Here’s Why Some Content Goes Viral


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Most people assume that viral content is a matter of luck. Luck can play a part. Sometimes a piece of content happens to coincide with a relevant news event or it happens to get in front of the right influencers, and zoom, off it goes. But in reality, there are certain commonalities that most viral content has, factors that make it more likely to go viral.

In this episode of Here’s Why, Mark and Eric discuss the commonalities of viral content and suggest ways that you can use them to your advantage. Expecting every piece of content to go viral may be a bit unrealistic, but it sure is great when it does!

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Full Transcript:

Mark: Hey! Have you heard? Rand Fishkin can fish with his kin on a can. I heard Rand Fishkin cans fish with kids. Rumor has it Rand Fishkin fishes for kids. They tell me Rand Fishkin has a kid who is a fish.

Eric: False messages don’t need any help spreading. The trick is getting your valuable message widely heard. Stay tuned, because here’s why some content goes viral.

Eric: Most people assume that viral content is a matter of luck. Certainly luck plays a part. Sometimes a piece of content happens to coincide with a relevant news event or it happens to get in front of the right influencers, and zoom, off it goes.

Mark: But in reality, there are certain commonalities that most viral content has, factors that make it more likely to go viral.

Eric: Right. In this episode, Mark and I are going to summarize some findings from our friends at Buzzsumo, a great tool for measuring and comparing social sharing.

Mark: Now remember, we can’t guarantee that including these elements will make a content piece go viral. It’s still hard to do and relatively rare. But there is enough evidence out there to suggest that making use of these factors greatly increases the chances of virality for your content.

Eric: Great, so let’s dig in. Buzzsumo looked at the most shared posts of 2015, and they found four elements common to viral content. The content doesn’t always have all four, but the more of these elements
present, the higher the chances of virality.

Mark: The first element is emotion. Does the content go right after some strong human emotion?

Eric: The content might be amusing, surprising, heart warming, beautiful, inspiring, or be shocking or contain a warning. For example, this amusing post from the New Yorker, alleging that fact-resistant humans are endangering the earth, got share 1 point 4 million times, twice as many shares as any other post on their site.

It doesn’t matter so much what the emotion is. Humans want to connect with others on an emotional level, and sharing content that has stirred, alarmed, or even angered them is a way of doing that. If you think about it, you can find ways to incorporate emotion even into topics that seem devoid of emotion.

For example, think of Click and Clack, the Cat Talk guys on public radio. Refusing to take car maintenance too seriously, they created one of the highest rated shows in the history of public radio, and still managed to teach millions how to take better care of their vehicles.

Mark: Certain types of content seem to have a better chance of going viral as well. It’s well known that images really help to sell a piece of content, but when stunning imagery that touches peoples’ emotions or interests comes into play, the post can take off. Look at this visual gallery of 52 places to go in 2015 by the New York Times.

It’s not at all hard to see why people would want to share this. The images are brilliant, arresting, and many contain a fascinating animated aspect. It’s not surprising that this post was shared over half a million times. Another type of content that has high viral potential is content that informs readers.

People like to feel smart, and if your content helps them to learn something, or enables them to form a better opinion about something, then they will want their friends to see it. For example, the second most shared post on our Stone Temple Consulting blog this past year revealed some unexpected facts about what really creates engagement on Twitter.

Notice that this post combined the advantage of being highly informative (you can win arguments with this stuff!) with the element of surprise. People wanted to share this because some of the findings contradicted conventional wisdom about Twitter. Other content types that Buzzsumo identified as highly viral-worthy included charts, quotes, video, and interactive content.

Eric: Certain topics are more likely to produce viral content as well. If you can associate your content with something that is trending, like zombies, that can be viral gold. Animals and babies, anything cute, is another perennial viral topic. This site was able to tie peoples’ love for pets directly into a product offering.

Other topics Buzzsumo saw often in viral content included health and fitness, longevity, and love, but those are just a few of many such topics. The key here is that you don’t have to have a site or business directly about a viral topic if you’re able to do content that ties in with or associates with one of those topics.

Mark: The final major element of viral content that Buzzsumo identified was the format of the content. This list included formats such as lists, quizzes, stories, curations, research insights, and practical tips. The common thread here is these posts are great at conveying useful or interesting information in an easy to digest way.

If people can “get it” quickly, they are more likely to share it with others. It doesn’t surprise us at all that eight of the top ten most shared posts from our blog this year where research studies, where our investment in big data paid off in information people couldn’t get anywhere else. And by the way, that type of post is overwhelmingly the number one driver of traffic to our site.

Eric: So the bottom line is, if you want content that has a higher chance of going viral, try to include factors from one or more of these four elements: emotion, content type, topic type, and format. You’ll find lots more examples of each of these in the Buzzsumo study at the link on your screen.

Mark: Thanks for joining us, and come back every Monday for a brand new episode of Here’s Why.

Eric: And if you’re hungry for more videos like this, you’ll find a complete archive at the link on your screen now. If you’re as smart as we think you are, you’ll click the Sign Up Now button on that page so you’ll always be first to know about new Here’s Why videos.

Mark: See you next time!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Eric Enge
Eric Enge is a partner at Stone Temple Consulting (STC), which has been providing SEO Consulting services for over 5 years. STC has worked with a wide range of clients, ranging from small silicon valley start-ups, to Fortune 25 companies. Eric is also co-author of The Art of SEO book.


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