Why are some bloggers so much more successful than others? What do top bloggers do differently? How can I be more like them?
Millions of bloggers each spend hundreds of hours every year creating content. It’s a big job that a lot of us are trying to do well. And there’s only one way to find out what we’re all doing: ask a few questions, get some answers and look at the data.
For the fifth straight year, we asked 1000+ bloggers to take a short survey. Each year, the trends and statistics tell the story of the evolution of content.
We’ve grouped this into three sections. Scan through and discover what a small minority of bloggers does differently, what correlates with “strong results”, and how blogging is changing over time.
At the end of this post, you’ll find a chart that shows which actions correlate with results. You’ll discover that one in five bloggers, the most successful bloggers, do things differently.
We’ll start with the blogging basics: the length of the typical blog post and the time it takes to write it. Together that data shows the trends in the effort goes into content creation. Next, we’ll look at the trends in publishing frequency.
In 2014, the average blog post took about 2.5 hours to write. Today, bloggers are spending a lot more time on a typical article; time spent per post has risen 44%. The average blog post now takes 3.5 hours to write.
But the time invested per article varies widely among bloggers. Half of all bloggers spend less than three hours per post, while one in eight bloggers spend 6+ hours on an article.
Here we see the drop in bloggers who invest just a little time and the jump in bloggers who spend a lot of time. Bloggers are working much harder on each piece.
And that additional time pays off. We asked each survey respondent if they are getting results. Here is the relationship between time invested and self-reported “strong results.” This explains the additional effort. Bloggers working harder are generally seeing the returns on the time invested.
“Bloggers who spend 6 or more hours per post are 56% more likely to report ‘strong results’ than those who don’t.”
As with time spent per post, the length per post climbed year after year since 2014. At that time, the average post was just over 800 words. Today the average blog post is 1151 words. That’s a 42% increase over the last five years.
Again, there is a wide range of responses. Most bloggers (55%) write less than 1000 words per post. But a small percentage write long-form content. One in five bloggers write 1500+ words per article. That number has held steady for several years.
But the correlation between length and success is even stronger here. More than half of the bloggers who write 2000+ word articles report “strong results.” Bloggers who write longer posts are far more likely to report strong results.
“50% of bloggers who write long-form content report strong results …but only 8% of bloggers do it.”
Most bloggers publish consistently, but blogging frequency has been in gradual decline for five years. In 2014, “several per week” was the most popular answer. Today “several per month” is more common. The percentage of bloggers who publish daily is half of what it once was.
As an individual blogger, this makes sense. Spend more time writing fewer articles. You only have so many hours in a day. But nothing in the data suggests any benefit to publishing less often. Quite the opposite: greater frequency correlates with “strong results.”
“Bloggers who publish weekly or more are nearly 2.5x more likely to report ‘strong results’ than bloggers who publish monthly or less.”
Let’s see what the experts have to say about these blogging statistics and trends:
Expert insight: jay baer, convince and convert
“To succeed with blogging (or just about any written word online) you must provide definitive content. Not just some half-baked flotsam and jetsam that is 85% the same as the other 5,237 posts on the topic, but real meaty stuff. This is why bloggers who succeed are creating longer content that requires more time to produce.
But all of this long form opining demands the one thing that is a finite resource for bloggers: time. Which is why the zeal to publish daily has diminished precipitously, in favor of more infrequent, chunkier content.”
Expert insight: Michael Brenner, Marketing Insider group
“We spend more time on our content because that extra time is delivering results. But the data is mixed on frequency. Most of us are publishing less frequently but those who publish more often are getting better results (similar research has shown this correlation for years). The bottom line is that we all need to pick a schedule that works for us and then spend as much time as we can making that content great!”
The next set of questions is about the process for editing, the use of Analytics and whether or not bloggers are going back and updating older content.
Blogging evolved from online journaling (web + log = blog) which never really involved editors. Today, blogging is a profession and content marketing is big business. Nearly one in four bloggers have a formal editing process. That percentage has doubled over the last five years.
Although the trend toward editors has leveled off, the correlation with results is high. Most bloggers don’t have a formal process, but those that do are much more likely to report strong results.
“Bloggers who work with editors are 50% more likely to report ‘strong results’ than bloggers who do not.”
This is partly a content strategy question. Bloggers who publish news are less likely to go back to an article and update it. Their content is date stamped and has a short lifespan of relevance.
But so much of content marketing is how-to advice covering “evergreen” topics. So the question about updating is important. And the data shows that about a third of bloggers do go back and update older articles.
Those who do are seeing the impact. Once more, we see that the majority of bloggers fail to take the actions that correlate with results. Two-thirds of bloggers don’t update old articles, but those that do are far more likely to report strong results.
“Bloggers who do have a strategy of updating older content are twice as likely to report strong results.”
Year after year, we’ve seen an increase in the percentage of bloggers who measure the results. More bloggers are using Analytics more consistently. One-third of bloggers “always” measure results.
One thing that hasn’t changed: around 5% of bloggers don’t even have access to Analytics!
It’s not surprising that bloggers who measure results are more likely to report results. This part of the survey has always confused me. How can 15% of bloggers who don’t use Analytics report strong results? How are they measuring results?
“Bloggers who always measure the performance of their content are twice as likely to report ‘strong results.’”
Let’s check in with the experts for their take on the process and measurement blogging stats and trends:
Expert insight: cathy mcphillips, Content Marketing Institute
“We repurpose old top-performing posts at CMI. If we have a post from 2013 that is still generating strong numbers, not only is it good for SEO to update and re-publish, but it’s also a way to make sure we’re providing accurate information to our readers.
Our Analytics show that updated posts have the same or stronger metrics than our newer content. We’re always checking analytics to see trends by day, author, and topic so we can continue to improve.”
Expert insight: John Hall, calendar.com
“This data is extremely interesting, but not surprising. I’ve seen a lot of clients and even my own writing really benefit from the influence of a strong editor and analytics. Even good writers should use an editorial process.
And the analytics helps you understand more what your audience truly values instead of relying on your own biased opinion of what’s good content. Higher quality content combined with a better understanding of what your audience values is the key to improving performance.”
Expert insight: Brian dean, Backlinko
“What stood out to me is that only 38% of bloggers go back and update their content. This is a top priority with my blog, and one of the reasons that my Google rankings stick for YEARS.
Plus, if your changes are significant enough you can republish your content as a brand new post (I call this “The Content Relaunch”). Which is about 100x easier than cranking out an entirely new post.”
This final section goes into the what, where and when of blog content. What are bloggers including in their articles? Are they blogging at work? At home? Where is the content being publishing? And how common is original research?
Just over half of bloggers include multiple images in each article and about half are incorporating lists in some way. Those numbers have held steady for the last few years.
Video is still on the rise. One in five bloggers are embedding video into the blog content. And 4% of bloggers report adding audio. Podcasters are also included in this data.
Bloggers who add the more compelling media formats (video and audio) are more likely to report “strong results.” Again, the less common the practice, the more likely it is to drive results.
A new question in the survey this year was about conducting original research as a format for content. We’ve found it so successful for Orbit, that we wanted to see how common it is among other bloggers and if it correlates with success.
The impact is huge. 58% of bloggers who conduct original research report “strong results.” But only one in four bloggers do it. This is the best example of how a small minority uses an uncommon approach to beat the odds in a big way.
“Bloggers who conduct original research are 2.9x more likely to report ‘strong results’ than those who don’t.”
Considering adding research to your content mix? Here is our quick guide for conducting research.
The survey asks both where content is created (home, office, coffee shops, etc.) and when (early mornings, during work hours, weekends, etc.) When you combine the answers into one chart, you can see a trend appear.
“Blogging continues to professionalize. It is more of an at-work, business-hours job and less of an at-home, nights-and-weekends activity.”
Some bloggers stick to their own site or blog only for clients, never pitching bylined articles to publications. But most bloggers (60%) guest post at least sometimes. And a small minority (7%) are PR-focused bloggers, publishing on external sites most of the time. These may be regular contributors to media websites.
Here again, the less common practice was the more successful. Bloggers who never guest post are the least likely to report “strong results.” Bloggers who guest post a lot are the most likely to report strong results.
“Bloggers who guest post are 48% more likely to report ‘strong results’ than bloggers who don’t.”
The best content doesn’t win. The best promoted content wins!
So how are bloggers driving traffic? Close to 100% of bloggers promote their content on social media. That hasn’t changed over time.
But year after year, more bloggers are more focused on SEO and email marketing. Since 2014 the popularity of those promotion channels has increased 34% and 76% respectively.
Influencer marketing and paid promotion are both way more common than in 2014, but they have leveled off. The biggest change is the rise in popularity of paid promotion. The percentage of bloggers who pay for traffic has increased 322% since 2014.
This next chart is one of the most important. It shows which promotion channels correlate with “strong results” and as we keep discovering, the least common activities were the most likely to be successful.
“Bloggers who do influencer outreach are 87% more likely to report ‘strong results.’”
Expert insight: Gini dietrich, Spin sucks
“Research, people! Research! Andy has been beating this drum for a few years now (as is evidenced by this survey), and I’m ashamed to say we don’t do much of it at Spin Sucks. But look at the results you get when you publish original research!
It doesn’t have to be large and expensive. Start small with a SurveyMonkey or Google survey questionnaire and grow from there. And listen to Andy. He knows what he’s talking about (there’s even a link to an article on how to get started on this very page!).”
Expert insight: Carol Tice, freelancewritersden.com
“Blogging is big business now, and this data reflects that. We bloggers aren’t writing in our spare time, because content is too important! We understand how great content = money.
You also see far more people writing from a home office than ‘in the office.’ This tracks the trend of creative work being increasingly outsourced. The surprise is the strongest results from multimedia are in audio, which the fewest bloggers use. I smell an opportunity!”
Expert insight: Sean callahan, linkedin
“I’m intrigued by the enduring power of lists. You can see that the inclusion of lists has surged from 31% to 49%, even though many blogging experts scoff at listicles. But readers love lists — they’ve always loved lists.
I made this case back in 1999 in a piece for the Chicago Tribune. Readers want useful, memorable information that makes them more effective at their jobs or gives them a better understanding of trends. And lists — for better or for worse — accomplish those two tasks extremely well.”
The final question in the survey is the results question. We’ve referred to it throughout the analysis, but here is the straight answer. Most bloggers are getting results.
We’ll let a few of the pros have the last word on the big question of ROI:
Expert insight: mark schaefer, Social media speaker & author
“One of the important lessons I learned while researching my book KNOWN is that consistency is more important than genius. Most people fail because they quit too soon.”
Expert insight: barry feldman, Feldmancreative.com
“I liked seeing substantiation that guest blogging is clearly helpful for realizing stronger results. I’ve been an advocate from the start and credit the growth of my blog in large part to getting published on highly trafficked sites—and I help my clients do the same. Of course, guest blogging takes extra effort and persistence, but this year’s findings once again demonstrate going the extra mile is what separates accomplished bloggers from the rest.”
In each category, for each question, there is a minority of bloggers who do things differently. About one in five bloggers use tactics that are both uncommon and uncommonly effective.
Here is a combined breakdown showing what that one-in-five blogger does and how much more likely they are to report success.
These uncommon actions are difficult, time-consuming and even expensive. Imagine a content strategy that combined them all: spending 6+ hours per article, publishing 2000+ words three times per week, conducting research, pitching media websites, collaborating with influencers, etc.
That’d be a huge challenge, right? But just imagine the outcome. Imagine the reach and the results!
The article you’re reading now took 150+ hours to create. That’s 10x the effort of a typical article on this blog, but it’s worth it. It’s important and rewarding to make something new, something useful.
The world is not waiting for another medium-quality blog post. To me, this data is a call to action to strive and produce better content with better results.
It’s the ultimate reminder that that lesson we all learned as kids: greater effort leads to greater rewards.
About the data: The bloggers in this survey are from around the world, but most are from my personal network and the Orbit email list, so they skew toward North America and LinkedIn users. They were not incentivized or paid to take the survey. Most responses are from Aug / Sept 2018. The term “strong results” is subjective.
Gratitude: Huge thanks to the 1096 bloggers who took and shared the survey, the contributors who provided insights, Jantzen Loza for all the awesome charts, Joe Daleo for the pivot tables, Morgan Molnar at the team at SurveyMonkey for making data collection a cinch and Amanda Gant for leading the project.