This Month in Data Science: How Is Content Changing Over Time?

In recent months, you’ve probably heard the same trends parroted over and over. More than 70 percent of marketers are creating more content this year than last year. Brands are spending nearly 30 percent more on video. Content marketers are 70 percent more likely to enjoy videos of dogs pretending to play Bruce Springsteen covers. (Okay, that last one might not be true.)

While these stats are useful, they actually don’t tell us much about how brands create content on a granular level. As a data scientist at Contently, figuring that out is a big part of my job.

Every month, I dig deep to discover trends and insights we can use to test our assumptions about the content marketing industry and help us figure out the true keys to success for our clients. These sessions have become very popular inside our company, and we thought they might be interesting to our readers too.

That’s why we’re introducing our newest column: “This Month in Data Science.”

This month, we examine a key question in our industry: How is content marketing evolving over time? Luckily, we have a treasure trove of production and performance data from the hundreds of companies that use Contently’s software platform. When sorting through the data, we focused on two main areas:

  • How the content marketing of all our customers fared over the past year.
  • How a company’s content marketing changes as it matures.

Content marketing trends over the past year

Brands traditionally create more blog posts than downloadable or multimedia content. In that way, content marketing has been a bit like happy hour at a marketing conference: lots of snacks, but if you want an entree, you’ll have to go elsewhere. (Also, someone will probably try to sneakily sell you ad-tech software.)

We’ve noticed that trend at Contently, although things have started changing.

From April 2014 to March 2015, brands using Contently’s software produced roughly 16 blog posts per month, on average. But they invested little content in other formats. Since then, however, we’ve seen an uptick in brands producing both downloadable content (white papers, e-books, case studies) and multimedia content (infographics, videos, presentations).

Since April 2015, brands using Contently have averaged 2.47 pieces of downloadable content and 2.72 pieces of multimedia pieces per month, while their blog post creation actually fell slightly to 13 pieces per month over the same period.


Since Contently’s talent team builds custom rosters of freelance creatives, we are in a unique position that lets us see trends related to how adjust their content planning.

“We’ve seen three times as many requests for multimedia this year over last,” said Chantel Lucas, talent outreach manager at Contently.

More granularly, we see that brands reaching a certain level of maturity are driving this increase in multimedia and longform content. Typically, a brand takes four to seven months to create its first longform or multimedia piece, but then production increases over time.


When brands first dip their toes into content marketing—or at least when they’re first creating content through Contently—they mostly stick with the “safer” choice of blog posts. But as brands become content marketing pros, they begin to experiment with new formats. Interestingly, overall content production falls, but that’s likely because brands become more ambitious while staying within their budgets.

The fruits of downloadable and multimedia content

Is this trend a good thing for brands? Our performance numbers say yes.

On average, multimedia content like infographics and video reached almost three times as many people and garnered 20 percent more attention time.

Multimedia and downloadable content outperformed blog posts in terms of both reach and engagement. On average, multimedia content like infographics and video reached almost three times as many people and garnered 20 percent more attention time. Downloadable content like e-books and white papers reached five times as many people, although the engagement for those is pretty much on par with blog posts.

Our content methodology recommends using multiple formats off the bat, but for understandable reasons, that’s a scary investment for a lot of brands. Blog posts can be a good, cost-effective way to test your assumptions about what your audience wants, but once you’ve figured that out, it definitely pays off to diversify your content formats as soon as possible and track which ones perform best. After all, that cheese plate may be pretty good, but chances are what your readers really want is a steak.

Image by Shutterstock

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