Figuring out what could go viral seems like an exercise in futility.
How much is engineered and how much is just pure, dumb luck?
And this is often not taken into consideration: is your target visitor likely to share, and are there millions of them?
What I mean is this: if you’re trying to share content (and get ranked) for retired dog food distributors, would they share content about “Attention Dog Food Distributors: You Were Giving Out Cat Food All Along”?
Does it have value for people outside of the dog food industry? Possibly.
But that’s the key: the visitors you’re trying to get in front of, are they a large enough group, and is your content appealing enough to a wider audience?
A post about “Graphene research points to environmentally friendly steel” is not likely to be shared by your grandma on Facebook (but if so, that’s a kick-ass grandmother you’ve got!)
See my point?
Viral vs. SEO — Or Both?
But, setting aside all these disclaimers and “your mileage may vary”, there are 3 critical elements to your content that would increase the likelihood of your content getting mass exposure and hundreds, thousands, and perhaps even millions of visitors.
The SEO benefits are a-plenty, as I’m sure you can tell (are you licking your lips yet? This is juicy).
I mean, there’s a reason why we all lose our collective cool whenever Google announces an update to their algorithm…
Or Matt Cutts single-handedly ruins your life by announcing that “guest posting is dead”…
All those meticulously crafted link profiles, backlinks, thousand word articles, video, audio, high PR links, co-citations, on-site optimization, first page, top 3 SERPs….All for naught practically overnight.
And the reason is that, clearly, we really want that traffic.
Our whole worth as SEO professionals is getting that visitor number up.
So, how can you make that happen with viral content?
The 3 Ingredients Needed To Make Your Site Contagious
You’ve probably come across the usual tips and tricks like casting a wide net, play the percentages, study the data, timing, package it well, patience, social, and so on.
That’s cool and all, but there are really only 3 ingredients needed for your concoction to be contagious.
Your content needs to have:
- Social Currency
- Promise Of Practical Value
And these are all about what your target visitors want. It’s never about you. Always about what they will like, love, react to, and share.
Let’s cover these one by one…
We’re Back In High-School With Social Currency
People want to not only feel smart, but also be perceived to be “in the know”.
It’s about a secret handshake, an insider culture.
If you can pass on content that shows you’re one of the first to share, that you know something and understand, it’s the perfect insider signal.
Are people going to get those likes, re-tweets, shares, and comments if they share your stuff?
Will they get attention and relative “fame” amongst friends and family?
Having content that’s compelling, worthwhile, and makes people feel good about sharing will go a long way.
To get there, though, you will have to experiment and test. It’s not always about quality, because the audience decides what thrives:
“One of the things I realized is that quality is not all that matters”
Jonah Peretti of BuzzFeed
People want status and social currency. Give it to them.
Promise The Moon And Practical Value
Another ingredient you need, and what your audience wants, is to feel like they can pass on a nice packet of useful information.
People want to feel smart and be perceived as smart and helpful.
Content that has the right length, in a nice package, with a bow on top, that promises some practical aspect will aid in your content going viral.
Everyone hates clicking on shares in Facebook or Twitter, only to have their time wasted by a crappy and pointless YouTube video, or a useless Top 10 list.
This is where solutions to problems, insights, advice, how-to, and curated lists are of value.
And if you mix that with emotions…
Have A Seat, Let’s Talk About Your Emotions
In order to incite a virtual stampede of visitors, you do need to push certain emotional buttons.
The commonly held wisdom is that if you want your content to “go viral”, you need people to have an emotional reaction (amongst other things, of course).
While each of these emotions will have various application and usefulness for you, if your content can hit on some of these emotions, couple with social currency and promise of practical value, then you’re off to the races.
This is not just about sex, but more in line with cravings and desires for success, money, women, men, results — anything that’s tantalizing to your ideal visitors (those whom you want to get in front of). Often, simply selling potential and opportunity is enough.
We humans have an insatiable appetite for things that surprises us (in a good way, I’m not talking about horror movies that ships you off to the looney bin). This would be proving people wrong, challenging assumptions, going against expectations, new way of doing old things, and so on.
Anxiety & Fear
Missing out, making mistakes, fear or loss, concerns…you get the point. People strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Don’t go crying “wolf” every time, though, or that the world is falling apart — you mainly just need a headline to push these buttons, to incentivize click-through and sharing.
Good news is always preferred over bad news. This would be stories of triumph, inspiring, uplifting, hilarious, and personal stories that connect with readers.
No, not “aww, that’s cute” but more like “this is too good to be true”. Usually, this would be unexpected or an easy solution to a nagging problem.
Invoking anger and a sense of disbelief in a reader before they even click through helps. And once they’ve consumed your content, people are left with need for justice, their voice to be heard, and most of the time end up going out of their way to leave a remark (either as a comment or in a social media share).
Ever come across content that incites any of the above emotions? Then someone did their job.
Should Viral Content Be A Part Of Your SEO Strategy?
If the topic of virality and “viral marketing” even inspires research papers, then perhaps there’s something to it.
SEO has been seen as a, somewhat, reliable way of generating traffic to your site, but is it any more consistent and reliable than, say, viral marketing and content?
We live under the ever-present threat of fickle Google engineers, whose War On Spam is killing off quite a lot of tools of our trade. Algorithms get updated all the time, the rules change, and any decent SEO has to keep up, perform tests, and stay in step with search engines.
Regardless, we only perform Search Engine Optimization because we want traffic — and the right kind of traffic.
Viral content seems to create quite a lot of random visitors, but even so, out of thousands of shares, maybe 25 will end up buying what you’re selling.