Data Study: The 400 Most Linked-To Blog Posts
(Across The Top 20 Marketing Blogs)
You’ve probably noticed that some blog posts generate hundreds of links and others fail miserably… and it isn’t necessarily because one piece is better than the other.
But one of those pieces is clearly much more linkable than the other.
What makes a piece more linkable than another?
Sure, you can use a link building service to help, but it’s super expensive and can never compete with the blog posts that generate hundreds of links organically.
I set out to answer these questions when I analyzed 400 of the most linked-to blog posts across 20 of the top marketing blogs.
Here’s what I found. (Jump to Key Findings)
The Problem With Link Building
Link building is costly, time-consuming, and for many people, ineffective.
However, Google still cares about links… a lot.
In fact, Search Engine Land revealed that links are one of the top three ranking factors.
Therefore, once you decide you need to build links, you either Google every link building tactic yourself or turn to a link building agency.
Unfortunately, this can become quite expensive. Here’s an example of fairly average pricing for a link building campaign:
As you can see, you’d have to pay $6,000 per month to generate just 10 DA 50 plus links to a single piece of content.
So if you want 10 DA 50 plus links to each piece of content and you publish 4 posts per month, expect to pay around $24,000 per month (on top of what you paid to have the content written and designed).
That’s a little scary.
However, there are plenty of pieces of content that naturally generate lots of high authority links.
For example, a single post (included in this study) generated all of these high authority links without any manual outreach:
If you notice, the link building pricing plan I showed above doesn’t even include an option to acquire links of this quality.
I wanted to uncover how these pieces generate links naturally (as that is Google’s intent- they don’t want you to pay a link builder) and analyze trends I can use in my own content strategy to generate high quality links for $0.00.
Here are some key findings.
List posts attracted more links than any other post style with a strong lead of 31.25%.
However, this does not account for the inequality of published posts (many more list posts are published than original research posts giving list posts a much larger advantage).
My guess is that original research has the highest percentage of posts that make it to the top 20 list.
Adding quotes, templates, infographics, statistics, and tools to guides, how to posts, list posts and what is posts can dramatically improve linkability.
As you’ll see below, more than 50% of the links to some posts were generated because of these additions.
Guides, how to posts and what is posts are unlikely to generate links for newer brands.
Most websites linking to these posts link to them as asides (they mention a new concept, but rather than explaining it in detail, they link to a guide from a reputable source).
This is likely because linkers either:
- Google the broad keyword and only authoritative brands rank for the broad keyword
- There is a wide option of guides and they prefer to link to a brand they know.
Combining posts is the easiest way to generate links quickly.
If you have a broad keyword that you want to target, (for example, “social media marketing”), the best way to achieve a high ranking is to:
- Gather all of your low performing social media marketing related posts
- Pick the most valuable aspects of them
- Create a new post combining all valuable aspects
- 301 the old post to your master post.
(See our example of a post that generated hundreds of links before being published).
Screenshots are powerful link assets (especially for list posts).
If you’re writing a post and have an opportunity to include a screenshot of an example, or even a Canva illustration, you’ll generate many more links.
Most brands tend to find one post style that works and doubles down on it.
Therefore, you may try several different post styles and once you find one that works well, double down on it.
Databox is a great example we’ll discuss below.
Creating original data is incredibly effective and doesn’t have to be expensive.
You’ll see an example in the original data section that shows how hiring a virtual assistant for a few hours can gain hundreds of links (and is cheaper than hiring a link builder!).
Successful content marketers that consistently generate highly linked-to posts have real relationships with people in their industry.
As you’ll see in the roundup post, the founders of Databox spent time connecting with influencers.
As a result, their relationships enabled them to score high quality links continuously. Once those relationships exist, you don’t even have to ask people to link to you
How We Conducted This Study
Methodology: The Study
To collect the data, I gathered 20 widely popular marketing related blogs (most were SaaS or agency blogs) and analyzed their 20 most linked to posts.
I threw out any publications, like Search Engine Land, as most of us don’t have the resources (or desire) to build a news website, so their results would likely skew the results.
I also threw out websites that generated over 100,000 monthly visitors.
Once you pass this threshold, you likely are a known industry player, and people will go looking for your content to link to versus finding your content because it’s what they need.
While I would have preferred to throw out any website with brand authority and do only websites that generate under 5,000 monthly visitors, I found that most of them weren’t producing highly linkable content like case studies, data etc.
Side note: I suppose this already somewhat proves my point that websites that don’t produce data studies, case studies, and other unique content usually have few visitors.
So I was left with 20 sites that generated between 10,000-100,000 visitors per month and showed (in my opinion) a variety of quality content.
From there, I categorized them into the following groups:
- Case Study
- Original Data or Coverage of Original Data
- Stats Post
- How to/Step by Step
- List Post
- Comparison Posts
- What is (similar to guide but usually for long tail SEO keyword)
So 400 URLs later, here are the results from each category:
Disclaimer 1: Category Discrepancy
The majority of posts don’t fall cleanly into a single category. For example, I noticed that while some posts contained an infographic that was part of a how-to guide. So which do you categorize it as?
I ultimately chose to put each post under the category that it best fit, but there was certainly some overlap.
Disclaimer 2: Uneven Post Style Creation
In addition, there is a disproportionate number of post styles published, so the study didn’t start with a level playing field.
In other words, the study didn’t start like this:
Instead, it started like this:
What’s more interesting to me is why people link to each of these post styles and how you can add these key elements to your own posts to make them more linkable.
List Posts (31.25%)
List posts were by far the most successful type of post with 125 of the URLs falling into this category.
This isn’t surprising as other data shows similar results.
Backlinko showed that list posts get, on average, 218% more shares than how to posts and 203% more shares than infographics.
So why were list posts so much more effective than any other type of post?
A few reasons:
- List posts are one of the most common post types, so some were bound to be hits
- Many list posts are great resources for readers that want more examples on a topic or a tool/template to solve an issue
- Many successful list posts include original case studies or data that other writers will borrow to support their claims
Let’s start with an example.
One of Sumo’s most popular blog posts is this:
So why does this post have so many links? Two main reasons that are closely related:
- Sumo has a headline generator that solves headline generation problems for people. Rather than just reading more about headlines, it does it for you
- It provides the ultimate list of formulas (which are similar to the tool in that they do the work for you- you just have to pick one)
As mentioned before, tools are really powerful link assets, so include them whenever possible (and is relevant) in your posts.
Look at the anchor texts to this post. Almost all of them drop the link as a resource to do it for the reader:
In addition, the user experience of this post is really amazing. The reader can see the headlines just by glancing through the chart and doesn’t need to read much deeper:
If you plan to do a list post, be sure that it serves the user intent in the best way possible.
For example, you might create a post that has the most examples or a post with more in depth examples.
For a post like this, there isn’t a need to give a thorough explanation for each headline, so creating a post with a large number of examples (80) is best.
Notice that the user experience from the chart is also very good and allows it to beat out several longer pieces with over 100 email headline examples.
OptinMonster also has a piece that is the ultimate authority on content types and it generates links because it’s a great place to send people that want to learn more about different types of content.
Just look at the anchor text:
Let’s look at another example.
Imagine writing a piece about great Facebook ad copy, or how to market to millennials.
For both of these, you might want to find an example of a great Facebook ad to include in the post.
So your first step is probably search for Facebook ad examples.
You find this post by KlientBoost…
…scroll through the examples…
… and then pick one you like and add it to your blog post. To credit the image source and where you got the example, you’ll give KlientBoost a link.
This is exactly what happened with this example from KlientBoost and it generated over 1,400 backlinks and 250+ referring domains from high quality websites.
When you look at the anchor text, you can see that almost all of them are because of the examples and the screenshots (everything with “Source” is because of the screenshot).
Here’s the example of how Neil Patel used one of their Facebook ad examples…
…and another example of how AdEspresso used the example.
Therefore, if you want to create a list post, include plenty of original examples with screenshots whenever possible.
In fact, these are almost like mini case studies that people can swipe to support their claims.
- Use a free tool with your list post or create formulas that are done-for-you
- If you create a list post make it the ultimate on the topic – either by number of examples or by the comprehensiveness of the examples
- Use plenty of original examples that are almost like mini case studies. Adding original screenshots will also dramatically increase links.
How To Posts (15.25%)
I was somewhat surprised that these posts did as well as they did. And more than that, I wanted to understand the link intention behind them.
I assume that part of the reason why these posts occurred so frequently in the top-linked to list is simply because they are so common.
Nonetheless, let’s dive into why these particular how-to posts performed well when so many of them do not.
Here’s a how-to post from Convince and Convert that did startlingly well.
It generated 291 referring domains and many of those domains were very high quality.
So why did it perform so well?
The first reason why these posts received many links is because it contained another asset attached (template, tool, quiz etc)
That’s why Buffer (and many others) linked to this post:
Here’s a similar link from Constant Contact:
However, the template wasn’t the only reason why it performed well.
People writing a post on another related topic and a content calendar would come up in the conversation.
Rather than getting off topic and talking about content calendars, they would simply add a link to a more in-depth piece for people that wanted it.
Look at the example below.
The title of the piece is “How to Execute Your App Marketing Plan Effectively.”
Therefore, content marketing is just one step in this plan, so it doesn’t make sense to go in depth on what a content calendar should look like.
So they simply link to it:
The caveat with this is that the writer probably just Googled “content calendar” and linked to the first one that popped up.
Therefore, unless you already have substantial brand authority, I’m guessing that your how-to posts won’t generate that much traffic as say, a HubSpot or Neil Patel.
The final linking motivation for how to posts was quote links.
Here’s an example of that in action:
If you don’t have a lot of brand authority yet, reach out to industry influencers for quotes. While random websites likely won’t quote your work until you have an established reputation, they will link if an industry leader gives you a quote.
Therefore, unless you have a strong brand, I would steer clear of how to posts as strictly link building assets, unless you have a truly unique template, quiz, or other asset to go with it.
- Add templates, quizzes, tools, and other assets to generate links
- Collect quotes from industry influencers to generate more links
- This post style works best for larger established brands as many how to posts exist and most prefer to mention an established brand when given the option
Statistics Posts 8.5%
Disclaimer: Whenever you link to a statistic, proper etiquette is to cite to the original source (which is why original research works well).
However, some people still link to the statistics page itself rather than the original source. So take advantage of it (as long as you’re still citing the original source).
In fact, statistics pages are often the most successful link building pieces.
While most websites usually only have a few statistics pages (as you can’t really create that many statistics pages around a topic), 34 of them made it on our list here.
So what makes a really great statistics page? Thankfully, they’re really straightforward.
Here is the criteria you should use while creating your stats page:
- Organize it in a user friendly way (look at Hubspot’s stat page)
- Choose statistics that are less than 2 years old (nobody likes dated statistics)
- Find new statistics that replace old statistics
Number three is really the only tricky one, but it’s magical if you do it correctly.
For example, I went into the Wayback machine, put in Hubspot’s stat page URL and found this statistic:
Then, I found an updated stat for the same thing (CTR for paid ads):
Therefore, I can put the URL of the Convario post in Ahrefs, sort by backlinks, and then reach out to all the people linking to the dated post and mention that I have a more recent statistic.
While they should just link to the new data source from WebFX, a study by Ahrefs showed that many people simply link to your new post.
In fact, using this strategy, Ahrefs had a 5.71% conversion rate and 27 linking domains. Here’s the breakdown of the links they generated from the outreach campaign alone:
- Create a great user experience and only use updated statistics
- Try to find older statistics and match them with newer statistics. Then reach out to everyone linking to the dated statistic with your new statistic
- Just because you don’t own the statistic doesn’t mean people won’t link to it. Just be sure you link to the original source.
Case Studies (8%)
8% of the most linked to blog posts were case studies.
GrooveHQ had nine of the 32 case studies we collected, so let’s break down one of their pieces:
This piece also has some impressive stats with websites like Neil Patel, Quicksprout, Search Engine Journal, GitHub, and others linking to the blog post.
So in what context do people link to case studies?
Well, it’s usually when people make a point and need a story to prove or illustrate it. As a writer, I’m always looking for interesting case studies to support my claims and I’m happy to link to interesting stories.
Therefore, when I looked at the context in which blogs linked to Groove’s case study, I wasn’t surprised.
Most of them were making a point and using the story as supportive evidence.
Quicksprout did something similar.
The reason why this case study performed so well is that it had really interesting data. How many websites can claim to generate 100 subscribers from one post?
So if you have zero interesting data, think about how you can use other people’s success and turn it into a case study.
For example, Sleeknote broke down Casper’s rapid growth from $0 to $750 million in 4 years and wrote a case study on it. That’s not something you see every day!
You can see how they constructed the case study in great detail, though they were able to do the entire thing with tools like Archive.org and other marketing tools. You can do the same with virtually any company.
- Your case study should reveal something groundbreaking or be impressive (0-1,000 subscribers in 24 hours)
- If you don’t have anything impressive, do a case study on a different business (growth case study, etc)
- Other content marketers are the most likely linkers, so promote it heavily to places they hang out
Original Data (6.75%)
I hate to say it, but this is perhaps the most misleading piece of data.
If you published as many original data pieces as you did how-to posts, you would see that original data generates many more links.
However, the reality is that these are often very time intensive and therefore, companies usually only do them occasionally. (Which is also why they still work!)
Nonetheless, the good news is that they do generate links like crazy.
Orbit Media is perhaps my favorite example of a company that nails the original data game.
They do an annual survey of over 1,000 bloggers and it has over 2,000 unique referring domains:
In addition, he publishes unique graphics and compares how responses to the survey questions have changed over the years.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that these statistics get picked up by the best of the best like Hubspot, OptinMonster, Vengage, and many more.
In fact, here’s just a few of the impressive list of linking websites:
If you want to build links like that, you have to ask a content marketer, not a link builder.
However, most businesses just starting out don’t have the means to create a survey like that.
And that’s okay.
There are plenty of other ways to create original data that only take a week or so.
Andy has another example of original research that is much less involved and time consuming.
He wanted to know the average lifespan of a website (before it’s redesigned), so he took the top 200 marketing websites (according to Alexa) and hired an assistant to go into the Wayback Machine and calculate the average lifespan of the website before it was redesigned.
Ultimately, he found that it was 2.66 years.
Just with that one single statistic, he was able to generate over 233 referring domains.
Imagine how much money that would have cost you to have someone manually build links.
The reason why this statistic performed so well is because it wasn’t generic. It was something that Andy actually wanted to know, but the statistic didn’t exist.
So next time you desperately need a statistic, think of how you can create it with free tools around you.
This post is another example of how you can create data for free, and I also wrote a roundup post on the Content Marketing Institute’s website about how other content marketers have created data for free.
- People are always looking to back up their claims with data. So create data around hot topics
- You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to do this. Think about how you can create data with tools you already have available to you
As I mentioned earlier, guides are very similar to how-to posts, though they are often a little more in-depth and likely cover everything about that topic rather than just instructions to solve a solution.
In this case, about 6% of all posts that generated the most links were guides.
While this is pretty good, it’s important to remember that the SEO industry has popularized the guide style post and many more guide style posts are published than other post styles.
For example, I’d guess that for every 100 ultimate guides, there are 10 research post. So if 6% of the 20 most linked to posts on a website are guides and 6.75% of the 20 most linked to posts on a website are original research posts, it shows that a lot of guides never make it into the top 20 linked list, whereas most original research posts do make the top 20 post.
So those statistics aren’t encouraging for a guide’s linkability unless you already have a strong brand.
However, let’s jump into an example of a guide style post that did succeed in generating lots of links.
Single Grain wrote The Content Marketer’s Guide to Keyword Research and it has attracted links from numerous high authority sites like Neil Patel, SERPStat, Social Media Today, and many others.
When we look at the anchor text, it again shows that most posts linking to this post are doing so as an aside (The writer is discussing another topic and links to the post rather than going off on a tangent to explain keyword research).
GetResponse also has a guide to webinars that attracted over 1,700 backlinks from websites like Animalz, SmallBiz Trends, and more.
When I looked at their links, they had similar anchor text (asides leading to deeper information on webinars).
The only difference is that this one also had a quote from an expert (Ada Durzynska) which received 18 of the 92 dofollow links.
In fact, the links to the quote were also very high quality links with three of them having a domain authority of 60 plus.
- Guides are similar to how-to posts in that they are generally linked to as asides
- Due to the nature of the links, these acquire more links for companies with an established brand
- Including quotes and other linkable assets can significantly increase the volume of quality links you receive.
5% of the most highly linked posts were roundups.
17 of the 20 roundup posts came from Databox, so it’s safe to say that they’ve really nailed the roundup process.
When I looked through their posts, I realized they received so many backlinks for two reasons:
- They made genuine connections with amazing content marketers through the roundups.
- They had enough contributions to the surveys that they could make statistical data from the questions.
Let’s start with this one.
One of the contributors to this roundup, Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media, mentions their unique strategy in a blog post (and links to the post). He said:
Notice that the real reason why he took an interest was the quality of Databox’s posts.
If they had just slapped a random roundup together of random people, it likely wouldn’t have worked out well.
Instead, they had a collection of quotes from high quality influencers and as a result, Andy was happy to link to them in the above post because that connection existed.
Now let’s move onto part two of why it works.
This roundup did really well because they were able to pull data from it.
By sending the same survey to all marketers, they were able to generate statistics such as “36% of SEO experts think the headline/title tag is the most important SEO element.”
Notice that when other websites linked to this roundup, most of them link to the stats rather than the quotes:
They were also smart to create images with their logo on them. For example, when Impact used their stat, they also used the image that had been created by Databox giving them more brand exposure.
You can make high quality graphs for free with this tool.
- Ask high level influencers to develop industry relations
- Ask mostly survey-style questions so that you can make it into data
- Create graphs and charts of the data with your brand
Infographics were all the rage a few years ago, though blogs soon became saturated with them and the novelty eventually wore off.
However, they appear to be making a comeback as few people are creating them now.
Infographics are essentially the statistics pages that also include a visual representation of each statistic.
Therefore, they work for the same reason that statistics pages work- people looking for data to support their claims will link back to a statistic in your infographic.
However, what’s more interesting is that the statistics on the infographic that made it perform exceptionally well were the original data points from original research conducted by Contently itself (and ultimately repurposed in the infographic).
By glancing at the anchor text below, you can tell that the majority of the links are pointed to original statistics on the page:
Therefore, consider doing a few infographics, and if you have original data, repurpose it in the infographic to help generate the maximum link volume from the data.
Creating infographics has also never been easier as tools like Canva offering professional infographic templates for free.
- Next time you create a stats page, you may as well create an infographic with it too
- If you’re going to create an infographic, try to include some of your own original research
While unfortunately I wasn’t able to generate a statistic on this, I found that many of the most linked to posts are actually a collection of multiple combined posts.
For example, when I was looking at examples of great guides, I wanted to use this example from Jeff Bullas.
It generates 406 referring domains (despite being very old), and was one of the strongest guide examples available.
I originally guessed that it did very well because it was so long and comprehensive (over 4,500 words).
However, when I looked into it, the anchor texts were rather random.
Some of them were alluding to tools, others were alluding to quotes, and still others were discussing very specific social media strategies. You can see them below:
This goes against the links a typical guide-style post receives, but when I dug a little deeper, I saw that it was because this guide was actually the combination of many posts combined.
Look at all the redirects:
Therefore, if you have multiple posts with some links but little traffic or relevancy, pick parts of them to add to your guide and then redirect them to the new guide.
This is probably the easiest way to build amazing links quickly.
I also would recommend ensuring that your piece is updated. While this post has a lot of links, it’s 4 years old and doesn’t bring in much traffic today, though I’m sure with an update it would perform spectacularly again.
So there you have it- the first ever data set of post styles that drive the most backlinks.
While the data is fun to look at, remember that there is a story beyond the data. For example, while list posts tended to perform very well in this study, most of the top performing list posts had very particular features that made them perform well.
Therefore, experiment with each of the different post styles and use the tips in the post to optimize them for success.