Should you make an infographic?
A video?
Blog posts?
Hmmmmm…
“Should you make [type of content]” sounds like a yes or no question. But to come up with the right answer to that question, you need a lot of other information.
That’s what this post is about. Because as content marketing keeps getting more popular, you’re going to keep hearing things like…

  • “Oh blogs are dead, it’s all about [shiny new thing] now”
  • “What do you mean you don’t have a podcast? Do you hate customers?”
  • “If you aren’t repurposing your content on at LEAST 37 platforms, it doesn’t even count”

Yes, I’m exaggerating (a little). But it does feel like there’s a lot of pressure to make every type of content. Even the thought of doing that is kind of exhausting.
Good news! You don’t need to make every type of content – just the ones that work for your business.
This post is about 10 types of content that work. You’ll get data on each type of content, what makes it effective (or not), and how to decide what content you need in the first place.

How do you know which types of content to use?

Anyone can give you a list of the 167 types of content they brainstormed off the top of their head. That isn’t the hard part about deciding to use content marketing.
The hard part is figuring out what type of content makes sense for your business.
In other words:

  • The types of content that your target audience will care about
  • The types of content that will help you promote your product or service

How do you create that content?
Understanding the types of content your audience consumes is difficult. As I’m writing this, there’s no single tool or method that’s guaranteed to tell you where your audience hangs out online.

audience targeting is important

SparkToro, a new company from Moz founder Rand Fishkin, is trying to solve this problem. Oh boy do I hope they do it (Source, SparkToro)

But there are still things you can do to understand your target audience and create the content that’s going to get results specifically for you.
We’ve written a few posts about how you can do audience research. Even if you don’t have a literal list of URLs where your audience hangs out, you can still understand their pain points and make best guesses:

Jimmy Daly, a content marketing expert at Animalz, has written about content marketing personas as well:

“We’d like to propose an alternative to the traditional marketing persona that helps inform the style of writing and the quality of the ideas. Instead of asking, ‘Who is our target reader?’ ask, ‘At what level is our target reader thinking?’

Are your readers looking for a list of tips? Step-by-step? Big picture insights?
Thinking about where your target audience falls on the “tactical vs. strategic” spectrum is a good way to figure out what types of content they might enjoy most.

are your readers tactical or strategic

Where does your audience fall on this chart? The answer will help you decide what “great content” means for your business. (Source, Animalz)

Sure, you can write a piece of content that search engines love and that brings a lot of traffic to your website – but if you’re writing “17 Magical Corgis That Floof So Hard You Can’t Even,” don’t expect to get much attention from CEOs.
With that in mind, here are 10 types of content that you can use to appeal to different types of people.

  1. Long-form blogs (deep analysis or step-by-step)
  2. Short-form blogs (driven by a “big idea”)
  3. Original research
  4. How-to videos
  5. Social media videos (for short-term promotion)
  6. Partner webinars
  7. Case studies
  8. Checklists
  9. Infographics (especially as data visualization)
  10. Podcasts (for an existing audience)

10 types of content (you can use for different target audiences)

Should you go after thought leadership? Isn’t video content the latest craze? What kind of content is going to build trust (while also building your email list?)
These are the types of content that work (and the ones that get mixed results).

1. Long-form blogs (deep analysis or step-by-step)

“People don’t read on the internet,” right?
Wrong.
People read content that’s relevant to them. There are so many examples of long-form content that gets incredible results:

Orbit Media Studios runs an annual study of 1000+ bloggers. They’ve found that not only has the average blog post increased in length since 2014 – bloggers who write longer posts report better results.

bloggers who write longer blogs get better results

People who write long blogs are more likely to say they get “strong results” from their content marketing. (Source, Orbit Media)

So if you write long blogs, what should you write about?
It depends where on the spectrum your audience is. You could write:

You could even write posts like this one – listicles that have enough detail to still be useful.

2. Short-form blogs (driven by a “big idea”)

What if you’re targeting a group of people who don’t have a ton of time?
Short-form blogs sometimes get a bad rep – because it’s harder to drive a lot of traffic to short term blog posts. Especially as social media platforms change their algorithms, a high percentage of traffic comes from search (where short-form blogs don’t always do as well).

Google refers the most traffic

At 57.8%, Google refers more than half of all traffic (Source, SparkToro)

But that doesn’t mean short content is never useful. In fact, there are some people who have a ton of success with shorter content because…

  • They have a built-in way to promote it (usually an email list or a strong personal network)
  • The content has a key insight that’s hard to come by anywhere else

Here are a few examples of people who have great, insight-driven content:

  • Eric Cressey is a top strength and conditioning coach, with lots of top-tier clients (his client Corey Kluber won baseball’s Cy Young award). This post of his is just 394 words, but it gives an insightful answer to a difficult question – when should athletes train for mobility vs. stability?
  • Jimmy Daly (referenced earlier) writes about content marketing. Because he targets executives and managers, his content is less “how-to” and more “big-picture.” This post of his is just 695 words, but it makes one point expertly (and is backed by his experience)
  • Morgan Housel writes at a VC fund, about markets and investing. Some of his blogs are 4,000+ words, but others like this one are ~800. People read his blogs because they have insights and pull interesting information from outside the world of investing (including evolution, politics, psychology, and geology).

Short blogs don’t have an obvious “playbook” for success the way long blogs do (optimize for search and get links).
But if you have an email list you own or a strong reputation in a niche field, short blog posts may be the best way to get your ideas heard.

3. Original research

In 2017, BuzzSumo founder Steven Rayson analyzed 100 million articles. He found that three types of content seem to outperform all other types of content:

  • Authoritative research
  • Reference content
  • Opinion content

It’s not all that easy to create content that become the go-to reference in your field.
And opinion-forming journalism is hard to manufacture (although it spreads well on average, there can be a lot of variation from post to post).
Research though – that you can find a way to do. Even though it can be more time-intensive to product, the best content vastly outperforms all other content.

social share distribution

Most articles get 0 shares. Only a few articles actually get shared a lot (Source, BuzzSumo)

It’s worth spending extra time on content if it gets massively better results, right?
And yet, only 47% of marketing teams publish original research.
original research marketing teams percentage

Under half of marketers use original research. Opportunity to stand out? (Source, BuzzSumo via Orbit Media)

Why? Probably because, as an intense type of long form content, research is hard to do.
At the same time, it gets great results (social shares, links, traffic) because it’s so hard to do and so valuable.
(As Bob Kelso says in Scrubs: “Nothing in this world that’s worth having comes easy.”).
Still, there are some good ways to do original research without getting a PhD in data science.

types of original content

Here are 5 types of original research, and their pros/cons (Source, Orbit Media)

There’s lot of data out there that you can use. Orbit Media (where that table comes from) has studied web design practices on top websites and salary information for marketers (pulled straight from Glassdoor).
Online surveys are becoming more and more popular. An experiment that you run on your own website can work just fine as well.
Original research is harder than most digital marketing. But it is possible – and if you do it well it can get you some incredible results.

4. How-to videos

Some things are just easier to explain in a video.
When I wanted to download MySQL on a Mac, an article just didn’t fit the bill. It would be too hard to follow each step without screenshots. So I looked up a video like this one.
When a physical therapist like Kelly Starrett wants to take his business online, he does it through video – because no one can really figure out how to exercise by reading a list of instructions.

mobilityWOD videos

MobilityWOD founder Kelly Starrett built his business on video

Vanessa of Speak English with Vanessa grows her audience on YouTube. Because when you’re learning to speak english, you probably want to actually hear what English sounds like from a native speaker.

Vanessa's youtube video

Vanessa’s videos get tons of views and subscribers. You can see how she uses ActiveCampaign to run her business in this case study.

As the ability to create high-quality videos gets more and more widespread (thanks smartphones), video content is absolutely booming.
A forecast and trends report from Cisco (which I don’t recommend reading, because it’s pretty dry) states that video will account for 82% of all IP traffic by 2022.
Cisco video report says video increasing

An exabyte is 1 billion gigabytes (Source, Cisco)

To flex my nuance muscle just a little bit – it’s worth noting that a lot of the growth in video content comes from “long-form internet VoD,” which includes streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.
But “short-form internet VoD” (for example, the stuff on YouTube) is still growing. And live internet video is growing really fa