When you think about the giants of online content, what brands are you thinking of? Your first two will probably be Huffington Post and Buzzfeed. If asked to choose a third, maybe Business Insider. They each have a myriad of new content every day that permeates your social media channels and can’t help but be clicked on. How do they do it? And, more importantly, how can you do it too? Let’s take a look.
The Huffington Post
The Huffington Post is the largest news site in the country, with over 100 million unique views per month. In 2013, they had over 30,000 bloggers, publishing over 1,600 new stories every day (approximately one every 58 seconds), as well as up to 16 hours of video. Their video section, HuffPost Live, has over 2 billion total views, is responsible for 15-18% of the site’s monetization, and has won a variety of awards. HuffPo is also the largest publisher of content on Facebook—with over twice the number of social actions as the second-largest publisher.
In short, the Huffington Post has enjoyed a success most people can hardly dream of. How do they do it? They present themselves as a journalistic entity, but they conduct themselves as a content factory, with a focus on bringing their audience what’s popular.
There are a number of ways to figure out which stories are most popular at any given time, but perhaps one of the most important is their use of a content management system (CMS). CMS is used to locate the most popular pieces of content and increase their visibility. It uses an AI program to measure a variety of factors about each story’s popularity, from how often it’s been shared and commented on, to what the trending topics are at any given time, and more. It then uses that information to have the most popular and talked-about stories on its homepage.
In addition, every story, link, and headline is optimized for SEO. Each story is tagged with relevant keywords, features a catchy, optimized headline, as well as internal links and a list of related content. All of this combines to increase their invisibility on Google, as well as across social media.
So how can you achieve the same success with your own content? Volume is one factor. The more (high quality) content you’re able to produce regularly, the more chances your audience will have to find you, and the more visible you’ll become. SEO optimization helps as well.
And while you might not have their sophisticated CMS, you can use a variety of online tools to show you which content is the most popular. You can then make that content more prominent on your site and on social media, so the popular content becomes even more popular.
BuzzFeed has made its name as a jack of all trades. Most famous for their list articles, which consist largely of images and gifs, they also feature quizzes, news, and a variety of video channels. Their website caters to over 200 million people, and the company as a whole is valued at around $1.5 billion. Clearly they’re doing something right.
For one thing, everything on BuzzFeed is optimized for maximum shareability. They’re famous for their numbered lists, which tend to be more grabbing than regular articles, as they’re easier to scan quickly, rather than digest whole. Rapid digestion is a large part of their success. Most of their content is designed to be read quickly, which is why their articles tend to feature more gifs than actual text. Their quizzes likewise take an average of three minutes to get through, and their videos generally don’t last much longer than that either. Content is experienced quickly, allowing you to move seamlessly to the next piece of content (and the next, and the next).
They’re also good at repurposing content. Many of their most popular videos are based on their most popular articles. With a small cadre of regular actors, list entries can be dramatized quickly and cheaply, allowing them to be experienced all over again. And of course, at the end of each video is at least a couple of links to other, similar videos.
Perhaps the most important factor in BuzzFeed’s success, though, is their headlines. Be it for articles, videos, or quizzes, BuzzFeed’s headlines are notoriously designed to grab your attention and make you want to know more. In addition to the list aspect, they’ve also perfected the art of the teaser: providing just enough information to make you curious. Phrases like, “You won’t believe what happens next!” and “This is mind blowing!” are among the hallmarks of BuzzFeed headlines. They’re often mocked for their over-the-top sensationalism—but it works.
How can you experience the same success? You can try teaser headlines, but they’re not always easy to do effectively, and can become annoying rather than intriguing if done poorly. Numbered lists, however, are a very good place to start, along with shorter, image-heavy content. The easier your content is to peruse at a glance, the more likely people are to click on it—and to click on the next piece of content as well. Keep videos short, simple, and cheap, but optimized for maximum clickability. Don’t be afraid to repurpose one piece of popular content into another. And whatever content you produce, always, always have at least a couple of links waiting at the end, to get your audience interested in the next thing.
While both BuzzFeed and HuffPo turn out news content, they’re generally more of entertainment sites. Business Insider, on the other hand, is more focused on news and analysis. But their content is still designed for mass appeal. They avoid technical jargon and make their articles easy for the average person to read and understand. And like BuzzFeed and HuffPo, they also use enticing, teasing headlines to gain clicks. The overall model is clear: though the site may be staffed by “business insiders,” their goal is to make that inside information accessible to the average reader, so that they can be in the know.
In addition, they seamlessly optimize their content for both big screens and small, with their “mobile too” strategy. Rather than assuming that the rise of mobile devices meant that readers were viewing content on smartphones and tablets exclusively, BI did some research to find out exactly how and when people are viewing their content mobilely. They found that, while their audience does use smartphones and tablets to view their content, they actually prefers big screens. So they create content that’s designed to be enjoyed on a regular desktop, but can also be viewed on a smaller device with ease.
This “big screen” includes a range of visual media, from images to slideshows to videos and more. So not only is it easy to digest, it’s also aesthetically pleasing.
What can you learn from Business Insider? That an “insider perspective” on any topic can still be made accessible to the layperson—and providing them with that insider perspective can be a great enticement to click. Additionally, don’t just assume that because something is the new trend, that it’s what all of your audience will want. Do some research, find out what your audience is looking for, and design your content to accommodate everyone.
Becoming a media giant like HuffPo, BuzzFeed, and BI is not an easy task. It took years of hard work and analysis, and often investments of millions of dollars, to get them where they are today. But their success is proof that their business models work. And while you might not reach the level of hundreds of millions of views per month, you can still use their strategies to boost your own content’s popularity, and enjoy your own level of success.