3 Ways To Turn Your Data Into Stories To Earn Authoritative Links

Looking for your next great content idea? Columnist Purna Virji suggests that the story you're looking for could be right under your nose.

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I love gardening. Or, more accurately, I love the literal fruits of my labor as the hard work of digging, tilling and sowing is rewarded with home-grown fruit, veggies and flowers. But every so often, I discover a surprise plant — lettuce that regrew from last year or a peach tree growing as a result of a carelessly tossed pit. (True story!)

Stumbling across hidden gems you didn’t know you had is always a delight, and this certainly rings true when it comes share-worthy content ideas for SEO.

When brainstorming, we’re always looking for new, big ideas for content — but we shouldn’t ignore the hidden seeds within data we already possess. If we know where to look and sow the seeds in the right way, this information can be pruned and shaped to result in effective link earning content.

Want to know what fruitful content is just waiting to grow from the data your company already collects? Read on.

1. Mine Sales Data For Compelling Insights  

Your sales data is full of trends and insights, making it a prime source for telling fascinating stories. Asking a few key questions to the sales team can allow us to extract some surprising purchase patterns by different segments, whether demographic, geographic or seasonal.

We can use these insights to weave together share-worthy facts, shed light on new trends, create something humorous or offer purchasing advice.

For example, a language learning company for whom I previously worked reviewed customer interests, sales data and population data by state. The team then created an eye-catching interactive infographic that showed second language popularity by each state. The data was both surprising and interesting, and as a result it got picked up by media including Fast Company.

Infographic on language learning by state

On a similar note, the courier service FedEx (whom I’ve never worked for!) created a list of some of the oddest items they’ve had to ship and shared it with the world. It then secured coverage from Bloomberg Business. Curiosity-inducing content like this is highly shareable and was found right within their sales logs.


Get brainstorming: You don’t have to rely on the weird and wonderful for great content. Perhaps there are interesting insights by region or demographic that show variances in popularity? Or perhaps you can put together a list of the top ten most popular products of all time?

Alternatively, there could be trends emerging that show how certain products are rising and declining in demand. All of these concepts can be easily found by poking through your own sales numbers — and, best of all, they’re based on solid data.

2. Turn to Consumer Research To Share Interesting Patterns

Come across anything interesting while studying the purchase behaviors of your consumer groups? Then it’s likely others will find it interesting, too. Think of the popular television show Family Feud — it’s within our human nature to want to know what’s popular, how other people think, and what they buy.

You can take advantage of this data in two ways: you could look at data that your company has already compiled, or you can run customer surveys and create focused studies.

The shopping behavior of Millennials is a hot topic at the moment, and AutoTrader last year released the findings from their own study on how Millennials differ in their driving and car purchase behavior. It was an insightful piece, which they blogged about on their own site and which earned press pick-up from the likes of CNBC.

How millennials are reshaping car buying CNBC article screenshot


An example of a company actively polling its audience to produce new narratives is TripAdvisor. They sought the input of customers across 10 countries to learn how much they tended to work while on vacation and why they chose to do so.

The study showed that in the past year, 77 percent of Americans have worked while on vacation. It then explored what made us behave in this way, telling a thought-provoking story that earned links and press coverage.

Press for TripAdvisor's Study on Work Habits

Get brainstorming: You’ve been busy studying the data. Which facts jumped out at you? Perhaps it is the way that certain niches of your audience interact with your industry? Or maybe it’s the interesting goals of your target audience? Connecting unusual, tangential interests can grab attention, too — those are pieces along the lines of “people who like X are more likely to do Y.”

Additionally, look at ways to tie in current events or seasonal topics, ensuring the story is more aligned with what your audience is thinking. Polling customers has the added advantage of engaging them and can be a softer brand reminder than an ad.

3. Turn Industry Trends Into Stories That Matter To People

Another good place to look is industry-level data. I find that looking at how spending is changing across the country (or worldwide) — and asking why, how, and who is involved — can make for interesting reading.

For example, research from the American Pet Products Association (APPA) has shown that Americans spent close to $60 billion on pets in 2013, a $10 billion growth since 2011. Where did this spending increase and why?

Drilling down, we see that spend on pet food has seen significant growth, growing to over $20 billion (almost double what it was in 2000). And why such a rapid growth? Americans are now buying more expensive, healthier food for their pets, a change linked to human food and diet trends.

Therein we have an interesting story, focusing on how we as a nation are increasingly humanizing our pets. This can tie into further data-led insights that can help to round out the story. How many Americans prefer to take their pets on vacation with them? How much are we spending on pet Halloween costumes?

As well as being shareable content, the press also love such stories on industry trends:

AP_press_pet_spend           Screenshot of press on spending on pet food

Get brainstorming: Hone in on your industry growth and spending research, then put your detective hat on. What’s changing? Why is it changing? Who wins or loses from the changes? What does it all mean for the public?

Digging down into this data can yield several attention-grabbing and share-worthy stories.

Got The Data And The Story? Get It Out There.

Once you have mined your data and have your stories identified, brainstorm different ways to tell that story for the biggest impact. Consider your target audience, and find the best angle through which to reach those people.

You should also consider the right medium — e.g., slide decks, videos, well-executed infographics, articles, whitepapers — and tone to appeal to your chosen demographic. Remember, there’s nothing stopping you seeding your story across different media to increase your overall reach.

Dig deep into the story, plant it correctly, and you will soon find your once-idle data is coming up roses.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Purna Virji
Purna Virji is Senior Manager, PPC Training at Microsoft. Named by PPC Hero as the most influential PPC expert of 2016, Purna specializes in SEM, SEO and Voice Search. With over a decade in search, she is a regular keynote speaker at conferences across the globe such as MozCon and SMX Advanced and is a popular industry columnist. An award-winning former journalist, Purna was the CEO of Purview Marketing prior to joining the Bing Ads team. In her spare time, she’s an avid traveler, aspiring top chef and amateur knitter. Say hello @purnavirji.

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