less-is-more-content-strategy

What is the ideal frequency for publishing content? In my view is there is no ideal frequency as it depends upon your site, audience and objectives. However, you can adopt different content strategies from high frequency publishing through to Jay Baer‘s advice that you should only publish when you have something worthwhile to say.  In this post I want to focus on the “less is more” content strategy.

You can drive higher shares, gain more links and attract significantly more traffic using a ‘less is more’ approach. Yes, you really can drive more traffic by publishing less content. It is not magic as I will prove below.

Brian Dean of Backlinko has executed this content strategy to great effect. Brian has published just 53 posts over the last five years, less than one a month. These posts have driven nearly 4m visitors to his site. The average shares and links per post are what most of us can only dream of: an average of 2,490 shares, and 275 links from unique domains, for each post.  

Overview of the ‘Less is More’ Content Strategy

A successful ‘less is more’ strategy involves producing original, in-depth and referenceable content. This enables you to build an audience through demonstrating your authority and expertise; and by developing your reputation. The strategy involves:

  • Original content from research to case studies
  • Referenceable content
  • Comprehensive content including curation
  • Long form content
  • Doubling down on successful content with updating and repromotion
  • A strong focus on amplification and promotion

‘Less is more’ refers to the number of articles published not the amount of effort involved. Researching and creating high quality content once a month can take a lot more time than writing say three short blog posts a week.

The ‘less is more’ approach is not suitable for everyone and before I outline the ‘less is more’ content strategy I wanted to say a few words about equally valid approaches which involve higher frequency publishing. If you want to skip this, you can jump straight to the ‘less is more’ strategy.

The Future is More Content

I personally believe Mark Schaefer got it right when he talked of ‘content shock’. The amount of content published every day is huge and it is only going to increase. The number of people with internet access is still growing and publishing tools are easier to use, particularly video. Getting attention in a world of content shock is difficult. A core task for all content marketers is to reach, build and retain an audience.

To compete in a world of content shock many publishers have adopted a high frequency publishing strategy, often over 1,000 articles a day. Many blogs have also had success by increasing their content production. This has been particularly marked where blogs have increased their output from say one post every week or two, and increased it to say three posts a week. This may be due to the regularity of content helping to build an audience and a brand.

Research from Hubspot to Neil Patel has also found that increasing content can increase both traffic and leads. Back in 2012 Hubspot kicked off the debate with data showing that as the number of monthly blog posts increased so did traffic and inbound leads.  Neil Patel also found that increasing Kissmetrics blog posts from 5 to 6 a week increased monthly traffic by 18%.

However, there are logically limits to the efficacy of increasing content production which I suspect is related to your audience, type of site and your ability to continuously create quality content. The Content Marketing Institute experimented with publishing content twice a day but hit a point of diminishing returns. They now publish once a day which currently appears optimal. I think it was Robert Rose who wisely said “More content is better, until it isn’t”.

For many sites increasing content production is a valid strategy, though you need need to monitor the return on investment and assess when you are reaching the effectiveness threshold. However, there is an alternative approach …

The ‘Less is More’ Content Strategy

At its core the ‘less is more’ strategy is based on building an audience through producing original, in-depth, researched and referenceable content which enhances your authority and reputation.

The best ‘less is more’ example I have come across is Brian Dean at Backlinko. Brian produces high quality, well researched and referenceable content every 4 weeks or so. Despite this infrequent publishing, Brian has driven 4 million visitors to his site with just 53 posts.  

Let’s have a detailed look at Brian’s content and how well it performs.

Backlinko Content and Performance

I reviewed 53 posts published by Brian on Backlinko over the last 4 years. I didn’t include short posts to promote webinars but I did include video posts and book chapters, which are published as separate posts. I have listed all of the posts at the bottom of this article for transparency.

The average and median shares for these 53 posts are both incredibly high. The average number of shares is 2,490 and the median is 1,280. To put this into context, when we reviewed 127,000 articles published by Hubspot B2B customers we found median shares of just 22 and when we reviewed the top 95 B2B blogs including sites such as Hubspot, we found median shares of 106. To have median shares of over 1,000 is very high.

What is even more staggering is the number of unique linking domains. The average per post is 275 and the median is 137. When we looked at a million posts at random we found over 50% did not receive a single link.

Brian has kindly shared his analytics data below so we can see how his traffic has grown consistently over time. His 53 posts have attracted almost 4m visitors and 11m page views.

backlinko-analytics

So how does Brian achieve such success? I think it is fundamentally down to a ‘less is more’ strategy.

Posting Frequency

The number of posts published each year by Brian is relatively low as we can see below.

Year Number of Posts Average Shares Average Links Total Shares Total Links
2012 4 95 300 3,720 1,201
2013 14 3203 508 44,839 7,106
2014 16 2578 208 41,242 3,320
2015 14 1763 89 24,685 1,239
2016 4 3918 422 15,670 1,688


We can see that older content in 2013 and 2014 has gained many more links. I think in part this is because Brian regularly updates his content, so whilst there may be fewer new posts, there is a constant updating of older content.

Whilst the frequency of posting is low the number of shares is high and the number of links is very high. For example, in 2013 just 14 posts drove 44,839 shares. For sites with a median of 106 shares that would take over 400 posts! Even for sites with a median of over 500 shares, which is rare, it would take over 80 posts to generate the same number of shares.

Low frequency posting allows you to spend more time on content amplification including distribution and promotion. If you are publishing a post every day it is simply harder to spend the time amplifying each piece of content. However, I think the primary reason for Brian’s success is the content itself.

Original, Reference Content

We can see from the histogram below how many of Brian’s posts consistently attract over 100 unique domain links. The top performing post received over 2,000 links from unique domains. I think the high number of links is due to producing original, researched and referenceable content. 

backlinko-links

 

Core Characteristics of ‘Less is More’ Content

The core characteristics of a successful ‘less is more’ strategy include:

  • Content knowledge and expertise
  • Referenceable content
  • Long form content
  • Comprehensive content including curation
  • Original content from research to case studies
  • Doubling down on successful content with updating and repromotion
  • Amplification and promotion

This content approach is fundamentally about building your authority and reputation, which in turn will help you to build an audience. 

The ‘less is more’ approach is not for everyone.  However, there are some principles that will work across the board such as doubling down on your best content.

Here are my reflections on creating a successful ‘less is more’ content strategy.

Be an Expert: Research, Discuss and Reflect

If you are going to create valuable content for your audience you need to have something unique to contribute. Typically this means being an expert or at least reading widely and curating relevant material. Ideally you will be an expert on your topic through research, reading and reflection. You will share this expertise by investing considerable time in crafting long form, original content. It is this combination of expertise and investment that makes your content valuable.

Referenceable Content

One of the key features of Brian’s content is the production of comprehensive, reference content. Let’s take the 7 posts below as examples. Each of these is almost an essential reference work for people that work in SEO. 

Article Total Shares Linking Domains
Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List 17,400 2,461
On-Page SEO: Anatomy of a Perfectly Optimized Page (2016 Update) 11,800 1,165
SEO Tools: The Complete List (2016 Update) 8,900 393
Conversion Rate Optimization Techniques (100+ Techniques and Free PDF) 7,500 145
21 Actionable SEO Techniques You Can Use Right Now (Updated) 7,300 525
We Analyzed 1 Million Google Search Results. Here’s What We Learned About SEO 7,300 1,379
Keyword Research for SEO: The Definitive Guide (2017 Update) 4,000 614

Brian also frequently updates these reference posts to keep them current, as we will see below.

Long Form Content

The average number of words per Backlinko post is 2,335. Thus Brian is consistently producing in-depth and detailed posts. Brian’s most shared post on Google ranking factors is over 5,000 words.

Comprehensive Content and Curation

The other striking feature of Brian’s content is its comprehensive nature. I mentioned above the average length of his posts. Brian signposts this comprehensiveness in the post title for example: ‘complete list’ and ‘definitive guide’.

Brian also uses numbers to demonstrate comprehensiveness, for example:

  • 201 Powerful SEO Tips (That Actually Work)
  • Conversion Rate Optimization Techniques (100+ Techniques and Free PDF)

Curation is also a key feature of Brian’s content pulling together for example, 201 SEO tips or 100 optimization techniques.

Original Research and Case Studies

One of the things I love about Brian’s content is that it is based on original research. It is not content or insights that I can read about somewhere else. I particularly like his use of case studies, as by their nature they tend to be unique. As a general observation I feel case studies are not used enough by content marketers.

Here are some examples of Brian’s research and case studies:

  • We Analyzed 1 Million Google Search Results. Here’s What We Learned About SEO
  • Viral Marketing Case Study: How a Brand New Blog Generated 17,584 Visitors In One Day
  • White Hat SEO Case Study: How To Get a #1 Ranking
  • Content Strategy Case Study: 36,282 Readers + 1,000 Email Subscribers
  • Awesome! This SEO Campaign = 15% More Organic Traffic

Doubling down on content that works: Updating and Repromoting

Let’s take another look at some of Brian’s top content. In the six examples below Brian is updating and repromoting his successful content. For example, the top post is a 2017 update of his 2014 SEO Keyword Research Guide.

updated-content-backlinko

Commenting on updating Brian says:

“I usually update a post if it needs an update in some way and/or it’s not ranking as well as I’d like.

For example, let’s say I’m looking at publishing a post in May. If all of my content is up-to-date and ranking where I think it should be, I’ll write something new.

If not, I’ll update and relaunch an old post.”

I think this is a great approach, it is not all about creating new content.

Amplification

There is no point as Jay Baer says in investing in promoting content that has failed organically. You will get much greater returns if you focus on your best content. Using the ‘less is more’ approach you will have greater time and resources to promote and amplify each piece of content Clearly if you publish just once a month rather than three times a week you can give each piece of content more attention.

Summary of the ‘Less is More’ Content Strategy

The ‘less is more’ strategy is primarily about building an audience through building your authority and reputation. This requires content that is:

  • Original, such as research and case studies
  • Long form and detailed
  • Comprehensive including curated content
  • Referenceable such as guides, statistics and reports

The strategy has a strong focus on amplification and promotion. This means doubling down on successful content with updating and repromotion. As Brian says before you write a new article check that your current content is all updated and ranking where you think it should be. Often you can get greater success updating and repromoting an older post than by writing a new post.

By using this ‘less is more’ content strategy you really can drive higher shares, gain more links and attract significantly more traffic by publishing less content.

I hope this is helpful and would love to hear from people that have adopted a ‘less is more’ content strategy.

Annex – List of Brian’s Posts

 

Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List http://backlinko.com/google-ranking-factors
On-Page SEO: Anatomy of a Perfectly Optimized Page (2016 Update) http://backlinko.com/on-page-seo
SEO Tools: The Complete List (2016 Update) http://backlinko.com/seo-tools
Conversion Rate Optimization Techniques (100+ Techniques and Free PDF) http://backlinko.com/conversion-rate-optimization
We Analyzed 1 Million Google Search Results. Here’s What We Learned About SEO http://backlinko.com/search-engine-ranking
21 Actionable SEO Techniques You Can Use Right Now (Updated) http://backlinko.com/seo-techniques
Viral Marketing Case Study: How a Brand New Blog Generated 17,584 Visitors In One Day http://backlinko.com/viral-marketing
Awesome! 16 Powerful SEO Copywriting Secrets (That Work Fast) http://backlinko.com/seo-copywriting
E-commerce SEO (Advanced Guide + Step-By-Step Case Study) http://backlinko.com/ecommerce-seo
17 Insanely Actionable List Building Strategies (That Work Fast) http://backlinko.com/list-building
Keyword Research for SEO: The Definitive Guide (2017 Update) http://backlinko.com/keyword-research
White Hat SEO Case Study: How To Get a #1 Ranking http://backlinko.com/white-hat-seo
This SEO Checklist = 48.7% More Organic Traffic [Case Study] http://backlinko.com/seo-checklist
Viral Content: 21 Data-Driven Techniques That Work Fast http://backlinko.com/viral-content
SEO Strategy Case Study (#1 Ranking & 963% More Traffic) http://backlinko.com/seo-strategy
201 Powerful SEO Tips (That Actually Work) http://backlinko.com/actionable-seo-tips
How to Get 260.7% More Organic Traffic In 14 Days (New Strategy + Case Study) http://backlinko.com/content-relaunch
Link Building Case Study: How I Increased My Search Traffic by 110% in 14 Days http://backlinko.com/skyscraper-technique
17 Untapped Backlink Sources (Updated) http://backlinko.com/17-untapped-backlink-sources
Link Building for SEO [The Definitive Guide] http://backlinko.com/link-building
Video SEO: The Definitive Guide http://backlinko.com/video-seo-guide
Want to Increase Website Traffic? Follow These 4 Steps… http://backlinko.com/increase-website-traffic
How to Create a Squeeze Page That Converts at 21.7% (Case Study) http://backlinko.com/social-squeeze-page
Content Strategy Case Study: 36,282 Readers + 1,000 Email Subscribers http://backlinko.com/content-strategy
Awesome! This SEO Campaign = 15% More Organic Traffic http://backlinko.com/seo-campaign
YouTube SEO: The Ultimate Guide http://backlinko.com/how-to-rank-youtube-videos
How To Boost Conversions by 785% in One Day (The Content Upgrade) http://backlinko.com/increase-conversions
The Definitive Guide to Keyword Research (Updated) http://backlinko.com/the-definitive-guide-to-keyword-research
How to Get High Quality Backlinks (Without Guest Posting) http://backlinko.com/high-quality-backlinks
How To Boost Conversions by 529% in 45-Minutes (Two Step-By-Step Case Studies) http://backlinko.com/conversion-optimization
Why Google Hates Your Site (Hint: It Has Something to Do With TrustRank) http://backlinko.com/google-trustrank
How to Rank For Any Keyword (This is The Exact 1-2 Punch I Used to Rank #4 for “Backlinks”) http://backlinko.com/how-to-rank-for-any-keyword
Google Keyword Planner – No-Nonsense Guide to Finding Awesome Keywords http://backlinko.com/google-keyword-planner
How to Get Backlinks With Guestographics http://backlinko.com/how-to-get-backlinks
How to Find Long Tail Keywords – Keyword Research: The Definitive Guide http://backlinko.com/long-tail-keywords
CPA Marketing: The Ultimate Guide http://backlinko.com/cpa-marketing
How I Generated 166,000 Visits and 5000 Email Subscribers From One Post…And Rank #5 for The Keyword “Link Building” (New Case Study) http://backlinko.com/new-seo-case-study
You + These 2 Steps = More Traffic http://backlinko.com/more-traffic
[New Video] How to Get Higher Rankings and More Traffic in 2015 (Plus: The 4 Deadly “Content Promotion Killers”) http://backlinko.com/content-promotion-mistakes
The Definitive Guide to Guest Blogging http://backlinko.com/the-definitive-guide-to-guest-blogging
I’m KILLING It With This Completely New Kind of Backlink http://backlinko.com/im-killing-it-with-this-completely-new-kind-of-backlink
New Step-By-Step Case Study: How I Generated 16,696 Visitors In One Week With The Content Roadshow http://backlinko.com/content-promotion-case-study
Here’s Where You Can Download Your Ebook, “7 Deadly SEO Mistakes” (No Charge) http://backlinko.com/7-mistakes-ebook
How to Get More Traffic (The Smart Way). The Secret? Share Triggers. http://backlinko.com/how-to-get-more-traffic
Step-By-Step Case Study: How I Created a Post That’s Generated 113,817 Visitors and 2,000 New Email Subscribers http://backlinko.com/content-marketing-case-study
SEO Content — Keyword Research: The Definitive Guide http://backlinko.com/seo-content
7 Ways to Protect Your Site Against Google’s Next Update http://backlinko.com/prevent-google-penalties
How 3  Normal People Defied The Odds, Beat Up On Their Big Brand Competitors (and Got a Ton of Organic Traffic In The Process) http://backlinko.com/3-seo-case-studies
Keyword Competition – Keyword Research: The Definitive Guide http://backlinko.com/keyword-competition
The Definitive Guide to Link Building http://backlinko.com/the-definitive-guide-to-link-building
Keyword Research Tools – Keyword Research: The Definitive Guide http://backlinko.com/keyword-research-tools
Keyword Commercial Intent – Keyword Research: The Definitive Guide http://backlinko.com/commercial-intent
How to Zoom to the First Page With The Upside Down Guest Post http://backlinko.com/upside-down-guest-post

 

 

  • BoMichael Lais

    I took Brian’s SEOTW 2.0 course (which I highly recommend) and the “less is more” strategy is one of the very first and basic tactics that we learn. So many so-called experts out there used to just keyword stuff hundreds if not thousands of short articles that have very little substance or value to the reader. That tactic simply doesn’t work anymore as you are diluting your site. This is a great article Steve, thank you for sharing!

    • Steve Rayson

      Thanks, I must do that course!

  • Matías Moliné

    Great article, thanks for sharing this unique approach. “Less is more” actually seems to take a lot of work, but distributed in a more efficient way. It´s about delivering superb quality content and building yourself a reputation and authority, as opposed to “just being out there” and posting irrelevant stuff that nobody will remember.

    • Steve Rayson

      Thanks, yep, it is not just publishing because its Monday 🙂 You are right to emphasise that the ‘less is more’ approach can also actually be more work.

  • Brian Dean

    Hey Steve, excellent write up. As I mentioned to you earlier, love the “less is more” term. Sums up the approach perfectly.

    What many people don’t know is that, when I started blogging, I religiously published a new post each week. And my growth was very slow.

    That’s when I decided to try publishing 100% world class stuff. I realized that this would mean that I’d have to sacrifice my weekly publishing schedule. But it was worth a shot.

    Needless to say, I’ve never looked back!

    Thanks for writing this piece. It’s definitely a go-to resource marketers looking for an alternative to the “publish lots of unique content on a regular basis” approach. As you pointed out, that high-volume approach has merits. But it’s not the only way to succeed with content marketing.

    • great work Brian, brilliant strategy….would love to know a source for great writers…

    • simply superb Brian .. keep it up

    • Awesome case study Steve, I totally agree with you Brian, such a solid blog you’ve created with Backlinko. I actually just made this same decision to move from weekly to bi-weekly.

      We went from publishing 1500 word posts and not promoting them as much because we were off making the next post. Now we just published a 3600 word post, the first in the new schedule and it happens to include both of you two as Top Content & Social Media Influencers!

      I’ve learned a lot from both of you, especially on exactly what content to create. Appreciate all your efforts guys, keep it up!

      (And if you have a few minutes, check it out 🙂 http://digitalauthority.co/content-and-social-media-marketing-influencers/ )

  • Steve, this article was incredible! Filled with so many gems. Saving it for reference.
    Thanks for this one!

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi Brent, thanks, much appreciated.

  • taylorloren

    great post! i totally agree – i grew our later blog from 30k to 200k in one year by just posting once a week on the same day each week. testing out posting 2x a week now though! https://later.com/blog

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi, thanks, be interesting to see how you get on as you increase the content frequency.

  • DanielHochuli

    This is an excellent post and the example of Brian Dean’s posts are very interesting.

    One thing I would like to point out about the back-link acquisition is that audience and how they share the content plays a major role. Some industries and groups tend to back-link more than others. In the case of the SEO industry and Backlinkio’s large numbers of back-links, we should not ignore that the SEO industry understands the value of linking and are more predisposed to hyperlink to content, than say another industry such as water-skiing.

    Even with the best content about water-skiing, I’m inclined to believe that the content won’t attract links as naturally as Brian’s posts simply because the water-skiing community don’t back-link as a natural community action, the way the SEO community does. In other words, I’m not surprised that an SEO company specializing in back-links, earns an amazing amount of links from its content. To give full credit to the content, is perhaps a little overstated. The content is great, but the audience of that content also shares links more liberally than other communities.

    Of course, I am saying this anecdotally, but I feel digital marketing, SEO and content marketers in general probably back-link more than professions less familiar with the art form. It would be interesting to see some research on which industries/professions tend to back-link more than others. I’m sure such research would help many SEOs manage the expectations of their clients around back link acquisition.

    • Charity Njeri

      I think so too. As I started reading I was like, “Wow! I sure would like my content to do so well” then I started wondering what field he is in and got my answer. SEO is a hot subject nowadays. I would also be interested to learn about how other professions perform in that area, like music and roofing.

    • I understand where you’re coming from
      Certain industries write more and link more etc but I still think its feasible, simply due to how people share information

      The problem lies often with the content and the promotion more than industry

      The goal is to create content that people link to and reference, so that it attracts links
      But that also means that you create content for the people in your industry who DO link out…

      These could be parallel fields etc not just directly tied in

      If you look at the guys at surf simply they create killer content and videos and it generates them links in a field where hardly anyone links around

      Simply because its a great resource

      Certain content has different goals and so the idea is sometimes you need to create content simply to attract links (not always to sell your audience but attract the right ppl who do link)

      If you look at yesoptimists post they do something similar where they just got to 100k monthly visits

      They couldnt get people to share who were their audience (How many students have websites?) but they got news sites and government sites to link to their resource assets, rising the rankings of all other content on the site

      With the water skiing example you have to look at who can link and why would they link?
      What do they share often?
      What do they actually link to?
      Who outside of this could link to you and be relevant?

      Govt water safety sites linking to a resource of how to waterski and be safe over summer etc?
      You could run a live event that actual waterski sites would link to so you acquire links?
      You could create a massive guide to the techniques etc that most waterski sites might not link to…but wikipedia and other stuff might do?
      You could do a guide to the importance of sunscreen etc and promote it to both sunscreen companies AND 3rd parties…

      Would it get links that send traffic…possibly
      Could you filter that traffic and DA across to more competitive pages on your site?
      Easily

      The trick is to understand what the content goal is (Traffic/sales/links)
      Who can do that for you?
      What do you need to make to make that happen?

  • Charity Njeri

    Great insights!! Thanks!

  • Mat Ward

    Yes this strategy has been working for me for a while with the monthly political music column I write.
    Keeping it monthly ensures it’s well-researched with many backlinks.
    It also means I can dedicate time to tweeting it at the people in it, which reaps great rewards.
    It averages 1000 views, which is not bad for a non-corporate media outlet as that is the minimum acceptable level for mainstream media outlets.
    The most popular one was this, which got 9000+ views.
    https://social.shorthand.com/greenleftweekly/n23gTw4RkY/10-new-political-albums-the-1-dont-want-you-to-hear

  • Thanks for the great article, Steve!

    Yes, it works. I’ve written only five blog posts (a long form content with more than 5,000 words), but each of them averagely got 104 comments, 2.3k social shares, 5,000 visitors, and 400 new subscribers!

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi Michael, thanks, great to find other successful examples.

  • Cody Mitts

    This was a great read and lots to consider. As a mental health counselor the mindset that more is better is what I have always heard. A large majority of the counselors in private practice don’t understand the value of back linking and sharing which makes it a challenging community to gain an audience.

  • “Less is more” is truly the awesome strategy you guys summed up for Brian’s approach!

    And yes, content amplification is too necessary a task. Without the proper promotional channels hit, we really can’t expect a steep result out of every post that is published.

    Yes, if you don’t want to track anything (stats, etc.), go for the daily schedule.

    But if you want to and and to see how the blog is performing, the “less” is definitely the more. And only less with publishing schedule and not with the content and, of course, more with promotion.

    So, definitely you guys greatly knocked it!

    ~ Adeel

  • Lean and mean, namean !

  • Nice panel of opinions. With regards to what Michael Brenner wrote, I’d
    like to add that yes, content life is becoming shorter and shorter but
    we are able to adapt it more and more based on the customer’s need and
    where he or she is in the customer decision journey.