You don’t have to write in order to get the attention of Google algorithms…you have to write in order to get the attention of people who will share your content.
So, let’s kick SEO to the curb and just write viral posts.
If you think that sounds like I’m out of my mind, I can point to at least two large publications that pretty much did that.
The New York Times and The Atlantic.
The New York Times focused on building a brand, loyalty and a community, unlike content farms like About.com who depend strictly upon SEO. This is how NY Times actually profited when they installed their pay walls…a move that a lot of people thought would fail.
On the other hand, when The Atlantic took down its pay wall in early 2008, it grew its web audience from 500,000 to over 13.4 million visitors a month.
You think they did that on slick SEO moves? Not at all.
They added a number of high-profile writers to drive content, created two new online properties and built up digital ads to pay for those properties.
They also changed their editorial strategy to adapt to the social media landscape to maximize these platforms as sources of traffic. They now get over 40% of their traffic from social media.
Scott Havens, an exec from The Atlantic, told Mashable, “Truly [our writers] are not really thinking about SEO anymore. Now it’s about how we can spin a story so that it goes viral.”
So, would you like to know how to spin a story so that it goes viral? Let me show you. It’s pretty darn simple…
Step #1: Write your own headline using this technique
The Atlantic writers are responsible for coming up with their own headlines. This is no easy task, but there are certain methods you can use to create a viral-worthy headline.
One approach I use a lot is the “4 U”s:
- Useful - A great headline always communicates to the reader a benefit. Makes sure it is an emotional benefit that solves a real need that your reader has. For example, the headline How to Make Your Small Business Stand Out with These 8 Marketing Twists is very clear about what you will get if you read this post. How-to posts are naturally very useful.
- Unique – How does your headline stand out from the competition? Have you tested it on Google to see if other people have used it? If you find copycats…change yours.
- Ultra-specific – Next in line is to write a headline that describes your article clearly and distinctly. This is where using numbers and exact names comes in handy. Look at how Joel Friedlander did it with his 3 Simple Ways to Turn Your Website Archive into Profitable Books and eBooks.
- Urgent - The most common way to generate urgency in your readers is to give them a deadline like Why You Might Want to Delete Your Google Browser History Before Next Week. Another way is to simply tell your readers that something is broken and that they need to fix it. Chris Garret’s 3 Ways to Fix Your Broken Marketing is a good example.
Now, a lot of the headlines I shared with you have all or some of the “4 U”s in them. The key to a great, viral-worthy headline is to get as many “U”s in it as you can.
Step #2: Allow professionals to rewrite your headline
You may be the master of your content…and you may have used the “4 U”s to create a screaming-good headline, but that doesn’t mean it could not be made better.
It helps to have someone else – someone who is trained in headline writing – to rewrite it for you. That’s what The Atlantic does.
After the writer submits his or her article with the preferred headline, the channel editors often rewrite the headline.
And after that, the homepage editor might rewrite it, too.
But that’s not all. Those headlines are often rewritten to appear on Twitter or Facebook.
Step #3: Write killer content
Let’s admit it: SEO, copywriting, content marketing…even social media…it’s not all that sexy. It’s hard to get people excited about the possible problems created by the Penguin update or the 15 newest Twitter metric tools you should be using…
…let alone have that article go viral.
So, what should you do? You need to turn your ideas into killer content. Here are four approaches:
- Controversial – A “controversy” is something that is debatable or questionable. The fact that Google rules the search space is hardly controversial. But if you write about how Google is spying on you…that may cause some heads to turn. The key is to hit people’s hot buttons…stuff that they hold near and dear to them…or hate passionately. One of The Atlantic’s all-time popular posts on Facebook is Why Do Smart Men Date Less Intelligent Women? And the post is over 14 months old.
- Trending – What’s hot on Google Trends right now? Can you spin an article to tie into the Zombie apocalypse? Or the 2012 Olympics? What celebrity is in the news? For example, the term “bath salts” is popular right now. You could write an article called “How to Make Your Product as Addictive as Bath Salts.” Over at The Atlantic, a popular article is America Has No Idea How Few Gay People There Are…tapping into the same-sex discussions going on.
- Lists - This is a standard that has been used and abused forever…but people still like them. They are an easy way to consume content and are great to share. That’s why you have entire websites like Listverse devoted to lists. Buzzfeed creates some of the best viral list posts like 40 of the Most Powerful Photographs Ever Taken, and The Atlantic always has a popular top ten such as The 10 Things Economists Can Tell Us about Happiness.
- Inspirational – If you’ve spent a significant amount of time on Reddit, you probably realized that there is a lot of truth to the notion that their users are sophisticated, crass and sceptical. In spite of that, however, it’s unbelievable how much inspirational content gets voted up. I guess people like stories that inspire them…especially when the underdog wins. A great example of that was Copyblogger’s Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underwear. Great stuff!
There are dozens of different strategies to writing killer content. These were just a few of my favorites I wanted to share.
Does this mean SEO is dead?
No, SEO is not dead. And, no, I don’t say that just because I’m an SEO consultant…
SEO has changed a lot, and one thing that we can’t ignore anymore is that social networking platforms are really starting to influence how search rankings are determined. For example, Google+ and Search Plus Your World were straightforward moves by Google to not only pick up more users, but influence the way people search.
Plus, a recent study by Branded3 has proven that tweets, in fact, do affect search positions.
So, SEO is still part of the game, just not as much as it used to be. The way to online success used to be getting to that number one position. These days, it’s all about writing viral-worthy posts.
So, what do you think the future of SEO is?