Posted by randfish
Having content that goes viral can seem like the luck of the draw, but there are a number of steps you can take to improve your odds. In this week's Whiteboard Friday, we will show you a few things you can do to increase your chances of having that well crafted content spread through the internet like a wildfire. Thanks for watching and don't forget to leave your comments below.
Howdy SEOmoz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we're talking about how to give your content a better chance of going viral, and from virality, what I really mean here is not just getting links, which are obviously very helpful from an SEO perspective, but getting social shares, getting mentions on other blogs, getting talked about, getting emailed around. The virality of content determines how successful that content is going to be in the broader Web, in the scheme of all things that are inbound, not just SEO, not just social, not just community stuff, but overall. There are a few things that you can do that will significantly help your efforts to earn that content virality. So let's talk about a few of them.
Number one, the right format or the right UI or UX, user experience. What I'm talking about here is a lot of people think that they can take the same way that they produce content normally, keep on doing that, and sometimes that works, especially if you have a very, very clean site, maybe it's in a blog format and it's got nice width. It's not too hampered by advertising and surrounded by that kind of stuff. But oftentimes you will see that content can perform better when it's in a separate type of format. So let's say you've got a traditional page layout that has content section here but a big header up here and a top ad and a bottom ad and a bunch of sidebar stuff. And maybe you think, "You know what? I'm actually going to clean that up to something that has branding but minimal branding, got a great headline, got the content right in there, and that's the focus of the page." So the users who come to it can easily, above the fold, find the content that they're looking for, that there's compelling visuals.
These visuals are particularly important because both Google+ and Facebook, if you do any sharing on either of those platforms, remember that they'll automatically insert an image from the post, and oftentimes the user can select which image. If you've got a couple compelling images that look great when scaled down, that look great when you're going to share them on Facebook or on Google+ or that somebody else who is going to copy those images and put them on their site, oh man, much, much more successful.
Even if you have literally just a piece of writing, if you can have some sort of a visual element that is compelling, that's interesting, that draws in the reader, that's relevant, you're going to do much, much better. Flickr Creative Commons is great for this. Drawing your own stuff is great for this. Charts and graphs are great for this. Even licensing out someone to do a tiny amount of work for a few hundred dollars around building a visual for you, taking some of the data or some of the insight that you've learned that you're putting into that content can be really helpful to help it go more viral.
Then doing things like, you know, you've got to have the design look and feel professional. It has to be modern and updated. Clean is very, very good for getting that sharing principle. You can see this happen all the time with content that's shared on major media websites, where it's the print friendly version that gets emailed around, that makes its way around Twitter and around Google+ and Facebook and goes on LinkedIn. It's almost always the one that people will link to in a Reddit or a Hacker News or on Stumble Upon. Print friendly versions, just make that the default for content that you want to have virality.
Then finally I'd also be looking at the title friendliness itself, and the URL actually matters a lot now too. So if you've got a pre-existing CMS, when you go to bit.ly or you to goo.gl or whatever your URL shortener is, you might want to try something like this, getting the customized one. So for example, you'll see that when I have content that I like to share a lot, I might say for example, "Oh, let's make this content say inbound startups, and that'll be my slide share presentation." So now you don't have to remember some long URL. It's just bit.ly/inboundstartups, and that will take you right to my presentation here, that URL functions. Customizing this portion of the shared URL can be very helpful if you can't control it. If you can though, go with something easy, simple, short, not too many parameters in there. This will also help you. I might even, for some things, recommend dropping the slash articles or the slash blog and going just with /catchy-subject, whatever that subject line is. You 're going to shrink down the title so that it's easily understandable so if somebody ever sees that URL or hovers on it, they think, "Oh, that sounds interesting. I should click that link. That might be cool."
Number two, great, fantastic way to make sure that your content is going to at least perform decently on the Web is to get buy-in from your influencers, the influencers in a community, before, not after, not during, but before you ever publish it. So I'll give you a great example. I got an email last Friday from a guy in the search world and he said, "Hey Rand, my company, we produce this big report. We've got this cool infographic, lots of interesting data about stuff that's happening in the world. Would you take a look at this? Tell me what you think. Do you think your community would like it?" And I wrote back and said, "Yeah, I really love this. I think it's excellent. I don't even have any changes. I think this is going to do great, and I'd be happy to share it." This person didn't specifically ask me for a share and I think that's why. What they asked me for was feedback.
That feedback, coming from people who have a powerful forum, 6,000 RSS readers, 500 people following them on Google+, you can find these people. You probably already know about them in your niche or your sphere, who they are, the key bloggers, the key Twitter accounts, the key Google+ accounts, the key people on LinkedIn, the people who run popular websites, the influencers. Then you can essentially draw them back to whatever it is that's your content in here, and they will be much more likely to share if you ping them about it beforehand. They'll also give you feedback like, "I don't really think this is going to play well," or "If you did this, it'd be very interesting, but I don't see what you've done as particularly unique or valuable. I probably wouldn't share it." Or no response at all. If you get lots of those, you know that you're not hitting it out of the park with this content. You're going to have to do something else, try something else. That's great to know before you hit that publish button.
There's a bunch of things you can get from them. So if you're thinking, boy, I just can't get these people to share what I'm producing. I don't know what I can do, get them involved in the actual content itself. So rather than you writing an opinion blog post saying I like this particular thing and that particular thing, you can instead go and gather. Hey, can I solicit your review and opinion on a subject, and then I'm going to gather that from several experts and publish that. I'm going to run a survey of you and 20 other people who are influencers in the field about particular things, about some data from your sites, your projects, your experiences, your businesses, whatever it is, or your opinions on this matter. I'm going to interview you or do some lessons learned stuff. I shared a great link last week that was a bunch of video interviews of entrepreneurs, and this type of stuff performs tremendously well because all of those people who are involved in the project, from an interviewee perspective, they are all going to share it after it's produced because you write back to them and you say, "Hey, the interview is now live. The data is now live. The review is now live."
You can request input from their communities. For example, when SEOmoz does the SEO Industry Survey every two years, we always ask, hey, would you share this with your community so that we can get the input of people who read Search Engine Land or Search Engine Watch or SEO Book or Search Engine Journal, a variety of these places. HubSpot, etc.
If you can't directly reach out, you can always mention these people. So if you, for example, gather things that they've tweeted, said on their own blogs, you're getting quotes from them, you're getting data they've shared, you're using numbers from them, anything like that, you can say, "Oh, by the way, we mentioned you or we're going to be mentioning you in an upcoming piece, would you like to take a look at it and review and let us know if it's appropriate or okay, if this is accurate?" That process of interacting in an authentic way, both to confirm that you do have accurate data and that you're doing the right thing with them, gives them a buy-in to, "Oh, I'm going to go check out this article. Huh, this is interesting. Yeah, this looks great, thanks very much." Or, "Oh I have this little bit of feedback for you." Then when you publish, you can say, "Hey, we hit publish. It's now live. Thanks again for reviewing. If you would share with your community, that'd be great. Here's the shortened link or here's a tweet you could retweet." This kind of stuff works phenomenally well. This process of getting that early buy-in ahead of time is so powerful, and it just makes sure that the content does much better than it normally would.
The third and final thing that I'm going to mention here – topic, timing, and seeding. So this is essentially the process of figuring out what works best in your community, and that's from a topical perspective. Copyblogger has a lot of good posts about how to write a compelling headline and what's going to be popular right now. But I would think about it this way. If it's being mentioned in the news, so for example if I go to, let's say this is Google Insights or Google Trends or the news timeline, and I see mentions it is at the steady state point but has a spike here, this is where I want to be writing about that topic. Or maybe right after, when there's usually that second bump of people having a discussion about it. If you can, you might even want to catch it here, before it goes hot, and then you'll have a chance to appear in things like Google News and you'll have a chance to be mentioned in all the articles that talk about that subject thereafter. This is great for anytime you have a timely or trending type of topic.
You also want to, in addition to all these influencers you talk to, there are likely a few people, these are your buddies, your friends, people you connect with on a regular basis, you're emailing with them, you follow each other on Twitter. Do them a favor. Start sharing some of their content. When they tweet things, retweet them. Build up those relationships. Almost all of you probably have a few of those already. Leverage those. Email them in person and say, "Kenny, I know you've got a small Twitter account. It'd be awesome if you could share this. If you ever need the same favor from me, just ask." Almost always, especially if those are close relationships, personal relationships, you've hung out in a bar before, you've bought each other dinner, you know each other well, you're going to get that. I think that's a great way to leverage the real world social network for online social networks. Obviously, you have to be careful not to abuse this. You want to be sharing stuff that these people would ordinarily want to share and be interested in.
Then finally timing stuff. I can tell you for B2B content, Saturday and Sunday are just straight out. However, the reverse is true for Facebook, where the most sharing and the most time spent on Facebook happens on the weekends. Now, not surprisingly, that's not B2B Facebooking. That's personal Facebooking. So it better be the kind of stuff that's going to play well with your mom and your grandma and your brother and that kind of stuff. B2B, Tuesday through Thursday. Don't do Monday. Don't do Friday. With the exception of, it appears that some of the best content or most successful tweeting happens on Friday morning, sort of Thursday night going into Friday morning. That's when people seem to be tweeting and retweeting a lot of stuff. This is from some research from Dan Zarrella over at HubSpot. You can look into that. The timing of social media, I believe, is his presentation.
So don't necessarily take my word for it. Test, test, test. If you're sharing content and producing content on a regular basis, you will figure out the right times to share, who you can start seeding things with, who's reliable and helps you get that content out there, what topics work well, what sorts of headlines work well for your audience. It's going to be different for everyone. So don't just trust these. But do test and observe and watch your click through rates, using something like a bit.ly, watching your analytics, seeing what works when you share things and how long it takes for them to go and what sources indicate. Sometimes you're going to share with this one guy and he's going to populate it to tons of places. One of my favorite features for this is Google+'s ripples, where you can actually see, it's almost like this. It'll actually show you a timeline of this person shared and then these 13 other people shared and 1 of them produced 10 more shares. That stuff is very powerful, and you can observe it on the regular Web, on the rest of the Web, across platforms if you're carefully watching analytics or your bit.ly click throughs.
So hopefully, using this methodology, you can produce some content that has higher chances, better odds of going viral. I wish you luck. I hope to see lots of great stuff out there on the Web. Take care. We'll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday.
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