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24 Brilliant Bloggers Talk About Writing Viral Posts

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Brilliant Bloggers is a bi-weekly series here at NMX where we look at the best posts from around the web all surrounding a specific topic. Every other week, we’ll feature a brilliant blogger, along with a huge list of more resources where you can learn about the topic. You can see more Brilliant Blogger posts or learn how to submit your link for an upcoming edition here.

This Week’s Topic: Writing Viral Posts

We all dream of waking up one morning to find that a post we wrote exploded over night and drove millions of new readers to your blog. Heck, forget millions most of us would be happy driving thousands or even hundreds of new readers to a post. We all cross our fingers that one of our posts will go viral, but the fact is that this isn’t common no matter how good your content may be.

Viral posts spread like an infection – fast and to many people. But what exactly defines a post as viral? And how do you replicate this success again and again on your blog? This week’s Brilliant Bloggers is all about how to write posts that set you up for this success. There may be no silver bullet formula you can follow that guarantees your post will go viral, but you can at least nudge things in your favor as much as possible!

Brilliant Blogger of the Week:

leo widrich What Makes Content Spread: The Anatomy of a Post that Got Over 500,000 Likes by Leo Widrich

If anyone knows a thing or two about viral posts, it’s the guys from Buffer, who see people sharing certain posts (and not sharing others) every day. In this post from Buffer’s Leo Widrich, the entire process of going viral is broken down into chunks, using a specific popular post as a case study. If you’re writing great content, but just can’t seem to reach that viral level, this is a post you need to read.

Also, make sure you follow Leo on Twitter at @LeoWid and check out Buffer as a content-sharing tool. Disclosure: they’ve exhibited at our conference in the past, but I wouldn’t recommend Buffer if I didn’t think this was an amazing tool.

Even More Brilliant Advice:

  1. 7 Steps to Create a Viral Blog Post by Jason Delodovici (@jdelodovici)
  2. 11 Tips to Write a Killer Blog Post that Can Go Viral by Nandita B. (@nanditaSEO)
  3. Create Powerful Viral Blog Posts With This Ten Point Plan by Scott Dudley (@ScottDudley)
  4. Five Easy Tips To Write Viral Blog Posts by Gary Lawood (@lawmacs)
  5. Forget SEO: Here’s How to Write a Post That Goes Viral by Neil Patel (@neilpatel)
  6. Go Viral: How To Write A Successful Blog Post by Josh Ebsworth (@CW_JoshE)
  7. Going Viral: Analyzing the Shared Characteristics Behind Viral Blog Posts by Tom Ewer (@tomewer)
  8. How I Used Twitter to Attract 34,771 Unique Web Hits by Derek Halpern (@derekhalpern)
  9. How to Go Viral with Your Blog Post by Terri Lee Ryan (@TerriLeeRyan)
  10. How To Plan And Write A Blog Post To Go Viral by Francisco Rosales (@socialmouths)
  11. How to Write Articles That Go Viral by Daniel Zeevi (@DashBurst)
  12. How to Write Copy that Goes Viral by Seth Godin (@ThisIsSethsBlog)
  13. How To Write For Viral Marketing by Chris Lentzy (@chrislentzy)
  14. How to Write Posts that Go Viral by Onibalusi Bamidele (@youngprepro)
  15. How to Write Posts that Go Viral in Social Media by Leslie Anglesey
  16. New Blogger? Create a Viral Post in 5 Simple Steps! by Greg Digneo (@GregDigneo)
  17. No More Blah Blogs: Let’s Go Viral by Hannah Kaufman for Savvy Panda (@savvypanda)
  18. Our Viral Blog Post Formula by Caitlyn Muir (@scribblinghappy)
  19. The Simple Secret Behind Writing Viral Blog Posts by Srivathsan G.K. (@dangerdiabolick)
  20. The Truth About Going Viral: What I Did After 1 Million People Stopped By My Blog by Jeff Goins (@JeffGoins)
  21. The Ultimate Guide to Creating Viral Content by Neil Davidson (@WEBPRESENTER)
  22. Who Else Wants to Write Viral Blog Posts? by Jasmine
  23. Why Content Goes Viral: the Theory and Proof by Carson Ward (@carson_ward)

Did I miss your post or a post by someone you know about writing viral posts? Unintentional! Help me out by leaving a comment below with the link.

Next Brilliant Blogger Topic: Hosting Webinars

I’d love to include a link to your post in our next installment– and if you head to the Brilliant Bloggers Schedule, you can see even more upcoming posts. We all have something to learn from one another, so please don’t be shy! Head to the schedule today to learn how to submit your post so I won’t miss it.

What Happens to Your Traffic when You Stop Writing at Your Blog?

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I taught a Marketing with Social Media MBA course at a fully accredited university in Silicon Valley earlier this year. The class ran from Feb 9 – April 28. There were 73 students enrolled. Just over 50 survived to the end.

During the last day of class I asked my students, “How many of you have been angry at me some time during the past 11 weeks?”

They all raised their hands. Some raised both hands and waved them violently. Thank goodness there were no single digit waves … I think. But it was clear the students had had enough of blogging no matter what I called it – marketing with social media, content marketing, inbound marketing, whatever. They were done.

Indeed I was curious to know what would happen to the traffic to their sites when they stopped writing.

Now I know.

Take a look.

Aggregate After

This screen shot reflects the aggregate traffic to all the students’ sites.

It is clearly visible that the traffic is increasing overall.

Increasing?! When most of them had stopped writing?! And all of them are writing less!

Indeed. The traffic continues to grow.

And be sure to take note where the traffic is coming from. Organic traffic is far outperforming the biggest social network on the planet.

Case Study – Info-Nepal

A look at one of the student’s stats is particularly enlightening. Her site is dedicated to Nepal. It would be a great complement to a travel agent site dedicated to Nepal as a destination.

Not a couple of days AFTER the class was finished, look what happened.

After class

I wrote to her, “Very sudden and very nice jump in your traffic! What’s going on?”

Her reply:

“Yeah it all started about 3 weeks ago. All of a sudden I am getting a lot of traffic. It increased from 40-50 per day to almost 300 per day. I am excited. I need to write more frequently. Thanks for keeping and eye on it.

In other words, she did nothing special. Just plugging away, and even writing less than during the class.
We can see where her traffic is coming from.

Lesson Learned

The crystal clear message: Creating good content results in good residual traffic, sometimes known as the long tail.
When traffic is purchased (think adwords) or pushed via social networks and social bookmarking sites (think referral traffic from other sites) traffic will come as long as it is pushed, driven. But when the buying and pushing stops, so does the traffic.  Not so with good content that is on topic and created at the home site. It’s the content that keeps on giving, um, pulling.
Content marketing is inbound marketing. And it can’t be beat long term.
What is your experience with creating content compared to buying traffic by hook or by crook? Got case study? Wanna share? Feel free to read the students’ firsthand experiences at BillBelew.com. And by all means, reach out to me if I can help you see similar results at your site(s). See you in the comments.

How to Track Conversions from YouTube Viewers [Video]

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YouTube Partners can now link out to other sites within their video annotations, which can be a great way to drive new readers to a blog, ecommerce site, landing page, etc. You can also, of course, add links to your description and channel page. Very few people are creating video content consistently, so you have the opportunity to really stand out in your niche if you create videos.

But traffic (from YouTube or otherwise) is nothing if that traffic doesn’t convert. Once someone comes to your website, are they actually performing the action that you want them to perform? Are they buying your product? Or signing up for your mailing list?

In this video, Ileane Smith walks you through exactly how to set up a Google Analytics goal and track conversions. If you’re new to Google Analytics, don’t worry; she really breaks it down so you can easily understand how to track conversions. Check it out:

I loves the goals feature for Google Analytics for conversion tracking, because it helps me understand the best source of traffic according to my goal. Sometimes, raw numbers don’t tell the entire story.

Have you set up goals to track conversions?

How Often Should I Blog?

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Find your blogging pace

Find your blogging pace

One question I get asked a LOT is, “How much do I need to write at my blog?”

The question needs clarification.

How much does a blogger need to write to do what? Have an online platform? Get readers? Make money? Make money from traffic alone? Make money by offering display or affiliate ads? Make money by offering a service? Make money by some combination of all of these?

The answer to how much a blogger should write at their blog will differ depending on why the blogger writes? Depending on what the blogger’s end game is.

That being said, there is one thing that is absolutely foundational to making money with your blog. You have to have traffic = eyeballs of people specifically interested in the content at your site.

The traffic can be minimal, as in only those people you tell to go there. The traffic can com via referral, as in those people who are told to go there by hook or by crook. Think through social networking. The traffic can come via search = somebody dropped something in a search engine box and found you. The traffic can come through some combination of these methods.

In my Marketing with Social Media MBA course, I am teaching my students how to get people to find them via search engines.

Believing that is cheaper = a better of use time spent, for people to find me than it is for me to find them, I am teaching my students that they need to write in such a way that they become visible to the search engines without compromising the quality of their content.

The question again, “How much does a blogger need to write at their blog to get found by real people via search engines?”

Here are the weekly guidelines I am giving my students:

1.  Each student must write a minimum of 600-750 words daily. Those words can be in the form of 3 posts that are 200-250 words long, one post that is 600-750 words long or a 200-250 word post and a 400-500 word post.

2. Each student must guest blog (400+ words) at my site on a subject that I give them. And in this guest blog, they link back to their own sites. After guest blogging at my site, as one of their daily posts they must write about their experience of guest blogging at my site and link to it.

3. Each student must guest blog at a classmate’s site. They are free to pursue which site they will guest post at and the rules are the same. They will write 400+ words about something relevant to their classmate’s site, providing a link back to their own web site. And as one of their daily posts they must write about their experience of guest posting with a link.

4. Finally, each student is required to write an anchor/pillar/evergreen post at their home site. (400+ words) that they would be particularly happy with AND they are asked to share it with their social network IF they have one.

There are 73 students enrolled in the class. More than 50 of them are very active. A few of them are wasting their money and my time. I can’t help that latter group.

So, how is this working?

I will delve into the analytics as the weeks progress. But for now, the interested reader can see how the top 10 sites are performing after weeks one, two and three.

That question one more time: “How much do I need to write at my blog?”

My answer: “How much traffic do you want at your blog? Keep writing until that many people show up.”

The above guidelines will get you started.

How to Get Massive Traffic with Link Parties

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At NMX 2013, the ladies from Six Sisters Stuff presented a session on a little-known tactics for building your blog community and driving traffic: link parties.

A link party is essentially a list of linked images generated by a blog’s community. Usually there is a theme and the link party’s call for links is posted at the same time every week. For example, The Pinspiration Party is a weekly link party where you can link up posts that talk about recipes, craft projects, etc. inspired by something you saw on Pinterest.

Many bloggers in niches like tech, social media, and business have never heard of link parties, while bloggers in niches like food and DIY are getting hundreds or even thousands of new readers per month using link parties. On the food blog I run with my mother and sister, we’ve built our traffic substantially using link parties (including the one hosted by Six Sisters Stuff), so I was excited to hear that this session would be part of NMX.

My sister, Jessica, was able to attend this session live to take some notes about just how you can reap the biggest benefits from link parties. Here’s what she found out about getting results:

  • “The bigger the blog, the more the traffic…bigger blogs are more competitive.”

Popular bloggers who run link parties will have hundreds of bloggers link up every week. You can get traffic from these link parties, especially if you catch the linky (the tool used to allow readers to submit links) when it goes live, but don’t overlook the little guys. Brand new link parties can help you build relationships with other bloggers and stand out from the crowd.

  • “You’re going to see 10 times more [traffic] if you’re featured.”

Most link parties feature bloggers from the previous week every time the new linky goes live. Obviously, you want one of these featured slots, as it puts your link front and center. In order to get featured, the Six Sisters bloggers have two main pieces of advice. First, use a great image. If your picture stinks, it is very unlikely that you’ll be featured. Second, put a unique twist on your post. A recipe for mashed potatoes is probably not going to get lots of attention. A copycat mashed potato recipe from a popular recipe that includes a secret ingredient has a much better chance.

  • “The thumbnail is crucial…A picture really is worth a thousand words – or 100 pageviews.”

A good image isn’t just your key to getting featured. It also will encourage others to read your post. This is especially true with popular link parties, where you’re competing with hundreds of other thumbnails. What makes yours stand out? How can you entice readers to click? Think about it when creating your images and make sure your use a good thumbnail.

Want even more link party tips, including directions for hosting your own? Check out the full presentation, which is part of the NMX 2013 Virtual Ticket, available to all NMX University premium members. Don’t miss this great session and the hundreds of presentation recordings from our conference. Get your ticket today!

3 Ways Google Remarketing Increases Sales and Online Interaction

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Every website exists for the purpose of being seen. Whether you are a small business offering products or services, or a blogger looking to gain readers and wider web influence; you want prospective clients to see what you have to offer. However, achieving those site visits is only half the battle.

What you really want is interaction:

– Visitors making a purchase or hiring you for your services
– Readers linking to your blog
– Fellow bloggers talking about your blog through comments and re-posts
– Expansion of social media influence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

Google Remarketing is the way to take your site to the next level! It gives you the opportunity to increase interaction, not just traffic.

What is Google Remarketing?

Google Remarketing is an online follow-up tool that allows you to continue to present your ads to prospects, even after they leave your website. You see, not every person who visits your site is ready to jump in. It takes constant exposure to your offers to influence your prospects to make some kind of interaction on your site, be it sales or a blog interaction. Google Remarketing gives you the ability to put tailor-made ads in front of your prospects wherever they go on Google’s extensive Display Network.

Here are 3 ways to use Google Remarketing to increase sales and online interaction:

1. Create More Action with Targeted Ads

With Google Remarketing, you choose what you want your visitors to do. Maybe you want them to buy a certain product, hire a particular service, or make a connection through social media. Google Remarketing gives you a programming code that can tell whether or not your visitor has taken that action step. If they leave your site without taking action, Google will know and that’s when Remarketing begins. After leaving your site, your prospect will be shown custom designed ads promoting your desired action step on every website they visit within the Google Display Network. This is an invaluable tool! Remarketing offers automatic follow-up for your website until your prospect takes the action step you want.

You control:

  • Desired action step (attending your webinar, purchasing an e-book, “Liking” your Facebook page, following your Blog or Twitter account, etc.)
  • Desired demographic. Remarketing allows you to create specific ads for certain target groups. In other words, you can show different ads to a stay-at-home mother versus a young entrepreneur.
  • Site-relevant ads for your products or services. For example, if you offer a landscaping service, an ad specific to that service will appear when prospects visit a relevant site (ie. HGTV.com).

2. Reach a Larger Audience

Google claims on their site that Google Remarketing “reaches 83% of unique Internet users around the world,” so the Google Display Network is an invaluable asset for those looking to achieve maximum exposure for their products, services or content. Every time your prospect visits one of these thousands of sites, they will see your customized ad specifically targeting them. Additionally, because the network is so large and includes so many big-name websites, you gain more than just exposure. You also gain the impression of “being everywhere” and being associated with big-name brands.

Sites within the Google Display Network include:

3. Get the Most Bang for Your Marketing Buck

The best part about Google Remarketing is it can actually get you a lot of free exposure. Google tracks your prospects, promotes your site, and compels those prospects to take the action steps you want them to take, and you don’t pay anything for this promotion unless your prospect clicks on the ad. This means that if your prospect doesn’t click on the advertisement directly, you are still exposing them to your brand and building the credibility of your site. This will make any future advertisements all the more effective. Building your brand and establishing credibility is paramount to turning site visits into interactions. Google Remarketing offers this service to your site with absolutely no risk.

Are you ready to begin building your brand and extending your web influence?

Google Remarketing is an incredible tool that turns website visits into site interactions. More sales. More readers and followers. More clients. You can also improve your local search rankings.

What do you think of Google Remarketing? Please enter your comments below!

Guest Posting isn’t Dead (…Yet)

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Early this month, I was having a conversation about guest posting with a friend of mine. This is a topic I have personally been examining over the last year, so when he asserted that “guest posting is dead,” I had to voice my opposition.

I do, however, think that guest posting expectations bloggers have are sometimes a bit out of whack. Guest posting isn’t dead any more than blogging itself is dead, but the way some bloggers go about guest posting is certainly putting it on life support.

(If you’re new to guest posting, you might want to check out our five-part series on guest posting, which will help you write better posts and place these posts on great blogs, as well as our beginner’s guide to guest posting.)

Guest Posting the Wrong Way

Guest posting started as a simple theory: if you write a free post for another blogger and his/her readers like it, they’ll come back to your blog via the link at the end of your post and become a member of your community as well.

I can tell you from tons of personal experience that this doesn’t usually happen, at least, not at a rate that makes your hard work worthwhile.

Even if you write a guest post for a well-known, popular blogger, that traffic isn’t going to translate. Readers are fans of certain blogs because they like that specific blogger. You’re someone new, unknown, not to be trusted. A small percentage of people who read your post – even if they like it – will actually click the link in your bio, and an even smaller percentage will actually become long-term readers on your blog.

If you go into guest posting with the expectation that you’re going to get tons of traffic and new readers to your own blog, you’re likely going to be sorely disappointed.

Guest Posting = Branding, Not Immediate Traffic

I still recommend guest posting, however, because if you do it properly, you can end up with tons of new readers. It’s about being strategic.

Guest posting is about branding. You want your name to suddenly start popping up everywhere so people start to recognize it. If you write a one-time guest post on another site, you might get a few curious readers coming to your own blog, but if the same readers start to see your name everywhere, they’re going to start to wonder who you are, and if they like your content, they’re going to end up on your blog sooner or later.

So, think about guest posts in terms of groups of posts going out over the course of a week, not just single posts here or there. Immediate traffic shouldn’t be the goal; you’ll see traffic over time as name recognition builds.

Guest Posting for SEO

Guest posts are also great for SEO purposes. You do have to be careful about putting too much stock into a single type of link-building, since Google is constantly changing, but having your link without a post on a popular blog can help your search engine standings. Even better than linking back to your homepage in the bio is to link to specific posts relevant about the topic within the guest post you write. Don’t overdo it or your host will likely turn down the post, but definitely link to posts on your blog when relevant and helpful to the reader.

Relationship Building with Guest Posts

My favorite reason to guest post is to build relationships with other bloggers. If you offer a well-written, interesting guest post for another blogger, you’re giving them free content that they can’t get anywhere else. It’s a great way to get on someone’s radar. Often, I’ve guest posted for someone and they’ve gone on to become a long-term reader of my blog, even though they had previously never heard of me (or just knew me as one of the bajillon commenters on their site). Relationships with other bloggers in your niche are invaluable.

Managing Expectations

At the end of the day, guest posting is simply about managing your expectations. If you are looking for massive traffic numbers, especially right away, this is not an technique worth your time. If you’re taking a more “slow and steady wins the race” approach to blogging and interested in benefits other than traffic, guest posting is definitely a great blog-building technique to add to your promotional activities.

Interested in getting the most out of a guest post – or really any post you write on any blog? Jon Morrow is coming to NMX Las Vegas this January to present a session on the Anatomy of a 100,000 Visitor Post. You don’t want to miss this one!

How Finding Ten New Readers Can Lead to a Blog Traffic Explosion

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Want more blog traffic? This post teaches you exactly how to leverage just ten readers to explode your blog traffic.

Finding new readers is the bane of my blogging existence, and I don’t think I’m alone. Without blog traffic, you might as well write in a private journal, because you certainly won’t make money or spread your ideas online. I’m constantly on the lookout for new traffic-building techniques, and today I wanted to share with you one of my favorite traffic-building techniques when your blog is new (and really, this technique can work for established bloggers as well).

Best of all, it only takes ten new readers. You can find ten readers, right?

Finding Ten New Readers

The first step in this process is to find ten new readers. This doesn’t mean convincing people in your current circles to stop by your blog more often. It doesn’t even mean reaching out to friends of friends. These people are already in your extended circle of potential readers. You want to find ten readers who are completely new to your blog.

My favorite way to do this is to find new bloggers in my niche and leave comments. Comments are not going to bring you a wave of traffic, but that doesn’t mean they’re worthless. You don’t need millions of new readers. You just need a handful.

Another way to find brand new readers is to participate in link parties or blog hops. These are especially popular in niches like parenting, DIY, and food. Again, you are likely not going to get thousands or even hundreds of new readers this way, but for this specific technique, you only need ten or so.

The Key to Traffic Explosion

Once you find the new readers—and this is important—you have to treat them like VIPs. Go the extra mile to make them feel welcome on your blog. You want to treat these relationships like they are the most important ones you’ll ever have.

Don’t be inauthentic during this step. Yes, you want to leverage your relationships for traffic, but if that’s all you care about, you’re doing it wrong. Never use people and then ignore them once you’ve reaped the benefits. I’ve seen people do this and I’ve had it done to me, and it is pretty upsetting. So build real friendships. Traffic is just the benefit.

Here are a few ways to treat your new readers like VIPs:

  • Find and follow them on Twitter and other social networks.
  • Interact with them on places other than your blog (social networks, their own blogs, etc.)
  • Reply to every comment they leave on your blog (you should be doing this anyway).
  • Email them thanking them for their comment. You don’t have to do this every time, but with especially good comments, reaching out via email is a nice gesture.
  • Continue to read and comment on their blogs.

Basically, build not just a relationship, but an actual friendship. Some people will be receptive to this, and some won’t. That’s okay. Don’t force it because you want traffic benefits. Just see how friendships form naturally. But the point is you can’t just sit around and wait for it to happen. You have to be proactive in finding new online friends outside of your current circle.

How and Why This Works

Once you start treating your readers like VIPs, your traffic will start to snowball. Why does this happen?

  • Readers will see how you treat your community and they’ll be more encouraged to participate.
  • Treating your newest readers like VIPs increases the chance that they’ll tell their friends about your blog.
  • Even if they opt not to spread the word, the special attention makes them more likely to become fans of your blog rather than just one-time readers.

It all starts as a trickle, but if you continue to roll out the red carpet, you’ll see the effects begin to snowball. Like with most things, this takes time and you have to be consistent. Building a community is hard work. But it all starts with ten readers (and actually, if you want to get technical, it all starts with one reader). Even if you’re brand new, you can use the tiny amount of traffic you get today to build momentum.

If you want even more traffic tips, check out the content we have coming up at NMX. We also have sessions on community, monetization, content creation, and more, so you don’t want to miss this event!

What Kind of Links are Most Popular on Twitter? [Infographic]

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People share tons of links on Twitter. So many links, in fact, that it can be difficult to stand out. You should, of course, retweet others’ links, not just your own, but when you do tweet out a link, what should you be tweeting?

The answer to that question is going to depend on your niche, but I thought this infographic was interesting; it outlines the most popular kind of links that are shared on Twitter. Check it out!

What Kind of Links Are Shared on Twitter?

Browse more infographics.

Why Going Viral Might Not Matter Anymore

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People talk a lot about creating content that “goes viral.” There’s no one definition of what viral really means in terms of raw numbers, but typically something viral causes a huge traffic spike. For some blogs, that’s 10,000 hits. For others, it’s a million.

Regardless of traffic goals, I think some companies and content creators are putting too much focus on the goal of going viral. I would even argue that creating viral content doesn’t matter as much as it once did. Let’s explore viral content a bit with a few mini case studies.

Funneling the Traffic

One of the problems I see often with so-called viral content is that people can’t even tell you who created it. A good example? The petite lap giraffe commercials. You may still remember them from last year when these commercials were being promoted like crazy both online and through traditional television appearances.

This time last year, hundreds of thousands of people even signed up on their mock site to say, “I want a petite lap giraffe too!” It was a very cute idea.

But can you tell me the company being advertised in these commercials?

I would venture to guess that most people cannot. I know I couldn’t without looking it up. The answer is DirecTV. Now, maybe when these videos first created a craze more people could answer that question correctly, but to be honest, I’m not sure I would have been able to…and I loved those commercials.

My point is, going viral doesn’t matter if people don’t know or care who you are. Your viral content should funnel them to some sort of action – clicking through to other videos, subscribing to your mailing list, becoming a fan of your blog, buying a product. Spreading a single video or other piece of content is not enough if the action ends there – and with most viral content, that’s the case.

In other words, if you don’t see a sales spike (or subscriber spike if that’s your goal) along with your traffic spike, viral content doesn’t really matter.

Confusing the Audience

Often, the lack of sales or other action on the users’ parts is because viral content attacks the wrong market. In order to make something “go viral” you usually have to think outside the box. The content has to be funny, unique, original, emotional or somehow otherwise worth sharing. Being useful isn’t enough.”Viral” only happens when people need to share your content because they want to be the first to show their friends.

The problem is, most content that fits this bill gets away from your brand/blog’s goal or purpose, at least a bit.

Earlier this year, I had a call with a potential client who wanted me to produce content for his blog, with the aim of everything I did having super viral potential. Now, you all know as well as I do that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. So, I tried to get that across to the client, to tell him that I could focus on topics with the potential to be very popular, but I couldn’t guarantee that anything would go viral.

His response? “Add more cats. People love cats. That sh*t goes viral in a second.”

Erm. Okay, great. Only…his blog has nothing to do with cats. He went on to talk about how a funny cat video at least once or twice a month would be optimal, and while I agreed that this would certainly be popular if marketed correctly, I couldn’t seem to get through to him that it wouldn’t really help his blog or ultimately his business, which had to do with finance.

When you move away from your content too much for the sake of creating something that will go viral, what’s the point? People who view a cute cat video aren’t going to want to read a financial blog (most of the time at least). It’s too far of a leap. Now, maybe I can do some spin-off posts using that idea, like “What your pet can teach you about budgeting” or whatnot…but there has to be that tie-in. Otherwise, you’ll confuse anyone in your audience who does choose to check out the rest of your site. People who follow-up with the makers of viral content expect more of the same. If you don’t deliver, they don’t stick around.

Viral for All the Wrong Reasons

Viral content also doesn’t make sense if you don’t go viral “correctly” – and that’s hard to control. A good example – anyone want to guess what post Technorati crowned as the most popular (most linked) in 2011? It was a post from Netflix called “Explanation and Some Reflection” in which Netflix admitted their attempts to restructure the company were a mistake. Most bloggers would be ecstatic to have the most popular blog post of the year…but unfortunately, I’m willing to guess that most of the links back to that post were critical. It went viral for all the wrong reasons.

Now, I don’t think Netflix COE Reed Hastings wrote this post in order to drum up some traffic. It was damage control for the company. But what I do see a lot of content creators doing is publishing posts that are extremely controversial for the sake of controversy. They call out popular bloggers or experts in their field, trying to bait them into a reaction. They slam stuff everyone likes. They voice opinions they don’t believe in order to get people to click.

Be controversial…but be genuine too. If not, you’ll go viral for all the wrong reasons, and unfortunately, negativity toward a company or blog is something people remember. You didn’t remember who made petite lap giraffes popular, but I bet you remember which company’s CEO went on an infamous hunt in Africa and tweeted pictures of himself with dead animals.

Going viral isn’t always a good thing, no matter what kind of traffic spikes you see. Again, you need to focus on your end goals, whether that goal is to make sales, get subscribers, build a brand, or something else. If your viral content isn’t helping you achieve these goals, the traffic doesn’t matter.

It’s an ROI Game

I know people cringe when they have to talk about ROI, but that’s really the game here. Viral content isn’t something, in most cases, that you throw together. It’s usually stuff that takes a lot of work. So are you getting a return on investment for your work?

Traffic is not a return. That’s where a lot of people go wrong. Traffic is just the middle man on the way to the real return – your goal. That’s what you need to be measuring, not the crazy traffic spikes you’re seeing.

To give an example, let’s say I spend 10 hours creating a funny video for BlogWorld that goes viral. I use a special link code and determine that the 100,000 hits I got on the video translated into 100 tickets sales for our event. Now let’s say I instead write 10 posts that take me an hour each to write, and each gets about 5,000 hits and leads to 20 ticket sales (because the content is more relevant to the type of people willing to buy tickets than a funny video is). Those ten posts combined netted more ticket sales for BlogWorld. It was a better use of my time, even if the video traffic was nice and flashy.

Or course, it’s not always so cut and dry. Maybe the 100 video sales were people who had never heard of BlogWorld before, while most of the 200 post sales were people who were going to eventually buy tickets anyway. Or maybe some of the video traffic led to fans who weren’t ready to buy today, but who will consider future BlogWorld events.

The point is, study your stats beyond traffic. It’s find to hope your content goes viral, but it might not matter was much as you think. Sometimes slow and steady wins the race after all.

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