I know, there’re plenty of “growth hackers” out there and every one of them has their own definition of what a viral articleis . I’m so much better. Surely, I have my own!

There are three crucial components that every viral article should have: traffic bumps, real shares & direct traffic signature. In case even one is missing, the article not viral. Let me explain why.

Component #1: Traffic Bumps

No, not these…

If your blog has 100,000 daily visitors and your article was read 100,000 times, this is not a viral article. [I’m talking to you, neo-BuzzFeed.]

Your traffic would sill remain regular:

However, when your blog has 1,000 daily views and the article brings in 100,000, you’re starting to see these bumps:

This is the first mark of a viral article. However, bumps alone may appear through many scenarios. So, to the next component…

Component #2: Real Shares

Shares can be misleading. Here’s a thing: if you buy a paid Facebook promotion and people like your post in their feed, it counts as shares. Take a look at this share counter:

You look at this and think: wow, this post was shared 709 times on Facebook. In reality, 709 Facebook users simply liked the Facebook ad with the post in it. Maybe they liked the title picture, maybe they liked the company, who knows. What’s important is that people didn’t share the post in their feed, they only “liked” it. Those are fake shares. Only 18 people actually came from Facebook to read the post:

You want real shares. And real shares for viral posts usually come from multiple sources as people use their preferred medium to spread the word. One of the ways to check if the shares are real is to use a 3rd party application, like Ahrefs. Here are the stats for the article with a potential viral signature:

By the way, Reddit shares are calculated directly from Reddit, so it’s harder to fake those.

Component #3: Traffic signature

If your article ends up being featured by a large publication, a popular newsletter or a digest, there will be a traffic bump, and there will be some shares. However, the traffic diagram would look like this:

Here, direct traffic makes only 28% of the overall traffic, and the rest is from various publications (green, red, yellow on the image) that featured the article. That means that most people found out about the article from these publications, and not friends who shared the article with them.

When the article goes viral, most people learn about the article not from publications. Indeed, the learn about it from their inner circle: frineds, colleagues, peers. They share your article through messengers, emails, comments & word of mouth. That means that direct traffic, the “grey” traffic, and traffic from social media will provide much more views than visits from publications:

Here are the stats from one of my recent “buzz” articles. Notice that direct traffic was x15 of the feature in popular DesignerNews publication.

Going Viral: Is It Possible to Engineer Virality?

At some point, I was obsessed with virality. I read all the books about viral marketing Amazon could recommend me, and then all the blog posts that had “viral” in their title. Except for pandemic reports.

To save you some time, this is the only book I found somewhat practical – Contagious.

It offers STEPPS framework that consists of 6 elements:

  • Social currency
  • Triggers
  • Emotion
  • Public
  • Practical Value
  • Stories

Engrained in your writing, these elements highly increase the likelihood of your content being shared & going viral

So I started to experiment with viral articles. A lot. Below is the chronicle depiction of my efforts directly from Google Analytics:

Each bump on the traffic graph is a successful article and they all had a viral signature, including traffic bumps, real shares and a lot of direct traffic.

I consider each one of them a success, bringing on average 20,000 to 40,000 views when my client’s blog had around 300 daily visitors. Some of the articles amazed me in unexpected ways.

One article in particular [#1] ended up being shared more than 3,000 times, featured on the front page of HackerNews for 12 hours and later featured on Entrepreneur.com.  It amassed over 100,000 views from all the platforms where it was published & republished. For a few days the twitter feed looked like this:

Preparing content with a viral potential is a darn hard task and it requires a lot of preparation and research.

Better yet, you can’t engineer virality with 100% certainty. And you shouldn’t believe anyone who claims to do so right away. What you can do, however, is to dramatically increase the chances that one of your articles goes viral.

A few tips:

  • engrain STEPPS elements in all of your writing
  • learn to frame every [even bad] experience as something valuable (#1 article started with a failure of one of my client’s that was framed as a valuable lesson)
  • add humor (humor is one of the most conducive emotion that in understood by every living human on this planet, except, maybe, for ‘Jack and Jill’ writers)
  • track your performance – use Google Analytics, Ahrefs and other analytical tools to track your results. I even used heat maps at some point to learn where do people clicked the most when they read the articles

Even if it doesn’t go viral, you will dramatically increase its sharing potential, overall views, and features. Try to implement these tips to any content you publish on your website.

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Write me at hi@anburm.com