“Want shares and links? Create deep research or opinion-forming content,” says a new study jointly conducted by BuzzSumo and Moz.
Having had some training and background in journalism, it made me happy to know that the content sweet spot for achieving both links and shares online is “authoritative, opinion shaping journalism on current topics or well researched and evidenced content” because it attracts more referring domain links.
People share and link to content for different reasons, says the study. So while that baby animal video you posted might get thousands of shares on social networks, viewers don’t exactly consider it authoritative enough to link to (except from clickbait sites like Cheezburger.com).
“Journalism ethics is a field where old and new values clash,” writes Stephen J. A. Ward, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
While journalistic ethics are defined by professionalism, separation of news and opinion, verification of reports and news sources, a commitment to accuracy and objectivity and to minimizing harm, bloggers and social media marketers are not really bound by such rules.
Instead, what works in the real-time world of social media are immediacy, snark, anonymity and sharing of news, often without giving credit to the original source. In the world of journalism, such writing would never pass muster.
However, the study by BuzzSumo and Moz seems to indicate that old-school journalistic ethics are respected not just in the rarefied halls of publications like The Atlantic and The New York Post, but also on the internet, where readers are more discerning than previously thought.
So how do bloggers and social media marketers use this information to ensure that their posts are seen as “authoritative and opinion-forming”? The recommended way would be to familiarize yourself with the principles of journalistic ethics put down by the Society of Professional Journalists.
In practice, here’s how it works.
- Journalism Ethics and Guidelines For Bloggers and Social Media Marketers
- So What’s a Blogger To Do?
Journalism Ethics and Guidelines For Bloggers and Social Media Marketers
1. Be accurate
Inaccuracy is inexcusable, especially when you have a research tool like Google at your fingertips. So, research your blog posts well.
Make sure that all your statements are based on accurate data and information that can be verified or linked to. Before you hit publish, verify all facts stated and link to the original sources of information quoted.
Here, you can take a page out of Neil Patel’s book, because his blog posts are always data-based, thoroughly researched and include links and accreditation to every source of information that he quotes from.
2. Provide context
Don’t oversimplify, or if you have to for the purpose of keeping things simple for your readers, provide links or resources within or at the end of the post, that they can use to read more information and educate themselves further about your topic.
Wikipedia does this brilliantly, both by linking to other articles within the site and with a comprehensive list of references at the end of every article.
3. Keep your posts up to date
When you provide a source of information that readers know is kept up to date with the latest developments in that field, it becomes authoritative and the go-to source of information on that topic.
An example is Brian Dean’s Complete List of Google’s 200 Ranking Factors that he keeps updated and that has become a widely-shared and linked to source of information on SEO.
4. Have a clear stand on anonymity
When quoting from anonymous sources, it’s especially difficult to distinguish whether the information is true or false. It’s common for journalists to use false names to protect victims of violent crimes.
In the online world, anonymity is very easy to implement and the issue is still up for debate, given that sites like Wikileaks make it very easy to post confidential information without the vetting process that any information goes through in an editor’s office.
As a publisher, you need to decide if your site is going to allow anonymous sources of information or not. If you do decide to allow them, remember that this sort of information is very hard to verify, so it’s wise to have safeguards in place to avoid legal issues.
5. Stand up for what is right
If you’re a political blogger or commentator, this is a hard act to keep up, especially because anonymity makes it so easy for people who disagree with you to try to threaten and intimidate you online.
However, if you’ve taken a stand, it would be seen as courageous to refuse to get intimidated by threats. Remember that (in most countries) the law is on your side and that you have the right to express your opinion.
6. Don’t Do The Photoshop
It’s so easy today to use image editors to touch up parts of the image that don’t fit into a story or narrative.
7. Never, never plagiarize
Plagiarism is the cardinal sin of blogging and content sharing. Whether you’re “inspired by” or quoting from another source of information, always provide attribution to those you quote or gain inspiration from (the way I’ve done in this post). If you don’t want people to plagiarize your work, do unto others…
So What’s a Blogger To Do?
As a blogger, you are not bound by the code of journalism ethics. But, considering the benefits quoted in the study above, the bloggers that do abide by journalism ethics and standards and create well-researched content, will be seen as more authoritative than others, and get more links and shares than their peers.
Here are some of the ways you can become an A-list blogger:
1. Publish less often
In the world of old-school reporting, it would take weeks or months to put together an authoritative feature or report that could make a journalist’s career (and sometimes win them a Pulitzer Prize). In the world of blogging, it often takes just hours.
However, there’s evidence that publishing less often can be beneficial. Brian Dean has only around 31 posts on his site and is close to breaking 100,000 visits per month. So the key is not posting more often, but doing a darn good job of it.
Brian publishes expanded list posts (ELPs), case studies and other authoritative information that is immensely useful to his audience and gets an insane number of links and shares.
2. Write “10X” content
As I wrote in my post on Blog Content Creation And Promotion In 2015 and Beyond, the time when you could get away with writing “fluffy” content is gone, especially if you want your content to stand out from the clutter.
In these times of content shock, “good” content is no longer good enough. With so much great content out there, anything you create has to either be 10X content or the “best in its category” or it won’t get results.
3. Write long-form content
According to the study from BuzzSumo and Moz, long form content (over 1,000 words) consistently receives more shares and links than shorter-form content. Once the word count exceeds 1,500 words, it’s in the golden share zone. The average web page that ranks on the first page of Google has over 2,000 words of content.
This is the incentive you need to stop holding back and write to your heart’s content. It does not give you the license to ramble and bore your readers, but it does mean that a “Definitive Guide” that provides comprehensive information on a topic in 2000 words or more, will get more links and shares than a list post of 500 to 700 words.
4. Study SEO copywriting
You don’t have to become an SEO guru (although that helps), but if, in this day and age, you’re a writer who hasn’t brushed up on her knowledge of keyword research, SEO copywriting and on-page SEO, you’re seriously handicapped, because everyone who does understand these principles has an edge over you.
There are lots of free tutorials and ebooks out there to help you learn the basics of SEO copywriting. You can start with the ones below:
5. Promote your post
You could have a great piece of content, but no one will notice if you don’t promote it. As this infographic from Crazy Egg shows, content promotion is as important (if not more) than content creation. Bloggers like Derek Halpern recommend that you spend 20% of your time creating content and 80% promoting it.
Reaching out to influencers is an awesome tactic for building those oh-so-important links and shares to your post. Brian Dean and Neil Patel send at least 250 outreach emails for every post that they publish, which is how they manage to get so many inbound links.
Tools like BuzzSumo help to find influencers, while Sujan Patel’s Content Marketer makes it easy to extract the emails of influential people, and scale your email outreach or tweet them to let them know that you’ve linked to them in your blog post or want a quote or interview with them.
I hope you’ve found these tips, on journalism ethics for the Digital Age, useful. And finally, I would like to leave you with this funny statement on the phenomenon of Clickbait from Jon Oliver.