About a decade ago, when mentioning the word ‘viral’ people automatically thought widespread disease and plague, things that clearly needed to be avoided. These days though, practically everyone wants to go ‘viral’-- on the web that is. Viral hits in the form of videos, blogs and various other content have made superstars of small-town nobodies, shot quirky and entertaining characters straight to stardom, and of course, established mega-brands out of otherwise unknown start-ups and small companies. With brand supremacy and retail races getting more and more intertwined with the online world, the pressure to get ahead in terms of search engine optimisation and website development is constantly increasing, and viral content is becoming one of the top ways to reach success in these areas. Most people would attribute virality to luck, but as SEO expert Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz points out, there are ways to improve your odds, and have your brand, your content or your message spread like wildfire across the web.
Why Go Viral? Why NOT?
Going viral can have a lot of perks when done successfully. Aside from establishing brand supremacy and getting huge amounts of publicity, from an SEO perspective Fishkin states that going viral can not just get you links but also social shares which are growing significantly more important, mentions on other blogs as well as getting talked about and emailed around. It will also determine how successful content will be in the entire Web, not just in inbound, SEO or social but overall. There’s hardly any reason why you shouldn’t go viral, except maybe that it is quite tricky and risky. But you can avoid risks simply by following these few simple guidelines.
Viral Myth Busting
First, let us point out what viral content need not be. According to YouTube and Display head of media solutions Karen Stocks, the first mistake that people often make when embarking on viral-content making is trying to make it for everyone. Stocks says that some of the most successful videos on YouTube weren’t designed to please everyone, and attempting to do so would be an enormous feat as audiences, particularly on YouTube, are highly diverse. “Successful businesses understand they don’t need to connect with the whole YouTube audience,” writes Stocks, “you don’t need to create a video that has mass appeal. You need a video that has personal appeal to people you want to talk to and who are interested in what you have to say.”
Another myth Stocks wants to bust is the belief that content, particularly viral videos, need to be humorous and/or targeted towards younger audiences. On the contrary, Stocks notes that with the millions of visitors on YouTube (800million every month, to be exact), you can be guaranteed to reach your specific and desired audience in the form and style that most appeals to them, which may not necessarily produce heaps of “LOLs”. Lastly, Stocks states that viral content need not be professionally produced, especially when it comes to viral videos.
Going for Viral Gold
With the myths aside, it’s time to get acquainted with the steps that do lead to valuable virality:
- Aim for the Right Audience.
This is connected to what was mentioned earlier. Viral doesn’t immediately equate to being liked by everybody, it is above all else being liked, shared, etc. by your specific audience. If your company sells antiques, covering the latest trends would of course, be counterproductive. Your content should be consistent with your brand, your image, your product, but also be interesting enough for your specific audience to want to share endlessly with others.
- Get the Right Format.
This refers to user experience. Fishkin points out that a lot of times, people will stick to the same formats that may have produced mediocre results in the past, but this often leads to stagnation. Fishkin notes that content often performs better when placed in a separate and clean format, so try to make content as easy to access as possible (above the fold) and let it be the focus of the page. He adds that placing interesting, compelling and relevant visuals alongside written content can do wonders. These visuals can be anything from Flickr images to charts and graphs to your own drawings. Lastly, Fishkin suggests editing your URL to be shorter, more memorable and to the point of what your content is about. That way, people can remember it easily and when they see it or hover on it, they can easily understand what it’s about and click it should they find it interesting.
- Get Influencers Involved.
Getting influential people to share or have a say in your content really boosts credibility and also grabs the attention of the influencer’s followers, so if you can, get influencers involved. Influencers are usually people with the powerful forums, key bloggers who run popular sites and social networking accounts with thousands of readers and hundreds of followers. Fishkin states plenty of ways you could get them involved, such as asking them for their opinion or feedback on your content before sharing it to the world. This works in two ways: first, they are more likely to share your content on their own page this way and second, you get their vital feedback that enables you to better your content before publishing. You could also gather input from their communities, or mention them in posts, with their permission of course.
- Topic, Timing, Seeding.
Content that’s right in the thick of the most popular or trending topics are usually going to perform better, so make sure you time it properly. If you can, Fishkin notes, it would be better to catch news content before it gets hot so you get the opportunity to be featured in other sites covering the topic. In terms of timeliness, it is also best to share B2B content during the weekdays, particularly Tuesday to Thursday, and more personal, Facebook- suitable content on the weekends. Fishkin also suggests really nurturing your online relationships, so sharing content will be easy and genuine. Just make sure not to abuse these relationships, and to share only the content you think these people would be interested in.
Various topics work differently for various audiences at various times so test, test, test. Fishkin suggests watching your click-through rates and analytics for this. Eventually, you’ll get the hang of who you should be making content for, which content works best, with whom to share it and when to publish it to achieve optimum virality.