Have you ever seen an article shared on your news feed, only to scroll a little further down to notice it was shared by someone else as well? This is a common occurrence; the best articles on the web tend to attract a lot of attention, earn a ton of shares, and get seen by even more people.
When all’s said and done, a single article might get thousands of shares, and be seen by millions of people—all with a humble origin on some random publication site.
So what is it that makes a piece of content shareable, and why is that shareability so powerful?
The Benefits of “Shareability”
First, let’s recap some of the best benefits of having a shareable article:
- Exposure. One of the most obvious benefits is increased exposure for your brand (and your specific pieces of content). Let’s say your work is shared by someone with 100 followers, and two of those followers each share it further to their circles of 100 followers. Instantly, you’ve been able to get visibility with up to 300 additional people. On bigger scales, you can reach thousands, or even millions.
- Links. Shareable articles tend to attract more links as well, which are vital for SEO success. The more people read your content, the more likely they’ll be to link to it in their own work, which means a boost in domain authority, new referral traffic, and of course, even more brand exposure.
- Compounding returns. We also need to consider the cascading effect of social sharing. A handful of shares can put you in front of thousands of people (cumulatively), and a handful of shares beyond that, for each original share, can quickly multiply that audience even further. Going viral scales very quickly.
What Makes Content Shareable?
So what qualities make a piece of content shareable?
1. The content’s title.
According to one study, 59% of people share articles after reading just the headline. So, what kinds of titles get shared? According to the SEMRush Global State of Marketing Report released in 2019, articles with list headlines, such as those that begin with a number, get 2xmore traffic and 2x more social shares than other types, followed by guides and “how-to” articles. Additionally, articles with longer titles/H1 tags got more shares, and there was a clear correlation with title length and improved share performance.
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2. The content’s length.
According to the same SEMRush report, long-reads of 3000+ words get 3x more traffic, 3x more shares, and 3.5x more backlinks.
3. The presence of images and videos.
A report from Mashable found that multimedia-based content is shared up to 12x more than text content.
4. New information.
Including new information is one easy way to improve your article’s shareability. There needs to be some new piece of information, whether it’s an announcement of a new sale, or a new study that confirms the health benefits of blackberries. The “new” piece of this equation guarantees novelty, since people won’t have seen this information before. The “information” piece guarantees value.
5. The element of surprise.
People don’t share boring content, no matter how valuable it is. But if you can manage to surprise your readers, they’ll be more likely to share that surprise with the people they know. The exact surprise could be anything, from a new finding that contradicts older studies to a twist ending in your video included as a joke. All it takes is one surprising burst to instantly make your content more likely to be shared.
6. Unique character.
Your content should also stand out as uniquely yours. People don’t always look at the author or source of the content they read, but they do know when they’ve read something original. If your article is indistinguishable from those of your competitors, you aren’t going to stand out—and you probably aren’t going to get many shares.
People love to share practical tips with one another, whether it’s a life hack that can improve your productivity or revelatory information that you’ve been using a kitchen tool the wrong way for years. While entertaining content has its place, shares are far more reliable if there’s a practical benefit to reading your work.
Adding humor to a post isn’t a surefire win, but it could help add shareability to your work. People love to laugh, then share that laughter with others; it’s a way to bond and spread positive emotions. Accordingly, you may be able to bolster your post’s potential if you include a handful of tongue-in-cheek references or jokes.
People who share content rarely read the entire piece; they want to spend as little time as it takes to get the gist of the article. Accordingly, your work needs to be skimmable. Of course, that word could mean any number of alterations to your work; it could mean making your article shorter so it’s faster to read, or organizing your paragraphs and bullet points more intuitively so it can be scanned easily.
For better or worse, people tend to share articles reactively—so long as it’s convenient to do so. For example, readers are much more likely to share an article that has a convenient one-click share button at the bottom of the page than if they have to hunt for an opportunity to share. This is more of a design choice than a key feature of your article, but it’s too important not to include on this list.
There are a few other factors to consider here, though they aren’t inherently linked to the intrinsic qualities of the article.
One is timing; if you happen to post the article at a time when lots of users are online, your chances of early syndication and circulation are much higher. You can learn to control this in your favor a little bit, but since online populations are hard to predict, you’ll never fully master it.
Another is your own marketing influence on your content. There are lots of content marketing tools designed to help you promote your content. Giving it a boost can help it get that initial traction is needs to catch fire and take off on its own.
The other factor, unfortunately, is luck. While most posts that go viral end up having many of the qualities on this list, not every post with these qualities ends up going viral. You have to get seen by the right people at the right time, and in the right way—and sometimes, those conditions can only be boiled down to coincidence.
Don’t be discouraged, however. Even if your articles don’t go viral, including the factors on this list can make your content perform better. Learn from the most shared articles of the past, and give your readers more of the content they want.