Content Saturation: How Your Content Marketing Can Succeed [Research]

Content Saturation- How your content marketing can succeed (research)Content marketing has lost its way.

Focused on content as an end in itself, we’ve forgotten why we created the content in the first place.

As a result, we have unintentionally caused content saturation by producing more information than people can possibly consume.

At its best, content marketing builds an audience by providing non-promotional information that attracts attention and builds trust by answering purchase-related questions and educating people about products and services. With continued nurturing, we develop an engaged community that yields sales.

Based on the analysis of 100 million randomly selected published articles, BuzzSumo’s 2018 Content Marketing Report underscores why and how our well-intentioned content marketing fails to break through.

It reveals that content shock as defined by Mark Schaefer in 2014 is real in popular categories and uncovers opportunities for your content marketing to break through with improved content development and distribution.

We’ll examine BuzzSumo’s report and other data to show you how your content marketing must change to succeed despite content saturation.

Content Saturation: BuzzSumo’s 2018 Content Marketing Research

BuzzSumo’s 2018 Content Trends Report focuses on 2 indicators of content marketing success:

  • Social media shares. Signal low cost amplification and distribution reach despite being considered a vanity metric. Social shares play a significant role in Spin Sucks’s Gini Dietrich’s PESO Model.

    Earned Media Defined In ContextPESO Model by Gini Dietrich

  • Backlinks. Indicate content quality and topic relatedness to search engines. The importance of backlinks predates social media and explains why SEO experts have embraced content marketing.

1. Average Content Marketing Social Shares: BuzzSumo Data

In 2017, the average content marketing article attracted 4 social shares. This was the median of the 100 million randomly selected articles.

In 2017, the average content marketing article attracted 4 social shares. @BuzzSumo #contentmarketingClick To Tweet


That’s a 50% decrease from 8 social shares in BuzzSumo’s 2015 analysis. Further this data is understated since BuzzSumo generally doesn’t include content with zero shares.

Social media shares for content favor the very best content based on this analysis:

  • Top 1% of articles get 2,409 shares
  • Top 5% of articles get 343 shares
  • Top 10% of articles get 62 shares

Histogram of Social Shares Distribution via BuzzSumo

BuzzSumo’s findings are consistent with data from other firms.

For example, TrackMaven revealed that, between 2011 and 2016, the average number of blog posts published per brand per month increased 800% while the average number of social shares per post (including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest) decreased 89%.

Content Saturation

The number of articles increases while the number of social shares decreases – TrackMaven Chart

2. Content Marketing Backlinks: BuzzSumo Data

While Google search traffic continues to grow let’s not forget that Google has made its own disruptive changes like Panda and Penguin in the past.

The median number of backlinks for BuzzSumo’s 100 million article sample was 0. No surprise since 70+% of articles never got a single backlink!

Think about this finding and you’ll agree that the lack of backlinks makes sense because a very small percentage of articles are link-worthy for content creators, aggregators and search engines. 

With ever-increasing amounts of unreliable, me-too content, creators link to the most authoritative outlets to build much needed credibility. 63% of Edelman Trust Barometer respondents believed that the average person doesn’t know how to tell good journalism from rumor or falsehoods.


3 Reasons Content Saturation Hurts Your Content Marketing (& What To Do)

Each piece of content marketing attracts fewer social media shares for 3 major reasons. Together they can be expressed as increased competition for reader focus and engagement.

1. Expanded choice makes readers choose authoritative, quality content

As a topic becomes popular, more and more related content is created. With the flood of similar options, people have less ability to determine the optimal choice. To choose, they rely on trusted sources in addition to search ranking and social media.

As a result, each piece of content receives less engagement on average. Although in reality, a few articles capture the lion’s share of attention.

After Facebook’s May 2017 announcement that it would punish clickbait content, overall traffic to popular sites like BuzzFeed, Upworthy, Vice and Vox declined.

This downward traffic trend extended to more reliable entities like Social Media Examiner, Hubspot, Moz and Buffer. In 2015, Buffer called attention to its declining social traffic. (To improve your content marketing, check our detailed analysis of Buffer’s decline.)

Average shares of Social Media Examiner articles (2015-2018)-BuzzSumo Chart

Concurrently The New York Times, Harvard Business Review and The Economist gained traction. These publications remained true to their journalistic roots. While testing new ways to expand online, they never stopped creating content quality.

Based on my experience at The New York Times and The Economist, part of this success is attributable to the fact that these media entities and their readers have shared values, views and attributes. Now, The New York Times makes more money from digital subscribers than print advertising.

New York Times Social Shares Triple – BuzzSumo Content Report Chart

Content marketers have the ability to build deeper audience relationships like established media entities.

Actionable Content Marketing Tips:

  • Create quality content marketing for your core audience. Provide the best information to fulfill your customers’ needs.
  • Be transparent. Don’t try to game the system with low quality information.

2. Facebook marketing focus to exclusion of other content discovery options

Facebook and Google still dominate marketing plans. Size counts even if organic reach from the big guys declines.

Since people use a variety of content discovery options to find information, assess other options to mitigate your marketing reliance on Facebook and Google (Hubspot).

Content Discovery Chart-Hubspot

Content Discovery Options – Hint: It’s not just search and Social (Hubspot Chart)

While still a key marketing channel, Facebook’s recent algorithm announcements spotlight the diminishing organic visibility it provides and consequent increased advertising cost. (Here’s a deeper analysis of Facebook’s changes.)

Facebook is the only social media platform whose referral traffic has declined since 2015. User time on Facebook has decreased 5% or 50 million minutes per day.  

By mid 2017, Facebook organic reach declined by 20% (BuzzSumo 2017).

Facebook Engagement

Facebook Engagement Decline via BuzzSumo [August 2017 Chart]

To put this dynamic social media share traffic into perspective, examine the changes in share of visits over time.

Search Versus Social Share of Visits (2012-2017) Shareaholic Chart

Despite Facebook’s traffic falloff, referral traffic from Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn  increased. But their reach is much lower. (Source: Shareaholic)

Share of Visits By Social Network – Shareaholic Chart (2016-2017)

Share of Visits by Social Network – Shareaholic Chart (2016-2017)

Search and social sharing account for roughly 30% of traffic and 20% of traffic comes directly. Internal traffic originates elsewhere else on your site and direct traffic is dark social. (

Content Saturation

Search and Social Referral Sources account for roughly 30% of

Actionable Content Marketing Tips:

  • Test and track Facebook content formats, shares and advertising. Facebook Live broadcast time increased fourfold. (Shareaholic)
  • Apply audience information from Facebook to other platforms. This includes owned media.
  • Diversify and test other social media options. Include LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest. Also add secondary channels like Flipboard.
  • Add other content discovery channels to your mix. Include mobile notices and email to build community and drive people to your best content.

3. Increased private sharing hinders social share metrics

Private social shares come in 2 forms:

  • Closed Social Shares are distributed on messaging apps (like WhatsApp), email and/or text (aka: SMS) by using a site’s share buttons.
  • Dark Social Shares consist of links that users copy and paste into emails, text messages and messaging apps. This information is shared independent of sharing buttons. 65% of shares are dark. (Source: GetSocial via BuzzSumo.)

    Dark Social Shares account for two-thirds of shares

Realize that private sharing isn’t new. In 2013 URLs (aka: Address Bar) and emails were among the top 5 ways readers shared content (AddThis Data).

In 2016, the top 4 messaging apps grew more than the top 4 social networks in terms of global monthly active users (Business Insider). Messaging app functionality continues to expand and supports both closed and dark social shares.

Messenger App VS Social Network Users – 2016 Chart

As communications platforms expand, your audience may change their preferred information sharing habits.  It’s your job to figure out how to track these shares.

Actionable Content Marketing Tips:

  • Place off-ramps in your content to capture reader information when they’re ready to engage.
  • Associate UTM parameters with links in newsletters and other email communications to help analyze results.
  • Add PDFs and other content upgrades to allow readers to store content for later consumption. RazorSocial’s Ian Cleary used OptinMonster to do this and accomplished amazing results.
  • Include your article’s URL in visuals and other non-text formats. While not foolproof, it directs readers to the original source from content on another site or social media.


3 Ways To Succeed At Content Marketing Despite Content Saturation

There’s no way to sugarcoat it, content saturation presents a very real marketing challenge, especially for businesses in popular categories.

Despite this reality, your content marketing can succeed if you plan before starting content creation. This enables you to create content that attracts backlinks while avoiding category fatigue. Continually updating and reusing your existing content with expanded amplification and distribution over time will further your success.

1. Combat content category fatigue

Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina recommends that you “niche down!” As he explains, if your topic gets very popular, go deeper into the category until you discover an untapped opportunity you can dominate.

To combat category fatigue, Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina recommends that you “niche down!” @Crestodina #contentmarketingClick To Tweet


Actionable Content Marketing Tip:

  • Vet your content ideas before starting to write. Use the 4 types of content tools to check that your idea and keyword are viable. Tools include your own data, social media, search and people. For a full explanation, check the 5 Step BRAVO Method to Content Ideation.

    4 types of idea vetting tools to use in the 5 Step BRAVO Method of Content Idea Generation

2. Create backlink-worthy content

Focus your content creation efforts on formats that attract attention, social shares and backlinks, namely research and evergreen foundational content.

Build authority with original research. While BuzzSumo examined Pew Internet’s results, you can use original research including surveys and/or analysis to attract attention. For example, Orbit Media’s Crestodina developed their Blogging Survey that drove a ton of shares and links. (Check Crestodina’s survey user-guide.)

Orbit Media’s Blogging Survey yields social shares, new subscribers & links – Example

Create evergreen foundational content. To stand out on social media and search, develop the best, most authoritative piece of content available on the Internet.

Backlinko’s Brian Dean never writes a new piece of content until he’s updated everything else. Dean follows his 3 Step Skyscraper Technique:

  • Find link-worthy content. Start with existing search results.
  • Create much better content. Improve on existing information by making it longer, more up-to-date, and better designed.
  • Reach out to the right people. Use tools like Ahrefs to determine who has already linked to similar information.

Dustin Stout spent May 2017 auditing his 350 blog posts and pages. He analyzed backlinks, share counts, word counts and blog post and page relevancy. After deleting and redirecting roughly 60% of the content, Stout scheduled the remaining posts for an update or left it as is due to strong performance.

Within 30 days of completing this work, his traffic nearly doubled from the previous month and has continued on an upward trend ever since then. (Of course, your results may vary.)

Actionable Content Marketing Tips:

  • Add original research to your editorial calendar where appropriate. At a minimum, analyze other people’s research like I do.
  • Update existing content. Like Dean invest time in improving your content. Where appropriate transform it into new content formats.
  • Audit your content on a regular basis to ensure that it remains viable like Stout.

3. Diversify content amplification and distribution to keep content visible

Use a combination of content amplification and on-going distribution to keep your content visible over time, not just the first week after publication. 

Focus short-term content amplification efforts during the first few days post-publication. You have a limited window of opportunity to expand your initial base of tastemakers who read, vet and share your content because this reach sets the basis for future traffic.

Use these 3 amplification options:

  • Communities including niche sites, social media and fans
  • Influencers including peers, journalists, bloggers and employees
  • Paid promotion including testing

After amplifying your content, use a carefully developed plan for on-going content distribution to keep it visible long-term. For your content to standout, you must use a mix of the most relevant owned, social and third party media options.

Further it helps to create new or different distribution formats to keep the content visible. This is where many content marketers overlook opportunities.

As Top Rank’s Ashley Zeckman noted, “You can’t treat each piece of content like a marketing campaign. Don’t stop promoting a piece just because you’ve published newer articles.”

Actionable Content Marketing Tips:

  • Add amplification and related distribution channels to your mix. Test other secondary platforms including messaging apps based on your audience’s interests.
  • Continue distributing content over time. Skip the-once-and-done approach.


Conclusion: Your Content Marketing Can Succeed Despite Content Saturation

Content marketing is maturing.

While this is no surprise, it’s causing content saturation in some popular content categories.

Instead of abandoning content marketing or hiding under the bed, adapt your strategy and related metrics to effectively compete in this evolving landscape.

Take a deep breath—you can do this by following a few key steps that will set you apart from peers:

Before starting to create content, do your homework. Ensure that what you produce has an opportunity to standout and to attract a readership.

Specifically vet your content ideas to develop authoritative, link-worthy content while avoiding category fatigue. If necessary niche down so it ranks for attention on search and social media. Include research and evergreen foundational content in your editorial mix.

Before creating new content, make sure that your existing articles are up-to-date and relevant like Dean and Stout. At a minimum, schedule a regular content audit.

Think beyond a week or month of distribution. Give your quality content the best opportunity to succeed at attracting attention.

Use a diversified content amplification and distribution plan that extends your content’s visibility over time. Where possible expand formats and channels you use so that you’re not dependent on a few powerful media entities like Facebook and Google.

Yes it’s scary.

Change always is.

But it’s doable.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on FacebookTwitter and Google+.


Photo Credit: cc zero 

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