3 minute read.

Viral content sites, make hay while the sun shines.

Paul Anthony / February 19, 2014

Posted in: Archive


For a lot of businesses, social traffic has flipped the web on its head, and Facebook and other platforms continue to eat into Google’s dominance as the primary referrer source.

No longer are marketers concentrating solely on search engine positions and organic SEO, but thinking about how to create content that will drive traffic on social networks as well, or instead of attracting links.

A number of sites have caught my eye recently that are positioning themselves solely as vehicles for viral content, and throwing caution to the wind when it comes to search traffic and brand building. Write emotional headlines, and click bait titles, fool the web into sharing your content – and grow and profit via the social web.


URL: http://www.viralnova.com

Described as a one man traffic juggernaut  by many  is run by one editor, Scott DeLong, and two freelancers. The company is bootstrapped and doesn’t have any outside investors. Established in August 2013, the site now received 70 million uniques in November last year, and 66 million in December according to the wire.

Founded in 2006, BuzzFeed (http://www.buzzfeed.com) boasted 130 million monthly unique visitors in November 2013, and is continuing to grow. It’s profitable, with over 300 employees and 85 million unique visitors as of August 2013.

Hot on their heels, Upworthy (http://www.upworthy.com) launched on March 26th, 2012, initially with a political focus, before pivoting towards more engaging emotional content. Just seven months later, they were getting almost 9 million monthly uniques.  In November of 2013, just 20 months later, Upworthy saw close to 88M unique visitors worldwide. One of the fastest growing media company in the history of the web. This article on growth hackers is an interesting read detailing the strategy, including how they A/B testing headlines on Facebook.

Upworthy’s Slideshares detail just what they do to help stories go viral:

If there’s anything we can take from these sites, it’s that social media can send serious traffic your way if content is crafted sensitively can all take away plenty of ideas on content creation from these sites.

Whilst these companies have to be applauded on how they have attracted an audience, (and scary traffic numbers in a small space of time) social bait  is not without its critique. Not all information online is equal, and the rise and rise of copycat social sites that merely aim to attract eyeballs are not playing the long game in terms of building a recognisable brand. Others agree, PandoDaily recently pointing out that viral traffic is potentially a terrible business model.

 Luke O’Neil (Esquire) aptly puts in the year we broke the internet

Readers are gullible, the media is feckless, garbage is circulated around, and everyone goes to bed happy and fed.

Not only is the content these sites are pumping out the online equivalent of a McDonalds Happy meal, I’ve blogged before on how building your empire on top of Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm is an incredible risky strategy. Unfortunately “Move Fast and Break Things” – makes for an incredibly fickle mistress, and you are only a platform change away from disaster.

Ultimately, Facebook and other social media entities online don’t create value to their user bases by becoming dumping grounds for cat videos. If they want to continue to be discovery platforms for important and recent information, e.g. Breaking News or important social updates then we’ll see continued tweaks to the EdgeRank algorithm to find relevance from others in our stream.

That, is likely to leave viral sites such as the above out in the cold.

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