That’s right, contrary to popular belief – content is not King.
More so, it (in and of itself) content is not the key to perpetuating high rankings and mass appeal.
So Who is The True King?
Well, links and engagement signals to be more precise.
Content published in a vacuum will sit there, never get discovered, and may even never get indexed.
So the “quality” of your content, no matter how well thought out, how well researched, or how well produced – will always play second fiddle to the effort put into publication, distribution, and amplification.
You can put in a ton of time doing heaps of research, cranking out an amazing design, writing for your audience, and produce a truly stellar content experience; but if you fail to account for your launch; you will still fail.
Believe it or not, this happens more than you might imagine.
A Recipe For Disaster
At the present time there is (on average) over 2 million new blog posts published every day.
^read that again, and let me write that number out; 2,0-0-0,0-0-0.
That’s a lot of noise.
And the good news for you is – that is exactly what 99% of it is; noise.
And not surprisingly, most of that content that people work so hard to produce, fails – with 50% of those posts and pages receiving less than 8 shares each.
What’s worse – from an SEO perspective, three quarters of those pieces of content fail to generate even 1 link from a single new root domain.
That is, truly, an epic fail.
Not to mention being freaking discouraging.
I know plenty of business owners and individual content producers who put 20, 30 or even 50 hours of hard work into each piece of content they produce – hell my average time per post is close to 22 hours, but imagine if after all that work you are only able to generate 8 total shares across all social channels – and no links; zero, kaput, nada.
8 shares. No links.
Instead, Engineer Success
There are steps you can take to make sure you don’t fall victim to this gruesome fate.
One of the few people who really understands how to evaluate content opportunities and take a non-emotional approach to content production, ensuring his content’s success is Richard Baxter. He uses a repeatable process to take a step out of the personal realm and look at the bigger problem; mass appeal.
More specifically, he asks the hard question of why are you creating this content?
What is it about the content you’re about to create that gets people excited?
How does it help them be cooler, smarter, richer, happier?
Such a direct, perfect, and relevant question.
Back to Richard – I really appreciate that he bakes in the idea of a “proof of concept” as step 3 in his 6 step process for never failing at content; effectively putting it before even the halfway mark – which just like building an MVP for software, is exactly where it should be; before you’re halfway (or the point of no return).
Without bowing too hard to Richard and the processes developed at BuiltVisible, I do want to close on one more element that I embrace, which is the idea of pitching your idea before it actually exists.
The notion of pre-heating your content isn’t new; but it’s still under-utilized.
Spending the time to make the connections, and pre-heat the success of your production beforehand, is paramount to the success of your campaign.
Planning Your Promotion Strategy
Before even creating your content.
Once you’ve proven the concept, lay out a formal launch plan for what your promotion is going to look like.
Here’s a promotion rubric courtesy of Forrester Research broken out by content type:
What’s the common thread?
At this point I feel like Fred Flintstone pounding you over the head with my stupid big club, but to reiterate – it’s planning combined with interest.
As Dave Schneider detailed in his post on how to get hundreds of shares, there is a repeatable process for promotion that includes a bit of legwork like emailing everyone that you feature (or mention in the post) and tagging them on the larger distribution channels like Facebook and Google+ (yes seriously, Google+).
To extend on this a bit, the important part here is to tag all of the entities that can help you amplify your content, which could be brands you talk about – in which case you need to find the online entity that represents that brand and controls their distribution channels; likely their content manager of social media person.
Robbie Richards put together a killer list on how to move from hundreds to thousands of shares, that gives you a list of tools to use to get your promotion strategy up and running.
Re-Promote Your Content
Based on a content lifecycle study done by buzzsumo and okdork, that examined share decay over a period of time, finding:
After 3 days, on all social networks, the number of shares dropped at least 96% for the next 4 days, with Facebook shares dropping the most, and G+/Pinterest dropping the least.
Facebook: 98.9% decrease
Twitter: 97.4% decrease
LinkedIn: 97.34% decrease
G+: 96.7% decrease
Pinterest: 96.7% decrease
After a week, the number of shares for the next 3 weeks drops at least 86% from the first week, with Twitter shares dropping the most, and Linkedin shares dropping the least.
Twitter: 92.1% decrease
G+: 90% decrease
Facebook: 89% decrease
Pinterest: 86% decrease
LinkedIn: 82% decrease
It’s the same as finding product market fit for your newest SaaS product, which brings me to my next point
Treating Content Like a Product
Launching a new resource piece, massive listicle, or egobait post is no different from pushing out your newest iOS app or groundbreaking SaaS application.
Pre-heating your promotion oven is even more important than the actual quality of your content.
In a similar vein as described by Eric Ries; it’s critical to find product market fit – and you need to do this for your content the same way you would do this for your app.
You may be thinking to yourself:
“But Nick, that’s not how content success works. I’m a Kevin Costener fan, and I know if I build it – they will come. It just needs to be big, long, and epic.”
Yes and no.
Yes it should be big and epic…
I need you to pause for a moment of truth – you probably don’t know what epic really is.
You are not the person who defines epic – to be really, really honest, you probably wouldn’t know epic if it came up and hulk punched you in the face…
to be truly epic you need a weird combination of mass appeal + accuracy + revelation + and shock.
It’s crazy hard to put that formula together – hell the movie industry with pictures raising tens of millions of dollars (equivalent to the money raised by most of the bullshit startups out there to solve the problem of blowing out your birthday candles) still can’t get it right.
the easiest way to define what this formula should be is to look at what it’s not;
So here’s a quick checklist to ensure your content (or product) fails at launching:
- Fail to accurately describe the actual problem it’s solving.
- Verify that there actually is a problem (or a reason to create something).
- Don’t let anyone know it’s coming.
- Don’t provide any incentive, whether it be based on availability, price, or general access.
- Don’t craft a pitch that is focused on what it gives ME.
- Don’t gather feedback from real potential users and leverage it to iterate and fulfill real needs
Follow this simple rubric and I promise you all of your launches will fall flat and square right on their stupid face.
In terms of content – publication in a vacuum is the mother of all fuck ups.
There is a reason the people who tend to survive the world’s worst conditions embrace the notion that life favors the prepared; and you need to start treating your content production with the same respect.
Diving Into The Nuts & Bolts
Please allow me to demonstrate the differences between creating content with the mentality of publish and pray versus taking calculated steps to ensure the success of it’s distribution and popularity.
Distribution = eyeballs.
Eyeballs = awareness.
Awareness in all things marketing = SUCCESS.
Yes. Absolutely. In fact, hell freaking yes.
It’s marketing – the whole goal is to get it in front of human beings; and “raising awareness” is doing exactly that. Point blank truth.
Understanding The Psychology
The New York Times conducted a study where they looked at 2,500 hundred people’s sharing behaviors online, and distilled the patterns around why people share.
In this study they uncovered the leading motivations of humans sharing online were:
- To entertain one another
- To define themselves or help to reveal elements about them as individuals
- To extend and nourish relationships
- To feel more involved with the world and their individual networks
- To create awareness around topics or ideas they care about
Knowing this is powerful because you can use it to inform the type of content you create based on your desired outcome.
There’s still obvious wins when it comes to content types, for example – as played out as infographics are, they still actually work when you look at the data:
Into The Wild
To validate my point I’ve found examples of content that was well planned (at least the content was), well executed, and shows investment in production; just not promotion.
To gauge promotion I’m going to use a wide strokes with a big brush made up of assumption fibers; translation – I’m going to look at the top 20 indexed results for both the name of the content (often times a big target keyword so these pieces rank nowhere) as well as the destination URL.
When content is promoted it’s easy to find where it was dropped and pushed in search since these results tend to index and hold high relevancy scores for the title as well as associative scores for the content’s URL, for example here’s a look one of my products that I promoted heavily:
^In the above Google SERP the #1 ranking is the sales page, the #2 ranking is a separate post I put out to promote the first (and own more SERP real estate), and the other results are additional places I promoted it including on ProductHunt, a webinar I did for SEMRush, an Interview with Simon Swan, a Giveaway on Reddit.
Let’s look at some examples of well done content that simply wasn’t promoted effectively:
Title: Web Hosting 101 Guide
Social Shares: 6 (all Facebook)
Links: 3 (all nofollow)
Promotion: Emails sent to the website’s subscriber base
Content: What Are Good Nootropics?
Social Shares: 19 (Facebook: 10, Google+: 3, Pinterest: 1)
Links: 32 from 13 referring domains
Content: How To Save Money on Groceries: The Ultimate Guide to Grocery Shopping
Social Shares: 44 (Facebook: 11, Google+: 3, Pinterest: 9, LinkedIn: 5)
Content: How To Get 400 Email Subscribers Per Month (FREE) From Organic Search and Rank #3 in Google
Social Shares: 30 (Facebook: 18, Pinterest: 5, LinkedIn: 7)
- Facebook post on Brand’s account
- Twitter shares
- Google+ share
- Her Twitter friend also shared on Facebook
Content: Harvest Field Guide to Pricing
Social Shares: 260 (Facebook: 218, Google+: 15, LinkedIn: 27)
Links: 135 links from 17 root domains
- Dropped a link on DesignNews
- Pushed out to Pinterest
- Shared on Facebook
- Shared on Twitter
- Link drop in the CSS Tricks Forum
^Note: I know what you’re thinking. “Nick, WTF, this nabbed 260 shares (and likely more since stupid Twitter removed share counts) and 17 LRD’s… why are you including this?”
Well I’ll tell you why
It’s branded content, created by a team with funding.
This trickle out approach to promotion delivered very lackluster results when you think about how well done this content is – and how BIG these results should have been.
If you ask me, this guide garnering anything less than 100 LRD’s (linking root domains, for you SEO noobs) should be considered a flop.
Looking at The Reverse
Conversely, here are examples of content that’s pretty good, but that was promoted heavily:
Content: Xbox One – The Review
Social Shares: 5,682 (Facebook: 5,594, Pinterest: 26, LinkedIn: 58)
Links: ~2,700 from 430 root domains
- Discussion on GameSpot.com
- Discussion on GameFAQs.com
- Pinned on Pinterest
- Discussion on Neogaf.com
- Featured in Accumen.com roundup
- Livestream.com reference
- Mentioned by PriceSpy on Facebook
- Included in brand Podcast on iTunes
- Design featured in VoxMedia
- Dropped as examples in first response comments
- Design used as SVG example by our friend Richard Baxter
Content: How We Got 1,000+ Subscribers from a Single Blog Post in 24 Hours
Social Shares: 2,152
Links: 348 from 133 root domains
- Organic shares on Google+
- Answers on Quora
- Brand pin on Pinterest
- Mentioned in Blog post
- Example provided in conversation on Inbound.org
- Shared on Reddit
- Shared on GrowthHackers
- Dropped as example in blog post
- Additional link from popular blog post
- And again (blog post)
- Example in slideshare deck
- Shared on BizSugar
Content: Benefits of Using Extra Virgin Olive Oil on Your Face
Social Shares: 887
Links: 37 links from 24 root domains
- Dropped as a Yahoo Answer
- Syndicate blog content with Yahoo! on Tumblr
- Have their own Tumblr
- Pinned on Pinterest (327 times)
- Blog reference
- Tweets (they’re indexed but you can no longer get a count…stupid Twitter)
- Facebook shares (372 times)
- Loved by mommy bloggers
I saved this one for last for a reason.
It’s complete shit.
The social web is the only reason this post is winning at anything, but with that said… it is winning, especially for how shitty it is (seriously, click the link above and go look at it).
But it ranks for 284 keywords… more times than not in the top 5 positions;
Social drives engagement and awareness – eyeballs drive links.
Remember that statement I made way back in the beginning of the post…. making more sense now?
*Social share counts based on data from SharedCount.com
Breaking it Down
So bringing this all back to SEO – why do we care about shares?
In a study conducted by MOZ, where they looked at 100,000 random posts to measure correlation between links and shares – they didn’t find anything conclusive.
I know that was anti-climactic, but
One piece of information that is worth highlight, that sort of gets lost in their study – is extremely valuable, and that is the kind of content that has the highest share and link correlations;
See the pattern?
Those are all research based publications.
Technical and research driven content tends to get the most links per share. The takeaway here is that if one of the strategic goals of your content is to leverage it to drive positive engagement and LINKS, you’re best off developing research driven content.