How to Reverse-Engineer Viral Content to Drive Massive Traffic

by Today's Eggspert

Last updated on September 14th, 2017

Content marketing is arguably the best long-term strategy for marketing a business. Compared to traditional marketing, content marketing costs 62% less, but produces almost 3X as many leads.

By regularly publishing high-quality content that people appreciate and share, you’ll generate an abundance of inbound links, ascend Google’s rankings and cement yourself as an authority within your niche.

As wonderful as this sounds, executing an effective content marketing strategy is no easy task.

Most beginners use the “publish and pray” approach to content marketing – haphazardly posting articles they think will be awesome and hoping that their readers feel the same. The results of this approach are typically dismal and can dissuade people from pursuing content marketing as a long-term strategy.

As the legendary marketer and entrepreneur Seth Godin once said, “Great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.” Instead of taking stabs in the dark and hoping that your content gets attention, you’re better off doing research, examining the types of content that go viral and then reverse engineering your way to success.

Everyone has to start somewhere; even Neil Patel admits to publishing bad content when he first got started. However, when you have an in-depth understanding of your audience and can publish content that resonates – this becomes a real game changer.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel and deliver something completely original to get engagement. Often, the best content marketing successes come from figuring out what types of content are doing well in your niche, then delivering a unique or improved version on a similar subject.

Find Viral Content

In order to find out what type of articles are receiving engagement in your niche, BuzzSumo is the first place to visit. Load the tool, enter keywords which pertain to your niche and you’ll get a list of articles that are doing well.

Looking at the top results for “Camping” over the last year, you’ll notice the top 3 results are all highly informative, actionable and specific to the camping niche:

Buzzsumo Search

Instead of 14 camping ideas, why not create 20 or 30? Camping food is also a popular subject, so that’s something you can expand upon.

Interestingly, entrepreneur and blogger, Noah Kagan, reached out to the staff at BuzzSumo in order to discover what makes content go viral. He found that long form articles (3,000-10,000 words) get the most shares, list posts and how-to articles perform well, and getting an influencer to share your content can create a snowball of engagement.

Google Trends is another excellent tool for finding trending topics. If you’re marketing to a specific country, you can add this filter to your search to get more accurate results.

Google Trends can also show you how popular your keyword is over time – try to write about keywords that are currently ascending rather than declining. You’ll also get a list of terms that people are searching for which relate to your original keyword, and will help with idea generation.

Reddit is another useful resource, since it uses community voting to rank content. If there is a subreddit pertaining to your niche, I recommend examining the types of articles that get upvoted and look for patterns.

Even if a trending topic doesn’t relate to your niche, think of how you can bridge the gap and leverage it. For instance, a lot of articles have been published giving business lessons based on popular TV shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.

Trigger Emotions

Jonah Berger, in his highly recommended book, Contagious, emphasizes that emotion is a key driver in viral content. After analyzing over 7,000 articles posted in The Wall Street Journal, he concluded that the topics of the article didn’t impact virality, but the extremity of the emotion conveyed did.

For instance, articles that inspired awe would be shared more than articles that elicited contentment. This also works with negative emotions: articles that created anger were more shareable than those which elicited sadness.

When creating new content, consider whether your topic elicits high or low emotional arousal.

Rand Fishkin, CEO of Moz, is primarily known for discussing SEO and internet marketing. In a shocking 2014 post, he revealed that business struggles had severely affected his personal life, leading to depression

The post was emotive and pulled no punches, with curse words, honest admittances of failures and stories about the pain killing properties of marijuana truffles. By breaking through the gleeful, professional facade that we’re forced to uphold and discussing the very real issue of entrepreneurial depression, people related and shared the post far and wide.

Even if you’re in a mundane niche, there is always a way to elicit emotions.

For instance, kitchen blenders might not be the most emotionally arousing household device but by thinking outside the box, blender manufacturer, BlendTec, was able to generate millions of YouTube views. They published videos of peculiar objects being blended, such as a human skeleton, an iPhone and golf balls.

As a side note, BlendTec chooses what to blend based on trending topics.

In the 2010 World Cup, viewers around the world were appalled by the droning sounds of vuvuzelas played by the South African fans throughout every match. Unsurprisingly, a hilarious video of a vuvuzela being forced into a kitchen blender quickly went viral with over 2 million views.

Don’t be Afraid to Polarize

Steve Pavlina is one of the most popular personal development bloggers on the internet.

He has published outrageously polarizing articles such as: 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job, 10 Reasons You Should Never Have a Religion and Modern-Day Nazis (an article comparing industrial meat production to the Holocaust).

Knowing there are a lot of people in the world who work as employees, have religious beliefs and eat meat, Steve isn’t afraid of alienating people in order to communicate what’s true to him.

Because he’s willing to take a stand and receive scorn, he’s also able to create a core fanbase that strongly resonates with his values. This wouldn’t be possible if he tried to appeal to everyone.

The most viral figures in modern society, from politics to sport, are all polarizing to some degree.

UFC superstar Conor Mcgregor is a blatant example of this. With his flashy suits, preposterous self-confidence and disdainful attitude towards his opponents, it’s impossible to feel neutral about Conor Mcgregor – you either love him or hate him.

Whether you want to see him win or get humiliated in defeat, you’re going to buy the Pay Per View match, so he still benefits. After reading a series of vitriolic tweets from UFC fans, Conor smirked and replied, “I will wipe my tears with my money and carry on.”

Given that Conor Mcgregor is trending heavily at the moment, perhaps you can figure out a creative way to write about him in your content marketing efforts?

Improve and Conquer

Brian Dean, founder of Backlinko, pioneered “The Skyscraper Method.” This method entails finding viral content in your niche, creating a superior version and performing outreach to get backlinks.

After performing research in the SEO niche, he discovered that articles about Google’s ranking algorithm were generating a lot of engagement. Despite this, a lot of the articles were mediocre, incomplete or outdated.

This encouraged him to publish “Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List.” By providing the most comprehensive resource on the internet that answered a common dilemma, he was able to drive over 300,000 referral visitors to his site.

Brian emphasizes that good design increases the perceived value of a piece of content, which is why he invested in custom banners to accompany the article.

To take this a step further, 65% of people are visual learners – so it makes sense to use imagery wherever possible as an educational tool. Because images are so engaging, it’s no surprise that 74% of marketers use visual assets in their social media campaigns.

When everyone else is producing blog posts about a trending topic, you can outdo the competition by creating a beautifully designed, informative infographic about the subject.

With visual aids, infographics allow you to facilitate an understanding of a topic quickly and easily. They’re pleasant to look at and as Brian says, have a higher perceived value which enhances their shareability.

Immediately after Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, a well researched, elegantly designed infographic was published which chronicled his life and achievements. After being re-posted on Mashable, the infographic went viral and was shared extensively across the web.

If you’re going to publish an infographic, be sure to take your time with the design and research. Poorly constructed infographics can go viral for all the wrong reasons, which will do more harm to your brand than good.

While reputable agencies provide the safest option for infographic design, you can find some excellent designers on Upwork if you’re looking to cut costs. Just be sure to check out portfolios and read all reviews from previous clients before choosing a designer.

Can you think of any other tips for reverse-engineering viral content? Please let me know in the comments below.

About the Author: Aaron Agius is an experienced search, content and social marketer. He has worked with some of the world’s largest and most recognized brands, including IBM, Coca-Cola, Target and others, to build their online presence. See more from Aaron at Louder Online, his blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn

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  1. Purple Leaf Marketing says:
    July 31, 2017 at 7:04 am

    Content marketing is one of the best strategy for internet marketing. I use google trends for the topics. Buzz sumo is also very useful. Thanks for all the new techniques.

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