With millions of pieces of content published daily, the creation of unique and appealing content has become increasingly difficult to achieve. In fact, more often than not, the blog that you are about to publish has already gained readership elsewhere. With all of this content saturation, it can be difficult for your content to stand out. So what can you do to make content that gets shared by thousands, or better, goes viral?
Viral content is the term used to refer to a piece of content that has been shared, liked, viewed, and commented on an exceptional amount of times within a short timeframe. With viral content proven to generate valuable traffic, greater shares, and boost both sales and Google rankings, shareable content is a worthwhile nut to crack. Whether it’s a blog post, a social media post or a video, content that ticks all of the right boxes can be shareable. But what are those boxes?
The key to writing viral content is understanding why content goes viral in the first place. BuzzSumo analysed 100 million posts found that the most shared content featured the following traits:
It was formatted as either a list or infographic
It came from authoritative sources
It incited emotion (for example awe, laughter, and amusement)
Meanwhile, blogger and podcaster Lucy Lucraft said:
We delved deeper to find out how to create viral content by analysing exactly what makes a piece of content achieve shares amongst readers and have put together this handy guide to creating viral content.
One of the most important aspects of creating viral content is choosing the best format for it. After all, if an individual cannot quickly get what they need from a piece of content, it can quickly become unappealing. For example, we often see listicles going viral due to their easy to consume structure. Likewise, short-form content presents better on smaller screens, which has made it more desirable for individuals accessing the content from their phones.
Research has also found that accompanying content with visual aids, such as infographics, list posts or a combination of the two makes it more likely to be shared. In short, visuals are a great way to capture an audience’s attention, so long as you get them right.
The key to writing high-quality viral content is to make sure it is easy to read and digest, however, this doesn’t always mean writing short ‘cluster’ content. Interestingly, research from Buzzsumo found that longer content between 3,000-10,000 words – otherwise known as ‘pillar’ content – got far more shares (although this is relative to the content you are writing).
Whilst it sounds complicated, there are plenty of tools on hand to help you choose the best format for your (hopefully) viral content. BuzzSumo’s ‘Content Analysis’ tool helps to indicate your audience’s preferred content length, which can help you to budget time or money for website content creation. For example, if a competitor has clear success with content ranging between 3,000 and 10,000 words, you may want to plan for more time, or budget to create pieces of similar length.
It is also worth thinking about the user experience when uploading too. Let’s be honest, no one wants to see paragraph after paragraph with no pictures, as this will prevent your readers from staying on the page and significantly increase the bounce rate. Therefore, make sure that your online content has a range of visuals (pictures, infographics or videos) and break up text by adding in headings and subheadings, with bullet points where possible.
When you write viral content for your audience, it is important to make sure it is full of information that your readers actually want to know. There is no point in writing different types of content that aren’t intended for your target audience, otherwise, your content is pretty much redundant. Instead, you want to hone in on creating content that carries practical value, whatever that might be.
Fortunately, there are plenty of tools on hand to help you decide what content carries practical value to your consumers. When you begin curating engaging content around a certain topic, tools like AnswerThePublic, and Ahrefs enable you to complete valuable keyword research on the topic at hand. By using these simple content tools, you’ll be able to see how often your potential topic is searched for, and what other related keywords people are looking for surrounding the subject. As a result, this will allow you to think of more robust and targeted content ideas that your readers are looking for, which is crucial to increasing traffic to your site.
Interestingly, BuzzSumo’s research revealed that the most frequently shared headlines featured the phrase ‘Will make you’ - something which they attribute to the fact it sets out explicitly why the reader should care about the content. Similar shareable cues included ‘This is why’, and ‘The reason is’, both of which insinuate as early as the headline that the content will deliver practical value to readers.
Another essential way to create valuable content is by considering user intent. Before beginning to create the content, consider what kind of posts your audience is looking for - is it informational or transactional? This should help to shape your content marketing strategy and make it clear what is most appealing to your target audience.
After decoding viral content, we also found that content that makes an emotional connection is far more shareable. Irrespective of whether it evokes emotions of joy, surprise, nostalgia, or upset, content that triggers an emotional response resonates more strongly with individuals - which may be why emotion-driven digital PR campaigns do well. This was also affirmed by academic research which found that throughout almost 7000 articles on the New York Times website, emotional arousal proved to be the single biggest determiner for whether content went viral.
For example, Nike’s ‘You Can’t Stop Us’ video advertisement went viral and has an impressive 58 million views on YouTube. The spoken and visual narrative evoked feelings of connectivity, adversity, hope, and upset, taking those that engaged with it on an emotional rollercoaster, which helped secure its viral success.
Essentially, content that has such an emotional impact on individuals that they feel obliged to share the content with friends, colleagues, and followers fares best as viral content, namely because that is how it gains momentum and becomes viral. This is often why cause-based campaigns do especially well online.
Many people think it is virtually impossible to create unique content about a trending topic. This concern makes sense since, as demonstrated in a recent BuzzSumo report, Bitcoin received coverage in more than 40,000 articles every week when it was trending in late 2017. Whilst this was an exceptional example, it is true that trending topics are widely covered.
However, by putting a unique spin on a trending topic and making it timely, it is certainly possible. A fantastic example of this from within our own agency is a campaign that we conducted for an energy supplier information site on the environmental effects of streaming our favourite Netflix shows.
The content was released at the start of the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic, a time in which much of the world was tucked away in their homes streaming Netflix, achieving 16 million user sign-ups during the first quarter of 2020. The campaign also came at a critical point in the climate crisis whereby clearer water, bluer skies, and lower carbon emissions were all achieved as a result of life coming to a halt. By combining these two trending topics, Reboot was able to create content that was not only trending and unique, but widely shared too despite energy being a niche that is notoriously difficult to create viral content for.
It is often also a great idea to plan for events that are scheduled to happen in advance, often by at least a month. You can plan ahead for specific days of the year or month-long events that are of interest on some of the following websites:
- ads.twitter.com > Analytics > Events
On top of this, another good way to keep up to date with this is to regularly check Twitter and Facebook’s “Trending” section. By using specific terms or hashtags that are trending on social media, it can really help to increase your engagement and expand your reach well beyond your Twitter or Facebook followers; particularly useful if you don’t have many.
You can also use Google Trends and BuzzSumo to see what is on the rise and becoming viral content, to take advantage of it. Cobus van Vuuren, an SEO expert, said: “It's also a good idea to research the engagement of the topic you are interested in on sites like Quora and Reddit – if you find something popular then you’re onto a winner”
A fundamental aspect of reactionary content is being on time and aware. By hosting a deeply creative team that keeps engaged with current affairs and trends, you can easily craft content that is both reactionary and novel, therefore giving it the potential to go viral.
It is also important to become an authoritative or known source when creating content. In the midst of misinformation and ‘fake news’, individuals are becoming far more considerate about what they post and where it is sourced from before sharing content. In the current climate, it is unsurprising that we are more cautious before we post or share online. This is especially true when viral content is based on practical advice or is designed to carry practical since people are far more likely to trust in a piece of content if it comes from a credible and authoritative source.
As described by Luke Clum on the Distilled Blog:
Although, there are other ways to become an authoritative source without having a known name or using a highly regarded brand to promote your content.
Perhaps the most important one is to ensure your content is robust and factually correct. It is far from professional to write a piece of content that is factually incorrect, so it goes without saying it is vital that you do your research when writing any form of content. Readers of your blog will immediately doubt your content and may even vow to never visit your site again, which is the last thing you want. So, when website content writing, double-check the facts to avoid any embarrassment or worse, distrust.
It is also good to include links to trustworthy sources to complement your words, such as high authority websites like .gov and online media outlets, for example – it’s worth checking the site’s DA (domain authority) by downloading the free MOZ SEO toolbar – anything over 30 is considered to be ‘good’.
In actual fact, in one of our studies, we measured whether there is a correlation between the number of outbound links and ranking on the search engine results page (SERP). We found that outgoing relevant links to authoritative sites are considered in the algorithms and do have a positive impact on rankings.
To make your piece of content even more trustworthy, consider speaking to an industry professional or someone in the field to provide an exclusive quote, to give their view or some pointers about the topic. It can often be difficult to find contacts, so it is worth getting in touch with people on LinkedIn or utilising social media sites. Twitter is a great platform for this, where you can ask using the hashtags #JournoRequest or #PRrequest. Not only does this create unique content on your site, but it could also help increase the number of content shares, particularly if the industry professional is a well-known individual in your field.
Finally, it is important to understand the coverage you’re aiming for when creating content. By its very nature, desired coverage for content can be anything from a short TikTok video reaching the explore page to a data-led campaign gaining placements in certain outlets. However, achieving these different forms of coverage require different approaches, and understanding what does and doesn’t work for your target audience is key.
If you are writing content your audience wants to read, they are likely to share it with their like-minded friends and family, as they believe someone else will receive some value from it. Likewise, journalists will only pick up content that they believe their readers will respond well to. If there is no value to anyone in what you have produced, it is unlikely to become a piece of viral content.
If you are unsure of how to successfully address your audience, competitor analysis is always a good idea. In particular, we recommend completing the following exercise:
1) Making a list of your top five competitors
2) Take a look at the last six months of content that they have published
3) Is there anything in particular that has seen high engagement or anything that you could do better?
Perhaps you might want to reflect on a competitor’s blog content ideas and evaluate what has worked best for them. BuzzSumo’s ‘Content Analysis’ tool is an incredibly useful tool for this, as it highlights what kind of content your competitors are getting more engagement for and what platforms are seeing the highest engagement levels. If you’re seeking to replicate or extend their coverage, you should take advantage of this information and compete for the top spot!