Category: SEO

Size matters: search engines, readers favor long-form content

(updated 8:42 PST) — The quantity vs. quality debate is perpetual in the worlds of digital marketing and SEO. But there’s one fact that cannot be denied when it comes to blogging: frequent publishing on company websites increases the chances of acquiring new customers.

All blog content is not created equal however. Its difficult to determine how many blog posts are published everyday in the world. WordPress powers 26% of the internet and holds a 59% market share for content management systems, according to W3 Techs. WordPress users publish 84 million new posts per month, or about 2.8 million per day and over one billion per year.

I’ve personally written well over 2,000 content marketing blog posts for various companies in the last seven years. At least 90% of them were between 550-800 words. The question “what would you say is a good average word count for a blog post” on Quora has a top answer that suggests 750 words is “ideal.” The next two answers say “500-750 words” and “300-400 words” respectively. Hubspot’s 2016 State of Inbound Marketing report found that roughly 80% of company blog posts are less than 1,000 words.

Publishing frequently on your company blog positively correlates with the number of leads that turn into paying customers, as referenced above. Quick, simple blog posts fill the quantity aspect of company blogging. But all those short posts are clumped together with billions of others trying to get recognition from Google and potential customers. Blog content requires more depth (i.e. more words) to stand out from the crowd and to establish your company as an industry authority.

Long-form content is king with Google

A 2012 study by serpIQ analyzed 20,000-plus keywords and found some telling trends regarding search engine rankings. The top five results for the keywords averaged over 2,300 words, and all of the top 10 results averaged over 2,000 words.

The age of domains also played a role in search rankings, with 55% of the top three results being on websites that were at least 10-years-old.  A more recent analysis by Hubspot found that blog posts between 2,250 and 2,500 words got five times more organic traffic than posts with 1,000 words or less.

Aesthetics are important too

Longer is better for SEO, but not necessarily for lead conversions. A 2013 experiment by MECLABS managing director Flint McGlaughlin ran a series of tests on lead conversions when readers are presented long-form versus shorter content. A key finding was that content presentation – the way its displayed on screen – played a role in conversion rates. When it came to landing pages, fewer words resulted in higher conversions for a company that offered free psychological evaluations.

Shorter copy was also effective for company landing pages asking for email addresses for subscriptions and to get discounts on certain products. But long copy was more effective when readers were asked to make more difficult decisions. A second test measuring conversions for a mental health and addiction center found that longer copy with the call-to-action at the bottom of the page had a conversion rate of 2.48% vs. .78% for the control (shorter, clumpier) copy: a 220% difference.

Dr. McGlaughlin concluded that decreased friction (anxiety) related to the decision, increased lead conversions.

Sequential, comprehensive , descriptive content soothed and supplemented the mental effort. Long-form copy for the mental health facility created a value proposition in the beginning and continued to carefully build trust and explain to readers the benefits all the way until the call-to-action. A decision to add your email address to a newsletter list is much easier than deciding whether to have a mental health facility contact you. Shorter copy is effective for lower anxiety decisions; while detailed, sequential copy works best for more complex, expensive buying decisions.

Constants in ever-changing Google algorithm

Its disingenuous for anyone not working in one of Google’s 68 office locations to claim expertise regarding the company’s search algorithm. Google literally makes changes to its algorithm everyday and rarely provides specifics as to what the changes entailed. Granted most of the changes are small tweaks that likely won’t negatively effect the current SERP (search engine results page) rankings of your blog. But you don’t have to be a mathematics and computer science nerd to understand Google’s ultimate goal.

For those unfamiliar, Google’s search algorithm is the sequence of calculations performed to determine hierarchy of search results for long-tail and single keywords. There have been several major updates to the algorithm in the last seven years. The Panda update (also known as the “Farmer update” to SEO folks) in February of 2011 was the first one to hit spammy, shallow websites hard. All those formerly high-ranking articles written by college students for $.01 per word were removed from first page results. Some of the reasons included, but were not limited to, grammatical and factual errors, one-sided opinion pieces, keyword stuffing and randomness of topics not relevant to the website itself.

The Penguin update in February 2012 took things a step further. It dinged websites that used blackhat SEO techniques to push themselves up Google rankings. A common SEO practice before Penguin was paying established websites to place links to your site in already-existing blog posts that ranked highly for certain keywords. The unnatural authority and credibility gained by these backlinks were considered violations of Google’s terms, resulting in numerous websites being de-indexed for varying amounts of time.

Google Hummingbird went live sometime in August of 2013. It was a complete overhaul of the old algorithm instead of just updating a few things. The general understanding is that Hummingbird wanted to better understand what exactly users were trying to find. Language recognition via verbal queries on smartphones, along with long-tail keywords becoming more common, motivated Google to understand the context of words instead of just knowing all possible synonyms.  Amit Singhal, former senior vice president of Google, told reporters at the official unveiling of Hummingbird in September 2013 that the new algorithm made it possible to find what you’re looking for without exact keywords. Search queries were getting longer and more ambiguous, and Hummingbird accommodated this new phenomenon.

Several more updates, including Pigeon, RankBrain and Possum, have been publicly acknowledged by Google since Hummingbird. These updates mostly focused on providing better localized searches, artificial intelligence to better understand user behavior, and diversity of results based on user location. “Fred,” launched in March of this year, is the most recent, confirmed update to Google’s algorithm. Google has not provided many specifics as to how Fred affects SERPs. But early tests have shown websites with low-quality content and posts meant solely to generate revenue are being dinged hard.

Though search algorithms are complicated to understand, there is a common theme with all Google updates. Seven years ago when I transitioned from broadcast and print journalism to content marketing, there was a lot to learn. Despite the continual algorithmic changes to search engines since 2010, one thing has remained constant as far as Google favorability: content quality.

I did a guest post back in August of 2010 entitled “Eleventh Amendment is Unconstitutional; Must be Repealed” for a very obscure, anti-government website. It took a few weeks, but the post quickly became the #1 result for the keywords “Eleventh Amendment Unconstitutional.” If you search those same keywords right now, that article is still #1 seven years later over well-respected articles by Cornell University, University of California-Berkeley and Justia. Why? Its very factual, has videos and diagrams, and is published on a website that covers that type of subject matter (relevance). It also has 1,557 words (not the traditional 550-800) and the domain is nine years old.

“Don’t count characters. Make your characters count.” Barry Feldman.

There are several considerations when deciding how long a blog post should be. Promoting your company’s forthcoming Memorial Day sale doesn’t require more than 550 words. But answering the question “how to buy and use bitcoins” likely requires a minimum of 2,000 words plus a lot of reassurance within the content to ease anxiety about a complicated subject matter.

A general rule of thumb for writers is to simply write until you’re finished. Predetermined, forced word counts lead to fluffy, empty copy that neither Google nor your readers will appreciate. Long-form content is favored by search engines and is shared more often on social media. Frequent publishing of blogs is also favored by Google and readers. A mix of content is best for overall effectiveness. If you’re publishing five times per week (as all companies should be doing), at least one of your post should be more than 1,200 words.

Writing long-form content is a daunting task for non-professional scribes, but a necessity for SEO and lead nurturing. Turn your content needs over to professional writers with good track records. Inbound marketing (blogging) cost much less than all outbound channels and yields three times more leads per dollar. Now is the time to address your marketing strategy and reap the benefits of both long-form and traditional content.

Ready to start publishing long-form, high-quality content on your company blog? Check out our content packages and make sure to sign-up for our monthly newsletter in the left sidebar.

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Facebook: the unnecessary nuisance for marketing departments

Facebook had 50 million active business pages as of December 2015, up from 40 million eight months earlier. Assuming sustained growth through today, there are upwards of 70 million active Facebook business pages in April 2017. It makes good business sense for small and medium-sized businesses to follow this trend when they glance at the numbers.

Facebook boasts an astounding 1.23 billion daily active users, and 1.86 billion monthly active users. Facebook is a theoretical must-have for all businesses due to the sheer number of potential customers that can be reached. Unfortunately great odds don’t necessarily translate to success.

Social media is an important part of all marketing strategies. Facebook marketing has taken on a life of its own in the last couple years. But the resources marketing departments are allocating to the world’s largest social network are better spent elsewhere.

Numbers perspective

Facebook’s 1.86 million active monthly users are nothing to sneeze at. That is a humongous potential profit pie for companies to explore. A more comprehensive look at the numbers tells a different story.

A vast majority of Facebook users, more than 85%, are located outside of the United States and Canada. China, the most populous country and fastest growing economy in the world after surpassing India last year, banned Facebook in 2009. Some Chinese people still access Facebook via VPN, but there’s no way of estimating how many.

Facebook’s first quarterly earnings report after its IPO in 2012 indicated that at least 8.7% of users were fake, meaning they were duplicates, “misclassified,” or “undesirable.” The company’s 2015 annual report put the number at about 7% fake accounts. Averaging those numbers out, upwards of 150 million Facebook profiles are fake.

Despite all the aforementioned, there are still millions of Facebook users who may be interested in your product or service. Now its just a matter of reaching them.

Facebook algorithm changes

Facebook Ads launched in November of 2007, with one of the features being that businesses could “build pages on Facebook to connect with their audiences.” This was only 28 months after the company acquired the domain Facebook.com for $200,000, so business (fan) pages have been around for most of the social network’s existence. The way these pages operate has changed dramatically since then.

When business and fan pages started, administrators enjoyed very high organic reach with its followers. Facebook was the go-to platform for major brands and small businesses to build large followings and post unlimited promotional and customer relations content 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Facebook’s initial public offering (IPO) in May of 2012 immediately changed how the platform worked. The company now had shareholders to satisfy. Its entire philosophy changed almost overnight, and made many influential people angry in the process.

George Takei, the long-time Star Trek actor, noticed the change in June that year and posted a not-so-subtle note to his two million followers about it.

A Facebook employee responded to Takei, saying the company had not changed anything about the way posts were disseminated. Instead, according to the employee, Facebook made the user experience better by making the content they see more relevant. But Takei was not satisfied with the explanation, as he posted a very similar note several months later.

Billionaire Mark Cuban, who owns the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, talked about the changes to Facebook business pages in November of 2012. The team posted a promo for an upcoming game on Facebook assuming it would reach a large percentage of its 2.3 million followers at the time. The post only reached 27,000 of the Mavericks’ followers organically (or about 1.1%). Cuban tweeted his assessment of Facebook, along with a screenshot of Facebook demanding $3,000 for the Mavericks to reach about half of their followers (NOTE: the tweet has since been deleted).

A few days later Cuban expanded on his tweet in a Huffington Post article. He was not recommending companies leave Facebook, but that they de-emphasize it in favor of Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and other social networks.

Post-IPO Facebook changed its news feed algorithm to reduce average organic reach by business pages to 16% of its followers, according to a 2014 white paper by Social@Ogilvy. Further, the more followers you had, the less your organic reach. By October of 2013, average organic reach dropped to 12%. Pages with more than 500,000 followers, however, dropped to an average of 4% organic reach. Four months later, in February 2014, average organic reach for all business pages dropped to 6.2%, and to 2.1% for pages with more than 500,000 followers. Facebook announced more changes to its algorithm in June of last year, leading to even lower organic reach.

There are things you can do on Facebook to increase organic reach of followers. As Mr. Takei suggested above, tell followers to prioritize your posts. Today this is done a little differently than he described in his 2012 post.

Facebook Live broadcasts and videos published on the native Facebook video platform (versus externally-linked videos) tend to get more interactions. The algorithm also recognizes quality content, which uses factor such as word frequency, choice and count. Its just another reason why company blogs with high-quality content are such valuable assets.

The only way businesses truly reap the benefits of Facebook is by paying for it. We recently tested out paid advertising on Facebook for a clients’ business page that sells encrypted email service. We authorized Facebook to take $50 from the clients’ credit card to “boost” a post about online privacy in the wake of Senate Joint Resolution 34 being signed into law earlier this month. The campaign was supposed to run for four days. Facebook ultimately took $30 from the client’s credit card and ended the campaign after three days for whatever reason. The client just joined Facebook that week, so only had five followers before the boosted post, which ultimately reached 1,266 news feeds (60 organically), got 110 total engagements, and only ONE click on the actual link.

Some data is excluded due to confidentiality agreements.

At that rate, you’re paying about $30 per click-through to your actual website, even when the audience is targeted by demographics and user habits. A higher budget will help, but that money is better spent investing in your own website, particularly on publishing daily, high-quality blog content and growing your email list.

Social vs. professional network

When you log into Facebook, you expect to see embarrassing breakups, what people are having for breakfast and the new sweater somebody bought their dog. Its nothing short of cringe-worthy when the same type of stuff shows up on LinkedIn. Jerome Knyszewski was the first to publish an article on LinkedIn about this, and there have since been several iterations by others.

Facebook specifically states on its homepage that it is a social network that helps you “connect with friends.” LinkedIn specifically states on its company page that it exists to “[connect] the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”

LinkedIn has a fraction of the active users of Facebook, with about 467 million registered users in 200 countries. The U.S. has the highest number of registered LinkedIn users by far with over 133 million. India comes in a distant second with 39 million. LinkedIn is the obvious priority for U.S.-based B2B companies’ social media investments. B2C companies have more opportunities to leverage Facebook in their favors, while LinkedIn provides a means of connecting with others in their respective industries.

The 2016 Hubspot “State of Inbound” marketing report proved two things: old school still works and investing in your own website instead of social media is smart. Whether sales teams increased or decreased in numbers, companies identified phone and email communications as the most successful channels for their salespeople to reach prospects.

Phone communications typically originated from email communications via prospects and leads contacting or subscribing to company blogs or websites. The report suggested that companies stop cold-calling and contact warm leads who responded to content on their websites. Growing your email list is thus more important than growing your number of Facebook followers.

Though there was no significant difference between Facebook and LinkedIn success rates for salespeople, the tiebreaker is organic reach. Last week on LinkedIn, I published an article on my personal account with only 225 connections. But as of publishing 110 people saw it, or about 49% of my followers. Further, big brands are using Twitter far more than they do all other social networks, according to Forrester Research.

Bottom line

If you’ve had a Facebook business page for years, and have over 1,000 followers, its unwise to just ditch it. Its best to learn more about your followers with Facebook Insights and try to figure out from the data the best approach to increase organic reach. Unless you’re willing to spend more money, time and effort to reach followers, its best to prioritize your own web properties.

A Facebook business page is good to have even if you don’t use it a lot. People may search for your company on the platform and find contact information. Even the largest, most successful brands in the world aren’t heavily active on Facebook because of the time and investment it takes to get even minimal returns. Coca Cola (102 million followers) and Starbucks (36 million followers) sometimes go weeks without posting anything, but they’re still on top of their respective industries. Both companies have very active blogs with great content.

All companies – small, medium and large; B2B and B2C – should have a Facebook page for SEO purposes and to have another means of communication with customers and leads. Investing a lot of time, money and effort into it takes away from investing in your own websites that you have 100% control over. Use Facebook to supplement your blogs and websites, not the other way around.

RELATED: How much should you pay for content marketing?

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