How to Go Viral: The Web Design of Shareability

The art of the meme?

The media landscape has changed dramatically in the past decade. People are often getting their news and information from a group of upstart “viral” sites, with the likes of BuzzFeed, Upworthy and Know Your Meme among the most popular. In fact, these sites are so well-known that it’s inspired websites like ClickHole, a satirical version of Buzzfeed from the creators of The Onion. The success of these sites is indisputable, and traditional news sources like television and newspapers are trying to play catch-up.

The most-trafficked viral site, BuzzFeed, was launched in 2006 with a focus on tracking and distributing viral content. In its early days, the site was known for lighter “click bait” content and has continued to be very adept at creating it. Such pieces consist of lists, quizzes and video content. With them, you’ll often find large images, bright colors and a sort of DIY layout.

In recent years, BuzzFeed has added more journalistic features, like breaking news and in-depth reporting. In essence, it has figured out what kind of content consumers want to see.

The combination of the site’s playful and serious content has led to an enormous following. As of this writing, Alexa ranks BuzzFeed at #201 on their Top 500 Sites list.

Let’s dig in and find out what all the buzz (pardon the pun) is about. Then, we’ll check out some WordPress themes, plugins and other design elements you can use to bring some viral qualities to your own website.

Key features of viral websites

Viral websites can be varied in their subject matter. Some cover the latest news, while others focus on lighter fare. But they often share some of the same key components. Items that can be easily shared and often feature some interactivity and shareability, including:

  • Quizzes/Surveys
  • Videos
  • Memes
  • Listicles
  • Photo Galleries
  • Social Media Threads

Features such as these can make for quick snapshots of a moment in time. Whether inspired by Donald Trump’s tweets, how virtual reality is changing lives in unexpected ways or award show fashion, viral content could be looked at years from now to see what topics had people engaged.

Then again, you’ll also find lots of viral content that more fits the profile of a fun time-waster. Discovering which Golden Girl you are based on your favorite Disney character, or waxing poetic over ‘Three Amigos,’ brings a decidedly lighter feel.

Whether you’re out to capture the state of a culture or just evoke a few chuckles, there are some good examples to follow and learn from.

Tools for creating and shaping your content

Now that we’ve seen the types of content that often go viral, along with the methods and formats that work best, let’s check out some tools of the trade. Here are some WordPress themes, plugins and design assets that you can use to create that next buzzworthy hit – maybe even as good as this Alf painting.

WordPress Themes


Part of the challenge in creating a shareable site is having a simple method to do so. BoomBox was built with the creation of viral content in mind. It features built-in ways to create memes, listicles, quizzes and polls. There are also options to display trending content using a variety of criteria.


Bunchy is a great choice if you’re looking to crowdsource some of your site’s content. Using their Open List feature, your site’s users can create their own content. User-created content is then voted on and ranked on the site.


Banzai is a WordPress theme that enables you to create all sorts of content types. It also gives site owners some valuable data like quiz results – which is great for learning more about what users are interested in. Users can also submit their own content. If you’re looking for the same functionality in plugin form, check out Banzai Viral Core.

Click Mag

When looking to create viral content, don’t forget about the importance of social sharing. Click Mag has integrated some nifty sharing features to encourage users to spread the word. The theme also features custom sliders and photo galleries for individual posts.


TopNews includes some interesting features to promote your posts. The trending posts carousel scrolling along the top of the home page mimics some of the big viral sites (as shown in the screen capture above, both Buzzfeed and Upworthy use them to great effect) and provides instant access to what’s hot. There are also some custom WordPress Widgets that show social media stats and your most popular posts. Plus, there’s built-in support for YouTube and Vimeo video playlists.

Quizzes, lists & more


GuessOn enables you to create a variety of interactive polls, quizzes and memes – or let your site’s users post their own on the front end.


ViralPress enables you (or your site’s users) to create open lists, quizzes and media playlists. The plugin also allows for social media login integration – making account setup a breeze for your users.

Make your own memes

HTML5 Poster Generator

If you’re looking for a simple and fun plugin create some interactivity, check out HTML5 Poster Generator. Users can easily create a poster by uploading an image and writing their message. From there, customize and share it with the world.

Meme Generator

Unleash the creativity of your community with Meme Generator. You can choose from preselected photos or upload their own to create the next great meme.

Create viral videos

Social Media Video Graphic Pack

Viral Meme Video Maker

Fluo TV

Design Assets

If you want to create viral content, having a steady supply of compelling images can play an important role. That’s what makes Envato Elements such an awesome resource. A subscription gets you unlimited access to their deep library of images, fonts and templates. Here are just a few examples of items that might just help your story get internet famous:

TheRespek – Viral Magazine Template

Infographic Templates

Significon Social

People Pack

Flat Emoticon Emoji


Make It Your Own

Creating content that goes viral is, above all, about using your creativity and having fun. By exploring topics that make a connection with your audience, you’ll encourage them to share your creations with others.

Thankfully, all of the technical wizardry in creating memes, quizzes and the like is baked into the tools we covered above. That leaves you free to just experiment and create. Who knows, maybe someday your work will be as famous as this guy?


Browse more viral-ready themes for WordPress. 


Featured image: Buzzfeed + Space Nebula Backgrounds from Envato Elements. 

About the Author Eric Karkovack

Eric Karkovack is a web designer with well over a decade of experience. You can visit his business site here. In July 2013, Eric released his first eBook: Your Guide to Becoming a Freelance Web Designer. You can follow his rants on Twitter @karks88.