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A Year of Content Marketing in Review: The 15 Top-Shared Posts of 2016

Learn and be inspired from the 15 most shared content marketing pieces of 2016, in this recap by Julia McCoy.

More businesses than not know and use content marketing today, as a holistic whole. This year, as CMI’s recent B2B report for the year showed, content marketing was heavily on the uptrend.

The problem in content marketing? It remains: documenting and strategizing. This isn’t growing as much both in popularity and knowledge as online content itself is.

Content marketing is a beast that’s hard to reign in and maintain efficiently. It’s easy to create content, but not so easy to create effective content that is also high quality. Maybe this is something B2Bs will master more in 2017.

Overall, here are some facts about content marketing as it stands today, and as reported by the CMI B2B report:

  • A whopping 88% of B2B marketers use content marketing.
  • Interestingly enough, though, not everyone is using strategy and documentation efficiently – this went down by 8% this year.
  • The most effective marketers allocate 42% of their total marketing budgets to content.
  • 79% of the most effective marketers have clarity regarding the success of their content marketing.
  • 31% of marketers report that sales lead quality is the most important metric they use.

cmi screenshot

Personally, I’ve been able to build up organic traffic on my site worth nearly $13,000 a month this year, using great content alone. I know, and pretty much tell everyone I know, that content marketing works.

And what helps is knowing what works, for inspiration to create your own success in content marketing.

happy new year 2016. young man handstand on the beach

2016: A Year of Great Content Marketing in Review

A look back at what was super hot this year in content marketing is the perfect recipe for inspiration as we end 2016. There was some serious gold created this year, shared tens of thousands of times around the internet.

For this look back at the hottest content marketing pieces in 2016, I dug through BuzzSumo’s top-shared list for “content marketing,” in my Pro account:

BuzzSumo screenshot

Then, I filtered out spam and anything < 2016 (manually). Below are the results!

Regardless of what industry you work in or what your content goals may be, there’s a lot to learn from these top-performing pieces of content.

15 Content Marketing Pieces That Won Our Hearts & Ranked Most-Shared in 2016

Here are the top 15 content pieces from 2016.

1. TechCrunch’s “Everything The Tech World Says About Marketing is Wrong

Move over, Kim Kardashian. This piece really broke the internet. Published by TechCrunch on April of 2016, this article garnered 27,854 shares.

It discussed a major scandal regarding HubSpot. A former employee (Dan Lyons) left the company and then wrote a book about HubSpot being “startup hell.” Talk about drama and controversy. This is definitely the top controversy in content marketing for 2016 — by a long shot.

And just take a look at the nature of the graphics included in this piece. Your eyes are at a standstill after you just glance their way. The color, expressions, depiction — the virality may be in part heavily owed to the creative artist behind this piece.

Startup Hell Screenshot

In the book, he implies that the reason HubSpot managed to become so successful was that it excelled at the promotion of the term “inbound marketing,” rather than creating outstanding products.

This post is successful not only because it recaps some juicy drama (which readers love), but also because it features a shocking and compelling title, and targets a topic that’s on the minds of millions of consumers — namely, how to ace marketing and avoid common mistakes.

If there’s a statement I’ve heard lately (from the Twitter chats I’ve been in and influencers I’ve talked to), it’s that making a controversial point is far better than playing it safe in content marketing. If you play it safe, you’ll end up regurgitating just another mediocre “good” topic that everyone can agree to, but no one will be interested in. Controversy gets attention in content marketing. It inspires and brings together a like-minded tribe or fan base that will follow you everywhere. It’s a real winner if you do it right.

I may not agree with everything Lyons did and said in this controversy, and wouldn’t have played my cards this way. As a business owner, I feel for HubSpot and would be so mortified if someone wrote a book outlining just the negatives about their former role after being fired from my company. But, Lyons definitely got real attention in content marketing this year, and it’s something to learn from.

2. Forbes’ “How Much Do People Trust Your Content?”

Today, people put lots of time and effort into their online content, and they want it to resonate with readers. This Forbes article, which was published September 2, 2016, and has earned more than 25,000 shares since then, succeeded because it used emotion (specifically doubt and fear) to appeal to content creators.

Here’s how the article worked: without trustworthy content, digital marketing strategy sinks. In this article, Forbes puts the question of how much people trust your content into the heads of marketers. That concept is startling enough to make people want to click. Beyond that, the piece is smart and informative — which is par for the course for Forbes.

3. Adweek’s “These Marketers, Content Producers, and Entertainers are Shaping the Industry

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People want to learn from successful people, and this fantastic Adweek article offers a boatload of interest, detail, and information. Published October 2, 2016, the article has earned 19,690 shares. It profiles some of the most influential people under 40 in the modern digital marketing world.

Players from Supermodel Karli Kloss and Dollar Shave Club Founder Michael Dublin are featured, as are the creators of Netflix’s hit series “Stranger Things” (Mata and Ross Duffer), and the CCO of Chobani, a Greek yogurt company.

The list is diverse, image-dense and detailed, and it gives interested readers an inside glimpse into some of the most successful young marketers and entrepreneurs out there.

4. Entrepreneur’s “Six Steps to Content That is Easily Shared

Want to find out how to create content that earns thousands of shares (like this piece’s 18,871)? This Entrepreneur article will tell you how. Published August 30th of 2016, this article offers six solid tips (written in a clear list format) to creating highly shareable content. It’s clear, straightforward, detailed, and to-the-point, which makes people want to click.

5. Forbes’s “How to Use Interactive Content for Great Results

It’s no surprise that Forbes is on this list so frequently. The platform routinely puts out high-quality, detailed, unique content that readers love. This post is no different.

Published September 22, 2016, this piece has earned more than 17,000 shares. The reason it performs so well is that it lays out a topic that’s unfamiliar to many (interactive content) and offers plenty of sources, research, and in-depth information to help marketers understand why people love it so much. In other words, it educates and guides at once.

6. Buffer’s “7 Social Media Experiments That Grew Our Traffic by 241%

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Just published by Buffer on December 3, 2016, this nifty little piece has earned 13,727 shares so far. What it does well is that it offers a very clear value proposition. In addition to providing the percentage of increase (241%), it also provides a list (“7 Social Media Experiments”) so that wary readers will know this piece is digestible and easy for them to skim.

It talks to the reader in the personal “you” and provides some actionable and easy-to-approach information that can help people build their sites.

7. Harvard Business Review’s “Stop Trying to Sound Smart When You’re Writing 

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The first thing you notice about this piece is the title. It’s a little shocking, isn’t it?

I rather love it. If you read the full piece, and you have an in-depth knowledge of the English language and/or online content as a whole, you’ll know what I mean. It’s short, succinct and hits on something that almost everyone in the content marketing sphere has come across — someone trying to sound smart in their content, rather than be smart. As such, it grabs reader attention.

Published on October 5, 2016, this piece has earned 13,592 shares, and for good reason. It breaks down the process of crafting clear, concise writing (“eliminate fancy-pants words” for example), and features links to helpful web resources to help readers “get it.”

8. Forbes’s “What Kind of Content Generates the Most Links for Business Owners?”

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This Forbes piece by Brian Sutter succeeds first because it is relevant. Most business owners have struggled with developing backlinks, and many aren’t sure how best to go about it. Beyond that, though, it succeeds because it breaks things down in a very clear and step-by-step manner. It talks about what a high-quality link is, and what a low-quality link is, and why the latter can hurt business.

It also breaks down the difference between links and shares and teaches entrepreneurs how to earn links rather than buying them. For this reason, it’s raked in 12,701 shares since its publication date of March 17, 2016.

9. HubSpot’s “5 Smart Reasons to Create Content Outside Your Niche

As content marketers, we locate our niche and “get small” to succeed. This post, however, turns that concept on its head. Instead of advising marketers to stay in their corner, this HubSpot article, published August 10, 2016, lays out five of the most common-sense reasons markers should consider going outside of their niches.

The reasons include building a larger audience, boosting social media engagement, and attracting future customers. With more than 12,000 shares, it’s clear that this piece is doing something right!

10. Forbes’s “How to Come Up With Content Marketing Ideas Your Audience Will Love

Published on June 10, 2016 by marketer Brian Sutter (he wins again!), this Forbes piece has 11,543 shares. The reasons behind this high share number are simple: the piece is simple, approachable, and to-the-point.

Instead of focusing on how difficult it is for marketers to come up with compelling content, this piece focuses on why the struggle surrounding content creation is a good thing, and how marketers can use it to their advantage in the future. It advocates looking to clients, searching for content ideas online, and locating influencers to gain new content ideas.

11. Seth Godin’s “Seth’s Blog: Cable News

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Don’t let the short, snappy title fool you on this one.

While it may be different from the other pieces on this list, it’s no less important. Published by Seth Godin on his personal blog, this article asks readers the following question: what if cable news isn’t reporting on the dissent and fear so rampant in our culture today? What if the news is creating it?

It’s a miracle of content marketing beauty in our roundup of 15 posts: it’s super short, sweet, and breaks all the “headline analyzer” rules. Two words on that headline! The second one is lowercase, too.

While it’s not uniquely content marketing focused, it does leave readers with the distinct impression that the way we choose to interact with content is a direct reflection of the ways we see the world, and the message is powerfully stated in beautiful language. You can tell instantly Seth is a master of the pen.

Published on the 12th of October, 2016, this piece has earned more than 11,000 shares.

12. TechCrunch’s “The Death of Instagram for Brands.”

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Published March 20, 2016, this intriguing TechCrunch piece with a topic to make you stop in your path dissects an Instagram algorithm update that sorts posts according to the likelihood of user interest rather than chronology. This means that Instagram, once the haven of chronological, all-posts-to-all-people social interaction, is taking a page from Facebook’s book and sorting based on interest.

According to Kevin Systrom, CEO of Instagram, this new update means that users will not see roughly 70% of the Instagram posts that are available to them.

The main benefit of this piece is, of course, its subject matter. Instagram has more than 400 million monthly active users, many of whom use the platform to market. That said, this topic appeals directly to a heartfelt concern of theirs, and delivers solid data to back up its claim. This piece earned 10,583 shares across the web.

13. HubSpot’s “How to Optimize Your Content for Google’s Featured Snippet Box

You know that high-profile snippet box that sometimes appears at the top of the page when you type a query into Google? HubSpot does, too, and this entire piece is dedicated to helping you optimize for it.

To start out, the post breaks down exactly why readers should care about that snippet box. Namely — that appearing in that coveted snippet box can have a dramatic positive effect on click-through rates.

From there, it goes on to talk about how readers can rank in the snippet box, by using a <p> tag directly below the header of the desired content, by using a header to contain a search query, and by ensuring the text you write begins logically, just like a spoken answer would.

Published February 9, 2016, this post earned 10,296 shares throughout the year.

14. Chicago Tribune’s “6 in 10 of You Will Share This Link Without Reading it, a Depressing New Study Says

chicagotribune article

The only post on this list from the Chicago Tribune, this piece starts out by talking about how the website Science Post had published a “lorem ipsum” article back in June of 2016. The headline read like this: “Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting.” Of course, 46,000 people shared the article, many very seriously.

If that’s not a hook, I don’t know what is.

Beyond its opening, this piece goes on to talk about some disturbing modern reader behavior: namely, that today’s readers are more willing to share content than they are to read it. It even talks about how many consumers share content without clicking.

Startling, relevant, and unique, this piece was published June 18 of 2016, and earned 10,167 throughout the year.

15. Digiday’s “85% of Facebook Video is Watched Without Sound

Written by Sahil Patel and published May 17, 2016, this piece discusses how often viewers of Facebook videos watch said videos with the sound off. To back itself up, the article points out that the millennial news site Mic, which earns about 150 million Facebook views monthly, has reported that 85% of its Facebook video watches are silent.

While this may not be as shocking as some of the other headlines on this list, it does provide a point of interest for readers. If viewers are watching videos without any sound, are there things marketers should be doing differently? Yes, the piece argues: you can make videos compelling enough that viewers don’t have to turn the sound on to connect with them.

Since May, this post has earned 9,966 shares across the web.


There you have it: the top 15 content pieces of 2016!

Some are funny, some factual, some deeply personal, but they all have one thing in common: they reach out to educate and uplift readers and, in so doing, create a more enlightened and educated online population. Many of them reached hundreds to thousands of people.

Be inspired, and take what you learn into 2017. Who knows? Your content piece could make it into the next year’s “Best Of.” Let’s make it another fabulous year of great content marketing!

Image Credits

Featured image: Julia McCoy/Express Writers

In-post Photo #1: tomwang/DepositPhotos

Inset Screenshots all taken by Julia McCoy 12.7.16

Category Content
VIP CONTRIBUTOR Julia McCoy Founder, Author, Educator at The Content Hacker™

Julia McCoy is an 8x author and a leading strategist around creating exceptional content and presence that lasts online. As ...

A Year of Content Marketing in Review: The 15 Top-Shared Posts of 2016

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