Lessons from Blog Posts that Went Viral

Lessons from Blog Posts that Went Viral

Do you know that a single viral blog post can make your website a hot property and create buzz around your personal or business brand very quickly.

So what makes a post go viral?

Let’s dissect some recent posts that captured readers’ attention and attracted loads of social media shares. Here a some examples and lessons from blog posts that went viral.

1. Positive content

Uplifting content gets shared more than you may believe. Practical advice that can help improve life skills is always in demand. There are countless posts that hand out tips on leading a happier and more fulfilling life. Some do it better than others and make readers care enough to share.

I discovered “30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself’” by Marc Chernoff first on StumbleUpon. The post has garnered over half a million likes, over 20,000 tweets and thousands of shares on other social media.

Lessons from Blog Posts that Went Viral

a. The enticing headline:

A post’s headline is a key viral driver. Unless it motivates readers’ enough, it won’t get clicks no matter how great your content may actually be. Negative headlines have been seen to convert better than positive titles. Readers can be skeptical of positive superlatives like ‘best’ and ‘most’, perceiving them to be cliché or an attempt at endorsement, and view negative ones like ‘worst’ or ‘never’ to be authentic and impartial. In this post, use of the negative word ‘stop’ makes readers pause and wonder if there’s something they’re doing that they shouldn’t.

Lessons from Blog Posts that Went Viral

b. The list

Time and again, studies and split-tests have shown that headlines containing numbered lists attract massive click-throughs.

c. Structure:

Online readers get put off by chunky paragraphs and scarce use of bold and italicized font. “30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself“’ presents 30 points in numbered list with no more than four lines under each. It’s easy to read and digest.

d. Actionable tips:

The post offers readers actionable advice that can be incorporated right away. Every tip tells you what to stop doing and what positive action to take. Some also have links to books on a similar topic for further reading.

2. Personal stories

A well-told first personal account of an experience and lessons learnt thereof adds authenticity and makes for an interesting read.

Consider a recent LinkedIn post ‘Why I won’t take your business card’ that was shared 281 times and elicited several comments and opinions (some from the top 1% of most viewed profiles on the network).

Lessons from Blog Posts that Went Viral

The post discusses the importance of building relationships over making an explicit sale at networking events through the lens of a marketing strategist who found herself in a similar situation.

While the honest narrative is compelling enough to encourage responses, the author ends her post by asking questions and soliciting comments. A simple “do you think……” or “I would love to hear your opinion on……” at the end of your blog post can nudge readers into leaving a comment. Even one or two comments encourage more people to comment, which in large part, can be attributed to the psychological phenomenon known as ‘social proof’, where we are influenced by and conform to others’ actions.

Lessons from Blog Posts that Went Viral

Another hugely shared (4,685 times on LinkedIn) post ‘Four Business Rules I Learnt in Kindergarten’ is an example of the author’s creative and playful approach to discussing a serious business topic. Attracting over 400 comments, the post struck a chord with readers for delivering simple yet valuable lessons we sometimes tend to oversee.  A black and white photograph accompanying the post gives it a warm picture book feel, and really sets it apart from other LinkedIn posts.

Lessons from Blog Posts that Went Viral

3. Make it intriguing

Explore ways to deliver useful content without sounding like thousands of other posts doling out tips and advice on the same topic.

A great example is ‘Marriage Isn’t for You’, which not only managed 10,000+ shares on Twitter and Facebook, but also landed the writer a book deal.

Two things work for the post:

  1. The interesting headline that instantly incites curiosity. There’s also more to the headline than meets the eye (a clever move by the writer), which lifts the value of the post.
  2. A refreshing and heart-warming take on marriage. Check out the post here.

Say you’re giving financial advice to entrepreneurs. A title such as ‘Here’s Why You Can’t be the Next Millionaire’ is a more intriguing title than ‘How to be a Millionaire’, which is pretty standard stuff for blogs in your niche.

Instead of saying what you should do to set the cash registers ringing, you can explain what you may be doing now that’s keeping you from being the next millionaire. ‘A Little Mistake that Cost me $7000 a Year’ is another click-worthy title and an interesting lesson on preventing financial mistakes.

If your title is a click-magnet, make sure your content sustains the curiosity created by it. Also remember that it may not be possible to drum up a captivating, click-worthy title for every post.

4. Capitalize on the most happening news events 

Readers tend to get behind blog posts surrounding buzzing news and major events they’re exposed to on news sites, in the papers and on their social media pages.

Oxfam GB timed their blog post on maternal health around the birth of Prince George, a hugely popular event that took the web by storm. The charity organization used Facebook to draw attention to their blog post and delivered the important message that every baby’s arrival into the world is a cause for celebration.

Lessons from Blog Posts that Went Viral

Use Google Trends, BuzzFeed, Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon and Reddit to stay on the pulse of trending news items. Explore possible ways of relating news stories to your niche. Lessons, opinions, potential consequences : there are many ways in which you can use viral news to grab readers’ attention and encourage shares. 

Finding blog post ideas

Blog posts with useful content keep readers coming back for more. You must keep posting new content on questions people are asking, topics they’re searching for, and discussions they’re having online.

Forums and discussion boards

It continuously supply blog post ideas. You’re sure to find issues and topics that may have escaped your radar. Don’t worry about the spelling, grammar and style of forum posts, they are bound to be very casual. Focus on what people want to know about and the kind of problems to which they’re soliciting advice from fellow forum members.

Identification of forum members occurs through user names and some forums also allow guests to comment. Naturally, discussions are honest and open. This gives you a chance to really get into people’s minds and understand their needs, problems, interests, fears and lifestyles.

For a quick forum search, type: allintitle: ‘keyword’ forum. If you’re a taxidermist, you can access over 7,000 relevant results as shown below.

Lessons from Blog Posts that Went Viral


It is an authoritative and popular Q&A social media site that can help you zero in on winning blog post ideas. Its early adopters were technology pundits, marketing gurus and entrepreneurs. As such, the content quality and credibility of the site ranks highly.

You can type a keyword to see questions related to your topic. You can also test if potential blog topics may generate interest and response from readers by posting questions and seeing if they’re answered.

Lessons from Blog Posts that Went Viral

Yahoo! Answers

It is another community-powered Q&A site covering 25 categories. You will not find as high a number of intellectually curious and elite members on the site in comparison to Quora. There is, however, no dearth of opinions, musings and personal experiences, which can spark off interesting blog post ideas.

Lessons from Blog Posts that Went Viral

Parting tips

Here are a few more tips to make your content move and be shared.

  • Analyze blog comments for ideas
  • To increase views, link to past and future posts
  • Post to Facebook, Twitter and Google+
  • Submit to Reddit, Digg, Delicious and StumbleUpon.

What about you? What content and headlines have you found to work? Look forward to your insights in the comments below.

Guest Author: Jessica Davis is a Content Strategist at Godot Media – a leading content marketing firms. She has years of experience helping businesses and individuals succeed through the use of great content. She also writes extensively on technology and social media related topics.

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  • http://www.GeeksPerHr.com GeeksPerHr.com

    Amazing tips.. will definitely be using them for my articles on how to outsource web projects, how to find reliable and qualified professional web developer that I have recently written on my website blog at GeeksPerHr.com


  • http://www.ferreemoney.com/ Neil Ferree

    You’re right Jeff, Quora is Gold so long as your commentary is factual and backed up with strong social empirical stats and/or case studies / white papers.

  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    These are solid tips for a viral post. My editor said this about a post going viral “It’s like a forest fire. If it’s soggy wet (no interest out there) it won’t catch. And if the trees are too far apart it won’t spread. BUT when it’s relevant AND you have overlapping audiences it goes BOOM!” I just had my first post go viral. It was originally posted on the Huffington Post and reposted on the Good Men Project. http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/7-choices-youll-regret-at-the-end-of-your-life-dg/

  • http://josephrathjen.wordpress.com/ Joseph E. Rathjen

    The one post that gets the most attention on my blog (dozens of hits each day) is the one about toilet paper mounting (http://wp.me/p3nLra-bk.) I think sometimes the odd and the unusual cause a “must click on” trigger in people that they can’t resist. If it’s strange, hits somewhere near home, and is debatable – you have a winner.

    All great tips!

  • http://lukeguy.com/ Luke Guy

    It’s hard to write post full of answers if you don’t know the question. That’s why it’s good to do the research! Great stuff

  • http://www.bloggingfromparadise.com/ Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Jessica,

    The headline really draws people in quickly, or turns them off. Loving these tips.

    I spend real time thinking through my headlines because the headlines make or break the post. You can create the most compelling story but if your headline doesn’t deliver you’ll turn off most readers, lose clicks, and lose traffic.

    If you craft an intriguing, fascinating headline so many more folks will click through to your article and read it.

    Of course you must follow up with a super helpful, practical article to back up the headline. On the whole, viral articles are epic. They really kick butt. But more than that, they go way above and beyond on the word count.

    I’m aiming for 2500 to 3000 words for each post these days because I know people want resource, not light filler.

    Thanks Jessica, this post rocks.

    Tweeting in a bit.


  • Daniel

    Nice post there. But is yahoo answers really still working?