For brands to really pique the interest of readers and journalists, content needs to be exciting, eye-catching, and unique. The easiest way to create content that stands out from the crowd is to use data journalism. By basing their content around a range of stats and facts, brands can make sure they are creating interesting content that is newsworthy and sharable, thus driving traffic to their site, engaging their audience, and generating organic links.
Good data doesn’t always equal good content, though, so this is where you have to work out how to tell a story with the data you have. The first thing to do is decide what your content is going to be about. With data, this can be a chicken and egg situation – do you use the data you have to form your topic or do you choose your topic and then collect some data around it?
It may depend on whether you have pre-existing data or whether you already have a subject matter in mind that’s newsworthy or trending.
We know that people are 36% more likely to click on headlines that include stats and numbers, and the easiest way to include data in your headline is to find new insight that makes your content fresh and unique. Once you have a headline it’s important that the rest of your content keep the reader engaged, and the best way to do that with data is to visualize it.
Here is a step-by-step guide to creating data-driven content that drives traffic, generates links, and increases brand awareness:
Collect Your Data
Obviously, the first step to creating data-driven content is to actually find the data itself. Luckily there are several ways to gather data, so you don’t have to worry if you have time restraints or a small budget:
The go-to place for collecting fresh data, surveys are a fantastic way to gather information and to get statistics and data around subjects that you specifically want to focus on. It’s important to think carefully about your questions before asking them, as you want to get the best results possible to generate a variety of angles for you to use in your content.
Make sure your questions will support your story and limit the number of open-ended questions you ask. Include a variety of demographic questions so that you can cross-reference answers given with details about the respondents. This will allow you to create multiple sub-stories and angles to push out to local press.
If you’re pushed for time or budget, there are low-cost options you could use, such as Survey Monkey, or you can use a specialist company like One Poll who will carry out your survey with their pool of respondents for you and send you the data to be analyzed.
If you are lucky enough to have your own community of customers or fans, then what’s stopping you asking them a few questions or sending out a questionnaire to fill in? Some bigger brands have forums where their own customers come together to discuss a range of different topics, which is a great place to start a conversation about the subject you want to create content around.
Many businesses also have a large database of customer contact details and some regularly send out newsletters. An easy way to obtain data is to send this database a set of questions or form to fill in via email and reward them with a discount code or entry into a prize draw once they have returned their answers.
If you have a large social media following, you can use Facebook and Twitter polls to gather data or simply run a competition on your site to find out the information you need using a data capture system as a form of entry.
As a business, it’s likely you have some analytical tools to track the success of your own website and marketing efforts. These tools could be used to give you useful insights and data you could use as part of your content marketing strategy.
Google Analytics is a good place to start, as you can look into different consumer demographics such as their age, gender, and location of your customers, along with the industries they work in, what they buy, what devices they use, and more. You can also carry out your own tests and experiments to generate data and insight that will interest others in your industry or your customers.
Another good place to pull data from is keyword planner – you can find out interesting things about what people search for around different times of the year or after certain events. For example, how many people search for Valentine’s Day gift ideas on the 13th February? Does this show that we’ve become a nation of unromantic last-minute buyers?
If you don’t have time to collect data yourself, there are loads of different sources of data already out there that you could use and combine to make a whole new data set. You could, for example, take two similar data sets that were created ten years apart and then compare and contrast them to find the differences. You could also analyze someone else’s data and pull out some new angles that haven’t been used yet.
Pew Research is a great place to find existing data, as is Wikipedia, and there is a lot of government data available on Google Scholar and the Office for National Statistics. You can also simply type into Google “[keyword] market research” or “[keyword] data sets” to find a range of different information available online.
Reddit is another good place to go for content ideas and there’s a chance you could find a lot of interesting data already out there to collate and use in your content or as a starting point for a bigger piece of data journalism. It has a great subreddit called Data is Beautiful and one called Ask Reddit where you will find answers to a range of different questions from people around the world.
Look for Angles
Once you’ve got your data, you need to analyze it and pull out the angles you want to use to tell your story and make your content as newsworthy as possible. Analyzing data isn’t always easy, especially if you find yourself staring at a huge spreadsheet of numbers and stats.
Try and highlight any key points and statistics that support the storyline or headline you want to use and pull out any compelling insights in your results. Use conditional formatting and create pivot charts to find correlations between different data sets, and if you don’t get the answer or result you were hoping for, don’t force it — put it to one side and focus on a different angle.
Once you have some strong data in front of you, it’s a good idea to segment your results demographically, as this will help you find a range of local angles you can pull out for your content based on gender, age, location etc. – perfect for pushing out to regional press and publishers for extra coverage.
Once you’ve got your data, the way you present it is key to the success of your content. Data visualization is the first step of making your content engaging and shareable, but it’s not easy. The Guardian has really taken the lead with data visualization and now have a whole section on their site dedicated to it – it’s a great place to go for inspiration on how you can shape your data into eye-catching graphics.
The best thing to do is work with a designer to visualize your data, but if you don’t have access to one or simply don’t have the budget, there are a number of tools you can use to make the images yourself, including Piktochart and Google Fusion tables.
Once you’ve created your visual, you need to make sure there is still some content around it to tell your story and make your data come to life. Always keep in mind how you want your readers to digest your content and that it needs to be responsive on mobile and tablet devices.
Here’s a really cool example of some data visualization based on A Day in the Life of Americans:
So why should data-driven content be at the core of your digital marketing strategy? For a start, if it’s newsworthy, people will want to read it; if it’s interesting, publishers will want to share it; and if it’s compelling, journalists will want to cover it. This all helps generate coverage, brand awareness, and links.
Creating data-driven content will also give you an edge on your competitors and show your customers you’re on the ball with your research, analysis, and overall industry expertise and knowledge. By keeping them up to date with trends and news they will see you as a trusted source of information and come back to you time and time again, increasing the traffic to your site.
Keeping your content marketing fresh and engaging isn’t always easy, but data journalism helps to keep the content you produce interesting, engaging, and newsworthy enough for publishers and journalists alike to keep an eye on the work you create.
Screenshot by Anna Francis. Taken January 2017.