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We’ve reviewed millions of pieces of B2B content, and found the top performing article types and content marketing examples from over the last year.
And we’ve also curated our personal faves.
For our top picks, head here.
And for the cold hard data head here.
We asked industry leading content marketing and PR experts to give their thoughts on our findings. Jump to what they have to say here.
The Foundation Inc “Lab” has been publishing some incredible teardowns over the last year.
They focus on a successful brand, and unpick their strategy using data-based “Scorecards” (see above).
In this article they dived into Zapier’s success building an “SEO Moat” with listicle content.
Their case study format often leads with an impressive figure (ie. 5+ million sessions, $80 million, billion-dollar), and a notable brand (ie. Hootsuite, Backlinko & SEMRush).
The Lab has been a big success for them, earning
And not to mention traffic from their email database.
Our second favorite B2B content marketing example is this report from PR agency, Aira.
They create a unique piece of educational research every year, by surveying 250+ Digital Marketing professionals, and enlisting the help of 20 experts to help them analyze the data.
The survey itself asks the questions that audiences want answering, including which metrics people use to justify their link building efforts, and the general consensus on the best tools available.
The result is a huge amount of useful information on what it takes to build links successfully.
Another great thing about this report is its interactivity. It’s not a static PDF so it has to be actively engaged with.
Look at these expert quotes, for example. Each one needs to be clicked to be read.
Aira has created a sort of mini-site, and given the data, insight, and people the attention they deserve.
Creating reports like this is a shrewd way for them to analyze how readers interact with the content.
Each chapter has a dedicated URL, meaning they can take learnings from the most engaging sections within the report.
They can even analyze the most-clicked quotes, to inform which experts to work with each year.
A static report wouldn’t afford them this opportunity.
Using the power of the SEO and content marketing influencer, Aira guaranteed awareness before the report was even published.
Expert compilations have been popular for years, but this form of B2B content once relied almost entirely on influencers to do the heavy lifting.
What’s great about Aira’s report is that it combines firsthand research and analysis with expert input, so that the influencer insight enriches the content rather than being the content.
So far, it has generated 2.1K shares and 73 links from major sites like Hubspot, Search Engine Journal, and Wordstream.
This B2B listicle-study-hybrid from Lily Ray was a super interesting read.
It analyzed 7.5K URLs across the otherwise unexplored topic of Google Discover, and provided the reader with 10 actionable takeaways to use in their own content.
To that end, it was entirely novel and actionable, which is likely a big reason for its success.
To date, it has racked up 1.2K engagements, and 21 links from trusted and authoritative publications including Top Rank Blog, Marie Haynes, and Entire Web.
This article from marketing OG Rand Fishkin, Co-Founder of SparkToro, is a great example of B2B content marketing that uses the “Provocative” style of writing (read more about that further down).
The blog disputes the common belief that performance advertising is an integral part of a successful marketing strategy.
Using quotes, examples, and anecdotes, Fishkin puts forth the controversial argument that performance advertising doesn’t drive additional revenue beyond what would have already been achieved by other marketing efforts.
It’s a fact-filled, well-researched piece of opinion content that’s journalistic in its style.
And the audience love it. To date it’s earned 475 shares from some big players in the industry…
... and 38 links, some from major sites with a domain authority of 70+, including Hacker News, Freightwaves, and Search Engine Roundtable.
I loved this comprehensive guide, complete with a free Google Data Studio search intent tool, from Lazarina Stoy.
Free tools are great for building awareness. Providing something practically useful will land you links, and get your name out there.
And if you have a product or service to sell, it can be a great way to capture leads and convert your audience.
This piece of evergreen content not only breaks down the fairly detailed concept of search intent-focused keyword research, it offers the reader a chance to put what they’ve learnt into practice.
Driving 28 links and 321 shares, this piece from Ahrefs is a perfect example of successful B2B content.
Notice how the entire blog is simply a list of collated stats, separated by the odd chart to drive home a specific point.
There’s no extra fluff. Just cold, hard facts.
This makes it super easy for their audience to find and reference what they’re looking for.
Curating third-party statistics is a low-lift way to drive big links, traffic, and engagement.
Gartner turned to trend content to drive big shares (903) and links (154) over the last year.
In just 958 words, the blog brings together quotes, infographics, and videos, making it an easy read – even for someone who doesn’t know their cyber security mesh, from their vendor consolidation (I know. How embarrassing).
The blog draws on primary research throughout, and offers a suggested Gartner resource per trend – from guides, and ebooks, to roadmaps.
Trend posts are a great way to extend the lifecycle of your content.
They give you the opportunity to curate and repurpose your own resources throughout the year, to backup your predictions.
And as a result, they make for a useful educational resource and discussion point for your readers.
We’ve analyzed 63 different content types and topics, across a range of B2B websites, including:
We classified content based on keywords (ie. “Why”) and formats (ie. “Video”), and allocated them to a stage of the customer journey.
We wanted to get a wide range of types and topics, and chose these based on:
As you can see, we analyzed a lot more content at the beginning of the customer journey.
At this point, audiences are bigger, demand is higher, and content volume is larger.
The further you go through the funnel, the more likely a customer is to interact with brand-owned content that isn't as readily available online, including content types that BuzzSumo doesn't track – ie:
For this reason we focused on analyzing average engagement and links in our data. This meant we were still able to compare datasets of largely different sizes.
(The links referred to throughout are from unique domains – ie. in BuzzSumo we only count one link from one domain to a piece of content, even if that domain has linked to it multiple times.)
Don’t get us wrong. We know categorizing content marketing funnel content is not nearly as neat as this.
Some B2B content types might engage audiences at every touchpoint throughout their journey, for example.
And this is not an exhaustive analysis of all B2B content – we have missed a few along the way.
But we did our best to assign each keyword and format to its most relevant stage.
Here are some of our top-level findings...
From our research, we found that conversion content at the bottom of the B2B marketing funnel drove the highest amount of links, with 2.78 links on average per content.
This included B2B headlines that featured the phrases free tools, free trials, and coupons.
When looking at engagement (ie. shares, likes, comments etc.), we found that educational content at the top of the marketing funnel came out on top.
This included B2B content marketing examples like ebooks and lists.
Search and sort for yourself 🔎
Find the top B2B content marketing types & topics, by average shares, links, or customer journey stage.
Through our analysis, we have identified 11 examples of inspiring, highly shared and referenced content from some of the leading B2B companies, throughout the customer journey.
Hopefully these examples will be an inspiration for your B2B content strategy.
The entertain part of the customer journey features novel content that piques the audience's interest. There is little to no purchase intent at this stage.
Most linked content type: Viral
Viral B2B headlines were the most popular at this stage of the customer journey – both in terms of links and engagement.
They most commonly featured interviews or case studies investigating what it takes to set a trend.
B2B readers love a success story, and are looking for tips on how to trailblaze their own viral craze – which is what makes this type of content so readable and referenceable.
Example 8. Wordle founder Josh Wardle on going viral and what comes next
TechCrunch did a great job of creating viral content around… well… viral content 🤯
They interviewed the founder of the game sensation, Wordle, to find out how he managed to catalyze a trend so huge it was mentioned 7m times on social media, covered 1.6m times in the media (Source: BuzzSumo Content Analyzer), and played by 2m people in less than three months.
The Instagram marketing platform, Later, also did a great job of dissecting what it means to go viral by interviewing three separate small businesses on their viral TikTok success.
Most engaging content type: Why
I always think of “Why” based headlines as classy clickbait 💁♀️
Like me, Steve Rayson analyzed the top B2B content examples back in 2015, and he referred to a similar style of writing called “Provocative content”.
In other words, headlines that challenged commonly held beliefs with a provocative viewpoint, to drive curiosity and attract attention.
Example headlines he gave included:
There’s no one entity connecting these headlines that we could classify and analyze at scale (ie. the appearance of a specific word or content type).
But in terms of their aim (ie. to spark curiosity and clicks) they are super similar in style to “Why” based content, which we were able to classify.
And it just so happens that "Why" headlines are top for generating B2B engagement in the TOFU or “Entertainment” phase of the customer journey.
This B2B piece from O’Reilly earned an impressive 2.4K engagements (likes, comments, reactions, pins, upvotes etc.).
In Rayson’s words, this content “challenged an existing orthodoxy” (ie. the idea that we need to be preparing for and getting excited about Web3) and provided a “provocative viewpoint” (ie. that we, in fact, don’t need to be preparing for and getting excited about Web3.)
Going against the grain is one of those great content marketing hacks you can use to entice your B2B audience to share your content.
Example 11. Why a more feminist internet would be better for everyone
This article from Technology Review also uses the “Why” content type as a provocative way to drive curiosity engagement.
It sets forth what, to some, may be a controversial opinion.
Those who agree will share to back up their existing beliefs, and those who disagree will share to argue against the matter.
Engagement is earned either way!
This type of content lets you showcase your knowledge, build authority, and earn your audience's trust at the beginning of their customer journey.
The education part of the customer journey is where your reader is looking to learn. It's at this point they may start to take an interest in your brand, as a result of the useful resources it provides.
Top links category: Statistics
In the education stage, B2B statistics are the most valuable form of content to create from a link perspective.
They earn an impressive seven links apiece, on average.
A form of content curation, they provide your audience with useful information to fuel blogs, business cases, presentations etc.
In short, they’re super referenceable, and for that reason they’re a great way to drive traffic to your site.
But more than that, they enable your brand to be seen as a knowledgeable, authoritative, and helpful source.
And, most importantly, they make your brand memorable.
Example 12. 70 Powerful Customer Retention Statistics You Need to Know in 2021
Although this compilation of customer retention stats from Semrush only has 43 shares, it has landed a mammoth 181 links from sites including Forbes, Hubspot, and Entrepreneur.
In an article for Search Engine Journal, Paddy Moogan recently spoke about the effectiveness of creating top-ranking, research-based content, (like statistics) for driving links.
He gave a great example of why this kind of content often leads to links.
"One of the key ways that a piece of content can generate links naturally over time is to rank well in search results.
This works particularly well if you create content that can rank for keywords that indicate that someone is doing research for something.
Some of the people who carry out this kind of research will be writers, bloggers, and journalists who are looking for information for their own articles.
If they find your content and reference it, they are likely to link to it too.
For example, if a journalist is writing a story about dogs, they may want to include some information about dog names.
If they Google [dog name statistics], this article from Rover ranks well and is updated regularly with new trends and content.
If this article didn’t rank well and wasn’t regularly updated each year with new trends, then it wouldn’t get anywhere near as many links as it does.
You can also look for opportunities to optimize this type of content for keywords that may indicate that someone is looking for data, trends, or statistics."
Top engagements category: ebook
What’s most interesting about the ebook is that, more often than not, it is a form of lead capture content.
For that reason, the actual on-page content is usually pretty thin – between 0 - 1000 words according to BuzzSumo’s Content Analyzer:
You’d think putting an extra barrier between your audience and your content would take its toll on engagement.
And yet, the ebook is one of the most shared forms of educational B2B content.
In fact, this content type has gained nearly 8x higher average engagement than the next most engaging educational B2B content type (“What” headlines)!
The B2B sites publishing the most engaging ebook content include Smart Company (AU), Nvidia, and Search Engine Journal.
Here are two top B2B content marketing examples of engaging ebook content:
Example 13: SEO Keyword Research: The Ultimate Guide [Ebook]
Both ebooks are gated, and yet that hasn’t stopped them picking up big engagement.
Note the inclusion of the word “Guide” in both instances here.
I noticed two patterns during my research – 9% of ebook B2B examples were “guides”, and 12% featured the word “free”.
The persuade part of the customer journey is where you are able to influence your reader to convert with your B2B brand. They are already in the consideration stage at this point, and will be gathering information to make their decision.
Top links category: FAQ
Creating FAQ content is a great way to alleviate your customers’ pain points, and answer your prospects’ most burning questions.
You’re meeting people at a time when they are either using, or making big decisions about whether to use your product or service.
Because this content is closely tied to specific products and services, it’s less likely to attract links or shares.
In fact, consideration (ie. “Persuasive”) B2B content has 90% fewer total links than B2B content at the start of the customer journey (ie. “Entertainment” content).
But it’s still important to know what kind of B2B content marketing attracts attention at the bottom of the funnel.
And FAQ fits this criteria, attracting 5 links on average per article.
Take this FAQ piece from Microsoft on its retirement of Internet Explorer 11.
Example 15. Internet Explorer 11 desktop app retirement FAQ
It has driven a mammoth 256 links…
Or Macworld on the need-to-knows of the 2021 iPad Pro. It has landed 17 unique links…
Example 16. iPad Pro (2021) FAQ: Everything you need to know
FAQs provide concise, relevant, and authoritative answers, so it makes sense that others would link to them when attempting to answer the same questions in their own content.
The convert part of the customer journey is where your content is entirely focused on audiences that are ready to buy.
Top links AND engagement category: Free tool
Tool content is great for driving traffic and awareness, but can also help you land those conversions.
But, while “Tools” based headlines drive an average of three links per article, the addition of the word “Free” will land you more than double that, with seven links on average.
A B2B site that does exceptionally well in this space is Ahrefs.
They’ve created a resource centered around free SEO tools, and have curated 12 owned, and five third-party free tools.
This has generated 46 unique links from high authority sites (exceeding DA of 70) like Product Hunt, Neal Schaffer, Demand Jump, and WebFX.
Example 18: 13 Unique & Free Keyword Research Tools You Didn’t Know You Needed
This “Free tools” piece from Search Engine Journal has picked up a healthy amount of links.
Tool compilation guides are ten-a-penny and are often an easy way to generate traffic and conversions.
But what I (and apparently many others) like about this guide is that it focuses on “Uncommon keyword research tools” – the ones you won’t always come across in your bog-standard lists.
This thread from Amanda Natividad at Spark Toro takes a similar approach, curating untapped tools and tips for her audience.
In just a day it was retweeted 815 times, and received 5,653 likes!
"The average number of links for B2B content is refreshing to see in terms of benchmarking the performance of your content against the rest of the industry.
So often we compare our results to the top 1% of campaigns that go “viral”, so it’s reassuring to see that even a handful of links for B2B content is actually performing well above average and should be massively celebrated.
It’s also nice to see that some of the more old fashioned bread and butter content types are the ones that still perform the best.
A good industry report with insightful statistics may not become the talk of the industry but it will still get you good results.
A lot of people seem to think that B2B clients are harder to do Digital PR for, but everything is relative and this is proof that you don’t need 30-50 links per campaign to be outperforming your competitors.
Sometimes just a small number of links from the right sites can be the difference if your competitors aren’t also investing in content."
"The average number of links to each piece of content is a little lower than I'd expected, but still not completely surprising.
The SEO and digital PR communities tend to share viral successes which often generate dozens or hundreds of links and, whilst these are great to see, they are typically the exception rather than the rule when you look at the bigger picture of content.
At Aira, we do typically find that link volumes for B2B clients are lower, but that the links are usually far more topically relevant.
On statistics content being so high on the list for link generated: This fits with some trends that I've been seeing over the last 12-18 months which is an increased volume of content that is statistics focused and that generally, this type of content generates a good number of links.
This type of content can rank pretty well compared to things such as infographics and data visualizations, which means that they can generate links passively too - removing the need for ongoing outreach.
Content that doesn't require ongoing outreach to generate links is far more sustainable than one-off campaigns and despite never going "viral", can still provide a high return on investment for brands."
"The fact that educational content received the highest engagement definitely confirmed a few suspicions, but also shows me that this is an excellent opportunity for a human to reach out and connect directly with those engagements.
I did not expect converting content to gain more links than the other customer journey stages. Arguably this is one of the more difficult stages of the journey for content creation. It says a lot about the perceived value of that content from a reader's perspective."
"I'm not surprised to see that 'free tools' and 'statistics' get the most links — both of which are link building tactics that I advocate for.
Going forward, I think "survey", "report", "study", and "research" will be increasingly important types of content that get links.
When you're able to uncover new and interesting data points about topics people are curious about, that information is more likely to be shared and linked to.
We've seen success with this for Dialpad's video conferencing report, where we analyzed how video conferencing has changed from before the pandemic until now."
What did we miss? Share the B2B content that inspired you this year and which should be included in our hall of fame.
If you want to forensically investigate the performance of top B2B content, and take learnings for your own success, BuzzSumo is here for you. Try our 30-day free trial.
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