They're Getting Used so You Can Grab That Market

When determining the questions to ask respondents, stick to three frameworks:

  1. Do you know the answer to these questions? If you asked people in San Francisco, "What's your favorite NFL team?" you'd already know the answer for the vast majority of people (the 49ers). It's best to ask questions you don't confidently know the answer to, because that's more likely to lead to unex­pected results.
  2. Can you imagine a marketable title? From the results of one survey, marketers found that "One-third of drivers haven't washed their car in the past year," which was cited as a successful survey because the answer to the question "Have you washed your car in the past year?" was surprising. If you can't imagine a question that would make you want to click a post or an email, then you probably have the wrong question. Regardless, it still somewhat needs to fall in line with bullet one: a general feeling or intuition with­out the absolute certainty to make it obvious.
  3. Does it illicit an emotional reaction? Although it's recommended to hit every letter on the S.U.C.C.E.S. framework above, it's particularly recommended to strike a chord emotionally in some way. In the above example on how rarely people wash their cars, the emotional reaction would likely be "Ewww!" which makes people want to share the story. If you bore people, you won't get coverage.

It's also critical to make sure the questions you're asking make sense for your business. While this is prudent from a link generation perspective, it's even more important for good marketing. For instance, if a credit card company wrote that story about how infrequently people wash their cars, would that make sense? Comparatively, what if wrote a dating survey? You'd take that as absolute fact, even if it didn't easily match all the suggestions described.

It must make sense for your business to run a survey on a topic that's related to your business.

Once you understand that, there are a few things to consider with the potential direction of your surveys:

  • Who are the audiences that link to things like this? That is, if you run a survey on the perception of SEO, who are the actual publishers that would cover it? Are there enough?
  • When is this kind of subject covered? If you sell student loans, for instance, there's an increase in the discussion of loans when people go back to school, which makes sense in the con­tent calendar for news publications. If you pitch surveys in an off-season for a particular topic, you're more likely to have issues finding a publication interested in your results.
  • What's the likelihood you'll get marketable responses? It's common to think a question is good, but then get back responses that are dull so you don't have much to work with. For this reason, it might be best to "test" questions and see how a sample of 50 to 100 folks respond to them before investing in 1000 respondents.

With this information in hand and a good direction for your question or set of questions, you can get to the nitty-gritty: asking the questions.

Related: Do You Know What Linkable Assets Are Hiding in Your Website?

Survey content formats

There are three different ways to leverage survey data. Each have their pros and cons.

1. The single-question survey with data visualizations. The most common option, the single-question survey, allows you to ask a punchy question, then summarize it in an article. For ideal marketability, you want to build "shareable assets" into any content you create. For surveys, that means data visualizations. You'll want to build small images, as reporters are unlikely to share infographics in a tier one area of their publication. Here are some examples:

2. The single-question survey with data visualizations and an infographic. Depending on the topic, it's also possible to use a survey question as the backbone of an infographic in addition to smaller data visualizations. This is especially lucrative when you know the topic appeals to a set of mid-tier bloggers who'd be interested in the subject but are unlikely to write a full article on it. By using both asset types, you won't turn off the press, while also including a second audience. Here are some examples:

3. The multi-question survey with data visualizations and/or infographic. Another popu­lar, lower-risk option is the multi-question survey. This option takes a wider approach and asks multiple questions of the same audience. It allows for various narratives to be pulled out, while also increasing the likelihood that one of the responses returns something interesting for a reporter to craft a narrative around. It can also come off as more authorita­tive and be crafted into a report-type format, such as "The State of Online Dating in 2020." For the right business, the data can be reused and create interesting year-over-year changes that can be developed into their own story. Here are some examples:

If you ask a great question or set of questions, structure the post properly, and make it enjoyable to read, you've done most of the work to create a successful post to drive tier one links.

Wavy Line

Eric Ward founded the Web's first link-building and content publicity service in 1994, (then called NetPOST). He has developed content linking strategies for PBS, WarnerBros, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and Disney. Today, Eric publishes a weekly strategic linking newsletter called LinkMoses Private, and offers clients strategic linking consulting and training services. Garrett French is the founder of Citation Labs, a boutique agency that specializes in custom link-building tools and services to solve large-scale marketing problems. Ward and French are the co-authors of Ultimate Guide to Link Building, available from Entrepreneur Press.

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