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10 Content Marketing Lessons from Our TOP 10 Most Viral Blog Posts

Content Marketing

10_Content_Marketing_Lessons_from_Our_TOP_10_Most_Viral_Blog_Posts-lscontent marketing lessonsThe Post Planner blog grew like crazy in 2013!

We went from 9k unique visitors per month in Dec 2012 to 155k/mo in Nov 2013.

A growth rate of 17x!

The most obvious driver of this growth was our consistent posting. We started the year posting about 3 posts per week -- and ended it posting about 6 per week.

That worked out to a total of 180 posts -- or about 1 post every 2 days.

Some of these posts did better than others, of course. Some got thousands of shares while others got fewer than a hundred.

Why?

Well, that's what I'd like to explore in this article. Below I'll list our Top 10 most shared posts of the year -- and then analyze why I think they did so well.

In the process, I'll try to expose some secrets about what makes a post go viral -- and also offer some actionable content marketing lessons you can apply to your own blog.

Who knows? Maybe if you follow the advice here, you'll see a 17x growth in your blog's traffic by next November. ;)

10 Content Marketing Lessons from Our TOP 10 Most Viral Blog Posts

I'm going to list the Top 10 blog posts in ascending order -- starting with #10. Then we'll work our way up to the #1 most shared post at the end.

For each post, I'll evaluate the following:

  1. Headline: its positive qualities & formula
  2. Viral Drivers: the factors that made it get shared so much
  3. Key Content Marketing Lesson: an actionable 1-line takeaway

Ok, let's do this!

#10 -- 8 Facebook Contest Ideas You Can Run on Your Timeline TODAY

facebook-contestShares: ~1,000 (total of FB, TW, LI, G+ shares)

Headline

Positive qualities:

  • Begins with the reward: "8 Facebook Content Ideas". This is the reward you get for reading the post -- and it's front & center in the headline
  • Begins with enticing keywords: "Facebook" and "Contests". Using enticing keywords at the beginning of a headline leverages the reader's tendency to scan the left margin. With keywords close to that margin, you'll be more likely to halt their scan -- which is important when your headline is competing against other headlines in news feeds (FB, Twitter, etc.), feed readers (Feedly, etc.) or against other email subjects in a reader's inbox (for those of you emailing your posts in a newsletter!)
  • Speaks directly to reader: "You Can Run"
  • Implies immediate action: "TODAY"

Headline formula:

Here's X valuable things you can make use of RIGHT NOW

Viral Drivers

  • Being timely: this post was published shortly after Facebook "legalized" Timeline contests -- which led to a ton of virality in the short-term
  • Scannable format: you can easily scan through the post, focusing on certain sections & contest ideas
  • Concise sections: author Aaron Lee makes sure no single section takes more than 20 seconds to read & understand
  • Specific examples: you don't have to imagine use cases -- you can view & evaluate actual timeline contests in each section
  • SEO: this post ranks #1 for the keyword "facebook contest ideas" -- and it's on Page 1 for "contest ideas", "photo contest ideas", "facebook post ideas" & "social media contest ideas"

Key Content Marketing Lesson

Create timely content that helps readers take immediate action on new developments.

>> Click to Tweet <<

#9 -- 5 Facebook Pages You Should Follow to Become a Facebook Expert

Facebook expertShares: ~1,100

Headline

Positive qualities:

  • Presents an easy task: all you have to do is follow 5 FB pages
  • Offers a HUGE payoff for completing the task: you will "Become a Facebook Expert"!
  • Piques curiosity: makes you wonder: "Which 5 pages did the blogger choose? Do I already follow them? Could my page be there?!"

Headline formula:

Here's a super-easy task you can complete to get a huge & immediate payoff

Viral Drivers

  • Gives props to connected people: the 5 experts whose pages are mentioned in the post -- Jon Loomer, Jim Belosic (Shortstack), Francisco Rosales (SocialMouths), Ravi Shukle & Ian Cleary (RazorSocial) -- have tens of thousands of followers -- and they all shared this post
  • Embedded Facebook posts: these make it easy to complete the task in the headline -- you can literally Like each of the 5 pages as you read the post!
  • Professional, "techy" featured image: featured images are important for 2 reasons -- they (1) attract eyeballs & clicks on Facebook & SM sites, and (2) give the reader an important first impression when landing on the blog post. This post's image conveys tech-savviness & being on the cutting edge -- 2 things you definitely want to be associated with
  • Intro evokes empathy: author Scott Ayres mentions a bad habit we can all relate to: not taking enough time to learn from others

Key Content Marketing Lesson

Offer a significant *immediate* reward for consuming your content.

>> Click to Tweet <<

#8 -- Organic Reach May Plummet if Facebook Pages Don’t Follow this Advice!

organic reach on facebook may plummetShares: ~1,100

Headline

Positive qualities:

  • Plays on fear: if you don't read this post, your business will SUFFER!
  • Begins with a trendy keyword: the term "organic reach" was all the rage in social media circles in late 2013
  • Uses a dynamic, uncommon verb: uncommon words (words that haven't become cliche or been over-used or "over-marketed") get noticed more by readers. The word "Plummet" does wonders for this headline! (Props to Joanna Wiebe at CopyHackers for teaching me this)

Headline formula:

Something horrible might happen if you don't read this blog post!

Viral Drivers

  • Breaking news: the post is basically a paraphrase of Facebook's announcement about declining reach for pages -- but also includes commentary & advice
  • Actionable advice: offers 2 simple yet detailed courses of action
  • Contentious, emotional topic: Facebook's announcement pissed off a lot of people -- and the 50+ comments on this post reflect that!

Key Content Marketing Lesson

Sell your content like a free insurance policy. Emphasize the risk of not consuming it.

>> Click to Tweet <<

#7 -- 3 Reasons We Made Post Planner FREE for Everyone

Free Scheduled Posts on FacebookShares: ~1,200

Headline

Positive qualities:

  • Reports an unexpected change: why would a company suddenly make their main product free?
  • Implies an unconventional decision: there must be a story behind this headline, because businesses usually don't charge people for something then stop charging for it. It's usually the other way around!
  • The word "FREE": this word almost always attracts more eyeballs & clicks -- because it implies savings

Headline formula:

Here's X reasons we did something bizarre & unexpected

Viral Drivers

  • Outreach to influencers: we reached out to literally every social media marketing influencer we knew -- from John Haydon to Mari Smith to Andrea Vahl. They all shared the post!
  • Chance to share value: people love to pass on great deals to their friends & colleagues
  • CEO post: people tend to pay more attention to announcements from the top decision maker in the company

Key Content Marketing Lesson

Create compelling content by transforming your business decisions into detailed explanations.

>> Click to Tweet <<

#6 -- Warning: these 58 Social Media Tips could Explode your Content Marketing

Content is KingShares: ~1,600

Headline

Positive qualities:

  • Sounds an ALARM: the word "Warning" grabs your attention & makes you read on
  • Defies expectations: you expect the warning to be about something negative or threatening -- so when it turns out to be positive, you're even more curious
  • Large list number: "58" is a big number. It signals an epic post -- one you'll probably want to bookmark

Headline formula:

Warning: the advice in this post could have a HUGE positive effect

Full disclosure: I got this formula from an awesome Copyblogger article here.

Viral Drivers

  • Easy to consume: each of the 58 tips is a short paragraph, so the post is very scannable -- making it more likely you'll scroll down it, decide it's valuable, and share it!
  • Re-purposed 3rd-party content from a proven source: this blogpost is the transcription of a killer slideshare presentation by the Content Marketing Institute -- along with our own brief intro, conclusion & examples. Re-purposing content like this benefits CMI too, since we include their original SlideShare presentation & links to their website
  • Comprehensiveness: the list includes tips for every social network you can think of -- which again makes you want to bookmark the post... and share it!
  • SEO: ranks on Page 1 for "social media tips", "social media marketing tips" and "social media content"

Key Content Marketing Lesson

Create new content by sharing, commenting on & improving other people’s content.

>> Click to Tweet <<

Remember: adding your own examples & making content easier to consume is a legit improvement.

#5 -- 9 Things You Should NEVER Share on Facebook

Shares: ~2,200

Headline

Positive qualities:

  • Plays on fear: first thing you think is "Oh shit!... have I shared any of these?"
  • Plays on self-righteousness: 2nd thing you think is "OMG, I know so many people who share dumb shit!" -- and then you want to read the post to see if those things are mentioned
  • Concision: headline is only 8 words (43 characters) -- which means it can be read & understood in a single glance
  • Tactical use of ALL CAPS: in this headline the all-caps stress the most emotional word: "NEVER" -- but they also create an "eye-anchor" in the middle of the headline, making it easier to consume in a glance (another nod to CopyHackers for helping me understand this)

Headline formula:

Here's X things you're probably doing wrong

Viral Drivers

  • The will to warn: this post is akin to one of those viral emails about not buying certain food products -- it taps into our will to warn each other
  • The will to preach: I imagine a lot of people sharing this & thinking: "This post doesn't really apply to me -- but YOU... you, on the other hand, should be careful!"
  • Palm to forehead factor: there's a clear "I can't believe I didn't think of that" quality to a few of the tips in this post -- which, again, triggers the will to warn

Key Content Marketing Lesson

Create content that helps people warn their peers — and feel superior to them.

>> Click to Tweet <<

#4 -- 100 Awesome Facebook Lists to Follow (and bypass Edgerank)

Shares: ~2,500

Headline

Positive qualities:

  • Offers a HUGE number of items: 100 Facebook lists?!... this post is obviously epic. It must deserve a bookmark!
  • Offers a shortcut: at the time this post was written, EdgeRank was still the hottest Facebook buzzword -- and everyone was looking for ways to game it or bypass it
  • Leverages parentheses: they separate & highlight the 2 components of the headline. "100 Awesome Facebook Lists to Follow" stands out even more because it's followed by the parentheses. And you can't help but read what's inside the parentheses!

Headline Formula:

Here’s a massive number of resources (and a clever way to use them)

Viral Drivers

  • Gives props to influencers: the people who created the FB lists in this post put a lot of thought, time & work into them. So they're likely to share a post that recognizes their work -- especially a post that required so much thought, time & work to write. (Robert Scoble, Mari Smith, Phyllis Khare & even a Facebook employee working on the lists feature have shared this post)
  • Too large to consume in one sitting: this is one of those posts that you start to read & then realize: "Dude, there's so much stuff here -- I gotta bookmark this for later". My guess is that this sentiment also leads to sharing, since bookmarkable content is also shareable content

Key Content Marketing Lesson

Create epic, encyclopedic content & you will get epic results.

>> Click to Tweet <<

#3 -- 17 Wicked Ways to Use Your Facebook Cover Photo

Shares: ~2,600

Headline

Positive qualities:

  • Begins with an unconventional, unexpected phrase: you don't see a lot of social media marketing headlines starting with "17 Wicked Ways..."
  • Rocks the alliteration: the " wha, wha" of the first 2 words makes you hear the headline in your head -- which makes you digest it whole
  • Implies novelty: if the 17 ways are actually "wicked" then there must be a couple things you've never thought of

Headline Formula:

Here's X ways to do something extraordinary with something ordinary

Viral Drivers

  • Marrying of headline with featured image: the image of Lady Gaga together with the "Wicked Ways" in the headline (and the pre-Halloween publish date) combined to give this post an aura of unorthodoxy -- one that clearly piqued the curiosity of a lot of people
  • Awesome examples: not only are Aaron's 17 cover photo tips amazing, but they each include an awesome visual example -- so you can immediately see the tip in action
  • Concise analysis & advice: each cover photo example is followed by 2 sections: Who (linking to the page) & What I Like (offering 1-3 lines of praise, analysis & advice)

Key Content Marketing Lesson

Well-dressed content steals the show! Dress your content in a fitted & matching outfit (headline, image & format).

>> Click to Tweet <<

#2 -- Facebook Begins Penalizing “Low Quality” Content on Pages

Shares: ~3,700

Headline

Positive qualities:

  • Screams "breaking news": the word "Begins" implies something that just started... like right now
  • Leverages quote marks: the quotes around "Low Quality" have the benefit of (1) implying it's Facebook's own term, which makes you curious about their official definition of it, and (2) creating an eye-anchor in the middle of the headline -- making it easier to consume in a glance

Headline Formula:

This news maker is now doing “this” to your business

Viral Drivers

  • Breaking news: this post became the go-to resource for Facebook's surprising announcement about "low quality" content -- it was even recommended by Facebook in the news feed under other posts about the topic -- sending TONS of traffic to our website!
  • Commentary from experts: Scott not only quotes the official Facebook announcement & breaks it down section by section & point by point -- he also quotes the analysis of top Facebook marketing experts like Jon Loomer & Brian Carter -- almost guaranteeing that they leave a comment on the post (and share it on Facebook via their comment)

Key Content Marketing Lesson

Create content about events by teaching what the event means, quoting expert reaction, and commenting on both.

>> Click to Tweet <<

#1 -- Here’s a Quick Way to Get More Likes on Your Facebook Page

Shares: ~4,800

Headline

Positive qualities:

  • Uses direct, real-world language: instead of starting with the typical "How to...", it starts with a more conversational "Here's a Quick Way to..." Longer, yes -- but also more natural & direct. For example, if I had this so-called "Quick Way" in my pocket & I approached someone to give it to them, I wouldn't reach out my hand & just say "How to get more Likes". No, I'd probably reach out my hand & say something like "Hey, here's a quick way to get more Likes"

Headline Formula:

Here's a quick way to get something everyone in your industry wants

Viral Drivers

  • SEO!!!: this post ranks either #1 or #2 for any permutation of the keyword "get more Facebook likes" -- which leads to it getting about 10k impressions per day!
  • FB Comments: because of the topic of the post, the comments section tends to attract a lot of spam (about 1,600 comments so far) -- which is bad for discussion, but great for virality & SEO
  • Infographic transcription: all we really did in this post was take a cool infographic (created by Mari Smith & Shortstack) and transcribe its main tips into the body of the post. Then we added our own commentary on each tip. The funny thing is the infographic isn't even about getting Likes -- it's about getting Shares! But we optimized the post for the "get more likes" keywords -- resulting in a massive payoff!

Key Content Marketing Lesson

Create content with long-term ROI by repurposing 3rd-party content & optimizing it for your own keywords.

>> Click to Tweet <<

Honorable Mention

The 10 posts above offer some great lessons.

I thought it would also be valuable for you to see the next 10 most viral posts -- #11-20 on the list.

So here they are (with share numbers):

  1. 4 Ways to Avoid Being a #Facebook #Hashtag #Douchebag (1k)
  2. Are You a Crappy Fan Page Admin? (990)
  3. 50 Facebook Pages of Restaurants (ONE per State) to Learn Tips From (900)
  4. 5 Reasons Why People UnLike Your Facebook Page (810)
  5. WARNING: Facebook’s Graph Search Changes the Meaning of a “Like” (780)
  6. These 5 Posts Will Increase Your Facebook Engagement Overnight (740)
  7. 7 No-brainer Tips to Write an Awesome Facebook Post (670)
  8. 20 Awesome Facebook Cover Photos to Inspire You (650)
  9. Did Facebook Just Put ALL Social Media Managers Out of Work? (620)
  10. Write better Facebook Status Updates with these 5 Templates (600)

The Roundup

I hope you've learned some valuable content marketing lessons from this post -- and also gotten ideas for some new blog posts.

But in case you missed anything, I'm going to summarize the main takeaways, headline formulas & content marketing lessons again below.

Please tweet them if you think they could help someone! :)

Headline Takeaways

Headline Formulas

  1. Here's X valuable things you can make use of RIGHT NOW >> Click to Tweet
  2. Here's a super-easy task you can complete to get a HUGE & immediate payoff >> Click to Tweet
  3. Something horrible might happen if you don't read this blog post >> Click to Tweet
  4. Here's X reasons we did something bizarre & unexpected >> Click to Tweet
  5. Warning: the advice in this post could have a HUGE positive effect >> Click to Tweet
  6. Here's X things you're probably doing wrong >> Click to Tweet
  7. Here’s a massive number of resources (and a clever way to use them) >> Click to Tweet
  8. Here’s X ways to do something extraordinary with something ordinary >> Click to Tweet
  9. This news maker is now doing “this” to your business >> Click to Tweet
  10. Here’s a quick way to get something everyone in your industry wants >> Click to Tweet

Virality Takeaways

Content Marketing Lessons

  1. Create timely content that helps readers take immediate action on new developments. >> Click to Tweet
  2. Offer a significant *immediate* reward for consuming your content. >> Click to Tweet
  3. Sell your content like a free insurance policy. Emphasize the risk of not consuming it. >> Click to Tweet
  4. Create compelling content by transforming your business decisions into detailed explanations. >> Click to Tweet
  5. Create new content by sharing, commenting on & improving other people’s content. >> Click to Tweet
  6. Create content that helps people warn their peers — and feel superior to them. >> Click to Tweet
  7. Create epic, encyclopedic content & you will get epic results. >> Click to Tweet
  8. Well-dressed content steals the show! Dress your content in a fitted & matching outfit (headline, image & format). >> Click to Tweet
  9. Create content about events by teaching what the event means, quoting expert reaction, and commenting on both. >> Click to Tweet
  10. Create content with long-term ROI by repurposing 3rd-party content & optimizing it for your own keywords. >> Click to Tweet

Your Turn...

What do you think? Did I miss anything?

Do you think these posts got shared for other reasons?

Do you have blog posts that went viral for reasons not listed here?

Awesome!... please share in the comments below. :)

Josh Parkinson
Josh Parkinson

Josh is Founder & CPK (Customer Pain Killer) at Post Planner. His specialties include troublemaking, jedi mind tricks, simplicity mongering, catching extremely quick desert lizards, googling things, crushing the boxes people think outside of, and degrading energy. Connect with him on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.

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