5 Data-Driven Reasons Why Content Goes Viral

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Have you ever wondered what makes content go viral?

Is it simply the brand behind the content? A person’s network? How good the content was?

Well, yes and no.

Buzzsumo did a recent study analyzing 100 million articles to determine what truly makes content go viral.

What they found may surprise you. Unlike many clickbait articles on content virality, this article is not based on conjecture or guesswork.

The following strategies and tactics are all data driven and based off of a sample size of 100 million articles.

So, with that in mind, here are the 5 data driven reasons that content goes viral.

1. The Content is Long-Form

While some marketers may suggest that shorter-form articles are the way of the future, the data does not lie.

According to the study, articles that were shared the most frequently via email were longer-form articles.

Writing longer articles builds trust and creates a more authoritative online presence.

Think about it. How much effort and research does it take to write 300-500 words on a topic? Not much right?

What about writing 3,000+ words on that same topic?

When you write longer articles, your audience is more likely to share the content with friends and family and they are more likely to trust you and your brand.

2. Viral Content is Always Optimized for SEO

You may not be a big fan of SEO and keyword research. That’s ok.

The learning curve is steep, the algorithms are constantly changing, and unless you have an exceptionally nerdy personality like me, it is pretty boring.

But no matter how much you hate it, it is an important part of marketing your content and creating viral content.

Any effective content marketing strategy for generating viral content starts with good keyword research.

You first need to research, target, and optimize your headlines for your selected keyword.

For example, let’s say that you want to write an article targeted on the keyword “coffee brewing methods,” how would you write headlines?

You could use any one of the following headlines to create useful content for your audience while naturally targeting your selected keyword.

  • The Three Best Coffee Brewing Methods for a Cup of Joe So Good it Would Make a Hipster Cry
  • 5 Easy Coffee Brewing Methods so Good You Will Never Buy Starbucks Again
  • The Science Behind the Best Coffee Brewing Methods

The next step is to provide high-quality content based off of your user’s intent, not the latest algorithm change.

User intent is basically what a user wants to accomplish whenever they type a query into their search bar.

For example, their intent could be to get information, shop for a new product, or make a purchase.

Important note: many marketers ignore user intent once they start to scale content, but do so at their own peril. If you automate your content marketing efforts using platforms like SalesFusion and HubSpot, getting user intent right is even moreimportant — else misalignments in your content can be amplified hundred fold as you scale.

Knowing what your user’s intent is and optimizing your content to ensure that they can accomplish their goal is one of the most important parts of getting your content viral.

3. The Content is Data Driven

One of the key findings from Buzzsumo’s study was that articles with the OpenGraph image tag consistently performed better on Twitter than articles without it.

This doesn’t mean that putting a graph or some other sort of data in an article will guarantee that it will go viral.

But screenshots, infographics, and other forms of visual data generate more shares on Twitter.

So if you want to maximize retweets, tweets, comments, and shares, you need to start sharing visual data.

4. The Content that Causes Awe or Laughter (Or Invokes a Similar Emotion)

Generating social media shares across multiple platforms is one of the best ways to consistently create viral content.

However, the key to generating shares goes beyond just creating great content.

You have to create the right type of content.

Users on social media are looking for content that will evoke emotion.

Specifically, they want content that will either make drop their jaws in awe or roll out of their chair laughing.

Even if you are not comfortable writing humorous or awe inspiring content, you can still learn something important from the data in this study.

If you want your content to go viral, you have to use emotion.

Just presenting data is not enough. You have to get an emotional response if you want your content to go viral.

It doesn’t matter whether you make people angry, make them laugh, make them cry, or make them jump up and down with joy.

You just have to have some kind of emotional response for any content to go viral.

5. The Content Utilizes the Power of Quizzes

Here’s a fun fact for you. Did you know that the number 1 “article” on the New York Times site in 2013 was a quiz?

It wasn’t a blog post, it wasn’t an article, and it wasn’t an infographic. It was a quiz. Weird, right?

Actually, it makes sense.

You see, quizzes allow you to target specific members of your audience. Learn about your audience. Give more value to your audience. Engage your audience.

And generate more shares from your audience.


First of all, only interested members of your audience will take your quiz. If you design your quiz properly, you can collect valuable information from your audience and encourage them to share your content.

The bottom line?

Create a quiz.


Creating viral content is more of a science than an art.

People don’t “just write” a viral article.

It takes research, patience, and commitment to generate viral content.

However, equipped with these 5 tips, you are well on your way to creating viral content that will break the internet and bring in more revenue.

What data have you come across that helps you produce viral content?