This rather long post is part of a series which I could call: “share my entrepreneurial research efforts in real time”. Yesterday night, I wanted to find facts & figures about the Buzz Publishing phenomenon. And rather than keep my findings for myself, I’ve decided to start a post and share the info with you, as I’ve been collecting it, structured in 21 bullet points (a listicle of sort).
Here is a screenshot of some of the tabs open on one of my two screens, linking to the sources of this piece. Actually, the first time I added the image, it almost crashed my Macbook, just to give you an idea of how much stuff was going on in those tabs. I was forced to unplug my ethernet cable and switch off the wifi to cut the connection between the browser and the internet. I almost thought I had lost my work. By the way, this piece took me five hours and thirty four minutes on a sunday afternoon, 2 cups of coffee and a butter waffle.
If you’re into web marketing or web publishing, you’ve probably heard about BuzzFeed, ViralNova, TheLadBible, Upworthy and some other high traffic publications. I’ve compiled 21 interesting facts related to those web properties you see popping up on your Facebook newsfeed on a daily basis.
This square-shaped micro website is an adsy, create yours in a snap.
Let’s start with Buzzfeed
1° the longer the better
You might have thought that cat memes or Kim Kardashian’s selfies lead the way but actually they don’t.
As reported by Noah Kagan after analysing a whopping 100 million articles, the most shared pieces are the longest.
And, as he rightfully points out, more people write shorter articles, which opens a less competitive field for long form editors.
2° pictures make a HUGE difference
People love visuals (discover our selection of royalty-free sources). If an article without images will get an average of 28 shares on Facebook, an article featuring at least one image will get almost 65 shares. You get the point. Never publish an article without a visual. Obviously, it’s better if your illustration is related to the piece but make it at least inspiring or thought-provoking.
3° emotions are the key
Simply sharing informative content won’t get you many shares on social networks. People want to forward something which has sparked some emotion and is expected to cause emotional reactions in their audience. The 3 most popular emotions being awe, laughter and amusement, followed by joy and empathy. So when you write something (email or blog post), it’s always better to incorporate some of those emotional ingredients.
In this Medium article, you will discover some of the factors driving social shares. It seems that what we share basically helps us define our personality: “we share news as a way to promote our outward facing selves and the passions and beliefs that we want others to know we hold.”
4° listicles rule (this article is one of them)
Yes, we all love LISTS (10 reasons why…, 21 ways of…, 13 photos you…). Sometimes it even becomes ridiculous. Watch this video ;-)
But, what can you do, lists are a format easy to understand, you kind of know what to expect (bullet points), where it starts and where it will end (here at “21”). And people love highly organized presentations, I’d even say they’re getting anxious when faced with a freestyle format, trust my personal experience (if you want to overcome your anxiety, I invite you to create a micro website on adsy.me, the service I launched last year, it’s an open canvas, beware, freedom tends to be anxiogenic).
5° quizzes reveal your inner self (& trigger reactions)
I read on Yahoo Small Business that the addition of quizzes helped BuzzFeed nearly double their overall visits. Yes, X2. And when they reduced their output of quizzes, guess what, the amount of their Facebook shares started falling, that’s what we learn in a Business Insider piece published in June 2014. In January 2014, all 10 of BuzzFeed’s most-shared articles on Facebook were quizzes. In May, there was no quizz in the top 10 (because of a lack of published quizzes).
Why do people love quizzes that much? I’d say that it’s a quick & dirty way to reveal your inner self, both to you and to the world, in a format which usually triggers reactions, which is what people are looking for on social networks.
6° BuzzFeed’s second biggest source of social traffic isn’t Twitter
OK, nothing beats Facebook in social (except maybe in countries like Russia where VK is the leader) but you could have expected Twitter to be the second biggest source of social referrals for a news publisher. It’s not. BuzzFeed gets a lot of visits from Pinterest. Another proof of the power of images. Interesting to note that apparently humour pins get more clickthroughs than pins (whereas typical Pinterest posts about crafts, home decor, food,… will tend to generate more re-pins than clicks).
7° it’s not all about mainstream, niches drive traffic
There might be articles about celebrities but you will also find on those websites niche-related articles and those tend to perform pretty well since readers tend to relate more (& share more) to stuff they can strongly identify with.
8° virality is in BuzzFeed’s DNA
It all started with an email chain from Jonah Perreti, back in 2001, who wanted to provoke a reaction from Nike’s management by asking them to print a customizable pair of sneakers with the word “sweat shop”. The email was first forwarded to 10 friends before going crazy viral. Here is the original email exchange between Jonah and Nike. Jonah Perreti also tells the story in the intro of this Pandomonthly fireside chat.
9° Buzzfeed cares about the motto “think globally, act locally”
Obviously they’ve spurred a lot of (grumpy) copycats, just like ProductHunt or other popular web services, all over the world. But they genuinely care about the potential of localization. They launched a Portuguese version (primarily aimed at the Brazilian market), a French version and a local office in London. There’s still plenty of room to grow in terms of languages / territories.
10° Buzzfeed editors are (well-balanced) data geeks
I wouldn’t say that everything written on BuzzFeed is data-driven but they care a lot about (anonymous) data collection and the info they gather for a variety of KPIs (key performance indicators) clearly determine how they approach the art of publishing. They even have a “data science blog”. In their own words: “BuzzFeed is a combination of art, science, and good judgement.”
11° the best day to publish content for social is Tuesday
On Monday most adults start cleaning their email inbox at work while kids & teens reconnect with friends at school. It’s a transition day, not an easy one if you want to catch people’s attention. According to the in-depth analysis of Noah Kagan, Tuesday will get you the best engagement results on social networks.
12° headlines are critical
The same article could be introduced by tons of different titles, in the same way as an identical email could be introduced by thousands of subjects. And you know what? The title / subject is the #1 key to get your emails opened or your articles visited. So before hitting “publish” or “send”, think about the headline / subject. There are great resources giving you advice on how to craft your titles. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve had far better results in email subjects using questions asked to the audience (ex: What did you want to create?) than with informative or promotional subjects.
And now 9 facts about the other players in the arena.
13° Viral Nova, ranked #777 in the World (Alexa, March 1st, 2015) is mostly a one-man operation
It all started with a WordPress template in May 2013 (so it’s not even 2 years old as I’m writing these lines) and it grew into the millions of uniques per day in a year. One year ago, still a one founder + 2 freelancers operation, it was apparently up for sale (into the 7 figures), according to this Business Insider piece. Also interesting to note that the founder previously started and sold a Christian-oriented buzz publication (GodVine.com). The guy is conscious that he will have to move on, as clearly stated in the conclusion of a Bloomberg feature: ” Anytime there is an obvious bubble, it will burst eventually. You need to be prepared for that.”
14° TheLadBible is a top 15 web property in the UK.
To be honest, before checking out the UK top 50 out of curiosity, I had never heard of them. It’s basically a collection / curation of videos & pictures (most of them without attribution) aimed at a young male audience. TheLadBible ranks better than Linkedin or the Daily Mail in the UK. Impressive…
15° Social news websites are well ranked in most territories
I also researched the Russian market since more than 30% of adsy’s signups are now coming from that region of the world, and I spotted in the top 20 Lenta.ru which also offers highly shareable content. France is more old-school, since 20minutes.fr would be the most contemporary player you will find in the top 50, ranked #40 (and it’s nothing comparable in terms of format with the BuzzFeed category). The local Buzzfil.com is #95 in France. Minutebuzz.com, a BuzzFeed clone, ranks #367 in France. In Belgium, the country I’m coming from, the market is dominated by local newspapers, some of them playing in their way with the BuzzFeed codes. The first online publisher (also active offline) is the flemish HLN.be (#11) followed by the French-speaking Dhnet.be (#16). The first pure player, not a local one, comes at #54 Diply.com (#84 global) followed by #93 9gag.com (#206 global). We could repeat the same exercise for a variety of territories, maybe the subject of a forthcoming article.
16° Upworthy was started by Elie Pariser, the author of the Filter Bubble
I strongly advise to watch Elie’s Ted talk about the dangers of the so-called Filter Bubble (basically telling you that we’re increasingly served self-reinforcing content by social medias & search engines, which simply want to please us, not question our beliefs). The author of this iconic talk (& the book, a very good read) started in March 2012 a company called Upworthy which has been known for relying on the traditional buzz sites techniques (like “click-bait” titles) to attract readers to (more) meaningful content. A very interesting form of online activism. In 2 years, the site has grown to 40 million uniques a month. It seems though that its traffic has been constantly falling since early 2014, partly due to changes in the Facebook newsfeed algorithm.
17° it’s easy to find a template to create your Upworthy (BuzzFeed,…) clone but it might be too late
The success of those websites has spurred a trend of clones, as it’s usually the case when a new successful format emerges on the internet.
In a few clicks, you can buy a WordPress theme and start your own Upworthy (be prepared for (hard) repetitive work to feed the content beast though).
Distractify.com is one of them and, as you can see from the graph blow, it’s been experiencing the same drop in traffic as Upworthy, probably for similar reasons. Maybe a sign that the market is now looking for new forms of engaging publishing.
18° Besides Buzzfeed, most of the other guys are masters in repurposing content
As described in this Bloomberg feature, Viralnova’s founder’s daily routine is about looking for high virality stories already published on BuzzFeed, The Mail and other outlets to repurpose them with a powerful headline expected, in order to attract clicks / visits in the tens of thousands. Viralnova and most of the other companies listed in this post don’t create original content, they curate, adapt & re-distribute someone else’s content with their own tone of voice, sometimes on the brink of legality.
19° Content optimized for traffic & pageviews is hard to monetize
In this very long article about the future of blogging (worth every minute of your time), Glen from ViperChill reminds us that low quality traffic (garnered via click-bait & other similar techniques) is hard to monetize. The Daily Mail Online in the UK brought in $25m of revenues in 2013, without being able to turn a profit. I also invite you to read this long feature solely dedicated to The Mail in The New Yorker. The Mail hasn’t always been bullish about the strategic importance of its online platform in shaping the future of publishing. Here is the original opinion voiced by its charismatic Editor-in-Chief, Paul Dacre: “A lot of people say that the Internet is the future for newspapers,” he declared in 1999. “Well, I say to that: bullshit.com.” Times have changed.
20° those buzz publishers are tech (media) companies
Traditionally you would think of online news as part of the media industry. True, but because those companies “have the world as their addressable market and basically make money by scaling for free”, they can be considered as tech companies, as explained in details in this Stratechery piece. They don’t have any legacy business to take care of (like printed newspapers still juggling between on & offline), aren’t historically attached to a local audience and can easily expand their brand through localization.
21° People get tired very quickly, time to move on
All the players in the field of buzz publishing admit that their fate is overly dependent on Facebook. Any major change in Facebook’s newsfeed can ruin their business plans, in the same way as Zynga was hit a few years ago by the reduction of automatic sharing schemes / friends invitations in the newsfeed. If you rely on Facebook, you always have to remember that you’re piggybacking on someone else’s platform, with all the associated risks: they hold the keys to the Kingdom, not you.
Moreover, don’t overlook readers fatigue. After seeing too much of a specific format in their newsfeed, Facebook users tend either to ignore them (just as they do for banners) or to unfollow the publishers.
So you have either to develop new techniques to catch their attention or to craft a brand new publishing format. This is what makes the web so exciting: you always need to reinvent yourself to stay ahead of the curve.