Is Your Content Really Failing?

Does your content receive eight shares or less?

If so, your content is “failing,” according to a recent industry study.

I discussed BuzzSumo’s study during last week’s SEO Copywriting Certification training call. The author of the study, Steve Rayson, analyzed over one million posts and noticed a surprising trend. Popular, branded sites such as HubSpot saw a sharp decline in social shares. In fact, 50% of the content saw fewer than eight social shares.

The reason? “Content shock” — the demand for content has gone flat while the amount of content has exploded. The result? Less engagement.

(As a side note, some believe content shock is a myth. Whatever you believe, I think we can all agree that we’re bombarded by new content every. single. day.)

Many writers and marketers (maybe even you) panicked when they read the study. “EIGHT SHARES” they screamed. “Our company is lucky if a post gets retweeted a couple times.”

Sure, some of your content may enjoy a sharing explosion. But I’m guessing some of your content may not. Maybe even the majority of your content.

Does that mean that your content is “failing?”

Maybe. But let’s look a little deeper.

Social sharing is one measurement of content effectiveness. Things that are important (some would say more important,) are:

— Is the content driving conversions or otherwise making you money?

— Are people reading your content? Or are they immediately bouncing off the page?

— Did you match the content to where the customer is in the sales cycle? For instance, do you have high-quality content that helps prospects when they’re in the “research” phase?

— Do you hear, “Hey, I really like your content” from people in your target audience? For instance, I have a client who receives very few social shares (he’s in an industry that doesn’t share content much,) but he receives many “I faithfully read your content every week,” messages.  That’s more important to him than a retweet any day.

— Does the content position? You may have written a fantastic guide that gets some social love initially, but then fades into the background. If it’s still positioning in Google — and prospects are finding you through the content — do you care that you’re not receiving more social shares?

(As a side note, I find it funny that BuzzSumo’s initial Facebook post about the study has only received one share. Would that mean their content was “failing?”)

The reality is: Not all of your content is going to go viral. If you want 100% viral, all the time, specialize in cute cat videos. 

However, being the Steve Rayson fangirl I am, I think he still makes some excellent points. Although I may disagree with the “failing” moniker, I would agree with his other tips:

– Content research is crucial. Research time is a non-negotiable in today’s brave new Google world.  If you’re an end client, know that your writer may need to spend several hours researching your blog post topic. She isn’t padding her time. And yes, this is necessary (and billable.) You can give your writer a great head start by providing her trusted sources, white papers and anything else that will help her write the page.

– Post promotion is almost as important (some would say more so) as post creation (I talked about this in last week’s SEO Copywriting Buzz newsletter) Targeting influencers in a nice, non-pushy way is still important. Just know that influencers are being hit by 100 other bloggers asking them to promote their content, so approach them with care.

– It’s smart to leverage trends and be nimble. If you’re writing about a hot topic that happened two weeks ago, you’ve probably already lost the viral battle.

I would add my own tip to this, which is…

– You still need to optimize posts. “Write naturally” is a myth. If your posts aren’t positioning, there is a big disconnect you need to fix.

So, is the issue truly “content shock?” Or are people naturally tuning out content that’s poorly-written, poorly-researched and poorly-timed?

What’s the takeaway?

Whatever you believe around the “content shock” idea, consider this study a wake-up call. No, your content may not be “failing” if it receives eight shares or less. But that doesn’t mean that it’s working, either. If your content isn’t making you money somehow, it’s time for an overhaul.




6 replies
  1. James Mawson says:

    Another thing is that the shareability of content varies enormously by topic, as does the worth of those shares. If you are selling anything around an ongoing hobby or recreational interest then social shares are an important metric. Ie, if you sell fishing equipment or barbecue stuff or home brewing gear then you really want your blog content to get shares because people with these interests hang out together, so it’s a great way to get traffic from the right audience and to build a following for your content. If you’re writing around a topic like this and you only get 8 shares then you should be a bit worried about what you’re doing wrong.

    On the other hand, if you sell software for mining engineers to use during their work day then your content is still going to be shareable and those shares are still going to be worth something, but only within a much narrower context. Here, 8 shares that go out to your customers is probably not too shabby.

    Then there are topic areas like furniture, pest control, removalists, funerals, home air conditioning and other such things that few buyers take a continuing interest in. The normal customer behaviour in these markets is to become interested in content when actively researching a purchase and then to get on with the rest of their lives once they’ve blown their load. Even great content around furniture is unlikely to be very shareable, because even if the reader loves it, they are unlikely to expect their friends or followers would be interested. To the extent that you can get shares for this kind of content, these shares are probably not going to reach most of your prospective customers because they’re just not following “industry influencers” in the first place. If you really were trying to create viral content for this kind of business, it would probably be by pushing a novelty or gimmick angle really hard to make something that’s just really entertaining – this might be worthwhile to get a bit of brand visibility and some white hat links coming in, but for the most part I don’t think it makes sense for this sort of business to be too concerned about shares because it’s just not where the buyers are going to come from. It makes a lot more sense to write content around buying keywords and then promote it on the SERPS with white hat links that will ideally also bring referral traffic from customers actively researching a purchase.

  2. Sean Vandenberg says:

    Haha – yes, sharing cute videos of cats will never die! …And nice point about whether your posts are driving valuable traffic and generating leads (i.e., money). I’m back to blogging (let my blogroll die these last couple of years), as I find most of my traffic and leads come from TWO blog posts written awhile ago :).

    There’s still power in niche content marketing!

    – Sean

    PS: Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. John Albin says:

    I would agree that the survey findings would have knee-jerk reactions by content creators. The questions you asked are some of the essential ones but there is more to content than just well-crafted useful information. Personally, I think if a certain website is able to reach its target audience and provide them with satisfying results without a prominent social media presence, then there is nothing to worry about. As far as the content shared on social media platforms is concerned, it is influenced by the ongoing trend.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Good points, John. Some companies don’t really benefit from a social presence — although it’s important to test and see what works.

      Just curious — you mentioned that “there is more to content than just well-crafted, useful information.” What else would you include?



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