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Your Blog’s Content Is Irrelevant To Its Success

Last week I friend of mine who’s a mathematician was helping me out with a formula I was trying to create which could predict how successful a post from a brand page on Facebook was going to be.

We worked for a couple of hours on what I had already and he changed it around a little and added some distributions I didn’t really understand, but by the time we were done we had a formula which we thought would do the trick.

Ah, but how effective are their posts?

We ran a couple of randomly selected posts through the formula and… yep, as we’d hoped, it was working pretty much perfectly and scoring the posts on a scale of 0 – 100, with 0 being the least successful post possible and 100 being wildly successful.

The results weren’t quite right, though; posts which (subjectively) were really good weren’t being rewarded and equally, posts which weren’t so good weren’t being penalised.

But here’s the thing: even when we added in a variable to account for the subjective quality of a post, it only accounted for roughly 7% of the total score. What does that mean in practical terms? Well, it means the actual content of a Facebook post is virtually irrelevant to the success of the post.

This is, of course, only true in specific circumstances, but those circumstances cast a pretty wide net: the principle applies to most, if not all brand pages on Facebook. Sure, the formatting of the post is hugely important — and the formula accounted for that as such — but the actual content? Not such a big deal.

Is it who you are rather than what you know?

So why am I telling you any of this on a blog about WordPress?

Well, let’s take a look at what makes a blog post successful:

  1. High quality, well versed content.
  2. Discussion driven from the engaging content.
  3. Sharing driven from discussion.

In a fluffy, ideal world, that’d be the answer. In practice? In my experience it looks a bit more like this:

  1. Short, catchy title, either controversial or simply helpful.
  2. Carefully edited copy which is easy to scan, punctuated with relevant, captioned images.
  3. Social media sharing buttons readily to hand with calls to action where appropriate.
  4. Calling in favours with influential friends.

We are never ever… reading that much text. Please just post about cat pictures instead.

I’m now going to go back on my claim in the title of this post that the content of your blog’s posts is entirely irrelevant (I only said that to tick the “controversial title” box, see) as I think that’s going just a little bit too far, but the point I’m trying to make is still valid.

If you’re just blogging for fun or for yourself, then of course this isn’t such a big concern, but where capturing readers, pageviews or revenue is involved, this stuff’s important. There’s more to writing engaging content than just writing engaging content. There’s a difference between writing and writing for the web.

If your readers are typical tech-types, it’s likely they’ll want easily-digestible content, so make sure you break up your content by adding in lots of paragraph breaks and images. I’m guessing here, but I imagine an older, less tech-inclined audience would be much happier reading longer-form content. Work out who your audience is and adapt your content appropriately.

Note how on Copyblogger the copy is broken up into bite-size chunks.

A couple of weeks ago CopyBlogger posted “the 5 most persuasive words in the English language“. A lot of the claims were backed up with real data from real people and real tests and it’s things like this which are, to me at least, hugely important.

If you can start working out what it is that makes people engage with your content, then you can start writing content that’s engaging people because of how you’re writing, not what you’re writing. As you start doing that and thinking consciously about your writing and going back and editing it, you’ll end up with better quality content.

Going back to my original Facebook example, it’s much easier to measure very specific variables when you’ve only got a small amount of content. In a seven hundred word blog post, it’s a little bit harder and as such I’ve not seen too much research on the topic.

So what do you think, folks? If you’ve got thoughts or know of some research, let me know below in the comments; I’d like to discuss this one. Also, you should follow me on Twitter.

  • Ben

    The problem with short, catchy, controversial titles is that you have to backup your title claim 100% to avoid making your readers feel betrayed. The point of writing a controversial title is to make visitors (where ever they find your content) to visit your post; and if you fail to fulfill the claim of the title, then your reader(s) immediately know that you gave the post that title to generate traffic. This makes the whole effort a gimmick and can make the reader feel the victim of a machine or forumula (which tends to do the opposite of what was intended). Never assume you can trick the reader.

    So just as a warning (IMHO): Only use controversial titles when you can back them up completely — or you better have a very satisfying substitution for your reader.

    • Alex Denning

      Very true, and I may have slightly missed that one here. Lesson learned for the future ;)

  • Hmmm… So, a blogger’s object is to say absolutely nothing with as few words as possible, and to have the visual appearance of those meaningless words engage the “reader” in such a way that she will want to share the blogger’s vacuous meaninglessness with as wide an audience as possible.

    Apparently the ideal outcome of the pairing of technology and language in the 21st century will be a human species too dumbed down to breathe or eat without first catching glimpses iStock photos of air or food. Why create any new blog posts at all from here on? Why don’t we simply post and repost screen shots of random old posts, ad infinitum?

    • Alex Denning

      No, not at all — and apologies if that’s how it came across. I think I covered in the post that this by no means applies to all sites, but I can see some situations where this sort of thing does apply, and certainly if you look at some of the blogs I linked, there are certain “techniques” they’re using, which, once you start noticing them, crop up across many of the popular sites you read.

  • Title baiting, hmm…? I am sorely disappointed. Content has everything to do. If you had nothing to say, I would not be here at all. Facebook has changed a lot of EdgeRank. Even top internet marketers like Mari Smith are not happy with this change.

    Blog sites are much different than Facebook. Bloggers can share their material to other sites and have more credence in the search engine individually. With Facebook, the link juice posts shared within are horded like kept in a tight bottle with nothing to return except for relying on people to like of share if they see it on Facebook, or directly from your website.

    I’ve got a blog post brewing on two things you brought up with this post…stay tuned.

    • Alex Denning

      I look forward to reading it! I’m well aware Facebook has changed a lot with EdgeRank, and that blogs aren’t Facebook, but the point I was trying to make was — sadly — I think there are similarities between the two and one has to start being concious of how these factors are going to affect the success of a blog post.

  • Quality is sometimes irrelevant to the number of likes a post gets on Facebook. I’ve posted incorrect URL’s in the past and it’s still generated dozens of likes. Many people will like linked articles without even viewing them.

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