The Art Of Storytelling Through Data

Five Questions With Header

The Art Of Storytelling Through Data

In this episode of Five Questions with… I am talking with JLA Analytics founder Julie Alig about the art of storytelling with data in business and how to present complex stories with data. This is part two of the interview. You can find the first episode on Visual Storytelling With Data here

How do you come up with the question that you're going to tell the story around?

Definitely in a conversation, it’s a back-and-forth with the customer. That’s the way I do it. That’s the way I’ve found the strongest results come out.

I might be the person in the room who has the most experience with research methodology, with statistical tools, this, that, the other. I’m not the subject matter experts of what my clients are. In my mind, any good research project – kind of like this – needs to be a collaboration between the subject matter expert and the people with the tools and expertise. 

Working with my clients, I really like to have that kind of conversation or communication continue, and if anything I like to over-communicate, because I want to make sure that I’m going in the right direction. I think I responded to one of your posts on LinkedIn and said something like,”Let your client, or their questions, be your North Star.”

That needs to be what I’m focused on. That’s where I find the best results with my clients.

Four Tips To Successful Storytelling

I sit in all these meetings, I get Powerpointed to death, with slides with a gazillion data points on them. We spoke about taking this data, understanding the North Star, answering the questions, pulling it together so you can tell a story with it, but now you have to deliver it.

What’s your tips and tricks for boiling that down, putting it onto paper so that people in the room can understand it and so when it gets passed around outside the room they can still follow the story.

That’s the question isn’t it? That’s the 64 million dollar question!

I think that’s where a lot of your skill and expertise come into play. You really have to distill down all the findings into something very short and small. I forget who but there was a British author who said,

"I would've written a shorter letter if I had the time."

1. You have to be concise and get right to the point.

 I would say the tip is: A – keep going back to those original questions and make sure that you’re still focused on those. B – I really get a lot out of visuals.

2. Communicate so much with visuals

I was just on a call with a colleague last week, and she was talking about a process, and I whipped out my journal and drew a little picture, and held it up for her, and she was like,”that’s exactly it!” She got it.

So I think we’ve all been in those situations. The danger though is that you’re going to load up too many ideas and too many concepts into one poor little graphic or image. I really like using maybe a couple of visuals to tell a story, and in a storyboard kind of manner.

3. Stick to the basics, and throw everything else in the appendix.

 That’s kind of what I used when I was writing my dissertation in grad school. All those great supporting analyses, stick ’em in the appendix.

I love that storyboard analogy. It’s like these are the ones you can always pop out and say, “Okay are we gonna use these images in this order? Is it telling the story that we want?” Instead of “well there’s a slide, and now there’s another slide…”

4. That you and your client or customer are on the same page.

 So, especially from that first slide, statement of the problem, statement of the question, and what you’re going to do with it.


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Why Longer Content Is Smarter Content

Why Longer Content Is Smarter Content

According to a recent report from SEM Rush long form content (3000+ words) get 3x more traffic, 4x more shares, and 3.5x more backlinks than articles of average length (901-1200 words).

In a study of over 700,000 articles, the research shows that shorter articles (300-900 words) are 4.5X more likely NOT to be shared that long form content of 3000+ words.

Content Length: Impact On Performance

Long form content: Impact on Performance

Key Takeaway:

 In comparison with articles of average length (901-1200 words), long form content (more than 3000 words) has:

Shared Articles By Length

non shared articles by length

What is remarkable about this study is that 88% of articles over 3,000 words get share. While a shorter article (under 600 words) is shared less than half the time.

The data proves the hypothesis that people are more driven and engaged by blog posts containing more information. These studies have also shown that long form consistently outperforms short-form when it comes to shares:

The most frequent objection we hear when we recommend to clients that their content marketing strategy needs to include more long form content is that nobody will read it. The data shows that a well written long-form article will not only be read, but it will be shared also.

Should I Never Write A Short Form Post?

These findings don’t mean you should avoid using short-form content at all. We want to make a crucial caveat here — content length should vary depending on the user’s intention in the first place and, secondly, on the type of content.

We would never make a blanket statement that you should never write short-form content. The following content topics may work well (and even better) as short-form content:

Subjects that can’t meet the word count of long-form content, which is 1200 to 2000 words or more, should also get the short-form treatment. If you come across these topics, reassess their potential value to your company and your target audience.

FAQs about long-form vs. short-form content

What is long form content?

Long form content describes content with a 1200- to 2000-word count. This kind of content offers users more value because it takes an in-depth look at a topic, answering a user’s initial question and then their follow-up questions.

What is short-form content?

Short-form content describes content with less than 1000 words. This kind of content offers users a brief overview of a topic by answering their initial question and sometimes directing them to content that answers related questions.

What is the difference between long-form and short-form content?

The simplest way to explain long form vs short form work is this: Long form is longer and requires critical thinking; short form is short and can be skimmed or scanned.

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Visual Storytelling With Data

Five Questions With Header

Visual Storytelling With Data

In this episode of Five Questions with… I sit down with JLA Analytics founder Julie Alig to talk about visual storytelling with data. This is part one of a two-part interview.

Can you tell the audience a little bit about your background Julie?

At heart, I’m basically a storyteller. As I look back I’ve really always been interested in stories. It was in grad school that I really got interested a lot more in data, using data and marrying that with stories to be able to really have an impact. I went to the University of Chicago, I got my doctorate in Political Science, I did a lot of work in quantitative methods, survey research, that sort of thing.

What I really wanted to do was be able to understand how to use data, and how to use it in a very honest, methodologically rigorous way, so that people could really feel what the story is in it, and beyond that to figure out, “what do we do with that? Where do we go next?” 

And so that’s what my company does. We work with clients that have a lot of data and don’t know what story it’s telling, and who need someone with the tools and the expertise to come in and work with them to figure out what’s going on and plot a course for going forward.

Common basis of understanding

With COVID-19 there’s just so much data that’s out there. I think Andrew Cuomo has done a really good job of visual storytelling with data by condensing it down into understandable parts.

Most data analysts do not do this. When you have a complex dataset, what are some of the tips and tactics that analysts can use to sort of take that and tell a story around it that people understand.

With a complex data set, you can answer a whole lot of questions, and you can do a lot of really fun stuff. I think we’re all pretty aware of all the powerful machine-learning algorithms out there, a lot of these very, very complex statistical analyses. I find, honestly, that if you can’t tell a story, even if it’s a complex story, if you can’t tell it in a very simple way then what good is it?

 You might have all of this data, you might have these really cool hierarchical clustering algorithms or whatever you call them – logistic regression of whatever – but if you can’t get down to and answer that question that your customer or client has then what good is it?

I think that’s where thinking of this in terms of visually telling a story with data helps me, and I think it helps other people to think about breaking that down. The first thing you need to do as a practitioner when you start having a conversation about a really complex topic is to make sure you find a common basis of understanding with your audience, with our client.

If you don’t have that common basis, that foundation from the get-go, you’ve lost them. It doesn’t matter how great your R2 is or this, that, the other. It’s over their head and you’ve lost them, and what good is it then?

So I really try to stay true to what the original questions were, and really think about how someone is going to use the data. We all fall under these traps of going off on tangents or going down rabbit holes. For me, analysis is really iterative.

Coming back to the questions, answering a few more questions, coming up with a few more findings, and then going back and iterating. Almost like a palimpsest.

Presenting too much information

What I find a lot of times is that analysts we work with or have seen elsewhere, they’re so focused on showing that they’re the smartest in the room that they just go really deep. They lose everybody, because yes they are the smartest one, because they own the data, but you have to be able to – as you say – bring that up to that story point at the top that says, “these are the terms that we can all understand, and this is the story part that’s around that.” 

That’s powerful when it works, it’s a really tough meeting when it doesn’t, when you go too far with that.

Yes And full disclosure, I’ve been doing this for 20, 25 years, I was a young analyst way back in the day! There is something really cool about when you’re able to find something that allows you to dig and dig and dig, and come up with something. You get excited about it and you want to share it!

I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that in the past, but you need to come back to,”Okay, so what? What are we gonna do with this? Does it really answer the question?” 

And if it doesn’t, okay, let’s stick a pin in it, stick it over here in the parking lot and get back to the question at hand: how can we really help the client or the customer to make a difference?



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Measuring Success in Content Development

Measuring Success in Content Development

Prospective clients often tell us that their previous or existing SEO agency is producing X pieces of content for them on a monthly basis.

My follow-up question is always “How is that working out for you?”

Many clients respond with “What do you mean?”

Content and Goals

In many cases, content developed for “SEO” reasons is not tied into the goals of the website or business. This content is produced to rank well. If anybody ever reads the content or responds to the page’s call for action—these are considered bonuses and not expectations.

When a client asks us to develop content for them I ask them two questions:

What is the goal of this content?

The three most common content objectives are to increase leads, to increase sales, and to build awareness. Occasionally the client desires content that is not product-related. For instance, some clients require a FAQ page, covering the most commonly asked questions. In this case, the goal might be to decrease the number of support phone calls over time.

How will content success be measured? By rankings?
Typically, increasing rankings is not a goal of content creation because SEO agencies often develop content targeting a very specific long-tail keyword that barely anyone searches. Is ranking #1 for an obscure keyword really the goal of content development? In most cases, the answer is no.

By leads or sales?

Sometimes a client will need content developed around a very specific product or service, where the search volume is low, but the buyer intent is really high. In this case, the goal for that piece of content is to generate leads or sales. It is not to rank highly because ranking highly without the subsequent sale doesn’t help the client reach their business objectives.

How Are You Measuring Success?

When your SEO agency creates content for your website, how are you measuring its success and impact on your business goals and objectives? Are your content goals directly linked to your larger objectives?

If not, let us help! Contact us to learn more about our content marketing services.


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Have We Seen the End of SEO Copywriting?

Have We Seen the End of SEO Copywriting?

It’s an interesting question. Is SEO copywriting dead? It’s something my wife and I discussed over the weekend. Type in “SEO copywriting” in Google, and Google’s Featured Snippet will state that

SEO copywriting refers to the art of writing copy that ranks well in search. SEO copywriting is relatively easy to do (if you have some experience), and it’s an excellent way to gain valuable web traffic without spending thousands of dollars on paid advertising.”

The key phrase from the Google Snippet is “ranks well in search.” Originally, the focus of SEO copywriting content was to rank well in Google by inserting a keyword X times on a page in specific locations – headline, first sentence, first paragraph, etc.

Rankings acted as the metric used for measuring the effectiveness of SEO copywriting.

But what the Google’s selected Snippet refrains from associating with SEO copywriting is a very important factor to a business’s success: the customer!

We have moved beyond one keyword per page of content. A single page can now rank for over 100 terms. Instead of keywords, we focus on themes.

While rankings used to be the metric of choice, clients today want that content to convert into leads, sales, and revenue.

As a result, the best content are narratives—customer-centric stories that show a common and relatable problem and offer solutions to that problem.

As the Featured Snippet relates, SEO copywriting is company-centric, speaking about features and benefits that matched consumer’s searches without relating to the customer on a personal level.

Is SEO copywriting dead?

Yes. I think that content development has evolved away from writing for search engine rankings to writing to connect with your audience.

This new approach is represented by companies like Contently who use these sorts of headlines to connect with their target audience.

Own Your Audience - Contently

Customers want stories, and marketing companies are finally recognizing that. What do you think? Is SEO copywriting dead?


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Are You One Piece of Content Away from Hitting It Big?

Are You One Piece of Content Away from Hitting It Big?

Recently, I was listening to an Ask Gary Vee Podcast(AskGaryVee), and Vaynerchuck made an interesting argument that most people/companies/brands are one piece of content away from hitting it big, from having something go viral.

What I found really fascinating was that Vaynerchuck (I am paraphrasing here) said that most people are not good enough to do that. Further, he added, that most of us are not willing to push the envelope on our content and that we settle for the same and true instead of making it personal and insightful.

In other words, we don’t allow narratives into our content. Stories get lost in the name of numbers and product information. I was recently talking to a prospective client about content marketing, and he remarked that his website was already producing content with hundreds of articles.

The problem was that the content was all product information. It was what everyone else in that industry was doing. It wasn’t personable or personal. There was no story. Nobody could relate to it.


Don’t Hesitate. Tell Your Stories.

When I started writing, my copywriter would edit my posts and ask me the same questions: “Why does this matter to me?” and “Why should I care?”

The questions made me realize that I had to stop writing about SEO and inbound marketing in the abstract and instead make it personal to the reader. While talking about increasing website traffic, linking, and buyer personas, I started to include stories about tactics that worked and strategies that didn’t.

The change in my blogging strategy appears to be working; when I review my Google Analytics report for the last six months, my most read post is “My $95,000 Linking Mistake”.  The blog post features an anecdote of human error (which is relatable) and learning from that error (which is progress), and it has a title that hooks and a story that interests.

How Can You Add Storytelling into Your Blog Posts and Content Development?

I focus on the fact that my readers are real people with online marketing questions and/or problems. I try not to focus on selling a product or service but on helping them by solving a problem for them.

If you would like to really start engaging your readers through storytelling, contact us today!


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Is Your Content Link Worthy?

Content Marketing

Five Ways To Create Link Worthy Content

Most link building conversations revolve around how many links will be acquired and from what sites. But in 2020 I believe that the better question to ask is

“why is this content link worthy?”

For years, link building companies were never concerned about the quality of the page they were trying to get a link to. Instead of quality go link acquired, it was about quantity of backlinks, mainly acquired through an automated process.

Types of link building tactics that no longer work include generic directories and SEO directories. Article links, especially article blasts where you can push an article in and there’s no editorial review. Guest content, depending on the editorial practices. Press releases, Google you saw penalized links coming from press release websites.

Comment links, for obvious reasons, reciprocal link pages, those got penalized many years ago. Article spinners. Private link networks. You see private and network, or you see network, you should just generally run away. Private blog networks. Paid link networks. Fiverr or forum link buys.

In a recent Whiteboard Friday Rand Fishkin identifies three targeted link building tactics that he believes still work. They are:

For two of the three tactics the quality of the content plays a critical role in the success of the link building program.

The only channel where you can get away with a website that has generic product descriptions, photos, and low quality writing is paid amplification. Or in other words. Paid advertising.

So before hiring a link builder take a look at your existing content and ask yourself “is this content link worthy?” If the answer is no, then your first step should be to hire someone to develop that sort of content.

5 Ways To Create Link-Worthy Content

1. Create Evergreen Content

News content has a short shelf life. You might be better of focusing on topics that are more evergreen.

Think of evergreen content as a resource that remains useful and relevant long after it’s published. It rarely changes and is always in-demand from your audience (and searchers).

This could be:

2. Start a Podcast

There has been a resurgence in Podcasting over the last 18 months. While it seems that everyone has a podcast, there are only 500,000 podcasts on Spotify globally, meaning that is still time for you to build a brand via podcasting

A podcast will naturally attract links because every time you interview a guest, they will likely link to your page. Plus, you’ll attract links from other industry sites and blogs if your podcast earns a great reputation.

3. Create a Resource Center

In addition to publishing and promoting your content, you have to organize it in a way that will make sense for your audience as well as new visitors. A content resource center might be the perfect solution for you.

Creating guides, case studies, webinars, whitepapers, and checklists is a lot of work. Some people would rather just link to your resource center rather than invest the time and budget creating their own.

4. Expert Roundup

Similar to podcasts, expert roundups are a great way to get links from well-known people in your industry. For example, the Content Marketing Institute’s 50 Best Social Media Tools From 50 Most Influential Marketers Online is a great example of a link-worthy (851 backlinks!) article.

The post features a squad of well-known marketers, using quotes from the marketers.


Instead of the author having to gather all the content himself, he used quotes from these thought-leaders to generate buzz with their name. Naturally, these marketers will share and link back to this article.

5. Add Visual Content

Research has shown that presentations that are accompanied by visual aids have been proven 43 percent more effective. And that of the information that is processed by the brain, 90 percent of it is visual! </p>

Therefore, it not only makes sense, but it’s vital for you to use content that generates a form of intuitive mental and emotional resonance with your target audience.

Six types of visual content that you can add that will make it more link-worthy are:



When properly executed, visual content also gets you more links and your readers will share it more among their peers, which is basically free advertisement for you!


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CMO’s Unhappy With Content Marketing Efforts

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CMO’s Unhappy With Content Marketing Efforts

With seventy percent of B2B marketers creating more content than they did last year, you would think that their bosses would be happy with their content marketing results.

But more is not always better and that appears to be the case according to a recent survey by the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council and NetLine Corporation. The survey found that 90 percent of CMOs said they have a content strategy, but only 2 percent consider their existing approach to demand generation highly effective

The challenge for many CMOs, and marketers in general, is producing content that translates into business results. How can they do that? By following these three strategies.

Content Amplification

Only 12 percent of marketers believe they have a content marketing strategy and amplification to target the right audiences with relevant and persuasive content. They are also not using multiple distribution and syndication channels for maximum reach, impact and return.

“Generating demand and ensuring the consistent flow of high-quality, actionable leads is paramount to the success of today’s business-to-business marketer." “Sales enablement and pipeline performance remain key mandates as organizations look to fine-tune their content marketing practices to be high-performance growth engines.”
Donovan Neale-May
Executive Director of the CMO Council.

Customized Content

Seventy five percent of marketers measure the success of their content marketing efforts by the number of downloads or registrations they get.

But often those goals are not met due to:

As Robert Alvin, CEO and Founder of NetLine Corporation put it:

“The quantity and quality of audience-appropriate content directly correlates to the number of leads that will end up in the sales pipeline. “Content demand generation programs start with the asset but must ensure proper consumption. Syndication and distribution to target audience groups with measurable results is indispensable for a successful content strategy.”
Robert Alvin
CEO and Founder of NetLine Corporation

Are you happy with your content marketing strategy? Are you getting the syndication and distribution you need in order move the needle on traffic, leads and sales? If the answer is no, then connect with us about our content marketing offerings. 


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