Social Media

We’ve heard the phrase, ‘you are what you eat’,  but what about ‘you are what you create’?

Cutting through the content noise online is difficult. How is it that some pieces of content resonate incredibly well with a particular audience, while others fall on deaf ears and flop? Some content pulls huge social engagement, but is not picked up Google, while other content ranks well… but isn’t on social. Surely there’s a logical explanation, and logical steps you can take to give your content the best chance at success?

To find out what type of content will get you links and social shares, and why both are important, I’ve interviewed Steve Rayson of Buzzsumo (content marketing and SEO tool). Don’t fancy reading? Have a listen on iTunes, SoundCloud.

1. Authoritative content answering popular questions

So number one, the obvious one is content that answers questions. In particular, authoritative content that answers questions. It might be as simple as, what is content marketing, what is shareable content, what is a bad link. Often those sorts of posts, those posts that answer questions, they get shared quite well, but they also gain a lot of bad links, because people will refer to them I think almost as references. So certainly, content that answers popular questions, that seems to do incredibly well, and they’re classic examples really, but one of the ones that stands out for me is, “What is content marketing?” by Content Marketing Institute. Obviously, they’re an authority, a short post they’ve got on what is content marketing. There’s not that many shares, maybe 5000, 6000, but it’s got over 2000 domain links, which is huge, really.

2. Strong opinion & political posts

The one that I think surprised me a bit more was strong opinion posts, or controversial posts. There seems to be no question that controversial content gets shares, but it also gets links. And the best example that I’ve seen of this in our own space is Mark Schaefer’s post on Content Shock. So he wrote a post a while ago now saying, content marketing is not a sustainable strategy, or words to that effect. So that’s slightly, well Mark would say that’s not controversial, but it was certainly a strong opinion piece. Just looking at that, it got over four and half thousand shares, which is quite good, but it got 900 domain links. And let’s put that into context. Mark’s entire blog only has 1,500 domain links. So more than 50% of all the domain links to Mark’s blog are to that one post. And I don’t know if that’s because people link because they support the view, or whether they link because they want to take issue with the view, but people do seem to look for the controversial content. And the same is true, if you go to the political arena, Michael Moore’s now famous post, I suppose, 5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win. Typically he doesn’t get more than about 50 to 60 domain links generally for his content, sometimes 100, that post got over 1000 domain links.

3. Research & insight pieces

The other type of content that always get links is research posts. We found this again in our research last year where we were looking at a million posts. We were looking for correlation of shares and links. The one site where we found a really strong correlation of shares and links was a site like Pew Research. They publish research content, and it gets lots of shares, but it also gets lots of links, and there’s very little question for me really, that if you publish good original research, people not only share it, they link to it, and it’s much more likely to gain links. And again, examples from our own area, if you look at sites like Social Media Examiner, they get quite a lot of links, because generally How-to posts do quite well on links, and they publish a lot of those. But actually one of their most linked pieces of work is what they call their annual Social Media Marketing Industry Report. So they do research on the industry, and publish an industry report every year, that always gets more links than other content on their site. So the recent one from 2016 got over 500 domain links. And that’s good even for a site like Social Media Examiner which for the most post gets less than 100 links to them. So original research gets links, and it doesn’t have to be your own research, that’s interesting.

4. Authoritative news & developments

Other posts that get lots of links tend to be authoritative posts about new developments, and that’s hard. Unless you’re an authority that’s hard for you to post something authoritative about a new development, but people who do this well, I think Search Engine Watch did one about confirming Google to no longer put ads on the right. It seems fairly small but that’s got masses of links, and I think it’s because they made it official, they just said, “Confirmed: Google to no longer show ads on the right” etc. And if the BBC or TechCrunch published something about a new iPhone feature, if they’re the first and most authoritative site, that content tends to get very well linked to. But it’s harder for the average content marketers to do that, because you have to build authority in the first place.

5. Content that leverages a trending topic but that also provides practical insights

The last one is trending topics. Sometimes you can jump on a trending topic, and but if you just jump on a trending topic, it tends to get shares and not links, but if you can provide some real insight, and a good example of this was Inc.’s one on Pokemon Go, which was how small businesses are using Pokemon Go to drive sales, and that got about 1000 links. And I think it was because it jumped on a trending topic, Pokemon Go, but it was practical, how-to content, and in my experience things like how-to posts generally get a few more links.

Common questions:

Shares and backlinks, do we need both?

Firstly, shares are really important just because of the way people discover content these days. I mean, lots of the evidence is that people discover content more through social platforms than they do through doing a search engine search, for example so. So social’s still important because it’s how people find content, and lots of people find it through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. So social sharing is important, but it’s not enough in its own right really. So, and the things that we’ve been looking at, it’s really links, I think we all know that links continue to have power, they continue to be talked of as one of the main ranking factors with Google.

What’s the benefit of links versus shares?

The differences between the two, the weakness of the shares I suppose, are that even if you get shared on social, most links on social are never clicked. Some people share articles on social that they never read or even visit, I’m sure that’s not true of us or other people but there are lots of people who will share stuff without reading it. Social posts also have a limited shelf life. If you missed that tweet this morning will you ever see it again. And also, social sharing tends to have a different format. It tends to explode quite quickly, get shared a lot, but after a week or so the social sharing tends to die down.

Links are almost the reverse. Links are much, much harder to get, but they have more longevity. They tend to give your site more authority as well. And we know that links are the sort of things that Google also use to assess your content in terms of its quality and authority. So they’re quite different really.

Social sharing takes place faster, easier to get in my view. Links don’t, they’re much harder to get, but they give your content more authority, and more longevity really. So in an ideal world, your content would get both, in an ideal world. And so what we’ve been researching is, how can we help people understand what content gets shared from links, and what of your own content, what’s been getting shares, what’s been getting links, what can we learn from that in terms of future content planning.

Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveRayson and read more about the Buzzsumo research.

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About Jörgen Sundberg

Founder of Undercover Recruiter & CEO at Link Humans, an employer branding agency.

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