15 Tips and Tricks to Creating Content that Goes Viral

If you’re new to marketing, then it might seem like viral content is a lot like hitting the jackpot: you need a lot of luck and a professional psychic to pull it off. Fortunately, creating viral content is nothing like winning the lottery (although you should probably hold onto that psychic friend). With the right know-how, you can create content that makes a huge splash among your followers: a useful thing to know as a small business owner.

viral content

Here are 15 tips and tricks to creating content that goes viral:

1. Not All Marketers Have Stockpiles of Adorable Cat Videos…

Which means that you need to provide the next best thing: extraordinarily useful content. Why does useful content go viral? Jonah Berger, a marketing professor from Wharton, suggests that people share useful content for several reasons, including the desire to appear more educated or the desire to feel generous by “giving” their friends this useful content.

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So how much does practicality help? According to Berger’s research, useful articles have a 34% higher chance of going viral.

2. Make Content Easy to Consume

Here’s the shocking truth: only 16% of the people who visit your website actually read everything you’ve written in a particular article or blog post. It’s not that readers are lazy. On the contrary, they’re bombarded with content from every angle, each day of the week. Only the most ravenous content consumers will read it all.

This is why digital marketing expert Neil Patel recommends that you follow Apple’s model of marketing. Keep it simple and sleek in order to keep readers on the page. Use bold subheadings, short paragraphs, bullet points, and make sure that the page has plenty of white space. Easily scannable content is content that is more likely to be read from beginning to end, and therefore, more likely to go viral.

3. Images Are Vitally Important

There is a lot to know about images and the way that they contribute to the chances of your posts going viral. For starters, content with images gets nearly double the views on social media as content without. Buffer found that tweets with images receive 150% more retweets than those without. These views and social media interactions are key to making your posts go viral.

But it’s not just on social media where images are essential. They’re essential within your posts, too. Just as images increase engagement on social platforms, they’ll increase engagement on your blog. Set up a professional, colorful picture as the featured image (and make sure to include a thumbnail image that shows up in the snippets on your main page as well as in the search engine results) and you’ll successfully boost your credibility and engagement with viewers.

4. Not All Content Has to Be Written

As you’re putting your publishing schedule together, remember that viral content comes in all shapes and sizes — not just blog posts, but also GIFs, infographics, videos and more. In fact, a recent study of popular websites by Buzzsumo found something interesting: infographics topped the most-shared list (with an average of nearly 15,000 shares), while lists came in second. Videos also received quite a bit of attention, at nearly 5,000 shares apiece.

5. Length Matters

Size may not matter in other areas of your life, but when it comes to blog posts, it sure does. The same study by Buzzsumo found that longer blog posts were more widely shared across all social media platforms. Posts up to 1,000 words averaged nearly 5,000 shares across Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin, Google+ and Twitter. On the other end of the spectrum, super massive (3,000-10,000 words) posts got nearly 9,000 shares on average.

Keep in mind, however, that for some types of content, longer isn’t always better. Vine, for instance, is incredibly popular simply because people know that they’ll get valuable information or entertainment in just a few seconds. Looking at video analytics from Wistia, you’ll see that 80% of people sat through an entire video that was 30 seconds or less. That number drops as videos run longer — by the time you reach the 60-minute mark, fewer than 30% of people watch the video from start to finish.

6. Evoke Emotion

If you can convey genuine emotion in your content, then you’ll be miles ahead of a great many marketers. In fact, emotion is so powerful that it can be found in almost all viral content. Which emotions tend to go most viral? Here’s a quick breakdown of Buzzsumo’s findings:

  • 25% of the top 10,000 articles surveyed featured awe as an emotion
  • 17% of articles made people laugh
  • another 15% were amusing in some way
  • 14% evoked joy
  • 6% of the top viral posts made people angry

Emotion can be utilized in a variety of ways, so be sure to experiment until you find a balance that resonates with your audience.

7. Work Some URL Magic

It sounds odd, but URLs are critical to a post’s ability to go viral. First of all, Marketing Sherpa found that posts with short URLs receive 250% more clicks. But here’s the caveat: this doesn’t necessarily mean you should use link shorteners. Artificially shortened links are often associated with spam, especially on Twitter.

8. Make URLs Descriptive

The wonderful thing about URLs is that they can almost act like a second title for your content. Not only does this give you a chance to elaborate on what your post is about, but it also makes your content seem a lot more trustworthy. Think about it this way: Would you rather click on this:


Or this:


Descriptive URLs feel a lot less spammy, which makes users much more inclined to click.

9. Give Credit Where It’s Due

Industry influencers are incredibly important to making your content go viral, in part because it’s quite likely that some of their own content has gone viral. However, you can’t just name-drop the influencers you’re referencing. Instead, you’ll need to let them know that you’re mentioning them. Shareaholic calls this “egobaiting,” and it works — as long as you’re polite to the influencers you’re mentioning, that is.

Mention them in a nice way, let them know you mentioned them, and there’s a good chance that they’ll share your content on their broad social networks.

10. Speaking of Sharing…

Lots of marketers make one critical mistake, which is that they share their own content on social media but fail to ask their followers to share it, too. This is one of those cases of “ask and you shall receive.” A simple call to action (CTA) — even something like, “If you enjoyed these tips, make sure to share them with your friends!” — encourages your readers to do just that. In fact, simply including the word “share” in a closing CTA can double the number of interactions that people have with your content.

11. Make Sharing Easy

If you want lots of shares, then you need to make the sharing process super simple. There are many ways to do this, from obvious buttons at the top of your page to a share button included in your call to action. Another great way to include sharing buttons is to use a plugin that keeps the buttons to one side of the page as readers scroll up and down. Whatever you do, make sure that readers don’t need to hunt for the buttons as this will make them much less likely to share your content.

12. The Power of Numbers

You’d think years of math classes in school would have been enough to break us of our love of numbers, but that isn’t so. The fact is, people love statistics — the easier to tweet or recite, the better. But you already knew that! Here’s something you didn’t know.

People also love odd numbers. In 2014, Gilad Lotan studied list articles to determine what factors made them most effective. Turns out, list posts with an odd number of list items tend to perform much better than posts with even numbers. In fact, in his research, Lotan found that lists with 29 items fared by far the best.

13. Can Brackets Help Your Headlines? [Yes]

This is another odd but true fact. Hubspot found that headlines with brackets (specifically bracketed information that clarifies a post’s subject) have a 38% higher click-through rate than posts with no brackets. Cited examples include things like [infographic], , [interview] and so forth. The reasoning behind this phenomenon is that people like to know what they’re getting into before clicking, so this extra piece of information makes the decision to click that much easier.

14. Always Include Hashtags in Your Tweets

Social Media Examiner tells us that using hashtags doubles the engagement rate of your tweets, and the reason why is simple. Hashtags put your tweets in front of all the people searching for those particular hashtags. However, there is such a thing as too many hashtags. Research shows that if you use more than two hashtags, you’ll suffer a 17% drop in engagement.

15. Choose the Right Times to Publish

Viral content is often a matter of posting at the right time, in the right place. Fortunately, the right times and places are a well-researched subject.

According to Quicksprout, the right days and times differ from platform to platform. Facebook posts, for instance, perform best on Thursdays and Fridays between the hours of 1PM and 3PM — not coincidentally, also the times and days of the week when people are most looking forward to going home from work. Linkedin, which is more focused on B2B transactions, gets the most activity on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, particularly in the morning and late afternoon of those days.

This goes to show that for each social media platform you use, you’ll need to work out the best days and times during which your content is most likely to go viral.

As you can see, viral content isn’t so much about luck as it is about tactics. Make your content go viral with these tips — and don’t forget to share this post with your friends and followers!

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