Research Study: Link-Worthy Blog Posts vs. Posts That Don’t Attract Editorial Links
What makes one blog post attract many editorial links, while another blog post by the same author on the same website is ignored?
There are many variables involved an writing content to attract links isn’t formulaic–but there are principles we can use. There have been several studies performed to identify the common characteristics among content pieces that attract a high number of editorial backlinks. I just completed a small research study to gain more insight into this challenging but essential area of SEO and marketing. The goals of this study were to:
- Let readers (not marketers) provide insight into what makes a piece of content linkable.
- Not just to measure the characteristics of successful blog posts, but to measure the *differences* between successful and unsuccessful blog posts on the same website.
How The Study Was Done
I chose to perform this study in the travel space, for the simple reason that it was easier to conduct surveys in a market that most consumers have some level of interest in. The study was performed as follows:
- Choose three small-to-medium travel blogs that don’t appear to attract links via spammy methods or due to an offline presence (eg Travel Channel). I chose small blogs because larger publications have a greater possibility of attracting links based solely on the brand rather than the quality of the individual post being linked. The three blogs used for this study were Nomadic Matt, Everything Everywhere, and Wandering Earl.
- Identify 10 of the top linked posts and 10 of the least linked posts from each blog (as measured by linking root domains according to Majestic SEO).
- Survey readers of all the selected blog posts, asking them to rate/review each blog post according to a set of questions. A good market research company in Sydney can help narrow your customer group.
- Compare the survey results for the highly-linked blog posts vs the poorly-linked blog posts, looking for areas where the highly-linked blog posts were consistently and significantly rated better than the poorly-linked blog posts.
The Survey Questions
A good Digital Agency
These questions were based in part on the results of previous studies that have sought to identify characteristics common to articles that were highly shared or linked to:
- Why Content Goes Viral: The Theory And Proof
- Creating Viral Content? The Secret Is Get Contagious
- What Makes A Link-Worthy Post
In analyzing the data, I was looking for factors where the highly-linked content consistently scored higher than the poorly-linked content.
Summary of the results:
- The answers to the question “How does this article make you feel?” were too varied to draw any conclusions from. My assumption is that emotional triggers are important, but our survey was either too small or not structured correctly to capture and analyze the emotional reactions to the blog posts.
- Likewise, the response to the multimedia in the blog posts didn’t seem to correlate well with how successful the post was. My assumption is this is because multimedia can be critical for some types of posts, but unnecessary for others.
- The single factor that stood out as a predictor of backlink success was whether the readers rated the article worth reading multiple times.
- In most of the other areas, the highly-linked articles’ average survey rating was more positive (but not dramatically so) than the poorly-linked articles.
The Most Consistent Predictor
In analyzing the data, I noticed one survey metric where the highly-linked articles consistently and significantly outperformed the poorly-linked articles–the highly-linked articles were nearly twice as likely to be rated “worth reading multiple times”.
This result makes sense to me. While social shares are often triggered by a whim, editorial links are often recommending a page because it’s a substantial resource readers will want to reference. An article worth reading multiple times is usually an article with exceptional depth and value.
The Other Factors
More readers rated the highly-linked articles as being more “practical and useful”:
Readers rated the highly-linked articles as being slightly more comprehensive:
The highly-linked articles were also more likely to be considered exceptional (i.e. other sites do not have basically the same content):
There is no precise formula for creating highly-linkable content–each website and piece of content is unique, and a study with different parameters might find a different factor to be a better predictor. I realize that there are many factors this study didn’t even attempt to measure, and studies like this one can only (imperfectly) identify trends and tendencies. As long as these limitations are kept in mind, though, I believe this data can be useful in understanding how to create content that is more likely to attract editorial links.
The data from this study suggests that:
- Blog posts that attract more links are generally blog posts that are worth reading multiple times.
- The data also suggests that articles which are comprehensive, in-depth, exceptional, practical, and useful may attract more links.
- It’s difficult to predict with any certainty whether a particular blog post will attract many links or not. The difference between an article which attracts editorial backlinks and an article which doesn’t is often subtle.
SEOs and marketers – what are your thoughts about this data? Does this data agree with the results you’ve seen? What other factors should we consider testing?
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