We all want to go viral. Once your blog post goes viral, you’re fueling your website or business with a rocket engine. Reaching out to thousands of potential customers and seeing exponential spikes in site visitors on Google Analytics is something every website owner loves to see. But is it true that sites go viral purely by coincidence or luck?

Traffic spikes resulting from viral sharing in Google Analytics
Traffic spikes resulting from viral sharing in Google Analytics

The answer is... no!

Ask any marketer worth their salt why content goes viral, and they’ll tell you that it isn’t accidental. Replace luck with timing, add a formidable marketing strategy, and you’re on your way.

Is it possible for your article to go viral? Absolutely! As long as your site is well optimized to be shareable.

An example of the most shareable articles on Buzzsumo
An example of the most shareable articles on Buzzsumo

And that’s the key: you need to give people a reason (or six) and make it easy to share your content.

We looked at some of the websites that apply sharing strategies well and have the most shared content, and in this article we will present you the findings.

Here are top 6 ways to optimize your site for viral sharing and outreach potential.

1. Use graphically appealing images and headlines with emotional words

Ever heard of pattern disrupt?

It’s a term that refers to images and headlines that stop people in their tracks.

Imagine it: you’re scrolling down your Facebook newsfeed, not noticing anything. You’re bored of looking at the same stuff.

Then, an image of a brilliant island sunset stops you in your tracks. It makes you feel good just looking at it. Or, perhaps you stumble upon an image of a giant yellow rubber duck floating on an ocean. It’s unusual, bizarre — and it catches your attention.

An example of a Facebook post which is using pattern disrupt well
An example of a Facebook post which is using pattern disrupt well

Graphically appealing, emotive images combined with powerful headlines excite our curiosity. Use them.

The human brain is wired to respond to faces, colors, and movements, so you should take this into consideration when deciding on photos to be shown in the feed.

The easiest way to pick eye-catching images is to sign up to a stock photo website, such as ShutterStock and Unsplash. These sites generally require fees to use, but the photos they offer are of a high-quality that will add value to your site.

An example of a promoted post using a stock image that tries to stand out
An example of a promoted post using a stock image that tries to stand out

You could also use screenshots, stills, your own personal photos -- or even better, get your images designed.

Once you’ve picked an image, you then need to pair it up with a strong headline with powerful, emotive words, such as:

  • Cash
  • Massive
  • Successful
  • Outstanding
  • Skyrocket
  • Free

The aim is to use your headline and images to make the reader feel a certain way.

Example of an image with text that makes the reader feel good about making money from their phone
Example of an image with text that makes the reader feel good about making money from their phone

There are tried and tested formulas to bear in mind when writing a catchy headline. The best ones either promise a benefit, or at least arouse curiosity:

  • How to That Will
  • X Ways to to

Here are some examples of compelling headlines:

  • 10 Killer Ways To Get A Girl To Like You
  • How To Know You’ve Found Your Soulmate
  • How To Create Passive Income That Will Change Your Life

2. Use shareable widgets with icons

Sometimes, a user needs you to give them a nudge to share your content.

“Here’s a LinkedIn widget so that you can share this website if you really love it!”
“Oh yeah! Thanks.”

Widgets encourage shares. Not only can shares help you go viral, but they can also result in more backlinks to your site.

Make your widgets big, but make sure they fit the look and feel of your page and brand, too. Position them right after your call-to-action so that all a person has to do is click on them to share to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and LinkedIn.

Use scrollable widgets, so that when a user scrolls up or down a page, your widgets follow them. This means they’re readily available for whenever someone wants to share them. Happiness!

An example of a sharable widget that moves with you as you scroll the website
An example of a sharable widget that moves with you as you scroll the website

Use the social media networks that are relevant for your site. For example, if you have a blog about interior decoration, Pinterest will probably be much more suitable than Linkedin.

Also, you should use widgets that display how many shares the article has on each platform. Widgets that show the share count help to show that your site already has a strong social presence.

It’s easy enough to add widgets to your site, and is usually a simple case of dragging and dropping the icon you want into an article.

For WordPress users, click on “Appearances” followed by “Widgets.” Then, simply drag the widget you want into the desired area of your sidebar. Then, press “Preview.” If you’re not using scrollable widgets, it’s a good idea to place the widgets at the top and the bottom of your page to encourage more shares.

Adding widgets to WordPress
Adding widgets to WordPress

3. Ensure your site has open graph tags set

You need to make sure that your open graph tags are defined. Why? Because they make or break how well your links perform on social media by putting you in control of what shows up when you share your site to social media.

As such, they’re a pretty big deal.

An example from IMDB of how open graph tags look in a document
An example from IMDB of how open graph tags look in a document

You can adjust tags to:

  • Describe your content using keywords
  • Add images
  • Tweak a URL so that it’s relevant and simple
  • Let the social media platform know more about the shared content and your website’s name.

How you set open graph tags will depend on the publishing platform you use. If you’re on WordPress, you need to go to your dashboard and click on “SEO.” Then, tap “Social.”

Here you will see options for the different social media platforms. Tweak the image URL, Description, and Title for each one.

Setting open graph tags on WordPress
Setting open graph tags on WordPress

4. Measure the shares

If you want to optimize your site for viral sharing, it’s time to get smart about metrics, even if you’re not a big fan of them.

Measuring your shares gives you an insight into what’s working and what’s not working in your marketing campaigns.

You can use the platforms themselves to help you measure the shares. On Facebook, for example, you need to pop over to Insights about your page. As of June 2016 Domain Insights are no longer available (the functionality that allowed you to see how content from your website was performing on Facebook), but you can use Referral Insights by installing a Facebook pixel on your site.

With the new Referral Insights, Facebook allows you to understand and analyze your referral traffic from Facebook on demographic and consumption levels.

Facebook Referral Insights from an example website
Facebook Referral Insights from an example website

Alternatively, you can use third-party tools, such as Simple Measured, Keyhole, and others.

As well as the virality of your posts, Facebook Insights tracks likes, check-ins and the number of users talking about your post.

Keyhole tracks your campaign, hashtag and keyword metrics in real time, including impressions and reach.

Simple Measured, meanwhile, is a full-funnelled social media analytics tool that brings together reports from all your social media accounts so that you can understand how well your content is performing across a wide spectrum.

You can also use a free tools like SharedCount to see the number of shares of your URLs. It takes a second to copy and paste your URLs and get the data you need, such as the reach, engagement, and virality of your posts.

Another great tool is TailWind, which is designed specifically for Instagram and Pinterest. It gives you insight into performance, impressions potential, as well smaller things, such as the number of comments and shares.

And finally, TweetReach is a solid tool for Twitter that lets you type in a hashtag or a keyword to track its performance.

5. Use Facebook Debug to check how the posts appear on Facebook

Imagine if you were sharing your content to social media, but no one was engaging?

Horrifying.

What’s even more horrifying is if the reason they weren’t interacting was that your posts were appearing like a jigsaw puzzle that has just been tipped out of its box.

In other words, nothing looked right.

To make sure your posts are presentable and set-up correctly on Facebook, use the Facebook Debug tool. It refreshes your cache while updating the information on Facebook so it always shows up information from your site to date: without it, your shared post would stay the same even after updating the open graph tags on your site. It’s free to use, and all you need to do is copy and paste your link to get started.

Remember: test how the shared post will look on social networks before you make the post public and start promoting it.

6. Use call to action to motivate shares or newsletter subscriptions

Lastly, you need to include a call to action at the end of each piece of content.

What one thing do you want your readers to do next?

Your call to action needs to be super specific and super obvious. Don’t skirt around the issue. Make sure your readers know exactly what you want them to do next. For example, you could return to the problem you presented at the start of the article, before showing them that you’ve got the solution. All they need to do is pop over to your website for more information.

Or maybe you want to direct them to your opt-in page. If so, tell them you’ve got a freebie lying in wait for them, and give them the link. Simple but so effective. Be direct. You’re not Mother Theresa. If you’ve got something you want us to do, tell us!

A call-to-action example with a button on HelpScout blog
A call-to-action example with a button on HelpScout blog

A call to action can be as simple as a piece of text, such as “Enjoyed the article? Don’t forget to like and share!”, or it could be a link that takes the reader to your opt-in page. For example, you could tell your readers that if they wish to continue reading the article they need to subscribe.

If you go down this route, why not turn your call of action into a button? A button acts as a signifier that helps to persuade the reader to click and take action — like in the image above.

All in all, optimization is important — and not that hard. Once you’ve learned the ropes and implemented a strategy, it’s pretty much just a case of tweaking until you get the results you want.

Applying the tips and strategies presented in this article should make it easier for you to make your website ready for the content to go viral.

Of course, there are also some other important things that we didn’t cover in the article because they should be pretty much self-evident, such as having a mobile-responsive and well optimized website — both in terms of loading and search engine optimization.

Always remember that without metrics, a campaign is on a hiding to nothing. You simply won’t know what works and what doesn’t. Download the right tools, experiment with images and headlines, and measure your shares.

Last tip? Don’t forget to produce great content. It’s kind of important.

Do you have any other suggestions or questions on how to make the site more virally effective? Write it in the comments below!