• Tue. Jun 14th, 2022

How to Create and Use Data-Driven Content for Link Building

Whoever coined the term “content is king” didn’t tell us all the steps needed to create a type of link-worthy content.

It’s easy enough to write your copy, post it to your blog, and call it a day, but the “king” part only comes when you structure your content to be found in the SERPs.

I’ve worked with many brands to create data-driven content.

One, in particular, was a New York-based education company. I worked with the editorial team for 3 months to create long-form content for ego bait.

Not only did it gain 52 backlinks in a month, but it generated over 100 press mentions and drove over 100,000 people to the website.

Learn how to create and use data-driven content for your link building strategy below.

Be the Source

Creating your own data for an article is usually a big headache.

If you’ve ever tried to survey customers, you know what I’m talking about.

But, as Loren Baker, founder of Search Engine Journal says, “Be the source.”

When you create your own data, people will want to link to the place they cited.

Using tools like Google Trends (you can also subscribe to Google Trends) and Google Consumer Survey, you can research trending topics and create your own data.

Take Echelon Insights, for example.

They leveraged Google Consumer Surveys to understand the Republican primary electorate. Echelon Insights found that Donald Trump was leading 32% before the first Republican primary debate.

This study generated links from leading sites such as Wired, The Washington Post, The Observer and many others.

Choose your topic

Good data does not always equal good content.

You need to understand how to tell a story with the data you have.

First, you need to decide what your content is going to be about.

With data, it can be a chicken and egg situation – do you use the data you have to train your topic or do you choose your topic and then collect data around it?

It may depend on whether you have pre-existing data or whether you already have a newsworthy or trending topic in mind.

When researching the topics I want to discuss, I start my research with Google Trends and BuzzSumo. These tools are designed for trend research and exploration.

Gather your data

The first step to creating data-driven content is to collect the data.

I’m starting to gather my data resources, whether I’m surveying users or using my own data.

Important note: when you create content with your own proprietary data, it is not a quantity.

For example, Shutterstock uses its proprietary data to create genuinely useful content with its 2017 Creative Trends infographic. This infographic generated over 50 links.

Traditional content strategy suggests that more content equals more leads, but that’s not true. You only need one major piece of content to achieve your goals.

Conduct surveys

The go-to place to collect fresh data, surveys are a fantastic way to gather insights and get statistics and data on topics you specifically want to focus on.

Think carefully about your questions before asking them. You want to get the best possible results for generating a variety of angles to use in your content.

Make sure your questions will support your story and limit the number of open-ended questions you ask. Like what I did here with our SEJ survey for an article I was working on:


Include a variety of demographic questions so you can cross-reference the answers given with details about the respondents. This will allow you to create multiple sub-stories and angles to run in the local press.

Ask your community

Do you have your own community of customers or fans?

Then ask them a few questions, quiz them, or send them a questionnaire to turn that data into content.

Like Moz does with its survey.

You can view the survey questions here. And, the survey results here.

The results alone generated 32 backlinks.

If you work for a big brand and have forums where your customers meet to discuss different topics, this is a great place to start a conversation about the topic you want to create content around.

Many companies also have a large database of customer contact details and some send regular newsletters.

An easy way to get data is to email this database a set of questions, a survey, or a form to fill out and reward them with a discount code or a sweepstakes entry. once they have returned their responses.

If you have a large following on social media, you can use Facebook and Twitter polls to collect data.

Or just run a contest on your site to find the information you need using a data entry system as an entry form.

Use your own data and reports

Many SaaS companies don’t realize the amount of data they are already sitting on.

You probably have analytics tools to track the success of your own website and marketing efforts. These tools could be used to provide you with useful information and data that you could use as part of your content marketing strategy.

Google Analytics is a good place to start, as you can look at different consumer demographics, such as their age, gender, and the location of your customers, as well as the industries they work in, what they buy, the devices they use, etc.

You can also perform your own tests and experiments to generate data and insights that will interest others in your industry or your customers.

Look for interesting angles

Once you have your data, you need to analyze it and come up with the angles you want to use to tell your story and make your content as newsworthy as possible.

Data analysis is not always easy, especially if you find yourself in front of a huge spreadsheet of numbers and statistics.

Try to highlight key points and statistics that support the storyline or headline you want to use and extract compelling information about your results.

Use conditional formatting and create pivot tables to find correlations between different sets of data.

If you’re not getting the response or result you were hoping for, don’t force it – put it aside and focus on a different angle.

Once you have solid data in front of you, segment your results demographically. This will help you find a range of local angles that you can pull for your content based on gender, age, location, etc. – perfect for pushing to regional press and publishers for additional coverage.

Visualize your data

The way you present your data is key to the success of your content.

Data visualization is the first step to making your content engaging and shareable. But it’s not easy.

Ideally, you should work with a designer to visualize your data. But if you don’t have access to one (or don’t have the budget), you can make it yourself using a data visualization tool.

This is one of my favorite visuals that comes from Podio data.

Once you’ve created your visual, you need to make sure there’s still content around to tell your story and bring your data to life.

Always keep in mind how you want your readers to absorb your content and that it should be responsive on mobile devices and tablets.

How to structure your content support activities

If the content is truly a unicorn, as Larry Kim would say, you need to do all the supporting activities around that piece.

This is how I structure my content support activities:

  • Collaborate with the PR team to create a strategy. PR teams develop some of the highest quality link opportunities, but they leave a lot of opportunities on the table. This is where link builders come in to perform manual outreach.
  • Perform manual outreach to industry blogs for backlinks and guest blogging.
  • Join other companies in a webinar to discuss data.
  • Create a series of blog posts to give data more context and optimize for new search terms.
  • Use the data in presentations at conferences.
  • Recreate data in infographics, charts, and graphs.

Awesome examples of data-driven content

Here are a few pieces of data-driven content to inspire you:

The Guardian has really taken the lead with data visualization and has an entire section on its site dedicated to it. It’s a great place to find inspiration on how you can turn your data into eye-catching charts.

Here’s another really cool example of data visualization based on A Day in the Life of Americans:

Don’t have any data?

Don’t have time to collect data yourself?

No problem!

There are many data sources that you can use and combine to create a whole new set of data.

For example, you can take two similar data sets created 10 years apart and then compare and contrast them.

Or, you can analyze someone else’s data and extract new angles that haven’t been used before.

Here are some other resources for finding great data to use in your content or as a starting point for a bigger piece of data journalism:

You can also just type in Google ” market research” or “ datasets” to find a range of different information available online.

Read this article for a case study and even more ideas: Building links with data-driven content (even when you don’t have data)


Time range: Every 3 months

Results detected: 2-6 months

Average links sent per month: 60


  • google trends
  • Google consumer survey
  • BuzzSumo
  • Google Analytics


  • Good content has no shelf life. With high quality content, you will see a spike at first and again 6 months later when you start to increase your search rankings.
  • Data-driven content always works because you’ve created something people want. If you’ve done your research right, you should have powerful content.