Having started my blog just under two years ago, I've had several posts go viral – which, in this sense, means they had over 1,000 shares on social media. There could be plenty of reasons to why these articles got so much traffic, so I decided to take a look and see if I could replicate it. It took about dozen posts, but I slowly began to notice a pattern. I then decided I would share my findings with my readers since a lot of you are also bloggers or content creators.
While this article is about a travel blog, the same tips can be applied for any other form of writing or advertising.
If you want your post to go viral, you'll want to know who you're writing for. Before writing the article, you'll want to know who is already a faithful reader and who is following you on social media. For this example, I will use data from my website and social media from September 4th to November 13th, 2016.
For data collecting, Google Analytics is your best friend. Google Analytics narrows down the age, gender and location of your readers. I can see from Google Analytics that about a quarter of my traffic is coming from Regina, Saskatchewan (23.81%). I can also see that most of my readers are between the ages of 25 – 34 (38.18%) and are female (65.82%).
By examining this data, I can assume that articles such as "Top 10 Best Places for Christmas Shopping in Regina", "5 Romantic Dinner Destinations in Regina" or "Family Friendly Getaways Around Regina" will be popular.
I didn't know I could track the gender and age of my readers until recently. Had I known about this option, I would have turned on this feature much sooner.
Facebook Insights also offer the ability to see who is interacting with your Facebook page. It's important to remember that these are just people who like your Facebook page, and not those who are visiting or interacting with your website. I have a large Egyptian and Vietnamese following on Facebook, but my Google Analytics say I have a small Egyptian and Vietnamese readership. Facebook Insights also gives you an idea of what demographic is following your page, such as their age (again, mostly 25 – 34-year-olds) and gender (which is mostly male, contrary to my website traffic).
Twitter also has Audience Insights, which breaks down your followership. I can tell from their data the 25 – 34 age range is still my primary audience, but my genders are split even 50/50. Most of my followers are from the United States, with my second most popular country being Canada. Twitter also says I have a lot of readers from the United Kingdom. This would explain why the United Kingdom is so high on my Google Analytics reports even though I rarely write about the UK.
Pinterest Analytics show similar results, with the United States holding 55.69% of my audience, with Canada making up another 25.68%. My main Pinterest audience is also female, which isn't too surprising.
Instagram is also beginning their own Insights program, but its features are limited. It looks like the app will soon be able to tell us the gender and age range of the audience, but that data isn't available yet. However, I can see that most of my followers are from Canada and the United States. Naturally, the day after I wrote this, Instagram updated their Insights program. I can now see from the data that the majority of my followers are female, they are mostly between the ages of 25 - 34 and they live in either Canada or the United States. Nothing too surprising there but it validates what my other data is telling me. Instagram also tells me at what time my audience is most likely to be online to see my posts, which is helpful for scheduling them.
These numbers, locations, age ranges and gender percentages can help you target your content and will increase the chances of your post going viral.
I don't know where I heard the term "tribal marketing" from, but it's something I've been trying to incorporate into my articles for over a year. Tribal marketing solves the problem articles about places like Paris seem to have. Because Paris is such a popular destination, it has a constant stream of articles, opinions, posts and stories coming out of it. An article about Paris might be noticed right after being published, but will eventually be lost in the maelstrom of other material. Large companies like Expedia or Lonely Planet have already captured that market so your material won't have a chance to crawl up the search engine results (unless you're Nomadic Matt, of course).
This is where tribal marketing comes in. Your best bet to having a viral post is to cover something nobody else is talking about and then orientate it towards your readership. In my case, articles about Regina and Saskatchewan are popular because that's where my following is from. Due to the lack of content being created about Regina, I'm able to fill a hungry void of readers with new material. This can be said for smaller cities or towns too. For example, Patti Haus over at I Heart Regina told me her most popular article is about Wolseley and Ellisboro, Saskatchewan. This would make sense because there isn't much content being generated about those two communities (although you really should visit them!). With a decreased audience size, the possibility of the article reverberating around the community dramatically increases.
Instead of geographically based, this can be niche based too. If there is a unique niche you write for, you have a unique following that is hungry for some fresh content. Just be careful not to get too specific in your articles or you will eliminate much of your potential market.
Why are you reading this article right now? You're probably here to boost traffic to your site or you want to get a "one up" on your competition. Humans evolved to be competitive and we want to outdo each other. Any kernel of knowledge is worth having, and if somebody makes you question the value of these kernels, you'll want to know about it before somebody else.
This is why click-baity articles like "20 Reasons NOT to visit Italy"* do so well. Audiences believe Italy is beautiful so when their beliefs are questioned, they rush to find out where they went wrong. This same "knowledge doubting" technique is used in a lot of fake news stories that circulate around on social media (especially during elections, Mark!).
My article "100 Facts About Regina" was a social experiment to check if this "knowledge doubting" technique is true, and the explosion of traffic and shares validated it. People rushed in to learn about Regina and then rushed out to share it with their friends. The article also had some blatantly incorrect facts in it, and commenters found these and told me about them. This increased discussion expanded the number of people interacting with the article and thus promoted its growth. I don't encourage spreading mistruths in your articles as some of the comments can get rather (ahem) nasty, but it is a good way to drive discussion.
Another great example of this "knowledge doubting" technique can be seen in the popularity of my "Homage to the King in the Queen City" article for Tourism Regina. Few people know there is an Elvis Presley Museum in Regina, and even less know that it has been open for over a decade. While the shares on this article are slightly under 500, I can see that over 70,000 people heard about it due to one single unsponsored Facebook post. I don't have the exact numbers of visitors to this article, but I imagine it did extremely well.
Or, better yet, post a picture instead. Users on social media don't read titles, they just look at them. You have a split second to get your audience's attention before it is lost under cat pictures and Joe Biden memes.
Facebook knows the difference between different kinds of posts, and "weighs" them accordingly. Videos are the "lightest" and come up the most frequently on Facebook. Next are images your friends or family share, and the next are text-based posts. The heaviest of Facebook posts are links to outside websites. Every time a user clicks a link and are taken off Facebook, Facebook loses money. Facebook can't make money off advertisements and sponsored posts if their readers are on other sites, so they make links less likely to show up. However, if a company can't use Facebook to promote their product, they won't use it. This leads to a very delicate and ever changing balance on the weight of link posts.
Facebook's "Instant Articles" are an alternative to this, as they keep the user "in-app" to encourage users to return once they are done reading. It wouldn't be surprising if Facebook weights Instant Articles "lighter" than normal articles under the claim they are faster and use up less data than typical websites. If you can make your content into Instant Articles, you'll probably find a boost in traffic.
This advice applies to other social media platforms too. Your content will be quickly lost on Twitter and Instagram so it needs to stand out among the pandemonium, or it must be posted frequently. Thankfully, both social media networks have switched to non-chronological timelines so you can view a post from 2 hours ago without scrolling for over a millennium.
Pinterest is similar as your picture is what sells the article. Small landscape pictures won't do as well as large, portrait size pictures, so don't be afraid to blow up part of the landscape photo and put on top of it. Remember to keep the text short or part of the design because, once again, your audience isn't going to read it, they're just going to look at it.
The key to making a successful article is to have good content. You can have the best promotional team on the planet, but if your content is garbage, nobody will read it. It's been said before, but content truly is king.
However, not all content is important. You have 15 seconds to capture your audiences' attention and in that time frame they will either leave your website or scan the whole thing. Most users will scroll the site before it is even done loading, and then continue to scroll the complete length of the website, regardless of how long it is. They will take in the information they need, pause if it interests them and then carry on. You have a very small window to capture your audience's attention, and the best times to do it are at the top or at the bottom of the page.
A lot of people believe their content should be "above the fold" of the website, which is the first full screen a user sees. This has been proven time and time again to be incorrect. Users come to a website and immediately scroll down. If you put 90% of your content at the top of the page, you lose 90% of your content within the first 15 seconds. In a perfect world, you should spread the content evenly across the site, but you'll actually want to put about 40% of it at the top and bottom and 20% of it in the middle.
Clicktale's data tells us that users will immediately scroll down, will slow near the bottom and then finally stop. This start and stop is where you will want to put the bulk of your content as it's what the reader will see the most of. Imagine your article as a hamburger, and the bun is the first and last thing you taste, regardless of what's in the middle. If the bun is dry or hard or mushy or gross, you won't finish the hamburger, and nor will you finish a poorly started article.
If you want an post to go viral, you'll want to capitalize on these precious seconds. These few seconds are what can make or break your article and is what captures returning users.
(This is also why ads are often on the top or bottom of articles!)
If you want to know more about content below and above the fold, check out UX Myths's new article all about it.
Are these tips helpful? What would you add? Let me know in the comments below.
* I contributed to this piece, so that's why I'm cool with knocking it. You should check it out though!
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.