Creating Viral Content Through Controversy


by in Content Marketing


Viral ControversyThe old adage “Content is King” has been taking a few hits of late, with “responsive design” leading the pack. But even if content has been relegated to the status of Prince of the Realm, it still remains a pillar of white hat SEO techniques. We all want to create content that’s relevant and interesting, but more than anything we want to create content that attracts the greatest number of readers and customers. What we really want, in our heart of hearts, is to publish content that has the potential to go viral, and that will ultimately generate a large burst of activity for our blogs and websites. One of the most effective ways to get content to go viral, is to stir up some controversy.

Controversy and Viral Triggers

Controversial content generates traffic because it evokes an emotional reaction in the reader. People like to take up sides, and when they come across an article or blog-post that challenges, or reaffirms, their view on a particular topic they naturally engage with it. This leads to shares on social media sites, and a marked increase in blog comments and direct links. Psychologists call this a viral trigger, and it lays at the heart of all successfully crafted controversial content. A viral trigger is anything that evokes a strong emotional response in the reader, whether it’s awe, anger, joy, or surprise. Derek Halpern discusses these emotions in greater detail on his post Creating Viral Content. Controversy stems from a number of these responses, most especially anger and surprise. Now, the purpose of controversial content is not to anger or frighten. The goal is to get readers to have a visceral reaction to what you have published, not to feel personally attacked. They may strongly disagree agree with you, or they may seriously reconsider their position, but they should never feel that you are being insulting or hateful.

Three Steps to Creating Controversial Content that Goes Viral

There are three basic steps to creating controversial content with the potential to go viral. Regardless of your topic, these steps form the basis of a successful blog-post. Remember, the goal here is to evoke an emotional investment in the topic, not to insult.

  1. State Your Opinion – Obvious perhaps, but it is important to be firm in your opinion statement. Your readers can not take a position on your topic if you haven’t firmly, and unequivocally, stated yours. You want your readers to choose a side, so they will be inclined to share your post either as a proof of their own opinions, or as proof that you are way off the mark.
  2. Back Up Your Statement – This is vital. It is not enough to simply make a controversial statement, you need to back it up with research. Finding the data you need to support your opinion may take time, but under no circumstances should you fabricate the research. Make a cogent argument supporting your original statement, clearly demonstrating that you’ve done your research and you haven’t merely come to your opinions willy-nilly.
  3. Practical Solutions – Finally, provide a practical response to your assertion. Provide the reader with a solution to the problem as you see it. For example, if you are determined to prove that drop-down menus on websites are ineffective and lead to a loss in revenue, show how, and why, removing the drop-down menu from your websites resulted in an increase in your business. Give your readers the tool they need to take action on what you have been discussing.

Getting Your Article Noticed

This is especially important for new websites and first time bloggers. If your site hasn’t developed much of a following yet, you will need to promote your article. Using social media to create social signals is one fantastic outlet, but again, if your site is new you may not have enough followers to really get the ball rolling. Find people within your industry, other blogs and websites, who you think will be interested in your research. Send them a friendly e-mail, explaining that you are a fan of their work and that you have done some research into a topic that you feel they will find useful. Don’t just send a link to your article. This looks too much like shameless self-promotion, and webmasters will tend to ignore your e-mail. Let them know that if they are interested you would be happy to send the link, and then wait for their reply. This is a good way to get your work noticed within your own field, and to begin building your reputation.

Whether its the entertainment industry or the business world, controversy sells. By creating content that challenges a preconceived notion on a given topic, you invite a visceral response from your readers and you get people talking. And remember, when you get people talking about your content, they are also talking about you and your business. That conversation gives your content the potential to go viral, generating a huge boost in traffic to your blog or website.

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