What makes a blog tick? An insider’s guide to audience connection

It occurred to me that the variety of posts I ran two weeks ago represents a great cross-section of the overall content — and results — I get here on my blog.  I thought it might be interesting to dissect the week of content to illustrate some of the patterns I see with social sharing and how my blog community responds to my content.

When readers tweet and share my posts, these are like “votes” that indicate whether I am aligned with my audience’s needs and interests. If you examine the social shares I received over the course of a week, I think it reveals some universal lessons about blogging and connecting with your audience …

First let’s look at how the blog posts for the week performed in terms of social sharing (Total of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+):

what makes a blog tick

Now let’s look at each post to see what made it tick (or not!)

Monday: 3 fundamentals of a successful social selling strategy

social sellingEach week I try to write at least two strong “pillar posts” — articles that represent interesting new ideas and original thinking. I explored new territory with this subject of social selling so I sensed before it ran that this would be a popular post. When I create something thought-provoking, I am definitely rewarded by my community.

Another reason this “ticked” is that Mondays are usually higher traffic days for blogs. Blog posts with numbers in the headlines also seem to attract more attention.

Tuesday: Few brands driving online influence and advocacy

social media loveOn Monday afternoon, I received some interesting research about consumers and social media amplification. Since I thought this would be useful to the community, I took a bit of a risk by running an extra post on {grow} and broke my pattern by running two posts on Tuesday.

Running research reports are hit and miss. Since it is not original thinking by me, and not something exceptionally ground-breaking, I expected it to perform “OK” and the chart reflects that. A few weeks earlier I ran a report on social media use at Fortune 500 companies that received more than 1,200 shares compared to less than 400 for this one. Like I said, hit and miss!

Tuesday: Five ways to use social media in sales even if your customer is not on Facebook

taking the leapThis post was risky in two ways. First, it was competing for attention with the research report I had published earlier in the day and second, it was the second part of a “series.”

When I wrote Monday’s post on social selling it was originally far too long so I broke it up into two separate posts. At the end of the Monday’s post, I asked everybody to come back the next day for more on this topic. I NEVER run a series of posts because they seldom work. They are better off standing alone as independent posts.

I thought this “pillar post” would do much better than it actually did. If you look at the total social shares for both Tuesday posts it equaled what I expected for just this post alone, so maybe my risk did not pay off. I’d still do it again though because my mission is to share exceedingly great content with you, and I did.

Wednesday: Unusual writing advice from somebody who should not be giving writing advice

mars dorianMost Wednesdays I feature a regular paid contributor to the blog and this week it was the wonderful Mars Dorian. Mars is steadily improving as a thought-provoking and creative blogger and I thought he hit this one out of the park. I find the artwork he contributes to his work mesmerizing.

By paying exceptional, regular bloggers, I know I can count on at least one day a week that a trusted colleague is in charge of the blog so I can give full attention to customer stuff. Wednesdays are usually strong blog traffic days and I was very pleased by the audience’s reaction to the blog post through both social shares and some lively comments.

Another lesson from this blog post: No matter how good a guest post might be, it almost always get lower audience attention for one simple reason: It’s not me. This is not any sort of bragging on my part. It is simply a fact of the business. People generally come to Schaefer’s blog because they want to see Schaefer. But I love my regular columnists and the diverse views they bring to these pages so I will always feature high-quality guest bloggers.

Thursday: Extreme Content Marketing with Julian Smith

julien smithThis was a video blog with a fun and interesting guest but it had two things going against it. First, Thursdays are a normal slump day for blog traffic and second, video blogs always, always, always get less attention than regular blog posts.

Why? I have no idea. I like video blogs because they mix it up and add a little entertainment value to {grow} but I simply have not figured this out. The chart reflects that this was the lowest-performing post of the week and that is usually the way it is with videos, unfortunately. Anybody have any feedback on that?

Friday: Television 2.0. A {growtoon}.

what makes a blog tickFor the past two years I have paid some creative loonies to come up with an original cartoon every Friday. Why?

  • Nobody else had ever done that (although a few people have since copied this)
  • It provides original content but does not take any time in terms of community management
  • I don’t know about you but by Friday I’m tired and a cartoon is about all I can handle!

The {growtoons} get a relatively low amount of shares and comments but people seem to love them.

Conclusions

Overall, it was a typical week and we can take away a few lessons on igniting your audience:

  1. Timing matters. Posts published earlier in the week do better.
  2. Posts with numbers in the headlines tend to attract attention.
  3. If posts run over 1,000 words, break it up into two posts (in general).
  4. Breaking a consistent pattern and overwhelming your audience with content is a risk.
  5. A “series” generally does less well.
  6. Videos blogs attract fewer social shares, at least for me.
  7. Guest posts generally get less social shares but still add diversity to the blog.
  8. Most important, make your posts INTERESTING. Your community responds and absolutely rewards you when you do a great job!

Notice I did not mention anything about aiming specifically for great SEO value with any of these posts. I think with that ever-changing landscape, I would drive myself crazy trying to do that! I firmly believe that in the long-term, if you create valuable, interesting content that ignites your readers to comment and share, the SEO will take care of itself.

What do you think? Make sense to you?

All posts

  • Hey Mark,
    I believe articles with numbers in the title get good traffic as the heading infers that it is likely to be a quick and easy to read ‘list’. This of course may not be the case but you almost get a progress report while you are reading. I guess it’s similar to a journey you have done before seeming quicker than one which you are doing for the first time – does that make sense?

    I’m surprised Mars’ article didn’t get more traffic for two reasons – it was a great post and the title was unusual which, for me anyway, made me curious about it’s content.

    The video was great but to be honest, if I click on a tutorial link within Google or on a website, and it turns out to be a video tutorial, I will almost always leave to find a similar tutorial in writing. I prefer text and to be able to read at my own pace through the content. A video can be paused but for some reason that’s not the same (not sure why!)

    I believe that if you create interesting content that invokes a reaction then you’ll get engagement.

    P.S. great to see you include Google+ in your analysis, it’s a hugely under rated network by many)!

    Cheers Mark 🙂

  • @mrsoaroundworld

    How very interesting, Mark! I have never done the analysis myself, but not surprised with the results. I will only add that for me, as a travel blogger, lunchtimes work extremely well, mondays and fridays. I wonder why!

  • Hey Mark, It’s interesting about video. Everybody says we should have them on a blog but people don’t have time to watch them. You can’t skim through a video as easy as a blog post.
    I think training videos work because people set aside time to watch them but they don’t always work with blog posts.
    Ian

  • Jay Perkins

    Very interesting read Mark, especially the point about research or studies being hit and miss after a post I read from the Buffer guys and how their use of research boosted the success of their blog.

    I get the feeling that video content gets less results as its far easier to ‘skim’ a blog post and still get the message enough to share it. With video you are more restricted to watch at the pace of the video, so I tend to save these for later when I stumble across one – ever do the same?

  • Jay Perkins

    Ian, you must have beat me by mere seconds with the point of skimming video! 🙂

  • Snap, I think we wrote our comments at the exact same time. Great minds!

  • stephen q shannon

    I especially like the concept of doing the work and let SEO and other stuff take care of itself. I believe Chris Brogan and Seth Godin, among others, would have to agree with you. Both, I think, would testify to “being insanely patient”, not one of my strong suits. sQs Delray Beach FL, aka Village By The Sea

  • Christine Webber

    Really useful analysis of how your blog is working. Thanks for sharing this with us. I have picked up a few useful tips like making sure I post a blog on Mondays – something I have not been doing!

  • I’ve seen some of the exact same things – earlier in the week gets more traffic and videos don’t perform as well. Guests posts are the same way, but some have performed surprisingly well. I ran a weeklong series on content marketing. That actually worked okay, but some of the posts definitely performed better than others. It’s interesting to see what’s worked for you!

  • Thank you for the analysis, Mark. Very interesting. I think you do a great job of mixing it up. I read/share your content because I trust it.

    I will admit it takes me longer to listen to the video blogs. They are entertaining and I always learn something–I like the interactive synergy of them — but listening takes longer than reading.

    I love the growtoons. Those are a quick look and easy to share. And they make me smile and yeah, need a smile by Friday.

  • Frederic Gonzalo

    Mark, this is yet another awesome post. I have been blogging for a little over two years now, both in French and in English, and your conclusions here are bang on. I am considering starting videos this Fall, and will follow through, simply because I believe it will add diversity of content to my blog, as well as help building a stronger Youtube channel, but I don’t think it will perform as well as regular posts, for the reason you describe here. We’ll see.
    Thanks for the insights!

  • Catherine Maguire

    Hi Mark, an interesting post, the most interesting part for me is the video. I’ll confess to never watching the video blogs. I did try one or two a long time ago.

    I don’t think it’s just to do with not having the time or not being able to skim (I don’t skim your writings I read them). For me it’s something to do with ‘talking heads’. They’re not the same as a training video a how to do xyz. I tend to feel the need to butt in, to ask a question to ask someone to expand and of course as it’s prerecorded it’s not possible.

    I do take time out to watch or join organised hangouts on air. Those with a topic / purpose. The ability to listen to a discussion and then ask about certain aspects turns the talking heads into an interactive experience. Lends it more value for both the host and the viewers. It is of course still available for ever for anyone who wants to watch afterwards.

    I think we’re all now programmed to interact in the moment. Like the comments on your written posts, they’re immediate in the main. Writing responded to with writing. Perhaps the problem is that we can’t respond to speech with speech in this instance.

  • Excellent post. Most bloggers would do well to follow your lead. Get off the content generation treadmill and take the time to analyze how your content performs.

  • allarminda

    I love this post, Mark! Fascinating to look across the week in this way. I’ll chime in regarding the video with a question mark, as well. I’ve been interested in starting to use them, myself, but haven’t yet. I believe I will, as Frederic Gonzalo indicated, but with low expectations 🙂

  • Claudia Licher

    Hi Mark, about the videos. In one case I happened to be the first commenter, and I mentioned what I saw as an interesting point made in the video in my comment. It was just a little bit of information I felt was missing from the post.
    Before I decide to watch a video (not while telecommuting) I need to know why I’d want to watch it.
    About the cartoons: some I like, others I don’t. The thing about cartoons is: they show up in my mailbox, I take one look and that’s it – I’ve seen it. I only click through to share it on Twitter if it’s utterly hilarious.
    Hope this adds.

  • Thanks Mark for showing us how you did last week. It helps put things in prospective. I have found that numbers do well as you have, seeing that your two biggest share days were blogs with numbers in the title. So I have started to make videos and do you have any thoughts on how to create or generate more traffic and sharing of video posts? Do you think people just don’t feel they have the time to watch a video? Funny as that may seem, because it probably takes longer to read a full blog, if they do read it all the way. Do you think quick/short videos would be better?

  • It does seem that people may be pressed for time, so do you think shorter video that are under. let’s say 3 mins would get more people to watch it. There are some videos I watch weekly, like White Board Friday on MOZ.

  • I think starting videos is a good idea. I have started some of my own and it may be true that people don’t feel they have enough time to watch them. For me I enjoy watching videos because it adds a new level of the relationship to your audience. They now know your face, voice, and personality even better. I think creating content with video and even podcasts allows for something more that people may be missing.

  • I like watching videos because I enjoy seeing and hearing the people. That’s why I like podcast as well. I think people are intimidated by these formats because they don’t think they have the time, but I listen and watch while I work. What do you think?

  • Jay Perkins

    Oh you charmer, you 😉

  • Jay Perkins

    I like video and audio content a lot, probably learn more from that form but its not always practical to listen while in the office. Mainly listen at home, on the move or gym etc.

  • Great post, Mark. I personally skip video blog posts on weekdays because I’m on the move while I’m reading or am taking a short break from work and am looking for something interesting to read. Videos don’t fit into any of these situations well. But, on weekends and holidays, I’d love to relax and watch a lively video.

  • Jeffrey Slater

    Mark,

    This is an interesting post about your blog and performance.

    As for the growtoons, I find them the least interesting part of your blog. I compare marketing cartooning to Tom Fishbourne who I think is brilliant at it and offers a consistent style and theme. I don’t think I ever shared a single cartoon or thought it was all that clever. It is weak compared to the quality of the post and content. If you don’t know his work, check out his weekly marketing cartoon which always strikes a note with me at this link: http://tomfishburne.com/

    As for video, to me its a bit of marketing snacking and I do enjoy it as a break. The video about Julian Smith was interesting to me and I didn’t know of him so it was useful.

    I do appreciate that you share things like how strong Monday is for blog viewers in general.

    Thanks for your contribution to the marketing community at large.

    Jeff

  • Thanks for the tips Ana. So great to hear from you! My best to Mr. O.

  • Boys, boys. Do behave now will you? : )

  • I try to keep my videos under 4 minutes.

  • Agree Barry. There seems to be a hurdle there for most people though!

  • Good point.

  • I think research can be used very effectively, especially if it’s original and valid.

  • I share your impatience, be it a virtue or a vise! In a way i think SEO is making up for a lack of something. In a perfect world, the best content and products would rise to the top.

  • Awesome Christine. Glad i could help!

  • I have had some extraordinary guest posts so certainly can not make a generalization. One guest post last year was one of my top five posts of the year out of hundreds. Thanks for taking the time to comment Laura!

  • Thanks very much for the feedback Pauline!

  • I would certainly encourage you — or anybody — to try videos. It adds something special to the blog and certainly appeal to some people. Good luck with that and thank for reading my blog Frederic!

  • This is all very interesting feedback, especially the part about talking heads. Maybe I need to stretch out a little more on the videos. Thanks for the great comment!

  • Yes Mark. We’re sorry!!!

  • Have you ever read Malcolm Galdwell’s book “Blink?” After people do something repetitively for a long time they almost get a sixth sense about what happens next. I’m starting to get that way about blogging. I can usually predict how many social shares and comments something will have, even by the hour of the day!

  • Very much agree Barry.

  • With your theater background, this might be the perfect medium for you!

  • Very good feedback Claudia! Certainly the cartoons are a bit of a risk each week!

  • Ha! You’re asking the wrong person! I have not done well with the videos but keep trying and experimenting. Good luck with yours Barry!

  • Good feedback. Maybe if I posted a video on the weekend it would do better? That is actually a very good idea!

  • Thanks, I keep my videos short. I would love to get your advice on my videos. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Pq3Y-vJeQc Hope you enjoy it.

  • Yeah I know Fishbourne. He is in a league of his own! Thanks very much for the feedback Jeff.

  • Elisabeth TenBrink

    I know that one reason I don’t watch videos is because of limited internet bandwidth, though few people have that problem. Many computers also have bad sound systems, so that can be annoying, and slow internet also is frustrating when trying to watch a video. Of course you get the best of both worlds if you write down what was said in the video (assuming you didn’t use too many visual aids) so that people who would prefer to read it, can.

  • All good feedback Elisabeth. I’m learning a lot today!

  • You want to hear something funny? I clicked on this and it stalled out! So ironic. I can see where one fail like this will lose people.

  • Really? man that makes me look real awesome. Epic fail. Weird I clicked on it and it went to the video just fine, well now I’m embarrassed for trying to show you.

  • Try Clicking on the link instead of the picture. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  • Catherine Maguire

    If you do stretch out towards trying it hangout on air style I’m here if you need any help with it.

  • Mark, thanks for a behind-the-scenes look at what works on the {grow} blog. There are some great takeaways here.

    What are you thoughts on writing standalone posts over time and grouping them together as a topical series with a landing page (sort of like what Copyblogger has done)? That’s the approach I’ve thought about taking recently on my blog.

  • I’ll put that book on my reading list. Tx.

  • This is my kind of post. Chocked full of insight and data to ruminate on.

    I’m actually thinking about organizing my own content a bit.. Maybe something other than my usual “all over the place” style 🙂

  • I agree. Trying to chase SEO as an end in itself is a losing battle. If it informs on content areas that aren’t being serviced great, but otherwise write on trending topics, and areas your readers have shown interest in the past.

  • I also liked his “Outliers” book very much.

  • Thanks!

  • Really strong feedback on the videos Barry, Thanks!

  • I think that is a brilliant way to organize your content, something I am lacking. I do have it organized, but I can make it more accessible and visual.

  • Well, we’re in that one together. I can do a much better job organizing!

  • I think you can have a balance. I do think there can be some short-term benefits. My friend @cspenn (Christopher Penn) wrote an excellent post on this topic you might enjoy: http://www.christopherspenn.com/2013/07/the-short-and-long-games-of-seo/

  • I”d challenge you to a “I can break any organization system” showdown, but that’s as useful as “hanging by our heals to see who passes out” contest. LOL

  • Thx Mark. I’ll take a look.

  • Thanks for that feedback, Mark. I’ll let you know how it works for me.

  • Ha! Would be fun anyway! : )

  • Alison Moore

    Video blogging gets less views because it can’t be played anywhere at anytime. You can read just about anywhere but watching video proves to be dfficult in public places and at work

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  • So the obvious next question is: How much does a wrap up post talking about previous posts lead traffic back to those posts? A significant jump?

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