How to Reverse Engineer Viral Content


When it comes to creating viral content, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.  If you aren’t seeing the kind of interest you’d like in your blog posts and articles, read on to learn more about the processes that we use to build traffic to a website through the use of proven viral content techniques.

At Single Grain, when we create content for a client’s website, we often draw from ideas, structures, and strategies that have already demonstrated success on the web and in the blogosphere.  Essentially, we take a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” policy – instead of attempting to generate interest for an unproven topic or article structure, we learn from past experience to develop content that’s likely to generate viral activity.

The advantages of this type of content are two-fold.  Not only does the viral content we create help to build traffic to a website by capitalizing on trending topics, it also leads to an influx of new backlinks which help our clients rank even higher in the search engine results pages.

Sounds pretty cool, right?!  Read on to learn more about the two methods we use to reverse engineer potential viral content…

1 – Develop Viral Content by Searching Trending Topics

The concept of reverse engineering viral content from trending topics is actually pretty simple.  To start, we find one or more topics that are trending rapidly across the search engine results pages and social media networks, and then we write content that relates everything back to the website we’re working on.

For example, sometime ago, Charlie Sheen’s break down on TV was a major trending topic in the news, on social networking sites, and in the search engines.  We might also look for events related to our business vertical or events with nationwide importance (for example, the Sugar Bowl) that are trending as well.  Next, we’ll combine a few of these events with topics from within the industry we’re targeting in order to produce a blog post that’s likely to get picked up and shared via social media.

As an example, since Single Grain is in the SEO industry, we might leverage the trend listed above to produce blog posts like “Charlie Sheen’s Approach to Link Building,” or “Which Teams Belong in The Super Bowl According to their SEO: A Competitive Link Analysis”

These aren’t great examples, but they should illustrate the concept for you.  Basically, we combine several elements that are trending upwards, produce fresh content for them, and then point links at the new viral article.  Doing so earns us more visitors, increased CTR on the search results page, and buzz in the social media world.

To use this technique on your own websites, you’ll need to start by identifying the trending topics that will generate the most interest for your content.  Play around with the tools listed below and make a note of any trending topic that catches your eye – whether or not it’s related to your business.

From that larger list, make a smaller list of ideas that relate closely to your industry and those for which you’ll be able to produce content for.  Keep in mind – not all trending topics lend themselves to viral posts, though with practice, you’ll find that most trending topics can be connected in some way to key topics within your industry.  Finally, use this list to come up with potential blog post titles and draft your viral content.


2 – Reverse Engineer Viral Content from Articles that Are Already Performing Well

Another really effective method for generating content that’s likely to get shares and links on social networking sites (as well as to build traffic and backlinks back to our target site) is to find examples of articles that are already performing well on sites like StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, HackerNews and Delicious, and then model our content after them.


To make this process work on StumbleUpon, start by creating an account (or a dummy account, if you’re investigating topics for a client’s site) and set your interests to include topics related to our business niche.  Then start “stumbling” with the Stumble button and watch for articles to come up that catch your eye and generally look awesome.

Copy the direct website URL out of your browser, according to the following image, and then paste it into the search field at

At the bottom left of the search screen, you should be able to see how many StumbleUpon stumbles, Facebook shares, and other social metrics that the linked article has achieved.  If there’s not enough data in this screen, you can plug the same URL into the Open Site Explorer to get the exact number of tweets and likes (if you have a pro account).

When you see an article that’s achieved a high number of social shares through various networks, make a note of it – keeping in mind that what constitutes a “high number” will vary by industry.  After evaluating several articles, you should have a good idea of which articles are performing best amongst your industry’s audience.  Try to identify any similarities between these successful articles and use the conclusions you’re able to draw when creating your own viral content.

For example, if all of the successful articles you come across follow a list post format (as in, “7 Steps to Reverse Engineering Viral Content”), that could be a signal that this type of content performs well with your target audience.  Similarly, f you notice a similar tone or point of view being used across multiple articles, try to mimic these effects in your own content to improve your chances of success.

Digg, Reddit and HackerNews

StumbleUpon is unique in the way the service is used to identify new content, so consider the following process if you plan to identify viral content on Digg, Reddit, HackerNews or any other site that uses community voting to rank articles.

First, go to your chosen website and find the articles that have been voted up the most in the categories that are related to you or your client’s business.  Glance through them quickly and look for content structures that you could modify for use on your own site.  For example, if you come across popular tutorials in your niche, consider that this type of information could be just as valuable written in your own words on your own website.

Similarly, when you find content on these sites that have a lot of social media shares or a lot of Diggs, Stumbles, and so on, you can write your own articles modeling the same format and style in order to increase your chances of having your articles shared virally.

Of course, be aware that we’re in no way, shape or form recommending that you go out and plagiarize existing viral content.  Instead, use these articles as guides from which you can draw the necessary conclusions that will help you to see the same success with your own unique articles.

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