I've been at this freelance thing for three years now, and so much has changed: our collective outlook on the workplace; shifting trust regarding both tech and media business practices; and the growing amount of discourse concerning how algorithms shape our real-world perceptions.
But no matter the temper of the cultural discussion, when professional folks find out what I do, their first question is, "So how often should I publish content?" My in-person answer is usually the digital strategist's classic dodge, "Well, it depends." I answer "it depends" because yes, it's complex, but also because the answer requires tedious triage that kills a good conversation.
Because despite the proliferation of platforms and their attendant recommender algorithms; regardless of the growing amount of content types and formats; and notwithstanding the neverending supply of creators spending hours on their phones throwing spaghetti posts, hoping for a viral hit; the answer is the same as it has been for publishing businesses for at least the past 150 years:
You should publish as often as it makes sense for your business model and your brand's integrity.
How does your business model affect your publishing frequency?
As content professionals, you likely know that publishing content on the internet for free does not automatically produce billion-dollar revenues. Digital publishing revenue comes from:
- Selling digital display ads based on pageviews/CPM model (and giving 1/3 to half of revenue generated to the ad tech company running your ads)
- Converting casual readers to paying subscribers, either for access to exclusive content or an active community (and spending much of your time asking casual users to convert)
- Selling exclusive conversion-focused premium digital ads on content geared for an audience of highly qualified subscribers (a niche media direct-response model that not nearly enough digital publishers use)
- Building a branded point of view through connected thought leadership to attract qualified leads or clients (then converting those clients to paying customers, which takes months)
- Building a regular relationship with your fans and users, who will then buy related products on the reg (aka the Glossier model, which can take years)
The first of these, display ads, is no different from daily newspaper models in the 1800s. It only requires eyeballs, cares little for the fact that audience members are people, and contributes to shitty user experiences across the web. Additionally, depending on your programmatic ad tech vendor, this model may or may not violate your users' privacy in different countries.
In a display ad-focused model, you should publish as frequently as possible, as much as possible, with no focus on quality because it's programmatic! Context and using the web as a medium don't matter. The money just keeps a'flowin, just like cryptocurrency, as long as you drive visitors to your website by one means or another. Growth hackers all day!
Other digital publishing revenue models are about relationship-building with audiences, communities and advertisers. For those, the answer to "how often" is: How can you make the most long-term brand impact with the highest quality connected content, produced consistently and sustainably?
For most businesses, the answer is almost never daily.
The arguments for daily+ publishing
If you spend all day online, you might believe that daily publishing is the ticket to great success, with users piling up every single day to drool upon and throw money at your content. In growth hacking forums and newsletters, obsessive market-watchers, bored-at-work types and trendhoppers advocate for daily posts because it's the content they consume most regularly.*
Ditto with audiences who primarily use rapid-consumption user-generated social media channels after work: daily makes sense in their heads because that's where "content" fits into their lives. They see content as a gap-filler that's only worth the time they've spent on it, rather than as a product of effort and creativity.
It's the focus-group-of-one phenomenon: many people believe that everyone else consumes media the same way they do. When all you watch is 24-hour cable news, you start to think that's how everyone enjoys consuming the news. If you spend all day shitposting and reading shitposts, you begin to think that shitposts are all there is.
Media consumption habits vary widely based on life stage, profession, and lifestyle choices. Most people are online to complete specific tasks, like working, shopping or chatting with friends... not reading brand content on social media and especially not visiting your company's website content.
Unless you're actually reporting the news (like a daily newspaper, not just republishing something that's on Twitter or TV) and selling impression-based advertising at premium rates, daily original content is a big swing with little reward. For most businesses, content-first or not, numerous posts per day, or even numerous posts per week, is far too much effort to execute at a level that's high enough quality to make an impact in a competitive publishing space.
Aggregation is a better sell for daily content, but most of us only follow 1-2 daily aggregators and move on to other tasks. I'd wager that the only people who read multiple aggregator newsletters are creating their own aggregated newsletters elsewhere.
Publications that are successful at daily content aggregation have a distinct voice; provide clear value or unique insight that you can't find elsewhere; and are generally more experienced writers who can create daily without boring or annoying regular readers.
For most businesses, content-first or not, numerous posts per day, or even numerous posts per week, is far too much effort to properly make an impact. Daily content posts on any medium are a big investment, especially if you care about brand quality and originality.
Should you publish weekly, monthly or quarterly? Depends on what you can do consistently.
Particularly if you're focused on content marketing and not subscription revenue, I recommend that most brands start publishing higher quality, more connected content consistently—which usually means starting quarterly and working up to monthly.
For less frequent publication, I recommend that business focus on how publishing supports business goals: For each piece of content published, set a goal, such as:
- Each whitepaper should net 10 qualified leads.
- Each article should attract 25 new email subscribers within a month of its publication.
- Each new piece of content should lead to 25% more engaged time on site.
If you're focused on building an audience of engaged subscribers, especially if you're building a community, I'd recommend monthly or weekly publishing: whatever you can produce consistently with your current investment of resources.
Audiences who care about your content look forward to its publication, or at least smile when they see something new. They care about what you publish, even if they don't follow your every word across every channel. If they know you publish on Thursdays or on the first of the month, they will look for your new content when it's published. If you are publishing on a website, this means your audience will bookmark or visit your domain as direct visitors when expecting new content.
Inconsistent content makes audience relationships difficult to build and revenue hard to predict. If your readers don't know what to expect or how often, they're going to behave unexpectedly in return.
But please keep in mind: publishing consistently is to support your audience, not to support algorithms. While it's true that many social algorithms reward consistent publication, it's because consistent publication leads to engaged audiences, not because the algorithms themselves set requirements for publication frequency.
In the case of search algorithms, which are vastly different from social media algorithms, Google likes to see regularly added content because they want to know your site is active and well-maintained, but their algorithm isn't holding you to a schedule. Anyone who tells you "Google thinks you should publish daily/weekly," something I have heard recently, does not know what they are talking about.
Why does "connected" content matter?
You may have noticed that I use the word "connected" content to describe successful publication. That's because single pieces of content that standalone on your website without any tagging or pillar strategy likely don't have much long-term value.
Back in the 2010s, content professionals (myself included) talked about "snackable" content and used the goldfish attention span theory to argue that people don't have time to read content. But that's bunk.
I've argued before and will stand by this: If mass audiences can understand the Marvel Cinematic Universe and hordes of Facebook-enabled adults can come up with and follow QAnon, that's evidence to me that we can all understand connected content.
Websites build value over time like the Marvel Cinematic Universe expands: Every topic connects to a new character and a new storyline. Spending the time to optimize your topic's connection to your brand's own cinematic universe (aka website experience) makes it easier for audiences to fall down rabbit holes and explore your content organically. More context and connection supports high-quality audiences.
Simply put: connected website content builds upon itself, creating value over time for both audiences and search engines. Disconnected, one-time content loses value soon after it's posted. It's a better business bet to focus on long-term, consistent content that educates your audience with well-cited sources, than to roll the dice for a hit every time.
This is my final answer: How often should you publish content?
So yeah, it depends on your business model. But now that you've read this far, here are my quick answers:
- If you are reporting the news or make a significant portion of revenue from selling display ads, publish daily.
- If you are a consumer company focused on younger audiences who spend more casual time browsing the internet, publish daily or weekly at the same time each day/week.
- If you are publishing service content in a niche consumer vertical, publish weekly or multiple times per week, consistently.
- If you're in a client-service industry, aim for weekly or monthly publication to connect with your audience and share your progress.
- If you are building a brand for more affluent audiences who don't have time every day but want to make time for you, publishing monthly or quarterly is a good bet.
- If you're an enterprise B2B company, publishing quarterly will do in most cases.