Secret Formula: How To Write Viral Content For Your Website
- Benjamin Kuker
- October 06, 2009
Let's talk about content. I don't mean just any content, I mean great content, viral content - content that spreads across the internet like wildfire. Everyone wants their content to shoot to the top of social media sites and to get links from blogs everywhere. If you're reading the right blogs and websites, you'll find that the most successful among them will tell you that content is king.
All right, you say, that's great advice, but what does it mean? How do you apply it? This isn't one of your normal viral marketing articles. I'm going to break down and dissect techniques that will give your blog articles, your tutorials, and your written content a chance to go viral.
What this article isn't is an article about how to create a viral video of a cat, someone falling down a flight of steps, or a dancing baby. In fact, I'm not going to talk about videos at all. Instead, I'm going to focus on the intentional steps that you can take when writing website copy that will be beneficial to your business and your website.
Will following these tips guarantee you'll instantly be the top site on the internet and everything that you touch will turn to gold? No, no one hits a home run every time and you might have to do some trial and error before you get it right. These aren't tricks; they're solid principles that you should be incorporating into your writing anyway, but they will give your written website content a better and a more consistent opportunity of becoming a talking point around the web.
This is your viral strategy tutorial and you have our permission to vote for it, link to it, submit it, tweet it, share it, and tell your friends about it.
It All Begins With Writing Titles That Intrigue - Or What Is Linkbait
Stop for a moment and think about what brought you to this article. When you first read the title, what were your expectations and what did you hope you would find when you began reading? Chances are that you have a website and you want to know how to get more traffic to your content.
What is a title that intrigues? It's a title that your target audience can't help but to click on. In fact, that's the definition of linkbaiting. Put yourself in the mind of your audience and ask what text would be so compelling that they need to click-through, read, and then share with their friends. To find the answer to that question, you need to thoroughly understand your target demographic, their needs, and their motivations.
Titles Should Immediately Get An Emotional Reaction
Your title should spark an emotional reaction in your reader. Choose your target emotion based on the type of content you're writing and then select text that you think will trigger that emotion.
Target emotions could include (but aren't limited to):
Does hype work?
You betcha. However, the one emotion that you don't want to trigger is disappointment, so you need to have your act together.
The best way to avoid disappointment is to make sure that your content delivers on the promises that your title makes. If your title sparks curiosity, the content should satisfy it. If your title makes a controversial claim, don't back down, support it. If you trigger anger or argumentativeness, provide a way for your readers to respond.
These Title Keywords Are Viral Gold
Certain words seem to get clicked on more than others. Below is a list of title keywords that are common across many webpages that become popular on social media sites.
Amazing / Anything with a number in it / Astonishing / Awesome / Best / Beware / Brave / Breaking / Checklist / Collection / Confession / Conspiracy / Cool / Crazy / Deception / Definitive / Easy / Effective / Efficient / Essential / Ever / Example / Explained / Explode / Exposed / Eye-popping / Fail / Favorite / Free / Guide / Hate / Hidden / How to / Interview / List / Love / Maximize / Most / Must-see / Naked / Neat / NSFW / Popular / Powerful / Released / Report / Revealed / Review / Roundup / Rules / Secret / Sex / Shocking / Simple / Steps / Study / Super / Surprising / Techniques / Tips / Top # / Tutorial / Ultimate / Unbelievable / Versus (vs.) / Viral / Warning / Ways / Why You Can/Can't
Obviously, there is no guarantee that including one or more of these keywords in your title will make it go viral because they aren't the only factor, but they will increase your chances. The list above is a general list of words, but each niche will also have its own buzzwords that will cause that market to click, read, and share.
If you're still having trouble creating a title, look at what other people have written that has become popular. These sites are social media aggregators and display the top URLs for the day:
One final word of advice about the words in a title: The unexpected often works. If you scan the titles for the most popular content for any given day, you'll see that at least a few of them have titles that contain interesting or rarely-used word combinations. Don't be afraid to experiment a little.
Titles Must Be Short
65 characters. That's your limit. Not 140 characters, 65.
65 characters is all that Google will display in the search engine results page, but there is more to it than that. A shorter title allows space for a user name (or multiple user names) on Twitter, the URL, plus valuable room for a comment.
Why is a comment at the end valuable? It's a recommendation. Nothing holds more weight online than a recommendation from a trusted source of information. Getting shared is in and of itself a recommendation, but a favorable comment is even more powerful.
What Type Of Content Goes Viral?
There are some types of content that become popular more easily than others. Let's look at a few of them and why they work.
Lists - A list of items is an easy way to create content, but people love them all the same. Your lists will perform far better if you use numbers in a title because it produces an expectation that is easily fulfilled. You can create lists of resources, Top 10 lists, lists filled with inspirational items, and any other number of things.
Checklists - More than just a list of items, a checklist is a measuring stick. People like to be able to compare their progress or their process against a standard.
Tutorials - Learning is a large component of popular online content. Make your tutorials complete and easy-to-follow and don't forget to test them before releasing them.
Success - If you've achieved success in any area, odds are people want to know how you've done it. Telling your story and sharing techniques, tips, or even secrets is a great way to become popular quickly.
Failure - If you've ever seen a popular internet video, you probably already know that watching people fail, fall, or crash is a big draw. However, people are just as drawn to stories of failure. If you mess up, share your experience and what you've learned from it. Telling people what not to do is another type of checklist that works extremely well, whether they're things that you have done or not.
Controversy - There are some comments and topics that can ignite a storm of controversy. If you can channel that storm properly, your website can see a multitude of benefits. One key here, however, is to allow a way for visitors to provide feedback. Comment sections are almost a must for this type of content.
Free Content/Products/Services - If you give something away for free that is quality and worthwhile, people are going to talk about it. They'll link to your site and they'll vote for you on social media sites. While it's not strictly necessary because you will get links, you can find ways to use the traffic you receive from this type of content, whether it's getting an email address, generating leads, adding followers to your Twitter account, or making money from advertising.
Contests - Contests are all about publicity and there are two key components for a successful content: 1) Make it an easy contest, 2) Give away something really cool.
Taboo - Revealing secrets you shouldn't or that others think you shouldn't reveal is an easy way to attract visitors, especially if you do it at exactly the right time and place.
Breaking News - News that people deem is important will often skyrocket to the top of social media sites, but unless you're a rumor-mill or a major news provider, you may have trouble competing in this area. In general, your company's press release doesn't qualify as breaking news.
Content Readability Is Essential
Your content should be easy to read and scannable. This means a few things when applied to content on the web.
- Keep a high contrast between the text and background. There is a reason books are black print on white paper. With a few exceptions, if the text is hard to read, it's not going to be popular.
- Your paragraphs should be varied length to break up the page visually, but avoid long blocks of text like the plague.
- Use lists, images, videos, blockquotes, and tables to break up the text even more.
- Don't overwrite. When choosing words, always use the simplest and easiest to understand. Sentence lengths should also vary, but again, favor the shorter sentences because they are easier to read.
- Make your titles and subheadings useful. Not everyone reads word for word; some just scan. Your headings should summarize your content and they should also compel a visitor to keep reading. If possible, also use your keywords in your headings.
Is Quality Content Necessary? Maybe
I cringe saying this, but if you're trying to create something viral, quality doesn't always apply. In fact, better terms to describe viral content are compelling, controversial, humorous, interesting, intriguing, unexpected, unique, and useful. If you post a hilarious picture of your cat that is even mildly sharable, it stands a better chance* of going viral than a scientific thesis, though much more work went into the latter. (*This presumes the cat didn't write the thesis - That would be an example viral genius.)
Does that mean you can skip out on quality? I wouldn't. Or at least, I wouldn't every time. A piece of content with intrinsic value and a high sharability factor will better stand the test of time than a gimmick. You'll get the surge in short-term traffic, but you'll also get return visitors. Ultimately, your websites and businesses win with higher return engagement. That's the traffic you're going to be able to monetize.
Make Your Content Sharable
It's no secret, social media sites are what make most content go viral. However, there are a few things that you can do to your site beyond what's already been mentioned that will make it easier for your site to be shared.
Almost every major social media site has sharing widgets. If your site falls in line nicely with the topic matter of a social bookmarking site, you should include their widget on your page. The social widgets seem to work best at the top of the page, also called above the fold, but you can include them at the bottom as well.
Site-Specific Social Bookmarking Tools
Here are links to the button or widget code for each of the major social bookmarking sites (and a few niche sites as well). Don't worry if you aren't technically inclined, most of the links also have step-by-step instructions for how to install the buttons. In most cases, you just need to cut-and-paste some code onto your page.
- BizSugar Buttons
- Delicious Buttons and Tools
- DesignFloat Button
- Digg Buttons
- DZone Buttons
- Facebook Share Buttons and an alternate Facebook button with a share count
- FriendFeed Widgets
- LinkedIn Widget
- Mixx Buttons and Badges
- Posterous Button
- Propeller Widgets
- Reddit Buttons
- Slashdot Badges
- Sphinn Widgets and Buttons
- StumbleUpon Buttons
- Technorati Blog Widgets
- Tweetmeme's Twitter Retweet Button
- Yahoo Buzz Buttons
General Social Bookmarking Widgets For Your Website
Alternatively, if you want to include multiple social media buttons on your site, check out these options for sharing:
Email And RSS Feeds Also Drive A Lot Of Traffic
Before social bookmarking sites came around, email was a huge traffic generator because it was one of the only ways to share new content with friends and acquaintances. Now? Don't underestimate its power. It still drives a lot of traffic. Many of the tools just above also have options to share via email, so adding email ability should take no extra effort.
If you regularly publish content, even if it's just once a month or once a quarter, an RSS feed is another easy way to share your content and draw people to your website. If you don't know anything about RSS feeds and you're not using a blog or content management software, check out our RSS feed tutorial.
Make it easy to subscribe to your RSS feed by placing a link in an obvious location, either in a sidebar or at the top of the page.
The Power Is In The Network - Use It Wisely
Each social media site has its own trends and peculiarities and most use a different algorithm for sharing and spreading links among its members. The sites also vary by topic, social relationships, etiquette, best time of day for submission, demographic, and number of users.
Here are a few simple rules to live by when using social media:
- Don't spam. Read the submission guidelines for each site and make sure you follow them. In fact, you should spend at least a month using each social site before beginning to promote your own content. It will give you a feel for what, when, and how to submit. Take notes.
- Stay on topic by submitting appropriate content. Digg is not the place to promote an insurance company, unless your insurance company insures lawn gnomes (or something like that) from werewolf invasions. Also, don't submit everything you write or produce to every site.
- Befriend or follow like-minded users who are likely to notice you and take an interest in your content by voting for it or spreading the word about it. In most cases, going after power users is a waste of time.
- Be social. It is a social network. Engage with other users, no matter if you're a brand or a one-man band. The value of your network is proportional to the size and engagement of your contacts.
- Don't just toot your own horn. Increase the value of your profile on each site by sharing content other than your own and by voting for others.
- Document. Test. Tweak. Repeat. Keep a record of your times and methods of submission and the result. Make adjustments and then try again.
- When you strike it big, follow-up with good content yet again as soon as you can. It develops a readership and you'll still be getting residual traffic from the initial burst.
- Remember this: when you try to promote something that doesn't have a very good chance of success, it could actually decrease the value of your profile and network.
Social Media Resource Bonanza - Algorithms Revealed, Tips, Tricks, and Techniques
Below are hand-picked resources for some of the major social media sites. I've selected these links because they highlight ways that you can most efficiently use these Web 2.0 websites for your social media marketing campaigns.
- Delicious algorithm exposed!
- The Several Habits of Wildly Successful del.icio.us Users
- Delicious hacks: 150+ hacks and functions
- The statistics behind Digg submissions
- The Digg algorithm unofficial FAQ
- Everything in the Digg, Reddit, and Netscape algorithms
- Beat the new Digg algorithm and get on the front page
- The Digg Toolbox: 70+ Digg-related Scripts, Tools, and Tutorials
- The Facebook Marketing Bible: 24 Ways to Market Your Brand, Company, Product, or Service Inside Facebook
- The Definitive Guide to StumbleUpon
- StumbleUpon mathematics for stumblers
- A Comprehensive Guide to StumbleUpon: How to Build Massive Traffic to Your Website
- The Definitive StumbleUpon Resource List
- StumbleUpon Algorithm Exposed!
- Inside Twitter, An In-Depth Look Inside the Twitter World
- Trending topics on Twitter - How many tweets to reach the top?
So About That Secret Formula
The formula for intentionally viral content is this: create smart content and promote it strategically. Not everything you create will succeed, but as you grow, test, and improve, you'll find that it will get easier each time. Maximize your chances at going viral by optimizing your title and creating the right type of content. Remove any obstacles that could keep people from sharing. Know your network intimately, build it daily, and use it to promote only the best content from your website and others.
If you've found this guide useful, I'd like to ask you to join the Virtuosi Media network. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed. We have new links and resources every day for our Twitter and FriendFeed followers, including updates when we post a new article or tutorial on our site. If you just want update when we publish something new, become our fan on Facebook and subscribe to our RSS feed. When you join our network, be sure to tell us about yourself and what you'd like to see in future articles and tutorials.
And as always, you have our permission to share this link around the web. Thanks for the read!
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