Top 3 Qualities of Viral Posts

What does it mean for a post to go viral? A viral post or video is one that becomes wildly popular through Internet sharing, usually through social media, websites, and email. The number of shares are extremely high as compared to average blog traffic, which varies by blog. There are even sites dedicated to trending information.

 PSY’s gangnam style – definitely viral

This week’s activities sent me exploring to find out characteristics of blog posts that make them go viral. I learned that:


1. Viral posts have unique and compelling headlines.


“You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake.” – Fight Club. But, your headlines can be special, beautiful and unique.

Headlines serve as your first impression on a prospective reader. If they fail to grab your reader’s attention, your content, no matter how awesome, is meaningless. According to, 80% of people will read the headline, but only 20% will read the rest of the article. Similarly, the American Press Institute reported in March 2014 that only 40% of Americans will read past the headline of a news article, although the Washington Post noted that this may be an overestimation due to information bias.

To write a grabbing headline, consider using

  • Numbers (“50 Ways to Love Your Quinoa”)
  • Alliteration (“How Music May Make Babies Team Players”)
  • Controversy and strong language (“Can Exercise Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk?”, “Alcohol Remains a Leading Killer”)

(These examples were accessed today, Tuesday, July 8, 2014, from New York Times’ blogs.)


And this example from New Yorker Magazine’s blog just about has it all: “The Six Things That Make Stories Go Viral Will Amaze, And Maybe Infuriate, You.”


2. Viral posts deliver consistent quality content.

quality henry ford

Consistent and dependable content build reader rapport as well as author credibility. People want to share and circulate stories that are useful and enhance their well-being. They are more likely to share your posts if they trust you and view you as a professional authority in the topic. Writing in a niche area can help with this, and it will allow you to better direct your writing to your target audience. Be an expert in a space that is currently unfilled, and offer exclusive stories from your expertise that cannot be found anywhere else. Comments to questions posed at the end of your post can help continue the discussion, and also provide a place for linkbacks.


3. Viral posts are visually appealing.

Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group reported that “On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.” Utilizing web design and visual aids like infographics, videos, graphs, and images can help streamline information delivery. Lists can be helpful as they are easy to skim, but be sure to provide explanations. Callout boxes highlight featured text; keep these brief.


Extra Credit: Viral posts are SEO Friendly.

search engine marketing

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, allows a post to be visible to engines “naturally” using unpaid or “organic” search methods. The earlier and more frequently the post shows up in the search results list, the more likely users will visit that site. Making your blog post more search-engine friendly will not guarantee it will go viral, but it’s still a small part of the game.

Ways to make posts more SEO friendly include:

  • Using high-frequency keywords and phrases throughout the text, in a natural way
  • Connecting to a blog network
  • Linking back within a page
  • Including keywords in your title
  • Having a URL and Permalink that reflects your post subject
  • Using appropriate tags and images

(For more information about SEO, you can reference this post as well as Google’s SEO Starter Guide.)


For more information, check out:


What strategies do you use to make your blog posts viral?


11 thoughts on “Top 3 Qualities of Viral Posts

  1. i can definitely agree that Gangnam Style was viral! I, myself, watched it 3-4x/night the first week it came out just because it was SO ridiculous and it made me laugh before I went to bed.

    Fantastic post, Debora.

  2. Great post. At work, my boss is determined to make a video that will “go viral” because she wants to increase traffic on our Facebook page. It seems a little harder to determine what will make a video “go viral” – a catchy song, for sure, but I think also the video needs to be believable yet incredible at the same time. Like the “Turn down for What” video with the kittens – amazing that kittens could do that, but also believable because it looks like they are probably watching something and that’s a pretty kitten like thing to do…

  3. Thanks everyone! And Catherine I agree that it’s a bit harder to predict what makes a video have viral potential. The Guardian posted about this – – as well as the NYTimes ( As both articles mention, capturing attention immediately seems critical, but maybe more importantly, capturing emotion.

    I hope your boss is able to find some way to increase traffic on your Facebook page. My coworkers love looking at funny cat videos and now I can share one more with them!

  4. I really appreciate this post. You linked to some excellent follow-up resources and I especially appreciated the Upworthy deck on Virality – Interestingly, in a conversation that I had this week with Nathan Diepenbrock, he said that SEO at requires the attention of 20-something experts working around the clock. So much to know!

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