Viral Content MarketingThere’s a lot talked about viral content marketing on the web these days but you probably think from the title of this article that the trick I am going to tell you about is some kind of strategy which involves catchy viralnova style titles, right? Well that certainly does have its part to play but there’s more to it than that, much much more and the real meat of the trick is a dark and dirty secret of content marketing, something that really makes it work and separates the men from the boys or women from the girls if you like or to be extra PC the responsible adults from the reckless kids.

In short the secret is what is known as paid amplification and I’ll explain much more in this article about what that means and how you can use it, so read on to get the details and learn how shockingly powerful it actually is.. you will be amazed and you may even cry! 😉

The Old Way

So a fairly typical plan followed by many, possibly including you, when writing and promoting a new article goes something like this..

1. Keyword research to find a topic worth writing about (ie. gets plenty of google traffic) and not too hard to rank for.

2. Write a 500 word (or whatever length you decide on) article around the chosen keyword (or phrase) and include it in the title, meta tags, image tags, the body of the article and maybe a few other places too (while being careful not to fall victim to keyword stuffing).

3. Publish your article on your site, ping it and then post a link to it on Twitter and Facebook in the hope that it will go viral.

4. Possibly do some “blogger outreach” – not just sending it to your mum! (unless your mum is sugarrae).

5. Try to get some backlinks through various means.

6. Check Google every hour to see if it has been indexed yet and watch for it to rise in the serps.

7. Sit back and watch those traffic stats as the visitors flood in!

A week, two weeks, a month later and still no viral love and just a trickle of traffic.. you just assume that’s the way it goes and so you will just try again with a new article and another new one and another and surely eventually your time will come and one of your articles will finally go viral!

Only it doesn’t.

Sure your traffic may well be slowly creeping up, you’ve been posting quality content regularly, you’ve made fancy infographics, informative videos and great articles.. you’ve followed all the guidelines, you’ve been tweeting madly, you’ve been posting comments on relevant blogs and forums and you’ve been trying to get known by the influencers in your industry.

The Long Game

All these things (and more) certainly do work but that’s the long game.. for many people that may be fine, your blog is your passion, your hobby, you don’t care about going viral, you do it for the love of the game and over the years you will build up an enthusiastic audience if you keep producing the good stuff and engage them. Eventually you will have enough traffic to make some money from it, possibly even a lot of money. If you are really focused and work really hard on your content marketing and all your ducks are in a row, you may be able to reduce this to a matter of a few months before you see a decent amount of success. If you are an SEO wizard or wear a hat of a darker shade, you may even be able to do it much sooner, however not everyone can do it that way or even wants to. There is of course more than one way to do it, as Tim Toady says.

But what if you really need to make it now? You’re trying to start a business and that means it has to make money as soon as possible, even more so if you’re financed by OPM (Other Peoples Money) or the Bank of Mum & Dad and they demand results sooner rather than later, or if  you need to pay the rent next month or put food on the table.

Is there a shortcut? In a word.. YES!

The content marketing secret that every online marketing agency knows and which every marketing professional in successful companies knows.. you have to pay to play. It really is that simple. Of course it is not just a matter of paying for some advertising to send traffic to your site in the hope that it will convert, that is a different kettle of fish and not what this article is about.

The Secret to Success

The real secret to viral content marketing is what is known as paid amplification. In other words you pay to amplify your content, to extend its reach on the web, on social networks, wherever the people are who can spread the word for you. Unless you are incredibly lucky or well connected, the only sure(ish) way to make your content go viral is to make sure that enough people see it to start the ball rolling.. you have to overcome the inertia somehow, to reach that tipping point where it is being shared by enough people to take on a life of its own.

Of course just throwing money at the problem is not going to fix all the worlds problems, or even just yours, if your content sucks then nobody will share it and so it will only be seen by those you’ve paid to reach.. that may be enough for some people but you’re just putting lipstick on a pig which is a wasted effort (unless you have a thing for pigs). Quite simply if you’re going to spend money on paid amplification you better make sure the content you are amplifying is top notch unless you have money to burn. There is no point doing this for a basic 500 word article you just whipped up (or outsourced) and threw out there. Take the time to plan and create something really good, something actually shareable both from a quality and technical point of view. By technical I mean you include things which make it easy and likely for people to share.. social sharing buttons, appropriate calls to action and psychological triggers etc.

Make your content awesome and people will want to share it – if they know about it. Again this is why you need to pay to amplify – too few will know about it otherwise and so your chances of going viral are massively reduced. You need to seed your content widely and appropriately.

So how exactly do you amplify your wicked content?

Well as above, Tim Toady applies here too but I will outline a few methods and places you can go to for paid amplification. It is really quite simple and not even that expensive – you do need to have funds available for this method but we’re not talking millions here, you can start with a small amount like $50 or even less if you just want to test the waters before jumping in but for as little as $200 you can have massive reach which can quickly springboard you to success.

Everyone online should know about Reddit by now and it is a great source of free traffic if you approach it right but there are strict rules in place about self-promotion there so you walk a fine line when using it for traffic generation. However they also provide an advertising platform which works very nicely for getting the word out. It takes the form of a paid post which means not only do you get your link on Reddit but people there can actually comment on it so you can directly engage with them which makes it much more likely they will take notice an even share your link with others on Reddit and of course elsewhere.

You’ve surely seen Outbrain links even if you didn’t know what they were – at the bottom of bazillions of news articles there will be a list of possibly related content on other sites. Those are put there by Outbrain (amongst others) which is a paid discovery service and which you can use to put your links on loads of high traffic sites such as CNN. Yes you can actually have your article linked on major sites like CNN!

Another paid content discovery service is Taboola which also has massive reach on a network which includes some of the biggest and most prestigious sites online such as Time.

Disqus is a popular commenting plugin used on millions of sites, often replacing the commenting section on blogs for example, and as such this provides them with millions of places to place links or ads. They call it promoted discovery but by now you will get the idea so I wont dwell on the details.

But wait, there’s more.. in case you didn’t have enough places for paid content discovery, have a look at Zemanta! Their content and link suggestion system can push your links out to millions of people.

The Social Networks

Besides the above content discovery platforms there are of course the big social networks which also sell advertising. The biggest of which these days is Facebook and fortunately they have a self-service advertising system which you can use to quickly “boost” your articles to a very targeted audience. Rumour has it that it costs less to show your ads to people who are already your “fans” so it can be worth building up your Facebook page first – but it is extremely important to make sure all the Likes you get are from real people who are actually interested in your content – Facebook will actually reduce your exposure on the network if their system detects low engagement and of course buying cheap (ie. untargeted or in particular fake) likes will kill your reach and end up costing you much more!

Twitter is also a great place to amplify your content and their self-service ad system is being gradually made available in other countries besides the US and a few EU countries so go check them out – their promoted tweets are an excellent and affordable way to get the viral buzz started!

Also on Twitter you can buy credits on services such as JustReTweet which will get your tweets retweeted by loads of people – imagine 1000 people retweet your message and they each have 1000 followers on average.. that’s 1 million people on twitter that will see your tweet!

Stumbleupon is a smaller social platform but also a great way to get eyeballs on your content by means of what they call “paid stumbles” which cost about 10 cents each and can easily end up with many more as people push your link out to their networks.

Retargeting is a great way to maximize your ad spend. While not strictly speaking a paid amplification method, what it does do is give you a second (and third and..) shot at converting all the traffic you got as a result of your big amplification campaigns. How it works is simply showing your ads to people who already visited your site – in other words when someone came to read your content then left without buying or registering, you can show your ads to them when they are on other sites. Since they already saw your site they are familiar with it and will more likely notice your ads and be more inclined to come back.

Putting it all Together

Using all the above systems you can extend your reach to literally hundreds of millions of people, limited of course only by your budget. However even with a relatively modest budget you can reach a huge number. For example with Outbrain they recommend paying 15 cents per click – you can of course pay less but you may get less exposure so you have to experiment to find the sweet spot for your content. But lets say you are paying 15/click on average and lets say you get a click through rate of 1%, that means for just $15 your link/snippet is going to be seen by 10,000 people and you will get 100 actual visits (ie. clicks) to your site from those 10k. The actual CTR could be very different, you could get 100,000 views for those same 100 clicks, it really depends. Needless to say you should try to maximize your return on that – it doesn’t have to be just based on clicks – 100k people seeing your article snippet along with domain/site name for example is a nice way to get some branding.

Of course you need to carefully craft your article titles and snippets and/or visual media previews to get the most benefit from all this content amplification activity. You could and indeed should take a leaf from Upworthy and write something like 20 versions of your title, then split test them and only then choose the best one to run with. To test them you can just do small runs of a few thousand views on several platforms and keep tweaking and testing until satisfied with the response rate.

Paying for ads of any kind is a quick way to lose your shirt if you are not careful so you must, I repeat MUST, make sure to carefully target your ads – don’t just go for the quick fix “click to boost” types ads that Facebook and others offer to the unwary. Dig deep into their targeting options and test small scale campaigns while learning the system before expanding your campaigns to extend your reach further.

Get Coupons

Here’s a quick tip – if you are a namecheap customer, they actually have a page of deals which offers all sorts of freebies such as $50 Twitter advertising coupons and even a $150 retargeting coupon which is a fantastic offer. All you need is to be a namecheap customer so if you are not yet then go now and register a domain or get some cheap hosting so you can take advantage of the coupons and discount codes they offer – the more you spend at namecheap the better the deals you get (ie. you get more!) but you don’t have to spend much to get some great deals. They also have other deals besides advertising coupons, such as free content (stock photos) you can use on your sites and more so it is well worth it. Using these coupons allows you to test the waters with paid content promotion without risking your own hard earned cash, so you can now easily and safely learn the ropes before moving to the big leagues.

Hopefully you will find the above tips useful, just make sure to test everything carefully and make a plan of action which you can follow each time you publish great content. Do you have any favourite places or methods to amplify your content? Feel free to share in the comments section below.