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TAMU Webmaster's Blog

Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

Social Media

One Million Articles: How Many Got Shared and Why?

One of the most effective ways to get more readers is when readers share your content through social media. One of the most effective ways to increase your search engine rankings is when websites link to your content. It doesn’t just happen. But also, it can’t be forced.

This summer, BuzzSumo and Moz analyzed the shares and links of over one million online articles, looking for answers to questions such as:

  • Is there a correlation between shares and links?
  • What content gets both shares and links?
  • What formats get relatively more shares or links?

In their summary, Content, Shares, and Links: Insights from Analyzing 1 Million Articles, the researchers reported:

What we found is that the majority of content published on the internet is simply ignored when it comes to shares and links. The data suggests most content is simply not worthy of sharing or linking, and also that people are very poor at amplifying content. It may sound harsh but it seems most people are wasting their time either producing poor content or failing to amplify it.

Shares are much easier to get than links. Sharing can be almost effortless for your readers. Getting links requires more work – from you. And settling for “average” results may not be what you want. Just as most people have a higher than average number of legs, most articles get a lower than average number of links (slightly above zero). In a random sample of articles, 75% had no external links, and 50% had less than five social shares. Of course, there are notable exceptions, and the article that received 5.7 million shares blew the curve.

What content is most likely to be shared? (Hint: it’s not infographics)

  • Lists: yes
  • Videos: yes
  • Quizzes: yes
  • “Why” posts: yes

But getting lots of shares doesn’t mean you will earn a lot of web links. Or vice versa. Off-beat quizzes, videos, and cat pictures might go viral as they’re shared around the world, but websites aren’t as likely to link to them. The conclusion? People seem to share and link to content for different reasons.

What content is most likely to be shared and linked to?

  • Deep research
  • opinion-forming content
  • content from popular domains
  • major news sites
  • authoritative, research-backed content

By the way, longer content consistently receives more shares and links than shorter-form content. An article that’s 1,000-2,000 words long is twice as likely to get linked to as an article that’s less than 1,000 words long. Compared to a short article, a 3,000-10,000 word is twice as likely to be shared and three times as likely to be linked to.

This article is only 450 words, but you can read the entire 3,000-word article at Moz or download the complete 30-page report from BuzzSumo.

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015 Social Media, Web Content No Comments

The Webmasters Twitter Account

In the past year or so, we have become much more active on Twitter, tweeting once or twice a day since April 2013. We’ve focused on sharing the most helpful links and trends, whiles sometimes describing “a day in the life of a university webmaster.”

If you follow us at @tamuwww, you’ll find brief announcements and tips that don’t rise to the level of a full blog post. The 140 character limit is working well for us – often it doesn’t take much to share the basics of a new idea. Personally, keeping up with our Twitter account has kept me in touch with some of the best thinking in the web development industry, providing new tools to solve problems for real people.

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 Social Media No Comments

The Impact of “Sharing” News Stories

We made a minor change to one of our sites last week that had a dramatic effect on me, and really brought home how powerful the social media movement is…and thereby how important it is for our marketing efforts. At first glace the change looked innocuous enough … we were asked to move the “share” icons on our news stories from the bottom of the page to the top so that more people would be tempted to click the button.

The news site is built in WordPress, so of course these icons were part of a WordPress plugin. An old one as it turned out, that didn’t make it easy to change the location of where it gets displayed on the page. The icons were a bit small too, so we decided it would be easier to simple drop it and go grab a different plugin instead. The difference was night and day.

The old plugin simply displayed the icons for people to click. The new one, (AddThis), went a whole lot further. I had used AddThis several years ago, but its capabilities have grown immensely since them. Now it lets you set up an account so that you can log in and view the analytics of how your content is being shared. Not only can you track the actual clicks and shares on your site, but it shows the added reach that your content gets from being added to social media platforms.

The “viral lift” is the extra clicks that your story gets from those social platforms. One of our stories from this week, for example, has been shared 114 times. Those 114 shares have led to an additional 4,454 visits to that story, which was 75% of the total page views.

Looking across the board, links from social media dwarf all of the other avenues by which people find content on the news site. For most sites, Google is far and away the largest referrer. For the entire news site it is Facebook instead, by a wide margin.

I will be the first to admit that I would have never imagined this kind of shift had we not been asked to make that one seemingly insignificant change. Now, I really have to step back and completely re-evaluate our strategy for integrating social media into everything that we are doing. If sharing can boost visibility on these news stories, we have to start looking at how much it can add everywhere else.

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013 Social Media No Comments

Follow Us

For those of you who haven’t noticed, Michael has picked up our office Twitter account and has started tweeting out some interesting tidbits. Follow @tamuwww to see some of the ideas that are affecting the projects that we’re working on.

Thursday, May 9th, 2013 Social Media No Comments

New iTunesU Site

This morning we launched the new iTunesU website. This is our spash page and training hub for the university iTunesU storefront. The project started as just a quick facelift to put the site into our content management system, introduce responsive design, and refresh some content, but it turned into a larger project fairly quickly.

The design team came up with a completely new page look modeled on our Twitter and other social media pages. It will serve as a master template for additional sites coming down the pipe that are related to social media.

We didn’t stop there, though. Since the entry page was getting a major overhaul we decided that the university’s iTunesU store needed one as well. We therefore created and uploaded a new set of album covers and other artwork to bring the site inline with our other offerings.

Friday, March 8th, 2013 Social Media 3 Comments

International social media visitors to Aggieland

As we said yesterday, August was one of our most socially-responsive months, particularly our Texas A&M News and Information website. The 290 visits from Twitter to our article Students’ Understanding Of The Equal Sign Not Equal included a record 167 referrals on Aug. 14 from the Twitter home page. At 1,578 visits, Facebook was one of our top source of traffic as usual. And as we said, we received thousands of new visitors from Slashdot, Digg and Reddit in response to articles such as the ones about equal signs, the Gulf oil spill, and the 2011 U.S. News and World Report rankings.

Other sites that linked to our “equal sign” story, and the visits they brought in: 567
feedburner 357 215 199 152
google 130 130

The “equal sign” story brought in more out-of-state visitors than any other story. 9,376 New Yorkers visited the A&M home page last month.

State Entrances Exits Bounce Rate
1. California 2,015 1,927 95.61%
2. Texas 1,469 1,372 93.43%
3. New York 1,107 1,040 93.95%
4. England 1,074 1,029 95.76%
5. Ontario 847 814 96.20%
6. Mass. 603 560 92.89%
7. Virginia 597 573 95.96%
8. Illinois 597 568 95.07%
9. Washington 568 552 97.17%
10. Penn. 565 528 93.36%

For most of these visitors, the bounce rate exceeded 90%; that is, nearly all these visitors left our sites after reading one news story. But after all, that’s what they came to do. The News and Information home page only had a more typical 52.22% bounce rate – half of these visitors wanted to keep reading.


Thursday, September 9th, 2010 Analytics, Social Media No Comments

University news reaches new popularity with social media

Within a few days in August, Texas A&M News and Information was Slashdotted, Dugg and Redditted at record levels. On Aug. 13 alone, 12,773 visitors viewed our university’s news stories. Several social media outlets reached our list of top referring sites for the first time.

The most popular stories for visitors from these social media outlets were Students’ Understanding Of The Equal Sign Not Equal (20,981 visits, our 3rd most popular landing page overall), Gulf Oil Spill Gone? Not So Fast (9,606 visits, 7th place overall), and Texas A&M Fares Well In 2011 U.S. News Rankings (6,125 visits, 12th place overall). (Of course, the Texas A&M home page remained the most popular content by far, with more than one million views last month). Other news stories received most of their traffic from the usual sources: direct links, Feedburner, Facebook, Google searches, and the university Google Search Appliance.


On Aug. 4, we received our first referrals from in a while. We had 669 visits to the TAMU home page because of a single comment on

On August 14, we received 1,505 visits when the home page featured the “equal sign” story. All links to the Reddit story brought in a total of 2,331 visitors in August.


On Aug. 8-9, we received several thousand visits from Digg because of links to Gulf Oil Spill Gone? Not So Fast. The Digg story brought in 3,006 visits, plus another 1765 visits when it reached the Digg home page.


On August 13, the “equal sign” story was mentioned on Slashdot, for 4,613 visits. When that mention appeared on the Slashdot home page, that brought in 5,748 visits.

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Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 Analytics, Social Media No Comments

Education + Mobile: What the students really want

The fall has begun, and our expectations for the mobile site have been exceeded. We are nearing four thousand uses a day. The majority of those uses originating from Bus Routes, followed by Dining. Our mobile site, maintained and developed by Jeff and I, has dozens of features. From multimedia, to news, to student services, we have been releasing new code weekly. With over twenty separate web applications developed and deployed, our attention to detail has now come down to numbers. What statistics drive mobile edu? With potential for growth in all of our services, we have now started to realize that we need to pick our battles and attack the areas that will provide the most growth. Taking a look at the graphs I have made up, you can see that the majority of students are interested in student oriented services, not news and not multimedia.

top mobile web applications on

When aiming to build a mobile website for your university or school, the numbers show that students seek information that makes their day-to-day routine easier. What does that mean for Texas A&M’s mobile website? More focus on the student, and less on what’s currently cool elsewhere. On another statistical note, I thought I would share what operating systems are utilizing our mobile site.

operating systems using m.tamu.eduSeveral months ago, Apple products were leading 75%. Today, Apple products are still dominating the scene, but are followed much more closely by Windows, BlackBerry, and then Linux/Android. In terms of our mobile website those numbers suggest we prepare our site for more than the standard iPhone resolution and make sure we cover the much larger devices influencing these rises, like the new series of Droids and BlackBerry’s. We also need to compensate for desktops and laptops using the mobile site, which is also why we see such high numbers for Mac and Windows.

top browsers using

34% of devices accessing the mobile website are actually desktop and laptop class devices. Which brings on another question. What is our target audience? At first we thought we were developing a mobile website for phones, now it looks like we are developing a convenient website for smartphones and PC’s. The data suggests that students would rather find the information they need on a website that is plainly laid out without having to search a large website over for links. Scenario: I am at a lab on campus, or in a class on my laptop, and I’m hungry. Will I remember to visit for a list of where to eat and times? Or will I remember seeing “Dining” on the list of links on mobile? If it were me, I’d pick the one I knew had what I was looking for, because its most convenient and gets straight to the point. No advertisements for new dining meal plans, pictures of other students eating food I wish I was eating, just the data.

So if you are currently developing or planning on developing a mobile website for the edu-verse, consider your audience. Are you just going to be making a mobile website for phones, or a central knowledge point thats easy and utilized past the mobile audience? Jeff and I have joked about it numerous times, making a site that has a bunch of links to everything a student might need (For those who choose not to remember domain names). It looks like we may be heading in that direction after all.

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Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 Analytics, Mobile Web, Ongoing Projects, Social Media 3 Comments

Conference Followup, Chapter 2

Yesterday I posted what I felt were the most important elements that I took away from the eduWeb conference and how we should use those to refresh our larger web strategies. Today will be less structured, simply posting what I saw as good one-off ideas without a grand scheme.


  • Users will draw a parallel between your website and the university as a whole; since the web is now the primary way prospective students interact during the decision-making process you can very easily loose a prospect at first glance.
  • People come to a site to accomplish a task, make it easy for them to do so. Branding should hilight the page, the page should not be about the branding campaign.
  • “You are what you publish.” Most people will leave a site and not come back if they have a “negative” experience with it – broken links, blurry graphics, bad navigation, bad search results, etc.
  • Make page photos relevant – most people don’t care what the XYZ building looks like, despite being on almost every university admissions page.
  • Expectations shape perception. If the user has a pre-conceived notion about something on your site, that will often be more powerful than the information you are trying to portray.
  • We run on byte-sized first impressions; online attention span is such that if the first glance isn’t positive the user will go elsewhere.
  • Know your audience and don’t try to be all things to all people. Each university has an identity and is not necessarily right for all people. Be authentic and realize that someone who doesn’t fit into your campus culture probably will be better off if they go somewhere else.
  • Cut the barriers of communication. 1 picture = 1,000 words, and video is 24 frames (pictures) per second.
  • For-profit institutions like U of Phoenix spend up to 45% of their entire budget on marketing. The traditional university spends 2%.

Social Media

  • Allow customers to be agents of your brand. Social media is a two-way conversation, so we should be letting customer-generated content do as much talking as we do ourselves.
  • When responding to a controversial topic, do so immediately. Being late in getting your message paints you as not understanding the medium and allows others to frame the debate.
  • Integrate your social media efforts – “The only place for silos is on a farm”
  • User experience is the key, so talk to them using terms they are familiar with, which is often not the language that the university office in question prefers. Be real, not administrative. If your tone is too formal you will come across as not understanding the medium and your efforts can wind up backfiring on you.
  • Social media isn’t a place you go, it is an extension of your self. Your “likes” and such identify who you are and identify with. Users want to be a part of a community.
  • “Social media” doesn’t matter. People matter. Make a real connection. Focus on the message, not the platform or medium by which it is delivered.
  • As social media usage goes up, its efficacy goes down. As it becomes more pervasive and more universities do it, you cease to stand out by being there. 90% of all universities now have a Facebook presence, saying you’re there doesn’t mean as much anymore.
  • People don’t like being told – be authentic and honest and allow them to make up their own mind.


  • The user IS mobile, not just HOLDING one.
  • Building a mobile website is not the same as making your website mobile. Just as web content is different from print, so is mobile different from web. Customize your content.
  • Brands should focus more on the overall consumer experience rather than contemplate choosing a mobile web site or native application.
  • It does not matter whether a brand offers a mobile site or application. What matters is that consumers are engaged in the content.
  • Native applications for delivering static content are dead or dying. Use the website for that. Use apps for high profile projects, intense graphics or animations, and projects that tap into the mobile device’s hardware (camera, GPS, etc.)

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Thursday, August 5th, 2010 Mobile Web, Social Media No Comments

Conference Followup

Last week’s eduWeb conference was great. Social media and branding dominated the official presentations, while social media, content management, and mobile dominated the individual conversations taking place. Between the track presentations and talking to other web marketers and developers I picked up several new tips and got a better understanding of the trends that are taking place in the online world.  I’ll pass along several of those over the next few days.  I’ll start with the most important observations, ones that I think we as a university need to address and improve upon.

Social Media

  • Our social media effort is still siloed, with each medium remaining separate and distinct from the others. We should create a “mashup” social media aggregation site that brings in elements of all of our social media elements into a single page view, and gives an anchor point from which we can market all of our social media efforts. Interest in one then gives exposure to the others.   As well as physically combining the social media outlets, we should also unify the message being presented rather than “broadcasting noise.”
  • Similarly, we need to create one overall online strategy that includes social media rather than treating it as a separate effort. Social media is not a strategy unto itself, it must exist as part of a comprehensive online effort. A few relevant quotes that condense the thought:
    • Your .edu site is the foundation for ALL of your online activity
    • You should make your .edu address as ubiquitous as your university logo
    • “Your website is the belly of the starfish, social media is the legs” – social media should feed the website, not be the heart of your strategy
  • An integrated online strategy also implies the unification of branding across all sites. That is something we aren’t necessarily doing well. As we develop each site we need to not only take into account the needs of the project itself but also how it fits into our overall online efforts.
  • We have lots of events on campus that feature prominent people. “Make events more than just an entry in your campus calendar.” We know about them ahead of time, so we should “prime the pump” on Twitter conversation even before the event takes place. Regularly announce Twitter hashtags before major events to set the stage for online conversation.


  • Changes in the mobile have been occurring faster than in any previous technology on the internet, and the adoption rates are still accelerating. What we have in place must be constantly re-evaluated to make sure it does not become obsolete as trends pass us by.
  • As smart phones have become widely owned and used, native apps as a method of delivering mobile content are being left behind as web shops aggressively pursues mobile web sites. If we want to remain leaders in the field we need to constantly re-evaluate our mobile strategy, and in particular shift our focus away from the app vs. web delivery medium issue and onto improved content and user experience no matter how it is provided. App development still has a place, but it should be focused on the high-profile features that cannot be replicated by web apps (i.e. things that leverage the phone’s hardware such as GPS, camera, etc.) rather than being used to deliver basic content.
  • Adoption of javascript/ajax in high-end phones means that the mobile web can provide an aesthetic and feature-rich experience that equals and even exceeds native apps. We should begin preparing for the second version of the mobile website and revisit our current approach of one-size-fits-all and see if tailoring the experience for specific devices is a better route.
  • We should investigate and start aggressively using QR codes to give a pop to our print marketing. These are nice shortcuts that allow us to extend print ads by adding an online element.
  • While making a mobile website is not the same as making a website mobile-capable, the proliferation of smart phones means that we must begin including mobile views in all future websites we create.

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Wednesday, August 4th, 2010 Mobile Web, Social Media 1 Comment