How important is quality to my content’s success?

The number one rule for contemporary SEO (that is, SEO since link-spamming became defunct as a long-term strategy) is “content is king.” Content that is seen brings visitors to your site, and visitors turn into leads, subscribers, ad revenue, and so on. In order to get content seen, though, it has to be distributed by people, either by sharing it on social media or linking to it on their own sites.

Moz and BuzzSumo recently teamed up to analyze links and shares of 1 million articles, controlling for factors like article type and authority of the originating domain. Their findings, summed up in a very straightforward article, were surprising. Two things are most surprising to me:

  • Of their 100,000 randomly-selected articles (the control group), 75% had fewer than 39 shares and zero external links.
  • Generally speaking, there is no correlation between shares and links.

The second is well-covered in the original article, so I will leave that to the original authors. The first point, though, is a bright, burning signal that people are not interested in sharing most content that’s out there. They don’t find enough value in it to share with their friends or family, or to link to it on their own sites.

This presents a problem to a content-driven marketing strategy. Content that is not seen will not generate interests, leads, or revenue. Except for the fact that it will have some sort of a SERP footprint, it may as well not exist.

There are some simple ways to create content that is more disposed to being shared and liked. List posts, as boring and tired as they are, are still the kings of getting distributed. Content geared toward a trending topic will be more successful, as we might have suspected. And the authority of the original domain or organization is another strong factor in getting shares and links. But authority, of course, is what we’re working toward with a content-driven strategy.

The “sweet spot” of positive correlation of shares and links in this study was occupied mostly by long-form articles (over 1,500 words), that were well-researched and/or opinion-forming pieces. These are robust, substantive articles with enough words to really make a point worth thinking about.

The lesson, then, is that, ceteris paribus, people find most value with content that demands engagement, rather than content that is easy.

Short, low-quality content may give you footprints, but they will be shallow, erode quickly, and no one will follow the path anyway.

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