A recent survey discovered that Americans are three times more likely to click on related links at the bottom of an article than content shared on social networking sites.
The study, "Behavior Shift: Getting Content in Front of Consumers"--conducted online within the U.S., Oct. 3-5, 2012, among 2,512 adults by Harris Interactive--sought to find out more about the ways in which adults from the U.S. "discover and navigate the Internet's fire hose of content," according to nRelate, a content discovery platform that was behind the study.
"The study reveals that in the past three months an overwhelming majority of US adults--76 percent--clicked on links to related stories for more information," according to the study. "In fact, next to search results, these related links (often located at the bottom of an article and leading to a similar one) are the preferred method of discovering information online, even trumping content links (videos, articles and images) recommended by friends on social networks."
Val Swisher, founder and CEO of Los Gatos, Calif.-based Content Rules, Inc., which works with companies on content strategy, content development, and global readiness, says she found the survey results on related links very interesting. "I think this warrants additional investigation," says Swisher. "The type of links the survey refers to are ‘related links' that are located outside of the body of the article itself. These links would appear either at the end of the piece or perhaps on a sidebar, as opposed to in-flow hyperlinks that happen within the article itself. The first question is this: Who benefits from related links?"
She continues, "The survey seems to point out that the recipient of the click on the link is the beneficiary, not necessarily the person who put the link into the article to begin with. So, the next question is: Does having a set of high-quality related links lead people to read your article and/or spend more time on your site?"
If the answer is yes, then Swisher says to go right ahead and put those related links in there. "However, I suspect that what the survey means to point out is that people are more likely to click on the related link--and the destination site is the beneficiary," points out Swisher. "This means that I would encourage my customers to get as many link-backs as possible from other sites. Of course, this is nothing new. We've been recommending this for years."
Swisher was also surprised to see the study found that 76% of online consumers say they do not get most of their content recommendations from friends on social networks. She has her theory on why people are relying less on recommendations from social media. "Everybody now considers themselves an expert, and I think people are really struggling with where they get the most accurate information, whether it's news information or information on a painter or what type of vacuum to buy," she says. "But it surprises me [that] people aren't taking more recommendations from Facebook because, theoretically, those are your friends and your trusted people."
The survey also found that 62% of people first look for traditional news stories as opposed to images, videos, blog posts, or any other type of related content; in addition, after reading a story, more online consumers say they are more likely to click on a link to another article (34%) than to a video (15%)-but 39% say they are more likely to click on an article if there is an image associated with it, according to nRelate.
"I found the information about video to be very interesting because video is becoming more and more important and more and more of our customers are having us create videos for them. However, in my daily life I rarely watch videos," admits Swisher. "I only watch videos when I'm looking for a ‘how to' ... but for news very, very rarely."
Swisher points out that being able to watch a video is often a matter of where you are. "Part of the issue with videos is the sound; a lot of times we are on devices that are in places where sound is not okay," she notes. "If you're in Connecticut and take the train into New York, there's no way you can watch a video without ear buds because everyone around you would be growling."
In terms of video strategy, Swisher notes she would continue to suggest that her customers use high-quality videos, on pertinent and interesting topics, as much as possible. "I would be very careful to not create videos just for the sake of creating videos. The most important factor is content quality, not type or frequency," she says.
"I know it sounds obvious, but in all honesty, sometimes I have seen customers who think quantity is better than quality; they somehow think if they produce three blog posts in a day, then somehow that's better than a really great blog post every week," adds Swisher. "There's too much information out there, and if publishers do not establish trust with their readership, readers will not click on your link."
The nRelate survey's findings agree with Swisher's take regarding quality content; in fact, the study says that "quality is key," and online consumers indicate quality content has the following attributes: It is from a source already known in the offline world (60%), includes images (24%), includes author image and byline (23%), and includes an embedded video (11%).
The study also found that more than half (51%) of online consumers say they read and click on content pushed to them via email newsletters from brands whose products and services they use. "I think [content producers] need to understand that what they provide has to have value, and they need to establish trust with their readership," stresses Swisher. "I think it's getting lost because I get emails constantly, a daily bombardment, and I almost never click on them unless I think they're really valuable."
In terms of overall content strategy, Swisher underscored the importance of having a strategy that is well-thought-out and well-implemented: "You cannot imagine how many companies of all sizes either have no strategy or have an outdated strategy that they are still trying to implement."