What does the Average User Think about Online Content [STUDY]

We conducted a survey of 500 US individuals to gain a deeper insight into how consumers view the content we all produce and to determine what impact things like authorship markup in SERPs and perceived credibility have on their behavior as well as what factors contribute to an individual sharing a piece of content and ultimately from a consumer perspective how content fits into sales funnels. This post will be looking at some of the top-line results from the survey and we’ll be delivering further insights gained from this survey over the next few weeks – diving deeper into some of the demographics to compare how the behavior of certain segments differs.

For this study we used the Google Consumer Surveys platform, 500 participants made up of the US general population were invited to take part and a mix of ages, incomes and locations were involved. All responses were collected within 3 days of the survey launch date of 2nd January 2014.

Key findings

  • 47.6% claim to consume content (that isn’t social media) on a daily basis.
  • 56.1% said the perceived credibility of an author had a significant impact on their behavior.
  • 52.4% in a blind test selected the first result in a SERP over a second one with Authorship markup.
  • 31% said that a piece of content being useful is the number 1 reason they’d consider sharing it with their social network.
  • 37.9% said company produced content had a sizable influence on their purchasing behavior – once they’re in purchasing mode.
  • 38.7% described a piece being “too self-promotional” as their number 1 turn off when it comes to sharing with their social network.
  • 32.6% said that 3rd party experts and industry commentators have a significant impact on their purchasing decisions.

1389030951_green-291) Are people even reading blogs these days or are people just sat inside Facebook playing Candy Crush?

For anyone concerned that blogs are dead, the results of our study suggest quite the opposite. With close to half of the respondents claiming to consume blogs, videos, infographics or eBooks (not including ‘social network only’ content i.e. content produced specifically for a social network rather than shared through one) on a daily basis, this part of the web is still very much alive.

Our study also suggests that content formats like blogging aren’t going anywhere anytime soon as 50.9% of those aged 18-24 surveyed consume content online daily compared with 38.8% of those aged 55-64 proving that if anything this trend looks set to rise in coming years despite ‘common wisdom’ that younger generations are only interested in social media.

The bottom line is that people are consuming the content that you are publishing so make sure it represents your brand in the way you intended.

2) How does the perceived credibility of the content impact on behavior?

1389031388_green-13We set out to establish the importance of credibility of content to the average user. It is widely accepted that people care about the trustworthiness of an author and the validity of what is being said but we wanted to confirm that really was the case, if that impacted behavior and how responses differed across age groups and genders.

Overall, 56.1% said that the credibility of a piece had a significant impact on their behavior which demonstrates clearly the need to exude authority and credibility in all aspects of content creation whether that be in the selection of writers to how it appears on a website and indeed which website your content appears on.

We expected significant differences in responses between the age groups surveyed however the results in this area were somewhat inconclusive. Our expectation was that credibility would be more important with older age groups and that assessing credibility would be something that came with ‘web maturity’. Initially we thought the findings corroborated this as only 37.5% of those aged 18-24 year felt credibility of a piece impacted their behavior compared with 79.2% of those aged 25-34 but this figure then dropped off in the older age groups to just 42% in 55-64 age category.

Here is a word cloud that visualizes what respondents said they look for when assessing the credibility of a piece:

www.google.com 2014-1-6 10 4 4

3) What does the average user think about authorship markup?

1389031210_green-38Our industry isn’t short of blog posts extolling the virtues of rel-author or studies suggesting authorship markup in the SERPs is the magic bullet to save your clickthrough rate but again we wanted to hear it from the perspective of the user. We put together in effect a ‘blind taste test’ for users to select which result they would click on if they were just going about their usual internet searching, here is what we discovered:

  • 52.4% said they would select listing number 1 (no authorship markup, Wikipedia page)
  • 47.6% said they would select listing number 2 (authorship markup, About.com resource)

Arguably the test had some bias as the average consumer may have a greater trust for Wikipedia although we felt this was somewhat mitigated by the fact that About.com is a similarly trusted and well-known brand.

Interestingly, 66.7% of the participants who earned $0-24k per year selected the listing with authorship markup versus just 14.3% of those earning $75-99k per year possibly signalling that the degree of importance of authorship markup most likely varies according to your target customer demographic.

Our results overall though suggest that being number 1 for a term might still be the priority and is likely to garner more clicks. That being said, this is a small sample and participants were shown only one SERP screenshot, the likelihood is that in a live environment in perhaps a more crowded vertical, the result might be very different.

Ultimately, authorship markup is simple to implement, worthwhile in the grander scheme of things and can help contribute to the overall credibility of a site, author or piece which as we have already learned in this study is important when it comes to influencing consumer behavior.

4) What makes the average user share something?

1389031443_green-21Our expectation was that funny or emotionally charged would rule the roost here but in fact usefulness did, pointing towards a need to understand what your audience seeks and provide a solution to that need credibly and authoritatively.

As we expected to be the case, the factors affecting sharing varied according to the age group, 40% of those aged 18-24 said that a piece being funny was the most important factor determining whether they share with their social networks, compared to just 17.6% of those aged 45-54. This suggests that humor/entertainment has its place particularly if you are targeting a younger audience.

www.google.com 2014-1-6 10 41 47

Interestingly however we found that when those surveyed were asked to think of a piece of content produced by a brand recently and think why they recall that particular piece, 17.7% said that they remembered branded content because it was funny. This suggests that perhaps there was an element of response bias or our older participants felt that they needed to somehow “act their age” and say usefulness of content is more important than entertainment.

It is clear though that striking a balance and providing a mix of content types is the most effective way to prosper. Different content types are going to appeal to different segments and serve different purposes so fostering a brand voice that is adaptable is therefore essential.

5) Does company produced content actually have an impact on buyer behavior?

1389031252_green-09There are often whispers of growing skepticism, in the minds of consumers, for content produced by brands – “they’re just trying to sell me something”, “they just want my details” etc etc. The aim of this section of the survey was to determine whether content published by a brand had a positive or negative impact on buyer behavior and to what extent.

37.9% of those surveyed said that when they were in buying mode, company produced content had a significant positive impact on their behavior. The gender divide was somewhat noticeable with this element of the study as 42.4% of male respondents said branded content impacted their behavior when making a purchased compared with just 34% of female respondents saying the same thing – potentially signalling a greater skepticism amongst women toward content from a company although further research on a larger sample would obviously need to be conducted.

The results here point towards content having a significant impact on encouraging individuals to actually make a purchase – content is widely regarded as the fuel to social media marketing and SEO campaigns but it is evident that a well-executed content creation campaign can also be instrumental in improving conversion rates. Content it would seem really does assist every step of the path to purchase.

6) What does the average user hate about your content?

1389031743_green-24We asked participants to select the two (from a list of 5) of their biggest complaints about content. As expected, getting the basics right is essential with 62.3% rating “spelling/grammar and typos” as one of their biggest gripes.

One result we found to be particularly interesting was that close to 40% of respondents were complaining about content being too “self-promotional” this is a great insight because it not only suggests that consumers are fairly savvy to a pig brand trying to shove lipstick on itself but also that these type of content is evidently prevalent and therefore front of mind as a complaint for the average user.

Here are the results:

www.google.com 2014-1-6 11 20 56

Another interesting point is the fact that close to 20% found content that was “too basic” to be the biggest turn-off. A number of companies have attempted to combat this already introducing different tiers of content to cater to both their “amateur” and “expert” customer bases but these results would suggest that brands aren’t going far enough – people don’t just want to see eHow or similar “how to open a packet of peanuts” tutorials. Possibly indicating the need for a higher calibre of writer or opening up the discussion to third party contributors in the format of an expert forum as is frequently done with technology products and services.

7) Do influencers really make a difference to purchasing behavior?

1389031279_green-14This was another one of those pieces of “common wisdom” that we really wanted to put to the test. We set out to establish whether a company interacting and engaging with 3rd party experts and industry commentators would be beneficial to smoothing the path to purchase. As expected, it very much is beneficial.

32.6% said that 3rd party experts and industry commentators have a significant or greater impact on their purchasing decisions.

Once again we saw a difference in the extent of the influence across the different age groups. Respondents were asked to rate (out of 10) how influential 3rd party experts and industry commentators were on their purchasing habits – 1 being not influence at all, 10 being absolute following of expert opinion.

Here are the average responses by age group:

  • 18-24 years of age – 6.8
  • 25-34 years of age – 6.7
  • 35-44 years of age – 6.3
  • 45-54 years of age – 6.3
  • 55-64 years of age – 5.9

This would appear to show a slight but decreasing trend in terms of trust for 3rd party experts as age increases, however it is worth noting that even within the elder age groups the numbers of respondents reporting a significant or greater impact on their purchasing habits was still large – 36.9% in the case of those aged 55-64.

Our findings demonstrate the importance of engaging with key influencers in your market securing reviews, garnering coverage and publishing content on publications in your industry (beyond your own) as a way of ensuring a customers path to purchase leads to your company and not a competitor.

And finally, an exciting announcement…

cpv2-e1388869778313To assist our clients in taking full advantage of the opportunities that exist in creating valuable content, we’ve launched ContentProsper which is a dedicated premium content creation division within Skyrocket SEO. We match subject-matter experts to writing assignments then combine their knowledge with our creative team, strong quality control processes and proactive client support to deliver a solution that is unmatched in the industry.

A number of team members will continue to work across both brands but we’re establishing ContentProsper to allow a separate, more specialized team to develop this specific solution further faster. See here for more information.

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