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10 Data-Driven Tips on the Science of Compelling Content

Posted by Loree O'Sullivan

image credit: robert couse baker/flickr cc

Nearly half of marketers (47%) struggle to create content that engages.

While common pain points can include a lack of time and budget, many marketers aren’t taking the right approach to custom content in the first place. 17% of teams aren’t measuring effectiveness, and an additional 49% are only looking at the most basic metrics. Developing a more scientific approach to content can facilitate better results.

Creating compelling content is a science that requires insights into your marketing metrics, behavioral psychology, user experience, and other data-driven practices. In this blog, you’ll learn some insights into best practices for content creation that compels and converts.

1. Give an Easy Out

Hope for an “easy out” is rooted in behavioral psychology. The appeal of a “4 Hour Work Week,” or winning the lottery may be unrealistic, but it’s every bit as primal as fear, according to Cognitive Science Professor Jim Davies.

Great writers have the ability to get their audience to buy into the hope of solving their pain point. If you present a reasonable ideal to your customers and back up exactly how they’ll get there, they’ll be compelled to listen.

2. Understand the Most Compelling Emotions

No one wants to feel sad or anxious. Marketing Professor Jonah Berger is a specialist in viral content. His research team performed a huge data analysis of the most-emailed New York Times article. Their findings? Some emotions are more sharable than others. The most viral-ready emotions that inspire people to share content with others include the following:

  • Amusement
  • Surprise
  • Happines
  • Delight
  • Anger
  • Joy
  • Pleasure

3. Write Longer Content

How long should your blogs be? Exactly as long as your buyer personas prefer. Ultimately, your blog marketing metrics should  be the factor that determines length of blog posts. Your ideal buyers may prefer heavily data-driven, deep dives into breaking topics. Perhaps they'd rather you keep things light with a 400-word post.

However, across industries and buyer personas, longer content tends to significantly out-perform shorter articles in search. This most likely indicates that longer content is shared more, earns more inbound links, and has better user engagement metrics.  Neil Patel's research indicates that blogs in the 2,000-2,400 word range often rank the highest.

4. Be Extraordinary

While some viral-ready or compelling content examines a completely new topic, it's often on the familiar. Just because someone's already written a blog on the same topic doesn't mean you don't have the potential to go viral. The Kissmetrics team recommends putting an extraordinary spin on things by using one of the angles most often found in compelling content:

  • Tell Stories
  • Write in Active Voice
  • Build Suspense
  • Use Humor

Even if you're covering some pretty simple top-of-the-funnel concepts, telling an engaging story or putting an exceptionally action-oriented spin on things may make all the difference in the world.

5. Play on "Information Gap" Theory

In order for your content to earn clicks from social media or search engines, it needs to sound fascinating. In the B2B space, you want your prospects to feel like they need to know what you're about to say. You need to leverage the "information gap theory," which is a behavioral psych principle. When someone feels like there's a difference between what they currently know and what they want (or need) to know, they'll take action.

Your titles and conclusion should leverage the concept of information gaps by making your prospects think you have some seriously spectacular information, data, or insights to share. 

6. Create Synaptic Play

There's a magical moment that occurs when the human brain forms new connections. This can happen when two seemingly completely unrelated concepts are combined in a weird "mashup." The more disparate the two concepts, the more creative joy someone experiences when thinking about the two concepts together.

Can you compare industrial manufacturing to oatmeal? Probably not. But you may be able to compare wind energy to a sad, strange, and very clumsy giant, like European company EPURON famously did. 

7. Don't Be Too Persuasive

No one wants to be sold to. Most inbound marketing professionals are adept enough to avoid overtly sales-oriented content marketing. However, they may be guilty of a little too much prominence in branding or a persuasive tone. Harvard Business Review's Thales Texeira writes that people have "an unconscious aversion to being persuaded." 

The concept is strange but true. Television commercials that prominently display a brand's logo significantly unperform compared to ads with "brand pulsing," or intermittent integration of a brand's product in a way that's not too over-the-top. If you're failing to take an objective approach in your content, you may be causing feelings of aversion in your readers.


While this list isn't a comprehensive overview of the science of virality, it presents some insight into how behavioral psychology principles can impact your content's performance. Content is both an art and a science, and it's an intensely human science. By understanding a bit more about why people act, you can ensure your offers and content are genuinely compelling.

For more information on compelling content creation, talk to us about your marketing strategy: 

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