Yet Zimmerman has created lots of viral content over the past three years. Having studied his techniques, I want to show you the tactics that will help you to create viral content that will drive at least 2,500 visitors per day to your site, work wonders for your digital marketing, and skyrocket your position in the search engines.
We often hear or read about blog posts and great content that went viral and wonder how the authors did it.
Well, it’s got nothing to do with being an content strategy expert or with beginner’s luck. Once you activate the viral triggers and lead with persuasion, as I’ll show you in this article, you’ll get tons of traffic for your site.
If you’re a blogger or a content creator for social networks or marketing, this may be the information that you’ve been looking for. Get ready to challenge the status quo and learn to create the right kind of valuable content, so that you’ll no longer struggle to generate traffic to your blog, but will instead be concerned about monetizing the traffic and making your marketing campaigns a success.
Just like Zimmerman did for Gawker, including an article that drew almost 11 million views in 7 months, you can make great content happen for your blog. Of course, it won’t happen overnight – but with consistency, you’ll see results.
Introduction to Creating Viral Content
The word “viral” means “relating to a piece of content that is circulated rapidly and widely from one web user to another.” In other words, you want to create great content that’s intended to be shared across social networks and spread – like a virus.
If that’s the case, then to achieve virality, you have to carefully craft your content creator strategy and execute with attention to the details. To a large extent, the quality of the work that you do will determine how far your content gets shared.
Many marketers dream of having their great content go viral across social networks. They want thousands – if not millions – of people to find the content that they spent a lot of time creating.
Creating high-quality viral content may not be for everyone. It’s a difficult task, especially when you’re just starting out. For example, if you’re creating visual content or video content, you need to invest in good equipment and sharpen your video editing skills as well.
According to a recent study, 46% of businesses find it difficult to create compelling content.
Looking at these statistics, the prospect of creating less content and driving more traffic is very attractive. But, the reverse is the case.
So, you need to learn how to create content types that have the possibility of going viral. A lot of factors have to come together, but one of the biggest challenges for many content marketers is the need for a shift in mindset towards valuable content.
Looking at the anatomy of viral content, you have to keep in mind that the content itself must be worthy of being shared. It has to solve a particular problem, enhance your reader’s life or make something better. If it doesn’t do any of these, no one will share it with their social network.
Academic Research Studies on Virality
In 350 B.C., Aristotle began a work designed to discover what makes great content—and particularly a speech, which was his primary content medium, memorable and persuasive. He wanted to know what made people want to pass the idea/message to others and create a kind of chain reaction. Today, this could be the equivalent of a click to tweet and share with your social network.
He specified three main principles: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. At the end of his brief analysis, he concluded that great content should be impactful. Specifically, it should:
- possess ethical appeal (ethos)
- appeal to the emotions (pathos)
- contain justifiable and logical appeal (logos)
Ever since the early days of the internet, some people and companies have seemed to master the science behind virality. They create a piece of great content and, within a year, hundreds of thousands of people will take it upon themselves to share it, across their social networks, no matter what type of content it is – whether its a list post, a piece of visual content, or even something not considered to be valuable content to others .
Campaigns that succeed are built on a solid foundation of research and analysis. We know this, in part, because of two scientists, Katherine L. Milkman and Jonah Berger.
In a research study, entitled “Why Content Goes Viral,” Milkman and Berger looked at 7,000 articles, published by the New York Times, to gauge their virality.
Specifically, they examined the content on the Times’ homepage that got the most views and shares on social networks. Their goal was to document the characteristics of viral content, so that people can judge whether their own content has the predictable qualities of going viral in the highly coveted social network world.
Of course, no research study is 100% accurate. And, correlation isn’t causation. However, these characteristics can help you to see what you should be aiming for when creating great content, whether its a list post, news piece, or any kind of visual content.
Here are 3 of the most important factors that they suggest will make content go viral and spread like wildfire across social networks:
Evoke emotion: Content that evokes an emotional reaction is more likely to go viral. Such emotions include awe, wonder, anxiety, sadness and humor. This is where the mediums of video content or visual content work so well, yet other content types like well written thought pieces or clever list posts can also bring worth and wonder to social media platforms.
One recent viral post, published at Huffington Post a day before the recent UK election, was titled “Ten Reasons To Vote UKIP.” If you read it carefully, you’ll find emotional triggers, such as:
Of course, not everyone shared this list post because they agreed with the message – some who disagreed with the Ukip platform undoubtedly shared it on their social network because they had a different kind of emotional reaction.
Whatever their motivations, however, the post generated over 24,000 shares and likes on social networks.
Positive message: While great content may be shared for many reasons, the pieces of content that stimulate positive feelings tend to perform better than those that stimulate negative feelings, boasting a higher click to tweet rate.
Practically useful content: After collecting information about the content on the Times home page (i.e., author’s fame, content release timing, writing complexity, author’s gender and length) to determine what factors were most often found in great content that went viral, the researchers concluded that content that is useful in a practical way has a high chance of going viral. This may mean adapting your digital marketing campaign in a way that puts valuable content first.
When it comes to visual content and images that get shared the most, a research experiment by BufferApp found that viral images trigger surprise. This indicates that one of the key things that makes images go viral is an element of surprise.
Will Nathan, a developer at Buzzfeed, shared that great content that goes viral either represents or tends to uncover something pleasurable in a topic that people can’t ordinarily completely understand on their own.
A research team, led by Rosanna E. Guadagno of the National Science Foundation, studied 256 video content clips to analyze what makes video go viral. She found that extremely funny videos always stand a solid chance of getting significant views, social shares, click to tweets, and likes.
An example is “Charlie bit my finger,” a funny visual content clip that spread like wildfire across social networks (over 821,000,000 million views) and caught the attention of the media, as well.
1). Some case studies of past viral content: Let me show you real life examples of visual content and other content types that went viral in the past. You’ll love this and learn a lot from it, for content creators this is sure to get the cogs turning.
Let’s start with the virality scientist himself, Jonah Berger. In his book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, he explains that what makes great content go viral on social networks may not be that significant, but once it resonates with the target audience, it’s likely to succeed.
This explains how a music video, released by Psy, a previously little-known Korean singer, rocked the world. Within a month, the Gangnam Style video also rocked YouTube’s homepage, as the #1 most viewed video. This is a great example of a piece of visual content that became idolized.
Within days, the video also reached #1 on the iTunes music video chart. It now has over 2,300,000,000 views.
Don’t forget that people also shared these videos on their social network or via click to tweet because the experience of watching made them feel good – or at least better. This is known as social currency – people share and talk about things that make them feel cool or improve their self-worth, this is one of the driving forces behind using a social network.
The social currency wheel explains it better:
In other words, before people share your great content, they make a quick assessment of what’s in it for them.
It may not be obvious to you, because it’s an internal self-evaluation – but it means a lot to them, and in the end it means a lot to your digital marketing strategy.
To help you fully understand the science behind why some content types catch on, here’s a diagram of Berger’s “Six STEPPS” to virality:
Another viral article, “What Career Should You Actually Have?,” was published in January 2014 on Buzzfeed.com. As I write this article, the post has over 18,500,000 views and is one of the most viewed posts on the site.
Studying the post carefully, you can see that it’s very easy to read, with lots of visual content assets. It’s also interactive content – users can select responses and get tailored results at the end.
As anyone on Facebook can tell you, quizzes and surveys are a quick route to virality and have a high click to tweet turnover. As a content creator, you can look for similar ways to get the reader involved.
Effective great content that goes viral is a two-way street. You spend time creating the content, then make it easier for people to read it, benefit from it, take notes about it and easily share it on their social network.
2). Gathering data to launch a viral idea: Getting your content to go viral requires planning. This is the same thing as developing a content plan that you can fall back on. You need a documented strategy.
Your plan is like a funnel that ensures a constant flow of the right site visitors and leads.
But, 48% of B2B marketers don’t take the time to document their own strategy when it comes to social media marketing, great content creation, and search engine hierarchy – that’s why they often fail to replicate earlier successes.
Some sites seem to intuitively understand what causes a piece of content to go viral. And, they keep reaping the rewards. But, content creators and media marketing experts can also learn from them.
i). Know your purpose: Why do you want your content to go viral? Is it just for the traffic, the search engine, the click to tweet rates, or the page views? If so, then you’re looking at the wrong metrics. According to Jay Baer, content must help you achieve your business goals.
When your content goes viral, you can leverage that opportunity to funnel qualified customers to your business. This is exactly why you need a written strategic plan to help you achieve your goal.
The moment you’re clear on your purpose, it enables you to locate sources for the kind of data that you need. For example, if you want to acquire more clients who want to grow their business revenue, you have to locate authoritative business websites and extract data from them.
You could simply go to Google and type in these search strings:
business growth statistics + blog
case study + business + statistics + revenue
business revenue growth + data
The screenshot below shows results related to “business revenue statistics.” These are all business blogs as well, so you can generally trust the data that they provide.
Remember that when creating your content, you’ll be referencing other businesses and how they increased their revenue. That’s the purpose of gathering this data.
After clicking one of the search engine results, here are viable data points that I can use to create great content. I know that the target audience will benefit from it and therefore will likely contact me.
Regardless of whether your business is B2C or B2B, you can always reference other companies’ business revenue data when creating your content.
If you study some articles that have gone viral on social networks, you’ll notice that the authors often use a lot of data. Here’s an example from a recent post that generated almost 500,000 views in just 3 days.
When you’re writing your content, use numbers, data, statistics and quotes from other people to upgrade your content and make it more trustworthy.
How to Create Viral Content
It’s hard to swing a stick around the web without hitting a post that promises to teach you “how to write a viral post.” Most marketers believe that a single piece of viral content can help them achieve tremendous results across the social network and beyond. But, it’s not usually like that.
You’ve got to be consistent.
The truth of the matter is that there are many ways to generate leads. If you want 1,000 leads within 24 hours, you can run a well-crafted AdWords campaign.
But, for most marketers, getting to a thousand leads within 48 hours would cost more money than they’re probably willing to spend.
The secret to creating viral content is to “get contagious.”
From all of the research studies that we’ve examined so far, you’ve undoubtedly picked up on the fact that people prefer to share content on their social network that brings them a certain level of satisfaction.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s visual content of cats or a post about the UK election – if it brings sufficient value to the reader, it’ll be shared. Get your strategy plugged in and learn to create emotionally-driven content that people can’t resist sharing on their social network.
Your duty, when creating content, is to focus on positivity, to evoke emotions of awe, anxiety, etc. and to offer immense value to your readers.They have to want to share it with all their friends via their social media accounts.
Start with your headline. Figure out the “next action” that you want people to take, as they read your content. Then, weave it into your post. Before you end the article, give people a call-to-action – tell them what to do next. That’s how to create strong engagement with your content.
Over the years, psychologists have come to understand how people respond to information. Through years of in-depth study, they’ve come to realize that people don’t get excited about generic ideas.
Instead, they want practical ideas, broken down into easily-digested bits that can be tested.
This is the kind of information that can be acted upon to produce results.
Multi-tasking doesn’t work. Even the most efficient people can truly focus on only one thing at a time.
The same principle should go into great content creation.
Buzzfeed follows the same pattern when writing content. And, by being consistent, they found that 75% of their audience visit the site because they want to share content, to like their articles, and to click to tweet their findings.
If you want to increase the chances of your content going viral on across the different social media accounts, focus on breaking down complex information or ideas into bits, or into visual content, the way Buzzfeed does. Make your points easily digestible and people will be more inclined to share your content.
So, how does Buzzfeed simplify content and make it easier to read and share? You’ll notice they frequently use numerals in their headlines. That’s not an accident. Studies show that numbers and list posts especially, generate more clicks and engagement, encouraging people to share via their social network.
Here are some of Buzzfeed’s recent headlines:
They also use power words, which give depth to a headline. Some of the power words Buzzfeed authors use in their headlines are:
- And so on…
1). Scan viral content sites for ideas: The ideas that you’re looking for are right under your nose. Save time and avoid reinventing the wheel by scanning viral content sites for ideas that you can improve on or customize for your readers, making them want to click to tweet or to share on their social network sites.
Since these sites already have a culture of consistently creating viral content, let’s look into some of them, starting with Huffington Post.
Of course, HuffPost is a news site and their headlines aren’t fully explanatory – you have to click them and at least scan the article.
You may not want to write yours that way, because you want clarity in headlines. But, you’ll notice that above everything else, the headline is big and bold. You’ll also see the visual content, especially on the featured article.
The headline is critical, so spending more time to get it right will do you a lot of good. In fact, Motion Media improved the performance of their headlines by 157%, simply by creating more clickable and clear headlines that included emotional triggers.
The virality level of the post may not mean a lot now, but it was incredible back in 2012. It generated close to 50 backlinks from industry blogs, including my own.
Video content often go viral and they tend to convert very well, too. Statistics shared by comScore and Nielsen found that 85% of US web users watch videos online, with users who fall within the 25-34 age group watching the most online videos.
Continuing our examination of HuffPost and the elements that made their great content go viral, let’s look at how easy the posts are to share. Sure, the authority of the site, timing, topic, author and several other factors make their posts successful. But, they also prominently place their social network share buttons, such as a click to tweet, or a Facebook share button.
In a post for UX Magazine, Tania Lang said that you should give users a chance to read the headline, before asking them to share on their social networks. This is one reason why the social share buttons on HuffPost are below the image and not immediately after the headline.
Wherever you decide to put your social share buttons like your click to tweet or your Facebook share on your blog, remember that the goal is to make it as easy as possible for users to share your content. Additionally, use the right share buttons that will not overlap with the post’s text.
An example of a blog that places share buttons in strategic locations is Socialmediaexaminer.com:
However, you’ve got to test to know for sure. Some people prefer to have fewer social share buttons on the left side – but the choice is yours. Here’s what Garrett Moon advises you to focus on:
In 2006, usability expert Jacob Nielson conducted a study on eye-tracking visualization, to determine the exact locations the human eye frequents most, on a web page.
The analysis revealed that users read the content on the web in an F-shaped pattern.
This means that when someone visits your site – at least, when using a desktop computer or laptop, though not necessarily on mobile – they’ll follow two horizontal stripes and then a vertical stripe to give an F-shaped reading pattern.
An understanding of the concept of eye-tracking will improve your conversion rate, because you’ll know where to place CTAs like click to tweet or share on social media accounts, and/or ads to maximize click-through rate and earnings.
From this research, you can see the reason why my social network share buttons, for both QuickSprout and NeilPatel.com, are on the left, since the user’s eye will first flash there.
Viral Marketing Tools
According to Chron, “marketing is about measurement.” Whether you’re online or offline, you need a way to connect with your target audience. A tool helps with that. With a viral marketing campaign tool, you save more time and earn more.
Tools make our lives easier. Think back to just three decades ago, when there were no mobile phones or email. It would take days or weeks for your letter to get to its intended recipient. But today, with your phone, you can call someone on another continent or transmit your message immediately via email.
In the same way, content marketing tools give you a competitive advantage over marketers who work without them. You can double your search traffic, generate more leads, and automate your sales process with the right tools.
When it comes to writing great content that has the potential to go viral, you also need tools. In fact, I’d bet that most of the viral content that you see everywhere makes use of some kind of automation tool, or tools.
These days, there is just no scalable way to do it all yourself. Even the keyword research we do requires a tool – otherwise, it’d be a total waste of time.
When doing business online, you need two important things to succeed – marketing and sales. One recent report showed that the UK online retail trade was predicted to reach £52.25 billion in 2015. For this to be true, several tools have to be in place.
The more tools an organization learns how to use and actually uses, the more their revenue, customer service and decision-making can improve.
If you have the right tool to automate your processes, you can spend more time on the things that you enjoy and have to do personally, such as networking with other people and speaking at events, while your automated systems take care of acquisition, nurturing and selling to customers. This is a very organic form of content promotion and will boost your social networks and search engine results.
Brian Dean increased his email subscriptions by 785%, because he used a strategy called a “content upgrade,” which was powered by Leadbox. Leadbox is a non-disruptive email opt-in box that was developed by Clay Collins, founder of Leadpages.net.
Now that we know why it’s important to start using tools to create viral content, let’s look at some of those tools:
i). LinkTrackr: This tool enables you to put the science back in marketing. With LinkTrackr, you’ll know exactly where your links are, what is working and how many clicks you’re getting, as your content gets spread all over the web.
Most marketers can’t pinpoint how far their links have been shared. But, with this tool, it’s a lot easier.
Officially used to cloak and track affiliate links, LinkTrackr is now being used by smart marketers to track content campaigns, ad campaigns including native ads and everything in-between.
After all, we do email outreach all of the time and sometimes we ask for links. How do you know who accepted your link and where they placed it?
Additionally, an incorrectly placed link with an overly-optimized anchor text could get you penalized. So, tracking everything is important.
ii). Tumblr: Tumblr is a power social tool that you can use to get your content spread widely.
Tumblr is a hybrid platform that combines the power of content marketing (e.g., blogging) and social networking. It has a rabid fanbase with a passion for sharing useful content, especially the kind that’s funny, awe-inspiring and positive.
You can put any kind of great content in Tumblr – text, photo, link, chat, audio, visual content, and so on. This means that you’re not limited in what you can promote, providing it’ll bring a level of satisfaction to your followers.
As a content marketer, you can use Tumblr to give your blog post a boost – and initiate a viral campaign that may spread like wildfire. The bottom line is to create an epic piece of content that people will enjoy reading and will let others know about.
iii). OpenLinkProfiler: This tool helps you conduct competitive analysis. You can dig into a blog or site that usually generates viral traffic and find out exactly how many links the web page has generated and from which sites.
Doing this alone can help you discover amazing ideas to help make your content successful.
Just the same way spying on competitors’ keywords can help you target the right keywords that are easy to rank for, checking where viral content has been syndicated helps guard against failure. At a minimum, it’ll help you figure out, ahead of time, where your focus should be.
On the homepage, plug in the site URL and click the green button.
Next, look at the incoming links:
iv). TrendSpottr: This tool keeps you updated on the latest happenings around the web for a given topic, keyword or industry. Jonah Berger, in his academic research, also pointed out that the timing of great content contributed to its virality.
So, if you’re among the first to hear a piece of news and you quickly create useful and in-depth content around that news, people will share it.
TrendSpottr works like Google Alerts. But, it’s much more versatile and the dashboard is user-friendly as well. An email in your inbox about some current development in the news could spark a viral idea for you.
Let’s move on to the real power behind creating great content that other people will gladly share on their social network. What does it take to do that?
1). Apply persuasion triggers: In his book, Persuasion: The Subtitle Art: How To Influence People To Always Get Your Way and What You Want, Hanif Raah said that you have to figure out the right time to make a particular pitch.
The author is saying that persuasion depends on timing. If you want people to take action and do whatever it is that you’re advising them to do with your content, you’ve got to know the right time ask.
Bear in mind that persuasion is not manipulation or coercion. On the contrary, persuasion is all about giving people a nudge to get what they’re looking for.
Yes, they might have shown interest in your offer, but maybe that inner drive to go ahead and get it isn’t there yet. Persuasion helps the prospect agree to trust you and take the next step.
In the Persuasion Slide depicted below, you’ll see “a nudge” and “gravity.” Both of them are internal factors that the customer needs to activate, before they can make a purchase.
For example, Amazon uses persuasive strategies to upsell and cross-sell related products to shoppers. But, they only do that after the shopper has viewed the main item that brought them to the store. That’s the importance of timing.
In a nutshell, using persuasion techniques in your content will increase its power. Not only will more people read and click to tweet and share it, but it’ll generate more leads into your sales funnel, where you can more easily convert them.
Gregory Ciotti uses persuasion when he’s writing an article. I’ve watched him over the years and have found that even his guest posts are full of persuasive copy. Take a look at an excerpt from a guest post that he did for Shopify in 2014:
As a result of his persuasive content over the years, and with the effort of the entire marketing team, HelpScout’s email subscriber base has grown to over 65,000.
Measure the virality of Your Content
In marketing, you always have to measure your campaigns. For example, if you run a Facebook ad, you’ve got to track clicks, impressions, conversion rate and other metrics. The same can be said for your twitter account – you need to track your click to tweets.
In the same way, you have to track general marketing metrics. Let’s say 1,000 visitors joined your list and went into your sales marketing funnel. You need to track how many of those visitors turn into leads and how many eventually purchase your product.
The truth is that your content delivery funnel will be much wider when your content eventually goes viral. You’ll be generating visitors from several blogs, social network sites, news sites, educational sites and others.
Specifically, you’ll want to measure the number of visitors to your site, the generated leads and all social mentions.
The ability of a piece of content to go viral lies in the social influence that the author has, as well as the size and power of his social network. You may not have a Klout score of 99, like President Barack Obama or 92, like Justin Bieber, but a certain level of influence would really help your content to spread like wildfire.
Personally, I’ve seen that it’s very difficult for a beginner with no social network, social influence, no influential people on board, or authority to create great content to go viral. Even if the content is superb and in-demand, it’ll drown in oblivion, if the right people don’t see it.
So, start by building authority. Start by creating top-notch content that will attract the attention of influential people in your industry. Better yet, create ego-bait content and mention the top experts in your industry. Link to them. Promote them as much as you can and ask nothing in return. A time will come when the generosity will be reciprocated.
Start by connecting personally with other bloggers, content marketers and internet entrepreneurs. You can’t really do it all by yourself. You need the help of other people.
Other metrics worth measuring include search rankings, keyword positions and click engagement – in other words, how long people stayed on your site, after clicking your viral link.
We all know the power and rewards attached to viral content especially when attracting potential customers. You may fail several times before you succeed.
Driving 2,500 visitors per day or 20,000 visitors per month to your site isn’t an impossible dream – it’s doable. I’ve shown you the proof above.
Of course, you can get that kind of traffic without having any of your posts go viral if you have a mean content marketing strategy. But, if you can nail the kind of content that keeps people coming back, because of the quality and how much of your heart you poured into creating it, it’s much easier to reach those goals.
Don’t forget the science behind what makes content go viral. As documented by Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman, you’ve got to create content that stimulates positive feelings more than negative ones.
Also, content that evokes high-arousal emotions will likely go viral, when the other virality factors are likewise present. Above all, make your content useful, practical, interesting and, if you can, add a dose of humor – because laughter is medicine for the soul.
Do you know any other secrets behind creating viral content? Have you tried it before?