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So You Think You Already Know Enough About Content Marketing, Social Media Shares and Link Building?

By Christine Hazel 31 Mar 2019
So You Think You Already Know Enough About Content Marketing, Social Media Shares and Link Building?

The Backlinko team surveyed 912 million blog articles to have a clearer understanding of content marketing at present.

In particular, they zoomed in on the interplay of factors such as word count, post format and impact of headlines in relation with backlink profile and social media presence.

Data extraction was possible thanks to BuzzSumo. Many interesting discoveries and findings came to light.

Below is an overview of what the team uncovered:

1) On average, longer articles receive around 77.2 per cent more links than short-form content. The former is therefore highly recommended for acquiring backlinks.

2) Long-form content performs better than short blog articles in as far as social shares are concerned. However, posts that go beyond 2,000 words tend to have low responsiveness or engagement levels.

3) Most online articles do not receive a lot of social shares and backlinks. Research also shows that 94 per cent of all posts do not contain any external links.

4) Only a few posts (dubbed as “power posts”) receive an uneven amount of social shares. In fact, only 1.3 per cent of articles published online produce 75 per cent of social shares.

5) Backlinks and social shares have no correlation whatsoever. Content that people link to and content people like to share are often not the same.

6) Lengthy headlines mean more social shares. 14-17 word headlines encourage 76.7 per cent more social shares than terse or shorter headlines.

7) Headlines that ask a question receive 23.3 per cent more social shares than statements or headlines that do not end with a question mark.

8) Any day is the best day to publish fresh content. If you publish posts on different days of the week, social media shares will be evenly distributed.

9) Social media users tend to like and share lists posts a lot. List posts receive, on average, 218 per cent more shares than how-to posts. They also generate 203 per cent more shares than posts that display infographics.

10) Specific content formats tend to acquire more backlinks than others. Why and what posts and infographics, for example, get 25.8 per cent more links than how-to posts or video posts.

11) Regular blog posts get 9.7 times more shares than articles posted on B2B websites. But link and share distribution for B2B and B2C websites tend to be even.

To expound on the information presented above, each finding will be discussed in detail below.

Long-Form Content Better at Generating Backlinks

In the context of backlink acquisition, long-form content is more recommended than short articles.

Several studies in the digital marketing field have already established a correlation between longer articles and first page rankings on Google.

However, as to why longer content performs better still remains unclear for most of us. Is Google’s algorithm inherently inclined towards or pre-set to crawl long-form content? Or does longer content satisfy user intent or searcher needs better?

While it’s too early to conclude based on Backlinko’s research alone, data shows that backlinks are partially responsible for long-form content’s tendency to rank well in Google search results.

Key Takeaway: 3000-word content receive an average of 77.2 per cent more referring domain links than those below 1000 words.

To Maximise Social Shares, Publish Articles between 1,000 and 2,000 Words

As per research, long-form content gets more social shares than short articles.

However, going beyond 2,000 words could backfire and have the opposite effect instead.

So what’s the most recommended content length for maximising social media shares? The safe zone is 1,000 to 2,000 words for increasing social shares on all popular platforms (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, LinkedIn).

In fact, articles that follow this word count range receive an impressive 56.1 per cent more social shares than articles below 1000 words.

Key Takeaway: ideal word count for maximising social shares is 1,000 to 2,000 words.

Most Content Have Zero Links

Backlinks are undoubtedly a necessary and important ranking signal (and Google did confirm this on their “How Search Works” report).

However, getting these backlinks for real is a serious challenge.

As per Backlinko’s data, 94 per cent of content published on the world wide web gets zero external links.

It’s a tall order for digital marketers and content marketers. And what’s even more challenging is getting backlinks from several websites.

Studies show that only 2.2 per cent of content successfully receive backlinks from many websites.

Why is getting backlinks a tough job?

The information uncovered by the team may not be able to answer this question adequately, but it’s possibly due to competition. There are tons of articles published online on a daily basis.

In fact, 87 million articles were published on WordPress in May 2018 alone – a 47.1 per cent increase from 2016. This also means that there are 27 million more monthly blog posts between 2016 and 2018 published on WordPress platforms alone.

In view of this rapid increase of content production, content link-building has become even more difficult.

In a 2015 research posted on Moz concluded that, based on their content samples, more than 75 per cent had zero external links. Ergo, driving links to your content is difficult these days than some years ago.

Key Takeaway: link-building via content marketing is more difficult at present with only a few articles getting actual external links.

A Handful of “Power Posts” Receive Higher Social Media Shares

As per data, social share distribution is disproportionate. It’s uneven.

A few posts do receive majority of Internet social shares but they account for 1.3 per cent of all articles ever published online. And such articles get 75 per cent of the social shares.

What’s even more surprising is that only 0.1 per cent of articles in the team’s sample set received 50 per cent of overall social shares.

For example, a story about shoppers returning clothes purchased from ecommerce sites got 77.3 thousand shares on Facebook.

This one article got more shares than all top 20 posts about ecommerce.

Key Takeaway: only a few posts get a lot of social shares as majority of social shares come from only 1.3 per cent of online content.

No Correlation Between Backlinks and Social Shares

The Pearson correlation coefficient between social shares and backlinks is 0.078 – technically zero.

Even if a content gets a lot of backlinks, it does not follow that it also has a lot of social media shares.

And content with high social media shares doesn’t necessarily get a lot of backlinks.

Though sharing content on social media is an SEO best practice, the endgoal of this activity has nothing to do with backlinks.

Steve Rayson explains that “people share and link to content for different reasons”.

If you must generate content, make sure it falls in line with your goals.

Do you want to go viral online? Then go for list posts, perhaps.

Or do you prefer to get more backlinks? Consider posts with infographics or articles with catch photos.

Key Takeaway: content that people like to share on social media and content that people like to link to tend to be different most times.

There is a Correlation Between Longer Headlines and Higher Social Shares

Past studies show that lengthy headlines and social shares are connected.

In fact, longer headlines (14 to 17 words) tend to perform better than short headlines by 76.7 per cent.

Case in point: 2014 clickbait headlines by Buzzfeed were really effective. These headlines were mostly more than 100 characters and generally longer than average.

Although clickbait is no longer trendy, long headlines continue to be effective in driving social shares.

But there are exceptions to this rule, however. A 6-word headline more than 328,000 social shares. So the content itself and a bunch of other factor (not just the headline) actually matter.

Headlines across the 912 million posts surveyed clearly confirm that content with lengthy headlines have higher social shares.

Why long headlines work is still a mystery. There are two possible answers to this: 1) longer headlines contain more keywords that can match Google searches, and 2) long headline are more informative, thereby increasing the content’s chances of going viral.

Key Takeaway: 14 to 17-word headlines receive 76.7 per cent more social shares than shorter ones.

Question Titles Get More Social Shares

One interesting nugget from our data was that “question headlines” seem to be working well right now.

In fact, headlines with a question mark get 23.3% more social shares than non-question headlines.

Question titles may work because they add an element of intrigue that’s well-documented to increase click-through-rate. Put another way, you might decide to read a post in order to answer the question posed in the headline.

Obviously, question titles aren’t a magic bullet. But using questions in certain headlines may help increase shares and traffic.

Key Takeaway: Question headlines get 23.3% more social shares than non-question headlines.

Any Day is the Best Day to Publish Content

There’s no best day to publish an article. Any day is.

According to the information retrieved, when you publish content doesn’t matter – at least in the context of social shares.

Researchers did notice that Sunday is slightly a better day to post than other days in a week. However, the social share difference is only 1.45 per cent.

Study findings tend to be conflicting.

Because there’s no difference whether you publish on a certain day, the best publishing time for your audience and niche market may vary. This is something you have to figure out on your own.

As a rule of thumb, however, the best day would depend on your customers’ availability. What’s the best time for them to consume and share your content? Test it out for yourself.

Key Takeaway: fresh content can be published any given day and shares are the same in any day of any week.

List Posts and Why Posts Get More Shares Than Other Formats

Data shows that lists posts and “why” posts tend to generate higher shares than other content formats.

On one hand, how-to posts and infographics have lesser social media shares.

This does not mean you should focus on one format while avoiding others. Some infographics and how-to posts can trigger thousands of shares when handled the right way.

However, research recommends putting more focus on list posts and why posts to increase shares.

Key Takeaway: list posts and why posts are ideal content formats for generating more social shares.

“Why Posts”, “What Posts” and Infographics Are Ideal Content Formats for Acquiring Backlinks

“Why Posts”, “What Posts” and infographics get more backlinks than other content formats.

It’s interesting to note that there’s a difference in the formats that people like to share and link to.

The research team found that list posts were the preferred format for social sharing, but they hardly receive backlinks from other sites.

It’s a similar situation with infographics. Data shows that infographics receive only a few shares unlike list posts, “what posts” and videos.

When it comes to backlinks, however, infographics are among the top most preferred content format.

The theory is that some formats are primed to get shared on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. And other formats designed to get linked to from the small group of link experts that run and contribute content to websites.

Infographics is the perfect contrast.

Although the occasional infographic may go viral, it’s fair to say that their novelty has worn off in recent years. Which may explain why infographics aren’t shared very much compared to other formats (like list posts).

However, due to the fact that infographics contain highly-citable data, they work as an effective form of “link bait”.

Also, unlike a list post or how-to post, infographics can be easily embedded in blog content. This further increases the chances of acquiring links.

Key Takeaway: “Why Posts”, “What Posts” and infographics appear to be ideal for link building.

B2B and B2C Articles Have Similar Link Distribution and Social Shares

We analyzed a subset of content from our dataset that was published on B2B websites. Our goal was to find out if share and link behavior differed in the B2B and B2C spaces.

First, we did find that “normal” content generates significantly more shares than B2B content. In fact, the average amount of shares for all the content in our dataset is 9.7x higher than content published in the B2B space.

B2C content is shared 9.7 times more than B2B content because such content covers topics with mass appeal (politics, health, fitness). On the other hand, B2B content is more technical and appeals to a niche market (hiring, branding, marketing). Naturally, B2C content gets more social media shares.

However, B2B shares and links is distributed in much the same way as all published content. 93 per cent of B2B content hardly receives external links.

The percentage of B2B posts get linked to from multiple websites also overlaps with B2C.

Only 3% of B2B content gets linked to from multiple websites. This largely matches the 2.2% that found in the dataset of B2B and B2C content.

Overall, B2B and B2C link distribution largely overlaps.

When it comes to B2B social shares, 0.5 per cent of B2B articles get 50 per cent of social shares.

And 2 per cent of B2B articles get 75 per cent of social shares.

Like with B2C content, B2B publishers have a small number of “Power Posts” that drive the majority of social sharing.

Key Takeaway: B2B and B2C appear to have similar social share and link distribution patterns.


Content marketing continues to evolve across the years. It’s a neverending learning process.

The findings discovered by Backlinko’s research team could serve as a guide for start-ups or content marketers that want to use social media and link-building to leverage their blog or website.