Michael O'Neill

We kind of have a thing for performance metrics. We consider analytics to be our diagnostic technician, and we wouldn’t dare send content out into the world without first having a solid data-backed foundation.

Part of kick-starting our 2019 content marketing is looking at how well we did in 2018, specifically in three categories:

  1. Organic traffic.
  2. Social shares.
  3. Referring domains.

In this post we look at why particular blogs performed strongly. What was it about how they were written, how they were structured, how they were researched?

The goal is to then leverage these findings in 2019 to repeat and build upon their successes.

Organic traffic

Google Analytics tells us the following five articles received the most organic traffic from Jan. 1, 2018 to Dec. 31, 2018:

For your reading, those articles are linked here:

  1. 8 brands with the best social media campaigns in 2018
  2. How to grow Instagram followers to 100k for free
  3. What is a subdomain and how does it impact SEO?
  4. The best digital storytelling examples
  5. Financial content marketing that works: 5 ways the finance industry is winning at content in 2018

One thing that immediately stands out to us is the diversity of topic coverage. Sure, it’s all content marketing at a high level, but each article specializes in its own way.

Two cover social media, while the other three dive into technical SEO, storytelling and industry-specific marketing.

What’s also interesting is that Nos. 1 and 5 are hybrid content pieces: They were launched as eBooks first, then republished as blog posts, which may speak to how well they performed. They essentially received double the exposure potential. Each of these two was also a re-optimization of an older post, dating back to 2015 or 2016. So, we kept the same URL but updated the content for a 2018 audience. As such, there may be residual traffic arriving due to the fact that they were already indexed in Google.

In addition to this, you can see that articles with lots of real-world examples are practically guaranteed an uptick of readership. People crave practical articles with visual examples that can be consumed in written and optical forms.

For instance, article No. 1 has 26 embedded images that were from social media or were custom illustrated – NO STOCK IMAGES! No. 5 has 10 associated images.

Two more key points before we move on: 1) Four different writers created the above five articles. In other words, tone of voice and authorial judgment may be important to adequately reaching an audience organically, and 2) Readers want information on winners, on the best, as evidenced by our usage of “best” in the title of two articles, as well as forward-moving descriptors such as “grow” and “winning.”

Of course, there’s room for ideas on marketing fails (we’ve written them), but based on our findings, organic searchers may be more apt to click on positive, authoritative content.

Social shares

To determine how we fared on social media, we used BuzzSumo. Sadly, as of 2018, BuzzSumo no longer measures LinkedIn activity, which is a huge blow to B2B companies – LIKE US. It also doesn’t pull Instagram engagement data.

Alas, we take what we can get. We settled for a single, dashboard-friendly presentation of our social analytics, which tracked Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit. Other social channels were not included for the purpose of this post, but we certainly have them on hand should we need additional platform specifics.

Here are 2018’s top five shared posts:


  1. Content marketing metrics that matter (and those that don’t)
  2. 5 ways to promote your content like a pro
  3. How to conduct an actionable content audit in 2018
  4. Adding flavor to your content with data
  5. What makes a great social media strategist? Brafton’s Kari Kennedy tells all

Each of these articles hits a somewhat different target audience. The first, which was originally released as an eBook, targets an executive persona near the middle of the funnel. The rest range from top of funnel (Nos. 2-4) to internal employee advocacy (No. 5).

But within that range, the needs of the reader vary. For example, some are wanting information, pure and simple. Others are wanting practical advice they can apply to their marketing. Others still just want to know more about our own Kari Kennedy – or perhaps what a day in the life of a Brafton social media strategist entails.

As such, there aren’t many discernible trends that explain why these five articles dominated the social sphere in 2018.

Clearly, of the channels BuzzSumo monitors, Facebook was our largest machine for social sharing. And one interesting pattern that only an astute eye aware of Brafton’s internal workings could catch is that three of these posts were nontraditional.

No. 2 was a guest post from Shane Barker. No. 4 was a guest post from our own Quintin Collins. No. 5 was a recurring series that’s geared toward our staff.

In other words, they didn’t follow the same content-creation or content-distribution route as our normal posts. That could be why they breached the top five echelon.

By having an industry influencer, Shane Barker, write and publish an article on our blog, we generated our own social traffic, but also the carryover traffic from all of Shane’s social network too. Similarly, Quintin shared the post he’d written on his personal feeds and drew in additional social traffic. Kari did the same – not only did our Brafton business account share her blog, but so did our employees who know Kari and so did Kari herself, and if I had to guess, Kari’s proud family did as well.

This accelerative social-sharing process existed outside our traditional social media marketing plan. Three of these posts, 60 percent, had lives of their own, with engagement that occurred organically. This fact could be useful in 2019. Perhaps we expand our social influencer outreach and guest-posting opportunities to piggyback on our 2018 findings.

Referring domains

For clarity, referring domains is the number of total domains that linked to your URL. This is subtly different than raw backlinks. You can have a multitude of backlinks coming from the same domain, so your referring domains figure is always a smaller number than your backlink count.

Our top five articles pulled from Ahrefs are:


  1. A guide to every 2018 Google SERP feature
  2. How to write a good blog post [infographic]
  3. The best content software of 2018
  4. 5 ways to promote your content like a pro
  5. The evolution of content marketing and SEO [infographic]

Right away, you’ll notice that the same guest post from Shane Barker that appears under our social shares category also appears here. Double-good news. This speaks to just how powerful guest posting can be on a number of fronts – it’s free content btw.

Secondly, two of the articles (Nos. 2 and 5) are paired with infographics, which is a reminder of what marketers have known for a while: Infographics are highly shareable and easily consumed. They’re great to post on social media, distribute via email and publish on your website, and thus have a high propensity to earn backlinks.

Another point that’s extracted from the above data is how comprehensive each of these topics is. These are long-form, all-inclusive posts that are anchored around a particular idea and that discuss related subtopics in detail. And that’s by design.

Posts that match searcher intent should be linked to because they did a better job at exploring each follow-up question and ancillary piece of information a reader might have/need.

This year, we’ll look at how to re-optimize these posts to continue building new links.

What we learned

Overall, there were some surprising and not-so-surprising findings from 2018. In this post, we didn’t cover actual conversions, as such the above data is mostly an exploration of surface-level metrics. We wouldn’t bet our entire strategy on data that lacks dimension.

We can, however, brainstorm additional ideas around:

  • How to expand our guest-posting and influencer outreach.
  • How to incorporate more infographics and other rich media.
  • How to use our own staff as employee advocates.
  • How to identify which articles to re-optimize again.
  • How to best dual-release eBooks as blog articles and vice versa.

With this in mind, 2019 is looking promising.