When Good Content Marketing Research Goes Bad

When good content research goes badWhen a friend tweeted a link to “Why Content Goes Viral: What Analyzing 100 Million Articles Taught Us” last week I said to myself, “Yes! Here’s exactly what I—and everyone else—need to know.”

As I read the first point I said, “Wow!” But that changed as I moved further through the conclusions. Here’s my full thought progression from beginning to end:

  • “Wow!”
  • “Wow! Really!?”
  • “Really??”
  • “No, not really.”

Death by 10,000 words

Since I make my living creating content, edifying myself through the analysis of 100 million articles sounded pretty darn good. My first “Wow!” was in response to the author claiming that longer pieces of content are more likely to be shared. Articles should be in the 3,000-10,000 word range, according to this research. In fact, content should be at least 2,000 words, the writer says.

That goes contrary to everything I hold dear. You might as well tell me that if you want to bet on a ball club to win the World Series, find one named The Chicago Cubs.

But the needle on my built-in BS-meter started to bounce a little when the article mentioned the New York Times. If NY Times articles are included in this study, then the data will be skewed. I was already beginning to wonder who created web content that’s several thousand words in length. A few major publications such as “The Gray Lady” are really the only sites I can think of.

The content oxymoron

Once I moved beyond the opening argument in favor of long-form content, things started making more sense, and in fact contradicted the opening salvo for 2,000-word articles.

Pictures are crucial for content to get a lot of social shares, the article says. But here are the two killer facts that destroyed the author’s initial supposition. The most shared content are:

  • Infographics, and
  • Lists



I may not know everything, but I know that infographics appeal to exactly the kind of person who doesn’t have time to wade through a 10,000-word article. I also know that no one creates a 2,000-word list.

In fact, the article itself suggests that “10” is the “magic number” for lists. Try creating a Top 10 list and stretching it out to 5,000 words.

This article offers a lot of good information. However, it makes a fatal data analysis error that causes most of its content to disprove its primary assertion.

If you read it yourself, skip the first point. It’s pretty safe from there on out.

Graph: OkDork.com. Photo: Public domain.


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