Just a decade ago, social media wasn’t exactly brand new, but the ways in which it would impact culture and commerce were only just emerging. Channels like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram were making it a lot easier for content to be shared and actually reach people. This happened at around the same time Google was making it more difficult for people to game the SEO of their websites, meaning people had to find site visitors honestly and organically. This confluence of events led to the practice of content marketing, the rise of which led to BuzzSumo.
Henley Wing and James Blackwell saw this shift in the way site owners had to attract visitors, and immediately were able to identify the practice’s biggest problem: it’s hard! With content marketing, every company that wants to build brand awareness and boost sales needs to start its own little publishing wing. Hiring writers to build out the content is just one aspect: you’ve got to decide on topics and categories, build out a content calendar, layout the words and pictures on web pages, monitor results, and adapt your strategies accordingly. This is just an awful lot of work to do if you’re a small-time e-comm business just trying to sell merchandise. And it’s an awful lot of work even if you’re a large company with a full on marketing department.
BuzzSumo aims to be a sort of digital editor-in-chief of your content marketing strategy. Providing the tools necessary for inspiration, research, and analytics, the platform can guide what shape your content takes—or just point you in the direction of existing content worth sharing—and take a lot of the guesswork out of how to successfully market your brand in this still-pretty-new paradigm.
The demand for such a product was evident in BuzzSumo’s early success. When the first lines of its code were written in 2013, its founders obviously believed they were filling a need. When the product launched in September of 2014, there was an absolute rush of signups. In one year, they onboarded over 160,000 users to their freemium plan; another 2,000 came on as paying subscribers, bringing in over $2.5m in revenue. Things only picked up from there. By 2017, the company reached true startup success when it was acquired by Brandwatch.
Since this acquisition, the platform has expanded its features, incorporating influencer discovery and video content/YouTube analytics, but its bread and butter remains content marketing. Influencers perhaps get all the press and recognition as a modern marketing technique, but content marketing remains vitally important—and remains immune from many of the things that continue to plague influencer marketing. No one worries if a blog post has fake followers, and content doesn’t get in your way with a stupid yoga pose while you’re trying to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Especially for smaller e-commerce businesses, content marketing can actually be a lot more manageable for building a customer base—at least if there’s software to make it easy for you.
The need for a product like BuzzSumo is pretty obvious for a small business, but it’s no less at home within a large marketing department that’s got a whole team devoted to content. There are four levels of access to the platform, making it a great solution for a business of any size.
- Free, $0/mo — 1 user can perform 10 searches per month, access the past 1 year of data, create 1 Content Project with up to 100 items of content, 1 custom feed of trending content, Content Analysis reports, Domain reports, Influencer searches, Journalist Profiles
- Pro, $99/mo ($79/mo, if paid annually) — Same as above, but with 5 users, unlimited searches, unlimited projects and items, 10 custom feeds, plus: 5 custom alerts, 50 exports per month
- Plus, $179/mo ($139/mo, if paid annually) — Same as above, but with 10 users, 20 custom feeds, 10 alerts, 150 exports, and access to the Question Analyzer
- Large, $299/mo ($239/mo, if paid annually) — Same as above, but with 15 users, 2 years of data, 50 custom feeds, 30 alerts, 200 exports, plus access to: YouTube Analyzer, Top Author Search, Facebook Page Analyzer, Facebook Pages
The key to a good content marketing strategy is to stay organized, and it’s clear from first impressions that BuzzSumo can help you do that. The platform is organized into four main areas: Projects, Content Research, Influencers, and Monitoring. If you already have a good idea of what you want to do, then it’s all pretty intuitive. And even if you don’t have a clear idea of your strategy moving forward, just poking around the interface can start to shed some light on how to proceed.
When you first login, you might want to get right into creating your projects, but it’s a good idea to hop over to the Content Research section and see what’s going on there first. You’ll spend a lot of your time on the platform here, and the research can serve as inspiration for how you want to go about the projects that you start. Within this section, there are several subsections for you to go through, but by starting with the “Most Shared” tools you can get a glimpse into what kind of content is resonating with people.
You begin by searching for relevant content using a keyword for any topic that’s relevant to your business—or you can search by domain to see what’s working for competitors. The search function really places an importance on topical relevance, just by the nature of looking for the most shared articles. High engagement with content that matches your search description means that humans have found this to be relevant—this is a lot like how Google determines its own rankings. With any search, you can filter the results down in a number of ways (by word count, age, language, etc.) and the list you’re given does a great job of showing you the engagement stats. Here, engagement pretty much means “shares.” So you can see the total engagements for each article, but also a breakdown by channel to see where it got the most traction. Likewise, if you already know you’re going to be focusing on one channel, for example, you can sort the list according to this.
Searches can be more complex than just a simple keyword or phrase, though to do this is not as user friendly as it could be. There’s a link above your results, imploring you to click through to learn how to conduct an advanced search, and it’s true: you really have to learn how to employ boolean search operators for greater precision. If you don’t know what “boolean search operators” are, they’re not terribly difficult to learn, but also: if you’ve gone this far in your tech life without having to use them, you’ll likely be annoyed that you have to use them now. And if you do know what boolean operators are, then you probably already know there are ways to make it easier within a GUI, and you’ll be annoyed that BuzzSumo didn’t go that extra mile to do it. The good news is that once you’ve figured out how to best type out your advanced boolean search query, you can save that search and return to it at any time in the future to find newer results.
In addition to finding all the relevant articles on a given topic, BuzzSumo lets you analyze them as a whole with its Content Analysis feature. Search for “content marketing” under Most Shared, and you’ll get a list of relevant articles. Search for the same term in the analysis section, and you’ll get a lot of data and analytics that let you see exactly how effective a topic it might be. You’ll be told how much content about “content marketing” has been published over the timeframe you specify. It reports Average Engagements, as a way to benchmark your own content’s performance, but it also gives you deeper analysis that can help you better plan your efforts. A chart showing published content and the associated engagements over time can help you identify trends in impact, and the platform goes further by letting you know which channels saw the most engagement, how different types of content performed (How-To guides vs listicles vs Infographics, for example), engagements by the day of the week, and engagements by word count. With all of these charts, you can click through to specific days or channels and see exactly what all of the content is that’s been reported on.
One of the most potent uses of content marketing is to demonstrate your expertise in your chosen industry or products, and BuzzSumo’s Question Analyzer is a must have feature for those who are coming at things from this angle. For example, if your online store is selling power tools, you might want to be pushing content that demonstrates to customers you know a thing or two about carpentry—that they’re not only getting good products from you, but also knowledge and expertise that they can rely on. With the Question Analyzer, BuzzSumo scans through thousands of online forums to reveal the kinds of questions that people are asking on the topic. You can then tailor your content to becoming an authority on these questions.
While not the last thing that BuzzSumo does, the last thing we’ll cover here is Alerts. This is a way for you to stay on top of all the things you’ve been using BuzzSumo to research. It’s essentially a listening feature, monitoring the web for mentions of the things you might be researching in BuzzSumo. There are six different categories you can customize alerts in: Brand (for your brand), Competitors, Backlinks, Website Content, Keywords and Authors. You set the terms you want to monitor for each, and then you can get alerts when the platform finds new content mentioning the terms you specified. There’s a halfhearted attempt at creating something analytical here, with a low impact graph showing total mentions over time. If you’re looking at brand mentions, you can overlay competitors here and see who’s getting talked about, but also: so what?
More important here is the keyword alert. The truth is, no matter what topic you’re generating content for, you’re going to run out of ideas. And the more niche your business is, ideas from other sources will be fewer and further between. These alerts are crucial for making sure you never miss a piece of potential inspiration.
BuzzSumo is mostly a standalone product, and as such the team hasn’t invested in creating any ready made integrations into other platforms. This isn’t to say there’s never a need to do this—maybe you want to funnel your data into some internal reporting tool, for one—but BuzzSumo isn’t making them for you. With the BuzzSumo API and a talented developer, though, you could integrate the platform on your own.
And, while not technically an integration—worth mentioning is BuzzSumo’s Chrome extension, which lets you analyze any page you’re on. This is great for on-the-spot research when you find yourself at a relevant page. Or, if you’ve followed a link from the platform out to the content, you don’t need to keep switching back and forth between tabs to remind yourself of its performance. A click on the extension brings up all the information that you get on the platform—total engagements, engagements by channel, backlink info, and more—and lets you save the page directly to one of your projects.
In this age of the influencer, it’s important to remember that content marketing is far from dead. Influencers are really just a layer on top of the content, another mechanism to make sure it reaches as many people as possible. The content itself is still very important, the most authentic and organic way of appealing to audiences. And, wow, does BuzzSumo have a handle on all that content.
It’s true you’re not getting the deepest data—it’s all very much focused on understanding content performance, and not so much on understanding audiences. But with over 8 billion articles indexed, and over 5 years of historical data, there’s quite a lot of it. It’s more than enough to be able to identify trends, and to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. And with millions of new items of content added to the platform every day, there’s a limitless pool of inspiration for marketers to draw from.