15 Ways To Write Engaging Content That Spreads Like Wildfire In 2021

viral content writing

As per a survey by CMI, 92% of marketers consider content as a business asset. But 60% say that their topmost challenge is producing great content. The kind of viral content that gets a ton of engagement, shares and backlinks.

Of course, creating an average piece of content isn’t hard. That’s why there is so much mediocre content online.

In fact, considering the future of content marketing, one of the biggest challenges marketers face is content saturation. Let’s begin by understanding what that is.

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    What is Content Saturation?

    Content saturation happens when there is already so much content on a given subject that the audience is overwhelmed and not interested in more content on the same topics.

    Even if they are, there is so much competition and so many options to choose from, making it hard for your content to get noticed and shared.

    In many industries, content saturation is not even the future. It has already started to happen for competitive and evergreen niches like personal finance, digital marketing, dating and more. And it’s on the way for other industry verticals as well.

    Image Source: SpartToro

    As a result, if you really want to future-proof your business, writing the same poor to average to good content like everybody else won’t cut it anymore.

    You’ll have to aim for great to remarkable content, which is different from anything else out there. The key is to improve your content tenfold and write better blog posts.

    Ways To Differentiate Your Content

    The world’s best content marketers don’t simply create content. They deliberately do it better or differently than others.

    They find their own unique angle or secret sauce to get noticed and go viral. They create the kind of great content that Rand Fishkin calls 10X content.

    Image Source: SingleGrain

    10X content is what creates an emotional response. It makes the reader feel awe, surprise, joy or admiration or a mix of these feelings.

    For example, as I was working on this article that you’re reading, I went through hundreds of articles and blog posts already available on how to make your content stand out. But most of them cover the basics only.

    They include tips like doing keyword research, proper formatting, organizing, proofreading and more.

    These are more like best practices which are essential in this day and age to keep yourself from falling behind in your industry.

    In other words, they are the foundational activities that keep you in the competition, but they are not meant to beat the competition.

    Chances are your competitors are already following these guidelines too. And if you are not doing even this much, there’s no hope for you in terms of ROI of your content marketing.

    To get ahead of competitors and write viral content, however, you’ll need to think and take steps beyond what most brands are doing.

    So in this post, I am going to share a number of ways to improve your content, make it stand out, and make it way better than the competition.

    In other words, I’ll show you how to make your content more likely to get backlinks and social mentions.

    With each tactic, I have also tried to mention an example of a brand using it to differentiate their content.

    Note: While you’re free to copy what other bloggers and content creators have done before you, the best results will emerge from your own unique spin.

    Instead of just copying these ways, I recommend to use them only for inspiration for coming up with your own ideas on how you can add unique value and write 10X content in your niche.

    Use Studies & Research

    Conducting and sharing results of a case study about an experience you personally went through, or original research based on data you gathered, goes a long way in establishing your brand as a credible thought leader.

    The first step to create this kind of viral content is to pick a goal to complete, a question to answer or a theory to test. This should be something that also interests your target audience.

    For example, if you are operating in the health and fitness niche, you could think of ideas like:

    • Goal: Losing X weight in Y weeks.
    • Question: How long does it take to lose weight with changes in diet alone?
    • Theory: Exercise is more important than diet for weight loss.

    If you are creating a personal case study, you’ll then take the steps to meet the goal, do what’s needed to answer the question from your experience, or experiment on yourself to test the theory.

    A great example is this post by Groove. The company wrote about what they did to increase their website traffic by 12000% without advertising.

    groove case - viral content

    Since publication, this article has accumulated 2000 social media shares, 50+ comments and 74 active backlinks. These are the kind of results you can accomplish by writing a better blog post.

    Source: LinkMiner

    On the other hand, if you plan to create content based on research data from a larger sample of people or entities than just yourself, you’ll need to conduct a survey or analyze data gathered from external sources.

    A great example of this type of content is this original research by Ahrefs. They went through petabytes of historical ranking data to understand how long does it take, on average, to rank on Google. As a result, they have gained 500+ backlinks.

    If you are having trouble coming up with good ideas for conducting a case study or research related to what you do, the following tips will help:

    Replace Outdated Studies: Find popular but outdated research studies in your niche, and conduct a similar one in the present time. You can search Google for keywords like:

    • [Niche] + “case study”
    • [Niche] + “industry survey”
    • [Niche] + “industry research”
    • [Niche] + “statistics”
    • [Niche] + “research study”
    • [Niche] + “research data”

    The best part about this strategy is that once your content is published, you can reach out to and inform the people who linked to or shared the previous study.

    Industry Truths/Best Practices: Think about something that is often claimed by experts and influencers in your niche, but has no data-driven evidence.

    For example, many SEO experts often claim that it may take from 6-8 months to rank a website and get serious traffic from search engines.

    So you could create a case study around how long did it take to rank one of the websites that you worked on.

    Or you could gather data from a sample of websites and how long they took to rank in Google. Your sample should have a large number of websites, enough to make a good prediction.

    In fact, that’s exactly what Ahrefs did, to create the original research that I mentioned a few paragraphs back.

    Bonus Tip: Even if you are writing a piece of content which is not a case study or research you did, you can still take advantage of this strategy.

    Here’s how: In any piece of content you work on, just back up as many of your claims you can by citing research studies and statistics related to your industry. This will greatly improve your content.

    Focus On Content Readability

    For your content to be engaging, it has to be readable first. It means the overall look and feel of your website and content should be easy on the eyes, and the brain.

    Your website should be easy to navigate and content should be easy to scan. Ensuring good readability includes a number of things, like short sentences, small paragraphs, active voice, subheadings, bullet points, plain language and more.

    For more information, refer to the Smemark writing style & readability guide.

    Dig Deeper Into User Intent

    When you’re about to write viral content on a topic to target one or more keywords, really and deeply think about the intent behind those keywords.

    To make your content go viral, you need to really understand your market. Analyze why people are interested in this subject. Then come up with a way to satisfy it in a unique and better way.

    For example, let’s say we want to create great content to target the primary keyword online movie ratings, and secondary keywords film ratings online, movie review aggregators.

    Based on these keywords, there are a number of directions/angles we can pick from to create the content.

    For example, we can plan to create a directory of movies and their IMDB ratings, or a list of top movie critics and their websites, or an awards page like top 100 movies of all time sorted by average of their IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes rating, or a page with user-generated reviews and ratings, or something else.

    But in order to create the best content possible, we really need to dig deep into the searcher’s brain and what they truly want. What the searcher really wants is help in deciding what to watch.

    So when brainstorming what kind of content to create, we will think of ways to not just capture the keywords, but actually help the searcher find something great to watch. This will be the key to a better blog post.

    We could do a round up of ratings and reviews and aggregate at one place. We can also categorize the reviews by critic vs audience reviews. Or by availability on Netflix, Amazon Prime etc.

    But there are sites which already do that. There’s nothing unique in that. All these angles have already been covered.

    On further thinking however, let’s say we realize that one of the challenges the searcher has is whose ratings he/she can trust.

    Sometimes a movie has a great critical or audience score on a certain website like MetaCritic or Fandango, but on watching, it turns out to be bad.

    Now that could be our unique angle which really satisfies the searcher's intent - some kind of statistical analysis to determine whose ratings are the most trustworthy.

    So we get a sample set with enough films, like 500 or more movies from the last 3 years. We note the ratings provided by each service to see if there are any patterns.

    Patterns may emerge to show things like if some rating providers have genre preferences, correlations with awards or each other, outlier movies and more.

    Now of course, it’s not easy. There’s a lot of work involved in doing this analysis. But that is the price to pay if we want to create a truly exceptional piece of content that gets tons of backlinks and shares.

    In addition, it’s really hard for competitors to replicate and create something similar.

    Once you have done the analysis and arrived at some conclusions, the next step is to find a great way to present this data. In fact, there’s a brand that did something similar to what we have just discussed.

    FiveThirtyEight.com analyzed data from Fandango, IMDB, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Then they presented this information in a graph that shows average ratings across 150 different movies.

    movie rating graph - viral content

    And now they have this exceptional piece of content which continues to do really well to this day.

    However, keep in mind that it’ll take a few attempts at this process before you get a piece that goes viral. Don’t expect to get a hit in your hands right the first time.

    The more you experiment and practice, the better you will get. Do this over and over, and you will begin to develop an intuition for unique approaches with the potential to write a highly linkable piece of content.

    Cover Your Topic Definitively

    If something is worth learning, it’s going to be somewhat complicated. That’s why people love reading, sharing and linking to comprehensive content.

    For example, you could either write a short article on 7 WordPress SEO tips, or a complete guide to WordPress SEO which covers everything the reader needs to know and do.

    A comprehensive tutorial will always win in the battle with bite-size content. Both humans and search engines prefer authoritative content which covers all the information on a topic.

    So before you begin, it’s important to understand why you are writing content on a given topic, what’s the scope and what all subtopics you will need to touch on.

    Your content needs to cover all aspects of a given topic, leaving no room for questions or gaps. That’s how you improve your content.

    A great example of this is one of the most successful blogs on the planet, Wait But Why. Their blog posts are filled with highly useful information and engaging visuals.

    By writing long-form posts better than anybody else, the site has amassed around 2 million visitors per month.

    waitbutwhy - viral content

    To write this type of great content, you need to be an expert on the topic you are writing about. But even if you’re not, you can pull it off with a hell of a research on your subject.

    If your research is truly thorough, you’ll end up becoming an expert anyway. In fact, so many best-selling books were written by authors who didn’t know much about the chosen book subject until they really went deep with research.

    The process of researching and writing didn’t just help them write a bestselling book, but also rise as a thought leader on the topic.

    Give Recognition

    Awarding some kind of status, ranking or reviewing the work of others in your niche, according to a criteria, goes a long way in flattering those who made the cut. And they will reciprocate the favor by spreading the word about your content.

    For example, take a look at Teach100 by Teach.com. They rank and score hundreds of education blogs online.

    teach100 blogs - viral content

    Each blog is scored based on four components: social reach, posting frequency, domain authority and Teach Score. Teach score measures other aspects like how media is used, relevance of the topics, and the overall presentation of the blog.

    In addition, they also provided the option to get a badge, which a blog owner can embed in their blog to show this ranking.

    It’s a win-win strategy because Teach.com will get a backlink and the blog owner will get a credential to showcase on their blog.

    When working on this type of content, it doesn’t need to be a list of blogs. You can feature products, websites, experts, services, projects or anything else that could be a good fit.

    To make your blog post better, the criteria for ranking can be expert votes, quality of reviews, or your own analysis or experience.

    Bonus Tip: Make sure to reach out to the people you have recognized or linked to. Let them know that you have featured them so they could help you go viral if they want to.

    Embed Expert Quotes

    Including quote by an expert to support something you are saying in your content is one of the best ways to improve it. It doesn’t just look good, but also lends your content more credibility. Here’s an example of what it may look like:

    exper quote - viral content

    As an added bonus, it also makes your content more likely to get a mention or link back from the expert.

    You can either use a quote you read online on an influencer’s blog or website (as long as it’s still relevant), or you can reach out to them and request for a new one.

    Then embed it in your content in a visually appealing manner, with a link back to the source.

    When you publish the content, make sure the expert you quoted is aware of it. You can mention them when sharing content on social media, or send a quick message with thanks.

    In fact many bloggers have taken this strategy to the extreme, writing great content in the form of round-up posts, getting dozens of backlinks, relationships and huge exposure in return.

    Robbie Richards, for example, regularly comes up with blog posts like these: 51 Experts Rank Best SEO Audit Tools for 2019.

    He targets experts within his niche, and requests there quote/opinion on a specific topic. Then he compiles all this information in a single piece of content.

    There is no reason you can’t apply the same strategy. However, before you get in touch with an influencer, make sure you have warmed them up a little bit.

    This means doing the little things to get noticed by them, like sharing their good content on social media, subscribing to their newsletter, commenting on their blog post, and engaging with them on Twitter.

    Real Experiences/Case Studies

    Another thing that makes your content more trustworthy are real anecdotes and stories from your own personal experiences. Stories make your content relatable, understandable, and personal.

    Whatever you claim needs to be supported with evidence, citing an external source or writing your own case studies. In fact, this report identifies case studies as one of the top 3 content marketing tactics.

    case study tactics - viral content

    Moreover, sharing stories about you or your brand has another benefit. It lets people see your personality and connect more with you emotionally.

    For a brand, it gives a glimpse of people and processes behind the scenes. You turn from a cold corporation to a warm bunch of people.

    Writing a better blog post is about showing your readers that you have been through the same challenges, you understand what they are going through, how to got to the solution, what did you do and what kind of results you got.

    An emotional story is more interesting, engaging and memorable than just plain facts or numbers. And if you can invoke a strong emotion, your content will have the potential to go viral.

    Examples/Templates

    When sharing advice, don’t just tell readers to do something, show them with clear examples and templates. Great content helps readers understand your concepts with more clarity and connect the solutions to their own problems.

    For example, take a look at any post on the Ahrefs blog and you’ll see that it’s filled with tons of real templates and examples to aid your understanding.

    content examples - viral content

    That’s part of the reason it is among the most popular blogs in the highly competitive SEO industry.

    Sharing real examples and templates improves the content and helps readers get the most from your advice and follow through. It also gives encouragement that it’s actually possible to do what you’re advising.

    Actionable Details & Steps

    There is a difference between sharing superficial information and taking your readers through something step by step. For a better blog post, you need to do the latter.

    In order to help readers apply the information, you need to give proper context as well give the exact details on what and how exactly they are supposed to do something.

    For example, when I wrote this piece on picking a niche, I didn’t just tell the reader to analyze market demand, and left them hanging. I also provided exercises, different ways and tools they could use to understand what customers want.

    market research actions -viral content

    Even better if you can give an in-depth tutorial with videos, GIFs or screenshots. For more details, check out this guide to make your content actionable.

    Online Tools/Calculators

    If there’s one type of content with the potential to attract hundreds of backlinks, it’s a free web utility or application.

    From Hubspot to NerdWallet to Zillow, many brands have used this strategy to provide great value and attract a ton of engagement in a single stroke.

    online tool example - viral content

    To illustrate, here’ the backlink profile for ABC calculator by Brewer’s Friend.

    abv tool backlinks - viral content

    An online tool of great utility makes your target audience visit again and again and fixes your brand in a prominent position in their minds.

    Now of course, the challenge here is to either have the technical know-how to build dynamic web apps, or if you have the budget, outsource development to a team which consists of at least a developer and designer.

    Bonus Tip: If you don’t like the idea of spending money on building an online tool, or giving a few weeks to months for learning how to code, I know of a few tools which help build this kind of great content without programming.

    Ucalc - Lets you build calculators and forms fast with customizable, ready-to-use templates.

    Bubble - A visual programming tool that lets you build and host a fully functional web application without coding.

    Calculator Plugins from CodeCanyon - If you use WordPress as your website CMS, CodeCanyon has a number of calculator plugins to use depending on your niche.

    So depending on the nature of your business and target audience, think about what type of useful app you can create and give away for free. And your viral content will have visitors flocking to you in no time.

    Custom Visuals/Infographics

    Presenting information/data in a visual format, either on its own or to aid parts of your written content, is another way to improve your content tenfold.

    Images and graphics help add to the story and make your blog post more interesting and easy to follow.

    The visual formats could be tables, diagrams, charts, graphs, comic strips, infographics and more, limited only by your creativity.

    For example, Estately, a real estate company, created a visual map representation for data on questions each US state Googles more than other states.

    state searches - viral content

    This “mapographic” was quite successful in generating 150+ backlinks for Estately, including those from Fast Company.

    As a rule of thumb, you can use at least one visual after every 500 words of content. This makes your content look more attractive and professional to readers.

    Not only should the images be stunning to look at, they should be relevant and added in a way that supports the points covered in your article.

    If you need more inspiration, look at the Wait But Why blog I mentioned earlier, along with Oliver Emberton’s blog.

    oliver visual - viral content

    See how much effort he puts into creating amazing visuals for each of his articles, which is the reason behind his huge following on Quora and other platforms.

    Now, the question is, how to create such compelling visual content? You may not have the budget to hire a professional designer or knowledge of complex design software like Adobe Photoshop.

    First of all, keep in mind to stay away from generic stock photos. Everyone is using them without customizing much and so they don’t help much in differentiating your content from others. It’s much better to use originally taken, heavily customized or in-house graphics.

    Second, there are a number of easy to use tools that even non-designers can use to design graphical content. Some of the most prominent are: Canva, Crello, DesignBold and Snappa.

    All these tools come with a great number of readymade templates, grids, illustrations and more to help you design great looking graphics quickly and easily.

    Add GIF/Videos

    Static images and graphics are great when you want to spice up your content. But some things can be best conveyed only by using a GIF or video. And great content takes advantage of that.

    This visual medium is perfect for telling a story, or showing some quick steps on how to do something.

    Not just that, GIFs are great for when you want to infuse a little fun and humor into your content.

    Here are some places you can find the best GIFs to use in your content: Giphy, Tenor, and Imgur.

    As an added bonus, videos also increase the time readers spend on your website, causing a boost in overall engagement and search rankings.

    Make It Interactive

    Fifty three percent of content marketers have said that they use some type of interactive content in their campaigns. Interactive content lets readers engage with it by providing some input and viewing real time output.

    The most prominent example is a quiz or assessment. But other types of interactive content include: polls, contests, interactive visuals and more.

    interactive quiz - viral content

    Check out these examples from BuzzSumo, which will help you come up with your own ideas on what’s possible when you’re trying to improve your content.

    Then once you have some ideas to create interactive content, you can use any of the easily available tools to bring them to life.

    Granted, creating interactive content assets may take a little more time, effort and cost than other assets. But if you are really serious about making your content go viral, they are worth it.

    Inject With Fun/Humor

    Writing a better blog post isn't just knowing how to inform, but how to perform. You're educating your audience, but you also need to entertain them.

    Sadly, most brands frown at sprinkling some humor throughout the content. But this is understandable considering how challenging it is to get it right. It’s both risky and difficult.

    You want to add a little fun and laughter to the conversation, but you also want to make sure you’re not offending any part of your target audience, or going too far in taunting competitors.

    competitor joke - viral content

    But if you can get it right, the dividends are plenty. Since most of the brands don’t do it, you have the chance to stand out in a big way. So try to make your content fun to read and learn from

    Bonus Tip: If you’re looking for inspiration for adding jokes or funny banter to your content, it's a good idea to browse your favorite humor or viral websites every once in a while.

    It will help you collect ideas you can use in your blog posts. Examples include Buzzfeed, 9Gag, Oatmeal, Funny Or Die etc. And there are plenty more. Keep a file of these ideas, which can come handy when writing great content.

    Coin New Terms/Concepts

    There’s a reason I saved this topic for the last. It’s one of the hardest things to pull off. But if done right, you’ll not face a shortage of backlinks and social mentions for years to come.

    Every once in a while, an industry expert coins a term or phrase which really catches on. A great example is Instant Gratification Monkey by Tim Urban.

    gratification monkey term - viral content

    Here are some more notable examples from other niches:

    • When Sean Ellis came up with the term “Growth Hacking” in 2010
    • When Brian Dean wrote about his “Skyscraper Technique” in 2015
    • The Briefcase Technique by Ramit Sethi in 2011

    Since these terms first appeared, they have been talked about, written and shared thousands of times, along with mentions of people and brands who created them.

    To make this work, you’ll need to ensure two things:

    • Your coined term really adds practical value to the associated industry.
    • You have the budget to promote this new concept like crazy.

    Once you coin and explain the term, you’ll have to promote it everywhere and in every way, including advertising, guest posting, social media and outreach to people who write about similar concepts but don’t use the term.

    Final Thoughts

    When it comes to writing great content, you want to focus more on quality than quantity. And this approach should reflect in your content briefs.

    Implementing these ways and modifying your content strategy accordingly will certainly take more time and effort, but I bet you’ll be happy with the results.

    Also remember that no matter how much better your content is than everybody else, you won’t get real mileage from it unless the right people know about it. So make sure you combine quality content with adequate promotion.

    By doing all these things consistently in your content, you’ll establish trust and thought leadership and become the go to resource for products and services in your niche.

    Did you try these tactics? Do you have any questions or comments? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.

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