The 6 Key Principles To Creating Contagious Content Based On Data

Whenever someone talks digital marketing, SEO, content creation or the like, there’s a near-natural instinct to spoon-feed the audience with buzzwords: optimization, personalization, enhanced ROI, metrics, engagement, KPI, customer experience and, of course, data-driven.

Conversations about data and business analytics tools are nearly as widespread and populous as snapping selfies and YouTube videos about cats. Yet, the number of companies using data ineffectively vastly outnumber those that feel they are truly successful at adopting data-driven strategies.

In 2017, 85% of businesses had made a conscious push to become predominantly data-driven, yet only 37% of those companies reported success in their efforts. One of the most significant issues facing companies implementing a data-driven approach, even just with their content marketing strategies, is a lack of clarity.

More specifically, they don’t have clear goals in mind for how their data is going to help the business. Without a clear vision, it’s difficult to ascertain where to gather data, what types of information to collect and under what lens to analyze the data to reach the most valuable insights.

Data can be a tool that raises your content to that next level and helps you reach more members of your target audience. However, it is critical that you first understand the principles of creating content with data-born insights.

Principle #1: Know What You Hope To Achieve

As I mentioned, clarity is arguably the most significant determining factor of success in a data-driven approach. When you know what you want to achieve, then it is much easier to formulate what data you need and where to find it.

For creating better content, there’s a number of goals that you may have. For example, you may want to:
● Produce better content that resonates with a larger population of your audience
● Discover stronger keywords to drive more traffic
● Reach out to more valuable influencers
● Find new subject areas relevant to your audience
● Expand into a new content marketing channel

Once you’ve established a clear goal(s), then it becomes a lot easier to separate the data that is going to drive those goals from the data that is just going to become a distraction.

Principle #2: Stay Organized

One of my pet peeves, in really any facet of life but particularly data, is a lack of organization. I’ve met many people that are so excited about their data and business intelligence tools that they hit the ground running and gather any and all data.

Suddenly, they’re up to their necks in a sea of disjointed spreadsheets and dashboards. Like a kid standing at the center of a messy room, they have to piece together where everything belongs and how it fits into the equation.

I like to keep all of my collected data in a single chart that breaks down each piece of content by title, date and time of post, engagement metrics, shares, conversions and so on. This example, courtesy of the Content Marketing Institute, is an excellent jumping off point. You can add or remove data as necessary.

Principle #3: Don’t Have Enough Data? Your Competition Does

A lot of new and small organizations shy away from a data-driven approach to creating content because they are worried that they lack enough matured data to really be successful.

It’s hard to find actionable insights towards creating contagious content if you’ve only been producing blogs and other types of posts for a couple of months. You have data, but is it enough to derive accurate trends from?

Lacking your own content marketing data doesn’t preclude you from becoming data-driven because there are lots of available data from your competitors that can be used instead.

You can get some great benchmark insights by gathering information on when your competition posts, what types of content or topics receive the most engagement, how successful content is structured and so on.

These insights provide an excellent groundwork for a business struggling to break out into the content game.

Principle #4: Everyone Benefits From Competitive Analysis

Even for brands with an established content presence, studying the competition and their efforts is a highly valuable and necessary tactic for leveraging data to make better content. Everyone is crafting content, whether it’s a B2B company, B2C or just someone passionate about their work or hobby.

By the numbers, roughly 91% of B2B marketers use content as a top tool, with 86% of B2C marketers following suit.

With all of this content being created, it’s tough to stand out and build that video, blog, podcast or social media post that’s going to rise above the rest and really gain attention. A key way to increase the likelihood of your content being successful is to be different and stand out. Content consumers like to engage and experience things they haven’t seen elsewhere.

However, finding or creating these opportunities is difficult; there aren’t a lot of them out there. Conducting a comparison analysis of your competitors and their content creation efforts is a big help.

Not only will this allow you to see a benchmark of how successful your content is compared to your biggest competition, but it can also reveal content types, channels or topics that may perform well, based on the data, but have little competition.

For example, let’s say we run a fantastic dog blog. After conducting a comparative analysis of our competitors’ content efforts, along with our own, we find that the marketplace is bustling with written blog content about the best breeds for pets. It’s highly searched, and audiences tend to want this information often.

That competition, however, makes it hard for your blog’s “Top 10 Best Pet Breeds” article to stand out. But, perhaps there’s an opportunity in the marketplace to bring that topic to another format.

Your comparison analysis lets you spot that no one has made any video content on the subject, despite videos performing well with the same audiences.

Alternatively, you may find an entirely new topic that has high search volume, has performed well on other blogs, but is posted about far less often — a potentially rich content opportunity.

Principle #5: There’s Such A Thing As Being Too Data-Driven

We like data because it’s concrete; it’s empirical evidence that things are, or aren’t, working, which makes justifying content marketing tactics and spend to stakeholders easier.

It’s the best tool we have to disarm any skeptical boss or department head that doesn’t see the value in creating content, investigating social media channels or you name it.

But, becoming too data-driven can be an issue. For one, adopting an entirely data-driven approach requires many resources: money for sophisticated BI tools and analytics software, staff that is trained and knowledgeable in what data-driven decision making looks like, storage for volumes of data and the time (often years) to acquire that data.

When it comes to creating contagious content based on data, it’s better to be data-informed than data-driven. I’ve touched on the differences between the two before. The data-informed approach is the best avenue for content for one big reason: there’s no secret recipe for hitting successful content every time.

Creativity, out-of-the-box ideas and a little bit of luck are really the underlying keys to remarkably successful content.

In short, data doesn’t drive great content, instead it informs ways to make your content-based strategies better, which raises the likelihood of hitting the jackpot of something truly contagious and viral.

Principle #6: Invest In The Appropriate Tools (If Necessary)

There’s no shortage of tools to help you arrange, understand and make better use out of data. The market is flooded with all manner of data solutions. For digital marketers looking to inject data into their content strategies, this is both a help and a hindrance.

The help is that there’s a lot of solutions for all needs, no matter how unique or specific. Yet, it can be difficult (the hindrance) to find that solution and even more challenging to understand what your dream data toolkit even looks like.

If you’re only just becoming acquainted with the data behind your content’s potential success, you can make due, for now, with Google Analytics and other free-to-low-cost data tools.

These services yield a lot of structural data that can better inform your decisions and create a good foundation for more specific and data-intensive projects in the future.

When it comes time to upgrade or add new tools and software to the arsenal, it’s important to do so strategically. Think critically about what features you need from a data solution and then focus your attention on the solutions that offer exactly those features.

Again, there’s a lot of tools out there, even for very narrow needs. It can be alluring to buy into a robust package of data tools, but that can quickly lead to disorganization and features that distract from your current objectives.


Ultimately, even data can’t guarantee that your content will be a success. As I stated earlier, there’s no secret recipe that ensures content virality. The real power of using data to inform your content efforts is consistency.

The more proficient you are at using data to find key content opportunities in the marketplace and better understand what channels, topics, and formats resonate with your audience, the more consistently you’ll see content with good engagement.

This helps to increase the very slim odds that your content really takes off and gains the massive attention you dream about.

About Ashley Ward

Ashley Ward is the Founder of Madhouse Marketing, a digital marketing agency in San Diego, specializing in content and social media marketing. Speaking both internationally and throughout the US, Ashley regularly teaches workshops and speaks at conferences like Pubcon, BrightonSEO, SearchLove, Digital Summits, Retail Global, and the prestigious SMS Sydney. Ashley has also co-authored the best-selling book “The Better Business Book V.2” and is a contributing writer to industry blogs such as Search Engine Journal and AuthorityLabs.

Filed under: Strategy