You always start with an idea.
The idea may come to you from any source, book, blog, magazine, or life event.
And potentially, any idea suiting your niche is good, because it can be something your readers have an interest in. Definitely, any idea can bring readers and fans to your blog if you market it well. However, when it comes to virality you can't stop at having a “good idea”. For it to go viral, your idea needs to be perfect (not just good) for your audience.
‘Perfect' here means it will resonate so strongly in the minds and hearts of your readers that they'll go I must share this RIGHT. NOW.
It's one that can bring the change I was looking for!” It's ‘change' because, before reading your post, your readers never really found the answer(s) they were looking for. This is when your post goes viral – when it makes a difference.
This guide is here to help you find out whether your blog idea has the potential to go viral and attract more readers and shares, plus a few tips for when you are about to hit the ‘Publish' button.
1. Does Your Idea Resonate with Your Audience?
This is the first aspect you should consider after coming up with your idea. In other words, is this idea something your audience would love to read?
Will it spark curiosity?
Will it answer their most pressing questions? Your marketing data can help you decide whether this is a doable idea and something of interest to your audience.
As Adam Connell, founder of Blogging Wizard, explains, writing a post around topics your audience already knows about from another publication is a great way to encourage virality:
For example, is there a topic that could start trending after a mention in a publication such as TechCrunch or Mashable? Try publishing a blog post about that topic in response to a large publication – if you get the timing right, the results can be explosive.
Readers want to follow a blogger with a like mind. When you understand your audience well enough that you feel like your brains work on the same frequency, that's when your blog ideas will always resonate with your audience and… go viral.
Think about how your idea will be received by your audience based on the engagement and conversion data at your disposal and plan your blog post accordingly.
2. Does Your Idea Solve A Reader's Problem?
Think about it: does your idea offer a solution to a problem that a good slice of your audience is facing?
Or does it respond even to a single reader's question? This is important because the blog post that will be born from your idea will go viral if your readers can find answers, solutions, comfort in it. Your post will be something they can't do without. That will be like finally getting the prescription to buy that medicine that turns your life for the better. That may also mean asking readers to share their biggest concerns and then create a blog post that answers them, Q&A style.
As an example, look at this post by Carol Tice where she answers readers' pressing questions, and look at the comments and shares she got. She really built a strong connection with her audience.
Even Neil Patel wrote his post Why Do Sites Rank High on Google When They Aren’t Optimized? as an answer to readers' questions. Below is the beginning of his post:
Have you ever wondered why some sites rank high on Google when they aren’t optimized for search engines? Or even worse, when they barely have any backlinks? I’ve been asked this question a lot over the last few months, so I thought I would write a blog post explaining why that happens.
Blogger and digital marketer Aurora Afable follows her audience closely and creates content around their problems:
Before I write a blog post, I make sure that the topic is something people already talk about.
You need to know your audience. Determine where your audience goes whenever they ask questions. You'll see the problems they talk about. Research for ideas on how to solve their problems, and integrate your own solutions. Once you've published your article, all you need to do now is to market your post [on] the same platform [where] your audience is located.
Once again, the secret is in knowing your audience inside out. The more you know them well – and polls, surveys, Q&A, webinars and your list are all great ways to do this – the more you can respond to their needs with your blog posts. If it helps, think of yourself as a counselor and of your audience as your clients. They come to you to find answers and live better than before they walked through your door.
Here you can find more guidance and examples to look at:
- Blog Post Idea: Answer a Beginner Question by Darren Rowse at ProBlogger.net
- A Few Blogging Questions and My Answers by
- The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Knowing What Your Readers Want by Linda Formichelli at SmartBlogger.com
3. Are There Studies and Statistics to Support Your Idea?
In other words, is your idea just opinion or can you support it with existing studies and reports?
And when you did come up with this idea, were you digging up research or was it based on something you felt you had to talk about? While a research-based idea might work better for a niche or business blog, ideas based on opinion and feelings can still get traction if you back them up with research. Of course, a simple opinion piece might work but it will be difficult to make it go viral, because it will be like a personal blog entry – interesting, nice to read, but with little share value (unless you were Seth Godin).
Readers in a niche come for information: they'll still be interested in your opinion but they want to know if your opinion works, so if you're going to create a post around opinion, then you have to offer examples, case studies and existing research that you used as a base to produce your idea or model. That way, it can work toward engagement and virality. I recently wrote a blog post lifecycle piece for WHSR, based on Vernon's product lifecycle model.
This post was based on a model I had in mind for my blog posts, but I couldn't just tell WHSR readers about how Vernon's model inspired me and end it there: I supported my idea with research, statistics, other lifecycle models, a point-by-point analysis of Vernon's model and then I showed how it would apply to a blog post. Readers want to know that you are an authority in your niche. They want to know that you can bring true value to the table. That they can learn from you and trust you (see my earlier points in this post, too). The more you support your topic with research and build upon it, the more trust you earn from bloggers and they'll be so enthusiastic about your content that they will share it.
Here are a few guides you may want to read to learn or improve research skills:
- How I write research-based posts (and how they doubled my traffic) by Belle Beth Cooper at Ghost.org
- How We Research: A Look Inside the Buffer Blog Process by Belle Beth Cooper at Buffer
- How To Do Content Marketing Research For A Blog Post by Julie Neidlinger at CoSchedule
4. Can You Expand Your Idea With Expert Interviews?
Your take, research and opinion may not be enough to satiate your readers' hunger for knowledge.
They may want to know more, hear another voice than just yours. This is when you may want to interview experts. Interviews will also work to your advantage. Having expert quotes in your post will up the chances of having your post read and trusted as authoritative, shared and cited.
When you involve others, all their friends and people in their networks will be informed about their favorite person, friend or colleague being interviewed – so you will not just put yourself in front of your audience, but also their audience and that will double (or more) your chances to see your post go viral. That's because many people will be sharing it, liking it and maybe commenting it (and maybe they will subscribe).
Also, you may be able to put your blog in front of the influencers who have your experts in the network. It's likely that an expert in any niche or field will have at least one influencer in their network. An influencer who is exposed to your post because it features a person they know and trust will most likely be interested in you, too, because you will be perceived as wise for choosing their contact as your expert. How to go about interviews?
Here're a few must-reads:
- 10 Tips for Creating Awesome Interviews for Your Blog b
- 11 Ways to Improve Your Blog Posts With Interviews by Ryan Malone at Social Media Examiner
- How to Spice Up Your Blog with Interviews by at Fizzle (The Sparkline)
Also, Lori Soard's post How to Find Interview Subjects and Conduct an Expert Interview for Your Blog is a great read to get started.
Sometimes all the experts you need to find for your post are the ones who commented a post you like before you. Click on their names, go to their websites and get in touch! This is also a fantastic way to build relationships.
5. Does Your Idea Cover the Angle for the Topic Entirely?
Your idea should answer a question, tackle a problem or offer a complete guide, and it better be comprehensive unless it's part of a series or you're trying to build a community and your posts act like discussion threads (that is what Jeff Goins does, but he also adds a comment that “it’s not the strong parts you leave out; it’s the weak ones”).
Do not frustrate the reader's expectations!
If you promised a guide to go from 0 to 1,000 subscribers in 10 days, you should provide all the steps and the techniques your reader will need to get a thousand subscribers in little more than a week. If you skip important steps, tools and methods, you will leave your reader frustrated and they will abandon the article quickly. Leaving things out is definitely not a good idea and especially not one that will help your post go viral. Of course, you will want to leave your points open enough for discussion. The best way to do this is not to hold back information, but to remove the fluff, keep your post on point and ask your readers questions at the end of each point or at the end of the post.
6. Is This Idea Something You'd Love to Read About?
What if you were a visitor stumbling upon your blog or a loyal reader coming to see what new amazing content you have up?
If you were them, what would you expect to read? What would you really love to learn from your blog to put to use right away? Putting yourself in your reader's shoes will help you look at your idea with new eyes and visualize exactly what you need to change in order to make it into a really memorable post. And avoid all those ideas that will bore or annoy the reader, or make them go “not this same ol' stuff again!” or “so what?” When you post in a niche, you want your readers to:
- See you as the go-to resource to get the information they need
- Find information they can use and not just entertain themselves with in their free time
- Feel they can trust the information you provide
- Feel that you are a friend who cares about them and who they can count on
A great post that goes viral has all these four ingredients, plus the “I've been looking for this for so long! Gotta share it!” feeling.
3 Questions to Assess Your Post Before Publication
1. Does your post evoke emotions in your beta readers?
It's obvious that, at this stage, you can't know what your readers feel about your post (or your idea), but you can involve a select group of friends or other writers in your network to be your beta readers and let you know what they think and feel about your post, if they found it complete, convincing and so on.
Beta readers will be your first audience, so when you choose your beta readers, they should be as close as possible to your real audience in terms of interests, demographics, and background or experience. You really want to know if your post evokes specific emotions in them – that is, the emotions you want to convey. To continue with the example from question #5, if you wrote a guide to go from 0 to a thousand subscribers in 10 days, you want to know if your post excites them to get started, inspires them to act right away (responding actively to the CTA) and gives them the drive to work on their goal in the long term (10 days in this example).
Do your beta readers feel your post is the guide to do something or the life-changing piece, one that can't be missed? That's what you want to know.
2. Does the Post Evoke Emotions in You, the Writer?
After you have finished writing, take a break and then read your post – does it give you emotions?
Is this post something you want to read on your blog (see #6 in the above list)? When you detach a bit from your post after writing (at least for a few hours) and then go back to it, read as if you were your reader, wear their shoes – does the post inspire you to take action? Does it push you to do something about the topic at hand? Does it make you feel encouraged or inspired? I noticed this happens a lot with my own posts: after some time, when I have a problem but I forgot the solution, I go back to the post I wrote and follow my own advice. When your idea works, and your post works, it works for you, too. Daniel Ndukwu, founder of The Experiment, sums it up beautifully:
When you've been slaving over that post for God knows how many hours and you've edited it and edited it to perfection and you read it over one last time and it speaks to you as the writer, it evokes emotions in you even though you crafted every single word on the page. That's when you know you have a winner. That's when you know you've struck gold.
3. Do the Mentioned Sources Carry Outreach Potential?
Can you reach out to the experts you quoted (not interviewed) and the sources cited in your post?
Are they approachable via email, contact form or social media?
If you have a way to let them know about your post after publication, do so. Not only they will appreciate the gesture, but they might also share your post with their network or mention it on their websites (don't ask them to do that, though, especially if they are busy people).
What If Your Idea Doesn't Meet the “Requirements” to Go Viral?
So far I have talked about the questions to ask yourself to see if your idea has the potential to go viral before you turn it into a blog post, and how to make sure the blog post itself lives up to that goal. But… what happens if you went through this guide and the result is that your idea doesn't have enough potential? You have two options at this point:
- Come up with a new idea and start all over again
- Improve your idea until it meets all the “requirements”
I tend to prefer the second. The truth is that every idea can be tweaked to make it reach virality potential:
- You can expand it if it's too narrow
- You can narrow it if it's too broad
- You make it experience-based if it's too generic
- Your can make it niche-oriented if it's off-topic
The list could go on and on. The best way to work on your idea is to turn it into a headline and improve this headline until it becomes irresistible. About that, I recommend you read through Carol Tice's post Watch Me Write a Headline That Goes Viral where she walks you through the steps to optimizing a headline/idea into one that's sure to go viral, and she shows you her thought process as she works on it. Another example is the post you are reading: my first idea was to answer the question “how can I know if my idea can go viral?” via a series of resources and expert quotes, but then I realized that would have been yet another round-up post and it would have offended the reader coming to look for an answer to their urgent problem. I worked on my idea until I came up with the six questions that I ask myself when I write for WHSR or my blogs, I edited my headline and… well, you are reading the results of that decision!
Summing It Up…
A blog post idea has potential to go viral when:
- It resonates with the reader
- It answers the reader's most pressing problems
- You can support it with research
- It can be expanded with the contribution of experts
- It inspires trust, it's engaging and conveys authority
- It covers all it means to convey
- It's something you'd love to read yourself
- It makes a difference in your reader's life
Here is how David Leonhardt, president of THGM Writers, puts it:
For the most part, I think a blog post needs three characteristics to go viral: 1. Originality. If it's been done before, it's not as likely to attract a lot of attention. 2. A topic of profound interest to one's audience. Many things are of interest, but some dig pretty deep. My post on health risks faced by writers and bloggers is an example of that – a universal concern. 3. Complete coverage.
The topic has to be covered completely and deeply, not just touched upon with a light brush. In some instances, this aspect can also count for originality – the topic might have been covered before by hundreds of other bloggers, but never before in such depth. Not every post I write will have these three characteristics, and trying do hit a jackpot every time would be very challenging and time-consuming. But it's worth trying for it every now and then.
Last but not least, coming up with a “perfect” idea and creating a blog post that goes viral doesn't come without risk, so Jeff Deutsch's post How to Go Viral (and Not Regret It) at Inbound.org is a must-read to avoid the most dangerous pitfalls.