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Reader’s Question: What Makes a Blog Post Go Viral?

I received the following email from a reader in response to my previous post, Jonah Peretti, Founder of BuzzFeed—What Makes Something Go Viral?:

Hi Paul,

Stumbled on your blog via google. Pretty cool stuff you write about! I have a quick question about your article about stuff going viral! Have you found anything about how Blogs can make use of it? How would you go about it? Now that would be interesting to hear!

I am probably not the most qualified blogger to answer this question, but I will attempt to extrapolate an answer from my knowledge of viral media that I hope will be useful and insightful just the same.

Headlines and Visual Organization of the Post

There are several initial factors that affect whether or not a person decides to read a blog post. First, they see the headline and the reader determines whether or not it is interesting or relevant to them. After clicking, the reader does a quick scan of the entire visible post, perhaps subconsciously, and makes the evaluation whether it is worth them reading it. For most people, the decision to read web content comes at a certain cost. In order to read a blog post the reader must give up attention and time in a way that other media on the Internet doesn’t always require. For example, an online video summarizing current events can more easily be played in the background while the person performs some other task.

Paragraphs that appear long and dense are more intimidating to a potential reader. So, a blog post will fare better if it is well organized and spread into smaller easier-to-read chunks of information. It is important to note, that a post that seems to brief or deficient in information might also result in less readership as the reader might deem it useless. The content of a post should be about quality and not quantity.

Timing Matters, Effects Relevance and Visibility

A properly timed post can make a tremendous difference to its visibility. A post written about an event that just recently occurred is more likely to surface in Google search when it is the first one to be writing about the topic. People are also likely to be searching for it as well. Likewise, reviving a topic after discussion has died down can make a post more visible. There are also certain hours during the day when a person is more likely to be reading a blog. It is best to consult the results of any data you have collected from analytics for this.

Morning is the most popular time to read blogs

Link-Sharing among blog readers peaks around 7am

Images Courtesy of HubSpot

Design & Professional Appearance of the Blog

Aesthetics are responsible for many decisions regarding what to read. The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” exists because people do exactly that. A well-designed blog will result in greater readership and the opposite is true for one that is not visually appeasing.

Easily sharable

The easier you make it for you blog content to be shared on social networks, the more it will be shared. Including east Tweet, Facebook Like, +1, and other buttons for sharing on social networks will help with this. Viral media thrives in the social networking environment, so do your best to get it there.

Authority & Credibility of the Blogger

The author’s credibility and authority (or even the perception of credibility and authority) on the topic that he or she is writing about is a factor that can greatly impact whether a post will be read. If authority and credibility are lacking from the author, then a post’s information is less likely to be factual and reading it is more likely to be a waste of time and attention. However, authority and credibility are both things that can be built over time and less important than some of the other things affecting the viral nature of a blog post.

Content and Luck

The most important factor determining the viral potential for a blog post is going to be the content in any scenario. Good, high quality, original content will often be recognized. Once you have good content, it is up to the people do something with it, and much of this is left up to luck.

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  1. Your first points about headlines and scannable content are right on the mark. While a more dense post can be successful, it is far less likely to get passed around than well formatted and scannable post.

    Headlines are critical too, because your headline is the only basis somebody has to decide whether to continue reading further.

    I had one post that did quite well on StumbleUpon (42k views), and that was largely because it had an intriguing headline (Top 10 Easiest Ways to Boost Both Your Health and Your Happiness) and an easily scannable list format.

    • Wow. Mikey, It sounds like your blog post absolutely achieved viral success. 42k views through StumbleUpon is very impressive.

      Did you yourself submit your blog post to StumbleUpon initially? If so, were there any measures taken to optimized that? If so, do you think Categorization or Description writing played a significant role in this.

      Were there any other distinguishing factors that you think played a role in this post’s success particularly, or was it just the specific headings you chose? What exactly did you do differently that discerns this post from some of your others?

      Sorry to overload you questions, but curiosity stuck and I think my readers would be interested in the answers.