EXPOSED! Proven Science of Constructing the Perfect Piece of Viral Content

Everyone has heard the term viral, and all of us have seen some viral video firsthand at some point. We definitely know that there’s a lot of value to be had if our content goes viral and is viewed by vast numbers of people. Every type of content can go viral: images, videos, infographics, blog posts, etc. and every marketer knows that there’s a huge potential that exists with the internet, but creating viral content is not an easy thing to achieve.

Virality is an effect and not a product in itself, and it depends on a large number of people having an emotional reaction to that content.

It is nearly impossible to predict what content will go viral – there are many examples of great content that have gone viral and even more examples that have gone nowhere. You can engineer viral effect to a degree though; this is done by understanding several elements and factors that viral content has.

Most Viral types of Content

You would agree that is much easier to watch a 3-minute video than to read a 2,500-word article. Buzzsumo analysed over 100 million articles to gain more insight into underlying patterns that could contribute to virality.

Infographics lead the way, but in regards to blog content, list articles (or ‘listicles’) performed best overall by a large margin. This is followed by ‘why’ posts, ‘what’ posts, and ‘how to’ articles. So, you’d have the best shot of your article going viral if you wrote a list, or more specifically, a 10-item list.

According to the research, lists with 10 items received the most social shares (on average 10,621 social shares). In fact, 10-item lists had 4 times as many social shares than the 2nd most popular list number, which was 23-item lists. If you checked the most popular articles on Buzzfeed, you’d see that they are lists.

Average Shared by Content Type

Length of Content

The length of the article can be another big factor when determining the potential for virality. There’s a misconception that nobody will read long content, and that couldn’t be more wrong.

Long content is proven time and time again to get more shares, views, and backlinks.

3,000-10,000 words articles are a clear winner and it shows that the higher the word count, the more social shares it’ll get across all platforms, and the better the likelihood of that article going viral.

You should aim for at least 2,000 words per article if you want your content to get shared the most.

Average Shares by Content Length

Eliciting The Right Emotions

Next, you have to get the readers to feel certain emotions.

The study from Buzzsumo and OkDork showed which content got the most social shares based on the emotion it evoked:

Popular Emotions

If we take a look at the chart above, we see that the top 4 emotions that you should target are awe, laughter, amusement and joy. We can notice that they are primarily positive emotions. Laughter, amusement, and joy are emotions that good bring feelings and make people smile, while awe could be positive and negative.

We can also notice that negative emotions (like sadness or anger) don’t perform very well.


Images play a very large role in virality as people love visuals. Visuals make content come to life, and clearly bring home the point of the content.

Using images in your articles will dramatically increase the chance of getting shares, and skipping on images reduces those chances.

Check the graph below to see the impact of images:

Average Shares for Articles With or Without Images

Articles with at least one image highly outperform articles without images.

Usually the more visuals, the better. One image will, theoretically, double a number of shares, but more will probably do even better.

Author Byline

Byline briefly tells the readers who the author is. Research by Buzzsumo and OkDork found that byline is also a factor in producing virality:

Average Shares for Articles With Byline

Overall results showed that articles with a byline got more shares across social networks (except Facebook). Adding a byline increases the article’s credibility because it lets the readers know who the author is.

The lesson here is to add a byline to each article.

Posting at The Right Time

Another factor that you have to take into the account is the day of the week the article is posted.

Research has shown that the article is much more likely to go viral when is posted during the weekdays. The graph below shows that the best bets would be Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.

Total Shares by Day of Week

People are not sharing as much on the weekend, which makes sense since many people out and less likely to be spending that much time on the Internet.

Take Advantage of the Influencers

There’s massive potential for virality if you can get influencers to share your content.

Getting influencers to share your content is easier said than done, but if you can get 5 influencers to share your content, the results can be enormous. Even one influencer sharing your article will give you fantastic results.

According to Ogilvy & Mather, secondary influencers (those who share content that they received from other influencers) might be the key to achieving the high levels of virality and engagement. Large influencers give an initial boost, but the videos that had the most amount of views and engagement always received a push from second tier influencers. They basically give content lift and momentum.

You should always check the topic of content that some influencer is usually sharing, then base the topic of your article on that or similar subject.

Take Advantage of the Influencers

Planning Viral Content

Make no mistake, creating viral content is difficult, but usually, the most difficult step is the planning. Here are some suggested steps that will make the planning step easier.

Understand who your audience is

Spend a lot of time looking at your database to figure out what your typical audience have in common. This includes age, gender, income, geo-location, etc. There are some tools that can help you with this, so you might want to look into them.

You should understand the typical mindset of the audience, what they like the most, what they dislike, what they respond to and engage with the most. Social media platforms are great for doing this. Facebook Insights tool can show you which posts have been shared and engaged with the most, and you can check out a subsection of those people and check their profiles.

Create a written description of your typical reader

You want to have a specific person in mind to help you with the tone of the content and going into the right level of detail. Think of what would make them laugh or make them angry, what famous person’s do they admire and look up to, etc. The idea here is to know exactly what makes your audience tick. This will help you with having a clear idea of who you are creating content for.

Decide on the type of content and the best medium

Visually sensitive people respond well to animations, images, and infographics. Since older people have more time on their hands, long form content would probably work well. And in most cases, video could be used very effectively.

Actionable List for Creating Viral Content

1. Write articles

Research and surveys have shown that audience prefers articles instead of other forms of content. What this suggests is that you should focus on creating detailed, original, well-researched and in-depth articles instead of just tripling your article output. The audience is searching for articles with relevant data which will help them achieve some goal or solve a problem. If articles contain a lot of data, then breaking them into proper sections will make them more readable. Remember, the more words the better; 2,000 words is a minimum that you should shoot for and content between 3,000 and 10,000 words will receive the most engagement and shares.

2. Make listicles

Articles with lists are much better than ordinary articles if you want to make it go viral. People love them because they are presented in an easy to read form. On sites that use them, you can see that you can choose to read them as a list or a slideshow, and they contain information that is presented in interesting small chunks.

BuzzFeed is a prime example of listicles and how they can go viral:

BuzzFeed Community

The ideal length is 10 items, but lists with 16, 23, and 24 items work very well as well.

3. Create visual content

People love visual content. This includes pictures, animation, memes, videos, GIFs, infographics, and maps. Visual content captivates the audiences, and they are very flexible, so make sure to always use them to enhance your articles.

Why Visual Content

One image is a minimum and audience should respond favourably to more images, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

4. Feature interactive content

Interactive content will keep your audience on your website for longer. If your content was able to get their attraction, then the interactive content is more likely to make them check out something else on your website while they are there.

You can include things like games, quizzes, maps or videos, as they are guaranteed to keep the visitors entertained. Your chances of going viral will be increased if you come up with something that is very original and culturally relevant at that time.

The takeaway here is that people like to contribute, so give them a chance to do just that.

5. Provoke a response

The main ingredient of every viral piece of content is that is able to provoke a strong response and emotional reaction from the people reading it. Virality can possibly be understood through the emotional state of the viewer or reader, so you shouldn’t be playing it too safely. You’ll need to push the boundaries and give audience something very original in order to provoke high levels of arousal such as amusement, surprise, awe, anger, or anxiety.

Remember that content has more chance of going viral if is positive, and the key to sharing on social platforms is the level of arousal. So, the more they are aroused (preferably positively), the more chance there is that they’ll share that content. Don’t kill the vibe with negative themes. People also tend to share the content in expectation that it’ll raise their social standing, to help others and to generate reciprocity (to get something in return).

6. Teach your audience

We all know for practical tutorials and articles found on or WikiHow, but you can go with something shorter and punchy. If you show your audience how to do something they are really interested in, then you have a good shot at making your content go viral.

For example, people who are obsessed with food put pictures of their every meal on Instagram, they read recipes and lists and they watch videos that feature food. BuzzFeed has some great food videos that have millions of views on YouTube.

7. Make the best use of social media

Instead of focusing on just one or two social media channels, you should aim to promote your content on at least every major social media platform: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr. Other great places that bring millions of readers include Reddit, Digg, and StumbleUpon.


Benefits of a viral article or video are immense. You can instantly grow your social media following, get exposure, and get a huge volume of leads.

By understanding all of the key elements of a viral piece of content, you can plan a more effective strategy. You may not succeed right away, but if you follow the advice that we outlined in this article, your chances will be much higher, and the rewards are definitely worth it.