The Beginner’s Guide to Writing a Data-Driven Post

Written by Neil Patel on April 30, 2015

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Are you working hard to write creative, quality articles, only to find out that people are not paying attention?

If so, you’re not alone. The Content Marketing Institute found that in 2014, 72% of marketers created more content than the year before. Yet, 36% of businesses still struggle to produce the right content that will drive leads and sales. That’s their biggest challenge.

So, lots of people are struggling to get people to read beyond the headline and to share their articles on social media platforms. This guide will help.

Not all blog posts are created equal. Some posts produce outstanding results, while others fizzle out. But, most content marketers keep trying.  According to Curata, 71% of marketers spend more money on content marketing each year.

If you want to increase user engagement on your blog, generate more social shares, acquire more customers and drive sales, try switching content strategies to the data-driven blog post.

Here are five simple steps to creating data-driven blog content. These are the exact strategies that I use to write all of the content on NeilPatel.com and they’ll work for you, too.

Download these 24 market research tools that you can use while writing your next blog post.

Step #1:  Understand What a Data-Driven Post Is

Having built three successful blogs through content marketing, I’m not new to writing. A few years ago, I began to see a different kind of engagement with my readers. They were spending anywhere from 30 minutes to a full hour reading my posts.

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This increased engagement was a result of the kind of content that I write: articles and blog posts where every statement or assertion I make is backed up by testing and data.

With consistent publication of high-quality, data-driven blog posts, you can grow your blog to 100,000 readers within two years.

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But it’s not just about data and numbers. You also need to care about your readers and build genuine relationships.

Group of Friends Together, Teamwork Concept

1).   What counts as data: Not every statement or sentence counts as data, which we can define as “factual information generated from experiments, surveys or testing that is used as a basis for forming conclusions.”

Crazy scientist. Young boy performing experiments

Two people could research the same topic and get different results. Data isn’t static or favorable to everyone – or even to most people. But, as long as your data comes from testing or has been proven by experts, using modern tools, your posts will be more authoritative.

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2).   How people respond to data: In 2012, Facebook studied human behavior and social media. Essentially, Facebook manipulated the emotions of 689,003 users, without the users’ knowledge.

The experiment ran for one week. During that time, Facebook’s researchers removed either all of the positive posts or all of the negative posts from a user’s news feed, to see how the user would react. This is the chart showing their results:

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The scientists found that positive emotions from friends yields a positive response from the user. The reverse was also true. In other words: on Facebook, emotions are contagious. And now, it has the data to back up that statement.

When you include data in your content, readers perceive your content to be more valuable, more authoritative and more trustworthy.

Step #2:  Develop a Content Marketing Strategy

Content is king. This is why 94% of B2B marketers use content marketing to generate traffic, acquire leads and increase sales.

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No matter what your business model is, you need a strategy. If you want to know how well your content is working for you, then you’ve got to incorporate it into a system, so that you can eliminate guesswork and get consistent results.

A content marketing strategy is like a blueprint for successful online marketing.

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The Content Marketing Institute’s research showed that more than 80% of B2B marketers who say that they have a content marketing strategy have never documented it. Only 35% actually have a documented content marketing strategy.

Let’s fix that in 3 simple steps:

i).   Have a clear purpose: What’s the purpose of your content? Get clear on that from the very beginning. Doing so will help you create a blog post that will drive traffic, attract customers and lead to sales.

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Be as specific as possible. If you want to build your email list, align your post accordingly. If you need sales, then highlight your product’s benefits without hard-selling. Give value, no matter what your purpose is.

ii).   Know your audience: An intimate understanding of your audience gives you an unparalleled edge, because you understand their pain points and what keeps them awake at night. Strategic Peacock agrees: you have to know your audience and what they believe in.

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You can develop actionable goals that are relevant to your audience. But, without that clarity, your content is just based on assumptions.

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For example, if you’re in the weight loss niche, most of the keywords that your users search for suggest pain – they’re sick and tired of buying into pricey, ineffective programs. Let’s see some of the keywords:

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iii).   Build a content calendar: Once you understand your audience’s pain points, the next step is to develop an editorial calendar that works for you. That way, you won’t have to struggle to find great blog ideas and can instead focus on nurturing your audience.

Step #3:  Write Data-Driven Headlines

Out of every ten blog visitors, eight will read your headline, but only two will read the rest of the copy. This drives home how important your headline really is. You can’t really see the power of blogs, until you master the art of writing clickable headlines.

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Upworthy generates up to 500% more traffic as a result of their curiosity-based headlines. They also increased social shares by 620%, by adding a hover box that slides as the reader scrolls.

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People have a million things that they want to do, other than read blog posts and articles. The only way to get their attention is to write incredible headlines that are attractive and contain factual information. Upworthy’s posts get more social shares, because their headlines contain data.

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This factual information is usually obtained from experiments, surveys, case studies or research studies. When you add data to your headline that’s backed up in the content, you’ll win your audience’s trust.

Remember that the data can be in the form of numbers, a story, text or images that explain the outcome of an experiment.

Use this data to align your content with the customer’s buying cycle, thus driving qualified visitors to your site and converting them.

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Here are proven ways to write data-driven headlines:

1).   Your own personal experiment: Have you tested something? Use that experience to describe your results, even if those results weren’t positive. Report your findings in a blog post – your readers will relate to your story.

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According to New York Magazine, personality matters more than intelligence. It emanates from your subconscious mind. Your personality is you, but intelligence is what you learn from others.

You may not be the most intelligent content marketer, blogger or digital marketer out there, but if you can infuse your writing with your personality, people will relate to you.

Personal experiments and study help your target audience to connect intimately with you.

According to Jesse Singal, babies learn more when something surprising catches their attention. Likewise, your readers will be interested in your data-driven headline, because they’ll want to know more about the process and your experience.

Since I started blogging, I’ve always used the data from personal experiments to write my headlines. What I’ve found is that my readers respond more to these headlines and I’ll often get more shares of the content that follows. Here’s an example:

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In the screenshot above, I analyzed 614 blog posts that I’ve published on Quick Sprout since 2007. Then, I shared the lessons that I learned, giving tips on how my readers can avoid making mistakes and focus instead on what works.

That’s the objective of using a personal experiment or study. It creates a unique benefit for your target audience and customers.

In case you’re curious, BuzzSumo tells me that the above blog post received over 1,300 social shares.

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What about backlinks? Do people care about the post enough to actually link to it? Well, let’s plug the page URL into Ahrefs.com and see how many sites are linking to it. Remember that these links are earned links, because I didn’t ask for them.

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You don’t always have to include numbers or specific data in your headline. But, if you’re an authority in your industry and people know and respect your opinion, you could share how you achieved a particular result in your book launch, website redesign or some other project.

Your target audience should be able to easily understand your headline and get a sense of the content that follows. They need to know that you’re sharing your secrets to help them. This was exactly what Michael Hyatt, New York Times bestselling author of The Platform, did.

When he wanted to reveal how his book entered the bestseller list, his headline was pretty straightforward and simple. Yet, it very clearly told his readers what was coming:

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Michael’s post, “How to Launch a Bestselling Book,” was a success by any definition. In it, Michael shared seven simple actions that he took to land his book on the bestseller list. This kind of case study content typically resonates well with audiences.

2).   Get data from others: Content marketing is powerful enough to grow a new blog into a $100,000 annual income source. But, you have to focus on creating content that people will relate to and find useful.

Businessman using binoculars, money reflected in the lens

The internet allows you to easily access well-researched studies and test results. You can leverage marketing statistics, trends and data to craft data-driven headlines for your blog posts.

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Let’s write some data-driven headlines that are based on the statistics below:

  • There are 31% more bloggers today than there were three years ago.
  • 82% of marketers who blog daily acquired a customer using their blog.

Fresh data-driven headlines:

  • How to Out-Rank 31% of Bloggers and Generate Search Traffic
  • Why 31% of Bloggers Struggle to Attract Visitors (Get Your First 3,000 Visitors)
  • Case Study: 31% of Bloggers and How They Increase Conversion Rate
  • Case Study: How 82% of Marketers Acquire Customers Through Blogging
  • The Ultimate Strategy That 82% of Marketers Use to Acquire Customers
  • 10 Effective Ways 82% of Marketers Get Customers by Blogging

Brian Dean is an A-list SEO consultant who taps into other people’s case studies, results and experiments to create data-driven headlines and content. Recently, he published a blog post titled “How to Generate 36,286 Readers and 1000 Email Subscribers From Your Next Blog Post.”

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Data-driven headlines get more social shares. The above in-depth post generated close to 1,000 social shares. See for yourself:

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By the way, Brian didn’t carry out this experiment himself – one of his students named Jimmy did, then emailed Brian to share his success story.

Because he’s a smart content marketer, Brian turned it into a useful case study post. As I write this article, the post has over 200 valuable comments.

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Give your headline some purpose: Whatever industry or niche you find yourself in, you have to know your purpose and infuse it into everything that you do.

When it comes to content marketing and writing headlines, you must be purposeful in your efforts. What do we mean by “purpose”?

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According to Altimeter Group, “70% of marketers lack a consistent or integrated content strategy.” And, 48% of B2B marketers have no documented content strategy. This means that most marketers don’t have a purpose for the content that they produce on a regular basis.

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Content marketing is transforming into a science.  But, just like a scientist, you have to define your goal. What do you intend to achieve, by including factual information or data in your headline?

Think about journalism: journalists first get the data, learn what it means, filter it and visualize it. Then, they use the meaningful data to tell a story.

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There has to be a definite purpose being served by your data-driven titles or headlines.

Maybe you want readers to increase search traffic, get more sales or convert more email subscribers – whatever your purpose, always be specific.

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An example is this Conversion Champ headline. Even a quick glance tells you how the topic concerns you. See the underlined part:

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Another headline that tells the reader what to expect is this one from Conversion Scientist:

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Or, take one of my recent posts – it also contains data, but the underlined section of the headline conveys a clear purpose.

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This is the big takeaway: when you use data in your titles, make it beneficial to readers and customers, by clearly conveying its purpose.

Get data from media publications: Purpose differentiates your factual headline from generic ones. Purpose also makes it easier to catch people’s attention and get them to keep reading.

But, creating headlines and content for your target audience takes time and 43% of marketers struggle with this on a daily basis. 27% say that they can’t get specific stats or metrics to back up personal opinions – yet, without that data, a personal opinion may not be terribly persuasive.

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The good news is that you can get access to media publications that contain well-researched data. Perhaps data and statistics are never 100% reliable, but industry publications can usually be trusted, because of the fact checking process and the reliance on multiple experts.

The most popular media publications are newspapers, magazines, journals, annual reports and brochures. There are several sites where you can read magazines for free. It’s a great opportunity to learn from industry experts.

For example, at Issuu.com, you can find just about any international magazine, which you can read and extract data from for your headlines.

On the homepage, enter your main keyword (e.g., marketing).

Study the cover page. Model some of the headlines to create a better one.

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The headline that got my attention on the above magazine cover is “Dominate Google Without SEO.”

Now, let’s create a few headlines that will incorporate data with that keyword phrase. Bear in mind that the reader is the most important person to consider when writing headlines:

  • How I Used a 3-Step Strategy to Dominate Google Without SEO
  • Case Study: How to Dominate Google Without SEO (in 43 Days)
  • Dominate Google Without SEO – Learn How I Did It This Year

To find more data from media publications, you can also visit Magazines.com.

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Search for relevant magazines in any industry or simply click one of the magazine titles that interest you. The aim here is to extract data ideas or headline styles that you can model to write your own. You don’t need access to the content inside – just the headlines.

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The headline that caught my attention is “How the Veep Star Has Become the Greatest Comedic Actress of Our Time.”

Next, you can model the above headline and make it relevant to your audience. For example:

  • How a 29-Year Old Became a Blogging Star by Generating 13,074 Visitors In One Week
  • 10 Content Marketing Lessons That You Can Learn From Superstar Blogger Darren Rowse

Step #4:  Write Data-Driven Outlines

Writing the first paragraph of a blog post is often the hardest part. But, when you’ve got an outline for your post, you know exactly what to do. Once you’ve chosen the topic to write about and the data to use, the outline comes next.

I mentioned it earlier, but it bears repeating: content that’s backed up by trustworthy data will attract the attention of individual customers as well as businesses.

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And, if the article is in-depth and contains relatable data, it’ll attract more social shares as well. No matter what your industry or target audience might be, you can’t fail at content marketing when you’re following proven patterns.

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Why is the outline so important when writing an essay, a blog post or book?

Outlining your content, before writing, helps to minimize continuity errors. It also keeps you focused on your article’s purpose, instead of going off on tangential points.

According to the Center For Excellence in Writing and Communication, drafting outlines allows you to see the content “holistically.” You can identify gaps, transitions and weak spots in your message, before you write the post and you can then plan accordingly.

This means that before you get started writing your draft post, you already know the order of your points, how they fit together and what conclusion you’ll need. This makes for an amazing data-driven article.

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So, how do you find trusted data as you’re writing your outlines?

1).   Review other people’s work:  There are experts, authors, information marketers and public speakers who have done all the hard work of personal research, one-on-one interviews and brainstorming.

As a smart content marketer, you can leverage other people’s work, by extracting outlines from those sources. You can review other blogs, comments, books, magazines and publications.

Let’s review a blog post, to see how this is done:

Step #1:  Go to Moz.com. Hover on the blog menu and click it.

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Step #2:  Read one of their posts. Just click on the headline to start reading.

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Step #3:  Extract your data and create an outline. Just read through the post and pull out key research findings. Use the data for your outline.

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Looking at the screenshot above, you’ll see that I underlined several phrases and terms. Those are the points that you can use for your outline, then research further. The underlined phrases are:

  • Hummingbird is designed to do the same for personalized results
  • More traffic for deeper pages
  • User intent behind the query
  • Implicit query

An outline makes your article easy to read and digest. Readers will understand your work and share it with others.

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We can now create an outline, based on the topic (e.g., effective SEO) that we’re writing about:

Headline: How to Do Effective SEO to Improve Your Search Rankings

Outline:

  • Drive traffic to deeper pages
  • Research implicit keywords
  • Focus on user intent
  • Optimize for personalized result pages
  • Conclusion

You could also read comments and extract relevant data, suggestions and tips to include in your outline. Take a look at this comment:

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You can also read magazines online and extract ideas for your outlines. Of course, you should never copy other people’s work. Instead, model it – use it to create a better outline. Go to Issuu.com to find free magazines.

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Click one of the magazine covers. Read to get ideas for your outline.

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2).   Tools for the job: In order to save time and get the job done more efficiently, use tools wisely. In content marketing, tools give you an edge over the competition. These tools range from text-editing tools to source material.

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Writing a data-driven article can be a tough job. To make it easier, consider using the tools below:

i).   Google Docs:  Google Docs is a great alternative to Microsoft Word. It’s free, easy to use and fairly competitive with most premium word processing software. You can format with styles and upload images easily. You can also work offline, if your internet connection fluctuates and your work will be saved when you get back online.

ii).   Ntopic: Use this tool to improve your rankings with statistically relevant content. It helps you to pinpoint exactly what your target audience wants to read.

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iii).   HubSpot Marketing Statistics: Find all of the statistics that you need in one place, with over 30 collections of well-researched data for SEO, social media, blogging, lead generation, lead management, email marketing, marketing automation, mobile marketing and more.

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3).   Strong bullet points: According to Oxford Dictionaries, “bullet points are used to draw attention to vital information in a given content, so that the readers can pinpoint and understand important facts as quickly as possible.” Identifying bullet points in your outline helps you to make those important points as persuasively as possible.

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Anne Holland suggests organizing your bullet points in order of importance. Also,  include a strong bullet point when concluding your article; the middle bullets are often ignored by the reader, who may scan the content just to get the main points.

Well-crafted bullet points illuminate your copy and make it more readable, says Brian Clark, founder of Rainmaker.FM. For business writing, use numbers (1, 2, 3,…) or (a, b, c,…) to show the order of importance.

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Here’s a typical example of how Peep Laja uses strong bullet points in a call-to-action, leading readers to another page:

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See also: 8 Tips for Writing Bullet Points People Actually Want to Read

4).   Powerful takeaway: Include a takeaway below each subheading or at the end of your article. If you’re a solid writer who can persuade customers to take action based on the data and results that you’ve included, you’ll ultimately increase sales and acquire more customers.

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Decent writing skills are no longer optional – they’re required to thrive in today’s competitive world. According to Teach Thought, employees who can’t write well end up costing their employers $1.3 billion per year.

Writing a powerful takeaway can take your data-based blog post from “decent” to “outstanding.” Professional copywriters understand the impact of a well-crafted takeaway. It drives the message home and reminds the readers about important things that were mentioned at the beginning.

Here are four simple tips to help you write powerful takeaways:

i).   Focus on the topic: If your topic is about “web design,” then your takeaway should be about that and not about marketing.

ii).   Write for an audience of one. This is important. Even if you’re targeting 10 million readers as a group, each one of them will access your content as an individual. So, every so often, replace the word “we” with “you” to bring a more personal tone to your writing.

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iii).  Use data: Including data in your takeaway automatically makes it more authoritative and trustworthy in the minds of your readers. A takeaway tells a reader what to implement right away. Here’s an excerpt from one of my recent blog posts. Notice how I included data in my conclusion’s takeaway:

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iv). Be concise: Keep your takeaway clear, short and succinct. Don’t add too much here, as doing so will decrease your conversion rate.

Step #5:  Verify Your Data’s Accuracy

Once you’ve written your outline and takeaway, you’ll want to verify the accuracy of your data. This is no time for brainstorming. Using data to back up your opinions means that you have to make sure that the data can be trusted.

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The hard truth is this: if you’re not an expert, not many people will trust your advice –  at least not before verifying its accuracy.

Data is different from a personal brainstorming exercise. You shouldn’t have to use your head to analyze the possibility of data.  It should be self-evident in some way.

For example, would you trust the following statement?

If a post contains more than 1,500 words, it receives 68.1% more tweets and 22.6% more Facebook likes, on average, than a post that contains fewer than 1,500 words.

Well, I personally documented the above data through careful study. Then, I wrote a viral post on how longer, in-depth articles affect search rankings. I didn’t just come up with this data off the top of my head. I invested time and money to see what the outcome would be.

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Furthermore, I didn’t stop there. I went on to write a 5000+ word article on this blog to see whether longer articles perform better in the search engines. Interestingly, I didn’t receive any objections, whatsoever, because I could back up my assertions.

The longer the content, the more the search traffic and the higher the rankings you’ll generate, assuming all other factors (great content, engagement, ease of sharing and so on) are in place.

Some other ways that you can verify the accuracy of data are:

i).   Is the site trustworthy? If the site is not authoritative in the eyes of Google and readers, you shouldn’t take its data at face value.

Examples of trustworthy sites include Moz, Search Engine Land, Wikipedia, QuickSprout and Conversion XL. You can trust the data and stats from those sites, because thousands of dollars are invested for A/B testing and feasibility studies.

ii).   Is the person a published author? Writing a book that becomes a bestseller takes time and extra creativity (maybe a little luck, too).

Books that sell well, even if they’re not on a “bestseller” list, require thoughtful research and planning. So, when you find an individual’s case study or data point, find out whether the person has built an audience or written a well-received book or ebook.

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You can increase your post’s perceived authority with the following tips:

1).   Write in an objective manner: The word “objective” means “free from bias caused by personal feelings.” In other words, don’t bring personal thoughts into your data-driven posts, if you truly want to be an authority. Stay neutral.

Use data from other sources and clearly show those sources. If other experts support your assertions, your customers will find your words more persuasive and authoritative.

Here’s an example of statements written in an objective tone:

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News sites and authors usually write articles using an objective tone, because most of the data that they’re referencing will come from sources that they may not be able to verify independently. Take a look at Techcrunch’s post:

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2).   Credit the right data source: Always link back to and adequately credit the source of your data. Throughout this post, I’ve used data and images from other sites, but I made sure that I credited the right sources. You should do the same.

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To avoid copyright limitations, link directly to the page that contains the data or stats. For example, if you want to use a particular image that you saw in Google image search results, don’t click the image URL. Instead, click to visit the site and then link to the page.

Don’t credit images and data as shown in the image below:

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Instead, credit within your post, so that it’ll read naturally. For example, see how I linked the pyramid below, using anchor text within the paragraph and immediately before the image:

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3).   Use open-source statistics: You can use open-source statistics without crediting the original author.

You can download free stock photos for use in your posts at Gratisography.com. The photographer allows you to use his pictures as you like, without giving credit (although it’s a nice thing to do).

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You could capture data or statistics as a screenshot, without linking to the source and instead disclosing where you got the data in a statement. However, the better practice is to always credit the owner and reward their hard work, even if it’s marked as open source.

Conclusion

As a blogger, you can thrive in spite of the competition, by writing and promoting data-focused content.

There is no shortcut to winning the content marketing game. It requires hard work and smart blogger outreach.

Additionally, your competition is getting smarter. A recent study by Nielsen revealed that 27 million pieces of content are shared every day. Building on other people’s research findings, statistics and data can help you get your content read and ranked highly in Google’s search results.

It’s about leveraging other people’s efforts to make your users happier and better prepared for the dynamic web environment.

Remember that a data-driven blog post doesn’t necessarily mean that the post has to be super-long. However, from personal research and success stories from other people, I can tell you that content length affects rankings and posts with 2000 words or more will drive more search traffic to your site from long-tail keywords.

Have you been writing data-driven content? What results have you gotten so far?

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