Almost every blogger I speak to is looking for that one “lucky” post that will go viral and take their blog to the next level.
“I need to go viral…”
“I need to create one of those YouTube prank videos…”
“I need to get lucky…”
Luck plays a VERY small part.
If you want to create viral guest posts that are shared over 5k times, “luck” is FAR eclipsed by a proven, well-crafted strategy.
In this blog post, I’m going to give you a “behind the scenes” look at how I managed to go from a no-one to building a viral guest post that received 6,400+ social media shares on a blog I have been following for years.
And if that wasn’t good enough, thanks to the strategies I’m about to share, I now have a close relationship with the blog’s owner and have just joined his latest mastermind group.
Here is the article, and here is the proof:
An Idiot’s Guide To Virality
I am not a psychology professor.
Thus, we are not going to go into the psychological theory behind sharing or viral coefficients, although here is a great book for that.
No, I am going to tell you what works.
The one law you will need to internalize in order to surpass the coveted 5,000 share mark is this:
PEOPLE SHARE THINGS THAT MAKE THEM LOOK GOOD.
Look at Dan Bilzerian. He shares things that make him look good all the time:
Look at me. Whenever I get the opportunity to post an image of me looking good, I take it:
Heck, Be A Better Blogger’s own Kevin J. Duncan does this now…
— Kevin J. Duncan (@kevinjduncan) June 27, 2015
— Kevin J. Duncan (@kevinjduncan) July 24, 2015
In other words:
- You find a post that mentions you – you share it to make yourself look good
- You find the website of a cool bar you like – you share with your friends so it makes you look cool
- You find a post that could help a friend – you share it to help your friend and also to make yourself look good in front of your friend
Simple, right? But who will be doing the sharing of our awesome post?
Coming from the corporate world, I have always been told to “manage stakeholders.” I never really understood what this meant until I started guest blogging. A stakeholder is someone who “holds a stake” in something – they have an interest or concern.
When building a viral guest post, we have three different groups of stakeholders that need to be targeted and influenced to share in slightly different ways:
The Reader will share useful content with their network that makes them look good.
The Influencer will share content with their network that mentions them, as this will make them look good. (Hint: we need to mention Influencers.)
The Blog Host
The Blog Host will share the post because it was published on their website.
Yes, this means you will NOT be publishing the post on your own blog (unless you have over 10,000 subscribers). You will posting it on another blog within your niche to leverage their audience and their relationships with influencers. (More on this in the “Determine Blog Destination” section.)
With these concepts in mind, let’s dive right in…
Generate Post Idea & Headline
What is the most shared blog post format of all time? Let’s just take a quick look at the “most shared” Buzzfeed articles:
Look at those share numbers! For a more comprehensive overview of why List Posts will always work, I will refer you to Brian Clark.
But yes, you will need to create a list. A list of what (I hear you cry)?
Well, that depends.
There are a number of factors to consider when determining the topic of the list you will build:
Factor #1: Has the list been built before?
If so, only do it if you can make it slightly different and MUCH better.
With my chosen topic, I couldn’t find a solid list of alternative media sources. However, when entering “stop reading the news” there are a wealth of quality opinions from influencers on the topic:
And if The Guardian has an article on the topic, surely people care about it, right?
Factor #2: What are you passionate about?
(This answer will hopefully be the same as Factor #3.)
Not sure what you’re passionate about?
- How about that weird topic that gives you that excited bubbly feeling in your stomach?
- The thing you can sit around for 4 hours on a Saturday night and discuss with your friends?
- Or, the thing you spend your time reading about at work?
Without a doubt, the greater your passion for your chosen topic, the more effort you’ll put into it. The more effort you put into it, and better quality it’ll be. And the better the quality, the more shares you’ll ultimately receive.
Factor #3: What are your readers passionate about?
That’s a question only you can answer.
In my case, the people I want to join my blog audience have a similar outlook on life to me: they have a healthy disregard for convention.
Factor #4: Can you take a minority viewpoint?
People love rallying against the majority, so if you can argue a dissenting view people will be more likely to share your post.
“Stop Reading The News” definitely fits this point as I am pretty sure most people read the news.
Factor #5: Do Influencers you follow have any similar qualities?
Many of the 19 individuals I mentioned in my List Post shared a similar outlook; most notably, Owen Cook, Alan Watts, and Joe Rogan. In addition to giving my List Post a central focus, this similar outlook increased the chances these Influencers would share it.
Factor #6: Does it strike you as a remarkable list?
If you came across the list as you scrolled through your Facebook feed, would you stop and show it a friend sitting next to you?
If your list isn’t remarkable enough to compel someone to share it with a friend sitting two feet away, it’s unlikely they’ll bother sharing it with their followers.
Once you have an idea for a striking, remarkable and passion-fueled List Post, it’s time to sculpt a headline that will turn the heads of all those to see it.
But first, a question:
Do you want to know the secret behind writing great headlines? (And also behind the success of every great person?)
Consistent action over a long period of time.
Or, in this context: Write 10 headlines a day for two years. That’s what I did.
And after two years of practice, I focused my efforts on crafting the perfect headline for my List Post. These were my two finalists:
- Stop Reading The News: 19 Mind Expanding Alternative Media Sources
- Wake Up: 19 Refreshing Alternative Information Sources That Will Unlock Your Mind
After a bit of discussion, Cody McKibben (the Blog Host) and I felt “Stop Reading The News” was a more compelling call to action and would lead to more shares.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to wait two years honing your headline skills before you can create your List Post.
Blogging magnate Jon Morrow shares his greatest headlines in his eBook 52 Headline Hacks, which I highly recommend you download after reading this post.
Determine Blog Destination
It is of crucial importance that you select a blog that has a similar readership to yours.
You need to build a shortlist…
I assume you will already have a shortlist of blogs you follow in your industry (I had been following Thrilling Heroics for a couple of years prior to writing this post), but if you don’t:
- Head over to Alltop and browse other blogs in your chosen topic
- Go to BuzzSumo and search relevant keywords
- Email your subscribers and ask them to share the blogs they follow
Once you have a shortlist of approximately 10 to 20 blogs, list them in a Google Sheet. If they have them, be sure to include a link to their “guest posting guidelines” page. If they do not, type their name and the words “guest post” into Google:
What you’re looking for is evidence the blogs on your shortlist are friendly to guest bloggers. Cross blogs that do not accept guest posts off your list. For those that remain, enter their URLs into BuzzSumo:
See those high share counts? That’s what you’re hoping to see.
Once you’ve researched all the blogs on your shortlist, it’s time to pick a target.
Head over to your chosen blog and collect the owner’s email address, Twitter handle, and phone number (if available). You should be able to find this information on their “guest post guidelines”, “About”, or “Contact” pages.
Once you have their contact information, you’re ready for the next step.
Make Them Like You
You may be starting to notice a recurring theme in this post:
PEOPLE LIKE PEOPLE WHO SHARE THEIR STUFF.
Head to your chosen blog and blogger and:
- Follow them on Twitter
- Like them on Facebook
- Sign up to their mailing list
- Comment on a post of theirs that you like (follow these guidelines for blog commenting)
- Share their content and mention why people should read
These techniques are MUCH more effective if performed consistently over time and not 5 minutes before you send your email pitch. Check out this post by Paul Back for a more comprehensive guide to making friends with bloggers.
Now it’s time…
Time for the moment you have all been waiting for:
The Ultimate Guest Post Submission Email
Here is the exact email I sent Cody of Thrilling Heroics:
Catch what I did there?
- Reminded Cody that “we spoke on Twitter”
- Provided two potential headlines (when people collaborate on a project they are more likely to support it)
- Used the words “add value to your readership” – I am focusing on HIM and what HE cares about
- I don’t refer to my interests (traffic, links, recognition, etc.) – again, I keep the focus on him
- I show I’ve already done some work by creating this list of people and linking to their Twitter profiles (Law Of Reciprocity)
- I inform Cody he’s included on the list – indirectly stating he is an Influencer of mine
- By mentioning that he is a “digital nomad” himself, I’m proving I have been following him and am aware of what he does
- I mentioned I’ll personally reach out to each Influencer on the list AND other Influencers that have created/shared similar articles before – this lets him know I’ve done my homework and that I’m not expecting HIM to do the heavy lifting
- I refer to the previous List Post on his site that achieved 173 shares, and told him we could beat it. This shows 1) I am, again, a follower of his blog and 2) I’m aiming high
What I could have improved:
- I could have included links to previous posts I have written in the same niche/industry and included the number of times they have been shared
- The formatting of my signature was not aligned with the rest of the post
- I could have mentioned specifically how Thrilling Heroics has helped me in the past
Here is Cody’s response:
I have taken these improvements and added them to a Google Doc you can download, customise, and send out to your selected Host.
Okay, so we have the Host Blog and we have an extremely shareable idea for a List Post. Now we need to identify and approach the Influencers who will comprise this List.
As discussed above, if you have selected a topic relevant to yourself and your readership, identifying Influencers should come naturally.
However, if you want to boost your numbers (the more Influencers, the better), I would suggest entering your keyword into the search bars at Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Alltop. See which individuals pop up time and time again.
It is also important to be aware of the existing relationships between the Influencers you select and between them and your chosen Blog Host. These existing relationships can boost the likelihood of sharing. For example:
- I knew Cody (Blog Host) follows/has relationships with a number of the Influencers on the list, so he would be more likely to accept the post AND share it
- I knew Joe Rogan has relationships with Duncan Trussell and Chris Ryan (as they often appear on each others’ podcasts)
- I knew Brian Rose also follows and has a relationship with Joe Rogan
- I had an existing relationship with Brad Burton, which made him more likely to share the article
Once you have your list of Influencers, enter their Twitter handles, email addresses, links to their best content, and headshots into a Google Sheet. Here is a template you can use.
Then send them a “Heads Up” email like the one I sent to my Influencers:
In the email you send, be sure to mention the credentials of the blog you will posting on (remember, Influencers are interested in getting exposure), how much value they have provided you over the past X days/months/years, and that you have found their headshot and want to know if they approve.
I received a 25% response rate from the 19 Influencers, so do not worry if they don’t all respond.
The main reason for the “Heads Up” email is to raise awareness of your post in their minds, which will increase the likelihood that they will share once it is posted.
Now it’s time to do some real work.
Your List Post must include:
When a reader starts to read your content, they’ll inevitably ask themselves the following questions:
- Why should I read this article?
- What will I get out of it?
- Is this article meant for me?
- Have I read something similar before?
You must answer these questions in the first 30 seconds.
A Section For Each Influencer
In the post I created, I chose to include the following details for each Influencer. Feel free to include any other details that are relevant to your topic or audience:
- Name (Linked To Twitter Profile)
- Snappy Headline
- Why You Should Follow Them Section
- Link To Get Started
Here is an example from the post:
A Closing & Call To Action
Personally, I like to close blog posts with words of inspiration that lead to a clear call to action. Ideally, these will encourage a reader to take action right there and then.
In this case, the action we want readers to take is sharing our List Post.
Once you have the raw text, you need to make sure your formatting is on point. I like to bold headlines and ensure all hyperlinks are clearly marked.
Here is the CSS class used to right-align circular head shots with a lovely little shadow (pass this on to your developer if you are non-technical):
background: url(http://link-to-your/image.jpg) no-repeat;
box-shadow: 0 0 8px rgba(0, 0, 0, .8);
-webkit-box-shadow: 0 0 8px rgba(0, 0, 0, .8);
-moz-box-shadow: 0 0 8px rgba(0, 0, 0, .8);
Credit to Glen Long from Boost Blog Traffic for this CSS code.
Once everything has come together and is looking fresh, it’s time to send your draft to the Blog Host you identified.
From my experience, most Blog Hosts like to receive posts in .docx format with images either embedded in the document or embedded separately. Some Blog Hosts, such as Boost Blog Traffic, The Write Life, and Be A Better Blogger, like to use Google Docs. I would recommend inquiring with your Host to determine their particular preference, though their “guest post guidelines” page will usually contains clues.
Ensure all files are labelled clearly and the .docx file (if that’s indeed the Host’s preference) includes the name of the Host Blog.
This assures the Host you have created this piece of content JUST for them and are not just “guest post spamming.”
Reach Out To Influencers
Okay… You have addressed all concerns of your Host, made it through the editing process, and your guest post is now live.
Time for a beer?
Nope, your work is just getting started.
First, let’s pick the low hanging fruit…
Share the post with your subscribers and all your social media networks. Confirm your Blog Host has done the same. Depending on your and the Blog Host’s influence, you may gather a few hundred shares this way.
Next, it’s time to encourage each Influencer to share the List Post with their networks.
In order to increase the chances of BIG share numbers, let’s review BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model:
As we can see from the graph, a person acting on a specific behavior (sharing your List Post) depends on three factors:
In this case, the Trigger is this email:
(More on the content within this email shortly.)
It is important not to be disheartened if they do not share after your first Trigger email – you can follow up with multiple Triggers through email, Twitter, and any other social networks in which you are connected.
Personally, I like to send a tweet immediately after sending the above email just to highlight the fact that I have sent them an update. Some may disagree, but I think it is acceptable to follow up with each Influencer on a weekly basis for a month through email and Twitter (until they share or respond with feedback).
If we have chosen an appropriately shareable topic and an insightful review of each Influencer, their motivation for sharing the article is clear:
PEOPLE SHARE THINGS THAT MAKE THEM LOOK GOOD.
In order to maximize the number of Influencer shares we MUST make it as easy as possible for each Influencer to share the post.
To do so, head over to Share Link Generator and create links for all major social platforms:
In my Trigger emails to each Influencer, I included links for Facebook, Google+, and Twitter:
In the above email to Mark, I’m once again highlighting the potential value that could be added to Mark/Alan’s audience (Alan Watts unfortunately passed away) by the article.
If you get replies asking you to change anything, do it:
After I immediately changed the link Mark was referring to, he promptly shared the article on the official Alan Watts Facebook Page. This generated a whopping 862 shares:
Once each email has been sent, I would wait around 24 hours for any shares to surface. Then mention each Influencer who hasn’t yet shared in a Tweet similar to this:
Note, I included two people I know have a relationship together in this Tweet: Brian Rose and Joe Rogan. Unfortunately, my 700 strong Twitter following did not generate those 70 RT’s – those were mainly produced by Joe Rogan after he decided to retweet.
We also received shares from Chris Ryan…
…and, of course, Cody himself:
Once we have followed up with ALL of the Influencers on the list, we can now focus on Influencers that were not been mentioned in the List Post, but may still be interested in sharing the article.
First, I would first start contacting anyone with whom you have an existing relationship. Next, use BuzzSumo to search for your keyword and add authors of existing posts on List Post’s topic.
You can then send them the following mail:
Note the email’s similarity to the previous Trigger email – the difference is it includes a link to the similar post that lead me to that particular individual.
Once you have found and emailed authors who wrote similar articles, you can use BuzzSumo to find individuals who have linked to those articles. Send them similar emails requesting feedback and shares.
Monitor & Connect
If you have taken my advice in the above section regarding NOT being afraid to be controversial, by now you should have some “interesting” comments. Congrats – that is awesome!
Make sure you respond to these comments in a calm and diplomatic manner as I try to do here:
Be sure to connect with and respond to EVERY share and comment. You want to make as many connections as possible, right?
If executed correctly, you will find this process will build MASSIVE goodwill with your readers, Blog Host, and – most importantly – Influencers. It is your responsibility to capitalize on this and ensure you develop the relationships further through Twitter, email, and even in person.
It’s finally time to sit back, relax and have a beer…
Or, you may even be popping a bottle of sparkling white wine with your Blog Host if everything has gone to plan.
Seriously, you cannot underestimate the goodwill a well executed (and shared) guest blog post can have on your relationship with key Influencers in your niche.
You now have the power…
You no longer need to dream about viral YouTube prank videos for those much sought after traffic spikes. You no longer have to fail in your quest to develop deep relationships with the Influencers you admire.
You have no excuse NOT to create that BIG guest post you told yourself you were going to create “someday.”
You have the formula. You no longer have to rely on “luck.”