I Analyzed 100,000 Viral Posts: Here’s What I Learned (New Research)
How have viral posts changed from 2016 to 2017? Since viral posts today could be different from viral posts in the past, I used BuzzSumo to analyze viral posts on social media for 2016 and 2017. I made sure to pick articles from eight different categories (marketing, dating, fitness, pets, beauty, health, technology, travel), and I filtered out articles with less than 500 shares.
After consulting with influencers and journalists, I came up with several measurements that I thought would be interesting. I analyzed web pages in several different ways, such as number of shares, Domain Authority (DA), Page Authority (PA), and number of words.
Summary of What I Learned:
1. The best content gets a disproportionate amount of shares, and this trend heightened in 2017.
2. It was harder to create a viral video in 2017 than in 2016.
3. Readers were more likely to share 3,000+ word content in 2017 than in 2016.
4. Most viral content did not contain a lot of words in both 2016 and 2017.
5. While longer content tends to have a higher page authority than shorter content, high page authority web pages tended to be shorter in 2017.
6. High PA content tends to get more shares, but this trend slowed down in 2017.
7. There was much more viral, high page-authority content created in 2017 than in 2016.
8. Content that goes viral is much more likely to be on high Domain Authority websites. This didn’t change from 2016 to 2017.
9. Once content breaks through the 500 share mark, the Domain Authority plays a minor role in the number of shares.
10. Users are more likely to share viral videos in 2017 than in 2016, though written content still performs best.
11. In 2016 and 2017, your best bet to go viral was to create written content that had no template, but the best template was a list post.
12. Facebook is responsible for most shares of viral content, and that trend increased from 2016 to 2017. LinkedIn and Twitter shares also increased while Pinterest shares did not.
The best content gets a disproportionate amount of shares and that trend heightened in 2017
The chart above shows how the number of web pages that had either 500-2,500 shares or over 10,000 shares increased from 2016 to 2017. However, the number of web pages in the 2,500 – 10,000 share range decreased significantly.
This could be explained by a phenomenom described by Mark Schaefer as content shock. As the amount of content increases dramatically, consumers gravitate to only the best content. What makes for better content? As Michael Brenner says:
Great content has relevance and meaning. It’s got heart. It serves a purpose for your audience – through educating them, inspiring or even emotionally connecting. But, it, as in, every blog, social post, infographic, video, ebook, email and live event, should invite the audience into the experience of your brand.
What this means going forward is that we need to work harder than ever to create content that stands out.
It was harder to create a viral video in 2017 than in 2016
Keep in mind that my research recorded the most shared web pages of any type. The unmistakable trend is that there are significantly fewer videos in the viral posts of 2017 than in the viral posts of 2016.
It seems like video marketing is maturing. Just like content marketing has become competitive and tougher to succeed in, so too has video marketing seemed to have gotten harder to compete in. Consumers have high expectations for video, making it harder to succeed.
It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do any video content at all. As John Hall says:
Bringing video content into your marketing strategy might seem like a big undertaking, but you can (and probably should) start small. It doesn’t have to be the sole focus of your budget or even the biggest portion of it to be valuable.
Readers were more likely to share 3,000+ word content in 2017 than in 2016
People have been reading good content on the internet for years now. I know that I used to be surprised when I came across a 2,000-word guide, but now I just yawn. It takes something truly epic and over the top to get me to care.
It seems that readers feel the same way. Though there were some minor difference in share rates among articles with less than 3,000 words, the major difference was in the number of shares that 3,000 word articles received. Readers were significantly more likely to share 3,000+ word content. Bloggers have seemed to have gotten the message and, according to a survey by Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina, spending more time creating content. As Brian Dean says:
There’s a good reason that I publish long-form content:
It gets results!
This doesn’t mean that you should start writing the longer content. The average viral piece of content with less than 1,000 words received 75% of the shares of a viral 3,000-word article. If you do manage to break through that 500 share barrier, then you could get 75% of the results for a lot less work.
Most viral content did not contain a lot of words in both 2016 and 2017
I found this to be the most surprising. Most viral content is quite short. This seems to be contradicting the points made by every marketing expert that long content is the best.
But, before you start spamming out short articles, consider that I’m just looking at the winners here. Considering the enormous amount of content being created every day, creating a longer article may be your best bet to stand out.
Ross Hudgens offers a middle ground in his post on 2x and 10x content. He says to keep creating your 10x content but consistently create 2x content around it. Not only does it take less time to create, but it will also give you more shots to go viral.
While longer content tends to have a higher page authority than shorter content, high page authority web pages tended to be shorter in 2017
This is one that surprised me. I thought for sure that longer articles would have higher page authority. I guess this goes to show that as Rand Fishkin says, content should be long enough to fulfill what the reader wants and no more.
While longer content does do better in search, it’s not the only thing that matters. There are many factors to Page Authority (such as backlinks and bounce rate). It’s much more important to write quality short articles than to write useless large articles.
High PA content tends to get more shares, but this trend slowed down in 2017
Page Authority and number of shares are indirectly linked, since social signals are. That being said, there’s an obvious trend that in high PA content received less shares in 2017 than in 2016.
This could be because other factors besides social signals became more important in 2017 than in 2016. According to Moz, their PA is calculated using machine learning and is constantly evolving.
The bottom line is that you need to optimize for both if you want shares and SEO traffic.
There was much more viral, high page-authority content created in 2017 than in 2016
So why did the number of viral, high PA web pages increase from 2017 to 2016?
My guess is that the amount of content that is optimized for both social media and SEO has increased. Content marketers have been upping their game, and pushing out even better content.
Content that goes viral is much more likely to be on high Domain Authority websites. This didn’t change from 2016 to 2017
If you want to create a viral article, your best bet has always been to put your content on high-traffic, high-DA sites. I noticed this exact trend when I analyzed shares of 1,000 infographics.
In 2017 and 2016, content is a winner-take-most world. It’s hard for smaller sites to break through the noise.
Once content breaks through the 500 share mark, Domain Authority plays a minor role in the number of shares
All hope is not lost for smaller sites. If you do manage to break through that 500 share barrier, then your content can do just as well as high-DA content.
There is a slight trend of users giving more shares to sites with high and low DA, but I’m not sure how much that should affect your strategy. If all you want are shares, then get your content on a high-DA site. But, know that it is possible to create a viral piece of content on an unknown site.
Users are more likely to share viral videos in 2017 than in 2016, though written content still performs best
Even though everyone talks a lot about video, I think we have to remember that the internet started and still is a text-based medium. That’s why the content that did the best were text-based general articles.
Another clear trend is that users are not rewarding templates as much. Maybe they’re getting tired of list posts, how-to articles, and infographics. But, they are sharing videos more.
In 2016 and 2017, your best bet to go viral was to create written content that had no template, but the best template is a list post
Again, we see that users were less likely to share template content from 2017 to 2016.
This makes sense to me. Viral content should be unique and interesting in order to convince people to share it. That’s good news for those of us trying to break through by spending lots of time on excellent content.
Facebook is responsible for most shares of viral content, and that trend increased from 2016 to 2017. LinkedIn and Twitter shares also increased while Pinterest shares did not
This wasn’t even close. Users are still overwhelmingly sharing content on Facebook. It’s strange because even though I consider Twitter to be the more public platform, the data is clear that Facebook is where most shares happen.
That being said, shares on Twitter and LinkedIn are not insignificant. Getting the right people to view your content is more important than getting any random person to view it.
As for Pinterest shares going down, my theory is that Pinterest is its own unique site. Things that do well on Pinterest are designed specifically for it. It might not be worth your time unless you know your target audience hangs out there.
If there is one thing that stood out from my research, it’s that good content is hard. Templates don’t guarantee success, neither does content length or getting a high Page Authority. Also, it’s still hard to compete against the well-known, high-DA sites. All of this makes sense to me as content marketers become more sophisticated.
What did you think? Did anything surprise you? Did anything confirm any existing beliefs that you already had about viral posts? Let me know in the comments below.
Also published on Medium.