Our social team had a hunch that linkless Tweets were favored by the Twitter algorithm. So we ran an experiment to find out. Do Tweets with Links Get Less Engagement and Less Reach?
Do tweets without links get more traction on Twitter? Hootsuite’s social media team had a hunch that they do. So they decided to test the theory to find out.
I've been testing different types of tweets to see how they perform (in terms of engagement) from the @hootsuite channel.
Our most successful posts BY FAR have been linkless posts. No CTAs, no websites, nothing. Just sharing thoughts or helpful information as plain text.
— Nick 🇨🇦 (@AtNickMartin) December 4, 2020
Plus, we unpacked the results with Hootsuite’s global social engagement specialist, Nick Martin.
Could it be that Twitter’s algorithm favours tweets that keep people on the platform? Or are linkless tweets just what the people want? Do Tweets with Links Get Less Engagement and Less Reach?
Probably a bit of both. But there’s only one way to find out: Let’s get into it.
Bonus: Download the free 30-day plan to grow your Twitter following fast, a daily workbook that will help you establish a Twitter marketing routine and track your growth, so you can show your boss real results after one month.
Hypothesis: Tweets without links will get more engagement and reach
In social media marketing, we often over-rely on data to inform ideas. But sometimes it takes an idea or an observation to uncover a data trend.
In this case, Hootsuite’s global social engagement specialist Nick Martin noticed when @Hootsuite tweeted without links, the tweets seemed to get more engagement than tweets that include links. “It’s just something that we stumbled across,” he says.
How do we define “linkless tweets”? For the purposes of this experiment, we define a linkless tweet as a tweet that only contains plain text. That means no images, videos, GIFS, polls, or even hashtags and @ mentions. And obviously, no ow.ly short links, long links, or other links of any kind. Just words.
For this loose experiment, Hootsuite’s social media team carried out its usual Twitter strategy, which includes tweets with and without links.
Between October 2020 and January 2021, the 15-week period we measured, Hootsuite’s account published 568 tweets. When we eliminate replies and retweets, we wind up with 269 tweets. Roughly 88% of these tweets contain a link.
In other words, almost 9 out of every 10 tweets sent from Hootsuite’s account during this period contain a link.
There are a couple of variables worth noting. Within this timeframe, a number of Hootsuite’s tweets were promoted into paid ads. None of them were linkless tweets.
In short, linked tweets had the upper hand.
Time frame: 15 weeks (October 2019—January 2021)
Number of tweets: 269
Percentage of linkless tweets: 12%
Linked tweets: Some paid + Amplify
Linkless tweets: Organic
To compare the performance of tweets with and without links, we used the Twitter Report in Hootsuite Analytics. From the Twitter table, tweets can be sorted by Retweets, Replies, and Likes.
TL;DR: Tweets without links, on average, got more engagement and reach. More than half (56%) of Hootsuite’s most engaged with tweets did not contain links to external sources.
That’s pretty significant considering only 12% of Hootsuite’s tweets during the experiment time frame were linkless—and they were all organic. The #1 most liked and retweeted tweet—by a long shot—was a one-sentence linkless tweet with a grand total of 11 words or 67 characters.
Let’s look a little closer at the results.
Results based on retweets
Five of the top eight most retweeted tweets are linkless. For perspective, that would be like Vatican City (the least populated country in the world) winning the most gold medals in the Olympics. Linkless tweets are clearly punching way above their weight.
Remember, not only are there way fewer linkless tweets, many linked tweets were promoted or supported by Amplify, which is the case for all three of the linked tweets here.
“If we left a linked post without boosting it, it would never receive the level of engagement our linkless posts receive,” explains Martin.
Results based on likes
Here again, five out of the top eight most liked tweets are linkless. If you include the reply to the McDonalds tweet, linkless tweets account for 75% of @Hootsuite’s most-liked tweets.
It’s the equivalent of Gritty single-handedly skating circles around the best five-player hockey shift the Philadelphia Flyers could throw at him. That’s a lot of grit.
What do the results mean?
Most of Hootsuite’s linkless tweets are a mix of witticisms and reminders. Almost all of them flaunt Hootsuite’s friendly, tongue-in-beak brand personality.
“We try to make sure every post strikes an emotion,” says Martin. “We aim to be inspiring, humorous, or tug a little at the heartstrings.”
So what makes this formula click? Here’s our analysis:
Link CTAs may deter engagement
The most obvious reason why linkless tweets outperform linked tweets is that there’s usually a call-to-action involved with the latter. “When there’s no CTA, there are no expectations,” says Martin. “We’re not trying to push anything, we’re just joining a conversation.”
Same! Tweets seem to perform best for me when it’s not asking for anything, just vibes haha
— Meg (@MegVClark) December 5, 2020
Calls to “click here” or “read this article” may distract people from tapping the heart, retweet, or reply icons. That may be fine if conversions are what you’re after, but because the Twitter algorithm favours engagement, a direct CTA could hinder the reach of your tweet.
Linkless tweets may boost overall engagement levels
Turning social into a two-way conversation builds trust, community, and engagement. And that engagement can eventually transfer to linked posts. “Since we’ve started sending out more linkless tweets, we’ve seen the engagement levels of our CTA posts go up a little,” Martin says.
It's difficult to explain to executives that everything doesn't need a CTA and/or hashtag. We can create engagement the old fashion way – conversation, delivering a message/info – without asking the audience to do something. Traditional techniques can be applied to modern comms.
— Ryan Hansen (@RPH2004) December 5, 2020
Aim to strike a balance between linked and linkless tweets.
“When you build community and push CTAs less frequently, it makes your call-to-actions seem more valuable and important,” says Martin.
Twitter’s algorithm may favor linkless tweets
Martin suspects linkless tweets are likely favoured by the Twitter algorithm, too. “A tweet without a link in it won’t direct people away from Twitter,” he says.
They also don’t direct people away from engaging with the tweet. And the Twitter algorithm favors tweets that get engagement.
It’s worth tapping a trending topic
For the most part, brands should focus on their subjects of expertise. “Understand what your brand talks about, and own that topic,” says Martin.
That way, when there’s an opportunity to share your brand’s perspective to a trending subject, you can.
A little personality goes a long way
“When you add personality, you’re not a faceless brand anymore,” explains Martin. “That’s why I think Wendy’s has done so well. They’ve been a prime example of a brand that successfully stepped away from sounding robotic on social media.”
Images don’t always boost engagement
Conventional social media wisdom tells us that a captivating image is required to get attention. But that’s not always the case, at least on Twitter.
“In our tests, linkless tweets with an image or a GIF don’t perform as well as plain text, at least at the moment,” Martin says. Same goes for hashtags.
I haven't found a lot of success with hashtags lately.
People need to be searching it up for them to work, and personally, I don't follow too many hashtags unless it's for a Twitter chat. You know?
— Nick 🇨🇦 (@AtNickMartin) December 4, 2020
Less is more when it comes to word count
Hot takes, one-liners, morale boosts, and pithy statements are what the Twitter community excels at.
“The posts that work best for us are often just one sentence,” says Martin. “Don’t be too long-winded. If it’s a wall of text, people might scroll right by it.”
Never underestimate the Swift effect
If we’ve learned anything here, it’s that the Swifties are always on standby. Hootsuite’s tweet about Taylor Swift was the most popular by all accounts.
So if Taylor Swift could share her popularity tips, that would also be great.
So, how to explain the ROI of hot takes in your next social media report? Social media can be weird and wonderful (and awful). For the most part, social marketers have the whims of the algorithms and the people to thank for that.
But when you take a step away from the data, it just makes sense that tweets without a sales agenda do better than those with one. So consider adding a little personality and community-building to your Twitter strategy.
That way when it comes time for the pitch, you might just have more people listening
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