Us content marketers, we’re often exposed to ugly truths about the internet.
We work in a space where, according to New York Magazine, less than 60% of traffic is human. The rest is an internet of bots, fake or misleading news and statistics, and auto-generated pages.
It’s a world hyper-digital that churns out content faster than anyone can keep up. To stand out, you have to produce truly impeccable work.
In today’s article, I’ll talk about fake and misleading statistics – a phenomenon in online content that’s spreading freely from B2B blog to B2B blog. Specifically, we’ll go over:
- how these false datasets spread across the internet, and a few main types
- how to spot fake and misleading information through some telltale signs
- how to bypass these issues to produce content that truly breaks the norm
Read on for some insights based on our years of experience in content marketing.
The problem with stats and how you don’t know what to believe + 3 examples
Picture the following scenario:
A content specialist is tasked to create an article about customer experience in four hours. After writing, there’s little time left to add statistics and links to back up their claims, so they google for stats that confirm their theories and call it a day.
It might not seem ideal, but it’s nonetheless true and far too frequent. It’s aslo how the content marketing world is used to doing things. But is it right?
Here are three of the kind of stat compilations content writers typically find:
- 70 Powerful Customer Retention Statistics You Need to Know in 2021. This list contains difficult-to-source facts. While most stats are correct, a few are fake or impossible to verify.
- Software Development In 2022: Statistics You Need To Know. Many of the stats here come from a questionable survey and the writer took a few creative liberties when copy-pasting the numbers.
- 31+ Fake News Statistics and Facts That Need Your Attention in 2022. This one’s stats are mostly very well-researched. However, one comes from a 2001 UCLA study of the internet – not fake as much as entirely obsolete.
If you take 5 minutes to look just below the surface of these stats, the findings will confuse you and make you question the entire internet for a few days. Now imagine most content writers, particularly in the B2B space, don’t fact-check their stats. Most times, they’re just happy to find something quickly. Now they can take a 10-minute break before the next article.
How to Spot Fake or Misleading Statistics
There is one hope: things are changing. B2B and SaaS clients are no longer satisfied with mediocre content. We’ve observed an uptick in quality demands from our clients over the past 2 years, a steadily growing trend since I went down this career path.
In that time, I developed some hacks to spot suspicious stats:
- When there’s no individual source for each stat and the references are added in bulk at the end.
- When there are too few sources for too many stats.
- When finding the source of a specific stat is time-consuming. Based on my experience, it’s designed that way as a deterrent.
- When some stats are slightly vague, while others are highly specific.
- When a stat comes from an ordinary blog article, not the original study.
- When the data comes from money-grab B2B reports priced at $5,000 or more.
- When some of the stats seem very incongruent with the current state of the world.
- When a quick scan of the URLs cited as resources shows many to be older than two years.
- When a few of the sources are questionable in terms of authority
- When Statista is a source – a paywalled market and consumer data website that requires a $39 subscription to access its database. The paywalled nature of this website is contrary to open science. Plus anyone can make up a stat and link to something paywalled assuming most readers won’t check.
How to Avoid Using Fake Statistics
Beyond finding fake statistics, it’s best to develop ways to bypass them. Below I’ll detail some of the ways to do it.
1. Be inquisitive and ask yourself where the content comes from
It’s often that a compilation of statistics will have many correct stats. So instead of using a stat that’s fake, it’s best to look deeper and find ones that serve the purpose of the article without being false.
Once you begin to see the cracks in the internet, statistical fallacies and inaccurate data will become much easier to find and avoid.
2. Follow a clean research process and always cite sources
If academia taught us anything, it’s that a clean research process can make any written content look and feel very professional. The basic idea is first research, then write.
So as soon as you’ve typed the title, it’s time to:
- research more sources than necessary
- highlight exciting ideas to use later, focusing on quotes that might generate discussions
- find stats that support and contradict the argument, to present a true perspective
- make notes of good articles to keep open
- credit articles that helped throughout the process – good writers deserve credit
All of these are foolproof ideas to freshen up any article, and B2B SaaS content writing could benefit a lot by simply following these professional rigors.
3. Be aware and avoid confirmation bias
In the age of Google, confirmation bias looms since results will match your preferences and way of questioning. Think of it like someone googling two very different searches for similar things that return very different results because the demographic groups searching for those terms have opposed political beliefs.
If engagement-led algorithms dictate our content landscape, that landscape will be populated with content we’re likely to engage with. On Google, because of the nature of search, the machine learning algorithm understands how certain groups of people phrase specific search terms, and thus return the results that group of people typically clicks on.
We as content marketers need to understand and be better than this. So instead of falling for the confirmation bias trap, here are places where we can look for better sources:
- Google Scholar – a different sort of Google built for academia
- Websites that are .edu, .org, or .gov – not entirely trustworthy but better than the rest
- Research papers or high-authority publications (not immune to fake stats, but the odds of them featuring any are low)
- The local library – the original coworking space has its doors open for anyone, and it will probably contain research that’s not readily available online.
4. Use studies to reinforce the article
Statistics are not the only things that can prove an argument. Sometimes other people’s opinions can also help, particularly when they’re knowledgeable about a topic.
However, when you’re changing the research method, it can become challenging to know what part of a study to use in your articles.
What I’ve done & recommended to my team is to find a reputable study or an article that speaks to the same topics as the article at hand. Then by simply reading a bit through this resource, any writer is guaranteed to find an idea that resonates with the content they’re producing.
Blending those ideas into a new article with appropriate credit gives it some kick and makes it stand out.
Let’s Make a Better Content World Together
Ours is a sector where journalistic rigors have been severely overlooked since the internet became a thing.
However, as I’ve said, our clients’ quality demands for B2B SaaS content have dramatically increased over the past two years. Naturally, our writing has improved in tandem (you can read more about how an agency evolves with its clients here).
Of course, when one client demands better content, we end up providing the same quality to other clients as well. A few more years in this direction, and the domino effect might just make the content marketing world adapt, root out fake statistics, and improve the overall health of the internet.
Industry experts foretell a future information landscape where fake information crowds out reliable information. Together, we can make sure that doesn’t happen!