How To Create Viral Content

The reason I like this article, is that not only does the writer tell you what to do, he shows you samples of how to do it right and how not to do it. The main reason I dislike this post, is that you can’t really create viral content.

Content goes viral, or it does not.

You can do things to help content go viral, but you can’t just “create” viral content. Why do I say it like that? Because you don’t make content go viral, your readers/ fans/ subscribers make your content go viral by sharing it.

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One of the first lessons that newspaper journalists are taught is to structure their content so that the most important information is first, with the importance decreasing as you read through the piece. Pick up any newspaper around you and you’ll see that the first few sentences contain the most crucial elements of the event.

This not only creates impact, but also allows editors to simply snip off the bottom paragraph of a story if they need space for other articles. As the final paragraph is the least important, their editing does not affect the article too much. I’ve already shared how I personally became a much better writer (though I don’t rate myself that highly) and now I want to get into the specifics of how to create compelling content.

Your Headline

Your headline, in my opinion, is by far the most important element of your article or blog post. It of course matters what you say after the headline, but only if you can actually get people to read your article. The job of your headline is simply to get people to read the first sentence of your post.

Your headline doesn’t just need to be attractive to people who stop by your blog regularly. If you use Google Reader in a list format for example – like I do – then your headline determines whether myself or anyone else using the service will click on your listing to read the post. Similarly, if I see content posted on Facebook or retweeted on Twitter, that same headline will determine whether I click through to your website.

The following advice is my take on how to create a headline that draws your readers in and helps your content go viral.

Don’t tell me something I know: If your headline says something like “Why exercise is good for you” or “How to increase your feed subscribers” then I probably won’t read it. It gives me nothing but the expectation that I already know most of what the article is going to share. If you want someone to keep reading, you need them to feel like they’ll actually get value out of the time they’re going to spend doing so.

Headline example: Printer Cartridges Are Expensive

Challenge someones beliefs: One of my most popular posts on PluginID bore the title ‘Smoking is Good for you’. As everyone knows, there are many reasons why smoking is detrimental to your health, so this caused quite a stir and invoked the desire for people to continue reading. I followed up the title with a good twist in the article, which is important if you’re going to write your headline with such an angle.

If you write an article – with the content to back it up – which tells me why “running is bad for you”, “people don’t read blogs anymore” or “[common tactic] no longer works”, I’m going to read the post. Humans love taking in new information, but we hate holding on to information which is incorrect, so challenging beliefs can be a very powerful to get eyeballs on your content.

Headline example: Why Buying Another Printer is Cheaper Than Buying Ink

Offer a hidden insight: This one is very common in the internet marketing space, with titles offering ‘keys’, ’secrets’ and ‘crucial aspects’ about different topics. I’ve used them myself in posts like this one and my article on ‘The Secret to Growing Your Blog Twice as Fast with Half the Effort‘.

This works so well because the title suggests that by reading the article, we’ll learn something we wouldn’t have known otherwise. A year or two ago I did this for a popular topic – how to increase feed subscribers – but in a way that was new and promised value. The title was ‘How to Increase RSS Subscribers (One Method You Probably Don’t Know About)’. Are you more likely to read that article than an article with the same title, but without the brackets?

Headline example: The Real Reason Behind the High-Cost of Printer Cartridges

Ask a question: If the question you ask is relevant and intriguing, people are going to read your post to see why you feel a certain way about something. Headlines with questions are also one of the best ways to get people to leave comments on your posts. The question automatically gives them something to say in response.

Discussions start from questions, and this is a great way to get a conversation going in your community, especially if you make bold statements on a hot topic. There’s a great example of this kind of post at Copyblogger, where the author asks: Is Commenting on Blogs a Smart Traffic Strategy? [Link]

Headline example: Do You Know Why Printer Ink is so Expensive? We Reveal the Truth

I’ve received a lot of praise for the headlines I use in posts and I’ve been asked numerous times whether headline writing comes naturally to me. The answer is no, it doesn’t. I find inspiration from magazine covers, books, and other bloggers along with my own imagination. I also spend quite a lot of time on each title and it’s never something I just “throw out there.”

Keep these ideas in mind, and you’ll soon be writing headlines which capture the attention of your audience and help your content go viral.

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