The origin of “viral marketing”
When Seth Godin spoke about “viral ideas” back in 2005, marketers were quick to adopt the term and to apply it to whatever served their purposes best. Today we have all kinds of viral things: viral images, viral video, viral infographics, viral articles, and so on. All these things are generically called “content.”
Looking back at Godin’s piece on what makes ideas viral, several key viewpoints resonate:
- Viral ideas are “transparent, reasonably funny, and easy to share.”
- “A key element in the spread of ideas is their visual element.”
- And “no one gets an idea unless:
- The first impression demands further investigation
- They already understand the foundation ideas necessary to get the new idea
- They trust or respect the sender enough to invest the time.”
* Infographic Credit: https://backlinko.com/viral-content
These points are as actual today as they were when Godin discussed how some ideas spread while others are met with resistance by the public. Godin even mentioned that bad ideas, like panic, can often spread faster than anything else. The hypothesis is confirmed by a wealth of examples discussed in detail by Bill Davidow in his article “The Age of the Viral Idea” for The Atlantic. However, Davidow defines “viral ideas” as “thought contagions:”
“Thought contagions, accelerated by the Internet, push economies to the brink, burst housing bubbles, and propagate unsettling, radical ideologies.”
But we will not discuss politics. For the purpose of this article, we will look at the types of content with the potential to spread for hospitality businesses. But first, is there SEO value in viral content?
The SEO value of viral content
In late 2016, Tomas Vaitulevicius contributed an interesting piece to the Moz blog. His article, The SEO Myth of Going Viral, essential states that, “viral content, at least in certain scenarios, has little to no benefit for domain-wide search engine rankings.”
Although the author doesn’t deny that viral content is a great way to get links, he argues that these links will not make a big difference in organic search rankings. He backs his arguments with robust case studies, including the case of Concert Hotels, whose interactive “100 years of rock” animated infographic gained over 8000 links from 521 linking root domains over a short time, yet with no impact on organic search traffic.
If the viral content has no impact on organic search traffic, does it mean that it has no SEO value? Evidently, due to the large number of links it can generate, it is clear that there is SEO value in such an exercise. You will also get a large number of social shares and likes, but these do not prove that people actually read your content.
But then, links are not the only factors considered by Google to rank sites in its SERPs. Other signals, like click-through rate (CTR), bounce rate, and time on site, count among the significant Google ranking signals in 2017 according to Searchmetrics’ study of Ranking Factors & Rank Correlations.
When you create a piece of content that is not only shared thousands of times on social networks, but it also drives qualified traffic to your site, and captivates visitors with a great user experience (link to the Carmelon UX article on the user experience), Google will reward your efforts.
“The most valuable audience is the one that comes back,” Tony Haile concluded in What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong, an article that appeared in the Times in 2014.
When users return to your site, it means that they had a positive experience the first time, and we know that Google counts user experience among its ranking factors.
To summarize, the SEO benefits of viral content include an ideal marriage between links, user signals, and user experience.
How to create content that goes viral
“Make it emotional—ideally triggering emotions like anger, anxiety or awe that tend to make our hearts race; and if you can, make it positive,” - Liz Rees-Jones, Katherine L. Milkman, Jonah Berger: The Secret to Online Success: What Makes Content Go Viral.
In hospitality, viral content blends visuals and text in inventive creations that inspire and engage. Content that spreads virally can also push your brand in front of a large audience, which is a valuable PR and branding side-effect saving you a small fortune in what otherwise would have translated into a costly public relations campaign.
Instagram viral content case study:
An excellent case study comes from Loews Hotels & Resorts. The company launched an Instagram campaign using the #TravelForReal hashtag to gain feedback on customer satisfaction and to engage with past and future guests. Then, they used user-generated photos in ads that portrayed “real-life images of actual guest experiences.” While this was a planned marketing campaign, the movement gained momentum and triggered thousands of shares, followers, and mentions. This is a great example of how hoteliers can engage guests where they are. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is a busy social sharing network with strong appeal to millennials: “59% of those between the ages of 18 and 24 active on the social platform and 54% of those aged 25 to 34 using the photo-sharing platform on a regular basis,” Investopedia reports.
The Loews Hotels & Resorts case study reveals that people like companies that listen, and they enjoy engaging to express their likes, dislikes, concerns, and needs.
While images are fun and have a higher potential of going viral than text, for sites to rank the written word remains king. But what type of texts should you publish: long or short?
A case for long content
There’s enough data to suggest that lengthy content ranks better than short content, but also that lengthy content gets shared more than short content – “specifically, 3,000-10,000 word content gets the most average shares (8,859),” as a BuzzSumo study revealed.
Avarage shares by content length. From: https://okdork.com
Besides, Google loves “in-depth” articles. In fact, they rolled in-depth articles on Google in 2013. Yet few site owners in hospitality bothered to follow suit. That’s because lengthy-content is hard to produce: it requires time, research, and skill. It often involves money too: established businesses hire professional writers to create this type of content. But take a look at the Four Seasons Magazine to see how hotels can use their blogs to generate shareable lengthy-content that ranks.
Avarage shares by content type. From: https://backlinko.com
Generally, hotels spend fortunes on ads and metasearch, often ignoring the long-term benefits of producing evergreen content. While chains can afford to rely only on advertising, SEO is essential for small hotels.
A blog is still the right vehicle for fresh content with a potential for going viral. Hotels would typically publish here destination guides and tips for travelers rather than stories promoting hotel services and offers. And travel articles can go a long way, provided that they offer compelling information and a generous number of awe-inspiring images because images lead to more shares. There’s no doubt that pictures are the rising star of the Internet.
According to BuzzSumo, articles with an image once every 75-100 words get two times more shares than articles with fewer images. Also, according to many marketers, picture lists are another type of well-performing viral content.
And there’s a simple explanation to why posts with images are the preferred type of content:
“Hear a piece of information, and three days later you'll remember 10% of it. Add a picture, and you'll remember 65%,” explains John Medina in Brain Rules. “Pictures beat text as well, in part because reading is so inefficient for us. Our brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures, and we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them.”
Besides how-to posts, lists, in general, have a lower bounce rate than other post types. There’s science in creating a list too: some say odd numbers get more shares, while others recommend even numbers. There’s also the “rule of 10” which seems to be favored by many publishers. Choose what works for you and provide the best content you can to inspire your readers.
Infographics are shared three times more than other content. They work because they “turn a boring or complicated subject into a captivating experience.” Many marketers still recommend using infographics to boost SEO too, but they work best for rankings when combined with other elements – including a lengthy text.
information. You also need to appeal to people’s emotions with witty headlines and compelling visuals. Image-rich posts will gain more shares than posts that rely too heavily on text.
To reap SEO benefits, ideally host your content on your own domain, but you can also try a reputed website in your industry to distribute branded content like infographics. This is a step useful for public relations campaigns.