I had a shock this week when testing the new content analysis reports for BuzzSumo. The reports appeared to show that content on the Social Media Examiner site was shared substantially more than content from similar sites. The variation was so great I had to go back and check the data. After much checking there could no doubt, Social Media Examiner’s content consistently and significantly outperforms content from similar sites. This article explores what I found and what we can learn about content marketing from Social Media Examiner.
The Numbers: How Social Media Examiner Outperforms Other Sites
I was testing the new BuzzSumo domain comparison reports when I came across some numbers that surprised me. As you can see in the graphic below Social Media Examiner’s content was killing the content from other sites in terms of the average number of social shares.
I then ran a domain search on the BuzzSumo app to have a look at the most shared articles from the Social Media Examiner site (socialmediaexaminer.com) to see what I could learn. This revealed that the most shared articles on the site get over 10,000 social shares as you can see below.
The consistency of content performance in terms of social shares is quite remarkable. Based on my research I think there are a number of key lessons we can all learn.
10 Content Marketing Lessons from Social Media Examiner
1. Quality Posts Win Over High Volume Posts
Social Media Examiner does not produce as much content as some other sites but it focuses on quality posts that are of interest to its audience. This less is more approach gives you more time to promote each post and provides more focus to ensure the content is of the highest quality.
I once read that Mike Stelzner used to review, and often rewrite, the first paragraph of every post on Social Media Examiner. His attention to detail is legendary and all posts go through a number of sub-editors. I think this highlights the focus on quality as well as bringing the audience with you and being clear on the value of the post at the outset.
2. Understand Your Audience
Social Media Examiner conducts regular surveys of its audience. A good example is the latest 2014 Social Media Trends report which surveyed over 2,800 marketers. The insights they gain helps them plan, develop and curate content that is of interest to the audience and resonates with them. The real value of capturing their interest is shown below.
3. Produce Long Form Content
Once you understand your audience, and you know what content resonates with them, there is evidence that the the audience welcomes and engages with long form content. Look at the BuzzSumo stats below. The longer the article on Social Media Examiner the more shares it gets on average. The key is understanding the audience and producing quality content which resonates with them.
4. Respect Your Audience
In an interview back in 2011 Mike Stelzner was asked if the site wrote headlines and content for SEO. His response was revealing:
“No, we do not. We only get 15 percent of our 900,000 page-views per month from search. We do not try to make things that appeal to search engines. We don’t ignore search engines, but it’s not our primary focus. Our primary focus is to appeal to people.”
I think it is refreshing that the site writes headlines which respect the reader. There are too many headlines these days such as “He asked his wife for a divorce; what happened next will break your heart.” These BuzzFeed style headlines are headlines that are disrespectful to the reader and designed to tease readers to click by hiding the core of the article. Old school journalists wrote headlines and introductory paragraphs that respected their readers and allowed them to skim read by instantly understanding what an article is about from the headline, gaining further information in a summary introduction and then being able to dive further into the detail.
Mike’s team’s focus on readers not SEO per se is also refreshing. For example, I also appreciate that articles on Social Media Examiner are dated out of respect for the reader. Sites like Copyblogger disrespect their readers in my view by removing the date of articles because it helps improve their SEO. There is no good reason for removing the date from a post, all content, even evergreen content, has a date context and it is simply disrespectful to the reader to remove it.
The respect that Social Media Examiner shows its audience appears to be rewarded by the sharing of content. The site is a great example of how to utilize the power of social networks to drive traffic as well as search engines.
5. Share Content Across All Networks
Social Media Examiner’s content gets heavily shared across across all social networks as seen below.
In our BuzzSumo research we have found the top performing content is generally shared across multiple networks and not a single network.
6. Use Lists, How To Articles and Infographics
Social Media Examiner makes good use of three different content types namely lists, how to posts and infographics. The site uses a good mix of content formats that appeal to its audience.
7. Use Podcasts
Mike Stelzner’s podcast is very widely listened to. I don’t personally need the traffic stats or shares to know how important the podcast has become to their site. At BuzzSumo we had a single mention in one of Mike’s podcasts which drove significant traffic to our site.
Other sites such as Convince and Convert and the Content Marketing Institute have had similar success with podcasts.
8. Publish Your Content Early In The Week
The chart below shows the total post shares by the day of the week they were published on Social Media Examiner.
It is quite clear that posts published earlier in the week perform better. My only advice, not that they need my advice, would be to try some Sunday posts. I think it is a day that is underused for posting content. My SMToolbox posts on social media tools typically goes out each Sunday and in my experience gets as many shares on a Sunday as it does in the week.
9. Use Respected and Authoritative Authors
There are many different authors on the Social Media Examiner site but the sites uses respected authors that produce quality content. I did an author search on BuzzSumo for various Social Media Examiner authors and found their content was consistently shared. For example, below is the most shared content authored by Cindy King. Authorship is increasingly important and authors need to build authority by creating and publishing unique and valuable content.
10. Build A Virtuous Cycle
The more your content gets shared the more these social signals provide evidence of its value to readers and the more it encourages people to share.
There is evidence that many people share content before fully reading it. In the case of Social Media Examiner I believe that the consistent quality of content, the evidence of strong social signals plus clear headlines and introductory paragraphs will encourage people to share content even if they don’t have time to read the entire article immediately.