What Is a Viral Website?

A viral website is a website receiving an abnormally large amount of web traffic, usually within a limited span of time, due to word of mouth, link sharing, and social media sharing. Viral sites typically become popular through being shared on social media or forwarded to friends and family, who then forward it to their own network, causing traffic to the site to grow exponentially.

Key Takeaways

  • A viral website is a website receiving an abnormally large amount of web traffic, usually within a limited span of time, due to word of mouth, link sharing, and social media sharing.
  • Viral websites and content are highly desired for popularity, fame, and to generate revenue through advertising or product sales, which increase as the audience of the site grows.
  • Although virality is mostly used to describe certain kinds of content, such as videos or social media posts, websites such as BuzzFeed, Upworthy, Reddit, and even Twitter's trending posts often host viral content.

Understanding Viral Websites

Viral websites and content are highly desired for popularity, fame, and to generate revenue through advertising or product sales, which increase as the audience of the site grows. One downside of a huge increase in traffic could be the failure of the website servers to handle the number of users, but this is a problem most websites are equipped to and would love to tackle.

The Concept of "Going Viral"

Viral websites have been around since the modern version of the Internet emerged in the 1990s. They have some things in common, yet it's hard to predict what will go viral. Virality also has no predetermined definition based on the number of views. The sites are often based on user-generated content, in which a virtuous cycle is created: the more people that visit the site, the more content is generated, and the more traffic is created in return.

Viral websites make it easy to share content with others and remove barriers to users such as onerous registration processes or paywalls. They're often hosted on highly scalable platforms like WordPress, which can adapt to mountainous traffic spikes. The sites often feature user rankings or voting tools to bring the most popular content to the top, as well.

Viral sites are what's known as sticky: they have features that keep visitors there longer. Behind many viral sites are algorithms that constantly look at content and move the most popular items to prominent pages and placements. Many viral sites have irresistible headlines as well, the kind that readers simply can't help clicking on known as "clickbait."

Although virality is mostly used to describe certain kinds of content, such as videos or social media posts, websites such as BuzzFeed, Upworthy, Reddit, and even Twitter's trending posts often host viral content that is "upvoted" to illuminate virality.

Videos in particular are most likely to go viral the fastest. Weird, touching, funny, and strange events caught on video and uploaded to sites like YouTube can generate millions of views and even end up on network television news. Many of them were not created with the intent of going viral and often feature embarrassing moments.