How to Go Viral in 10 Easy Steps
In 2014, Pete Frates, a former college Baseball player, challenged some friends and celebrities to pour cold water over their heads to raise money for ALS.
Less than 12 months later, the Ice Bucket Challenge had roped in the sitting President of the United States and reportedly raised $50 million for ALS.
The way the Ice Bucket Challenge shot to viral fame follows a familiar path used by websites like boredpanda.com to get millions of viewers to their site.
While viral marketing probably won’t help your next idea ‘blow up’ like the Ice Bucket Challenge, it can teach you lessons on how to make your content viral that you can apply to your business.
Before we get started, we should cover the obvious.
The chance of viral marketing getting you millions of views is really low (not as low as winning the lottery, but pretty close).
Yet it’s not that hard to get thousands or even tens of thousands of extra clicks to your content if you follow a clear strategy. It all starts with a bit of psychology.
This graph was created by Buzzsumo.
Keep in mind most content is not created to go viral.
1. Choose the Right Topic
Viral marketing works best with certain types of content.
Articles and videos shared online generally amuse, inspire or make people look smart (you know, like you’ve got the inside line on something important).
Then there’s content based on current events, like the hotel manager who sent a € 5.3 million invoice to a social influencer for promoting her business.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have content that goes viral because it is contentious.
This much-cited and shared article in the travel niche, “17 Cultural Clashes this European Had in America,” where the headline could be changed to “17 Reasons I Hate Americans,” is a case in point. (He doesn’t really hate Americans, by the way.)
Depending on your niche, it can be challenging to get this positive or negative emotional response for content you’re creating…
Like finance, for example.
This Accountant Used a New Bookkeeping Method… It Saved Him 3 Hours a Day!
Well. Maybe that headline would get an accountant excited, but you know what I mean :D.
Which brings us nicely to the format you should probably be using for your content… SEO-friendly list posts.
2. Write SEO Friendly List Posts
Arguably the most popular format for content on the web are list style posts.
You can broadly break these list posts into two distinct types.
You’ve got the curated list posts, which is basically an expert roundup and the affiliate/ e-commerce style “10 best + product”.
“Best Hotels in LA:” Twice in the top 10 for an extremely profitable keyword using user-generated content…
One of the most successful companies to apply this list model to their online business is Trip Advisor.
The user-generated content produced on the site ranks on Google for almost every instance of “things to do + city/ region” or “best hotel + city/ region” across the world.
All these SERP rankings give the company a valuation in the region of $8 billion.
There are some very successful online businesses using viral marketing and list posts, with solid keyword research, to grow their business.
A great example of a viral site which does this in the travel niche is tripcanvas.co.
The site makes bank as a hotel affiliate by creating viral list posts on topics like “things to do + city/ region” “best hotels in + city/ region” across Thailand and Indonesia (there’s plenty of scopes to replicate this model across other niches or the same niche in different markets).
To get all those clicks though, you need a good headline…
3. Create A Killer Headline
As newspaper editors have known since, well, newspapers, the hook that gets people reading your content is a good headline.
Most viral marketing headlines have an over the top format. Clickbait style headlines frame the content and often set the emotional tone for what you’re about to experience.
Take this example from one of Upworthy’s first posts below:
- Clear Your Next 10 Minutes Because This Video Could Change How Happy You Are With Your Entire Week.
You can see how a good headline pulls you into the article.
It’s all about creating curiosity, generating interest, setting expectations, and generally getting people to take action.
The problem is, while a great headline sounds simple, they are frustratingly difficult to come up with.
If you are not a natural copywriter, I’d suggest using the headline-generation software. You can find a list of some of the best headline generation software here.
There are also plenty of blog posts like this one with proven headline formulas.
If you want to write clickbait headlines though, go directly to the source. Visit sites like Upworthy, Buzzfeed, and Viral Nova.
They’ve got great copywriters, and you can easily edit the most successful headline formulas they use.
Next up is the visuals…
3. Use Lots of Images
Images are a part of viral marketing. Funny meme time. 😀
Hope it made you laugh.
… And time for two visual marketing stats that won’t surprise you:
- Images get 10 times more interaction on social media.
- Hubspot found content with images is shared more… Plus 42 other visual marketing stats!
If you don’t want to read all those stats, they can be summarised easily…
Images break up an article and convey information more efficiently than chunks of text.
This is why Infographics are so popular (something that Quicksprout has taken advantage of and you could too).
You almost certainly use images in your blog posts, so I haven’t shared anything very useful with you yet.
One thing you can and should do, though, as part of your viral marketing, creates default image graphics for your most popular social media channels.
I’ll cover how to do this and link your images to your social share buttons in the next section of this post.
4. Make Your Content Easy to Share
Making your content go viral starts with ensuring your content is easy to share.
There are plenty of great social sharing plugins available.
Most social sharing plugins give you the option to choose what social share buttons to show and where they should appear on your site.
If you haven’t got social sharing buttons, install them already…
A custom image created for a social media channel will always outperform a regular image.
While having social sharing buttons on your site is great, I recommend using a social sharing plugin that lets you choose the default image for each social media channel (here’s a list of social share plugins with some that do).
In addition to this, edit the metadata used when your content is shared.
Now you’ve prepared your content, you need to get people to read it.
You should start by emailing your list.
5. Use Email marketing
Email marketing is one of the best ways to get eyes on your newly published content.
You can use a lot of different techniques for promoting your content through email marketing. I like infotainment.
There’s a great article on Vyper written by Danavir from Copymonk about writing infotainment style copy for your content emails. I recommend you read it.
As an aside…
The challenging thing with content marketing for most niches is a lot of the content you are producing are for search engines rather than your audience (after a while people get bored of yet another “how to” article or roundup of “10 best tools” to make you more intelligent).
In the business and marketing niche, a very successful hook that engages readers is the monthly income reports.
Michelle Schroeder from makingsenseofcents.com does this and Dave, one of the founders of Ninja Outreach, did this with his first website acoupletravelers.com.
If you’re successful, this is a good way to establish yourself as an authority in your niche. I digress…
They are both expert email marketers that grew multi-million dollar businesses before teaching email marketing tactics.
They also use different copywriting styles, which is nice.
On to the next point…
6. Find A Larger Audience
The cornerstone of your viral marketing efforts is understanding your audience.
I’m not talking about their deepest desires… That’s a rabbit hole you want to avoid 😀
No, at this moment I’m talking about what they’re interested in and where they like to hang out.
The best way to find where your audience hangs out online is to talk to people.
There are a lot of different ways you can get this information.
You can do interviews, send them personal emails, ask them to fill in a questionnaire.
When you’ve found out where they hang out, this could be a forum, a Facebook group, Quora or whatever, become an engaged member of the community.
The basics of social networking are simple:
- Introduce yourself to the group.
- Share useful information and don’t ask for anything in return.
- Help people out.
- Don’t be that person who only talks about yourself.
- Occasionally share your own content.
Offline, we take this behavior for granted. For some reason on social media, people seem to suffer from a form of social Tourette’s.
We forget to be polite. Just act like you would offline, and you’ll be fine.
A longer-term online networking strategy is to create the space where your target audience hangs out.
The last company I worked for established their own Facebook group more than three years ago.
The group now has over 6,000 members. Of course, most of those people aren’t engaged in the group, but many are.
The group is now a forum that promotes a sense of community among the members.
They share content and discuss issues related to the niche. In addition to this, there are other unexpected benefits.
For example, they discuss products promoted by the company, which persuades more people to purchase the products they promote and makes the company more accountable for the products they support.
Now comes the hardest part, and arguably the most important bit of viral marketing…
7. Get Noticed By Relevant Authorities
Frequently, the key to viral marketing is getting your content shared by influencers in your niche (this is exactly what happened with the Ice Bucket Challenge).
Influencers can generally be broken down into the following three groups:
- People who might be interested in sharing your content.
- People who have been featured in your content.
- Thought leaders/Influencers in your niche.
The tactics I’m going to cover in this next section won’t work for every niche.
If you’re creating viral content around current events or celebrities, you’ll probably want to skip this section.
Instead, jump straight to the part of networking with influencers in your niche.
3 Tactics to Find People Who Might Share Your Content
Finding people who might be interested in sharing your content is time-consuming.
The process starts with finding people who created content similar to, but hopefully worse than what you created.
If you’re doing this manually, input all of the URLs of similar content into an Excel sheet (just Google the phrase you want to rank for and list the leading posts).
Once you have these URLs, collect the details of the people who shared and/ or commented on the content.
Then send them an email about your post (you can automate this whole process using Ninja Outreach). Here’s an email template you can use:
I saw you shared CONTENT on SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNEL. It looks like you’re a fan of the content.
I just published an article that WHAT MAKES YOUR ARTICLE SPECIAL (THE HOOK). I thought you’d be interested to check it out 🙂
Outreach marketing is an art. There’s a really good article on outreach email templates you should check out. There’s a lot of actionable content in that post.
Next up is targeting people who are linking to your competitors.
To do this, you need to collect the backlinks of the article created by your competitors.
So… go back to the Excel sheet you created the list of articles you want to outrank.
Then, do a backlink analysis of the articles. If you’re using Ninja Outreach, you can use this process to find the backlinks for your competitors.
This will give you the full list of backlinks.
Next, weed out the useless links, and make your pitch.
Here is an email template that Brian Dean from Backlinko uses when doing the process to get links to his own site.
His conversion rate for cold mailing leads was 11%, which is pretty good.
A nice twist you can add to your email that can open up opportunities and increase your conversion rate is throwing lines like this into your email template:
Anyway, how are things on your end and what are you working on at the moment?
Perhaps we can help with something you are working on and maybe collaborate a bit. Let me know!
This could open up opportunities for exchanging social media shares, guest posting opportunities or something else.
The idea is to open up new opportunities for yourself and start networking with influencers in your niche.
The final method to get links, which could lead to more social shares, is finding dead links in existing content.
This technique is known as broken link building. The method used share a lot of the techniques mentioned in the previous two examples.
For a proper review of the process, I’d suggest reading this article on ahrefs.
Contact People Featured in Your Content
Maybe I should have put this one first as it’s the easiest 😀
Contacting people featured in your post works well when you’ve created a great article on a topic.
That or you’ve got breaking news that nobody has seen or heard about before (remember the importance of having the inside line).
The process is pretty simple. Collect all of the outlinks in your article. List them on an Excel sheet and shoot them an email.
Here’s a simple template you can use for your outreach.
Networking with Influencers in Your Niche
Networking with people in your niche is an essential part of growing your business (you’re just more likely to share content and do favors for your friends).
The basics of networking with influencers are pretty simple:
- Look for opportunities to start a conversation.
- Figure out how you can help them out.
- Meet offline and go for a beer or whatever :-).
Really, it’s as simple as that…
I’ll start by being controversial. Don’t spend too much time commenting on blog posts or sharing other people’s content…
Sharing content and leaving intelligent comments on a blog is great, but…
The last 20 times I answered 30+ blog comments, I spent more time thinking about leaving an intelligent reply than paying attention to who left the comment.
Not saying intelligent comments and sharing don’t work, but I think there are better ways to start a conversation…
Consider this example… Glen Allsopp who runs Viperchill gets 100+ comments an article.
Even if you’re leaving an intelligent comment, you’re trying to stand out in a very crowded room.
His Facebook page, on the other hand, gets just 10 comments or so a post (and Glen replies to more comments on Facebook).
Glen gets fewer comments on his Facebook page than on his blog. This is pretty usual with bloggers.
This isn’t an exception. I do a lot of outreach, and Facebook is my go-to conversation starter after a cold email.
My next favorite tactic, after helping people out, is to meet up offline. It’s logical.
Plus, it’s harder to ignore someone who is standing in front of you unless you’re an ass (and you don’t want to be networking with those kinds of people).
Meeting up with people offline is pretty simple. Check out if you can find some live meetups close to where you live.
Go to them, start a conversation and make some friends.
That’s outreach covered. Time for some paid advertising.
I want to look at viral marketing on Facebook and Pinterest.
8. Viral Marketing On Facebook
With over a billion active users Facebook is the largest social media channel on the Internet.
It probably should be a part of your viral marketing strategy.
To send your content viral with any consistency, you need an advertising budget.
There’s a lot of great information online about running and scaling facebook ads campaigns.
If you’re new to Facebook ads read this post by Jon Loomer.
And remember these simple rules a Facebook marketer told me:
- Start with a small advertising budget per article (maybe $5-$10 if you’re starting out).
- Track and split test ad copy and images.
- If an article goes viral, I’m talking lots of shares and visitors, quickly scale your campaign.
- When visitor numbers start to drop kill the advertising and repeat the process with new content.
The start of a successful viral marketing campaign on Facebook will look creepily similar to a graph showing the value of bitcoin or human population growth. It drops just as quickly.
Those spikes on the left are successful Facebook ads.
If you’re creating contentious content, you can run Facebook ads to people from opposing groups to increase the chance of your content going viral.
This tactic would work pretty well for that article I mentioned earlier called “17 Cultural Clashes this European Had in America.”
9. Viral Marketing On Pinterest:
Pinterest is the number one source of referral traffic to many of the sites I’m involved in.
And the good thing about Pinterest is you can get traffic without spending a penny on ads.
You can see that Pinterest is the top source of referral traffic by a long way.
Generating traffic and consistently making content viral on Pinterest takes time.
You need to grow the number of followers you have and join active boards. The basics of Pinterest marketing are pretty simple:
- Create at least 3 boards related to your niche and join at least 3 group boards.
- Post content on all the Pinterest boards your active in at least 3, preferably more, times a day.
- Share three pieces of content from other creators for every one piece of your own content.
- Create multiple Pinterest graphics for every piece of content you produce.
Like I said, those are the basics. If you’re serious about Pinterest marketing, you need to read an in-depth post.
I suggest you just head over to this post on Income Diary.
It’s got all the information you need to get started.
Finally for the most important viral marketing tip…
10. Don’t Give Up!
Creating viral content is difficult.
Regardless of your niche, most of the content you produce is never going to go viral.
So remember, if it doesn’t work the first, fourth, ninth or twenty-sixth time, don’t give up!
Also, only some of the tactics and tips I shared in this post are relevant to you.
Pick, choose, test and adapt the tactics to fit your needs.
Over time you’ll find a system that will generate extra clicks to your website.
If you have any tips, please share them in the comments below.
I’m sure other marketers will find them useful 🙂