What determines shareable content? Emotion or good SEO?

These days, being a great content writer is quite simply not enough.

Not only must we write compelling and relevant content, but we must now also ensure we write shareable content. If we don’t, all our hard work will be for nothing; that fantastic piece you laboured over for hours will disappear into the abyss of the world wide web for ever and ever, instead of living the life it deserves.

It’s more frustrating than bad grammar, and that’s saying something coming from this finicky content creator.

So, how can we guarantee our content is seen, read and shared by the people who matter to us and our business?

Put simply, we can’t – but – some recent studies have begun to shed light on what, exactly, goes on in the head of readers when they interact with a piece of content, and how those thought processes can work to the content creator’s advantage.

Shareable Content: What motivates us to share great content?

The most recent discussion on the matter was led by StoryScience founder Kohlben Vodden at this month’s CMA digital breakfast (the-cma.com).

His presentation laid bare some of the unquestionable factors, gathered from a number of studies, which motivate us to share great content. I won’t go into the scientific details – you can read about those here (clickz.com) – but the upshot of it was that content is most likely to be shared when the user believes it will add value to the lives of their peers – what Vodden refers to as ‘network value’.

To me this is plainly obvious, and certainly the main reason why I produce and share content, on any subject. But what interested me were the other reasons. Namely:

  • Defining ourselves to others. 68% of the study’s participants said they wanted “to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about”.
  • Feeding personal relationships. 73% said that they share content because it “helps them to connect with others who share their interests”.
  • Self-fulfilment. 69% said they share content because it “makes them feel more involved in the world”.
  • Cause or issue awareness. 84% said they share as a way “to support causes or issues they care about”.

All of them are emotionally charged and linked to relationships with others. These are the factors which determine shareable content.

Shareable content is key to building brand awareness!When I look back at some of my past blogs, I wonder if there is enough emotional attachment, and if not, is it therefore boring, unappealing and inherently unshareable?

Take this example (bluevalleycarhire.com): a freelance piece I wrote a few years ago about the Sherry triangle in Spain, where I live (hopefully for some time to come). I remember working my backside off to research, create and fine-tune that, yet it can’t have been shared more than once or twice. Why? There is zero emotion involved. It was just another SEO-steroid-pumped piece destined for internet obscurity. As it goes, it’s almost impossible to find it on the site that hosts it, so it’s probably not even ranking on search.

Then I look at this example (spainforpleasure.com), a political and personal blog I recently wrote about my feelings on Britain’s upcoming EU referendum. It was shared nearly 100 times across different social networks within two days of being published. Consequently it caused an abrupt spike in my site’s traffic. Why? It carried emotional appeal. Incidentally, it also ranks for ‘vote remain Spain’, despite the fact I didn’t consider SEO whatsoever when writing.

Generally speaking, I’ve always been wary of producing emotionally charged content since the last thing I want is to cheese people off or come across as too self-absorbed. But now I’m seeing that if you want a piece of great content to live a happy life; if you want your content to be shareable, it has to be emotionally appealing. Otherwise, who cares?

Creating shareable content and influencing the sharing decision.

Content that carries a positive sentiment will normally win the shareability contest. The same can be said of content which exploits cognitive bias – ‘inherent thinking errors’ that humans make when processing information – which you can read more about here (verywell.com).

But without doubt, the key to maximising your content’s sharing potential is giving it a calculated and appropriate title. The dilemma, as always, is whether this title should be SEO-driven or emotionally charged. Often it is impossible to satisfy both purposes.

Good SEO = higher Google ranking = more traffic = more conversions.

Emotional appeal = more shares = better brand awareness.

In the case of my post on the EU referendum, I went 100% for emotional, since seeing that piece shared as many times as possible was the sole objective. It worked, upholding the second most popular reason for sharing content outlined in Vodden’s workshop – ‘supporting a cause or issue people care about’. And now I happen to rank for a couple of keyword phrases that I hadn’t anticipated. Bonus.

However, it is often the case that a piece of content is simply not supposed to be emotionally charged – often content that sets out to answer a commonly asked question within its niche/industry. In such a case the headline of the content should, according to Vodden, be ‘intellectual’, that is, in accordance with good SEO. Mind you, that doesn’t mean you can’t go wild with a great headline. It will make a difference.

In his talk, Vodden recommended CoSchedule (coschedule.com), a fantastic (and free) title-analysing tool which allows you to create the perfect title for your content through trial and error. In fact, the title of the content which you are reading right now was produced using CoSchedule. Is it emotional enough to get the shares it merits?

Only you can be the judge of that…

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