Cracking The LinkedIn Publishing Code

It’s still early days for the LinkedIn Publishing experiment but as more people participate, more data becomes available, a recent study focusing on the parameters of top-performing LinkedIn content, caught my eye. Paul Shapiro, Organic Search Director for Catalyst, a WPP Agency in Boston, recently analyzed “~3,000 of the most successful blog posts on the platform in an attempt to garner some insights about what makes a long-form post on LinkedIn successful.”

Here’s a summary of his findings:

1) Make your titles between 40 and 49 characters long.
2) Make your posts on LinkedIn visual (add 8 images).
3) Don’t add videos or other multimedia assets to your posts.
4) Use “How-to” and List-Style Headlines (don’t use Question posts).
5) Divide your post into 5 headings in order to attract the greatest number of post views.
6) People like to read long-form content on LinkedIn — 1,900 to 2,000 words long.
7) Don’t get your audience all fired up (use neutral tone/language).
8) Make your content readable for an 11-year-old (readability).
9) Promote your LinkedIn publisher post on other social networks (esp. Twitter).
10) LinkedIn likes get you views, shares, and comments.

(1) Title / Headline

Most of these findings make sense. A long post title (or headline) will not get as many clicks because they get cut off in Pulse:

Pulse Headline Cut

Although, the Notifications field is more accommodating:

Notifications 0

But common sense tells us that most people get turned off by long-winded Headlines.

(2) Visuals

I’ve been a proponent of strong visuals to augment written content (including your LinkedIn Profile) for a long time. I always kick-start my articles with an image, I think it sets the scene and welcomes the reader (the image above is of code-cracking mathematician Alan Turing’s statue at Bletchley Park). I’m particularly keen on screenshots/images which support or emphasize the message. Make sure that the image you choose is not too ‘busy’ and looks good (i.e eye-catching) in a small format. Look at the Pulse examples above, you don’t get much space for the image.

(3) Multimedia

I don’t use video or audio on my blog, my opinion is that people prefer to read rather than don headphones, which is sometimes necessary with multimedia consumption. Also, from the author perspective, it takes more equipment and effort to make a video than to type. Some authors may not want to put themselves in the frame. I’m therefore not surprised by this finding.

(4) Headline Style

Often regarded as THE most important part of the blog and easy to understand why. If the only thing people see initially, is the Headline, then this is where the blog author seals the deal or loses the prospective reader. If your Headline results in a click, it has done its job (the same principle applies to your Professional Headline on LinkedIn). I very much like the idea of testing a bunch of Headlines for click success and I will be looking at services like KingSumo.

Paul acknowledges that testing different Headlines on the fly is currently difficult to do on LinkedIn but he does provide some workarounds. I’m not so sure about the tip on avoiding Question Headlines, my gut is that folks have probably seen far too many and much will depend on the subject, rather than the punctuation. I do like List Headlines (3 Stunningly Good LinkedIn Summary Examples) because they infer research, practicality and lure readers with the implication and promise of learning and accomplishment. I presume that people not only want to learn stuff, they also want to get stuff done. Tick.

(5) Headings

Similar to my view on List Headlines above – readers like to consume content in neat parcels of text, the alternative, one long, ever-scrolling para is no one’s idea of fun. I’m not sure that there is an ideal number of Headings, though. If people like what they read; they’ll read for as long as they like or have time, or until they get distracted.

(6) 1,900 to 2,000 Words

This post falls short at 1,700. I’m going to be finicky about the precise meaning of words here. When Paul writes “People like to read” we don’t actually know what people are doing when they click on a long-form LinkedIn post, since there’s no way for us (non-LinkedIn employees) to measure this. Readers could be reading, skimming or staring absent-mindedly at an image, while picking their nose…so this makes analysis of LinkedIn blog articles in particular, based on wordage alone, very difficult. Todd makes this point here:

Post Engagement 1

Paul’s response acknowledges the difficulty in linking post length with reader (viewer) engagement.

Post Engagement 2

Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina wrote an excellent guide earlier this year entitled “The Ideal Length for Blog Posts, Tweets, and Everything Else in Your Marketing.” This study, like Paul’s, was also based on analysis of high-performing content. Andy suggests that 1,500 word posts are best for ranking (SEO) and points out that longer pages have more opportunities to indicate their relevance to search engines like Google. He also references analysis by MOZ which found that longer pages tend to attract more links, which in turn help ranking. This gives credence to the theory that longer posts may do better in respect to social sharing, than short ones.

(7) Tone

This very much depends on your audience and since we’re talking about LinkedIn, strictly speaking, it’s not yours. You communicate differently with your friends than with your colleagues or complete strangers. Striking a positive note in your posts could be a winning strategy but if you can’t muster unbridled enthusiasm, a neutral tone when you really don’t know who’s reading your stuff, is a no-brainer.

(8) Readability

Bottom line here I think, is to avoid confusion at all costs and this is where the folks who know how to edit, have a major advantage. If you’ve got a flowery writing style, simplify it. Time and tide is against you. If your readers don’t get your message in the first verbose wave, don’t expect them to wade through the rest of your word ocean. There are plenty of other blogs to read.

(9) Cross-promotion (Twitter)

Paul’s study recommends Twitter for amplifying your content on LinkedIn. He finds that Tweets have the highest correlation to LinkedIn success. He also states that he personally follows a 80/20 rule..

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 10.43.24 AM

…he spends 20% of his time writing the post and the rest of the time, promoting it. To many of us first-time or newish writers, that may seem like overkill. My advice would be to focus on finding your voice and producing the kind of content which you can’t find anywhere else and would want to share with your peers. You should also try to build alliances with established bloggers. Many of the bloggers I know who have built huge audiences are often happy to promote quality posts on their social media channels. For my money, Google Plus is the channel to watch, especially in relation to recent changes to authorship and considering that Google remains the search directory of choice.

(10) Social Shares

Paul says that the effort required to like a post is less than adding a comment or sharing, but liking a post can lead to both. Makes sense, but LinkedIn recently did something which raised eyebrows – they took away the actual number of social shares on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter and replaced them with small share buttons instead. David Graham, Digital Engagement Leader – Deloitte Africa, wrote a long-form post about it “LinkedIn give back what you have taken from us.” which got the following response from Ryan Roslansky, Head of Content Products, Linkedin:

Ryan Roslansky Reply

When LinkedIn tell us about seeing data on engagement, it’s obviously no substitute for seeing the data for ourselves. The problem with views is that they’re not an accurate indicator of engagement or success; we don’t know how long the post was read, if at all. We do know that some of the views are from web crawling robots. If a post galvanizes a significant proportion of the audience to share, surely this ought to be openly factored into the distribution decision-making? The whole process (by man and machine) of deciding which long-form posts get tagged on a LinkedIn Channel (widely disseminated via Pulse) is still shrouded in mystery. I guess we’ll have to wait to see the “holistic upgrades” that Ryan dangles. I’ve previously suggested showing social shares in percentage terms. Sharing seems to be the closest we can get to a gold-standard, in reader engagement terms. I think readers should have access to the same content analytics that authors have, share and share, alike.

Of course what hasn’t been analyzed by this study is the content itself. It should also be noted that many of these guidelines are applicable to publishing content everywhere and not just on the Linkedin platform. Understanding the kind of content which typically gets chosen for wider consumption on and by LinkedIn, will be key.

Weirdly, this study found that posting content on Thursday via LinkedIn gets the most views, for no apparent reason. There is the possibility that this will become a self-perpetuating oddity as more people choose Thursday to publish on LinkedIn, based on this observation! The blog you’re reading now peaks around midday every Wednesday and I attribute this to the fact that many of my readers settle down to read my blog at work, during lunch on Hump day. What do you think of this study? Do these findings make sense to you? I’d love to hear from other LinkedIn Publishers, whether you’ve been featured in a Channel, or not.

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Shruti Kaur- Entrepreneur

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