I read this post today because I thought I would learn something applicable to my job as content marketer at Bluetrain. The headline grabbed my attention right away: How to Make Viral Content: 9 Tips from the Greatest Viral Content Genius on the Planet. I thought: “Great! I’ll learn some cool tips for making amazing content.” However, I found Dan Lyon’s profile of Neetzan Zimmerman, audience developer for mega blog Gawker, neither helpful nor inspiring. First of all, the article is guilty of two of my internet-related pet peeves: inaccurate language and deceptive headlines. Instead of “How to Make Viral Content” a more suitable headline for this article might be “How to Dig up Bits of Internet Gold, Dust Them Off, Throw a Catchy Headline on Top and Recycle it on Your Website!”

Although Gawker does do a fair amount of reporting, Neetzan Zimmerman does not actually create anything. When your claim to fame (Zimmerman’s) is that you helped over 11 million people watch a reality TV teen mom’s sex tape, call me Shania Twain, but that don’t impress me much. What Zimmerman does – scrape the internet for content and regurgitate this duplicate content on Gawker’s website – is very bad for SEO. Sharing existing content is a more common tactic for social media. If you were to begin posting random videos and stories on your website, Google would simply find the authority sources and be confused about what your website is about.

Plus the so-called tips that Zimmerman spills are not practices that most businesses (that don’t deal in publishing cat videos and celebrity gossip) should be following. For instance, Zimmerman says he usually posts 10 to 15 items per day on Gawker, and admits he doesn’t even watch a video before posting it sometimes. If a business were to begin posting large amounts of random content to their website or social media 10 to 15 times a day, the business’s audience would likely experience content fatigue and be left with a very confused impression of that business’s brand.

In another tip, Zimmerman says that he spends a staggering 12 hours a day chained to his iPad browsing the internet for stories. This is just insane. (Seriously, Neetzan, go outside. Now!) As a business owner, you don’t need to spend even close to this much time every day in order to build an honest amount of relevant traffic to your site.

Below you’ll find some real ideas for developing viral content.

Tips for Making Viral Content

1. Redefine the term “viral”.

What does “viral” mean for your business? Maybe you are a small B2B company and a piece of content that got 10 reshares with your social circle would be something that “went viral”. Or maybe if you are a well-recognized, national brand perhaps 500,000 views of a youtube video would be a more appropriate goal.

2. Write something fascinating. 

When something wildly unusual or noteworthy happens journalists and media outlets take interest. An example of this actually occurred recently with a local client of ours. Jackson Middleton, executive editor at First Foundation, an Edmonton mortgage and insurance broker, recently started a 52 week money challenge and launched it with a blog post entitled: How My Family Will Save $13,780 in 2014. This post received a huge spike in traffic, got a big reaction from First Foundation’s social media following and was even picked up by CTV Morning Live.

3. Be relevant, but be fresh.

Reporting on industry and world news in a timely manner is great (especially for SEO), but it can be easy to get swept up in what everyone else is saying and forget to take a fresh perspective on the issue. Here’s a tip: the next time you see a news item you would like to report on, check the comments section. You will likely find people expressing new or opposing views to the issue and it could give you an idea for a fresh angle on a widely reported news item.

4. Write a Compelling Headline.

This is one gem that I did take away from Zimmerman. Sometimes us SEO’s are guilty of writing keyword-rich headlines that are great for search engines, but boring for humans. The new wave of SEO is way more focused on the user’s experience so always write with your audience in mind. A catchy headline that teases a bit of the story is way better than a plain headline stuffed with keywords. This was one of the most popular headlines on the Globe and Mail’s website today: Want to retire in Canada? Here are seven surprisingly warm spots. Obviously this headline is low on the sensational, I-gotta-see-this factor, but it is a good headline. It’s got some keywords (“retire in Canada”), it shares a bit of what the article is about and, yet, it is still enticing to click on. Most importantly, it is timely; as we head into late winter every Canadian seeing this headline is going: “Please, God! Tell me where these mythical warm places are!”

5. Data Up!

Spend some time in analytics and study your efforts. Did a certain blog post generate higher than average traffic? Why do you think it did? Was it your cheeky headline? Was it a particularly timely item? Did you have a super fresh angle that piqued your audience’s curiosity? Maybe your post had an irresistible image thumbnail. Figure out what went wrong and what went right and use that to work smarter in the future.

Did you create something that went viral? I’d love to know about it! Leave your story in the comments section below.

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