3-step checklist for creating super shareable content

BY AARON MAGNUS

I love cake.

It can be chocolate fudge cake, carrot cake, or a slice of Battenburg. Present me with a cake and you’ll have a friend for life.

There’s a ton of work that goes into a great cake. You have a list of ingredients that have to be combined in fine quantities, placed under a specific heat for a set amount of time and then topped for the perfect presentation – and that’s not including the British requirement of a good cuppa’.

That’s a bit like your content when you think about it.

It’s more than just the written words on the page, or the top-notch visuals you created, it’s a process. Each part of the process has a number of subtasks that should be completed in order to take your content to new heights.

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But here’s the thing, the sheer amount of suggestions from leading bloggers can be pretty overwhelming. If you’re like me, it can sometimes be a challenge to know where to start.

Below I list a method that you can use to break down your process into manageable tasks. The suggestions are not meant to be rigidly followed, and they won’t be the right fit for every content type, but they can act as a prototype for your own workflow – something that you can fine tune to work best for your individual needs.

I call it The Baking Test, and if my content passes the test, I can be pretty confident that I’ve created something worth checking out.

 

The Baking Test

Question 1: Is your content optimised for discovery?

The goal is simple. We need search engines to understand the focus of our content and the context in which it’s discussed, and there are a number of practical steps we can take to help with this.

 

Use short keyword-rich URL’s

You want your URL to immediately align with your audiences expectations, it’s that simple. Research has shown that users do place a lot of emphasis on the URL and Matt Cutts is on record stating that Google’s algorithm’s place more weight on the first 3-5 words.

Take the example below that I discovered when searching for ‘On-page SEO’. Which of the two are you more likely to click through to?

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Craft a magnetic title tag

Optimising your title tag remains one of the most important elements in on-page SEO. But is it still as simple as making use of keywords with a high search volume and low competition?

As a marketer you face a balancing act. You have your own marketing goals, the searchers intent and the ever increasing demand for clickbait that will resonate most on social. Finding the tiny point of intersection, where you manage to hit all three of those goals is a huge task.

Neil Patel has a great formula for this that can help you to achieve all three with relative ease.

NUMBER OR TRIGGER + ADJECTIVE + KEYWORD + PROMISE

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Of course, this is not an exact science, but this can work as a great starting point.

As your traffic increases, there will be opportunities for you to begin A/B testing your headlines to support your decisions with data.

 

Link to at least two authority sources

Outbound links act as a huge relevancy signal to search engines. They want to know what your website is about and who you associate with.

The number one way for you to start building those connections is to link out to authoritative sites in your niche.

 

Use your keyword in a H1 tag and in the first paragraph

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Dropping your keyword into a H1 tag, as well as within the first 100 words of your content can further indicate relevancy to Google. With that being said, you should still be conscious of writing clearly and not over-optimising to the point where it starts to look fake.

 

Improve the speed of your page

The importance of page speed shouldn’t be underestimated. Your page has to be super fast.

Why? Because smartphones.

Recent surveys have shown that 57% of users will abandon your page if the load time is 3 seconds or more.

Think about that. How many times have you lost patience with a website when you are on the move? Speaking from personal experience this happens to me all the time!

I’ve spoken about how you can massively increase the speed of your website here. But here’s a quick rundown:

 

Compress your images over at tinypng.com

Tinypng is my absolute favourite image optimiser, and even better, they now have a wordpress plugin that can compress your images on the fly.

Tinypng uses a technique called ‘quantization’ to limit the number of colours used in your image with almost no change in the quality of the image. This means gorgeous imagery at a fraction of the weight.

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Use a CDN such as MaxCDN (and combine it with Cloudflare if you want to go the extra mile)

The location of your users influences the speed of your website – so spreading your content across global servers can help give things a boost.

For example, a CDN might have servers in California, London and Sydney. When a user requests your website, the server with the quickest response time will respond, delivering your website in the shortest time possible. Someone in Birmingham might get served content from the London server, whereas a user in Seattle will get the content from the server in California.

Honestly, it sounds complicated but it’s actually super easy to set up – plus I can personally say MaxCDN offer great support having dealt with them on numerous occasions.

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Serve scaled images!

A 1200px wide image on your mobile is madness. When you add images to your content, you want to ensure that they are scaled to fit the width of the content layout – it is without a doubt one of the easiest ways to optimise your page.

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If you really want to get fancy, you can explore a responsive image solution such as Picturefill. We use it on this blog and it’s awesome (and means our site is nice and quick!).

Since the arrival of the mobile web, user expectations have increased…and so they should. The growth of responsive design, and its adoption as best practice at Google, have meant that we can confidently expect a website to look as good on a mobile as it does on a desktop.

Picturefill works to offer the same solution for images. It gives developers the power to serve appropriate images to every user depending on their device size. This means that if you are on a device with a viewport of 480px then you can be elegantly served an image that fits that device – saving both page weight and improving fluidity of the design.

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Use GTmetrix to check you are heading in the right direction

How fast is your page? You can use GTmetrix to get a good idea of how the changes you have made have affected your load time, as well as improvement’s that you can still make.

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Make sure your content is detailed

That’s right, the data suggests that longer content is valued more highly in the SERP’s.

In research by BuzzSumo, they found that the longer the content, the more it was shared, with articles between 3,000-10,000 words being shared almost 9,000 times on average.

Long content appeals to our basic desire to be impressed. We all love that feeling of admiration when we read something that’s just plain awesome.

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Use LSI keywords

Latent semantic indexing involves identifying synonyms and plurals to your main keywords – and they are a fantastic way for you to provide context to Google and other search engines.

You might find yourself doing this naturally, but if not, aim to scatter a few throughout your page.

You can quickly identify LSI keywords by looking at the related terms at the bottom of the search results page.

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Have an outreach strategy ready

I’ve been reading content marketing and SEO blogs religiously for a while now… I guess you could say I’m hooked.

One thing that I’m always fascinated by is seeing new blogs rise to success.

It often goes like this: You come across one of their articles by chance and it’s pretty useful so you bookmark it. Before long they crop up in your Twitter feed due to a retweet by an authority, then you notice them on social bookmarking sites such as Inbound.org and Reddit. A little time passes and you start to see their guest posts on major industry websites all across the web.

They are a success story. But how do they do it?

The answer is influencer outreach and the great thing is, with a bit of tact and personality, it’s pretty easy.

When done right, you will find yourself with more social shares, more traffic and growing relationships with others in your niche that will form the foundation of everything you do online.

Take our recent work for KatchUp, the private photo sharing company. I plan on dedicating a post to this that explains our process in more depth, but our guide to photography for beginners was a huge success largely down to just letting people know it existed. So far the post has generated:

  • 768 social shares (as well as over 3,000 shares from features)
  • Over 2000 new newsletter subscribers
  • Features on some seriously authoritative websites, including DigitalCameraWorld, PetaPixel, FastCompany and MakeUseOf.
  • A 491% increase in organic traffic.

 

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You can read more about blogger outreach here, but the premise is this – getting eyes on your content is great, but you know what’s better? Getting the attention of influencers that have already captured your desired audiences interest.

 

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Pro tip: Aim to have a strategy ready for outreach – as a baseline, you want to have at least 50 super targeted influencers that you can get in touch with to maximise the reach of your content.

 

Question 2: Is your content optimised for consumption?

Use engaging images, videos and interactive elements

Google is putting a lot of focus on user interaction signals nowadays. Users lose interest quickly, they skim pages for headlines and if they don’t find what they are looking for they hit the back button faster than you can say ‘but wai…’.

All of these signals are taken into consideration and so it’s your job to find ways to keep your bounce rate low, improve the time spent on site, and keep users engaged with your content.

Take a look at your content, are there any paragraphs that could be illustrated more clearly with visual assets?

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Keep your paragraphs short

If you want to write successfully for the web then you need to throw a lot of what you learnt in your English classes out of the window.

If you’re anything like me, that’s a lot easier said than done. I spent years in school, college, and then university, learning to structure essays and sentences correctly, but on the web, your users just don’t have the time or patience to read in detail.

Most users scan content. A 2008 study found that on average only 28% of the text on a page is read – which is particularly harrowing when you look at the graph below.

When you think about it, this makes sense. How often do you read all the way through blog posts, emails and WhatsApp group messages? I know I don’t!

 

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One of the best ways you can improve the readability of your content is to use shorter sentences and more white space.

Aim to break down complex paragraphs into smaller more digestible points, 3-4 sentences at most.

 

Use compelling subheadings

I like to start off in the planning phase of my posts by writing down my subheadings. Why? Because great subheadings can make writing content easy.

If you plan the structure and shape of your article early on, using bullet pointed lists to note down the premise of your content, it will be a heck of a lot easier for your users to read the final piece.

Use descriptive headlines that help your users find what they’re looking for in seconds. It’s our job as a content marketer to provide users with value and on the web that often means ‘answers, quickly’.

 

Improve your typography

I think most would agree that reading an article on Medium is a pleasure. Consideration has gone into everything from the font family and size, to the width of text on your screen.

 

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If you are publishing content, it’s your job to make it a dream to read, and the good news is, there are some simple techniques you can use to improve your typography right now.

 

Measure

‘Measure’ is the width of the content across the page and can dramatically affect the reading experience. Paragraphs that stretch too long or short across the page are tiring to read.

A simple calculation to find the optimal reading width is to take your font size, and times it by 30. As a an example, if your font size is 10px, try setting your paragraph width to 300px and see how that affects your content readability.

 

Line spacing

A good rule of thumb is to set your line spacing to 2-5pt larger than your font size. So if your font size is 10px, try setting your line height to 15px.

 

Vertical rhythm

“A continuous rhythm in the vertical space keeps all the text on a consistent grid so that proportion and balance are retained throughout the page, no matter the type size, leading or measure.”

Set the margin between each paragraph equal to your line spacing, so if your content had a line spacing of 15px, you would set your paragraph margin equal to 15px.

 

Test out a social media conversion tool

This tactic is a bit of a sneaky one, and will allow you to grab some low hanging fruit.

Some of you out there will have popular social media accounts and maybe even newsletters where you share a curated round-up of popular posts in your niche. If that’s you then awesome, you make the content marketing world go round!

With social media conversion tools such as Snip.ly and Start a Fire you can leverage the followers you already have and drive them back to your blog with the content you share.

 

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Pro tip: Test drive a social media conversion tool. Start a Fire will integrate perfectly with your Buffer account to automate the process.

 

Question 3: Is your content optimised for engagement?

Use viral boosters

What if I told you that there are a number of ingredients you can add to your content that will dramatically increase the possibility of your content going viral?

It’s a bold statement, but there’s genuine academic research behind this.

Jonah Berger of Wharton School of Business and Katherine Milkman looked at articles published by the New York Times over a three-month period, all in a bid to discover why certain pieces of content had more viral potential than others. Here’s what they discovered.

 

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Your content is a lot more likely to go viral if it’s positive.

That makes sense when you think about it. How often do you want to be the person to drop negativity into your friends Facebook feeds?

We all want to entertain our friends, inform them, or encourage them to try new things. Experiment with your ability to conjure positivity through your content.

 

Content that evokes high arousal emotions wins every time

Positive emotions such as awe and wonder, as well as negative emotions such as anxiety or anger are a lot more likely to be shared than deactivating emotions such as sadness.

The best way to test this is to ask yourself, are my readers going to want to comment on my article when they finish reading?

 

Practical content above all

For me, this couldn’t be more apparent. I’ve spent a huge amount of time reading business books, and some of them are awesome, but after a while I begin to feel like I’ve learnt all I can from them. The messages and anecdotes start to feel familiar and I start craving practical advice that I can actually do something with.

I think that’s the beauty of the web. Content is produced so quickly, and the bar is raised so consistently that we have a huge pool of super practical content.

So why does it work so well?

The study suggests that users share practical content for two primary reasons.

  1. They are looking to help others
  2. It makes them look good

That’s right, if sharing it makes your readers look more knowledgeable, your content is a hell of a lot more likely to go viral.

To summarise: Start to think about how you can create content that your users can do something with, that’s going to get them thinking big, and that they will be compelled to comment on.

 

Use prominent share buttons

This awesome article by CoSchedule uses data to find out where your social media buttons should be placed and here’s what they found out.

  1. Prominence matters more than placement – your share buttons need to be visible.
  2. Users interact with the top left side of your page the most often.
  3. Too many share buttons will kill your site speed (Google will hate you for it and so will users with slow mobile connections)
  4. Neil Patel conducted a small experiment, giving his readers more share icons to choose from and his social shares actually decreased by 29%! Why? Well one answer could be that sometimes too many choices makes it difficult to commit to one. Try to ask your visitors to only do one thing at a time.
  5. If your blog is in it’s early stages, think twice before using a share counter – it can be seen as negative social proof. This is especially true when the two shares on your counter are because you shared your own content on Twitter…

Requirement: Make sure your page has prominent share icons in the top left of your page as a bare minimum.

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Include social meta tags

You can produce gorgeous content – but when it’s shared over social channels, presentation in your user’s feed is just as important, especially when you consider that tweets with images have been shown to receive 150% more retweets.

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I’m sure as marketers we all know about this by now, but it’s surprising how many websites haven’t taken control over the way their content is delivered across social channels.

 

The really easy way

If you’re using a CMS there are some fantastic plugins out there that you can use to instantly add both Open Graph and Twitter meta tags to your page.

If you are using WordPress then be sure to check out WordPress SEO by Yoast.

Facebook Open Graph:

 

Twitter:

The manual way

The guys over at Secret Sauce have created a handy little tool called Mega Tags.

Mega Tags will let you input a few details about your website and produce a template for the code that you will need to add to the header of your page.

Pro tip: Run your post through Twitter’s card validator and Facebook debug tool to make sure your content is appearing exactly as you would like.

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Use a call to action

Provide value. Give value to your readers. Value is key to great content.

Honestly, if I received a penny for every time I read that in an article…

Don’t get me wrong, of course it’s a great suggestion, but for most of us there will be a goal behind the content. What action are you trying to drive? It may be that you want to increase the number of comments on your post, or encourage the user to download a pdf version of your document.

You know that saying “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”? Well, it’s true!

 

Brian Dean has absolutely nailed this:

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Buffer make great use of talking points to stimulate conversation:

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Neil Patel makes great use of downloadable content to acquire emails of potential leads:

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Pro tip: Ask your readers to carry out an action when they’ve finished reading. If it’s a comment you are looking for, be present to respond with genuine interest. If it’s an email address you want, offer something that they can’t refuse.

 

Encourage your audience to view related content

You can encourage users to view more of your content by making using of a related content section  –

  1. It helps your SEO efforts by improving the flow of link juice throughout your website. Content that’s hidden deep within your website will often be neglected – linking to them throughout your more popular posts will improve the natural flow of authority and improve their visibility.
  2.  Interaction signals are going to play an increasingly important part in the success of any website – that means if you can lower your bounce rate, increase the time on site and boost the number of pages viewed per visit, you are preparing yourself well for the future.

Pro tip: Use a related content section to make sure you have everything in place for you readers to discover more awesome content on your website.

 

Over to you

So here’s the big question.

What steps do you currently take to make sure that content is perfectly optimised for success?

Comment below right now and tell me how I can improve The Baking Test.

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