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The Often Forgotten Viral Content Marketing Tactic

Viral content marketing

It was a grey, cold and dreary day when I flew into London. It had been a long flight. I was tired and needed to shower because 20 hours of plane travel was pushing the boundaries for other humans within adjacent nostril range!

But I needed to check traffic and approve comments on my blog, as a blogger’s journey requires keeping up with the daily tasks, habits and rituals of online publishing. Being always on in a connected 24/7 world is often relentless.

It was a surprise to find when I checked my traffic that the blog post I had published 24 hours earlier had “gone”viral”. The article was titled, “30 Things You Should Not Share On Social Media“. It received over 122,000 views, was retweeted over 6,000 times and was shared on Facebook over 3,500 times.

A week later I posted it’s positive alternative, “20 Things you Should Share on Social Media“. The question in the back of my mind was…”would it receive the same viral traffic?”

The simple analysis after posting revealed that the positive version received only 16,000 views. Good but not great. And there lies a lesson that I have not forgotten.

Negative headlines work!

That was my first experience of viral content on my blog.

So what is viral content marketing?

Viral content marketing is often seen as “the” Holy Grail for marketers. It’s exciting as the views go into the millions as it’s shared on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Often it’s velocity is accelerated as it gets picked up by the mass media channels and mentioned on the news and talk shows.

It’s content marketing on steroids.

The term “viral” stems from the concept of an idea (content) infecting a user who then spreads it to another. The social web makes this process easier than ever before with sharing buttons now being ever present on blogs, articles and content.

Exploding viral content has some common characteristics that often are the driving forces behind capturing global attention online at speed. This doesn’t mean that they always include all these elements but they do need the combined synergy of multiple channels to supercharge the online sharing.

Here are some of the key elements for fast viral content.

  • Humorous
  • Surprising
  • Short
  • Attracts mass media attention
  • Picked up by online influencers with large social networks
  • A YouTube Video or an image that can be quickly viewed and shared

One example is the Ellen DeGeneres “selfie” taken at the Oscars.

Viral content marketing

But populist viral mythology says that success should be all about “fast” viral.  It’s considered a “home run” where you hit it out of the park! That reality is that the fast viral event almost never happens and if it does it’s more good luck than good management. It’s rare.

But there is another type of viral traffic it’s called “slow viral”. Viral content marketing can be successful even if it spreads more slowly. It’s also easier to predict its success but it takes time and effort to execute.

What is slow viral content?

Slow viral content is often forgotten. It not as exciting as the “selfies” and the viral YouTube videos phenomenons.

It is typically characterised by some of these elements.

  • Long form – Typically 1,000 words plus (and often is 2,000-3,000 words in length)
  • Evergreen content – It doesn’t date very easily and is often relevant years after it is published. It has endurance.
  • Educational – It often is an in depth guide
  • Include a large numbers of tips in a list format

One example is a blog post I created..It was titled “The Ultimate Guide on How to Get More Blog Traffic“. It’s not 1,000 or even 2,000 words but over 3,000 words in length.

Slow Viral Content Marketing

Some of the bloggers that include this type of content on a regular basis include:

Take the time to look at this type of slow burning viral content and how it is done.

Why is this content important?

So why should you be creating this type of content? Here are some tips and insights into why.

  • It builds inbound links organically as people link from their websites and blogs to the “resource”. Shorter posts typically aren’t linked to as much but are read, discarded and forgotten
  • It positions you as an authority. An in depth article tells your reader you know what you are talking about
  • It builds online trust and credibility
  • It can help position your brand as the “go to portal” for your industry and niche
  • It improves long tail and SEO performance. Long tail search results are phrases that don’t have large keyword search volume but they are easier to rank high because there is less competition.

So what evidence is there for long form content performance for ranking high in search engines?

Serpiq.com decided to do some analysis on the top 10 search results for the top twenty thousand keywords and phrases. It showed that the average content length for the top 10 results (page one on Google) was at least 2,000 words.

Long form viral content marketing

So just putting out 500-700 word articles all the time is not going to be an optimal tactic. Long form content is something that you will need to seriously consider in your viral content marketing strategy.

So what about you?

Are you just writing 500-700 word posts all the time. Do you need to consider creating some in depth articles that are so valuable that people want to link to your blog? Want to rank high on search engines and keep getting clicks to your blog?

Look forward to your feedback and insights in the comments below.


It’s easier than you think!

Jeffbullas's Blog


  • Hi Jeff,

    Do the rules of blogging apply to all blogs? I have a personal funny blog about my experiences with Wilson’s disease, which has left me unable to walk and talk. Up until the year 2010 I was wheelchair bound but through determination I was able to start walking with a walker. So my blog has a special message…

    But I honestly cannot see it going viral… I’ve been following your work and have often wondered whether your principles only apply to blogs that offer goods and services or to all blogs in general.


    • Thanks for the comment and question Dahlia and your story is inspiring!
      In regards to viral content the principles remain the same whether you are selling products and services or just creating content for fun and fame 🙂

  • David Graham

    Great article as always Jeff. Would you agree that it is way easier to go viral if you already have ten of thousands of loyal subscribers to your blog and you are already seen as a thought leader? To produce blog posts that go viral requires a multitude of skills which most individuals do not have. Two examples is knowing how to write well and understanding SEO. What advice would you give to these individuals who may be specialists in their fields?

    • Thanks David.
      Learn to write well by constant practice and build the biggest distribution for your content on social media and email….and persist!!

  • Franka Baly

    Really great article Jeff. I tend to write longer blog articles and was worried that I needed to make them shorter. My content is focuses on empowerment and helping my small but growing audience to understand the importance of self-care, mindfulness and self-love. My style of writing isn’t particularly funny. Not sure, since I am not a celebrity, if my articles will ever go viral with such topics but I thank you for encouraging me to keep going.

  • So glad I found this post Jeff. I tend to be long-winded when I write and have been wondering about optimal post length. Based on the stats you shared here, I’ll keep the words flowing.

    I also must say that I know about the power of negative headlines…but wish it wasn’t so. It’s the same mentality that causes people to tune in to the television to watch replay after replay of a tragedy, yet they won’t take the same amount of time to watch something inspiring or uplifting. I wonder if it was different before media overkill, or was the negative headlines always more magnetic?

    In all my years practicing psychotherapy, I worked hard to focus on using positives to incite change with clients. Yet it remained obvious that people took quicker action to avoid pain than they did to approach pleasure. There’s something sad about that fact.

    • Thanks for the comment and insights. I tend to emphasize the positive but sometimes you need to attract attention with a negative headline that then illustrates the positive within the article.

  • Content should be published or mentioned in as many places as possible. Engagement quite often happens on social but the buying happens on websites blogs and email.

    • David Graham

      Our conversions (requests for meetings or proposals) generally happens on our opted-in email channel. Thanks for the clarification and feedback Jeff. What I like about you is that even though you have thousands of followers and subscribers you take the time to respond and interact. I have noted a few people who are to “busy” to reply.

  • Christopher Watkins

    Bless you for registering a voice in defense of longer-form prose! While I certainly appreciate the value of, and need for, short-form, I find the distinct lack of balance in content space both unnerving and unnecessary, and I think the voices continually agitating in favor of truncation are often being quite irresponsible with their pronouncements. Again, I believe in balance, and a healthy mix of short and long will inevitably result in the most long-lasting and meaningful traction. Thank you for this post, and for supporting your stance with tangible results, and evidence both anecdotal and statistical! Cheers, will be a pleasure to share this …


    Christopher Watkins
    Social Media Manager

    • Thanks Christopher and glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  • Lily154

    Speed is so prized in our culture. It’s nice to know that there is still a place for long-form content. I had a piece about a really boring question that went viral over several weeks. It continues to get shares b/c it is a question many homeowners wonder about at least once in their life.

  • Interesting article. I make it a habit to write articles that are on average between 750 to 1500 words. Sometimes, I even have a few articles that are about 2500 words at least. I think readers are in a hurry and sometimes long articles may not get read right away, but you have given me some insight to start writing longer articles for >>endurance << purposes. I would think that having organic traffic for a life time is better than having high one day ppc rate. Thanks again!

  • Honestly, we didn’t think about how negative headlines work very well as a viral content. While we can’t deny the fact that shorter posts are preferable and more viral than longer ones, we still believe that both offers can turn viral. It just depends on our creative content strategy. We can make short content posts viral as long as all of the valuable information is not compromised. Meaning, all of the information that the customers/readers want is there. Or we can make a very long content viral through story-telling and through funny stories or any method really, where readers get very comfortable in reading our content, which contains valuable information, that they will not notice that they’ve been reading the story for quite a while already.