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Research: Why trust matters in content marketing

The good folks at Oz Content shared some interesting research about trust and authority. The data is useful for content marketers trying to drive relevance and engagement. That’s pretty much all of us, right? Here's my take on the findings.

TrustTrustworthy Content Marketing Improves Search and Sharing

Establishing, building and maintaining trust is key for all marketers, especially those of us playing in the increasingly overpopulated world of content marketing.

Yet people don’t trust a lot of things. That's why they need to trust us--the people bearing the message. When the audience trusts us, they’re more likely to consider and accept what we’re telling them. That’s one less obstacle to overcome.

The best way to cultivate trust with our audience is to deliver well-written and well-researched content that’s properly sourced and keenly relevant. This increase in quality and rigor is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have.

Why? Because studies now show that good research and credible sources are crucial elements to improving search performance, increasing social sharing and getting better results.

Build Trust with Better Research and Sources

We all remember those pesky footnotes from term paper days. But even if nobody reads them, they evoke a predictable response from most of us: trust. If someone took the time to cite a reference (whether in a note, link or attribution), we wager, they probably researched the information they’re providing. I call this "the Footnote Effect".

From the Oz post: “The evidence does reveal the potential importance of using links as a student would use references to prove something is credible, to show that other people stand behind it. As [Buffer’s Kevan] Lee said, there’s an ‘element of social proof to an article when you’re able to reference blogs and influencers that others already know about.’”

I’m not talking about doing a quick Google search and grabbing the first few results. Proper research requires a broader survey to find original sources, identify trends and contradictions, and build evidence. This can be challenging for anyone years removed from research papers at school, which is why freelance and former journalists are so popular with successful content marketers. We’re used to wading through documents, doing interviews and building support for and verification of ideas.

From the Oz post: “If an author is about to cite an article from an important publication, she’ll likely say something like, ‘according to The New York Times,’ or ‘researchers from MIT’, or ‘a recent Pew Research poll’. Along with specific details, quotations from experts, and statistics, these are some of the subtle clues within the text that convey credibility and may lead some readers to value and share your article.”

“[Contently Editor-in-Chief Joe] Lazauskas stands behind proper citations. ‘We link to the original source,’ he said. ‘We don’t link to some anonymous marketing blog that rounds up a bunch of stats—we find the original report. I think that’s important, and it affects the [average DA] as well. I think a lot of people are kind of lazy about that.’”

Improve Search Results and Social Sharing

DA is domain authority, a metric created by Moz that “predicts how well a website will rank on search engines.” Moz’s DA score is one measure of a site’s trustworthiness. It’s important because there’s a lot of data showing that links to high-DA sites improve search ranking. Oz’s research shows that outbound-link DA boosts social sharing, too. Winning!

There’s also a corollary to the Footnote Effect. Even if users don’t click on the link, they often fly over it to see where it goes. If it’s a source they trust, the content they’re consuming gets the benefit of the doubt—even if they don’t follow the link. Turns out the old adage, “You’re known by the company you keep”, applies even if it’s just a URL.

That’s not just your grandmother talking, either. Recent research from AOL describes ways consumers use and engage with content, among them discovery, inspiration and knowledge. Each of these motivators carries with it the need for a certain level of credibility and trust. As sharers, we don’t want to pass on bad information. You know how it feels when someone debunks your share or provides a better-researched alternative on your social feed. Ouch!

If you’re a content producer who’s a niche expert with a strong reputation, you may not need a lot of high-DA references in your content to drive sharing. That’s because people want to be associated with you already. The broad trust the audience has in you creates shareworthiness (hey, I think I just created a new word!). But if you’re a generalist, the research shows that outbound-link DA is an important trust-maker and driver of social sharing.

From the Oz post: “On generalist sites, people are more likely to share articles with a higher average outlink DA. Clues within the text, including hyperlinks, statistics, quotes, and references to well-known institutions, all transmit credibility and guarantee that the sharer won’t look bad.”

I know trust isn’t a new concept, but what is new is our understanding of its role in driving KPIs related to search, social and other content marketing activities.

Trust matters beyond the tried and true reasons related to image and brand equity. It’s now as required on the web as it has always been in print and in person. Now that quantitative metrics exist, we can potentially get empirical evidence for the value of well-researched and properly-sourced content.

Your To-Dos: Get more out of your online content by putting more effort into research and citations:

  • Work with writers who have research experience and the ability to provide top-notch interview content.
  • Choose outbound links wisely to increase credibility.

Build trust with your audience by building authority into every piece of content you produce—and win more clicks and eyeballs by doing it better than anyone else.

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