Are social media backlinks a real thing?
Many website owners wonder whether social media shares correlate with backlinks. The answer is a definite “NO.”
However, there’s a sweet spot where some posts will work well in gaining both social media shares and backlinks. In this article, we’ll explore the lack of relationship between social media shares and backlinks with the aid of case studies.
Social Media Shares and Backlinks: Is There Any Relation Between Them?
What the Research Says About Social Media Backlinks
The 2012 HubSpot Study
Way back in 2012, Dan Zarrella of HubSpot conducted a study where he compiled over 25,000 URLs.
Only URLs that were shared at least once on social media were considered. He also ensured that the URLs were at least one month old and had one or more incoming links.
He then tracked the number of incoming links and the total tweets that each of the URLs enjoyed. He discovered a positive correlation between the two. The URLs that had seen a lot of Twitter activity also been linked to often.
A similar exercise was conducted on Facebook activity and nearly identical results were found.
While studying LinkedIn, Zarrella concluded that total activity was relatively less in comparison to Facebook and Twitter. This was quite expected. Sharing is something that’s more popular on Facebook and Twitter. Yet, there was still a positive correlation between incoming links and activity on LinkedIn.
When Pearson’s Correlation was run on all three social media networks, all had positive results, but LinkedIn displayed the strongest relation.
It’s my opinion that people share and link to content for different reasons. Most social media users are more likely to share entertaining content and less likely to link to it. On the other hand, people often share and link to in-depth content that’s backed by facts.
The above study showed that there’s a positive correlation between social media shares and backlinks, but didn’t go far enough to tell us what gets you the best of both worlds.
Our next study goes a step further for better insight.
The 2015 Study by BuzzSumo and Moz
A recent September 2015 study was conducted jointly by BuzzSumo and Moz. The legwork was carried out by Steve Rayson. The study aimed to look at the correlation between links and social media shares.
To conduct the analysis, BuzzSumo and Moz provided over one million articles from their databases. The relationship between links and shares was then examined. Let’s first begin with the study’s sampling process.
- One million published articles in more than 60,000 domains were taken into consideration.
- 99,941 random posts from BuzzSumo were chosen as a controlled group.
- 657,317 posts were chosen as the structured sample. These were widely shared articles of varied formats used to analyze the effect of content formats.
- 757,317 posts from over 600,000 domains were chosen so that the sampling wasn’t limited based on popularity.
Then, the sample was analyzed thoroughly. BuzzSumo API was utilized to recognize the content types, share data and word length. Moz API was used to measure the page and domain authority of articles as well as the number of links they enjoyed.
Since BuzzSumo records content that’s widely shared, the study was slightly biased towards shared posts. Even then, the first sample of random posts saw only a few shares and links. To put this in numbers:
Social Shares: 50 percent of the random posts saw two or less shares on Twitter, the same numbers on Facebook, one or less shares on Google Plus, and no LinkedIn shares.
Links: In the random sample, 75 percent had no external links at all and had one or less links to referring domains.
All in all, the degree of overlap between shares and backlinks looks like this when visualized:
Although the research began with the expectation that there would be a strong correlation between links and social media shares, the results revealed otherwise.
Unlike previous studies, it was revealed that there was “no positive correlation between links and shares.” There was only a weak positive correlation in the third sample set of 757,317 posts.
Researchers further checked whether there was a positive correlation in specific networks. Yet, nothing of the sort was found in social media shares pertaining to domain links across various networks. To eliminate bias towards shared posts, the sample content of 99,941 random posts was considered again. It was concluded that there wasn’t a statistically significant difference, although the group had relatively fewer shares and links.
Another subset of 69,114 highly shared articles was analyzed. This subset showed a higher correlation between referring link domains and social media shares. The reverse was also examined.
In other words, it was seen whether highly linked content also enjoys a huge number of shares. The results didn’t show any relationship between the two.
Why Isn’t There a Correlation Between Links and Social Media Shares?
You’re probably wondering why the results varied from previous studies. There could be numerous reasons for this. I’d hypothesize that the 2015 study varied widely from past ones because those studies used much smaller and less varied samples.
We’ve already dispelled the myth that social media backlinks exist. After that, we’re left with the lingering sense that social media and backlinks are still somehow related. But it’s just that: A feeling.
It’s wrong to expect a correlation between social media shares and links in the first place.
People link and share for different reasons.
There’s always going to be that content which enjoys shares and links in huge numbers. The study showed that this phenomenon is usually limited to certain popular websites, such as the New York Times, BuzzFeed and HubSpot. It’s assumed that such websites are outliers.
The same correlation phenomenon didn’t hold true for a larger sample of less popular websites. Even with these websites, there’s no clear correlation between links and social media shares.
If there were a positive correlation, increased shares would have to result in increased links. The increased links must have also resulted in increased shares. However, this wasn’t always the case. Websites like BuzzFeed had a very high number of shares, but the number of links was very few. There were only certain websites that enjoyed a high correlation, so it was initially assumed that it’s because they’re popular and authoritative.
To check whether domain authority mattered, a few websites designated with high domain authority from Moz were chosen. The results showed that correlation was less than average. This bursts the theory that high domain authority automatically means a positive correlation.
Yet again, there’s a content sweet spot, which commanded both shares and links. I’ll come to that later. First, let’s explore ideal content length.
Social Media, Backlinks, Ranking and Ideal Content Length
Why content length matters
Ideal content length is related to keyword rankings (SERP results), social media shares and backlinks.
The ideal content length for ranking in SERP results is determined by two factors:
- Age of your website
- Competition in your niche
Older websites that have adhered well to changing Google algorithms usually do well when it comes to SERP ranking. Therefore, they can get by with relatively less content, especially in comparison to newer websites that haven’t established themselves in Google’s eyes.
A younger website would need to come up with longer content to reach the SERP.
Another deciding factor is niche competition. If there aren’t that many websites in your industry, then you might perform okay with relatively lesser content. However, you’d still need to have more content than older websites in your same niche to rank well.
What’s the ideal content length for social media and backlinks?
All in all, it looks like 1500 words is a good target to rank well on SERP if you’re in the industry for a long time, but content greater than 2000 words in length works great.
The relationship between social media, backlinks and rankings
There’s no direct relationship between social media shares and ranking.
To this date, Google says it doesn’t consider social signals.
However, the fact remains that social media sharing helps in driving organic online traffic to your website.
Hence, social media shares indirectly affect the ranking of your site. Search Metrics brings you rank correlation in this regard.
Backlinks do have a strong positive impact on your SEO and rankings. If you’re going to focus on one thing, focus on backlinks over shares.
So, What’s the Sweet Spot for Social Media and Backlinks?
In the studies, we saw that there are some outliers that enjoy a positive correlation between social media and backlinks.
Quizzes and entertainment videos are far more likely to be shared than linked to. Getting shares is easy. It only takes a click of the mouse on highly used social media websites.
On the other hand, getting quality backlinks is tough. Only a few people venture into actually doing this. Researchers have revealed that content which is authoritative, research-backed, journalistic and opinion-forming enjoys higher domain links. Giving an insightful position on a hot topic is the key.
It’s vital that your website consistently produces evergreen, original and fact-checked content for this reason. Doing so could land you in the sweet spot where shares and links positively correlate.
Final Thoughts on Social Media Backlinks
What’s the best way to get maximum shares and links?
Getting shares is relatively easy, as mentioned earlier.
Your marketing endeavors must mainly be focused towards getting backlinks through fresh content. When you manage to achieve that, shares will naturally follow. Keep content length and quality in mind.
Remember that you’ll only get a positive correlation between shares and links when you generate reliable and authoritative content. That’s, of course, unless you’ve managed to create an outlier website.