What Makes an Article Viral?

The term “viral” is thrown around often in online marketing circles as the goal of most media and content. Yet the reality is that few people know what going viral really means.

Generally, “going viral” means one of two things:

  • The article gains rapid popularity in a short amount of time.
  • The article gets a lot of hits in general.

The former is the origin of the term, but the latter is what most people are hoping for when they want their article to “go viral.” They’re hoping that they can use an article on some topic to rapidly improve their website’s popularity.

How Does An Article Go Viral?

When a YouTube video goes viral, it is usually because there is something that everyone “needs” to watch. It spreads because others believe that it’s something culturally relevant or cute or funny or interesting, and they post it to various social media websites and forums in an effort to introduce it to others.

Articles tend to go viral in other ways. It’s much harder for an article to truly go “viral” unless it’s based on a current event. For example, if it’s a news article on a senator from New York that is highly informative, it may be passed around quickly in an effort to spread the information. Articles that go on most business websites tend to go viral in very different ways, and usually have some or all of the following qualities:

  • Length – Long articles are far more likely to go viral than short articles. Sometimes we refer to these as “authority articles” because of the way they provide a great deal of information all in one place. They go viral because their information is naturally spread around and linked to over time, creating its own presence online.
  • List Form – Not all viral articles are written in list form, but many are, because people like to scan. “31 Reasons to Avoid the DMV” would be more popular as an article than “Why to Avoid the DMV” because numbers generally attract clicks and lists make for easier reading.
  • Humor – Humor is a completely optional method of creating a viral article, but an effective one. Some of our most popular articles on our website are the ones with humor, simply because people like to laugh. However, you can’t force humor, so some of the worst articles on the Internet are those that were attempts at creating a funny viral article.
  • Incoming Links – In addition, viral articles are about marketing. In the case of the authority article, sometimes those links will come naturally. But in many cases you will need to market the article yourself, because otherwise the article will be hard to find. The more incoming links an article has, the higher it will rank in Google and the more people will spread it around and click on it.

Viral articles are a spectacular tool for link building and getting visitors to your website. Authority articles are the best place to start, although humor and news interest pieces can be highly valuable as well. It’s important to remember one thing, however – every day, 172,800 hours of video is uploaded onto YouTube, and maybe 3 minutes of that will ever become truly “viral.” In the content world, the chances are even smaller. Viral article marketing is always worth a try, but there is still no substitution for smart content investments.


  • Micah Abraham

    Micah Abraham is the owner and lead content writer at Great Leap Studios (https://GreatLeapStudios.com) and High Volt Digital (https://HighVoltDigital.com).
    Micah has over 15 years of content writing and digital marketing experience, and has owned and operated Great Leap Studios since 2013 and High Volt since 2022.
    He has a degree in Psychology from the University of Washington, and has researched and written content on a wide range of topics in the medical and health fields, home services, tech, and beyond.
    Micah lives with his family in California.

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