By Steve Peck published December 13, 2015

Why You Shouldn’t Care That One-Third of Readers Despise Your Content


The average reader of a brand’s long-form content doesn’t consume 42% of the pages. That’s one key takeaway from our recent B2B Content Engagement Benchmark Report at Docalytics. The findings surfaced from engagement data captured during 180,000 view sessions of more than 1,700 downloadable, long-form content resources like e-books, white papers, reports, and guides.

Not only does much of the content go unviewed, but over 35% of readers spend less than 30 seconds on a downloadable resource, according to our research.

The average reader of a brand’s long-form #content doesn’t consume 42% of the pages via @1StevePeck Click To Tweet

Assuming your readers consume your content in similar, sporadic ways, the question you should ask is:

Should I really care?

You should not.

You could never consistently create content that all your readers will want to spend more than 30 seconds on. Don’t take it personally, but do make a conscious effort to identify the 65% of readers who like your content and whether they represent the audience you want to reach.

Now before I dive deeper into this topic, I feel it important to make one gargantuan disclaimer about my admonition that you don’t need to care about the 35% who don’t love your content: This is not a free pass to create bad content.

Rather, it’s quite the opposite. With the growing content clamor in the B2B marketing landscape it is more important than ever to deliver a high-quality content experience every time. Ann Handley summed up this point well during a recent interview when I asked her the simple question – Does it matter if readers actually consume your content?

Here’s her response:

Of course it matters.

We are long past the notion of creating content for dumb search engines. Search engines aren’t dumb anymore – and neither are your customers, your prospects, your fans, or those who recommend you (they never were, in fact).

Think of your content as not fodder for gaming rankings, but instead think of it in two ways:

  1. As useful, inspired, empathetic content that people actually want, need, enjoy. (‘Marketing that doesn’t feel like marketing,’ as my friend Tom Fishburne says.)
  1. As a way to understand your customers better, as well as understand yourself and your business. Understanding what content resonates with people is also a way to understand your customers, period.

Why does this matter? Because ridiculously good content is what fuels relationships online. And relationships build trust. And trust builds business.

Ridiculously good content is what fuels relationships online. Relationships build trust. Trust builds business. Click To Tweet

If countless expert writers believe driving high engagement with quality content is so important, then making sure all readers find enough value to maximize the time they spend with your content must be paramount. Right?


Set your new course by following two proven approaches of carefree (successful) content marketers – focus and nurture.

Focus: Don’t try to delight everyone

Speaking as a writer who is routinely rejected by editors and readers alike, I get it. It’s personally deflating to put so much into creating a piece of content you love, only to learn that many readers perceive it to be repugnant or worse, utterly drab.

If you’re like most marketers, then your natural tendency is to obsess over why some readers don’t engage deeply with your content, pushing you to adopt a more generic approach to improve audience engagement and drive more mass appeal. After all, more social shares and “likes” equal more effective content, right? Not necessarily.

Successful content marketers view the fact that their content does not resonate with all readers as a testament that they are doing their job well. These marketers write with the explicit purpose of delighting the audiences as defined by their brand’s personas. Any readers who aren’t in those target audiences might as well not have engaged because whether they enjoyed the content or not is a moot point to the marketer.

When interviewed for our 2016 benchmark report, B2B marketing strategist Ardath Albee summed up why this mindset works. Marketers, she said, “must focus on a tight audience for your content. Content written for everyone will engage no one.” So in other words, better to make certain you engage the few you care about the most than to stress over the experience of the many you never intended to reach.

#Content written for everyone will engage no one by @Ardath421 via @cmicontent Click To Tweet

Here are three ways you can accomplish this:

  1. Examine engaged and unengaged subscribers.

Segment subscribers into two groups – those who routinely open and consume your content and those who don’t. If those who open your emails don’t represent your target audience, it’s time to send something different.

  1. Analyze characteristics of registered readers who regularly comment on your blog.

If your target personas are routinely absent from your comment threads, you’re likely writing for the wrong group and need to alter your approach.

  1. Sponsor the same piece of content targeting different segments.

Pay to promote the same piece of content to different targeted groups on third-party networks like LinkedIn. One of the groups should be your primary targeted persona. The other groups can be related but are not the specific audience you value so highly.

You can measure how the groups engage with your content then compare engagement and conversion metrics. If your highest-priority audience finds your content less engaging than the lower priority groups, you need to change the content you promote.

We helped a global financial services firm evaluate whether its content that was part of a broader thought leadership strategy was resonating with its target audience – senior leadership. This is what we found:


After testing a few content offers, the marketing team observed much higher engagement among lower-level employees in the targeted companies. Understanding this discrepancy allowed the firm’s marketing team to refine its efforts to produce new, less tactical-focused material that better met the content needs of the senior-leadership audience it cared about the most.

When the experiment was replicated with new content, the team observed improved engagement and conversion among their higher-priority senior-leader persona when compared to the previous content consumption.

financial-services-evaluation-image 2

By leveraging engagement data to focus on the needs of your specific personas, you can produce more content that your target audience responds well to and less of what engages the broader, less-qualified reader base. In turn, you will help your brand build meaningful relationships in far less time with those readers you care most about.

Nurture: Advance the delighted, reroute the unimpressed

Once you run your own tests and confirm that the readers exhibiting high engagement are the personas you’re striving to reach, you can then resume not caring about the others who don’t like your content and direct your energy to those who love your every word.

When your engaged readers match your target personas it is a wonderful thing. You are now successfully writing to the right group with real pain points that your content effectively addresses.

If you’ve aligned your content well with the products or services offered by your company, there’s a much higher likelihood that those engaged readers are ready to move further down your marketing funnel. This sets the stage for you to leverage marketing automation platforms to strategically nurture those more highly engaged readers toward a quicker close.

This strategy requires a new level of sophistication but can be achieved with a lot of forethought and a little elbow grease. Integration between third-party content analytics providers and leading marketing automation platforms now allow you to push engagement data directly to individual lead records. This opens the door for creation of custom nurturing workflows that personalize follow-up for those who engaged most deeply based on where they are in the buying process. For example, you can send a tailored middle-of-funnel offer to a reader who spent 12 minutes reading all 30 pages of your top-of-funnel content.

Now that you have your target audience highly engaged, you can use marketing automation in an attempt to nurture those readers who don’t like your content. You can never be certain how an initially unqualified lead will evolve. That said, to be successful in converting these readers you must take a different approach.

For example, you can establish criteria to enroll unengaged readers on the always appreciated concierge marketing path with a personalized follow-up email that says, “Looks like that might not have been what you were looking for, can we help you find something else?”

In addition, many leading content marketing platforms are enhancing their analytic capabilities and building deeper integration with marketing automation platforms. These advancements now allow you to replicate the tailored nurturing strategy for individual visitors to your website content or blog articles.

By tailoring your nurturing campaign to account for reader behavior you can anticipate their interests in a way that drives more personalization, improves conversion, and ultimately generates more sales.

Are you among the engaged?

If you’ve made it this far in the post, you’re among the engaged minority and I’m genuinely pleased you found value in this content. If you’re among the 35% who found this post utterly drab and simply skimmed over the article to reach this point, I’d appreciate you leaving a critical comment.

Not because I care, but so I can confirm whether this article was written with you in mind.

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Cover image by Nicolai Berntsen, Unsplash, via

Author: Steve Peck

Steve Peck is co-founder at Docalytics, lead author of the Ultimate Guide to Content Engagement Benchmarks and co-creator of the free-to-use PDF Content Tracker. His newest project InsideContent.Marketing features candid stories of success & failure told by experts at the cutting-edge of the content marketing front lines. Join the insider discussion today by subscribing here or connecting on Twitter @1StevePeck

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  • Greg Strandberg

    Wow, those are some startling revelations.

    You say that “35% of readers spend less than 30 seconds
    on a downloadable resource.” I think this makes it clear that many of our efforts to use free eBooks as enticements for email signups (or whatever), just aren’t that effective. Supply far outweighs demand on that.

    58% of “long-form content” is read is a way to flip that other stat around. So that’s about half. Hey, a lot better than the 2.3% we get on email click-throughs!

    I think the main problem is that people haven’t targeted their audience enough and are trying to be all things to all people. Just like culling that email list for people that never open, sometimes you have to cull your topics or area of focus to winnow down the herd.

    Another problem is that people aren’t engaged. I liken this to boredom, or a student sitting in class and wanting to be anywhere else. That’s a failure of us, not them.

    Any other ideas to get those stats working more for you than against you?

    • rogercparker

      Dear Greg:
      Thank you for your perspective on Steve’s strong and provocative post. To respond to your question at the end, I think a possible clue might relate to the “immediate usability” of the downloaded resource.

      If it’s just “reading” material, there’s an immediate disconnect; the difference between “learning” and implementation.

      I know, from my own experiences, that I frequently refer to downloaded white papers that include implementation tools like questions, exercises, and worksheets that I can print out and put to work while reading the adjacent text.

      Of course, frequently, the worksheets have been “overly art directed” with colored or screened backgrounds or other obstacles to completion, like impossibly small line spacing, etc., but that’s another topic!

      • Steve Peck

        Roger – Agree with your thoughts on this and your preference for resources with useful implementation tools is a common one. That said, your preference for printing such content places you in the minority. As part of our study we observed that across 180,000 view sessions only 4% of readers ever physically printed a document!

        I’d imagine that resources with the tools you mentioned likely have a higher print rate, but this is something we have not measured. However, the key takeaway for marketers as they think about this stat is to design with the screen in mind, so those days of dense, small font, two or three column PDF’s are over…

        • rogercparker

          Thanks, Steve: I wonder if your research reveals any stats regarding implementation tools like assessments, exercises, and worksheets that can be immediately filled-out online (rather than printed and filled-out by hand.)

          I’m especially like it when I can fill out an exercise online, and immediately received a PDF of my response (for my records)..

          I recognize this approach will sacrifice quantity for quality, but I suspect that the deeper engagement will pay off higher quality relationships in the long run. Thanks, in advance.

    • Steve Peck

      Greg – Appreciate your optimistic observation, as you are correct that on average readers to get more than half way through brands long form content.

      Now in terms of your question around ideas to improve upon those stats, your recommendations on better targeting your topics to appeal to your true target audience is key.

      Outside of the content itself, there are also many other factors that will impact engagement such as design or content length. For instance, from a design perspective we’ve measured that the majority of readers will break out of skim mode and increase their per page time spent when numeric tables are introduced along side the copy. This type of design disruption will even impact subsequent pages that don’t contain a table. I like to think of it akin to a rubbernecking motorist, who hits the breaks to view an interesting fender-bender. Once past that accident, they don’t immediately return to 65 MPH, rather they slowly accelerate back to that speed. As the content creator or designer, adding these disruptions periodically throughout your content will have the effect of slowing the reader down so that on average they will consume more of what you’ve written.

      In terms of content length, we’ve actually measured that in most instances, shorter resources capture a much higher per page engagement time and completion rate from readers, compared to content of 30 pages or more. There are many factors attributed to this, however one hypothesis is that readers will tend to plug through a piece of content that’s only a few pages, even if marginal. However if that same piece of marginal content is 30+ pages, it’s a much bigger commitment to wade through all of it, so you’ll see much higher abandonment rates.

      Anyways, there are plenty of more stats and deeper expert observations around those metrics in the full Benchmark Guide linked to in my bio, and if you have any other questions / thoughts would love to hear them, because as you may have already figured out given the length of this response this is a topic I could talk about all day… ; )

  • Jim Love

    I’m actually surprised that the number is so low. If 65 percent of readers read my content I’d be ecstatic. I routinely ship material that I have downloaded. I only read the absolutely most engaging stuff. I don’t think I’m unique.

    • Steve Peck

      Jim – While I am certain you are unique, you’re correct that you are NOT unique when it comes to your reading habits.

      The 35% stat called out in this posts, sets the bar pretty low as it relates to what designates whether readers “like” your content. The fact is that from our study we observed the median time spent, in what was on average a 12 page resource was only 48 seconds. So right there at least 50% of your readers didn’t like your content enough to give you a full minute to consume it, and only a slim minority of readers will give you more than 5 minutes to consume these types of resources.

      Now that is not to say marketers should abandon long form content, but rather that marketers need to understand these patterns to make their content more concise and targeted as outlined in the post, as when done correctly the content download should still be a pillar of any lead gen focused content strategy.

      We cover all these stats in much greater detail within the Benchmark Guide linked to in my bio, or if interested go into more detail on these stats and topic on this guest post published last week on the Heinz Marketing blog:

  • alffreitas

    Steve, I love the article and certainly I will use many ideas in our content marketing strategy. So for, a I am taking notes in order to directly the contents to our personas.


  • Anna Wickham @ Charm House

    Read the whole thing! One thing you said that is worth emphasizing is the part about “taking it personally.” Inherent in content marketing is “putting yourself out there.” Just like in direct sales, there is always the possibility of being rejected. That combined with the fact that creating content can be so difficult anyway is enough to make many people throw in the towel and give up. That’s why I think this is such an important article: we have to confront that rejection so we can move past it. Thanks 🙂

    • Steve Peck

      Amen! (and very well said)….

      In addition, the more you put yourself out there the more you can learn what resonates and what doesn’t and more quickly improve the quality of your writing.

      Thanks for the making it to the end and the positive feedback to boot!

      • Anna Wickham @ Charm House

        Exactly! I’ll keep an eye out for your next article 🙂