Think You Can’t Go Viral? Bull****

I don’t think it’s a secret anymore that viral content can do great things for a website, but then why are so few sites doing it well? When talking to businesses about why they aren’t content marketing the same reasons have been coming up time and again. So I have decided I’m going to smash those objections like a touchdown celebration with your grandmother’s china. To do this let’s define viral content for my purposes, Dr. Pete did a fantastic job explaining why your content really isn’t viral:

  1. Great Content Has Credibility
  2. Great Content Takes Real Effort
  3. Great Content Is Actionable
  4. Great Content Begs to Be Shared
Dig it? Producing something great takes a lot of extra effort, but that cost pales in comparison to the rewards. Get feedback from someone who will tell you the truth, is what you’re doing right now really meeting these lofty standards?

But My Industry Isn’t Interesting

This seems like a fair point but it’s no longer valid, for example Rand pointed out an Australian elevator company that made an infographic receiving 33 linking domains. To me this shows that a mundane seeming business can have a point of view and expertise that people will care about. Get excited, you likely have spent some serious time building your presence online so bring that passion into your content and people will care.

Viral Content Won’t Create Revenue

This is a sub point of the above where the belief is that tangential content won’t drive sales. However, big companies are clearly interested in this kind of exposure for example Coke showing up on American Idol and Apple showing up everywhere. Why would having full control over the content change that? It’s actually way better. I feel I can safely say that piano key stairs and German cars are a few degrees of separation away but Volkswagen seems to think the combination is good for selling cars:
 

That’s not to say that your company blog should be an advertising campaign but clearly highly engaging content is valuable for selling stuff. That’s not even touching upon things like:

  1. Bringing up your overall domain authority
  2. Increased longtail traffic with user generated content like comments and guest posts
  3. Getting press and links from huge sites
  4. Partnerships and capital interested in your expertise

We Don’t Have the Resources

I was fortunate enough to get access to the Scirra.com Google Analytics account which offers great insight into what good content marketing can do for a business. It’s run by two brothers who have pulled in some big numbers in just 8 months since launching their new site:
Scirra.com analytics screenshot
 

Broken down in terms of monthly numbers that is going from:

  1. 20,000 unique visitors to 110,000 unique visitors per month
  2. 320,000 pageviews to 1,100,000 pageviews per month
So two guys somewhere in the UK have been able to generate 550% more visitors per month in less than a year primarily by being awesome. Not only that but they only posted to their blog 33 times. 33 TIMES in 8 months. That comes out to around one post per week. Change your mindset, you don’t need to be posting constantly to get big traffic.

Now I realize that their game making product itself is great content but doesn’t that prove the point? By merit of what they are doing they have spawned a rabid community that produces content for them. Really good content. That’s about as scalable as link building and traffic generation can get. Let me remind you again this is all done by two guys. That’s not a lot of resources for 1,000,000 pageviews per month.

The Cost of Viral

What if you were to make a completely unscientific breakdown of the cost of viral compared to the rewards? Scirra’s top blog posts got:

Scirra top blog posts views

For a total of 72,372 views (excluding views from the main blog page). The four posts also got some links:

  1. /blog/74/making-a-fast-website - Can’t be measured because it is too recent
  2. /blog/58/html5-2d-gaming-performance-analysis - 48 linking domains
  3. /blog/56/html5-gaming-the-future-is-now - 6 linking domains
  4. /blog/44/on-html5-audio-formats-aac-and-ogg - 16 linking domains
This is 4 posts out of 33 blog posts total so I’m going to approximate and say ~12% of blog posts can get this kind of traction. Let’s be really extreme and assume the other 88% of posts average 1,000 views and one link for every piece of content that takes off. You can pay about $75 for a standard “good” but not great blog post so for an epic post we are going to pay something like $1,000 per post. How does 7,337 views and 2 links for $1,000 sound? Think you could make money on that? I sure do.

But numbers really aren’t the point, this is a proof of concept. What if you took this to the furthest extreme possible? What would being a recognizable brand mean for your business? Constantly getting links, press mentions and exponential traffic? That’s what we are really talking about here.

Scirra.com backlink graph

Scirra.com backlink graph

 

Doesn’t it look like Scirra has started breaking through as a brand? It’s going to get a lot easier from this point forward to get links, rank new phrases and to push out new content.

When to Invest in Great Content

Don’t be looking for huge dividends on your content marketing next month, that’s not how this works. The benefits of an authority domain and great branding are rewards that increase exponentially towards the end of the curve but increase slowly at the beginning. Let’s take a look at Grasshopper.com’s startup stunt:
Grasshopper knew that in order to stand out and get some buzz going, and new customers, that they had to do something different. Their solution? Package up 5,000 packs of real chocolate covered grasshoppers and send them out to 5,000 influencers on the Web... This got them a 4,911% traffic increase from April to May, 144,843 video views with 162 comments, 1,500 tweets, 120 blog posts in one month and 7 national TV mentions.

Source

You might think WHOA that’s amazing I want a 5000% increase in traffic. But the real big payoff didn’t come until almost a year later, their backlink graph tells the real story:

Grasshopper.com backlink graph

Grasshopper.com backlink graph

Notice how that genius stunt is barely a blip on the radar? That’s because the value of building a highly engaging brand is greater than any one campaign can have. Effective frequency in advertising has to do with how many times people see an ad before they notice it or consider purchasing. Doing one great thing in a vacuum is not as effective as creating a downhill rolling snowball of awesome that repeatedly smashes your users in the face (in a good way).

Go Get’em Tiger

This is the part where you get super motivated and imagine “Eye of the Tiger” is playing in the background as you slow motion high five your team over your epic content ideas. So here are some great quotes I came across while writing this post that inspire the great content mentality:
“How do we tweet a sunrise kissing a pristine meadow as you sky dive towards it?”

-Joe Justice Founder of WIKISPEED 100 MPG cars

“If you are writing a piece of content for your blog, you want to be able to answer, is it clear what the purpose of this blog is? Is it clear what the topic is? Is it clear that there is a value for this person to share it with their friends?”

-Carlos del Rio Director of Conversion Analysis and Digital Strategy, Unbounce.com

Source

“We don’t really want to use the blog as a news feed we’re trying to actively avoid that, it’s easy to make a new feature post on our blog, but it would just blend in with the swathes of bland corporate news feedy blogs out there.”

-Thomas Gullen Co-Founder, Scirra.com

A favorite here in the NYC Distilled office that’s definitely been posted before but it’s worth repeating:
“We’ve tried to work longer on stories for greater impact, and publish fewer quick-takes that we know you can consume elsewhere. We’re actually publishing, on average, roughly one-third fewer posts on Salon than we were a year ago (from 848 to 572 in December; 943 to 602 in January). So: 33 percent fewer posts; 40 percent greater traffic.”

-Kerry Lauerman Editor in Chief, Salon.com

Source

The Next Step?

So you’re sold, content marketing is the future and you want in? Now your next challenge is figuring out how you can produce the kind of content that engages your users. Here are some resources to get the ball rolling:
  1. Tom Critchlow’s content marketing compilation
  2. Never worry about an algorithm update again (featuring the Zappos scalable content SEO plan)
  3. Ben the bodyguard’s walking web page
  4. 21 examples of viral content
  5. Desperados Youtube takeover
  6. 10 examples of extraordinary linkbait
  7. Great product pages for e-commerce

Chris Warren

Chris Warren

Chris started his career as a professional poker player for five years. He soon realized that life in Las Vegas wouldn't be the last stop in his career and started building for profit websites on the side. This wasn't successful but eventually it...   read more

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12 Comments

  1. I love this article because small businesses can in fact create viral campaigns for a relatively low cost. More importantly, I love your examples of how this stuff affects branding in the long term. Thanks for featuring Grasshopper!

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    • Chris Warren

      Thanks Casie and your comment is exactly right, so many businesses could take their existing content budget and get way better results by simply using for higher quality content.

  2. Chris Warren
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  3. Excellent post Chris, "content marketing is the only marketing left" as Seth Godin said. Viral marketing is the best example of this. Huge returns from minimal expense by letting influencers and the natural order of the social web do your broadcasting for you. I work at a company that supplies a platform for just this purpose and your post is great advice. We help do the targeting and analysis/engagement I'll be sure to forward your blog post to potentials and clients on the fence about it!

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  4. It just occurred to me that the recent viral campaign from Dollar Shave Club is going to be a great case study on this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUG9qYTJMsI

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  5. Your content can go viral also by a little mimicry... the sh*t (insert) people say went viral on YT and I remember seeing one done by the people for Mr clean mimicking it saying "Sh8t cleaning bottles say"... I'm sure that added a few links to their profile.

    Just take the time to think about what makes your product or industry unique.

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  6. I would agree with you on everything you said. There is another way to capitalize though, using the current world news or trending topic. Utilizing the latest and tying it in your message, product, video, blog etc to something current and or hot will earn you additional points.

    Timing is everything in any situation. SEO and viral content is almost like Double Dutch. If you dont jump into it at the right time your rythme will be off or worse you might get slapped in the face with a rope. Then all the kids are going to laugh at you.

    Making great content is awesome, knowing when to put it out there is better.

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  7. Love this post. I especially like your point about taking a long term approach to creating great content. If you are trying to create content that will equal immediate profit, you are approaching it the wrong way. Instead, think of how you can truly help a community by giving them something they want (or even better... need.) This will do wonders for your brand in the long run.

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  8. Really great post Chris! You've done an awesome job inspiring me :-)

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  9. This is a premier example of great content, Chris: you penned an article that managed to motivate and inform and parcelled it with illustrious images and statistics that would make those unsuited to completing the challenge jealous, and fuel the work drive of those suited. Content marketing is where it's at, and I'm sure I'll enjoy unravelling the list of posts you referred.

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  10. Chris Warren

    Thanks Paul that's quite a compliment, that kind of motivation is often a key part of the creative process. The drive to make something great with enough perseverance is often better than the best tactics. And that's what it's all about right?

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  11. CA

    By far the hardest thing to do as an animator. I didn't see a spike in subs until I went weekly. It's been VERY tough and extremely long hours, it's hard to find good places to promote after the fact. But I'll hang in there and keep going. I am making progress at least, I've got from 20-30 subs to close to 100 in less than a month. ;-)

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