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Content marketing starts with effective business writing - how do you stack up?

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher March 5, 2020
Content marketing isn't going anywhere without content. But business writing is hard - and the stats on how to be effective can be confusing. Here's my review of fresh writing data.

ratings - stacking up

Do you consider yourself a good writer? Are your blogs and articles the right length? Do you think about SEO when you write?

These are all questions you probably ask yourself all the time if writing is your main responsibility in the marketing department. If you are looking for research to help you answer those questions, you may find yourself confused.

What makes a good business writer?

New research from Typeset and Mantis Research aims to tell us what makes great business writing. In the State of Writing 2020, we learn the difference between effective business communicators and those who consider themselves only moderately successful:

Seventy-six percent of business communicators know what successful writing looks like, but only 45 percent think the content they publish is extremely/very effective.

Writers who consider themselves extremely or very effective write longer blog posts in less time than moderately effective writers. They also use more content types in their blogs, including images, videos, social media, and podcast audio. What else makes them feel more effective? There’s a laundry list of things that improve not only the quality of their blogs but also the visibility or distribution of the blog.

The state of writing - stats

From the State of Writing 2020

Some of the numbers in the chart above are very close. For example, highly effective and moderately effective writers both edit for grammar and spelling, copy edit and write meta descriptions. But the more effective writers write for SEO and think about categories and tags.

Effective writers also use more tools, including editorial calendars, style guides, and strategies for written content, brand story, and visual style guides.

Also, amongst the more effective writers:

  • 67% have editorial meetings
  • 65% have a single person oversee all written content
  • 50% outsource the writing

While pretty much every writer edits for grammar and spelling, the most effective go further, including fact-checking, and looking at logic and flow.

What makes a writer have less confidence in their writing? Compared to effective writers, moderately effective writers were significantly worse at understanding the needs of their audience, publishing and writing consistently, and maintaining the quality of their writing over time.

Good writing is less about writing and more about planning to write

Ann Handley offered this graphic in her most recent email newsletter:

Ann Handley writing

From Ann Handley’s newsletter (subscribe here)

Handley suggested that the bulk of the work in writing is in the prep, and she offered three things you can do during this stage of the process:

  1. Can you distill your idea down into a single sentence?
  2. What is your twist (point of view) on the idea?
  3. Ask yourself 4, “so whats.”

“Ask "So what?" and then answer "Because…" Repeat the So what/Because query and response string the necessary number of times, until you've reached The Why, the one-sentence you wrote above, but in a way that matters to your reader: What's in it for your audience?”

Of course, she isn’t saying the writing is easy. But if you have a plan in place for what you are going to write, it should make the actual act of writing much smoother.

Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media provides some additional insight here, showing research that found that it takes almost four hours to create a blog post today and that bloggers who reported the strongest results from their blogs spend over six hours writing a blog, including all the planning required.

How long should your blog post be?

SEMrush did a study of 700,000 articles to understand what makes a top-performing article. Here’s an infographic with the highlights. The blog post length of 3000 plus words matches up with the research from Mantis that found that more effective writers create longer posts:


From The Anatomy of Top Performing Articles: Successful vs. Invisible Content – SEMrush Study

But hang on a minute. These metrics are somewhat at odds with research from the Content Marketing Institute on enterprise content marketing. In that research, content marketers said that the types of content they write most include social media content (94%), video (86%), and blogs/short articles (83%). Long-form articles made the list at #11, after whitepapers and ebooks.

If long-form content is better for SEO, drives more traffic, backlinks, and shares, then why aren’t marketers leading with this type of content?

The Orbit Media study found the average blog post is 1236 words. Only 11% wrote blogs over 2000 words. However, bloggers who write more than 2000 words are seeing the strongest results of their effort (55% compared to 29% who write between 1000-1500 and 20% who write between 500-1000 words).

Metrics that determine the effectiveness of content

In the Mantis research, website traffic, shares, and click-through rates top the list of all writers to help them understand if their content is doing its job. But the business benefits are more important to consider - is the content helping more the business forward?

69% of effective writers look at the increase in new customers, and 60% look at retention and loyalty.

The CMI content marketing benchmarks fall in line here as well, showing website engagement and website traffic metrics key to measuring content performance. The harder metrics to match up, like customer satisfaction, customer retention, and lifetime value are there, but they are lower on the list.

My take

I try to review all this research and glean meaning from it. Would I be a more effective writer if my blogs and articles were longer? Should I write longer blogs? Maybe. But if content marketing is seeing success with shorters blogs and articles at the top of their list of content assets, then why go longer?

I don’t think it’s a question of length.

The question you have to ask is, can you track your revenues in terms of acquisition, loyalty, and retention back to your content? Because if you can’t, then why does it matter if your blog is 1200 words or 3000? If someone spends more time on your site reading longer content? Why does it matter if your content is widely shared?

There’s not always a direct correlation, but there is a relationship there, and you have to understand what it is. Then you can decide how long your blog posts should be, and how effective a writer you are.

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