Over recent years, many SEOs and content marketers have evangelised ‘big content’ pieces that grab attention, build brand awareness, attract links and extend audience reach. Another strategy that is often talked about is consistently publishing great content, so that your name is always front and mind and your audience are constantly engaging with you.
But which is more effective? Last year we ended up trying both, and this post pits the methods against one another. As Harry would settle the matter…FIGHT!
Big Content Starts With The Idea
For our big content project, we wanted to come up with a piece of content that tied together the two arms of our business – web design and SEO – whilst adding value to the community. Chris came up with the idea of an interactive page that broke down and described all the different ‘layers’ of a web page – design/content, SEO, markup and code – and dubbed it ‘The Anatomy of a Perfect Web Page‘.
The concept was inspired in part by a Paddy Moogan Moz post from 2012 (which in turn was inspired by Rand’s 2009 version) and a recent Mozinar by Justin Taylor called ‘Designing for SEO.’ These were both superbly done and were very well received by the community, so we figured we had enough validation to go off and make it.
Getting The Details Right
After a few back and forths on the design, we settled on something that offered the user an easy and intuitive way to navigate between all the different sections, which was a very important factor considering we now had over 30. We later added some extra UX features, such as a smooth scroll, annotated diagrams and a sidebar menu. The top navigation looked like this:
Each subheading expands into a section of it’s own, and our plans for this content were quite straightforward:
- Make the content easy to consume
- Offer brief descriptions and solid, actionable advice
- Use screenshots of real life examples
- Link out to the best resources on the topic
Those last two points probably proved the most work, as they required finding, reading and curating hundreds of different articles and websites. In total we spent somewhere between 40 and 60 hours putting it all together.
Fortune Favours The Brave
Once the page was complete, we didn’t spend a lot of time actually promoting it. We’d run it past a few people pre-launch to get some feedback and buy-in, but we hadn’t built an email list or run any kind of launch campaign.
We just pushed it out into the community and hoped for the best, and it did alright for itself:
That was just in the first 3 weeks after launch. We had shared the page obviously and pushed it out to some private communities we participate in, and got influencers involved by letting them know we’d featured them in our guide (through the curated links). Most of the initial traffic was driven socially, and we got some pretty amazing tweets from some pretty amazing SEOs
After sitting on top of Inbound for a couple of days, the traffic had peaked at around 3,800, but we were disappointed to see that it didn’t feature in the Moz Top 10. Undeterred, I emailed the editor to ask if they would consider featuring it in the next edition, which they happily did!
We featured at number 2 on the Moz Top 10, sending almost 6000 more visitors to the page!
But visits don’t mean a lot on their own. All the positive comments and (3000+) social shares were much more valuable, as were the leads it generated. It also meant we had some content that we’d authored that we could send to clients and say ‘when we say we’re optimising your website, these are all the things we’re doing.’ It is normally very well received.
Blogvember – A Post a Day
Fast forward 6 months, and we wanted another project. This time, instead of producing one big piece of content, we focused on lots of little pieces – aiming for a blog post every day in November. We tend to publish posts on the Hit Reach blog once or twice a month, so this would be a big change for us. As we only have a few staff members who regularly blog, we called in the help of some of our online buddies, who very generously contributed guest posts and interviews for us.
Thank you all for your help.
One (unnamed) team member decided we should call the project ‘Blogvember’, which is nothing short of creative genius in my eyes. We kicked off as planned with a post on November 1st, then the following week saw James Agate, Bill Slawski, Julie Joyce, Brian Dean and David Cohen each stay a-night in our windy Scottish Hit Reach towers.
One of the main benefits of inviting content lodgers is that they expose your site to their existing audience. No well meaning SEO writes a guest post and doesn’t share it with the community, so what you end up with is a nice stream of social traffic – and a lot of new visitors.
The top in this first week was achieved for Brian Dean‘s post, which really was an exceptional tour de force of SEO goodness. At over 4500 words Brian put an incredible amount of work in, so the high traffic figures and 400+ social shares were extremely well deserved.
The Continuity Gap
Whilst the project did gather momentum as the month went on, it was pretty much entirely dependent on us sticking to the strategy of posting every day. The large majority of blog posts published have a transient relationship with ‘fame’, and a very short attention window in which to get seen and shared. As such, on the few occasions that we were too busy to post, we saw a sizable drop in traffic.
Of course it would be unrealistic to expect every post to perform as well as each other, but we probably didn’t help the situation by neglecting to post across each and every day of the month. However, this does serve to highlight the realities of this sort of task – continuously and consistently publishing content amid day-to-day dramas and demands, is hard work.
How 36,940 Words Generated 2,793 Links
No, this isn’t the latest Neil Patel blog post, this is the outcome of the combined effort of all the time spent working on Blogvember. Whilst the backlink figures (from ahrefs) alone will be rather inflated by null value social and scraped links, the linking root domains are impressive. Add to that the traffic and engagement figures across all the posts and it paints a pretty nice picture.
This doesn’t even account for any additional brand links or mentions that will have naturally occurred.
I wanted to check if the addition of all this content had made an overall increase to our blog traffic, so we deliberately didn’t post anything during December (well, for the first 19 days at least). Since we had done exactly the same in 2012, this gave us a rough and ready idea of the impact of Blogvember on December traffic:
We clearly had some hangover visitors coming through at the start of the month (all the posts performed well on Inbound) but after it settled down traffic was about 50% up. Whilst this isn’t even close to a scientific experiment, it does suggest some positive ongoing results.
Ongoing Benefits of Guest Blogs
When I first benchmarked the Blogvember results in mid-December, I saw 92 linking root domains, exactly half the total number I see now. Investigating a bit further, it seems that particular blog posts have attracted many further links as the weeks have gone on:
- 101 Lessons From 5 Years of SEO – by Brian Dean
- Getting More Social Shares to Your Website – by Jason Acidre
- 7 Outsourcing Fundamentals to Master – by James Agate
- Setting Up For Outreach Success – by Wayne Barker
Whilst most of the posts had link counts increase by one or two, all of these posts had double the number of links. I’d like to posit some ideas as to why:
- All of these posts were genuine guest posts (rather than interviews)
- All of these posts were highly actionable, containing valuable tips and insight
- All of these authors write a lot elsewhere (either on their own blogs or through other guest blogs)
- All of these authors have a strong social presence and existing audience
- Most authors (in general) will reference their own work
If I were offering you lovely readers some guest posting takeaways, they would be to aim for actionable content from voracious writers with an existing audience. But I’m not, I’m trying to compare one big content piece with lots of little ones.
Neverending Benefits of Evergreen Content
One thing was obvious when we were planning out our big content piece – it needed to be evergreen content. We wanted people coming back and re-engaging with our brand on a number of occasions, as well as the ability to update the content and lever it further.
We’ve already translated the page into Spanish (Anatomía de la Página web Perfecta) with the translatative help of my good friend Paul Gailey. We also have plans to update several sections later in the year, and there will probably be a few new sections/links/images to add in, allowing us to release a ’2014 edition’.
But without doing any further work, the page is working hard for us in the background. Over the same 19 day period in December, it averaged around 50 visits a day.
In a normal month, the page will receive around 1500 unique visits, so although our 3-week stats earlier were good (23,000 uniques), we get a much fuller picture by examining how the content has performed overall to-date:
Whilst Blogvember performed better in terms of backlinks, it wasn’t even a contest when it came to visibility. So where does that leave us in terms of comparison… a tie?
The rather boring conclusion we can draw from this is that each tactic quite clearly has its benefits, and the most profitable strategy is likely one that combines both. Going forward we will be blogging a lot more regularly, and aiming to produce one or two big content pieces a year, hoping to get the best of both worlds.