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Published December 21st 2015

50 Things We Learnt About Content Marketing In 2015

At BuzzSumo we love research and data. 2015 was a bumper year for people like us with the publication of over 20 new content marketing research reports. We ourselves conducted 5 major content marketing research studies ranging from analyzing 500m Facebook posts to analyzing the shares and links of 1m posts to a study of the most viral web articles.

Research is important as it can provide insights into content trends and how we can improve our content to generate better results. We all have suspicions and instincts but it is much better to have data. We have been looking back at some of the main research findings this year and what this tells us about successful content marketing.

Content marketing strategies

The good news is that content marketing is becoming more sophisticated and teams are developing specific content strategies.

80% of B2B marketers now have a content marketing strategy. (Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs)

In terms of investment in content marketing.

B2B marketers allocate 28% of their total marketing budget, on average, to content marketing. However, the most effective allocate 42%, and the most sophisticated/mature allocate 46%. (CMI)

However, 48% have not documented this strategy and there are some questions about the effectiveness of their strategies. Altimeter found that:

70% of marketers lack a consistent or integrated content strategy. (Altimeter)

Effective content strategies require a good understanding of buyer personas and how the content will support the various stages of the sales funnel.

85% of companies are using buyer personas for content marketing. (Tony Zambito)

Whilst many companies are experimenting with buyer personas, Tony’s survey also found:

60% stated they had no to very little understanding of buyer persona best practices. (Tony Zambito)

We are still in the early stages ourselves of using buyer personas but we have found that even a simple table such as the one below can help us create more focused content.

There is an increasing recognition that content needs to be developed with a specific purpose in mind and be targeted at a specific stage or stages of the sales funnel. This is important as buyers are having less contact with companies and initial relationships are often built through content including webinars.

67% of B2B buyers rely more on content to research and make B2B purchasing decisions than they did a year ago. (DemandGen Report)

As a consequence, content marketers are developing content to support the sales process.

48% of content marketers support the different buying stages of the sales process with dedicated content. (LinkedIn Technology Marketing Community)

Below is a simple table highlighting how different types of content can support different stages of the buying process.

Growth in content marketing and volume of published content

It will come as no surprise that as more and more businesses are adopting content marketing the volume of content being published is increasing.

93% of B2B marketers are using content marketing. (Top Rank Marketing)

88% of B2B marketers in North America use content marketing. (Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs)

As a consequence of increasing adoption the volume of content is increasing quite markedly. Again this is no surprise but here are some statistics that confirm what we are seeing.

77% of marketers will increase content production in the next 12 months. (LinkedIn Technology Marketing Community)

8,800 large brands increased their content output by 78% on average over the last 2 years (Trackmaven)

56% of leading business bloggers are hiring additional resources in the next 12 months (Curata)

Some commentators feel the significant growth in content is leading to content shock. In essence–there is more content than we can consume or comprehend.  Other commentators argue there’s no such thing as content overload, just filter failure. Others argue that there is not content overload in niche areas, however, there is a lot of content even in niche areas, for example, there are over 8m articles on ferrets on Google.

Content performance

There is not a normal bell-curve distribution when it comes to content performance i.e. where some content does well, some does poorly and most perform around a central average. When it comes to shares and links, there is a very skewed distribution as we can see below.

Most content gets relatively few shares and links, whilst there is a long tail of outlier posts that gather high numbers of links or shares. This skewed distribution means that averages can be very misleading as outlier high performing posts skew the averages. It is therefore more helpful to look at medians rather than averages.

When we look at medians we can see that most content gets few shares or links. (BuzzSumo/Moz study)

The median number of shares and links acquired by content is surprisingly low. We conducted a review of over 1m posts with our friends at Moz this year. When we looked at medians (the 50% mark) we found some surprising results:

50% of posts got 8 shares or less

75% of posts received 39 shares or less

75% of posts achieved zero referring domain links

The reason for this is unclear. It could be the result of content shock, poor amplification or decreasing quality in large-volume areas. Many sites still achieve very high levels of shares, which suggests that sites that have built a large audience and which produce quality content can still attract thousands of shares and links. However, it is getting harder to maintain this success, as Buffer reported earlier this year.

Buffer lost 50% of their social traffic this year despite being one of the top performing sites. (Buffer)

To learn about the specifics of engaging content, read our guide on what is successful content? 

Social shares do NOT build links

In our research with Moz we examined over 1m posts and found there was NO overall correlation of shares and links.

The correlation of total shares and referring domain links was just 0.021 i.e. there was no correlation.

This finding implies that people share and link for different reasons. Shares are also much easier to acquire than links. Link building is hard work that requires appropriate authoritative, evergreen and intrinsically valuable content.

We found that long form, research-backed content and opinion pieces had a higher correlation, primarily because they acquired links as well as shares.

Content formats

It appears that content formats can have a major impact on the performance of content and whether the post gains shares and links.

Some content formats such as amusing videos and quizzes tend to get lots of shares, but far fewer links.

Quizzes may get well shared but they rarely get links. We found examples of quizzes with over 200,000 shares and zero links.

The top performing content format for both shares and links is list posts.

List posts remain the highest performing format, gaining 5 to 10 times the shares of other content formats (BuzzSumo/Moz study)

Lists starting with 10 remain the most popular list post for sharing. Below are some example posts from 2015.

Videos also get very well shared, particularly on Facebook.

Videos were the most shared post type in our survey of 500m Facebook posts, with 89.5 average Facebook shares (BuzzSumo Facebook Survey)

Whilst there has been a significant growth in the volume of content published, most content is short form content of less than 1,000 words.

85% of content published (excluding videos and quizzes) is less than 1,000 words long

However, our research this year found that longer form content outperforms short form content.

Long form content of over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links than shorter form content.

Images can make or break content

Images really do have the power of a thousand words and can be the difference between high and low performing content. Images have a significant impact on social networks and in web articles.

Image posts on Facebook get 179% more interactions than the average Facebook post.

Twitter posts with an image and summary are 78% more likely to be shared

Content articles that use an image for every 75-100 words get the most shares

One form of content that does particularly well is ‘picture list posts’. These posts combine the power of lists with images and curation. It is a triple lock benefit.

‘Picture list posts’ have viral potential and many of the most viral posts were curated images.

Here are some examples of viral picture list posts.

40 Portraits in 40 Years (660,000 shares)

Overpopulation and Consumption in Pictures (650,000 shares)

Comparison of school meals globally (470,000 shares)

52 Places To Go In 2015 (522,000 shares)

Viral posts

Our research this year confirmed that viral posts are outliers, even on popular sites such as Huffington Post and BuzzFeed. The top posts typically get two or three times the shares of the third and fourth most popular posts on the same site.

There are four elements that frequently occur in viral content as follows. (BuzzSumo viral content analysis)

We can see these four elements repeated in many examples of viral content this year. For example this post below combines many of these elements eg beautiful is the emotional element, sentences is the content element, and the format is a list post.

51 Beautiful Sentences in Literature (1.4m shares)

We can see further examples of how viral posts use these four elements from surprise and quizzes to love and fitness below.

The Cause of Addiction Is Not What You Think (2m shares)

What Is Your Most Dominant Character Trait? (3.9m shares)

The Only 12 Exercises You Need (968,000 shares)

To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This. (885,000 shares)

109-Year Old Woman Says Secret To Long Life Is Avoiding Men (1.9m shares)

Facebook posts

The growth of Facebook continues to shape social sharing and website traffic.

Facebook now drives 25% of all traffic to websites and is growing. (Shareaholic)

Our own analysis of 500m Facebook posts found that:

Posts published between 10 and 11pm local time received 88% more interactions than average post.

Posts published on Sunday get 52.9% more interactions than the average Facebook post.

Posts ending with a question in our survey received 162% more interactions than the average post.

B2B content

Content marketing is an increasingly important part of B2B marketing.

The top rated B2B content according to Top Rank Marketing are case studies (65%), blogs (62%), webinars (63%) and “white paper” research reports (59%).

We reviewed the top B2B content of 2015 and found a variety of content formats that did well this year including:

  • Research Content
  • eBooks and Guides
  • Updated Reference Content
  • Trending & Hashtag/Newsjacking Content
  • ‘How to’ and Practical Content
  • Provocative Content
  • Curated and list content
  • Quizzes
  • Product Launch Content
  • Tools
  • Infographics
  • Case Studies

One example of high performing B2B content we identified this year is regularly updated reference content.

A good example is Moz’s ‘Web Developer’s SEO Cheat Sheet‘. Started back in 2008 this has become a core piece of reference content and was the most shared content on the Moz site this year by some margin as we can see below.


When it comes to distribution of B2B content LinkedIn remains the most popular platform.

94% of B2B Marketers Use LinkedIn for Distribution.

LinkedIn is not only the most popular platform for B2B marketers but appearently the most effective.

80% of B2B leads come from LinkedIn (Oktopost)

But research from Buffer has found that business publications get the most social media traction on content they share on Tuesdays.We have also found that content published on a Tuesday gets the most shares on average.

Content Marketing challenges

Life as a content marketer is not easy. The growing volume of content published and the pace of change can make it hard to stand out. Amplification strategies are increasingly as important as the content itself, and you increasingly have to pay for amplification. Some of the top challenges identified by content marketers (LinkedIn Technology Marketing Community) include:

Lack of time/bandwidth to create content (51%)

Producing enough content variety/volume (50%)

Producing truly engaging content (42%)

Measuring content effectiveness (38%)

Developing a consistent content Strategy (34%)

There is clearly a lot of scope for improvement as the Content Marketing Institute discovered in their recent survey on 2106 benchmarks for North America.

Only 30% of B2B marketers say their organizations are effective at content marketing, down from 38% last year. (CMI)

Goals for 2016

In terms of goals for 2016 we are seeing a shift in emphasis and more focus on business results. Over the last six years, the CMI have found that B2B marketers consistently cited website traffic as their most often used metric. This year, however, they were asked to rate metrics by importance.

The most important metrics for B2B content marketers are sales lead quality (87%), sales (84%), and higher conversion rates (82%). (CMI)

Lead generation (85%) and sales (84%) are the most important goals for B2B content marketers over the next year. (CMI)

B2B content marketers top priority in 2016 will be creating engaging content. (CMI)

Happy content marketing in 2016

Hopefully the content marketing lessons we have learnt this year will help you in 2016. Did we miss any key lessons you learned this year? Let us know.

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