Surprises from 2014: Popular vs. Effective Content Marketing

How we chose our top-ten content marketing posts of 2014

It’s February and we’re just now publishing our “Most Popular Posts of 2014” post.

We were in a bit of a quandary on how to go about this. Even though we are the masters of metrics, the mullahs of measurement, and mightier than mayhem, we weren’t sure how to measure “popular.”

Wipe that quizzical look off of your face.

Effective content marketing is one reason we have enjoyed so much success, and our blog is the heart of our content marketing efforts. We take it very seriously.

We want posts that are popular to our target audience, marketers struggling to use data and testing wisely in their online efforts. We also want content that grows our subscriber lists. This is how we begin a relationship with you, our readers.

While we want to give you a list of great content to read, we are more focused on learning something from 2014 so we can give you more of what you love in 2015.

Before we reveal our top ten, we invite you to follow us on our journey through the data.

What Tells Us That a Post is Effective Content Marketing?

Which metrics tell us that a post is popular with our target market? We considered several. Our final top ten list was a blend of all of these.

Here’s our thought process.

Visits, or Sessions

It seems to make sense that the most visited posts would be the most popular. We pulled our visit statistics from Google Analytics on a post-by-post basis.

Our most visited post by far is entitled 63 Great Email Subject Lines from the SXSW Catalog. Google has fallen in love with this post. It was published in 2011 and is perennially our most visited post. This year, it has three times the visits of the next competitor.

image
This post is our most popular by visits, but it really isn’t as relevant as some other posts.

 

We had fun writing this post, but it isn’t particularly relevant to our business. It has a low conversion rate, low engagement and generated few shares relative to the traffic.

Once we weighted some of the other factors found in this story, this post fell out of the top 10. In our final selection, only four posts were in among the ten most-visited. No, visits are not a good proxy for popularity.

Bounce Rate

If people are visiting our site, but not sticking around, we say they bounce. We measure a bounce as a visit lasting less than 15 seconds. Pages with a low bounce rate would be considered more popular than those with an above-average bounce rate.

The standout post with regard to bounce rate was Rotating Headers Don’t have to Kill Your Conversion Rate.

Most people spent more than 15 seconds reading this post based on it's low bounce rate (4.86%)
Most people spent more than 15 seconds reading this post based on it’s low bounce rate (4.86%)

 

Overall, seven of the posts in our final top ten also had top-ten bounce rates.

Engagement: Time and Pages

If visitors are spending more time on our site, we could assume that they found the content relevant.

Of our top picks for 2014, Pages per Visit and Average Session Duration were highly correlated. Posts with high engagement also enjoyed high conversion rates and low bounce rates.

Our most engaging post was What are You Really Selling on Your Landing Page? [CASE STUDY]. This is what I call a highly efficient post.

Our most engaging post was taken from a free consultation. It did not require a great deal of research.
Our most engaging post was taken from a free consultation. It did not require a great deal of research.
 

It took very little research to write. I took information from a free consultation for the example, and simply wrote up my conclusions.

This post brought a lot of return visitors, probably regular readers. It had the highest conversion rate and also generated the most comments.

Other high-efficiency posts included How to Present a High-Converting Value Proposition [CASE STUDY] and  How Many Steps Should Your Online Checkout Have? [CASE STUDY].

Number of Leads Generated

The post that generated the most subscribers for our conversion course was a case study from a prospect.
The post that generated the most subscribers for our conversion course was a case study from a prospect.
 

When we’re not sharing our expertise with you fine folks, we spend our days finding out what our clients’ visitors want from their sites. We don’t bother asking them. We let them vote with their wallets and their contact information.

The same is true in our consulting business. If our guests truly enjoy our posts, they should naturally subscribe to our content or sign up for our free course. Growing our subscriber list is critical to our business. This is how we begin a conversation with potential clients. This is pretty important.

For each of our most-visited posts, we calculated the conversion rate. A conversion for our blog is a subscriber to our list or a conversion course student.

So what kind of content has the highest conversion rates? Oddly enough, our “highly efficient” content also enjoys high conversion rates. Three of the highest converting were created from free consultations. One was a client case study. One was an infodoodle captured live at the Business of Software conference.

All-in-all, seven of the top-converting posts made our final ten.

Social Shares

If someone is sharing our content on social media and by email, we can assume they found the content, well, shareable.

Our most shared post was an infographic submitted by another company.
Our most shared post was an infographic submitted by another company.

 

To size up social shares, I calculated the shares per visit, or SPV. The post with our highest SPV was New Ideas for the New Year: Online Marketing in 2015 [INFOGRAPHIC] at 48.9%. This means that for every two visitors, one of them shared on social media – 221 on Twitter, 33 on LinkedIn, 24 on Facebook, and two on Google Plus.

This story was NOT in our final top ten list. It was hurt by a low conversion rate and short average session duration. Clearly, people came, scanned and shared. This post was an infographic, and of the posts with the highest SPV five were infographics.

Of our top-ten posts, six had strong shares to visit ratios.

Other Influences

The major point of doing this kind of analysis is to provide more of what visitors are looking for in 2015. Feeding the content machine required original content as well as curated content and guest writers. Our analysis teased out the value of these strategies.

Guest Posts

Two guests posts made our top ten list.
Two guests posts made our top ten list.

 

We had a lot of guest contributors – eleven of the top-twenty most visited posts. So, we were surprised that only two of our final top-ten were contributed by guest writers. Curiously, these were both infographics.

If we just look at the ten most visited posts, six were guest posts and five were among the most shared. Four had high conversion rates.

In general, most guest posts fell out on engagement metrics. For some reason, readers of guest posts visited few other pages, and didn’t stay long.

Infographics

I’ve always been somewhat cool to infographics. They generate a lot of traffic, but didn’t seem to deliver the goods when it comes to engaged and converting visitors.

Boy was I wrong in 2014.

Of our top ten posts, four were infographics. Two of them were among the highest converting posts of 2014.

Two of the four were infodoodles, hand-drawn during live presentations. This is highly efficient content for us.

Doing infodoodles allows us to leverage “celebrities” – Rand Fishkin and Bryan Eisenberg in this case – who may be more likely to share our infodoodles with their audiences. Sometimes it works. Over 81% of visitors to Rand Fishkin’s infodoodle were new top our blog, the highest in our top-ten. Thanks, Rand.

Infodoodles are unique to The Conversion Scientist. It leverages industry celebrities.
Infodoodles are unique to The Conversion Scientist. It leverages industry celebrities.

Maybe more celebrities would share if we didn’t include caricatures.

Angie Schottmuller
Angie Schottmuller
Oli Gardner and Joanna Wiebe
Oli Gardner and Joanna Wiebe

 

Case Studies

Humans love stories, and that is what a case study really is. We relate to the trials and tribulations of others in a way that “How to” posts can never enjoy. Our top ten list bear this out, with four of the final ten being case studies.

We’ll definitely give you more of this in 2015.

Headlines

Contrary to popular belief, typical headline strategies didn’t seem to apply to us.

None of the headlines started with a number. You don’t have to troll Twitter for long before you see the proliferation of headlines beginning like “# Ways to…”. Only three of the top 20 most visited posts used headlines in this format.

Questions should never invoke a "yes" or "no" answer.
Questions should never invoke a “yes” or “no” answer.

 

Three headlines were stated as a question. Questions are dangerous. If the answer to your headline question is “Yes” or “No” then visitors don’t tend to read on. An example would be “Are you Struggling with Your Landing Pages?” Question headlines should cause the visitor to ask, “What is the answer,” or “How will you do that?”

We don’t use question headlines on our sites much. Maybe we should do it more.

Other Insights

By creating a weighted score for our posts, we were able to select a list of the most engaging, educational and efficient posts for 2014. There were some surprises in this list.

  • Only four from the list were found among the ten most visited posts.
  • Nine of them scored well for engagement (pages per visit and session duration).
  • Seven where high-converters.
  • Six were among the most shared.
  • Two featured “celebrities” Rand Fishkin and Bryan Eisenberg.
  • One featured a brand (Amazon) and one featured places (Austin and Vancouver).
  • Four were case studies.
  • Only one post containing video made the list.
  • None of my podcast posts made the list.

The Final Top-ten List

Our scoring system combined entrances (visits in which the post was the first page), bounce rate, pages per visit, average session duration, conversion rate, and shares per visit into a single score.

Here are the top scoring posts from 2014. Check them out.

Score Post Title
3.35 What are You Really Selling on Your Landing Page? [CASE STUDY]
2.87 Rotating Headers Don’t have to Kill Your Conversion Rate [CASE STUDY]
2.85 The Science of Pricing [INFOGRAPHIC]
2.81 How to Present a High-Converting Value Proposition [CASE STUDY]
2.79 Your Landing Page Questions Answered: Unbounce Webinar Extended Edition
2.75 Is Austin Really The Conversion Capital of the World? Vancouver says “No Way, eh.”
2.74 Rand Fishkin Cracks the SEO Code in 2015 [INFODOODLE]
2.74 What Makes Shoppers Click? A Lesson in E-Commerce Consumer Psychology (INFOGRAPHIC)
2.71 How Many Steps Should Your Online Checkout Have? [CASE STUDY]
2.67 Bryan Eisenberg Explains Amazon’s Relentless Customer-Focused Optimization [INFODOODLE]

We’ll bring you more of what you want, dear reader, in 2015.

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Post Signature

Brian Massey is the Founder and Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences. He is the author of Your Customer Creation Equation. His rare combination of interests, experience and neuroses were developed over almost 20 years as a computer programmer, entrepreneur, corporate marketer, international speaker and writer.