In a lot of the projects we’ve seen (including some our own), popular, successful content is measured by engagement. It makes sense — if people are sharing and commenting on something, it must mean something went very right.
But we wanted to take a different perspective for this project. We wanted our content sample size to be only pages that have at least 25 backlinks. Then we examined the share counts. With both of these metrics together, we can get a fuller picture of what makes for well-rounded successful content.
We also used the BuzzSumo filter to rule out some of the biggest publications from the list and spot-removed some more, though a few may have slipped through. We did this to focus on content that isn’t on major news sites (and is thus more relatable to most brands).
The goal was to identify qualities of content that has also managed to be deserving of links so we can reveal ways to optimize content for link building.
(Note that in this analysis, we had to approximate industry breakdowns by using the vertical names as the keywords we searched. So for example, we typed in “health” and pulled those article results to represent the health vertical.)
Here are our insights.
To Be Timely or Not To Be Timely?
First we were interested to see what role evergreen plays. This is how BuzzSumo describes their Evergreen Score:
The overall Evergreen Score average of the content we examined was 5.5, which is relatively low, given the Evergreen Score scale appears to go up to at least 30. A lot of hard news articles did make it into our final analysis, but this still points to a trend that perhaps content that taps into timely topics can get a lot of links if it’s original and interesting enough.
Similar trends are exhibited when looking at the share counts of our content set, as well. However, some surprises including seeing Finance as a topic and videos as a content type lower on the evergreen lists.
Linked To and Shared?
The ideal situation is certainly to create content people want to link to and share with all of their friends and followers, so we took a lot at some of the qualities of content that has at least 25 backlinks to see how often it was shared based on different criteria.
Probably the most actionable pieces here are the content types that are most shared, especially seeing them by vertical. It’s worth checking your editorial calendar to see if you’re featuring enough of these types of content.
Let’s Get Succinct
Of this content set of articles that have at least 25 links, the trend was that shorter content got shared more.
Now that isn’t a hard and fast rule. As you can see in the graph, there are certainly many articles with a high word count that got a large number of shares.
When it comes to word count, this just emphasizes that it depends on the topic and why you’re creating the content; the length should correspond to the reader’s intent. Do they want a quick answer or a conceptual deep-dive?
To get a sense of common emotional reactions to linked-to content, we looked at the Facebook reaction breakdowns.
Finance and Technology are two of the most neutral categories, while Sports and Sex/Relationships tend to spark anger, surprise, and sadness at a higher rate. Travel and Health seem to succeed more when they tap into positive feelings that garner a Love reaction.
Coming Out On Top
To round out the project, we wanted to look at an even smaller subsection of our list: content that had at least 50 backlinks. Here are the trends we identified.
Evergreen gets a little more of an edge now, which might be because of the prominence of how-to content. And content continues to trend on the shorter side, though as we’ve already seen, there can certainly be outliers.
The key to creating content that earns both links and shares is to meet the user intent, create something emotionally compelling (tapping into emotions that resonate with your particular vertical), keep it as straightforward as possible, and not underestimating the impact of how-to content.
Methodology, Limitations, and Fair Use Statement
In order to collect the data presented above, we searched for web content on BuzzSumo from the past two years, using a variety of keywords to get the verticals shown in the project. This web content was searched for from May 20th-21st of 2020. A total of 5,625 pieces of content were analyzed overall for this study, across those verticals shown in the study. Large publishers were excluded from the web content search on BuzzSumo (using the filter offered by BuzzSumo). In order to be included in this study, web content had to have a minimum of 25 backlinks, and for “high-linking” content it had to have at least 50 backlinks.