There are hundreds of “rules of thumb” for content marketing out there — slews of reports that tell you how to optimize your strategies for more clicks, shares, and conversions.
The problem is that when you line them all up, many actually conflict and contradict each other, or only make sense for say, B2B brands and not B2C. As a result, marketers may be using faulty advice to inform their strategies. And they could be leaving precious money — and engagements — on the table.
So, which stats match up and which ones don’t?
And how do the results affect your day-to-day strategies as a content marketer?
We analyzed stats in the following categories:
Let’s take a look at what we found.
Headlines that start with numbers and headlines that pose questions are two of the most popular headline types for content marketers — and the subject of many studies. While both can be engaging, it’s hard to say which one is truly better for clicks. We have two sources that say questions win and one that says numbers win. While Buffer steps in to say there’s no one perfect answer. Once again, the best solution may be to A/B test with your audience and specific verticals.
There’s no consensus here. We can likely assume that all of these headline are useful for generating social shares. They’re also not mutually exclusive. You can use all of these strategies in the same headline. For instance, this BuzzFeed headline, “17 Ways You Probably Didn't Realise You Were Annoying Your Hairdresser,” incorporates a number, emotional words, and conversational language.
The consensus is that 50-60 characters is the sweet spot for headline length. That’s largely because Google will cut off headlines after 55 characters in search results.
The verdict is pretty clear here: Positive headlines generate more shares, while negative headlines generate more clicks.
If you’re focused on reach and awareness then stay warm and fuzzy; and if you’re looking for direct traffic then go negative.
There’s no consensus here. Hubspot, Outbrain, and Buzzfeed found that odd numbers generate more clicks than even number. But BuzzSumo reports that listicles beginning with “10” get the most shares on Facebook.
Still, it should be noted that these stats do seem to favor higher numbers. This ties into the finding that longform posts generate more shares and clicks — with the theory being that longer articles and higher numbers signal that the piece is more valuable.
These are all over the map, though they do suggest keeping videos short. Especially on Facebook, the general recommendations are under two minutes. This is also what we found in our study of the top videos from last quarter: The average running time of the 50 most-viewed videos is 117 seconds.
Food and animals are the best video topics for social engagement. This lines up with our findings from the biggest branded videos of Q3 2017. We reported that food was by far the most popular content category among the group, with seven of the top 10 and almost half of the top 50 including food or drink. It also matches internal benchmark data from 2017 from SimpleReach: The median level of social referrals for food and drink branded articles is twice the average for all other content topics. Meaning food and drink branded content drives significant social traffic when compared to other verticals.
The recommendations are inconclusive and conflicting. Since there is no consensus, you should test different times against your own audience. You also shouldn’t be too concerned about when you post compared to other factors like the quality of your content.
It should be noted that the best times to post may also differ for B2B and B2C companies. As multiple studies show, B2B companies may see more engagement during the work week when people are commuting, taking lunch breaks, or looking for content to help them improve their professional lives. B2C companies, on the other hand, may see more engagement on the weekends when people are shopping, on-the-go, and taking a break from work-related content.
The consensus for Facebook is to post 2X a day at most. There is no consensus for how often to post on Twitter. These studies also don’t point out when to publish. For instance, 15 posts a day during the 9-5 hours is different from five posts during the workday and 10 posts overnight. The solution is to test posting frequency against your audience — there’s no simple formula.
Longer is better. There are no recommendations for 600-800 word posts on this list. Perhaps readers find longer, investigative, or in-depth articles more share-worthy. For marketers, this means it’s important to incorporate longform content into your strategy — if you haven’t already.
In 2017, CMI said B2B marketers on average spent 29% of their budgets on content, and 39% of planned to increase their budgets within the next year. But in 2018, CMI said they only spent an average of 26% of their budgets on content. And this isn't new. In 2014, 30% of their budgets were allocated to content, and 59% of marketers planned to increase their budgets. But in 2015, they only spent an average of 28% of their budgets on content.
The numbers aren’t that different for B2C marketers. In 2017, CMI said B2C marketers on average spent 26% of their budgets on content, and 42% planned to increase their budgets within the next year. But in 2018, CMI said they only spent an average of 22% of their budgets on content.
Marketers aren’t actually increasing their budgets year over year, even though there is strong desire and plan to. This aligns with our research that the biggest thing holding marketers back from doing more content is knowing what works and drives the highest ROI — meaning they don’t have the inputs to be able to make the business case for spending more on content.
When you consider this list altogether, you’re left with a strange string of superlatives and many different winners. They’re not just confusing; they’re also dangerous for marketers’ strategies and budgets. That’s why — before you take any stat as an unwavering truth — it can be wise to test metrics against your own audience.
After all, if this list proves anything, it’s that we should take all data with a grain of salt.
About the author:
Amanda Walgrove covers content marketing, social media, and digital tech, and has written for Facebook, American Express, Advertising Week, ShareThis, and A&E Networks, among others.