A Guide to Content Research & Curation for Small Biz + Free Tools

in Strategy

A Guide to Content Research & Curation for Small Biz + Free Tools

Researching data for your articles, finding inspiration, saving long reads for later, bookmarking quotes, making themed lists, picking up research stats here and there – add all that together and you might faint at the amount of time you spend doing content research online. But does it have to be inconvenient and time-consuming? Nope.

In this article, I will explain: 1) the important difference between researching content to create your own unique articles & social media captions and curating someone else’s content for your channels; 2) the easy to follow content research routine 3) and the free tools every small business owner can use right away to make a content research and content curation process blissfully uncomplicated.

1. Content Research vs Content Curation

The difference between these two lies in authorship. Content research means exploring relevant topic areas to create informed, comprehensive and up to date content for your blog, social media, video, website and so on. Curating content refers to the act of collecting links, videos, photos that relate to your area of interest and serving them to your audience in a form of a listicle article or a skillfully visually put together Instagram feed. For example, my article ‘The Ultimate List of the Best Free Online Resources for Small Business Owners‘ is a piece of curated content, where I link to resources small business owners can use for their online presence management for free.


Karen: Erm, I have a question…Should I be creating my content or curating it?

Great question, Karen!

There’s no recipe or formula that points in one direction when it comes to content curation vs content creation. I would be wary of people advising one-size-fits-all ratio to guide your efforts. There are a couple of different factors you need to take into consideration here:

  • Your goal – What’s the purpose of creating content? Do you want to drive traffic to your website or do you want to increase the number of consultation inquiries? If you want eyeballs (impressions = how many times your content was seen), then a catchy title and a curated list is the kind of low-effort win you want. However, building up to a conversion (an action that you want your audience to make) takes more persuasion, and you also need to try harder. Producing original content will work better in such cases.
  • Your niche – Who you are as a business and who your target audience is will very much dictate the approach you should be taking. For example, there are metaphorical oceans of English-language marketing advice for small businesses out there… But how many of the articles will be relevant to a store owner in Vienna, who sells custom wooden pepper mills to foodies, who like stylish kitchen utensils and artisan food? In this case, I would advise focussing on content creation. Also: the more obscure the niche (congratulations!) the more difficult it is to find pre-existing content on topic. Say hi to your word processor.
  • Your resources – If you are a one-person team, you will need to use your time wisely. Perhaps, in the beginning, you will focus on content curation punctured with infrequent but meaty articles.

Think about the purpose of your content marketing strategy and how it will help you reach your business objectives. Then, the question will be much easier to answer.

2. An Easy to Follow Content Research Routine

My tested way of researching content is to:

  1. Plan your research sessions
  2. Pair your research sessions with another habit
  3. Use only one tool that makes it easy to bookmark, highlight and save content – otherwise, you will get disorganised with where and what you save
  4. Make use of the research you gather in a timely manner before it becomes outdated

In Gretchen Rubin’s words ‘to a truly remarkable extent, we’re more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and less likely if it’s not‘. Don’t just plan your content research sessions – make them as convenient and pleasant as possible.

In the beginning, I used Google Calendar, my favourite planning tool of all times, to schedule content research sessions in batches. However, I have discovered that when I paired the content research habit with my morning news reading habits, I don’t have to do that anymore. It’s still useful for those, who only plan to do content research on selected days during the week or need a prompt to stick to their resolution.

My favourite way of researching content is to delve into a reading list on Feedreader and go through my Twitter feed in the morning during breakfast. I do it every day because I like it and because the marketing and SEO industries are on steroids – changing rapidly. As I read through articles, I bookmark them in Google Chrome (=convenience) into special content research folders (=organisation). I scheduled a regular blog update sessions in my Google Calendar and every two weeks I update all of the articles on the blog with the new content or draft new articles in Google Docs.
Don’t start digitally hoarding content! It’s always a bad idea, especially that right now many articles become outdated fast.  

By the way, it really helps to stick to the content research routine, when you know the beginning and the end of your research session. Having a limited time will force you to read only the most relevant information and not dwell on time-consuming websites with little substance. I finish researching as soon as I am done with breakfast.

And now onto the free content research and content curation tools…

3. Content Research Tool: RSS aggregators

RSS is a rich site summary format commonly used by blogs and news sites to deliver information to Internet users. An RSS document is called a feed or a channel and includes metadata (author, date of publication, title) as well as the summary or full text of the update. To read RSS channel you can use an RSS aggregator, which will pull all RSS channels you want to subscribe to and display them without you having to visit each site separately. You can check how my RSS looks like by adding /rss/ to the main URL of my website (or most websites as a matter of fact).

RSS aggregators are perfect for gathering relevant publications and subscribing to trade press in one place. 

Feedly was my first content curating app back when I was finding ways to increase my productivity and time efficiency. This is your bespoke RSS feed curator and that’s why the interface is simple and without frills. Its basic user-level features allow for up to 100 feeds, mobile and desktop (plus the browser) versions,  which are easy to navigate, organise and share to Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. You can bookmark interesting articles to read later and categorise your feeds. Feedly has a keen interest in monetising its offer so look out for a lot of features being released and interesting upgrades for paid subscribers if you wanted to go that way.

Add to it Feedly Mini Chrome extension, which places a small Feedly icon in the bottom right corner of your screen allowing you to add websites to your reader without accessing it in a separate tab. Not bad for a freebie. Paid users get amazing multi-platform integration with Evernote, Pocket, IFTTT, OneNote, and Hootsuite amongst other things + unlimited feeds.

Another custom RSS feed is Feedreader, whose developers describe it as ‘the oldest personal desktop RSS reader with a history of more than ten years of the cutting-edge innovation and careful attention to the user’s needs’ (Source). This is an open-source reader, therefore the functionality in terms of cross-platform integration isn’t there at all and the whole deal is pretty basic. I use Feedreader because I like distraction-less and ad-free reading of marketing news. Cons: you can’t share the posts to social media from Feedreader dashboard and the organisation is not as great at Feedly’s (you can colour code your categories though). Similarly to Feedly, you can star interesting articles to catch up on them when you have more time, and create categories.

Bloglovin’ is a yet another RSS feed reader but this one specifically caters to bloggers. This is by far the best platform to delve deeper into the blogosphere, follow your blogging gurus, save inspiring posts, gather blog ideas and read your favourite titles. Bloglovin’ lets you create collections of your feeds, like and share the posts to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest + e-mail. You can ‘heart articles’ you want to go back to later.

4. Content Research Tool: Apps and browser extensions

Your regular browser (both desktop and mobile) will have a basic bookmarks function, which can come in handy if you want to stick to the easy and known option. I use Google Chrome browser, which stores bookmarks for registered users on the cloud- to see your bookmarks on a new device simply log in with the same details you use on your main computer.

When talking about hoarding content, I cannot not mention my beloved Evernote. This app is everything to me thanks to the extremely powerful Chrome extension, which lets me save clipped or full articles, bookmark them, capture screenshots and organise them without opening a new tab. I don’t use it as my main tool for marketing content research but when I come across reports or PDF’s that I want to keep hold of, I will use Evernote because it can save files.

Evernote’s basic user can sync across up to two devices, upload 60 MB worth of content each month, and share notes with others. If you want to try the Premium version, I have a discount code code for you – one month of Evernote Premium for free (new accounts only).

Click here to get one month of Evernote Premium for free!

*New accounts only*

Pocket, formerly known as Read It Later, currently boasts over 30 mln registered users and is probably the most common content saving tool. This application synchronises your saved content for offline across your computer, mobile, Kobo e-reader or tablet. It’s pretty much omnipresent, allows you to clip web pages via your browser and 800+ apps, and simplifies your articles.

If you see something save-worthy and at the same time want to share it with your audience immediately, I recommend using Hootsuite’s Hootlet extension. As you type in the post caption and press send to publish on your selected channel, the message is archived in the ‘past scheduled’ section in your dashboard, where you can still access it anytime.

Pinterest, your favourite visual search engine, is probably the most commonly used tool to keep pretty content handy. I used to passionately use Pinterest Save Button browser extension to save content helpful to my readers.

Last but not least, Google Keep is a simple but effective tool from the Google family designed specifically to keep track of your online and mobile saves. Whilst some might snark at the fact that this is yet another Google product, I see that as a massive advantage over the other content saving tools. Google Keep is a super fast notepad linked to your Google Drive and now also your Google Calendar. It’s really simple, but functional: voice notes, list formats, colouring system and easy labelling make Google Keep your perfect virtual notice board. Aside from saving and clipping via the browser extension, you can also schedule reminders for each note, add collaborators and pin them to the top of the Google Keep screen.

Bonus: Automating Content Research with IFTTT

IFTTT is a great tool to help you out with automating content research. Make use of applets (previously called ‘recipes’), which automate your online services and integrate them to work seamlessly, for example, by saving Tweets that you like into a spreadsheet. Visit IFTTT to learn more about their services or have a look at the curated article I have written about the best IFTTT recipes for online presence management.

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