OK, so that’s a provocative title, but I have to call it the way it is. I’m saying this based on a new piece of research from Moz: ‘Content, Shares and Links: Insights from Analyzing 1 Million articles‘. It’s based on research produced from the team at the excellent content marketing and social media evaluation tool BuzzSumo.

This new research, based on an initial analysis of 100,000 blog posts, suggests that Content Marketing isn’t nirvana for all businesses as some of the hype may have suggested. So, what does the research show? Here are the main takeaways for me:

    1. The majority of these posts receive few shares and even fewer links. Over 50% had 2 or less Facebook interactions (shares, likes or comments)
    2. 50% of Tweets had 11 or fewer shares
    3. Many posts had even fewer links; over 75% had zero external links.
    4. 85% of content published (excluding videos and quizzes) is less than 1,000 words long. However, long form content of over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links than shorter form content.
    5. Shares and links are not normally distributed around an average. There was a typical ‘long tail’ pattern:

Distribution of external links graph

Which Content Is More Effective?

The initial research sample giving the results above was based on 100,000 random posts, but the full report also includes a more detailed analysis of a second sample based on well-shared examples of different content formats so that they could investigate what content gets shared and the impact of different content formats.

Perhaps surprisingly, this second phase of research found no distinct correlation between shares and links, suggesting people share and link for different reasons. The research includes analysis of other content types which show what is more effective.

For example, research-backed content and opinion forming journalism had a strong positive correlation of shares and links. Moz found that these content formats achieve both higher shares and significantly more links. Either people ignore the data or it is simply too hard for them to write quality long form content.

The research also looked at engagement of different types of content:

Content type table

This shows that today, even for highly shared content, how difficult it is to obtain links.

What Are The Implications for Marketers?

Well, it’s depressing, isn’t it? All this time (and money) going into creating content that is not getting a high readership or the benefits of increased social shares or backlinks!

Should we give up on content marketing? Certainly not! This shouldn’t be a surprise since any traditional media investment isn’t going to be effective in all cases; the strategy, investment and execution need to be right. That said, some media investments give a more predictable return-on-investment than others…

Quick Content Fixes

Here are some quick learnings to avoid being like the majority of business blogs:

  1. Be Awesome! Average, ‘me-too’ blog content won’t get engagement – some content has to have the investment to cut through – what Michael Stelzner of Social Media Examiner calls “Nuclear Content”.
  2. Think like a publisher! Yes, it’s been said many times before, but the report also looks at sharing patterns for publishers like The Economist, NYT and Buzzfeed. They are certainly succeeding in gaining links, it is possible… if you have the creativity and resources.
  3. Understand what works for others! As you may know, Buzzsumo is a tool which shows the posts that are most effective in a category. See what works for others and then follow their lead.
  4. Less is more! Likely you don’t have the resource, so you have the choice of giving up or posting less, perhaps longer form posts that gain more traction, for example.
  5. Mix it up with a range of content formats! There isn’t a definitive content format, although we know that long form, list-based, visually-rich content works best. Be creative by using formats you haven’t used before and stretch your brand by being more controversial than you usually would.
  6. Build links by collaborating with partners! Google doesn’t like spam of course, so they tell us not to build links, but encourage them to be created organically through content. Fair enough, but the research shows this is an inefficient way to build links. Working this way also enables you to share audiences and links naturally as Buzzsumo and Moz show in this research and Smart Insights and HubSpot have shown in our joint research on Competing with Content Marketing. This shows that the vast majority of marketers still believe in content marketing and are investing in it with a quarter increasing head count and 71% creating more content in 2015 than 2014. The question is – is it the right type of content…?!

Despite this research, I’m certainly still a big advocate of blogging as a way to build an audience at low cost and build interactions with existing customers – it works well for me at Smart Insights, publishers and other companies.

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About the author:

An acknowledged expert on digital marketing, Dave was recognised in 2004 by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of “50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have shaped the future of Marketing“. Dave is also author of five best-selling books including Internet Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice; and eMarketing eXcellence.