Plenty of media professionals like to get down on BuzzFeed for providing what they see as "lowest common denominator" types of content. And with post titles like, "'Men in Black' is the Only Movie That Truly Understands Your Hangover Right Now," I don't think anybody's arguing that the site's a frontrunner for any major journalistic integrity awards.
But the site receives an average of 40 million unique visitors a month. Yes, that many. That should be enough to make all website owners stand up and take notice. Something in the site's formula is resonating with online visitors across nearly all demographics.
What kind of lessons about blogging can you derive from this "listicle" driven media powerhouse? Here are five:
1. List posts work.
The way traditional journalists talk, you'd think that the list post, or listicle, is a sign of an impending downfall of civilization. And while list posts tend to provide less substance than fully fleshed-out editorials, this doesn't always matter.
People love to read list posts because their inherent structure telegraphs to readers that they'll be able to consume larger amounts of information with less effort. Because list post authors have already organized the key points of information for their readers, website visitors find this type of post less intimidating and more easily accessible than other content formats.
I'm not saying that every post on your site should follow the list structure, but it's certainly a valuable tool that deserves a place in your blogging arsenal.
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2. A GIF is worth a thousand words.
BuzzFeed makes liberal use of pictures and animated GIFs in their posts. Not only does this help to create a subconscious feeling of a shared experience among readers, it also minimizes the amount of time that must be spent writing blog post content. Just take a look at the text in the "Men in Black" article linked to above to see this principle in action.
If you're in a highly-technical field, it probably doesn't make sense to crank out blog posts that are nothing but lists of animated GIFs. But even the most advanced business blogs need to keep in mind that the human eye is drawn more readily to pictures than to text.
Don't be afraid of using pictures and animated GIFs, but do use these tools in a way that's appropriate for your readers.
3. Make regular posting a priority.
Given the post structures and surface-level knowledge that BuzzFeed employs, not to mention its sizable staff, the company is able to post dozens of individual articles a day. And because visitors know that there's always going to be something new on the site, they stop back again and again to read the new content.
Posting at this rate is unrealistic for most business blogs. But even if you're only posting one to two times per week, keep things consistent. Let your readers know when you'll be publishing new content so that they know when to come back and revisit your site.
4. Know your audience.
BuzzFeed relies heavily on pop culture references and popular media topics (again, see the "Men in Black" article referenced above), as the numbers show that these posts get the most traction among the site's readers. That doesn't mean that the site doesn't cover "heavier" topics from time to time. Recent articles on Obamacare, marriage equality and stop-and-frisk policies all appear on the site's homepage, though the bulk of the site's real estate is devoted to more throw-away articles.
What kinds of posts do your blog readers demonstrate the most interest in? Your Google Analytics account and your social profiles can give you some insight into their preferences. But it's up to you to identify these trends and then mirror them back to readers in your content strategy.
5. Keep banner ads to a minimum.
One of the most interesting things about BuzzFeed's success is that you won't see a banner ad in sight. Sure, the site runs some promoted posts and sponsored contests, but according to founder Jonah Peretti in a 2012 email: "We care about the experience of people who read BuzzFeed and we don't try to trick them for short term gain. This approach is surprisingly rare."
You won't find banner ads on BuzzFeed because they know that these images disrupt the user experience and turn off readers. And if a site that's built around pop culture puff pieces can find a way to make money effectively without resorting to these distracting ads, chances are your company can as well.