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The Secret Sauce That Made These 7 Blog Posts Go Viral

Admit it 

You dream of going viral.

In fact, the thought of writing a post that blows up on social media is what motivates you to keep blogging.

After all, one viral blog post can turn an obscure blogger into an internet celebrity in a matter of days.

But how do you make it happen?

One way is to keep writing and hope that one day the viral gods decide it’s finally your turn.

Good luck with that.

An altogether smarter way is to look at posts that have already hit the big time, and see what they have that yours don’t.

If you want to discover the secret sauce that’ll send your writing through the roof, you need look no further than the following posts.

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This article is the real deal: aside from the fact that it has received over 1.8 million shares on Facebook, it has also been featured on The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, MailOnline, Cosmopolitan, MSN.com, Yahoo.com, The Matt Walsh Blog, Deseret News, Today.com, The Today SHOW, KSL News, TheBlaze, and Fox & Friends.

The post’s author, Seth Adam Smith, has made several appearances on national television and has even landed a book deal as a result of the popularity of his message.

If you’re one of the few remaining humans who haven’t read it, it’s essentially about how society has got marriage somewhat backwards – that if we were all a bit less selfish, we might have better marriages.

Why did this resonate with so many people? Let’s take a look.

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First of all, the post has a great title. It makes you curious.

You think, “What’s the deal with this guy?”

“Is he a commitment-phobe?”

“Is this just shameless clickbait?”

And maybe even 

“How dare he! Marriage is for everyone. What a selfish jerk!”

But then you click the headline anyway. Because it provoked a reaction and it got you thinking. Your curiosity demanded to be satisfied.

It Makes a Statement That Readers Want to Support

This is a biggie when it comes to hitting it big-time with a blog post, because the psychology of social sharing is pretty straightforward – if the content makes us look good, we’re much more likely to share it.

In this case, despite the provocative headline, the take-home message of the post is actually, “Marriage isn’t about you, it’s about giving of yourself to someone else.” And this acts as a strong motivator for social sharing. Sharing this post makes a clear and positive statement about the sharer.

Sharing the post is another way of saying to people: “I believe in unselfishness.” It’s also an easy way to give a gift – the gift of happiness – and giving makes us look generous.

Whatever the exact motivation, sharers perceived that the post would reflect well on them, so they shared it.

Want some of this secret sauce? Consider this question:

What could you create that might make those who shared it look good to their peers?

Viral Post #2: How to Crack a WiFi Network’s WEP Password With BackTrack

With 4.8 million shares, this post by Gina Trapani tops the list of the most viral posts ever published on the Lifehacker blog. It didn’t create the kind of media buzz the former post created, but it went viral for quite different reasons.

Gina’s post isn’t nearly as emotionally charged as the first example; it’s really just a tutorial. Sure, the fact that it’s about hacking into someone else’s WiFi connection could create a bit of controversy, but when comparing this to “Marriage Isn’t For You,” it’s not hard to guess which was the more newsworthy.

So how can two such different posts both get such incredible results? Well, this post simply had a very different (but equally effective) flavor of secret sauce.

It Tempts Us into Murky Waters

There’s something not entirely legitimate about cracking someone’s password, and most people are at least a little curious about activities that are ethically dubious.

Just reading this post could make some readers feel like cyber-bandits operating on the fringes of society, and that’s exciting.

Even if you don’t use the advice to get free Wifi, it’s kinda cool to know how, right? After all, you never know when you might need it, right?

Making readers feel a little rebellious is a great thing for your viral coefficient. People love to share insider tips like this one, especially when it makes them feel like they’re getting away with something that’s frowned upon, but not necessarily illegal.

Of course, when sharing they can take the moral high ground by implying, “Of course I’d never do this, but just in case you would, here’s the info.” But the point is that they still share.

Bottom line? People love to be the first to hear a secret, but the real fun starts when they can show that fact off to their friends.

It Solves an Interesting Problem (Before Anyone Else)

It really does pay to be the first person to solve (or highlight the solution to) a very specific problem. In this case, enough people wanted to crack WiFi passwords to get this post off to a good start.

And of course it helps to share your secret on a site that already has a huge audience. But not every post on Lifehacker (or any other big blog) goes viral, so the topic was the key.

Here’s where the secret sauce helps again. If you can solve a problem a big blog’s readers are desperate to solve (or didn’t even know could be solved), landing a post on that blog should be a breeze.

Want some of this secret sauce? Consider these questions:

What specific problem could you solve that no one else is addressing yet?

How can you make your readers feel like they’ve got the inside track on something (just a little bit) edgy?

Which blogs already attract the people who are most likely to share your idea?

Viral Post #3: Content Is King Myth: Debunked

Derek Halpern of Social Triggers cites this as one of his most popular posts, and it has attracted nearly 2,000 social shares. It contains some great lessons for bloggers, too.

When he published the post, “content is king” was (and still is, in fact) one of the biggest buzz phrases in the marketing community, so he cleverly piggybacked onto a conversation that was already happening.

In fact, Derek took advantage of several key “secret sauce” ingredients.

Here’s how 

It Puts the Cat Among the Pigeons

Derek deliberately took a controversial stance on a hot topic.

However, his post wasn’t just a shallow attempt at a contrarian view. Derek’s post stole the spotlight by using academic research to prove a contrasting point: that according to the study he cited, design actually wears the crown when it comes to building credibility.

Controversy always attracts attention, and when a controversial view turns out to have a solid basis, it’s a powerful cocktail for virality.

It Makes Sharers Look Like Thought Leaders

As we saw with our first viral example, blog posts get shared more when they make the sharer look good. This one provides a different way to look good: thought leadership.

By sharing a post like this, people are seen as being part of a thought leadership movement, and some of that cleverness reflects back on them.

So when someone publishes a piece that could make us look like we’ve got the inside scoop while our competitors are missing the boat, we’re pleased as punch to add it to our social calendars.

It Enables “Slipstream” Promotion

This post wasn’t written on a whim. Derek knew exactly what he was doing when picking his topic, and he already had one eye on how the final post would be promoted. He calls it the “drafting” technique and it’s based on a pretty great sports metaphor that explains how it worked.

In a bike race, competitors will often “draft,” or ride close behind or beside those they’re trying to beat, in a space called the “slipstream”. Aerodynamically, this gives them an advantage because it puts to use the momentum created by the person in front.

Similarly, Derek was strategic about his outreach when it came to promoting this post. He researched publishers who had written on the “content is king” subject and emailed them to let them know that he had found some research that proved a contrasting point.

In doing so, he was able to capitalize on the existing momentum of the subject matter. Pretty brilliant, right?

Want some of this secret sauce? Consider these questions:

What are people already talking about in your niche?

What new insight can you bring to the conversation?

How can you integrate the drafting technique into your promotion strategy?

Viral Post #4: Here’s a Quick Way to Get More Likes On Your Facebook Page

Rapidly approaching 3k social shares, this post by Scott Ayres from the PostPlanner blog is no slouch.

Like some of the other posts mentioned here, long-tail SEO (targeting longer, more specific search queries like “how to get more likes on my Facebook page”) has certainly contributed to its success.

However, this post has a few other great “secret sauce” ingredients that have sweetened the deal for its readers.

It Harnesses the Power of Visual Content

Infographics (the good ones, at least) get shared like crazy because people love visual content as an antidote to long blocks of text.

The attractive, professional-looking infographic which accompanies this post makes for the perfect addition to the social media queue for a massive and content-hungry audience: anyone who wants a little more attention on Facebook.

But while infographics can do well on social media, not all go viral. So what’s the difference between this and other infographics that were less successful?

In this case, a major contributor was likely the broad appeal. Almost anyone who’s active online, regardless of their niche, will be interested in building a larger Facebook following.

Though it’s true that niche-specific content can still go viral, in this case mass appeal coupled with great design definitely worked in PostPlanner’s favor.

It Promises to Be Quick

Nobody wants to waste their time.

We’ve all got cat videos to get back to, for heaven’s sakes!

The use of the word “quick” in the title of this post reassures potential readers that clicking won’t send them down a time-draining rabbit hole.

It essentially says, “Don’t worry, you’ll be back to your news feed momentarily.”

The pairing in the headline of “quick” with a strong benefit like “more Facebook likes” is a winning combination. Not only can the reader determine right away that by reading they’ll learn something of value, but they also determine that they’ll be able to learn it without losing too much time.

Want some of this secret sauce? Consider this question:

How can you assure your readers that they won’t have to sift through thousands of superfluous musings in order to get the solution you promise in your headline?

Viral Post #5: Color Psychology in Marketing

Julie Neidlinger, the author of this post published at CoSchedule, credits the opposite of “quick” for its success, noting that the site’s long, meaty, in-depth content has historically garnered many shares.

Furthermore, CoSchedule noted, “During the past year, this post has steadily grown (not waned) in traffic and shares, making it the #2 result for ‘color psychology marketing.’ That means that once you reach a tipping point, your momentum increases. Additionally, overall Pinterest traffic to the CoSchedule site is increasing (more than 15,000 pageviews) due to this post alone.”

It Fuses Ideas to Make a Unique Topic

This topic effectively combines color theory, psychology and marketing – three topics you wouldn’t normally expect to find together.

But the result is a highly distinctive post with great practical benefit, perfect for anyone who’s ever wondered, “What colors should I use in my design?”

The inclusion of psychology is a stroke of genius, too, because readers love the idea of using scientifically backed information to get better results.

It Dives Deep into Detail

Although its title doesn’t claim to be so, it’s likely that many sharers view this post to be an “ultimate guide” of sorts on the subject of color psychology in marketing. Something of a niche-y subject, color psychology makes for an interesting and valuable topic to cover.

Length alone, of course, isn’t enough to make a post great. This post sets itself apart by being chock-full of helpful insights, not fluff.

The post is really valuable not just because it’s long, but because it’s so clear and understandable.

This post will likely reign for some time as another writer would find it tough to beat.

Want some of this secret sauce? Consider these questions:

What unexpected combination of topics could you use in your next post?

What specific problem could you create an in-depth resource to solve?

Viral Post #6: 29 Life Lessons Learned in Traveling the World

Benny Lewis’ blog is pretty unassuming. To look at it, you might never guess that it has a  post whose share count blows even some of those mentioned here right out of the water, including more than 53k shares on Facebook alone!

What is it about his post that allowed him to make such an impact?

It Uses Videos to Heighten the Emotional Connection

Embedded video, when carefully chosen, can add virality to a post, helping us to engage on an emotional level. The more a post resonates with us emotionally, the more likely we are to share it. And there’s nothing like seeing a person on screen and hearing them speak to forge that emotional connection.

This post has three embedded videos, but only one was created by the author himself (which attracted over 250K views on YouTube). The others are just great videos that made sense with the subject matter, each with its own inherent value. Any video can help your post engage with more of the reader’s senses.

Was video the only thing that made readers connect with this post on an emotional level?

Definitely not. The 29 life lessons he outlines in the post certainly play a huge part in why the post went viral – who doesn’t want to learn more about life?

That said, the videos helped to lift what would otherwise have been a less interesting and engaging post. And arguably the main video is an even bigger viral success than the post itself.

It’s Not Afraid to Tell Readers What to Do

Another brilliant stroke that contributed to this post’s success was the fact that Benny specifically asks his readers to share his video on their Facebook walls.

He gives them crystal-clear instructions at the top of his post, instead of waiting until the end of the post, which many bloggers do.

It’s always wise to explain clearly the next step you want your reader to take, because the more readers have to guess, the less likely they are to take the action you desire.

Want some of this secret sauce? Consider these questions:

How can you help your readers have an emotional connection with your content?

Once they’ve made that connection, how can you more clearly guide them to the next step you want them to take?

Viral Post #7: Social Media Strategy in 8 Steps

This post by Jay Baer has been cited as one of the most successful posts on the Convince and Convert blog.

With 860 shares on Facebook, 578 on linkedin and 366 on Google+, this post must have some secret sauce, right?

Let’s see what it is.

It Makes Readers an Offer They Can’t Refuse

You’ll have heard a hundred times that headlines make all the difference. But in this case, was Jay’s headline particularly clever or sensational? Nope, not at all.

But it was straightforward.  And sometimes that’s all that matters.

Lots of people want an effective social media strategy. Some people’s jobs depend on being able to create one. This headline promises to lay it all out in just a few steps.

If the benefit is appealing enough, your headline doesn’t have to be showy, just clear.

It Leverages the Power of an Established Platform

Just as Benny’s post used a video to tap into a huge pre-existing audience (in his case, on YouTube), this post does the same with LinkedIn’s SlideShare platform.

In fact, many of Convince and Convert’s most popular posts have embedded SlideShare presentations, a fact that they feel is a major contributor to their success.

Repurposing your existing content for other platforms gives you the opportunity to draw in readers from a variety of locations, not to mention to appeal to a wider variety of content consumers.

Jay’s SlideShare presentation has over 400K views, and if even a small portion of those readers had enough interest to click through and read the original post, it would be well on its way to blog stardom.

It Shows That Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Unlike other posts on this list, this one is not epic in scale. In fact, it’s just 600 words in length.

In this case that works in its favor – this post is just about as “snackable” as they come. Each of the eight steps mentioned in the title only amounts to a paragraph of explanation.

Short-form posts can be successful simply because they’re easy to read, which means that readers are less likely to give up before they get to the meat of the post.

Conventional wisdom may encourage more long-form content, but experiment with both to see which is more popular with your audience.

Want some of this secret sauce? Consider these questions:

How can you make your readers a simple promise that they won’t be able to refuse?

How can you leverage the power of an existing platform to get across your message?

Do You Have What It Takes to Go Viral?

Going viral can seem like a distant dream.

But if you really want a chance to hit the big time, you need to stop dreaming and start doing something different.

So use these examples for inspiration and add some secret sauce to your next post.

Make it surprising. Or controversial. Or visually stunning.

Make it distinctive and engaging and impossible to resist.

And some day soon you’ll wake up and find that viral hit  wasn’t just a dream.

About the Author: Brittany Bullen owns NerdyGirl.co, a company that helps business owners find great freelancers (translation: she gets to geek out about marketing all day long). She specializes in saving people’s time, money and sanity by helping them do the best things first. Get her free graphic miniseries, “Do This, Not That: The Only Prescription for B2B Business Overwhelm” here.

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"Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever."
~ Napoleon Bonaparte

About Henry Lake

Over 16 years of Internet Marketing experience with focus on list building. Enjoy sharing ideas with other marketers.

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