by Sujan Patel
If I could guarantee that every piece of content I created would go viral, I could spend a lot more time throwing myself out of airplanes. Since there’s no magic wand to wave that guarantees content will go viral, I’m stuck with just skydiving on the weekends and promoting content during the week.
That doesn’t mean you can’t work a little science (that’s like magic, right?) into your content marketing to greatly improve the odds that content will go viral. It’s not impossible when you think about what viral content is.
It’s some or all of the following: entertaining, engaging, trustworthy, easily digested, relevant, and shareable.
How do you translate those characteristics into actionable content when you create it? Hopefully there are some best practices that you’re already employing in your content strategy, like putting images above the fold, shorter sentences, and emotional triggers.
Some steps aren’t as obvious though, like using images to boost social sharing – not because images ‘look cool,’ but because images improve engagement. According toMedia Blog, which analyzed the content of more than 2 million tweets, adding a photo to content can boost shares by 35%.
I can’t guarantee anything will go viral, but I can break down the elements of good content marketing to show you, with data, the best ways to boost the viral potential of your content.
1. Better headlines
Hubspot and Outbrain compiled data showing that headlines with numbers are 2x more likely to generate clicks vs. “How to” headlines. What’s more, a study of 150,000 headlines revealed that odd-numbered list headlines have a 20% better click-through rate than even-numbered headlines.
“Your prospects have questions and want answers,” says Neil Patel, founder of KISSMetrics. “If you can provide them with an ultra-specific headline and the answer to their questions, you can convert them into loyal readers and customers.”
2. Capture attention with images
Based on consumer research, Xerox found that colorful visuals, especially when placed front-and-center, made people 80% more likely to read a product guide. Skyword research also found that content with at least one image generated 94% more views on social media.
3. Focus on long-form content
The days of 300-500 word pieces of content are gone. Professor Jonah Berger found that longer content was 76.8% more likely to be heavily-shared – so shoot for at least 1,500 words per post if you want to leverage long-form content.
“When we promoted our 18,000-word guide via a sponsored Facebook post, it got 949 likes and 180 shares. That’s a lot for the $1,000 we spent!” says Emma Siemasko, content marketing specialist for Grasshopper. “Because we had custom illustrations to complement the content, plus a ton of different topics within the guide, people were excited to share. It was a lot more compelling than a standard blog post.”
4. Make sharing easy and obvious
A Google study found that elements above the fold are seen by 58% more people than anything pushed further down the page. If you want content to go viral, then your call to action is sharing, and your share buttons need to be front-and-center.
5. Use “scannable” text
Don’t write walls of text if you’re going for long-form content. Break it into lists, short paragraphs, and subheadings featuring a fair balance of white space. Dr. Jacob Nielson discovered that scannable online content boosts readability by 47%.
6. Make an emotional connection
The best way to connect emotionally with your audience is to tell a story, and that can have a big impact on content going viral. A study published in the Journal of Marketing Research found that content that elicits emotions like awe, surprise, or anger is 28% more likely to go viral.
“Sometimes content marketers get so caught up in the latest technology and SEO techniques, analyzing traffic, and the content itself – they forget that buying is about 85% emotional and only 15% logical.”
7. Tag influencers in your content
It works just like tagging people on Facebook: influencers see your content, and so do their followers and the people they’re connected to. Link to influential people in your posts, then let them know about it with a tool like ContentMarketer.io. For your content to go viral, influencer shares are critical.
8. Always ask
Every piece of content should have a call to action included at the end of your post, and make it personalized to your audience. Hubspot discovered that targeted CTAs (“Share these tips for going viral”) outperformed generic CTAs (“share this post”) by 42%.