Content Marketing Lessons From BuzzFeed [Study]

Michael Brenner on Aug 29, 2016 in Content Marketing

BuzzFeed gets a lot of hate for its clickbaity titles and silly articles. But you can’t argue with the fact that BuzzFeed is one of the most popular websites in the US and around the world. The site boasts a whopping 7 billion views every month, with over 200 million unique visitors worldwide.

So what’s the secret to BuzzFeed’s success and what can content marketers learn from Buzzfeed? There is quite a bit more to it than just crafting clickbait headlines to keep people coming back for more over and over, right? So what is it?

Eric Brantner of Scribblrs.com decided to get to the bottom of it. Using BuzzSumo, he analyzed the 500 most shared BuzzFeed articles last year, systematically deconstructing each to try and find the science behind them by studying their readability, headline style and article length.

Here’s what the Scribblrs team found out, and the key content marketing takeaways:

  1. The average BuzzFeed article is written at a 4th-grade reading level

While BuzzFeed has been trying to move beyond its popular listicles and into more sophisticated, journalistic formats, its most popular articles remain to be posts that are written at a lower average reading level. 4th-grade reading level, or 9-year-old, to be exact.

The Scribblrs team has also compared BuzzFeed articles to 500 articles from Huffington Posts and CNN with a similar test. According to Brantner, Huffington was chosen because it does similar clickbait BuzzFeed article, in addition to traditional journalism. CNN was selected because it exclusively focuses on “real” journalism.

What they have found out is that, as expected, the average reading level of Huffington Post and CNN is higher than BuzzFeed. Huffington Post articles are written at an average of 6th grade level, while CNN articles are at an average of 7th grade level.

Since BuzzFeed wants to reach a diverse audience across different educational levels and ages, it makes sense that its articles are easy-to-read so they are accessible to all.

Content Marketing Lesson: What you can learn from BuzzFeed, and from Huffington and CNN as well, is that you really need to understand your audience. What are their content needs and preferences? Once you have those insights, you can then adapt your content so that it resonates with them. 

  1. The average headline length of a BuzzFeed article is 10.47 words and 59.28 characters long

Headline length continues to be a highly debated topic among marketers. So the Scribblrs team has decided to look into this too.

What they have found is that the average headline of their most viral posts is around 10 words and under 60 characters. The number of characters is key here. At 59 characters, headlines don’t get cut off in search engine results so readers are able to see the entire title on their page, and won’t exceed Twitter’s character limits when readers share them.

So is 10 words, or 60 characters, the ideal headline length then? Maybe not. According to this Hubspot report, the ideal headline lengths should be between 8-12 words and under 70 characters. But this Kissmetrics post claims that the optimal headline length is 6 words. So who’s right?

Content Marketing Lesson: Whether there is an optimal headline length or not, keep testing out different lengths to see what works best for your target audience. What gets you the most clicks and shares may not necessarily be the recommended length you read online, so it’s important to do some experimentation yourself so you can improve your content performance.

  1. 65% of BuzzFeed’s viral hits are listicles

Listicles are easy to read or scan and to pick out the key points within seconds, and it’s why it continues to be one of the most popular post types for content marketers.

It’s no surprise then that the most common type of BuzzFeed articles is listicles. The Scribblrs team found that six out of the ten most shared BuzzFeed articles last year were listicles.

Content Marketing Lesson: Listicles work because they help answer key customer questions in a simple way. But that certainly doesn’t mean that all your content needs to be in the listicle format. The most important lesson here is to make your content as easy to digest and read/scan for your target audience. If you’re looking for more writing tips, here’s a blueprint for the perfect blog and a step-by-step guide for writing a great blog.

  1. Most BuzzFeed articles are only about 150 words long

Based on the 500 BuzzFeed articles the Scribblrs team has looked at, the average post length is found to be around 155 words long. And to put this into context for you, an average 3rd grade student can read roughly 150 words in a minute.

What this means is that BuzzFeed articles are short-form content and are designed to allow their readers to quickly and easily read them and move on.

So is short-form better than long-form content? Absolutely not.

Long-form content is a great way to engage your target audience by offering them original or well-researched insights and data to inform and educate them on a given topic (like this post clocking in at 967 words). It gives your readers real value that they can take away. And there are also obvious SEO and page ranking benefits with long-form content, which you wouldn’t typically see with short-term content.

Content Marketing Lesson: A successful content marketing strategy should include a mix of both short and long-form content, text and visual content, to meet different audience needs. Whether you’re creating short or long-form content, the most important thing is to provide value to your target audience and to make sure it supports your content marketing strategy and objectives.

If you’re looking for different content types to incorporate into your strategy, here are 53 content ideas worth looking into and try out.

What other content marketing lessons do you think we can learn from BuzzFeed or other viral sites? Please share your ideas below!

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Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.