What Makes Online Content Viral?

Creating viral content is difficult. And predicting which online content piece will go viral is impossible. However, there are certain factors that help you create online content that is more likely to go viral. Analyzing viral content pieces, videos, and social media posts reveal what makes online content viral, and the findings can be used to create similar pieces.

Before we move ahead and discuss what makes online content viral, let’s see what is viral content:

What is Viral Content?

Viral content is similar to a virus that spreads rapidly throughout the internet or within a specific community. Online content that gets a lot of awareness due to shares on social media platforms and other websites is known as viral content.

Here is an example of a Facebook post that went viral:

viral facebook post example

Any type of online content can go viral but social media posts are most likely to go viral. When your online content goes viral, it will generate massive awareness and boost website traffic.

What Makes Online Content Viral

Here is the big question: What makes content viral?

As mentioned, there isn’t any formula to make content viral. It involves several factors including emotional and behavioral variables that play their role. Here is a list of the most crucial factors that are most likely to make your online content variable:

1. Long-Form Content

A research article found that longer content is 76.8% more likely to go viral than short content. An analysis of 100 million articles in terms of social shares revealed that the long-form content is more likely to get viral than short-form content:

average shares by content length

Articles having 3,000-10,000 words had the most shares on Facebook and other social media platforms. This is because long-form articles are usually in-depth and more informative. People love reading and sharing them with their friends and family.

Shorter articles don’t cover the topic in detail so they aren’t usually shared a lot.

Also, most of the content on the internet is short-form. The analysis found that content having less than 1,000 words was 16x more than content with 2,000 words. This shows long-form content is scarce and makes it easier to stand out from the crowd. And when readers find a long-form article, they love it because they usually don’t read such type of content.

So, long-form content preferably more than 3,000 words will make online content go viral.

2. Add Images

Adding images to your content improves readability and engagement. Adding at least one image in an article doubles its social shares:

average shares for articles with and without images

Articles with images receive more Twitter shares than articles without an image:

average twitter shares of articles with and without images

When a lot of people share your article, it will eventually go viral. And this doesn’t end here, content with image generates 94% more social media views:

social media views with and without images

Social shares and content virality are all about visuals. Almost all social networks are geared towards visual content. This makes it necessary to have at least one image in your content if you want to increase its probability of getting viral.

3. List and Why Posts

There are certain post types that are more likely to go viral.

List and why articles are the two post formats that get a lot of social shares:

type of post vs shares

If you are creating a list post, remember that 10 is the best number that is most likely to go viral. Other list post numbers that you focus on are:

  1. 23
  2. 16
  3. 24

This “10 best ways to generate backlinks” is more likely to go viral than “15 best ways to generate backlinks”.

The reason list and why posts outperform other post types is that these provide instant gratification. Why posts answer a question that your audience might have. List posts, on the other hand, provide you a scannable list of items of your choice and the readers know what to expect from the article. 

Go with these two types of posts for viral content.

4. Tuesday is the Best Day

When you publish your content has an impact on social shares and its virality. Content published on Tuesday receives the most shares on Facebook and Twitter:

shares by day of week

Publishing articles and blog posts on Tuesday will significantly improve the chances of getting viral.


Because Monday is usually the busiest day of the week. People don’t get the time to use social media on Monday as they have to check emails and prepare work schedules for the current week.

Tuesday happens to be the normal day at work so people get the time and are more likely to share content. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to publish content on other days of the week. Publish your best content on Tuesday to get more social shares.

5. Emotional Appeal

The emotions your content invokes play a crucial role in its ability to go viral. Awe, laughter, and amusement are the top three emotions that make people share content on social media:

popular emotions for viral content

Your content must address one of these three emotions to go viral. On the other side, content that invokes anger and sadness is least likely to go viral. This means you need to focus on positive emotions for virality.

A study by New York Times found that there are 5 key reasons why people share content online:

  1. Share valuable and entertaining content
  2. Nourish relationships
  3. Define themselves
  4. Self-fulfillment
  5. Causes they care about.

This explains why awe-inspiring and fun content gets the most shares. Start publishing content that’s positive, makes your readers awe, and funny.


Perhaps the best way to understand what makes online content viral is to see what content types are shared online. Use a keyword research tool like Ahrefs that will show you detailed insights including the number of social shares.

These 5 methods covered above will give you a jumpstart. Focus on these factors to make your content viral. Track how your target audience responds to these variables. Consistent tracking, monitoring, analysis, and tweaking will make it easier for you to identify the most effective variables that will make your content viral.

Featured Image: Unsplash

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