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The 3-Step Process to Data-Backed Content Creation

Date published: October 07, 2014
Last updated: October 7, 2014

You know your site needs data-backed content creation, and you may have a general idea about the subject that content should address. While it’s natural to want to fill that void by creating new content immediately, if you want your audience to engage with your content, it’s imperative to deploy a data-backed approach to the creation process.

A simple, three-step process will give you the data you need to make an informed decision about your data-backed content creation. Whether your audience is your end consumer, the media, or both, breaking down the elements of the articles they already engage with gives you the ammunition you need to provide them with something they’ll actually love.

The three steps are simple: find existing articles that are relevant to your audience, use those articles to build a content inventory, and perform a basic content audit to gather insights.

Step 1: Find relevant articles

To start, you need to create a content inventory with the articles you’ll analyze. Based on the high-level topic you’re planning to cover in the to-be-created content, determine a few keywords or phrases to search for.

Then, start a list of the sites that would typically write on this subject. You may already know the key players, but if it’s content for a client, you may need to research which outlets are the most influential to their audience. You can start by searching for your target keywords and phrases to see which outlets appear the highest, and/or the most often on the search engine results pages. If you have tools like Cision or Meltwater, you can easily identify outlets based on topics covered, and then sort by traffic to determine the most widely viewed outlets.

Once you know the outlets, pull out the specific articles you’ll analyze. This is best done through a combination of tools and tactics, including but not limited to the following:

Social Crawlytics


Social Crawlytics is a great tool for determining the most popular content on any site. It’s free, as long as you request and earn “credits” by tweeting a provided message. Enter the domain to crawl and it generates a report with the most shared content. It doesn’t let you search by keyword or subject, so your results will reflect all content from the publisher. It’s fine to include the top performers for the assessment to help gain insights, but be sure to handpick relevant content from the list as well to keep your content inventory targeted.



Another easy tool for finding top-performing content is BuzzSumo. The free version gives you the basic “top content” search to find widely shared articles by simply entering the publisher’s URL. You can also refine domain searches by topic to keep your results specific to your subject. Add any articles you may not have gathered from Social Crawlytics.

Site Search +


Be sure to search each relevant domain directly for the keywords and phrases you selected. You can use the search function on the domain itself, but not every domain’s search function is reliable, so it’s ideal to do a “site colon” search in Google as well. While this will help you discover the most topically relevant content, it doesn’t account for the most popular. is a free tool that will tell you how many total shares a link has. Used in conjunction with site search, it will allow you to add the most popular content to your inventory.

Step 2: Content Inventory

As you collect articles for your content inventory to audit, it’s important to include some basic details, including:

  • Outlet name
  • Article title
  • Link to the article
  • Author
  • Date published

Listing the author’s name helps determine who to reach out to during promotion. The published date ensures the content you’re analyzing is still relevant to readers. Ideally, all articles will be from the past six months, and possibly a year if it’s a really niche topic.

Step 3: Content Audit

After you have all the articles collected for your content audit, it’s time to reveal their secrets. These are the factors you’ll analyze, driving the insights you’ll use to create your next piece of killer content:


For consistency, use ShareTally to determine the total social shares for all of the articles, even if you found them through a tool that provides that same information.


Comments are a new addition to my content assessments, thanks to a blog post from Dan Shure. As exhibited by Dan, the number of comments is indicative of an audience’s level of engagement.


The format is the basic setup of the article. Examples can include text, lists, comparison charts, slideshows, or videos. Limit the kinds of responses you use to be consistent and reduce confusion when you review the data.


The type of article is more about its overall purpose than its layout. Popular types can include “how-to”, “best of”, “tips” and “review”.  Again, stay consistent and avoid using too many varying responses.

Rich media

Mark the use of any graphic, video, or screenshot in this column. You may see that one publisher loves charts, while another uses screenshots. That will help you determine what assets you should make available for your own piece of content.


Your overarching subject may be “big data”, but the articles within that larger topic are more specific. Is the media mostly talking about big data marketing, tools to collect data, or defining the term itself? Knowing which topics are most shared paints a clear picture of the content your target audience is interested in.


It can be beneficial to write down the things you need to be aware of but don’t fit into an existing column. For example, was it a sponsored post? Is the article about your brand or a competitor?


Creating content is great, but creating content with the intent to be seen and shared is what makes the difference between content that brings readers in and content that falls flat. Don’t assume you know what’s out there – take the time to gather information and make data-backed content decisions.

What do you include in your content assessments? Feel free to leave a comment and tell us what factors you consider in your research.

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