By Steve Rayson published January 9, 2017

Shares Are Not Enough: How to Amplify Your Content and Build Links

amplify-content-build-links

During my recent content research I came across the ultimate social media marketers quiz. Here are three questions I have for you about this quiz:

  • How many shares did the quiz get?
  • How many people viewed the quiz?
  • How many sites linked to it?

The answers are almost 8,000 shares, 5,500 views, and zero links. Yes, more people shared this quiz than viewed it and not a single person linked to it.

My next question is: Does the quiz drive traffic, build authority, and help conversions? It seems unlikely. By contrast, an article on content shock by Mark Schaefer received far fewer shares than the quiz (4,700), but gained links from over 900 domains. His post continues to attract new links and drive traffic every week.

These may be extreme examples, but it is increasingly clear that while shares are important, they are not enough to ensure content success. Social sharing is one part of the amplification process and content shares in themselves are not a measure of success. By contrast, content that gains both shares and links is much more likely to build authority and drive traffic.

While social shares are important, they are not enough to ensure #content success says @steverayson. Click To Tweet

In this post I take a look at the issues, including the importance of an amplification strategy and content that achieves both links and shares.

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Content and social sharing

Content marketing is hard work. A recent survey found that brand marketers increased their publishing by 800% over the last five years but engagement per post declined by 89% over the same period.

Marketers are publishing 800% more but engagement has declined by 89% says @trackmaven via @steverayson. Click To Tweet

In our own 2016 survey, we found that 50% of content published by the 95 top B2B sites received 106 shares or fewer. When we looked at another 100 B2B sites we found that 50% of the content received 22 shares or less.

The difficulty of generating social engagement is compounded by content growth and increasing volume of content competing for attention. Below is the growth in monthly blog posts published on WordPress over the last 10 years. Over 70 million blog posts are published each month on WordPress alone.

content-social-sharing

No amplification strategy means a poor return on your content investment

Publishing content and expecting people to find it simply doesn’t work anymore, if it ever did. As Rand Fishkin says, there’s no prize for hitting publish. Even publishing great, high-quality content is not enough.

There’s no prize for hitting publish. Even publishing high-quality #content is not enough says @randfish. Click To Tweet

One of the most common reasons for content failure is the lack of amplification. Content creators need to think about how and why their content will be amplified before they create it. Why will people share it? Why will they link to it? How will they find it?

Social sharing is not an amplification strategy

Social networks have become important content discovery platforms. Think about the articles you looked at today, how many did you find via a search engine and how many from a social network?

Social shares matter, but social sharing on its own is not an amplification strategy. Too many content marketers seem to think that getting people to share their content is an amplification strategy. While social shares are important, they have limitations:

  • Most links shared on social are never clicked.
  • Many people who share the articles don’t even view them, let alone read them. (Remember the quiz I referenced? It has more shares than views.)
  • Social posts tend to have a limited shelf life. If you missed a tweet this morning, will you ever see it?
  • Social sharing usually declines quickly in the days and weeks after content is published.
Social sharing on its own is not a #content amplification strategy, says @steverayson. Click To Tweet

Even shares by influencers do not necessarily move the needle when it comes to generating traffic. Not all influencers are created equal. It is not uncommon for influencers to have 500,000 Twitter followers and an average retweet rate of just 15 or 20 followers. Thus, the tweet is only retweeted say 20 times, and the number of click-throughs could be even less.

An influencer’s number of followers is fairly meaningless. The best influencers for content amplification are those with good follower engagement and high retweet rates. You are much better off in a niche with an influencer who has a highly engaged but smaller audience than someone with hundreds of thousands of followers who rarely engage.

High shares do not equate to high links

Some people assume that if they promote an article on social and it gets a high number of shares it also gets a high number of links. To be fair, I assumed some sort of correlation too. During our content research in 2015, I was initially surprised to find no correlation between shares and links. However, the more we investigated, the more it became clear that people share and link for different reasons.

shares-and-links-no-correlation

There is no correlation between shares and links according to @buzzsumo #content research. #SEO Click To Tweet

The overlap between sharing and linking relates to helpful and valuable content.

Some content forms – quizzes, listicles, infographics, etc. – are well-suited to sharing but attract few links. But creating content that attracts shares does not necessarily gain you links and you need links. Backlinks remain the most powerful form of amplification. They are hard to earn, but they stay around much longer than a tweet and are a powerful Google ranking factor.

Backlinks stay around longer than a tweet & are a powerful Google ranking factor, says @steverayson. #SEO Click To Tweet

Content that attracts shares and links

Our recent BuzzSumo research identified five content formats that have potential to achieve both links and shares:

  1. Authoritative content that answers popular questions, such as “what is?”
  2. Strong opinion posts and political posts
  3. Content that provides original research and insights
  4. Content that leverages a trending topic but also provides practical insights
  5. Authoritative news content on new products or developments

I have set out some examples below.

1. Authoritative answer posts

Some of the best content marketing simply answers a customer’s question. These two examples of simple but authoritative content answer what-is questions.

authoritative-answer-posts

In my research, good answer posts do consistently well when it comes to links but are often overlooked by content marketers. This is particularly true of basic questions. What may seem too basic to you can be helpful to new people joining the industry. Answering the questions your customers are asking remains one of the most powerful forms of content marketing.

Answering ?’s customers are asking is one of the most powerful forms of #contentmarketing says @steverayson. Click To Tweet

2. Strong opinion posts

Strong opinions and controversial opinions drive not only shares but also high numbers of links. People share opinion posts to be part of a tribe – to show they belong and to support causes or views they care about. These posts also gain links as people want to reference articles in support of their view, as a jumping-off point for discussion, or to take issue with the post.

Strong opinions & controversial opinions drive not only shares but high numbers of links says @steverayson. Click To Tweet

This example of a political viewpoint by Michael Moore and an opinion post on content marketing by Mark Schaefer achieved a high number of links compared to other posts on their respective sites. Michael’s posts typically get a lot of shares (as you would expect) but generally earn less than 100 domain links and sometimes less than 10. In fact, his site has a total of 3,900 domain links and over 1,000 of those links are to this single post.

In Mark’s case, this one strong opinion article accounts for over half of all the domain links to his blog.

strong-opinion-posts

3. Original research and insights

Our studies show that original research gains both shares and links. The Pew Research Center consistently achieves high levels of shares and links from its published research. Social Media Examiner has a large audience and gets consistently high shares for its content. However, SME’s posts rarely gain more than 100 domain links. The one big exception is its annual state of the industry report, which is based on original research. It has become reference content. The 2016 report earned over 500 links.

original-research-and-insights

4. Content amplification strategy

Content amplification is so much more than social sharing. It starts with consideration of the content you are producing, as I highlighted, but your amplification strategy also needs to look to:

  • Manual promotion
  • Targeted mailing
  • Influencer advocacy
  • Link-building and search-engine visibility
  • Paid promotion

Emails

We find that a targeted email to our audience can drive far more traffic than social sharing. If you have subscribers – or a segment of subscribers – interested in a particular topic as shown by previous email opens or visits to specific blog posts, a targeted email to promote your post can be effective.

Influencer advocacy

Having an influencer share a link is helpful but far removed from the impact of influencer advocacy. Advocates will mention you while speaking at an event or in a podcast. They will also name you in a blog post on their own site or in a guest post for a major media outlet, and they may include your link.

Influencer mentions may fail to create a blip in your traffic stats. Thus, your influencer marketing should be about building advocates, not seeking influencer mentions and shares.

Influencer marketing should be about building advocates, not seeking mentions & shares, says @SteveRayson. Click To Tweet

Search-engine visibility and link-building

SEO and visibility in search engines is a long-term game, but you need to address how to improve your content’s visibility – from the content to its technical factors. Active link-building is one of the best ways to improve your content’s search-engine visibility. The sharing of your content by other sites indicates to search algorithms that your content is valued by others.

Paid promotion

Increasingly we live in a pay-to-play world. Organic reach is harder in search or social. You should consider promoting your content through Google ads or boosts of Facebook posts. Paid promotion is an important part of your amplification strategy.

Summary

Social sharing is not a content amplification strategy. Even high shares and mentions by influencers do not mean your content will gain links, build authority, or drive traffic. Content amplification is as important as content creation, possibly more so. Thus, for every piece of content you need an amplification strategy.

That viral quiz or listicle may gain shares and that may be enough to generate some awareness but will it have longevity? More importantly will it build your authority, increase your traffic, and help convert visitors to customers? Your aim should be to create content that attracts both shares and links.

The Content Marketing Institute amplifies its content every day through its free daily newsletter. Subscribe today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Steve Rayson

Steve Rayson is one of the directors and owners of BuzzSumo. He undertakes regular research on why and how content resonates with audiences. Steve is particularly interested in how content gets amplified through shares and links. Follow him on Twitter @SteveRayson.

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  • heidicohen

    Steve–Great post! I totally agree. 2017 is the year of content amplification. Marketers can’t rely on plain vanilla distribution any more. Both Contently and Priceonomics have made this case and yielded powerful results. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi Heidi, thanks. I really like the data driven posts from Priceonmics. They had some very successful posts last year and are building a solid library of content. I take a lot of my inspiration from them. Have a great 2017!

  • http://www.petmeds.org Erin Gleeson

    It’s hard not to strive for social shares (instant gratification anyone?), but you’re definitely right that the focus needs to be on longevity and links. Our top-performing pieces tend to be evergreen posts that attracted links and rank in the SERPS!

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi Erin, thanks. That’s a good point. I think if you look at your analytics it is relatively easy to see which post types are consistently driving traffic for you. There are times when shares and awareness matter more than longevity such as events but I suspect these are relatively few for most businesses.

  • Marc Kennedy

    This statement really resonated with me: “The overlap between sharing and linking relates to helpful and valuable content.” I get the sense sometimes that some people think of SEO in the same way they think of magical incantations and superstitions. The heart of SEO is value, not trickery or gimmicks. I may quote this blog post in the SEO eBook I’m working on for non-profits.

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com Lisa Dougherty

      We would love it if you mentioned this post in your e-book. Thanks so much, Marc!

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi Marc, I agree completely. It is hard work to research and produce original helpful content on a regular basis and to build a network of advocates but there are no magical tricks.

  • Carol Pearson

    Helpful AND valuable…the way to build authority content. Thanks for this piece..and watch for the link 🙂

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi Carol, thanks. 🙂

  • http://gearboxmagazine.com Brian Driggs

    It’s amazing how many of us are aware of how diluted the streams have become over the years, yet continue to act in ways which perpetuate the reduction in value.

    Twitter used to be a great place to spend time. In 2008-2010. I might open the app on my phone once a month these days, because it’s largely automated, self-promotional content. And yet, I still feel like I need to be syndicating content on Twitter. Go figure.

    I feel like we’re about to experience a renaissance of marketing. Deep understanding of target accounts, persona-driven content, high value, actionable information being published with specific outcomes in mind. It’s incredibly exciting, if not a new state of complexity for practitioners.

    This was a good one. Very timely. Thank you.

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  • Artur Brugeman

    Great post, Steve!
    “increased their publishing by 800% over the last five years but engagement per post declined by 89% over the same period.” – these numbers fit each other so well. To me it means that the engagement opportunities (impressions, etc) have not increased in volume in these 5 years, and by increasing publishing you are decreasing per-post engagement opportunity. That’s quite logical – all the people are already online, they have only so many hours a day to consume content, and Google SERP is still 10 urls. The conclusion for me is that simply increasing publishing is not enough (or even not necessary), but the distribution and amplification are what really matters.

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi Artur, thanks much appreciated. I agree particularly on amplification. In a noisy world amplification matters so much, no matter how good the post you can’t just expect people to find it. I wrote this partly because I saw some people just distributing via social networks and assuming that was the same as amplification.

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  • Assaf Dudai

    As everyone mentioned – super post; cheers for taking the time to put it together.
    Amplification is indeed a valuable route to take in the effort to break through the deafening content-noise, but I want to suggest a different way to think about 2017: scale down on content creation. Write less, research more, publish meaningful content, not daily content. That way the flood will ease, content will get more eyeballs – everyone happy.
    You mentioned that social shares decreased by 89%. I’m willing to bet either one of my arms that actual consumption of content decreased by at least three folds of that. On a recent article I’ve published, I got more retweets than actual traffic from Twitter.

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    • Steve Rayson

      Hi Assaf, good points. Personally I try to write 2 or so posts a month on our BuzzSumo blog but to make sure each is backed by original research. However, I can also see a case for more frequent less in-depth content. You are right that shares don’t equal reads, I can give examples where the post got more shares than views.

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