Shares Are the New SEO for Content Marketing

Old-school content marketers remember the days when Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”) was king. When getting a page to the top of organic search engine results was the key to success, and marketers used keyword saturation and all manner of tricks to win the results battle.

But here we are in 2018, and the digital world is far more sophisticated. First, the engineers behind the search result algorithms at Google (and other search engines) are continuously refining their algorithm to improve results for users and to combat those who would game the results for brazenly capitalistic (or more nefarious) ends. Second, today’s users are digitally wise and enigmatically fickle. They are willing to be marketed to when it suits their needs and interests, but they can turn hostile when they perceive a marketing misstep.

For marketers who are creating content, trying to win views and click-throughs can feel like scratching a cat’s belly: The results may be a mix of temporary bliss, a vicious attack, or worst of all, a total lack of interest.

In response, far too many brands go whole-hog into SEO and produce content that is rife with keywords and phrases, lists of cities and services. An unintelligible mish-mash of marketing buzz that serves no one other than the search algorithm itself. Sure, they may earn better search results, but at the cost of providing any real value to the audience. A click followed by a dismissive scan is not the goal. To earn real, repeat customers or grow an audience, you must bring value to the table.

The Internet is a part of daily life like never before. Most of us spend several hours online every day and are being marketed to constantly in ways both direct and indirect. This widespread saturation has enhanced the Internet’s viral nature, but it has also made it incredibly difficult for brands to be seen. Capturing the zeitgeist has proven to be a boom-or-bust proposition for a variety of companies. There is no formula for going viral, but the next best thing is getting shared by your target audience.

I won’t belabor the point and over-explain the power of shares, but consider for a moment investing $500 in a Facebook ad campaign. Doing so will net you a couple hundred views and click-throughs, but if that ad strikes a chord, it will get shared, and shared again, and shared again. Eventually, it will find millions of eyes and thousands of potential customers. Exponential growth on an initial marketing investment was essentially impossible before the digital age, but now it happens every day.

Now, anyone who promises the secret of “going viral” is a charlatan should be avoided. But for content marketing, there are a number strategies that can vastly improve your chances.

1. Know Your Audience

This applies to all marketing everywhere all the time. If you don’t know your audience or how to connect to them, you’re in the wrong business. But when hunting shares, this is more important than ever. The difference between a targeted online ad and a print ad is that you don’t have to worry about overall appeal. Speak in slang, use memes, do whatever it takes to connect to your This conveys authenticity when done correctly and makes it more likely that a post will be shared between members of an audience.

The ultimate lesson here is that it is all about the consumer, and not about you or your brand. Tap into what drives/entertains/educates them. They have the power, so feed that. Make it all about them. If it resonates, you’ll know.

2. Be Useful and/or Entertaining 

Whatever you’re going for, nail it. Anything from advice to humor needs to not only resonate in tone, but also provide some kind of service/entertainment. The post will only be shared if the original viewer thinks, “Yes, this is funny/useful/represents me and others will agree.”

Blendtec stands out as a company that nailed the useful/entertaining angle. To promote their powerful blenders, they created the “Will it Blend” series, which showed a variety of objects dropped into blenders to answer the titular query. The result was both funny and demonstrably informative for the product. The series was shared by people who weren’t even interested in the product, but those millions of shares got the video in front of potential customers.

3. Incentivize Shares

This one is tricky for content creation, but if you can cook up a way to reward or incentivize shares or referrals, it can be a truly powerful tool.

There are many examples of brands that have used this strategy to grow like crazy. First to jump to mind is Airbnb, which offered credits for referrals that could be used toward future stays. While their growth might appear predestined in hindsight, remember that upon launch, most users were skeptical/frightened by the prospect of strangers staying in their homes and vice versa. Incentivizing participation helped overcome these hesitations and grow the brand. A second example is Dropbox, which boosted subscribers’ storage capacity based on referrals. The strategy drove shares and subscriptions without directly impacting the company’s bottom line.

4. Be Active and Responsive on Social Media

Great content should get a response, and active engagement with those responding will increase attention and ideally earn even more shares. This is also a fantastic way for all businesses, whether seeking shares or not, to build a brand voice and earn loyal customers. Having a team member respond to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social sites lets customers know you care, and it is a cheap avenue to building brand awareness.

5. Quality Over Everything

Today’s savvy consumers can spot a fake a mile away, but speaking openly and delivering your message in a direct and/or entertaining way will earn more than clicks, it’ll earn respect. Tweaking SEO or having a billion dollar marketing budget may earn eyes, but if the content itself doesn’t speak to the audience, all is for naught. So the first and last step in planning and executing a marketing campaign should be an overall QC check. Is the messaging on point? Are the visuals engaging? Is the UX optimized? Does the content serve a purpose?

If the answer is yes to the above, you’ve got the recipe for success. If not, go back and fix what’s missing. If you don’t see a mistake before launch, your results will point it out soon enough.

Ultimately, the key to content marketing is understanding your audience and giving them what they want. Or even better, giving them what they want before they know they want it. That requires an intimate understanding of your audience and a holistic understanding of the zeitgeist at large. It is easier said than done. But if it were easy, content marketing wouldn’t be so fun.