What is a Viral Website

A viral website is one that has become so popular that word-of-mouth, links, and social media sharing generate an abnormally large amount of web traffic to the site. Viral sites typically become popular through being forwarded to friends and family, who then forward it to their own network, causing the traffic to the site to grow exponentially.


Viral sites and content are highly desired to generate revenue through advertising or product sales. 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 would love to tackle.

Going Viral

Viral sites 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. The sites are often based on user-generated content, where the more people that visit the site, the more content is generated, and the more traffic is created in return; a virtuous cycle is one way to view this.

Viral sites make it easy to share content with others and put up few barriers to users such as onerous registration processes or paywalls. They're often based on highly expandable 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.

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.

The list of top viral sites is constantly evolving but as of May 2018, a ranking complied by eBizMBA​​​​​​​ included: BuzzFeed, UpWorthy, ViralNova, Zergnet, LittleThings, Distractify, ThoughtCatalog, and Ranker.

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.

It's cheap and relatively easy to start your own website or create your own videos in the hopes of going viral, using inexpensive and free online tools. All you need is the right idea and a fair amount of luck.