Links vs. Shares: Which Is More Important?

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Every digital marketing strategy with a foot in the realms of content marketing and SEO strives for two special indications of quality that double as effectiveness boosters for your campaign: links and shares.

Generally, your content will earn links if it’s informative enough or interesting enough for authors on other sites to cite it as a reference. You can also manually build links by including them in your own guest posts. In any case, these external links point to some piece of content on your homepage, are semi-permanent, and can result in both traffic and increased domain authority.

Content will earn shares if it’s interesting, entertaining, or important to individuals in your social followings — all they have to do is hit the “share” button and it will appear for many of their own followers. Shares make your content more visible to more people, and tend to attract traffic and build brand visibility.

Both of these factors can help your campaign, and serve as indicators of content quality, but which is more important for your campaign, overall?

The Benefits of Links

First, let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of inbound links:

· Authority. The big factor here is the influence of links on domain authority. When Google decides which sites to rank in what order, it looks at the relevance of a page (how appropriate it is for the given query), and its authority. Its authority is primarily determined by the quantity and quality of links pointing to it from other websites, which serve as third-party markers of trustworthiness. These are the only ways to build your domain authority, so if you want to move up in the search rankings, links are essential.

· Referral traffic. Links are useful for more than search rankings, however; they also function as regular links do. They’re clickable, and if placed in articles or content with sufficient visibility, can refer new visitors directly your way. Here, link placement is key; a link on a low-authority publisher won’t earn much traffic, but earning a link on a high-traffic source can be enormously beneficial.

· Brand visibility. Links also help you improve your brand visibility, though to a lesser benefit than their other effects. Seeing your company name cited in an important piece, for example, can cause readers to associate your brand with important original research. For this to work most effectively, you’ll need to have strong “anchor” content that builds your reputation. You may also earn more brand visibility by creating recurring guest author profiles on various publishing sites and building a stream of recurring guest contributions.

· Semi-permanence. Links are also powerful because they’re permanent — or are at least more permanent than social shares. Socially shared articles tend to get buried in newsfeeds after a few minutes, to few hours or a few days of sharing. Links, on the other hand, exist and continue passing both traffic and authority until their respective owners decide to remove them (which may never happen).

The Benefits of Shares

So what about the benefits of shares?

· More links. Interestingly, one of the greatest benefits of social sharing is the ability to earn more inbound links. Social sharing introduces your content to a wider audience very quickly, potentially introducing it to key authors and influencers who might read it, and find it compelling enough to link to it in their own future publications. Without a social mode of distribution, it’s hard to get attention for even your best work.

· Social traffic. When a piece is socially shared, it has the ability to attract traffic from interested social followers. This effect is similar to links’ effect of generating referral traffic, but keep in mind these audiences are very different. Depending on the goals of your strategy and your target demographics, you may strongly prefer one over the other.

· Much higher visibility. Social sharing generally comes with much higher visibility than earning a link. With a link in an article, only a fraction of that article’s readers will click through and get to see your brand. When an article of yours is shared, anyone who happens upon it in a newsfeed — regardless if they even read the article — will see your brand.

· Viral potential. Earning a link doesn’t generally affect viral potential of your content. However, earning a share on social media increases your chances of going viral, because of the potential to earn new shares with every original share, and compounding. Obviously, this is both rare and difficult to pull off, but it’s a powerful and cascading effect that you can’t get from links alone.

The Winner: Which Should You Use?

There are multiple dimensions of online marketing, and tactics like SEO, content marketing, and social media marketing are all interconnected; getting more links can help you earn more shares, and more shares can help you earn more links. This makes it complicated to pick a clear winner.

However, there are some clear takeaways here. If your only goal is to improve your site’s authority and rankings in search engines, links are the way to go — shares can help you earn links, but only as a secondary consideration. Conversely, if you’re invested in building your social media following before pursuing any other goals, it’s better to seek shares.

Ultimately, if you’re interested in the general goals of building your reputation and attracting more traffic, you’ll need to leverage both strategies to succeed. Otherwise, balance your strategies according to your current campaign directives.

For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!

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