Brannon Powers is a Content Specialist at Express Writers.
Ever wanted to see a piece of your content go viral (aka, break the internet)?
It’s a dream of many of us as marketers, but in order for a piece of content to “break the internet,” it needs to go viral in a big, big way: and it takes a special mix of things in order for content to be able to do that.
In addition to being interesting, it also needs to have that special “something” that gives it an edge over the competition.
In this post, we’re going to break down some of our favorite viral pieces and help you understand why and how they got that way.
What Makes Viral Content… Viral?
Viral content doesn’t just happen by accident. Instead, it’s a highly strategized and intentional form of content that draws upon a few proven, essential things to become popular. There have been multiple studies conducted on the topic of what it takes for content to go viral and every study finds the same things: great content has a series of traits that help it stand out to audiences.
We’ll breakdown the 7 trademarks we think all viral content has in a moment: but first, we need to take a look at a few content pieces online that deserve everyone’s attention, so you can be inspired on what they did right.
Here are a few of the hottest content pieces on the web in our beloved industry, content marketing and SEO.
5 Content Pieces that Went Viral
1. “Google is Hiring an SEO Manager to Improve its Rankings in Google” – Search Engine Land
One of the most-shared articles on Buzzsumo under the keyword “SEO,” this sucker earned more than 21,000 shares across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+.
The reason for this is clear: the headline is shocking.
Anyone who knows anything about SEO would know that Google is a company that does SEO, so the fact that the king of the castle would have to hire a king to teach it to be king is shocking. To provide extra value for readers, this piece of content also includes a screenshot of Google’s own job listing and excerpts about the requirements and experience needed to qualify.
With more than 12.7 thousand total shares, this piece is a fantastic example of content gone viral. This article was shared on Twitter by HubSpot, SEMrush, and the Mayo Clinic’s Social Media Network department, to name a few.
So what makes it notable?
Well, to start with, it promises great things.
The article is apparently aimed at marketers, and the implication that Buffer grew its traffic by 241% (a number so large it’s almost hard to comprehend) means, of course, that the people who read the article can, as well. It’s a confident statement, but since Buffer has already done it with their own content, they’re sending the clear message that their readers can, as well.
When you visit the article, the writer also does an excellent job of getting right inside your head. The opening line is, “If you’ve asked this before…’How do we get more visitors to our website?’…you’re certainly not alone…” By making the content relatable for readers, the writer inspires trust as well and a relieving feeling of “oh yeah, he gets me.”
Finally, the article uses a handful of really well-done images to demonstrate its point, break up the text, and provide proof of the headline’s claim.
Pop quiz: what made this headline go viral? Interest, authority, and visuals? Right, you are. This article is actually a video published by Ted. It has more than 11.7 thousand total shares, with more than 9 thousand shares on Facebook alone. But why?
There are a couple of reasons.
First of all, it’s a video, which makes it perfect for social media and quick sharing.
Second of all, the title is quirky, entertaining, and authoritative.
“A comma queen?” the reader thinks, “What’s that? I must know!”
Once the interest has been piqued, the reader absorbs the reference to The New Yorker, which is one of the most authoritative literary journals in the world right now, so the article immediately establishes credibility.
Finally, the word “glory” promises that this will be entertaining, funny, or both. Oh, also, who cares about the Oxford comma? She does.
With more than 17 thousand shares, this Moz article by Larry Kim went viral in a big way.
Can you guess why?
First of all, it’s the first how-to article in this list, which makes it appealing to readers right off the bat.
Secondly, it offers three points, and while longer lists do tend to rank well, this one communicates to readers that it’s immediately actionable, and absorbable now. As in: they can be using these tips on their LinkedIn accounts today.
This piece does a few things right.
First, it’s beautifully laid out, with plenty of white space to give the reader space to navigate through the content. Additionally, it makes use of graphics that make the reader feel like they’re wandering through a great story, like this one:
Thanks to the mix of helpful text and unique graphics that give the piece a distinctly festive and fairytale-esque feel that stands out, this piece manages to be exciting to readers while also being useful, relevant, and actionable. It’s also a long piece of content, which dives into the reader’s questions, answers them thoroughly, and offers plenty of evidence, screenshots, information, and proof to back the material in the content up.
5. “Why it’s Impossible for you not to Read this Sentence” –The Independent
Why did this piece go viral? If you guessed the headline, you’re right. With upwards of 5,400 total shares, this article on brainwashing and the written word reached audiences across the web. But why?
First of all, the headline already told us what we’re going to do, and so we do it. Second of all, it’s incredibly authoritative. Readers feel that their destiny has already been spelled out for them, so they click on the content to read the sentence they’ve been told they can’t possibly avoid.
Once you’re in the content, you discover another thing – this article (Which deals with the concept of being “brainwashed by words”) is really fascinating. I’d categorize my current emotional state as “in awe,” which, as it turns out, is one of the emotions I should be feeling if I were to share this. Which I think I will.
The Trademark of Viral Content
You’ve just looked at some pretty hot content pieces on the web. Well, remember what I said about all viral content pieces having the same trademarks?
Without the following 7 key traits, it’s tough for content to earn extreme levels of online popularity.
Here’s what viral content needs in order to succeed:
1. Viral content appeals to the emotions
Viral content is emotive content. Enough said. One study conducted by University of Pennsylvania researchers Katherine Milkman and Jonah Berger evaluated 7,000 New York times articles and found that the ones that were most popular were also the ones that evoked passionate emotions in their readers – emotions like amusement, anger, anxiety, or amazement. In addition to being more likely to be shared online, this content also earned more engagement than content that evoked feelings of “meh.”
The takeaway? Emotion is a powerful factor in online writing, and content that makes people feel something big is more likely to be shared.
2. Viral content is straightforward
Yes, readers want to be amazed by your content, but they also want to be able to get through it. Because of this, content that offers educational material, a clear flow, and simple, straightforward calls-to-action is likely to go viral.
According to the study above, online readers love sharing content that helps them uplift others or improve upon themselves, and it’s tough to do this with content that’s muddy and messy. Instead, think along the lines of list and tutorial articles. Clear, straightforward, and useful, these types of content remain high on the list of stuff that wants to go viral.
3. Viral content appeals to a broad selection of audiences
One thing that many writers overlook in content is readability. In other words, can people actually read this content? If it’s so stuffed with industry speak and jargon that the answer is “no,” or “Only if they have a few degrees,” you’re barking up the wrong tree. For content to go viral, it needs to be readable. With this in mind, shoot to keep your writing at or just slightly above an eighth-grade reading level. There are plenty of online readability tests to help you determine where your content falls.
4. Viral content makes people want to act
No post ever went viral that caused people to walk away content. Instead, viral content uses authoritative information and action-inspiring words to get people to do something – be it share, keep reading or comment on the piece. Do a quick scan of some of the most viral titles online and you’ll find that many of them contain power words – a coincidence that’s no accident, after all.
5. Viral content is authoritative
For your content to garner the number of shares it needs to go viral, it’s going to have to know a thing or two about what it’s talking about. As an overarching rule, viral content is authoritative, and it goes viral because people are hungry for the information within it. This factor has been propelled by the recent release of Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, and the focus therein on E-A-T (Expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) in online content.
6. Viral content includes visuals
Visuals are attractive to humans. The brain processes visual information thousands of times faster than it processes textual information, and it’s easy to see why content that is shared by millions of people also contains visuals. In fact, including a visual in a Facebook post can boost its share rate by a whopping 87% – which is no small beans for content that wants to go viral.
7. Viral content pays attention to post times
95% of writing viral content is actually about writing the content. 5% of it, however, boils down to publishing the content at a time when people are online and ready to interact with something. According to OkDork and Buzzsumo, the best day to share a piece of content is Tuesday, which results in significantly more shares than virtually any other day of the week.
Check out this OkDork graph:
Going Viral: Making Your Content More Popular
When it comes to content, going viral is every marketer’s dream.
In addition to spreading the word about your material around the web, viral content also helps establish you as an immediate authority and can dump thousands of organic visits to your site on a daily basis.
Because of this, it’s critical for good marketers to learn what, exactly, makes viral content and how content that’s already gone viral is structured.
Take inspiration from the five content pieces we deconstructed, so you can apply the traits of good content to your own publishing. It’s time to take proactive steps to ensure that the content you’re publishing is content that your readers, visitors, colleagues, and the search engines alike will all love.
Need help creating content that goes viral on your pages? Visit our Content Shop today to get started!