How to decipher the DNA of winning content

Jason Miller, Head of Content and Social Media Marketing at LinkedIn Sales & Marketing Solutions, EMEA questions whether there is really a single, fail-safe formula for content success.

Jason Miller

It’s no secret that I am a big advocate of content marketing; for a long time now I’ve been banging its drum as a key driver of business engagement and growth. 

In a world of what some have called ‘peak content’, it’s never been so important to create content that not only rises above the noise, but works as hard as it possibly can for your business. Many have been quick to share tips and tricks on best practice when it comes to content marketing, but it’s now pretty impossible to distinguish between authoritative advice and guesswork.    

It also raises an important question: Is there really a single, failsafe formula for content success?  

We partnered with content marketing analysis platform BuzzSumo to answer this question, carrying out the most in-depth analysis yet of content marketing effectiveness on social media. We used data from 400,000 posts on major social media networks to analyse their success in driving organic reach and engagement, as well as the extent to which they establish influence and authority.

It’s important to caveat here the fact that content being shared and liked doesn’t automatically mean it’s delivering ROI, or contributing to your business’s bottom line. Nonetheless, it does strongly suggest that it’s generating awareness and engagement and is seen as being relevant - a vital ingredient of any successful content strategy.  

And so what did our research discover? There is no single formula for content marketing success. Instead, success depends on developing and applying the right formula for your target audience. 

Here are my three top tips for making sure you’re doing just that:

1.What works for one doesn’t work for all

While content planning starts with the process of choosing a subject to engage and intrigue your audience (and we found some surprising differences amongst industry sectors), it’s also extremely important to spend time defining what type of content will resonate most with your readers. 

For example, we found that when it comes to travel, list posts which are broad reaching and easily referenced, perform particularly strongly. Yet for the healthcare and legal sectors, list posts detract from content’s credibility and authority. When it comes to marketing-related posts, lists and infographics both perform highly, naturally fitting in with the popular ‘how-to’ and practical guide style content. 

It may take some experimentation to find the best format for your target audience, but once you’ve identified what works you will see a boost in engagement and shares.  

2.Don’t be afraid to go long

Content length is an oft debated topic, regularly dividing marketers’ opinions. While many point to our shortened attention spans now being similar to a goldfish (which is a myth by the way) and our increased appetite for more ‘snackable’ content, our research found that typically both the average number of shares that posts receive, and the average number of links to them, increase with the length of the content. For technology posts, for example, the sweet spot for content length comes in at between 1,000 and 2,000 words.

So, whilst shorter posts still play an important role when it comes to sharing news or opinions, if you have something original and valuable to say, take the space to say it with meaning. Longer content often serves as a sign of relevance, authority, and value. 

3.Use your headline to create an impression

Unfortunately, a surprising number of marketers forget that the headline is the main opportunity to sell what your content has to offer. And you only have one chance at getting it right and catching a reader’s attention.  

As part of our study, we analysed the three-word phrases used in headlines that drove the most engagement from both a B2B and B2C perspective. Whilst the distinct lack of overlap in phrases between the two audiences signals the importance of tailoring content accordingly, across the board the best performing headlines gave a clear idea to the reader of the experience they could expect, from “this is why” to “why you should” and “5 ways to”.  

If your content aims to answer an industry-wide issue, reference it in the headline. If you’re aiming to drive shares with a provocative opinion, be bold and use a provocative headline to match. Think about the power of the words and phrases you’re using and, above all else, ensure your headline reflects exactly what the piece is about.   

Creating content that consistently hits the mark and provides a tangible ROI isn’t easy, but it also isn’t rocket science. By understanding what it is that makes your individual audience tick, what they’re looking to read or watch and what content appeals to them, the formula for developing engaging, eye-catching content will become second nature. And when you’ve created that formula, don’t forget to share your content across social media channels, seamlessly becoming a part of the conversation that your clients and prospects are already having. 

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