Or how Us Vs Th3m earned loads of links by ignoring traditional search marketing...

Us Vs Th3m is essentially a Tumblr site with a wry eye on popular culture in the digital world. Think Buzzfeed but way more cynical.

If you haven’t heard of the site by name, chances are you’ll be aware of and have probably played certain games that regularly dominate Facebook for an intense period of time. ‘How much are you hated by the Daily Mail?’ and ‘What’s the theme tune of your life?’ for example.

Us Vs Th3m has made hundreds of those types of games and almost all of them have been massive viral smashes. In fact Us Vs Them is quite notable for only being one year old and yet regularly and consistently dominating social media and search engine results pages.

The site may be owned by the Trinity Mirror group, which also publishes the Daily Mirror, People and 240 regional newspapers around the UK making it the country’s biggest newspaper group, but it doesn’t rely on its parent company to do its heavy lifting for it.

It merely has to rely on you and the rest of your friends on Facebook.

I attended BrightonSEO last week and listened to the keynote speech from Trinity Mirror’s product director Malcolm Coles, who had the following to say about the success of Us Vs Th3m’s social and content strategy.

Historically, the Trinity Mirror group’s various websites are dependent on search, with 40% of traffic coming from this channel. For its new digital channel Us Vs Th3m, Malcolm Coles asked “what if we just used social media to drive traffic?”

Forgetting SEO, paid search, advertising and every other traditional avenue to drive traffic to its site, Us Vs Th3m just created content that could be easily shareable via mobile on social media.

For example, last Thursday (24 April, the date of BrightonSEO) 74% of the site's traffic was coming from social.

As an example of the kind of news-jacking, eyebrow raising, interactive content that is ripe for mobile social sharing, here is Us Vs Them’s ‘Where’s Damascus?’ game.

This was created and uploaded last August during the height of discussions as to whether the US and the UK should bomb Syria or not. More than half a million people played it within the first two days.

This led to a huge interest from media outlets and also generared a massive amount of links from blogs, forums, news-sites and publishers big and small.

The Independent linked to it in a feature that revealed that out of the first 1,150 people that played the game, 19 answers were sent through the Houses of Parliament. 18 of which were very close but one guess was in the middle of western Mongolia.

The Washington Post linked to the content too, although it claimed that it didn’t matter that US government officials didn’t know where Damascus was, as they’d be using maps with place names written on.

For many months after this game was uploaded, Us Vs Th3m ranked third for ‘Damascus’. This was half-an-hour’s worth of work with some open-source code. No money was spent and no link-building strategy was attempted.

Similarly the ‘how much are you hated by the Daily Mail? game led to the site being ranked third for the search term ‘Daily Mail’.

Us Vs Th3m has built links without even trying. Just by making easily shareable content that caught a particular wave of topical attention. 


Desktop provides the majority of traffic between 9am and 4pm on weekdays, but that’s it. The rest of the time, including weekends, is dominated with mobile traffic.

When creating content it’s important to ask the following questions:

Would a website that cares about about its mobile readers carry your content? Will people care about your content if they can’t read it? Will they bother coming back to it on desktop at a later date?

According to Malcolm Coles, social and mobile are one and the same thing. When looking at the analytics for the North-o-meter game, which has had more than 4.5m plays, 85% of traffic comes from mobile and 85% comes from Facebook. This is the exact same audience. 

Google Analytics doesn’t necessarily tell you that those two audiences are the same as it can't identify whether Facebook users are coming from mobile or desktop, but most research indicates that the vast majority of people using Facebook are doing so through mobile.

The secret is to have a mobile first approach to content, otherwise it just won’t get shared. Which is probably the reason why the Us Vs Th3m desktop site isn’t particularly nice to look at, the content gets shared offsite via social and mobile (and email). Barely anyone just browses the site itself.

If you create inherently interactive visual content it forces news outlets and blogs to link to it. Unlike press releases that feature a URL or a quote, which may or may not get used and there’s certainly no guarantee of a link.

If you’re writing a story about a Daily Mail lampooning game that’s picking up huge traction on social you’ll have to link to it, otherwise the article won't make sense.

For more on content marketing, check out our helpful tool The Periodic Table of Content Marketing.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 28 April, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (2)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Never heard of this site before, but based on these examples it seems that what one might call "push poll games" do well on social. (Is there a real name for this type of game?)

This success is presumably because push poll games are eagerly shared by people who also want to lampoon the world views portrayed therein (e.g opposing fanbois).

But I'm not sure I see brand marketers using them much, because such games will inevitably be controversial and hence risky.

over 4 years ago


Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Data, Insight & Analytics at Eurostar International Ltd.

@ Pete

As much as I can see your point (it could be somewhat difficult for a much more dull brand within say the finance industry coming up with content that would spread so virally), that isn't to say that for brands where customers actually enjoy rather than endure their products, there isn't scope to add something a bit more engaging into the marketing mix.

What this shows is that if you can get something to go viral, it not only drives sharing and hence views of something hopefully brand related but it can also boost your SEO - Bonus. As a result, it's definitely something worth considering. Probably not worth going the whole hog and dropping any standard SEO efforts for but still worth a small amount of investment.

over 4 years ago

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