Backlinko and BuzzSumo partnered together to analyze 912 million blog posts to glean insights about content marketing today. They looked at factors such as content format, headlines, and word count and how it correlates with backlinks and social media shares. The findings they discovered were quite interesting.
When it comes to building backlinks, long-form content significantly outperforms short articles and blog posts. There are other industry studies that find a correlation between long-form content and achieving first page Google rankings.
But, it doesn’t seem that anyone has investigated why that longer-form content tends to do so much better. Does the algorithm prefer longer content? Or, is it that longer content is better at satisfying searcher intent?
While the study doesn’t make it possible to draw conclusions, the data suggest that backlinks are part of why long-form content tends to do better in Google’s ranking.
Content longer than 3,000 words gets an average of 77.2% more referring domains than content that has fewer than 1,000 words.
Long-form content gets more social shares than short content, but once you go over 2,000 words, your returns start to diminish. That makes content that falls between 1,000 and 2,000 words the ideal option for maximizing the number of shares you get from social media. Content in that range gets an average of 56.1% more social media shares than content that comes in under 1,000 words.
Backlinks, or the number of external links to a piece of content, are an important part of how Google ranks content – as shown in their How Search Works report. We found that getting links is difficult. The data showed that 94% of the content earns no external links.
Getting someone to link to your content is hard. Getting links from more than one more website? That’s even tougher. Only 2.2% of content on the internet gets links from multiple websites.
Why is it so hard to earn backlinks? Again, this is a situation where you cannot answer the question from the study data lone, but it’s most likely a result of the fact that there is so much content published every day.
WordPress reports that 87 million posts were published on their platform in May 2018, 47.1% more than in May 2016. In two years, that’s 27 million monthly blog posts, making it harder for each piece of content to earn backlinks.
Looking at a 2015 study, 75% of the content in the study had zero links, and when you consider that this study’s data showed 94%, it demonstrates that it is much more difficult to earn links to your content than it was five years ago.
The data in this study indicated that only a small share of outliers get the most social shares. 1.3% of the content in the study received 75% of the social shares. But when you look closer, it becomes even more disproportionate. 0.1% of the articles in the sample accounted for 50% of the total social shares. That means half of the social shares go to a small number of viral posts.
There is no correlation between the number of social shares a piece of content receives and the number of backlinks it earns. Content that gets a lot of backlinks doesn’t typically get shared on social media. And the content that gets a lot of traction on social media, doesn’t usually earn a lot of backlinks. Those shares on social media don’t translate to more backlinks.
This is a surprise for many since one of the SEO “best practices” involves sharing your content on social media. The idea behind this is that by getting your content in front of more people, you’ll increase the chance that someone will link to you. In theory, this makes sense, but it doesn’t play out the same way in the real world – because people share and link to content for different reasons.
Create content that caters to your goal. If you want to go viral on Facebook, try a list post. If you want to get more backlinks, opt for visual content like infographics.
Other industry studies show a relationship between long headlines and social shares. The data in this study also found that to be true. Very long headlines do better than short headlines by 76.7%. “Very long” is defined as being between 14 and 17 words. It plays out the same way when you consider the character count at 80+. There are, of course, exceptions to that rule.
Interestingly enough, headlines that use a question mark at the end perform well right now. Headlines using a question get 22.3% more social shares compared to headlines that don’t follow the question format. This could be because they add an element of intrigue that boost click-through rate. Many people decide to read a post because they want to know the answer to the question in the headline. That said, they aren’t a magic bullet guaranteed to boost all your social shares and traffic.
While social media platforms have best times of the day and best days of the week to get engagement, there doesn’t seem to be a best day of the week to publish your content if you want to maximize social shares.
Though Sunday had a slight edge compared to every other day of the week, the difference in shares between content published on Sunday vs. other days of the week was only 1.45%…hardly a reason to only update your blog on Sundays.
Rather than focusing on a best day of the week or best time of the day – learn what works for your audience based on metrics you have on hand. The best time is always when your audience is available to consume and share your content.