We talk a lot about data-driven content creation at Contently—basically, it’s just a fancy way of saying that you measure what works, and then double down on that. Well, this spring we brought you “10 Charts That Are Changing the Way We Measure Content“—with over 4,000 shares and 50,000 attention minutes spent with it, it’s safe to say the charts provided some much-needed information for content marketers.
But in just a few months, the content marketing scene has changed dramatically. More studies have been done, more charts have been made, and content marketers need this information more than ever to stay on top of this rapidly changing industry. So we’re back with another iteration.
Our first charts piece focused on the basics of measurement—getting a feel for sharing, time on page, and the importance of promotion—but in this post, we’re taking charts on some new topics and going a bit deeper, exploring everything from sponsored content trust to the evolution to mobile. Enjoy.
1. People primarily use social media for one reason: to find good content
Tumblr and WPP recently conducted a comprehensive survey about what readers are looking for in a social media platform. Overwhelmingly, the answer was content. Along with ease of use and allowing for creative freedom, high-quality content was the most important aspect to the success of a social media platform.
2. Substantial, longform content is on the rise
This summer, Betaworks CEO John Borthwick published an incredible analysis of Internet reading habits based on his years of expertise from working at Time Warner, Betaworks, AOL, and others. Content geeks should read the piece in full, as it’s chock-full of insights, but the above chart tells an intriguing story of where content is headed—and one that doesn’t quite jibe with the conventional wisdom that “snackable content” is about to eat the content world.
After analyzing millions of Instapaper “reads”—defined as someone consuming at least 75 percent of an article—Borthwick found that the publishers with the biggest gains were all publishers known for producing incredibly substantial stories. The Atlantic, Medium, The New York Times, and the Guardian all saw increases of over 250 percent between the summer of 2013 and the summer of 2014.
3. Executives crave branded content—as long as it delivers in-house expertise
Quartz conducted an in-depth study into executives’ content consumption habits and concluded that executives are interested in content produced by brands. But there is a caveat. Executives are not interested in just any content with a brand’s name strapped onto the hood. They want true analysis and in-house expertise on the industry, innovation, and leadership. The full study contains important points for any marketer looking to engage with executives.
4. Content experimentation is the name of the game
It turns out that BuzzFeed didn’t have insane success initially with quizzes. Instead, it took several iterations before the format took off (and did it ever, with one quiz garning over 40 million views—which is in the neighborhood of the total monthly traffic of The Washington Post at the time the quiz launched).
This is BuzzFeed’s recipe for success: Experiment until something feels right, measuring and optimizing every step of the way. BuzzFeed’s next foray—into Hollywood—should be a fascinating test of that strategy.
So don’t fall for magical distribution myths about content getting shared instantly the first time you push it on social. Finding an audience takes work. But then they’ll come back. Even the best results can take a few tries before they happen.
5. Sponsored content has a trust problem,but it can be fixed
As everyone in the advertising industry knows by now (and America at large, thanks to John Oliver), brand-sponsored content that runs on publisher sites has a trust problem. In a comprehensive survey, we set out to learn more. The findings were troubling: Two-thirds of readers have felt deceived by a piece of sponsored content, and coveted, highly educated audiences trust sponsored content the least. But there were some clear paths forward: Readers also indicated that they have faith that sponsored content can be interesting and can be trustworthy. Dig into the full findings.
6. Share buttons tell the story of the future of sharing
Much like the homepage, share buttons are also less important than they once were, which may seem like a surprise in the age of promiscuous media. But as Joshua Benton points out in Nieman Lab, much of the decline is due to the move to mobile, where device operating systems often have sharing built in and where share buttons are too tiny to be useful.
7. Content scores are the future of measurement
The number of mechanisms with which to measure content has grown fast: There’s engaged time, page scroll length, shares, share of lead, pageviews, and more.
So which should you use?
More often, publishers and advertisers—from BuzzFeed to Medium to Sharethrough—are using a blend of metrics to create content scores, weighing individual items against others to create composite metrics. We’ve examined through some of the leaders in this trend. The above score is based on some basic arithmetic that assigns weights to different measurement units. The score goes up as the content performs better than content published before it.
8. When it comes to reader engagement, quality trumps quantity
One of the basic assumptions of content measurement—that people tend to spend more time with longer articles—tends not to be entirely true. Chartbeat found that past a certain point, time spent with articles tends to flatten out. As publishers decide where to place in-feed ads and strategize for article length, it’s worth remembering that longer articles are not a “time spent” savior. Readers recognize quality immediately.
9. Sharing can be a red herring
Building on a study by Upworthy, Borthwick also created published the funny infographic above that actually reveals quite a lot about how and why people share content.
It turns out that attention-grabbing headlines really do make people lose their minds a bit with sharing, but so do articles that people legitimately read and engage with. So if what you really want is for people to engage with content, the share rate won’t necessarily tell the complete story. In turns out that only great content lead to both sharing and true engagement.
10. Facebook rules the content universe
We’ve all got to serve somebody, and content producers serve Facebook—it’s just a fact. The Atlantic found that Facebook is far and away the biggest driver of traffic. Sites like BuzzFeed get over half their traffic from Facebook, according to Pew. Publishers across the board get 4 times more traffic than Facebook than any other social media source. When Facebook goes down, it makes a publisher traffic chart look like the Black Friday stock market crash.
Facebook sees itself as a curator, and its News Feed algorithm can make or break a publishing operation. Everyone wants to crack what it takes to gain Facebook traffic riches, but Facebook maintains that quality is the only thing they’re looking at. I guess marketers are on the same plane as anyone else in this regard: Great content will eventually get that much-coveted Facebook boost.
What charts blew you away? Tell us @Contently for the next iteration.