The Ultimate Guide to Writing Epic Content That Will Go Viral

Written by Neil Patel on February 22, 2016

amazing content

You’ve heard it many times before.

The same advice pervades the blogosphere. It seems like just about everyone has said it at one point or another. Content is king. Bill Gates understood this in 1996 when he wrote that piece.

In order to increase organic traffic, acquire more leads, and grow revenue, you need to continually produce quality content.

Data from DemandGen Report shows that 67% of B2B buyers rely more on content to research and make B2B purchasing decisions than they did a year ago.

Whether you’re a B2B or B2C marketer, you know that “good” content isn’t enough to grow your business. You have to go way beyond “good.” You have to make your readers’ lives better in some way.

In short, you need to “create epic content.”

Epic content is the content that rocks a reader’s world. It gives them hope and strengthens the trust they have for you. The problem is that most people who advise you to create epic content write average content.

They might have a vague idea what “epic” means, but that’s just the first step. The real challenge is devoting the time, effort, and resources needed to create that kind of art.

If you’re struggling to create the content that’ll give your readers a wake-up call and nudge them into action, you’re not alone. Around 36% of B2B marketers continually struggle to produce engaging content, and 21% can’t produce enough content to meet the needs of their target audience.

Create content that people can’t ignore. You’ll see a lot of influencers sharing your content with their audiences.

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In this in-depth article, you’ll learn what differentiates “epic” from the typical content you read on industry blogs. 

Do you want your next post to go viral? Download this ultimate cheat sheet to write epic content that will go viral.

What Is Epic Content?

Epic content is content that makes people stop whatever they’re doing to read, share, and link to it.

It’s the type of content you shout about. It’s insanely useful, inspiring, beautifully written, and highly engaging. It’s the sweet spot between content marketing and brand utility.

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The term “epic content” is already overused. But don’t let that discourage you. Creating this kind of content can trigger a snowball effect, driving increasing levels of traffic, traction, social influence, and sales to your business.

The Rewards of Creating Epic Content

Epic content isn’t your typical blog post or article. People will respect you for taking the time to create it. In fact, your entire business can evolve into something bigger.

You don’t need to convince people that your content is epic. They can tell by reading it. It’s easy to recognize.

As Justice Potter Stewart once famously said of obscenity, “I know it when I see it.”

Not all content is created equal. Some will fail outright, while other content seems to explode onto the web.

And the rewards of producing epic content are likewise pretty epic:

i).   Epic content gets attention: When you create the kind of content people can’t find anywhere else, you’ll be noticed. People will seek you out.

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Most bloggers and content creators struggle to make a living online because they’re unable to reach the right audience.

Every week I get emails from people who have invested loads of time and effort into content marketing, and yet still failed.

In the marketing cycle, attention actually comes before attraction. Because when you have captured someone’s attention, it becomes easier to attract them to your offer.

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Attention is ultimately one of the factors that’ll bring a blogger or writer of average exposure into the limelight.

That’s exactly what happened to Jon Morrow. Back in 2012, he was a guest editor and contributor to Copyblogger Media and editor-in-chief at KISSmetrics, but he had no audience of his own yet.

But one day, Jon took an entirely different route. He capitalized on his personal story by creating an epic post titled “How to Quit Your Job, Move to Paradise and Get Paid to Change the World.”

That post was truly epic — not because it was long-form but because of its impact on the blogosphere.

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Jon’s epic post generated over 15,000 social shares and birthed a blog (boostblogtraffic.com) that’s become one of the top traffic generation blogs in the world.

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Jon’s post triggered tons of engagement when it was published, and that continues to this day. Moreover, it prompted lots of valuable comments and backlinks from industry blogs.

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ii).   Epic content improves brand loyalty: If you want to thrive in business regardless of changing market trends, you have to improve your brand loyalty.

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In a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults aged 18 – 64 conducted by MarketingCharts, Epsilon and Wylei Research, it was found that 55% of US consumers stick to a brand because the company delivers good quality products/services.

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Your brand is your identity. It’s that goodwill that makes people trust your words, opinions, products, and services.

According to Wikipedia, “brand loyalty” refers to a consumer sentiment that prompts the individual to “buy products from the same manufacturer repeatedly rather than from other suppliers.”

What makes people buy from Apple time and again? Why are people so devoted to Coca-Cola, more than competing beverages?

Over the years consumers have come to trust Coca-Cola and Apple products. This is the true definition of brand loyalty.

People become loyal to you when you elevate their experiences beyond the norm. When customers are loyal to your brand, it’ll show in their words and actions.

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Loyalty can improve communication, management, customer relationships, and customer service. And these are the building blocks required to build a business – whether online or offline.

iii).   It builds authority: No matter what industry you’re in, you need to build authority.

For instance, when you think of SEO, what authoritative experts and blogs come to mind? Probably Rand Fishkin, Brian Dean, Search Engine Journal, QuickSprout, Search Engine Land, and so on.

When you consistently take the time to conceptualize, research, and create epic content, people will notice you.

Whenever Google announces a new algorithm update, many SEO experts and site owners first wonder what Moz or Search Engine Journal think about it.

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When people start searching for your brand, you’ll start getting a lot of organic traffic to your site.

Brian Dean gets thousands of free visitors to his blog from Google, because people want to know what he’s said about SEO and link building.

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Last but not least, attaining authority catapults you to a place of influence. At that level, you’re no longer alone.

Other influencers will want to interview you, because they believe that your advice, recommendations, and products will help their own audiences.

Over the years I’ve created epic content that helped a lot of people. As a result, I got interviewed by popular blogs. You’ll notice that I enclosed the search term (“neil patel interview”) in double quotation marks.

That’s because I want to return only relevant results – over 4,700 results results for sites where I have been interviewed. That’s a lot of traffic.

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iv).    It drives traffic: A few months ago when I published a post on how to create viral content, I knew the post would do well. I figured it’d generate over 500 social shares — in fact, it already has over 800.

More than likely, it contributed to 144,200 visitors this blog generated in November 2015.

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Nothing can stop epic content from driving traffic. Whether through social, search, or word of mouth referrals, your blog traffic will increase.

Data on over 6,000 HubSpot customers found that among those who use email marketing to engage with potential customers, companies and marketers that blog get 2X more traffic from their emails than those that ignore blogging.

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Unfortunately, creating compelling content is one of the most challenging jobs content marketers face. It’s true of video marketing as well as other types of content.

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The major reason why the post was successful was because it was created to go viral.

Clearly not every content has the potential to go viral. But in this case, I ensured that the content itself is worthy of being shared and the networks they were shared on had good standing with Google.

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Another example of epic content that I’ve read is Ramit Sethi’s “The Ultimate Guide to Making Money.” The guide is professionally designed and formatted (one of the features of an epic content), and it’s not the standard content you see on blogs.

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Ramit Sethi is someone I often mention in my articles, because he’s an authority. He also knows how to create epic content.

I’ve read several of his posts, which by themselves earn the “epic” label, but his ultimate money-making guide trumps them all.

I mentioned earlier that epic content tends to rank highly in Google search results and channel motivated search users to your site.

Interestingly, this guide ranks at number #2 for the highly sought-after keyword “making money guide.”

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As a smart marketer, Ramit capitalized on this huge traffic to his site from epic content to build his email list.

Unlike most marketers who rest on their laurels just because a few pieces of content got decent social shares, backlinks and traffic, in Ramit’s case he placed a high-converting lead generation form on his page along with a brief pitch for signing up.

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You should do likewise. If you found one of your posts ranking highly in Google results and generating decent traffic, use it to build your email list. Add an opt-in form at a vantage position and watch your subscriber base increase.

In 2013, Ana Hoffman, founder of TrafficGenerationCafe.com, created an epic Slideshare presentation that earned 243,000 views in 30 days.

She created a total of 9 slides, got several first-page Google rankings and over 400 Facebook fans, and Slideshare became her blog’s second largest referral traffic source.

At the end of 2013, Ana’s slides had generated close to 700,000 views.

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v).    It has potential to go viral: When Neetzan Zimmerman, Editor in Chief for Gawker, was asked how he consistently creates viral content, he responded, “I never self promote.”

Yet Zimmerman has created a lot of viral content over the past 3 years. And this is worth noting. When you create outstanding content, you won’t have to struggle to promote it.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with giving it a boost if you don’t yet have a large audience. But overall, it’ll take a lot less effort.

One of the ideas that Zimmerman shared that can help you increase the chances of creating viral content has to do with your choice of topic.

Virtually all internet marketing topics have been addressed already, in thousands if not millions of blog posts and articles. So it may be difficult to impress people with the same topic (e.g., list building, blogging, SEO), unless you truly have something remarkable to share.

That could be a new technique that hasn’t been beaten to death yet or a case study of an experiment you conducted.

When Zimmerman begins to write any piece of content, he takes the first few hours to select his topic and research it extensively.

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Surprisingly, he doesn’t look for tips or ideas from popular blogs that you already know or read.

Instead he finds information on sites you may never have heard of (but which are still trustworthy), like tastefullyoffensive, 22 words, Daily Picks and Flicks, and so on.

He has a list of about 1,000 websites that he constantly scans for ideas.

Zimmerman has mastered the art of writing powerful headlines from common topics.

One of his biggest viral posts (about reality TV star Farrah Abraham (“Teen Mom”) making a sex tape) reached millions of people and generated over 10 million views over the course of seven months.

Imagine 200 people reading your post at every moment. That translates to 2000+ visitors to your blog per day.

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As you can see, the effort you put into creating epic content will truly pay off. Sure, you can never be certain that a particular post will go viral.

But by studying viral content, you can learn from it and, instead of reinventing the wheel, simply improve on it to create better content.

How to Recognize Epic Content

Developing a content marketing strategy is important. It guides your content creation process and yields enormous rewards.

Typically, when deciding what the fate of your content will be, you need to compare the results that some of the valuable content you read got.

The insights you’ll gain as a result will give you a rare advantage over other writers who just “write” without conducting due diligence.

According to Rand Fishkin in a recent Whiteboard Friday, viral content can bump your analytics.

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Maybe your site generated an average of 200 daily visits until you had this big piece of viral content, driving 10,000 or more visits to your site — so what do you do when this traffic spike slows down?

Most content creators don’t know how to get right back up after a stumble. Quite frankly, I know a lot of bloggers who sporadically produce compelling content but can’t sustain it.

The problem is simple: these content marketers view epic content as an accidental event that happens once in a blue moon, purely by chance.

But that’s not necessarily true. Does Pepsi taste different in March compared to January? Of course not. The taste is always the same because the process of producing it has been refined and perfected. There simply isn’t room for mistakes.

In the same vein, when you understand what makes content epic, you’ll always be able to replicate your success. It doesn’t matter which market or niche you start a new site in — it’ll succeed.

So how do you recognize epic content?

i).   It’s in-depth and highly useful: Trust me, your ideal customers have had enough of normal experiences created by several content sites. I’m talking about millions of articles, blog posts that people create everyday.

At the time of writing this article (morning hours), Worldometer recorded that 743,671 posts have already been published today.

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In reality, the majority of these blog posts are low quality and generic. Probably very few contain useful, actionable tips.

Often times, content that makes the difference is in-depth. The word “in-depth” isn’t the same thing as “long-form.” Sure, it can be longer than the typical post, but the word “in-depth” primarily means “in great detail; comprehensive and thorough.”

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Pat Flynn’s monthly income reports are in-depth because he shows you each step — the mistakes, the experiments, the challenges, and how much he makes (and the networks).

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Depending on the topic, a comprehensive piece of content can have 700 words or even 3,000 words. As long as you explain the details and give examples you’ll be just fine.

But remember that it’s almost impossible to write a comprehensive and thorough content without crossing the 1,000-word mark.

Brian Dean’s blog posts are epic, yet some of them contain fewer than 2,000 words. The reason why he’s successful is because his posts are explained in great detail, are very comprehensive and highlight a case study from his student or client.

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Whenever I pick a topic, I address every aspect of it thoroughly and completely – like this one. It’s in-depth because I covered everything you’ll likely need when it comes to creating epic posts that eventually go viral.

After Google Panda and Hummingbird updates, in-depth content are given preference in the search rankings.

Google understands that search users are looking for a complete solution to their problems, not just a few tips. (Usually.)

So if someone searched for “treat acne in 7 days,” Google wants to rank content that will deliver the right information that gets the searched-for result in 7 days.  It’s that simple.

ii).    It’s long-form, more like an ultimate guide: I can’t stress this enough. Long-form content is more likely to generate social shares, backlinks, engagement, clicks, and customers.

When Buzzsumo analyzed 100 million articles to pinpoint what made them so powerful, it found that they tended to contain 2000+ words.

SerpIQ conducted a similar study and found that the average content length of the top 10 search results is about 2000 words.

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You may not have the time or resources to write long-form content all the time, but do your best to make it a part of your content strategy. It’s worth it.

Since I started publishing 4500+ word articles on NeilPatel.com, my organic traffic, social shares, editorial links, and personal brands have skyrocketed.

Epic content gives extra information, beyond what’s out there. “It should give 110% of a topic,” says Rob Wormley.

But don’t fall into the long-form content syndrome, where you’re only focused on the word count, and not the value and satisfaction your readers will derive. If that’s your agenda for the coming year, quit now and save yourself the trouble.

Demian Farnworth, Chief Copywriter at Copyblogger, describes the impact this way:

The content takes you over… The advice inflames you to try more and try harder. The story puts you in a spell.

A great example of long-form epic content that went viral is Brian Dean’s “Google’s 200 Ranking Factors.”

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iii).    It contains accurate insights from big data:  Epic content isn’t something you can find everywhere. It’s content that evokes emotion and keeps people glued to their PC or mobile device.

The importance of integrating accurate data into your content can’t be over-emphasized. Data is so much more than just someone’s opinion. It’s been tested and proven. And you need more than one test to be sure about your results, even in A/B tests.

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Many of your prospects, customers, and blog readers have never seen you and maybe never will, but they can relate to

results from an experiment.

You have no competition, right?

Wrong!

You have a sea of competition.

The reason why car manufacturing companies do their best to push advertisements and design the best experience for their customers is because of the competition. Find out who your competitors are.

It’s possible that your competition creates long-form content, but aren’t integrating accurate insights and data into their content.

That’s your competitive edge.

You need to understand Big Data, analyze it and extract insights for creating epic content.

Big Data can be defined as an “extremely large data sets that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions.”

In a recent post, Tim Waddell of Adobe said that one of the reasons why you need Big Data and analytical strategy is to “equip your organization to have cross-channel conversations.”

This is the whole essence of building a business – be it online or offline. You want to create an avenue whereby the right people can communicate with you, get answers to their questions and stick to your brand.

Big Data is important in content creation. It examines and analyzes what people say about a topic, which helps you turn that data into useful advice.

For example, while most bloggers, content marketers, internet marketers and digital information marketers were busy debating what makes content go viral, Jonah Berger, an associate professor of marketing, wrote a book called Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

It became a New York Times bestseller because of the enormous amount of data that was collected, analyzed and tested. People all over the world now trust the insights in the book because of the data involved.

Both Berger’s book and study are perfect examples of epic content that went viral. It all boils down to the insights you get from your data.

He offered 6 STEPPS to ensure that your next content has what it takes to go viral.

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The web is flooded with lots of data that you can take advantage of. It doesn’t have to come primarily from you. Not every company has the resources to collect complex data and test it out.

Smart marketers and content creators leverage other people’s data, study the trends, extract insights and use their own creativity to produce an epic content.

That was exactly what I did. I knew that Buzzsumo had recently analyzed 100 million articles to determine why they’re shared. To me, that was complex data I couldn’t collect myself.

So I leveraged this third-party complex data and took the time to study and understood what results were generated. Then I created an in-depth, long-form piece of content.

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The article generated a lot of engagement. 39 comments, 700+ social shares, and authority backlinks.

The data wasn’t mine, but I made use of and referenced the original source. If you feel stuck because you don’t have enough resources to conduct A/B split tests, multivariate testing and analytical research, you can find data from other sites, blogs, books, and so on.

iv).   It stands out like a pair of yellow socks: Standing in a sea of sameness is one of the crippling things about blogging. Most people just follow what others do, without looking deep within and understanding their own strengths and passion.

Epic content usually stands out from the crowd.

But if the kind of content you create is nothing more than a bunch of regurgitated piece, you’ll just waste time and resources investing in content marketing.

Link Building Tactics: The Complete List is another example of epic content that’s 100% different from what you’ll find on SEO blogs.

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Jon Cooper, the author, wasn’t well-known in the SEO industry before he created this epic guide. Interestingly, there were thousands of posts on link building tactics

Unlike other bloggers who simply compiled a list of 30-50 tactics, which would be very good, Jon Cooper took it a step further.

He compiled all of the link building tactics he could find. The page has at least 100. He created filters to help people sort the information based on timeframe, effectiveness, and link value. This provides a richer experience and greater value for readers.

As a result, Jon’s post ranks #1 in Google for the high-volume keyword “link building tactics.”

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This epic guide brought Jon Cooper to the forefront as a proficient SEO expert. He generates thousands of visitors to his blog and his business is growing.

Growing your business isn’t as hard as you think. You can take your content a step further by infusing emotional triggers (such as awe, laughter, surprise, etc.) into your content, use visuals to transmit your message faster to readers, and make your content easy to share.

How to “Really” Create Epic Content

If you’ve read to this point, then you’re already equipped with what it takes to create epic content that will go viral.

If Zimmerman, Brian Dean, Jon Cooper, Jon Morrow, Corbett Carr, and other smart bloggers who started from nothing can do it, so can you.

Just follow these simple steps:

1).   First step: Conduct exclusive research – Go all out for the primary source of data, because that’s what will make your content stand out.

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If you need fuel for your epic content, you can’t afford to ignore research or do a halfhearted job of it. Be willing to research your topic thoroughly.

I don’t trust data from just any source. But when I see experiments and data from knowledgeable, skilled, and respected marketing influencers, I listen.

For example, the insights I gained from the team at Buzzsumo on their analysis of 100 million articles can be a source of primary data.

You can use Google to conduct your research. But don’t trust everything you see there. The number #1 search result in Google may not have accurate data. Or maybe it once was, but is no longer current.

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It pays to attend seminars, conferences, workshops or participate in a webinar to learn more about your topic. Consume every book, research, survey reports and you’ll be amazed at the quality of information you’ll collect.

Additionally, you can interview experts in your industry. After all, the easiest way to know what influencers think is to just ask them.

Of course, you don’t have to meet them one-on-one to conduct an interview. For example, John Lee Dumas interviews top influencers in different industries through his flagship podcast.

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Andrew Warner, founder of Mixergy, also grew his site by interviewing top online influencers. You can read those interviews to know more about those influencers, how they started, where they’re in their business right now.

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2).   Second step: Write with passion – When you read epic content, like “The Ultimate Guide To Making Money,” you connect deeply with Ramit Sethi. It’s the same experience when you read Jon Morrow’s epic post on Problogger.

Can you create content on a topic without being passionate about it?

Sure you can. But it’s a lot harder to create epic content on a topic you aren’t excited about.

For example, I don’t create content on health and nutrition, not because I can’t but because it doesn’t interest me as much as content marketing, SEO, conversion rate optimization and other marketing related topics do.

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When you’re in a field you love, you can draw life lessons from your own experiences, write catchy and powerful titles, give unconventional views, and become transparent.

More important, it’s easier to promote epic content that you’re proud of. It’s not about the traffic you’ll drive, the search rankings, audience or sales, but the joy of helping people.

If you’re ready to create epic content, the resources below can help:

14 Examples of Truly “Epic” Content: How Does Yours Stack Up?

Creating Content That Converts: The Step-by-Step Guide

5 Steps to Blast Through Fear and Create Epic Content

Conclusion

Sometimes what really keeps you from creating outstanding content that keeps your readers up reading late at night is fear.

It’s not that you lack knowledge, data, or insights about the audience.

Maybe you don’t want people to criticize you on social media, or you’re scared that people won’t read your post.

This is your wake-up call: Don’t let anything hold you back.

Epic content isn’t anything fancy. Some of the examples I shared with you are from average bloggers and marketers who may not even have deeper insights about customers like you do.

They just don’t let fear stop them. They want to help their audience and attract new ones. You can change your world with words. In this new year, “epic” should be your focus.

What elements do you think epic content has that I didn’t mention in this article?

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