10 Things Your Content Must Have to Go Viral

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Everyone in the content marketing game strives for their content to “go viral.” Such an achievement comes with tons of visibility in new circles, and an improved reputation for having created the piece in the first place.

But getting a piece of content to go viral isn’t a simple matter. There’s no set of qualities or criteria that can make your post a guaranteed viral hit, but there are some features that most viral pieces have in common. I’ve assembled those qualities into this question-based checklist, so you can evaluate any piece of content you produce to see its chances of going viral.

Is it unique?

First things first — is your content unique? People are only going to pay attention to your content if it’s something they haven’t seen a million times before. Publishing the 1,000th article on how to change the oil in a car might get your site a few click-throughs, but it has very little chance of circulating virally.To check this, run a quick search for your topic and see what kind of results come up. Your topic doesn’t have to be entirely novel, but it should at least take a unique view or perspective on the matter.

Is it useful?

According to Social Triggers, some of the most popular viral content pieces are ones that offer practical information. Why? Part of the reason is that people like to be helpful to their friends and family; when they find a tip that makes their lives easier or more effective in some way, they’re compelled to distribute that information. Instructions, life hacks, and highly informative guides all fall into this category.

Does it evoke some strong emotion?

Many studies, including one popularized by the New York Times, indicate that one major secret to accruing lots of shares is a strong emotional connection to a piece — and there’s a lot of wiggle room for that emotion. Strong emotions need to be expressed, which encourages sharing; for example, when we laugh, we want to tell others about the joke. When we’re outraged, we want to commiserate with people likely to feel the same. Emotionally charged pieces, therefore, perform better.

Does it carry some positivity?

However, you’ll also need to be careful with your readers’ emotions. According to Scientific American, articles with a more positive angle tend to be shared more frequently than those with a negative angle. Sometimes, even a small adjustment to the wording of a headline can be enough to make this shift, so make sure your content has some kind of positive angle or outlook (even if your subject matter is dark).

Is it surprising?

People love to be surprised by their content — regardless of that surprise’s nature. For example, the subject of your piece could be the revelation of some shocking statistic, or you could surprise your audience by arguing against some common opinion. Taking users by surprise leaves them vulnerable, and makes them want to share that surprise with others.

Is it easily and quickly consumable?

If you want people to read and share your content, you need to make it easy for them to consume. Keep your vocabulary at a reasonable reading level, and split your piece into digestible, well-labeled sections. You should also organize your content into lists and bullet points to help guide your readers’ eyes throughout the piece.

Is the title powerful and catchy?

Unfortunately, not all of the people who come across your article are going to click through and read it — but they might still share it if your headline is powerful and catchy enough. Try to make a bold statement with your headline if you can, briefly summarizing your piece. Don’t give everything away up front (or you’ll lose click-throughs), but give people the confidence that they know what they’re sharing. It’s a good way to rack up some extra shares and visibility.

Does your content have a visual appeal?

It’s no secret that content marketing has evolved to favor content with images and video. The strongest human sense is vision, so we’re naturally more attracted to content that engages that sense. Viral content doesn’t have to be in infographic or video form, but it should contain at least a handful of visual representations, such as heading images or illustrations throughout the piece.

Are you giving it an initial boost?

Even the best content in the world can’t go viral all by itself, and even if you enjoy a healthy regular readership, your readers can only take your article so far. If you want to increase your chances of getting results, you need to give your article an initial push, syndicating it through your social media platforms, asking your friends and coworkers to share the piece, and perhaps even dabbling in paid advertising. Start getting more eyes on it immediately.

Do you feel lucky?

This is the unfortunate but realistic last item on the checklist, serving as a reminder that no matter how polished your content is, how appealing it is, and how closely you follow the guidelines for typically successful “viral content,” there’s no guarantee of achieving virality. Even with everything else in place, your piece will still only go viral if you have a bit of luck in your corner. Still, the more effort you put into your work, and the better you understand the science of sharing, the more successful you’ll be in the content game — even if you don’t get millions of shares.

CEO of EmailAnalytics (emailanalytics.com), a productivity tool that visualizes team email activity, and measures email response time. Check out the free trial!