Produce Effective Content with Just One Rule

In a world of white noise, quality is king.

Millions of words, graphics, and seconds of video are posted every minute to websites across the world. Every single day we continue to produce more than we ever have before. To put it mildly, there's a lot of content out there.

The incredible team over at Buzzsumo did a study of over one million pieces of content to see what they might find. There are two major points they made that really stuck with me:

The majority of posts receive few shares and even fewer links. In a randomly selected sample of 100,000 posts over 50% had 2 or less Facebook interactions (shares, likes or comments) and over 75% had zero external links. This suggests there is a lot of very poor content out there and also that people are very poor at amplifying their content.
Shares and links are not normally distributed around an average. There are high performing outlier posts that get a lot of shares and links, but most content is grouped at the low end, with close to zero shares and links. For example, over 75% of articles from our random sample of 100,000 posts had zero external links and just 1 or less referring domain link.

What this tells me is that the majority of us are just producing white noise. We are producing content that isn’t even worth the seconds it takes to hit a Like button. And the second point shows that there isn’t much middle-ground when it comes to the quality of content. For the most part, either you make it or you don’t. 


That assessment seems a little dismal though. Maybe I just haven't had enough coffee yet but basically, the majority of us are totally failing. On the bright side, it should be fairly easy for us to surpass this extremely low bar!

The answer to this dismal picture is actually extremely simple: Produce higher quality content and actively promote it. That right there is the secret to any successful digital marketer out there. Sure there are tons of technical optimizations that go into helping it’s chances, but it all boils down to those two steps. 

When you start digging into these, you’re probably left with more questions than answers, but the one that seems to be the most perplexing to people is, what does quality content look like? Should we be producing listicles like Buzzfeed or should we be creating immersive multimedia experiences like the NYTimes? 

As any good marketer will say, that depends on your goals. Do you want to cheaply spread your brand across the eyes of the populace for mere seconds to generate ad views or do you want to engage people to the point that they keep coming back to a single page on your site? Those are two fundamentally different strategies and the end results look very different. Which means you also have to measure them completely differently. 

Moz, a partner in the content study, is grappling with the exact same issues the rest of us deal with. Except they are taking steps to solve it. They have created an internal tool called One Metric, which takes into account their own custom metrics to calculate a single score for each piece of content.


Without getting into the nitty gritty, this score takes into account performance on social media, on-page interactions like comments or thumbs-ups and things like page views. It performs some calculations to properly weight each metric and comes out with a single number that allows you to compare the performance of each post with all of your previous and future posts. They can now see each post’s relative effectiveness. 

This is amazingly powerful for Moz as they manage a large community and metric tons of content. You’re probably thinking that this is great for Moz but what about us little guys? We don’t have posts with 10,000 visits or 100’s of shares on Facebook. This score could still be useful to you over the long run but obviously, you’re more worried about what you should be posting next week and rightly so. 

If you do a search on Google (or better yet, search on Buzzsumo) you will find hundreds of great resources on how to research, write and promote better content: identifying influencers for outreach tactics, involving your customers, optimizing your headlines, using video, etc. But there is really just one simple rule to get higher quality content that will beat them all: Just spend more time on it.

Our own blog is a perfect illustration of this rule. As mentioned above, every blog will have a different definition of what success looks like. Our blog is still young and actively growing which is what we want to focus on. The simplest metrics to evaluate a post’s success is to compare it against the average page views and average engagement for the top 50 posts on our blog.

The rules that Buzzsumo found across their data holds fairly true for us. There are quite a few posts that fall slightly or well under the average and there are a few outliers that blow the average out of the water. 

When we look at a post that has more effort put into it, whether in the form of research or better visuals, they are the outliers at the very top. They not only have more page views but higher time on page as well. And when we look at the top post with video in it, it has almost seven times more page views than the average and almost double the time on page than the average post. Even more interestingly, the posts with video had bounce rates that were about 20 percentage points less than the other top posts. 

Seeing these exact same trends on our blog that Buzzsumo is seeing at scale is more than enough to convince me of the importance of quality.

I *know* that we are all strapped for time and it is our most precious resource but just look at the numbers. Most of what we put out there as an industry is just disappearing into the ether. It isn’t impacting our bottom-line. So if you are going to put any time towards content, you need to put the amount of attention that it deserves because remember, there isn’t much middle ground when it comes to quality. Either you make it or you don’t. 

We don’t need more crappy content. We need more well-reasoned, thoughtful, entertaining and incredible content. But don’t be discouraged either. You aren’t alone. We are all here to help each other. 

So the next time you start writing a post, take a second to ask yourself if you would stop and read it had you not written it. If the answer is no, find out what it would take to make you read it. 

You have the power to shape industries (or at least your business) at your fingertips.