Did you do the Ice Bucket Challenge?

That was a craze waaaayyyyy back in 2014. Millions of people posted videos of themselves having ice water dumped over their heads and then challenging a friend to do the same and to make a donation toward the research and eradication of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Even though the vast majority of the people who took the challenge did not make a donation, more than $220 million was raised and ALS rose to be the No. 5 disease searched for on Google in 2014. The average age of donors dropped, from 50 to 35, and donations for research have remained 25 percent above pre-Ice Bucket levels. Even better, the money raised actually helped make a major breakthrough.

That may be the best example of what going viral can do for your cause and your business, but there many other examples, big and small. “Help! My Brand Went Viral” details other great examples. One of my favorites was the song Dumb Ways to Die (also from 2014). This was a campaign by Metro Trains Melbourne urging people to be more aware around trains. I sang this for hours with my 15- and 12-year-olds. The song was downloaded more than 200 million times. More to the point, Metro reported a 21 percent reduction in railway accidents and near misses in wake of the campaign.

Neil Patel’s tips

Obviously, having your content go viral can bring thousands or millions of people to your website. That’s the goal of every marketer. If there were an exact formula on how to go viral, it would be out there. Neil Patel has some tips in his “How to Make Content Go Viral with these 6 Earned, Owned, and Paid Hacks“:

  1. Keep the content short. SEO tips call for longer content, but if you’re trying to go viral, you have to take advantage of the short attention spans of people on the web.
  2. Keep it visual. A number of blog posts or stories strike a fire on the web, but the vast majority are videos — even stories and blog posts that have visuals in them.
  3. Run a giveaway. People like deals. Enough said.

BuzzSumo

BuzzSumo looked specifically at blog posts, analyzing more than 100 million articles in 2017.  Its findings vary a bit from Patel’s:

  1. Longer articles receive more shares. The longer the better; articles of 3,000 to 10,000 words are being shared about twice as often as articles with fewer than 1,000 words. (As I’m typing this, I notice that I’m only at 413 words).
  2. Having at least one image in your post leads to more shares. In fact, having one image at least doubles its shareability on Facebook and Twitter.
  3. Be entertaining. BuzzSumo tracked the most shared articles and mapped them to an emotion (I’m a data nut, so this stuff fascinates me). Articles meant to evoke awe were 25 percent of the most shared. Next was laughter (17 percent), amusement (15 percent) and joy (14 percent). Interestingly, posts meant to anger were shared just 6 percent of the time.
  4. Be trivial. Eight of the 10 most shared articles in the time studied are quizzes. BuzzFeed lives off this stuff. If you have the coding know-how, get into the trivia game.
  5. More trivia. Infographics are the most shared types of content, followed by lists.
  6. Ten is the magic number. If you’re doing lists, keep it to 10. Lists with that many tips or answers was shared more than four times as many times. BuzzSumo’s list, of course, was 10 tips.
  7. Bylines are important. In the “Fake News” era, people are being trained to look for bylines. That means a real person is behind the post and it’s not just clickbait. Don’t be anonymous.
  8. Find influencers. If just one influential person (defined by BuzzSumo as someone whose tweets are retweeted on average two times) shares your content, it results in 31.8 percent more social shares. Instead of writing and searching for influencers, plan content around influencers and ask them if they’d like to be included. People tend to share articles in which they are included.
  9. If you have a piece of content that got good response, use it again. Don’ promote content once and move on. If it’s good stuff, promote it again and again on multiple channels.
  10. Days matter. Tuesday is the best day to publish content you want to go viral, followed by Thursday and Monday. Saturday and Sunday are, by far, the worst days.

(I’m up to 756 words)

Backlinko.com

This site broke down its research into 21 very specific tips. Follow as many of these as possible on each and every post.

  1. Use numbers. Headlines with numbers are 36 percent more likely to get clicks. I actually changed the headline of this post after reading the list.
  2. Use brackets in headlines. A headline with a [ … ] in it gets 38 percent more clicks. (Another adjustment to the headline)
  3. Use short URLs. Short URLs get 2.5 times more clicks.
  4. Use descriptive URLs. Microsoft found that trusted domains get 25 percent more clicks.
  5. Use a colorful image above the scroll. Xerox found that visuals make 80 percent more people read product guides.
  6. Put share buttons above the scroll. Google found that elements above the scroll are seen by 63 percent more people.
  7. Lead with short sentences. This goes to readability. If it’s difficult to digest, people won’t share with friends.
  8. Images add credibility. A Claremont Graduate University found that any image boosts credibility by 75 percent.
  9. Make text easy to scan. This goes back to readability.
  10. Be insanely practical. Dr. Jonah Berger found that highly-practical articles are 34 percent more likely to go viral.
  11. Use pro images. Sharp, in-focus, professional shots boost Facebook shares by 45 percent, according to Marketing Sherpa.
  12. Get emotional. The Marketing Research Journal found that content meant to evoke anger, surprise or awe is 28.6 percent more likely to go viral. (Note: Passed 1,000 words)
  13. Use infographics. From the BuzzSumo post above.
  14. Images increase shares. There’s a theme here. Skyword Research found that text content with at least one image generated 94 percent more views.
  15. Mention influencers. Link to influential people in posts and let them know about it. This goes back to BuzzSumo point No. 8.
  16. Ask people to share your post … and be specific. Hubspot found that personalized calls to action at the end of the post, such as “Share these weight-loss tips,” outperformed generic CTAs by 42 percent. (Note: Passed 1,000 words)
  17. Publish long content. Professor Dr. Jonah Berger found that longer posts — he suggested 2,000 words — are 52 percent more likely to be heavily shared.
  18. Always set a featured image. Back to the image point.
  19. SEO-tag copy. Make sure you create an SEO title and include the meta description. This will help maximize search engine traffic.
  20. Include hashtags. This is annoying but necessary. Dan Zarrella analyzed 1.2 million tweets and hashtags, which boosted retweets by 55 percent.
  21. Publish between 8 a.m. and noon. Shareaholic found that 27 percent of all social shares happen in the morning as people are revving up for the workday.

This next tip is from Thinker. If you’re a business and you follow these tips, be ready for when your site goes viral. Can your host handle the traffic? We can. (Total: 1,234 words)