10 Steps to a Viral Tutorial That Sells

Can a tutorial attract links and traffic, while selling at the same time?

We know that a well-written tutorial that stays strongly focused on benefits to the reader can fly under the “sales-alert” radar and lead to great results. This has been true online and off well before blogging and social media became big.

The same benefits-oriented focus can also cause a tutorial to go viral, just like PDF reports, free ebooks, and white papers have done via email forwards since the beginning of the commercial web.

So let’s look at a time-tested 10-step process to creating an educational marketing tool that generates both buzz and sales.

1. Drill down on your topic

Focus your lens. Come to the table with a specific topic in mind. Will you be writing about a broad subject or a narrow one? Which is more compelling?

2. Who is the target reader?

Identify your ideal reader with precision. Try to imagine that reader in detail, and then obsessively keep that profile in mind as you formulate the key benefits your tutorial touches on.

3. What’s the goal?

Whether you’re trying to generate subscribers, leads, or sales, make sure you keep your end goal in mind and avoid rambling off track. The narrative should travel directly from Point A to Point B, while staying constantly engaging.

4. Outline it

Good directions get you to your destination. An outline helps break things into manageable pieces and keeps you on track.

5. Interview experts

If you are not the sole content expert, interview other sources to gather a fresh perspective. When interviewing experts, be sure to ask probing questions such as “Why is that important?” and “What is the implication of that?”

6. Do your research

No matter how well you think you know the topic, read as much as you can about the subject matter. Seek industry analysis, competitor information and internal documents that may hold the secret to the beneficial hook that makes all the difference in performance.

7. Write the title first

Your title is the headline, so create a relevant and compelling title that will invite readers to explore your efforts further. Always remember to focus on the benefits your tutorial will bring to that ideal reader, by making a promise with your title that you fulfill with the content.

8. Write the opening page

You’ve got their attention, now keep the momentum and open strong. The first page sets the stage for your document by “telling them what you’re going to tell them” and why it matters. Carefully craft and refine it to perfection, as the success of your tutorial will depend on those opening words.

9. Stay the course

Break the paper into manageable components. Continue to repeatedly refine, streamline, redraft and fine-tune your message, and be sure to stay focused on your topic, your objective and your ideal reader.

10. Get another pair of eyes (or three)

For a refining touch, seek an editor—whether your spouse, a friend, or a professional editor. As a painter is blind to missed spots on a wall, so too will you be blind to errors in your writing. Before I released Viral Copy, I had three people review it, and they all found mistakes that the others had missed!

(BONUS — not available in stores)

11. Tell plenty of stories

It’s so much more fun for the reader, and it keeps them reading. And that’s the point.

Think this is some new Web 2.0 / Digg / Delicious / Link Bait strategy?


This list of criteria is more or less the basis for Michael Stelzner’s excellent book Writing White Papers. While the term “white paper” is generally used for written marketing tutorials at the corporate level, don’t be fooled into thinking it somehow doesn’t apply to you.

Whether you want to call it a free ebook, a special report, or a blog series, the methodology is the same. And Michael walks you through it step by step.

Plus, the same framework applies to scripting a podcast or video tutorial, too.

The basic instinct that makes someone forward a PDF white paper by email is the exact same impulse that prompts someone to link, Digg or bookmark.

It’s value. And if you create it, it will not only spread, it will sell as well.

Subscribe to Copyblogger today!

Add Copyblogger to your Technorati favorites.

Print Friendly

What do you want to learn?

Click to get a free course and resources about:

Reader Comments (6)

  1. says


    Thanks for mentioning my new book. I strongly agree that white papers and tutorials have a very common objective–to soft sell by way of education.

    This represents the NEW method of marketing and is a proven way to cut through the noise and make a difference for your company, products, concepts and ideas.

    If what you have written is perceived to be valuable, it will spread like virus throughout a company and over the Internet.


  2. says

    Hi Michael, thanks for stopping by. :)

    Due to a server move yesterday, all the other comments on this post were lost.

    Sorry to anyone who took the time to comment, but it’s just one of those things.

  3. says

    Personally, I think tutorials (especially video tutorials like yours) are going to be a huge part of future online content.

    Especially now that almost anyone can make them!

    Great content, as always!

  4. says

    Excellent tips on making your content viral! I like to give away my reports on forums, file-sharing sites, torrents & eBay. I let the people have master resale, resale & giveaway rights so they can sell or give away the resale rights to others, etc, etc, etc. Some of them have spread like wildfire!

Comments are open for seven days. This article's comments are now closed.