Orbit Media’s Latest Survey of 1000 Bloggers

It’s time again for Andy Crestodina’s annual survey of 1000(+) bloggers. Take a listen and see how your site measures against the trends …

For the third year running, Andy Crestodina over at Orbit Media has run his Survey of 1000 Bloggers. We had a chance to chat about the most interesting findings … and talk about what a big project like this can mean for an organization like his (or maybe yours).

In this 30-minute episode, Andy and I talk about:

  • The content practice that twice as many bloggers are doing this year. How does your process stack up?
  • The emerging role of editors for professional content
  • The most effective content formats (as seen by content creators)
  • The two types of content that get the most links and shares, and how you can add both types to your mix
  • What organizing a big project like Orbit’s survey could do for your business and your authority
  • Figuring out how often to publish fresh content
  • The power of a mighty LBOW

The Show Notes

Orbit Media’s Latest Survey of 1,000 Bloggers

Voiceover: Rainmaker FM.

Sonia Simone: This episode is brought to you by Acuity Scheduling. Acuity Scheduling makes scheduling meetings online easy. Clients can view your real-time availability, self-book appointments with you, fill out forms, and even pay you online. To learn more and get a free 45-day trial, visit AcuityScheduling.com/Copyblogger.

Well, hello there. It is awesome to see you again. Welcome back to Copyblogger FM, the content marketing podcast. Copyblogger FM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant.

My name is Sonia Simone. I’m the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital, and I like to hang out with the folks who do the heavy lifting over on the Copyblogger blog. You can always pick up additional resources, extra links, and the complete show archive over at Copyblogger.FM.

I am here today with my lovely, dear friend, colleague … I don’t know, internet friend, occasional person we see face to face, Andy Crestodina. Andy, it’s so good to see you again or hear you again.

Andy Crestodina: It’s great to hear your voice. I’m glad to be back.

Sonia Simone: Oh. It’s so good to be back. We have talked to Andy in the past about content marketing for his empire. I want to call it your global empire, but really it’s more of a local empire. That’s Orbit Media, where he is the co-founder and strategic director. I will give you guys a link to that episode in the show notes. It was an interesting conversation.

Today we’re going to talk about your Annual Blogger Survey. I’ve got the title of that right, do I?

Andy Crestodina: Yeah. We used to call it the Survey of 1,000 Bloggers. But, yeah, this is the third annual Survey of 1,000 Bloggers.

Sonia Simone: Very cool. You and I just chatted about that a little bit in email, and you tossed me a couple of juicy and interesting little bits of data that emerged from that. I loved the trends. I love that you survey 1,000 bloggers every year. I think that’s really awesome.

Let’s jump into it, if you’re ready. Maybe start off with, the lead piece of data that I saw from you was an interesting shift in the way that bloggers were working with editors in an editorial process. Do you want to talk about how that’s shaken down these days?

The Emerging Role of Editors for Professional Content

Andy Crestodina: Yeah. We asked these 11 questions, and one of them was about editors. This year we added a 12th question, which is about how would you describe the success of your blog? Would you say it’s strong results, or some results, or weak results?

We were able to make some correlations. What we see is a slight shift away from people who edit their own work toward people that collaborate with at least one other person. There is an uptick in the percentage of people that show it to a person or two — that’s the idea that they just have an informal process — and an even stronger uptick in the people who use formal editing processes, as in show it to an actual editor or more than one editor.

It is now at the point where one in four bloggers have a formal process for editing, which is a continuation of the trend that we’ve seen the last two years. More people are getting more serious about this, which I was excited to share with you, because this is generally good news for the Internet, good news for content.

Sonia Simone: Yeah. It really is, because a good editorial process, if nothing else, it really shows that you have a commitment to producing quality work and not just work, not just spewing words on pages for SEO.

Was there any kind of correlation of that with how they saw the success of their sites?

Andy Crestodina: Yeah. It’s not surprising. These are just more serious content marketers. So 31 percent of bloggers that have a formal process for editing with one or more editors reported strong results. There’s a correlation: Only 23 percent of bloggers with no editing or just an informal process reported strong results.

It’s not a surprise. It’s definitely there, and we’re seeing the trend over time and that correlation with strong results shows that people who take this more seriously, people that collaborate with others, people that have a process for quality are more likely to self-report those strong results.

We’re happy to see that trend, and it’s one of several points where you can tell people that people are just getting more serious.

Sonia Simone: Yeah. What are some of the other signs that you’re seeing from this survey or from any other data you’re looking at that people are getting more serious about their blogs?

The Content Practice That Twice as Many Bloggers Are Doing This Year. How Does Your Process Stack Up?

Andy Crestodina: Well, the time was the biggest shift, the time that people spent. There was a downtick in the percentage of people who spend an hour to two hours, or less than that, per post and an uptick in the percentage of people who are spending two to six hours.

There’s a very strong, a doubling of the percentage of people who spend six-plus hours. This was one of the first things that we wanted to discover, because we knew that in our content strategy, we were spending a lot more time than a lot of people we knew who were also using content.

That first question and the impetus for the original survey in 2013 was how long does it take to write a blog post? We found that the first year, 5 percent of bloggers spent six-plus hours. The next year, 6 percent. Now it’s 12 percent of bloggers that are spending six-plus hours combined creating a piece of content on average — which is, if you average it out over the middle of each time frame range, it’s three hours and 16 minutes to create the average blog post now, which I think is good news.

It shows people are serious. People are really going deeper. People are spending more time, probably better research, more thoughtful, more detailed content. People are really doing what I’ve always recommended, which is to without exception just make the best piece of content on the Internet for your topic, if at all possible.

Sonia Simone: Yeah. Exactly. Your best in your way with the resources. I’m very big on managing your resources and managing your constraints.

What have you got? Have you got a great writing voice? Do you have a great analytical mind? You deploy everything you can to try and create something remarkable.

Where do you get these bloggers? How do you source this list of — I think it’s a little over 1,000. Do I have that right?

Andy Crestodina: Yeah. This year it was 1,055. I think last year it was 1,070. It’s whenever we close it off. It’s between 1,000 and 1,100.

Sonia Simone: You sort of put out a call to action on the Orbit Media blog for entrance?

Andy Crestodina: No. Actually, by far the biggest piece of work for this project is the data gathering. Here’s been my approach, and the secret sauce, and something anyone could replicate in terms of gathering data for something like this, building a list.

What I’ve done for the last three years is just paid close attention as I interacted with people on LinkedIn. If someone sends me a LinkedIn invite, I’m going to scan through their profile, and I’m going to look to see that either they have been endorsed for blogging, third-party validation, or that they’ve published content directly to the LinkedIn platform.

If yes or yes, then I copy and paste their email address into a tool that I will later use during the outreach phase to ask them politely with a semi-personal email if they wouldn’t mind answering these 12 questions.

I have validated that each of them is in fact a content producer, and I know that they’re producing content in that business context, most of them. It’s skewed towards Chicago, because that’s where I am. It’s skewed toward the US. It’s skewed toward people that I’ve just interacted with on different platforms.

But they are all business bloggers, almost all in the US, and probably a good 25 percent of them are in the Midwest. But, yeah, it’s just brute force outreach. It’s slow growth on this list of people that I’ve sourced almost exclusively from LinkedIn, maybe a couple that found us through Twitter.

I keep the pinned Tweet up there on my personal profile saying, “Hey, if you’d like to answer 12 questions …” But we’re not offering people anything to take it. It’s not a promoted thing. You don’t win an Amazon gift card or something. We just have to do this manual, one-at-a-time, semi-personal outreach. I’m using Ninja Outreach. I spent an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening for about five weeks, until I had them all.

Sonia Simone: I love that. The way you do things is different than the way other people do things.

Andy Crestodina: It’s slower. It takes awhile.

Sonia Simone: Yeah. It’s just fabulous, because it’s not cheap. It’s really curated. It shows an individual’s attention and thought, which is amazing.

What do you think? I’m going to as you some more questions about some of the results from the survey, but before we do, why do you do it? This is a ton of work. What do you feel Andy Crestodina gets out of it or Orbit Media gets out of it? Why run the survey?

Andy Crestodina: Well, in a general principle sort of way, it’s nice to feel like you’ve really contributed to your field by making something that is totally original. Then you are literally adding to the conversation, rather than doing something that’s just a comment on something else, republishing something, or giving medium-quality advice on a well-trod topic.

I get to have conversations like this with you. It’s great just to be part of the community in a more original way, but quite selfishly there is a specific tactic happening here.

The Two Types of Content That Get the Most Links and Shares, and How You Can Add Both Types to Your Mix

There are studies that show … The biggest one I’ve seen was the Moz BuzzSumo study, where they analyzed a million pieces of content and found that there’s two types of content that get the most links and shares. They are original research and strong opinion.

The original research piece, I didn’t find this in the study, but my theory is that original research gets linked to more than other content, and strong opinion gets shared more than any other content. As far as a link-attraction strategy, and if you’re trying to rank from money phrase and buyer-related lead-generating phrase, in our case that’s Chicago Web Design, then you have to have two things: something worth linking to, that’s like this piece of research, and relationships with people who create content.

We try to go big, slow, and painstaking in both categories. So creating that piece of content that is worthy of being cited, referenced, and linked to is to be the primary source for something. We had to create that soundbite, that data point, and so that blogger survey is the one big thing we do each year that works that way.

Sonia Simone: That’s great. I love that. Thank you for sharing the strategy behind that, because I think it would be very useful for people to sit down and think about what they could do on their own in their own topic for their own business, where they could put some hard work into and the kind of benefits that you can get from it.

What Organizing a Big Project Like Orbit’s Survey Could Do for Your Business and Your Authority

Andy Crestodina: Yeah. There’s another way too. Just briefly, I think that what a lot of people can do is also — and our blogger survey isn’t the best example — but produce a piece of research or a data point that supports the sales funnel.

As an example, I’m using a service to schedule meetings. It’s called x.ai. Have you heard of this?

Sonia Simone: No.

Andy Crestodina: It’s an artificially intelligent virtual assistant named Amy. If I copy her in an email, she emails back and forth with whoever I was talking to and schedules a time. She integrates with my calendar. It’s a service that saves you time.

If you go to x.ai and look at the service and consider it, it’s a paid service, but they have this data point there that says the average meeting takes as many as eight emails to schedule. That piece of data is supporting their sales funnel.

It’s totally possible to create a statistic or data point that exemplifies the purpose of your offering — the meaning, the value of what you do. The blogger survey really isn’t that, but there are other great reasons to produce original research. Some of those might be to strengthen your pitch in the context of selling.

Sonia Simone: Absolutely. Very good. We’re going to pause for a very quick moment here and just talk about one of our beloved sponsors. Then when we come back, we can dive into some of the data from the survey a little bit more, as well as chatting about a few fun things, like the fourth edition of your book coming out. Just give us maybe 30 seconds for that, and then we’ll be back.

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Hey, there. Welcome back. This is Sonia Simone, here again with Andy Crestodina. Andy, so nice to hear your voice and hear all the interesting, smart things you’re sharing with us.

Andy Crestodina: Glad to be here. This is great. I love reconnecting with you.

Sonia Simone: I always enjoy getting to spend time with you. We talked about blogging frequency and that time spent on the individual posts. It seems like maybe blogging is growing up a little bit.

Any other trends you saw in the survey that you thought were intriguing or that might give us some kind of sense about where blogging might be heading?

The Most Effective Content Formats (As Seen by Content Creators)

Andy Crestodina: Yeah. These all kind of hit on the same theme. We can just cover some of them quickly.

People are writing longer than before. The length of the average post is now north of 1,000 words. People are adding more content or more media types than before. We’re seeing an uptick in the use of multiple images and video.

There also seems to be a decrease in frequency. The percentage of people who self-reported as being daily bloggers was down by 50 percent. Weekly was up. Monthly was up by a lot. But strangely, actually the bloggers that reported the best results, the bloggers most likely to self-report strong results, were actually the ones that did publish more frequently.

I think it’s interesting there, right? As people focus on quality, then they seem to be publishing slightly less often. Although we have to point out here that it’s the people who do put out a lot of stuff that are saying that they’re getting the best results.

Sonia Simone: Yeah. I’m intrigued by there’s some folks out there who are sort of going on the publish one piece of content a month and then just spend the rest of your month promoting it.

I think that can work well. I mean, it certainly works well for some people. But for me just my gut feeling is that’s a little light. It can work. It feels a little light.

Did you find a sweet spot? Were the daily people just really crushing it, or was there a sweet spot in frequency that seemed to be emerging?

Andy Crestodina: It was just the more frequent, the more likely that blogger was to report strong results. So it’s correlated with frequency.

Now, I’m going to agree with you. I can think of two bloggers. One of them is named Brian. The other is named Larry. You probably know them both.

Brian publishes monthly and spends the rest of his time, like you said, just pushing it hard — lightly spinning it in different ways, promoting it with slightly different emails, and working hard, Derek Halpern style, to net 80 percent of his efforts in promotion.

Larry actually puts out an insane volume of stuff, where he is actually taking a huge body of work that he has created over his life and giving it different titles, giving it different images, and posting on Medium more than once a day, something like publishing literally like 1,000 times a year.

We’ve got Brian, 12 times a year. Larry, 1,000 times a year. They’re both getting amazing results. These are valid strategies for anyone if it’s supported with analytics, you know it’s working, and you’re doing everything else well.

But generally speaking, I’m going to agree. I’m actually going to try to increase my frequency next year if I can, partly through delegation and planning, some repurposing, and careful editing. But, yeah, monthly just doesn’t feel like you’re going to get there.

Sonia Simone: I think that would be challenging to really make it work, depending on what else is going on.

What do you think about text? Just what do you think about text in blogging? I have strong feelings about text, but frankly, there’s a lot of emotion behind them and a few numbers.

What’s your feeling about text? Are blogs going to become essentially more press-based podcasts, where they’re mostly multimedia? What do you think about that?

Figuring Out How to Publish Fresh Content

Andy Crestodina: Well, I think that there are ways to use text that will just really hurt your results. I’m thinking of the long, blocky paragraph. I think that designers know that they need to add white space.

We do websites, and a third of our clients, they love Apple.com. What they’re asking for is clean, modern, open design. But then when you see how they’re publishing later, they often use long words, long sentences, and long paragraphs.

I think that formatting is the savior for text, in that it can make the content very scannable, which is the biggest factor almost. And it’s the advantage that text has over video. You can’t easily scrub a video and see what’s happening 10 seconds later.

Text is actually a faster … I think it will do well in the future, because it’s a very fast way to get information, and we’re all time stressed.

As long as your content is scannable, I think that text is an amazing format that is not going anywhere. But if you ever do do something, if you publish something that turns out to be successful, one of your first instincts should be to consider reformatting into the podcast, the video, the infographic, the diagrams, the other ways that it can live in the world.

No. I don’t know how … I think that when people say, “How do I get started?” I say, “Work on your writing skills.” Because without that, I don’t know how you get anything done.

Sonia Simone: Yeah. I agree. Formatting is such a … I don’t see as many guest posts as I used to. I used to see a lot of them, and now there’s somebody else who’s job that is. She’s much meaner than I was, which is probably good. She’s good. She’s mean in a very principled, good way.

That was the first thing I would do, is just start whacking away at paragraphs and fixing the formatting. It’s such a quick way, and you’re not dumbing anything down. You’re just making it more accessible, even before you start looking at word choice and those kind of things. Such a secret weapon.

All right. Let’s talk a little bit about Content Chemistry. I love to tell people this, because people will ask me, “I’m just starting out.” Not even, “I’m just starting out” — “I’ve been going for six months, and nothing is happening. I can’t get anybody’s attention.”

I always tell them the story about when I met you at one of the massive conferences. It was probably BlogWorld. It could have been Content Marketing World, something that thousands of people go to.

I had probably just come off of a panel or a talk, and I was probably fairly burned out. I really like meeting people at those things. I’m just very, very tired. There you were, and I didn’t know you at that time. You came forward, and you put something in my hands.

It was this unbelievable thing. What was it called then? I’ll blow the details. You can take over from here. It was a printed thing that was …

Andy Crestodina: That was from Kinkos.

Sonia Simone: But it was beautiful.

Andy Crestodina: That was the earliest draft. I bet that was in Columbus, Ohio, in 2012 …

Sonia Simone: Probably.

Andy Crestodina: … when I think I first met you. I might have met you at SOBCon, which was sort of a legacy, just an amazing, huge, high-touch interaction event. When I handed that to you, it would have been in Columbus, Ohio, at a very early, maybe the second ever, Content Marketing World.

You and Brian were both speaking together. I had six copies of this thing that were spiral-bound. I brought them each with a specific person in mind, and one of them was definitely for you. You know, threw myself at the feet of Sonia and handed her all my best advice wrapped up in a Kinkos-printed, early edition rough draft of Content Chemistry, which was just the combined version of everything that I’d learned over the years, many of things from you.

It’s another example of reformatting and repurposing, like we said a minute ago. The theory, it goes like this: Rather than just creating content strategy, and publishing on these topics, and writing what you know, and helping people, and putting your information out there, start by writing an outline for what will become your lifetime body of work.

They call it an LBOW. Have you ever heard of that?

Sonia Simone: No.

The Power of a Mighty LBOW

Andy Crestodina: Your ‘lifetime body of work’ is your LBOW. You’ve got a beautiful LBOW, Sonia. Great LBOW.

Sonia Simone: I think I have literally never heard that combination of words put together, so that’s great.

Andy Crestodina: That’s it. It’s your lifetime body of work. The idea of the book is just to write an outline of that, like the Soniapedia.

Write an outline of all these things, and then blog into a book or gradually fill in the blanks and create content that is engineered in advance to fit within a structure that can be repurposed into something that just can be handed, brought into a plane, and read all at once.

It solves a problem, because I think about this: What is the future of blogs? Isn’t it tricky that we’re adding things to the top of this pile of sort of … Blogs by nature are not actually structured. Right?

If you write that outline first and plan your LBOW in advance, then you’ve got a chance of getting to a point where you can repurpose everything you know into a big printed piece that will give people all of it within a structure, within a context, within a sequence that is in fact, even though it’s a book, it’s more accessible.

Sonia Simone: Yeah. The thing I love about Content Chemistry is it’s got a great metaphor: the periodic table of the elements. So it’s got this very easy-to-understand metaphor of ‘Okay, this is going to be really comprehensive, and it’s going to be very organized. It’s going to be structured.’

But also the design of it. It came from Kinkos, but the graphic design was beautiful. It was not like the things that I produce from Kinkos, with bad Word attempts at art. It really had some elegance to it, and it was remarkable.

I still remember that story. Every time your name comes up, I tell that story. That I think is — for me, when I teach people, I use you as an example of ‘how do I get started?’ Make something amazing. I think the easiest, although not easy thing to make, that’s amazing is some amazing content.

The Importance of a Theme in Big Content

Andy Crestodina: Yeah. That’s the trick. Well, thank you for saying that. It is definitely a lot of work. But there’s helpers, right? That design didn’t come from me.

Even now it’s gotten better. Bridget is the designer for it, and she’s incredible. Amanda is the editor for it, and she’s incredible.

What they call big content, something like that, does take a team. But the theme — you’re right, I think that helps a lot if you can structure it under … Our was like this science textbook theme, which gave it two big parts. There’s the lecture part about the theory. Then there’s the lab part, which is about the practice. I think that helps.

That goes a long way, doesn’t it, if you can come up with some overarching concept that helps tie things together?

Sonia Simone: It really does. I think more than ever, because people’s attentions are so fragmented. Even to sit down and read a book, it’s like, “Okay, I need something to help keep me kind of on the rails of this book.”

That’s what positioning should do, whether it’s for a book, a business, or a podcast. It should help people focus their attention long enough to say, “All right, I actually think this might be valuable. I’m going to take my precious time and attention, and I’ll spend it on this right now for the next half hour, an hour, and I’ll really spend some time looking at this.” Yeah. I think there’s a lot of lessons in that.

Andy Crestodina: Yeah. That’s a good point. What a lot of people would say is, if you give it a theme, it will capture the attention at first. But what you just said is that it will focus the attention while you have it.

Sonia Simone: I think so.

Andy Crestodina: Yeah. People don’t often say it that way, but that’s really true. The package and the wrapper can help slow the visitor down, the potential visitor while they’re scanning through their stream or their inbox, but once they have it, that ties it together, which I think can help keep the attention. That’s smart.

Sonia Simone: Yeah. I think so too. All right. Very good. Well, I really could talk about this for a long time. I try and keep these compact, so I think I’m going to declare victory.

The book is called Content Chemistry. Where can people pick up this beautiful LBOW?

Andy Crestodina: The LBOW is available anywhere books are sold. If you love Amazon, then you can find it there.

If you search for Content Chemistry, you can find the page on our website, which would let you buy it directly from the distributor, if you don’t love Amazon. I don’t have strong opinions on it. Just search for Content Chemistry, and you should be able to find it pretty much anywhere.

Sonia Simone: How do people learn more about what you’re thinking, writing about? Where’s the best place to connect with you?

Andy Crestodina: Well, if you don’t mind getting hit up to take a blogger survey, LinkedIn is a good place. I will scan your profile, and if you’re a content creator, I’m likely to ask you to take a minute to answer 12 questions around this time next year.

My Twitter handle is my last name, @crestodina, spelled like it sounds. And OrbitMedia.com/blog is where I publish most frequently.

Sonia Simone: Very good. Well, Andy, it’s a delight. I love how you think about this stuff. I also love how you explain it. I think that’s a great gift of yours, and I just want to thank you very much for your time and your attention and for sharing these insights today.

Andy Crestodina: I can’t thank you enough for so much I’ve learned over the years, Sonia. You were really one of the few people that kicked off my adventure into content, and for that I’m forever grateful.

Sonia Simone: That’s lovely. All right. Thank you so much, and we’ll see you guys next week. Take care.