When I was lucky enough to be able to get dinner with them afterwards, I told them that I’d have loved to switch roles and be in the audience listening to their advice.
Why? Marc and Angel run one of the most incredible blogs at marcandangel.com, publishing most inspiring content day in day out, that regularly spreads across social media garnering thousands of social shares, if not hundreds of thousand.
Over dinner, we talked a lot about blogging and blogging strategies. One of the most fascinating pieces Marc and Angel have written is a certain post that got over 500,000 likes, over 20,000 Tweets and several more thousand shares on other social networks. Here is the title and link to the post for you to look up yourself:
Why did this post go so viral?, is what I asked Marc and Angel. We discussed a lot of different things they learnt from writing it and hundreds of other articles over the past 7 years. Marc and Angel (on the right), had been writing content for a long time already, so lots of different factors, most of which I can’t mention here, have brought them the success they see today. I thought I’d put the most important elements we talked about all in form of a blogpost for more all of us to learn from.
So without further ado, here are the 6 most important ingredients to achieve a wild viral impact of how your content spreads:
1.) The science of persuasion: Nailing the fear of “missing out”
In my chat with Marc and Angel, one key thing they mentioned to me is that they wrote two posts. One was titled “30 Things to Start Doing for Yourself” and “30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself”. Interestingly, the second one, using a negative “stop” or “avoid”, “don’t” and similar in other posts always performed better.
Marc and Angel’s reasoning was that everyone wants to read over these posts to see and check if there isn’t anything on that list, they might be doing and should stop. It goes hand in hand with what Robert Cialdini calls one of the laws of persuasion: scarcity and missing out.
If you are writing something that’s unique and people might have a feeling of otherwise missing out on, then this is a fantastic trigger to get people interested in your content.
“If there are 30 things you need to stop doing to yourself, I better check if there are any I’m still doing today.” said Marc to describe the thinking and motivation behind why a reader might want to read and then share the article.
2.) We only read 20% of web pages – make your content easy to skim read
“On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.” ~ Nielson
Another point, that I discussed with Marc and Angel was that list posts have a unique appeal for readers online. The reason is simple, we all love bite-sized information on the web. Now, a list article is the perfect format for this. A post that gives you “30 Things” is very powerful. On the one hand, you know that you can just pick out a few of the 30 things, so it is easy to skim. On the other, if all of those individual 30 points are very interesting and useful, just reading one of the 30, can be all it takes to share it with a friend.
3.) We all want to learn something and get smarter – it’s science!
A third, very evident point that Marc and Angel’s article carried is that it is filled with very hands-on, practical tips that you can put into practice today. After we discussed that people feel that a “30 Things To” article always creates a strong feeling of getting smarter and learning something, I also found a great piece of new science to back it all up.
One of the most important elements for a piece of content to spread is it’s level of “Practical Utility” as detailed by recent study looking at sharing of articles from the New York Times. SEOmoz also put together a fantastic graphic showing that “utility” can be the biggest driver of content spreading virally:
If you read through Marc and Angel’s articleyou will quickly notice that each of the 30 points is very well thought out, offers practical advice and even follow ups to books on the same topic.
4.) A greatly undervalued element: Sharing buttons make content 7 times more likely to spread
Another crucial point that I observe again and again is the power of sharing buttons. This seems so obvious and plain, that it’s almost not worth mentioning. Yet, over and over, I see events where sharing buttons are greatly undervalued and hurt the virality of the post. In case of Marc and Angel’s blog, they prominently feature sharing buttons both before and after each post:
Fortunately, it’s also not just bro-science that sharing buttons make a different to your content’s virality. In a recent study from BrightEdge sharing buttons seemed to make content 7 more times as likely to get spread than content without them:
Adding great sharing buttons couldn’t be any easier. Try Digg Digg or any other great WordPress plugin out there.
In case you might be wondering, Marc and Angel also told me that their hit post mostly spread through Twitter and Facebook. Only afterwards it got picked up by Reddit, Lifehacker and others. Even more reason to focus on sharing buttons.
5.) Length of content and virality go hand in hand
If you even take a few minutes to browse Marc and Angel’s blog, you will see that each piece of content has great depth and detail. There is not a single short-form post in there. And for good reason. Coming back to our New York Times study on what makes content go viral, length is one of the most important elements. This great graphic from SEOmoz’s Carson Ward puts it all into perspective:
As Carson notes, that even though a strong correlation exists, which doesn’t necessarily mean causation, there is a lot of evidence pointing towards it. The hardest part with writing long form content, is to keep up the quality throughout the whole article. And I think that is something Marc and Angel have absolutely nailed. Make sure that if you write a “30 things” list post, that your 1st point provides as much value to the reader as your 30th.
6.) Consistency and Authority – Marc and Angel have been blogging since 2006
Through trial and error, Marc and Angel have tested dozens of different types and forms of content. They actually started out as a very tech related blog and gradually stumbled upon the power of publishing more inspirational and spiritual content on their site. This strict consistency of writing more than 1000 articles is also deeply routed in our human understanding of how we build trust. The fact that their readers can expect a high quality article every few days, makes all the difference, says science.
“People prefer to say yes to those things that show strong consistency in their actions”
says Robert Caldini in his famous studies about what persuades us to do things. Bringing consistency to the table and combining it with the “authority” principle of displaying that consistency is immensely powerful:
Personally, I am always extremely fascinated by what motivates people to share certain content online. And I have secretly found myself go back to Marc and Angel’s post several times to read it over and over again. Especially the comment section is extremely insightful to see what people have taken away from the article.
What have you observed about how content gets spread across the web? I’d love to hear any insights you have I might have missed.
Notes: A huge thank you to Marc and Angel, who shared their insights from their incredible blogging success. You can follow them on Twitter here: @marcandangel