Every year, we ask 1000+ bloggers how they approach the job of creating content. The questions are simple, but the answers tell the story about a changing industry. The business of content is evolving.
The effort we put into our content is changing, and so is the content we create. The pace of that change is accelerating. The purpose of this research is to track those changes.
But first, THANK YOU to all of the 1055 bloggers who completed the survey, and to the experts who added their insights below. This would have been an impossible task without you.
Let’s get to the insights. We’ll break it down into five areas:
In 2014 we learned that the average blog post took 2.5 hours to create. There was only a small uptick in that number last year. But in 2016, we see a jump. Here’s what we found when we asked the question:
Here’s the average length of time spent on a typical post over the last three years:
This year’s survey asked bloggers to report the results of their blogging efforts on a scale: The blog delivers strong results, some results, disappointing results and “I don’t know.” This allowed us to find relationships between blogging trends and results.
Here’s the relationship between time spent per article and self-reported “strong results.”
This is evidence that the extra effort is worth it.
Expert insight: Ann Handley, MarketingProfs
“Andy asked me for a comment about this, and my comment is less of a comment than it is a HALLELUJAH and hearty slaps of HIGH-FIVES! In FULL-ON SHOUTY CAPS!
Marketing’s compass arrow has been pointing relentlessly toward quality content for quite a while now. And my interpretation of this data is that content creators have finally bought some decent hiking boots, layered up, and charged down the path.
The data points that I consider most gratifying are three: Time spent writing and length of post (both of which are up); and frequency of publishing (which is down).
My rallying cry for the past few years has been that we don’t need more content, we need better content. These numbers tell me that I haven’t been wandering around in the wilderness alone, but that there’s a band of others who thankfully share this mindset!“
Here we find more evidence that we are putting more effort into our content. Blogging may have started as an informal way to write for the web – and we saw that in early data – but bloggers are getting serious. More of us are working with editors.
We looked for a connection between the use of editors and blogging outcomes. There is a relationship.
Expert Insight: Sonia Simone, Rainmaker Digital & Copyblogger
“As content marketing continues to ‘grow up’ and to become both more strategic and more professional, it just makes sense to have an editor on the team if you have the budget. Our full-time Editor-in-Chief, Stefanie Flaxman, makes sure that our content is well-written and that the hyphens are where they’re supposed to be.
She’s also the one who makes sure the publication schedule runs smoothly. No job implies ‘cat herder’ quite like a writing editor — make sure the person you bring on has the temperament and the tools to do it well.”
Our second major finding is in the content itself. All that extra time we’re putting into our content translates into longer, more media rich content. This might be the biggest finding of the survey.
Blog posts are getting longer. Much longer. Here’s what we learned when we asked:
Analysis: Do bloggers who write longer posts get better results?
Here we find a direct correlation between length of post and self-reported “strong results.” Those bloggers who write very short articles were especially unlikely to meet their own expectations.
Expert Insight: Joanna Wiebe, Copy Hackers
“What concerns me about this data is how some people will take it. Length is not the point. But length can be an indication of quality – for example, Brian Dean’s ‘skyscraper’ posts are often very long, and there length happens to match quality. But others try to fill their blog with ‘long posts’ like roundup posts… which nobody cares to read and which only get shared by a handful of the folks included in the roundup. Importantly, the trend is not just toward longer content but more satisfying, less bubble-gummy posts.
Not only are top bloggers publishing meatier posts but they’re also publishing less frequently. (Unbounce recently took a li’l break from blogging.) Blogs that try to maintain aggressive publishing schedules while also pushing for meatier, more “epic” content are only going to fatigue their writers.
We’ve pulled away from a regular publishing schedule due to fatigue; now we publish only when there’s something really interesting worth writing about in detail and a clear connection between that content and a campaign we’re running. Because content can convert, so we like to make it do so.”
Beyond words, the use of visuals and formatting are on the rise. When asked what goes into our content, we find all kinds of things in the mix, and an uptick in the use of visual content over the last few years.
Bloggers who selected “other” were asked to specify. Responses included Slideshare, quotes from experts (one of my favorite additions), calls to action, stories, questions, links (another good one), statistics, recipes and swear words.
Which types of media and formatting correlate with results? Here are the percentage of bloggers who add each type of media and also self-reported “strong results.”
We sorted this list by effectiveness, which puts video at the top of the list. Video is the most time consuming item on the list. So here again, there’s a relationship between investment and returns.
Note: We only found 21 bloggers who put audio content into a typical post. Of those, seven reported strong results. We are looking at a very small dataset here.
Expert Insight: Jay Baer, Convince and Convert
“I have two conclusions from this year’s data. First, it does appear as if the standard ‘blog post’ is more in-depth, infrequent, and multi-media than ever.
On the surface, that seems like good news. But if you dig deeper you find that all of this ‘growth’ in comprehensive posts is coming in the form of lists. This is disheartening and will ultimately be counter-productive. If everyone’s blog post is in list format, how likely is it for yours to truly stand out and succeed? Here’s 13 reasons why that’s unlikely to happen…“
The third finding is that bloggers are publishing less often. The churn of the content wheel is slowing. This is how we answered the question:
Changes in blogging frequency from 2015 to 2016
When plotted on a curve of bloggers who publish regularly, you can see the shift to the right, toward lower frequency:
As the investment of time and energy in each post goes up, frequency is edging down. Not surprising since resources are finite.
In the quality versus quantity debate, quality is winning as the more popular strategy.
But does less frequent mean better results? No.
The survey finds the opposite to be true. Bloggers who report publishing more often are more likely to report “strong results” straight down the line. I was surprised by this. Take a look at the data:
Bloggers with higher-frequency content programs are probably doing other things well, including distribution, promotion and measurement.
Note: the amount of data at the low end of this range is small. Only 18 bloggers reported “daily” and only 17 reported “more than once per day.”
Expert Insight: Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute
“We’ve seen the trend toward less digital content for the past few years…and it looks like this research shows exactly that. Bloggers are moving from daily and multi-week to weekly and monthly. Although it’s hard to tell, I’m hopeful that these bloggers are focusing on less ‘truly exceptional’ pieces of content instead of many ‘good pieces.
Obviously, if you can create more ‘truly exceptional’ pieces of content, then that’s wonderful, but most brands aren’t willing to make the investment for that to be possible.”
If half the job is content, the other half is marketing. So how are bloggers marketing and measuring their content? The third major dataset in the survey is content promotion and analytics. Here’s what we found after three years of asking the question:
Some content promotion tactics are up. Others are flat. Nothing is down. Looks like bloggers are focused on traffic more than before.
Promoting on social media is easy. It’s as simple as clicking a button, so of course it’s ubiquitous. But the other promotion channels show big distinctions.
Let’s look at which promotion channels align with bloggers’ self-reporting of “strong results,” social media, search optimization, email marketing, influencer marketing or paid advertising.
This chart shows an exact inverse of the tactics that are most popular. Bloggers who use the least popular promotion tactics are the most likely to report strong results. Perhaps they find less competition there. Or maybe it’s just that easier tactics are more popular, but rarely more effective.
Expert Insight: Jayson DeMers, AudienceBloom
“Content marketing is in its prime, more popular than ever before. This is a good thing for content consumers, because it means brands are more focused on creating quality content than ever before.
But brands are finding themselves in the midst of a sea of content all competing for end users’ attention. Even the best content can have difficulty rising above the noise if it doesn’t have sufficient promotion to boost its visibility. Of course, the better the content, the less promotion it tends to need to rise above the noise, so don’t sacrifice quality content in exchange for a bigger promotional budget. They depend on each other.”
Really there are three parts to the job: creating content, promoting content and then measuring results. So to see how many of us are following through, we ask this question:
This makes sense. If you’re not measuring results, you are unlikely to report strong results. Here is the breakdown of bloggers who report “strong results” based on frequency of checking Analytics
Bloggers who are consistent about measurement report better results. But bloggers have a long way to go. Analytics is one of the major differentiators.
Expert Insight: Gini Dietrich, Spinsucks.com
“I’m a baker. I have a sourdough bread starter that I began growing nearly two years ago. His name is Horace. I feed him weekly and everyone in my house knows Horace’s growth is sacred. Because of Horace, I can sometimes wing bread baking because he makes up for the lack of my ability to accurately measure things (I don’t really love leveling my measuring cups with a knife because I’m kind of lazy). But there are often recipes where Horace isn’t useful so I have to follow a recipe exactly. That’s the thing with baking: You can’t really wing it because it’s nearly an exact science.
That’s how I feel about blogging. You can’t wing it without analytics to measure your efforts. Sure, you can get by and probably even have some success without a content starter like Horace (though you might name yours something else), but to actually generate revenue from your efforts, analytics will guide those efforts.
The good news is that there is an increase in bloggers who always check their analytics, but nearly 70 percent don’t always check their data. This is akin to throwing together some yeast, flour, and water, mixing it all together, throwing it in a pan, and baking it…in the hopes that it becomes Parker House Rolls from The Little Nell in Aspen (trust me, they are divine).
Get into your Analytics! Get in the habit of checking them every time you publish a new blog post. I promise, if you do, things will look significantly different a year from now.“
The experts have been telling us all along: focus on quality, promotion and measurement. And we finally seem to be listening. Quality beats quantity. Grow your email list, check your Analytics and promote your content on several channels. We are going in the right direction.
Here’s how bloggers break down:
Let’s end with a pie chart. We haven’t used one of those yet. How are we doing? Are we getting results? What percentage of bloggers are getting results?