Since Google Penguin slammed “black hat SEOs” for manipulating PageRank, marketers have been desperate to create high quality content that both increases rankings and converts just as quickly as those fiendish techniques.

From corporate businesses to small brands, the majority believe if they can produce that ‘one thing’ that will trend all over social media , they can sit back and let the monies roll in from now until eternity.

I’m talking about the Holy Grail of content marketing: going viral. So many so-called marketing “gurus” out there advocate that there are sure-fire ways to jump on the viral bandwagon, such as content hijacking to funny cats. But I think too much time and effort is spent chasing after possibilities, while companies are missing content opportunities closer to home.

I think it’s time the allure of ‘going viral’ is dispelled. And here’s why….

#1 It can be costly

There isn’t a proven formula. You simply cannot predict what will go viral. Due to this uncertainty, small businesses desperate to gain exposure tend to put all of their eggs in one basket – or rather, spend their entire budget on one idea.

And what if the masses don’t like what you’ve produced? It flops – along with your hard-work and money.

Crashing and burning isn’t a problem for powerhouse brands. If one of their many ad campaigns should fall flat, they have the virtues of a large budget and global recognition to wash over a failure.

Let’s take a recent epic ad campaign. (I don’t need to name the brand; you’ll know who they are straight away). No matter how disdainful the notion of an energy drinks company sending someone into space is – in the unlikelihood that it did fail – the fact that they were able to fund such a ludicrous endeavor suggests that they would be able to bite back with an even more absurd viral campaign.


Credit: ABC News:

This is where smaller businesses flounder. They don’t have the means to accommodate failure.

But what about all of those amateur videos that went viral I hear you say? Again, this is all down to luck. If the material takes off, there are still other costs to factor in, such as the seeding of the material in the right places, and the continual monitoring.

#2 Viral content is contagious

I acknowledge there have been many successful amateur videos on the viral content circuit. However, the trouble is, when people see how many hits a low budget video has had, a slew of copy-cats emerge. This is known as viral hijacking.

When your content is hijacked, it is no longer a unique artefact, and if there’s anything all those hours of watching The Antiques Road Show has taught me, it’s that scarcity increases value. The quickest way to de-value something is to copy it. Think about it, that hilarious cat video you watched three days ago has been replaced by one that can sit like a person whilst chugging beer. I know, cats have become so dispensable these days.

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#3 Viral content isn’t sustainable

According to Jonah Berger, in his article ‘Viral’s Secret Formula’, the reasons why some things take off are due to Social Currency. People share and talk about things that make them look good, that resonate, as well as things that are sharp, funny and a little oddball. In other words, anything that can improve their social personality on Twitter.

If this is the case, it seems that viral breeds due to an underlying sense of one-upmanship. There are only so many times that I can laugh at ‘the evil squirrel stare’ or be grossed out by Japanese bug fight (yes, this exists) before it burns out and fades away.

I attended the BrightonSEO conference recently, and there was something that Lauren Pope (@La_Pope) said in her presentation ‘Bread and Butter Content’ that struck a chord. She likened viral content to jelly beans “It’s tasty and gives a sugar rush”, but there is an eventual crash. If viral content is based on a principle of upping the ante, then it will all just descend into madness.

I know this all sounds a bit dramatic, but I think strategies developed elsewhere are healthier for a the long-term marketing venture.

Lauren Pope coined the term “Bread and butter” content to describe a website’s everyday content that answers questions or helps users accomplish something. Comparing this to a complex carbohydrate, it’s ‘more affordable, practical and sustaining’; therefore it should be a ‘staple’ in your business objective.

#4 Some businesses/services don’t lend themselves to viral content

Trying to come up with great content for more niche industries is always a challenge. Generally, it’s these less exciting businesses that believe going viral will extend their already limited audience base overnight.

Imagine if a fledgling electronics company decided to parody Gangnam style all over their premises. Yes, people may watch it and realise that Barton in the Beans is a real place and sits west of Leicester, but what has the video conveyed about their products? In this instance, hijacking content in an attempt to raise brand awareness, has only served to alienate potential customers. The more segmented your products or services are, the more your marketing should focus on distinguishing a need for what it is that you provide.

To reference Lauren Pope again, this is where your everyday, ‘bread and butter’ content should take centre stage. Create content that shows your niche product solving a problem, and this will turn prospects into brand advocates.

#5 Viral Content is essentially pointless

The majority of branded viral content out there is envisaged purely to entertain. The idea that it will generate sales is often secondary to achieving social media approval. Let’s take a look at some examples of brands that have used the most generic type of viral content:

The prank


What’s the message of this: If you drink Pepsi you can cause all sorts of chaos?

Silly Cats


What’s the message of this: Cars are evil?

OK, these adverts are really amusing. But I think I missed their brand objectives somewhere … Without a clear message about the performance or benefits of these products, I’m left feeling a little bewildered. I don’t feel encouraged to drink a can of Pepsi or open my car’s sun roof.

I know I may be veering away from the point here of viral content. I know it’s fun, but without a clear call to action is it essentially guff and a distraction from the point of advertising: Trust, leads and sales.

I wouldn’t say I’m overtly against trying to create a stir, but I strongly feel that a long-term content marketing model shouldn’t focus predominantly on going viral.

My tips for boosting your bread and butter content

  • Re-visit your website, have a look at your Google Analytics data and highlight those pages that are already performing well. Carry out some keyword research and test 3 or 4 variations of these pages if needs be
  • Look at those pages that are under achieving, give them a make-over with targeted keywords or hire a professional content writer to re-word your sales copy.
  • Set up conversion tracking to see where and if you need to implement stonger calls to action
  • Interview customers and publish their responses/stories as case studies. This will build brand trust and eventual advocacy
  • Write white papers which involve your services or products solving a problem. Push this material out via social such as LinkedIn and Google+ (Google Plus)
  • Speaking of social, advertise your products via this medium. It’s free and is a no nonsense approach in comparison to (quirky for the sake of it) viral

If you want to maximise the potential of your everyday content, we can help to re-word your site’s sales copy.

Get in touch with us today!