This post is based on episode 201 of the ProBlogger podcast.
“How do you create content that goes viral?”
I remember getting this question from a new blogger. They wanted a blog post to go viral because they thought it would suddenly shoot their blog traffic and benefit into the stratosphere.
And who knows? It may have done just that. Unfortunately, without much content in your archive, there is a good chance that these numbers will collapse pretty quickly.
So I told this particular blogger what she did required rather to hear than what they wanted Listen. And I thought it would be worth sharing what I said this week with you.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with writing content that can be shared hundreds or even thousands of times. I often talk about the importance of writing shared content. However, “Going Viral” doesn’t necessarily give you the continued traffic you need to succeed as a full-time blogger.
While some bloggers may have been successful with a single post overnight, in most cases it took months (if not years) to become full-time bloggers. I’ve met thousands of bloggers over the years, and the fastest of them to reach full-time is four months. And that was certainly the exception to the rule.
Most people take longer to reach full-time status. And they do it by going step by step.
In the early days of the digital photography school, I was obsessed with my posts going viral.
And in January 2007 it finally happened.
The blog was about seven months old at the time and I had an average of 4,000 visitors a day. I certainly didn’t complain about the traffic I had, which was a combination of:
- Readers from my previous photography blog
- lots of evergreen content
- Ranking relatively good in search.
But I had been sitting on this number for a while and was no longer satisfied. I wanted more traffic and started looking at what other websites were doing.
I was particularly interested in social bookmarking sites like dig.com, which were huge at the time. I started to analyze the content that is shared frequently on these websites. And I discovered certain qualities that they all shared.
I started to write content similar to the posts that are always shared. It was very different from the content I had written so far. My posts got pretty “fluffy” – not very deep and not very helpful, to be honest. They were written to create controversy rather than to help anyone. And everyone had titles that were practically clickbait.
And then I would put them on websites saying, “Here’s a post that might interest you and your readers.”
One of the websites I posted my posts on was Lifehacker. And when they took the bait and were connected to one of these posts, my traffic doubled overnight.
But that was just the beginning. The next day it was selected by digg.com and I had over 100,000 visitors in a single day. I can still remember how I sat on my computer and saw my statistics go up every time I updated the page.
It was an incredible rush. And with that came the feeling that I could finally blog all day.
But these incredible numbers didn’t last long and the next day I had 4,100 visitors.
I was so disappointed.
I understand why so many people want their content to go viral. It was amazing how much traffic I had and I doubt I’ll ever forget how I felt that morning. But even though I tried to get all these new readers to read another post, sign up for my RSS feed, and follow me on Twitter, I never got that traffic again.
For the next month my traffic was back to around 4,000 visitors a day. It started to bring me down – I really wanted another rush of traffic. I wrote more posts like the first one and tried to recreate the scenario. But none of them started. I’ve posted almost every post I’ve written to Lifehacker, but they haven’t linked any of them. I even tried playing Digg and voting my post up there to no avail.
I was obsessed with going viral again. I really wanted to repeat my previous “success”. But all it did was encourage me to write fluffier content that was meant to trigger releases rather than serving my readers. And while I managed to make a few more posts go viral, the surge in traffic continued just as long.
My obsession with going viral continued for months. And then one day I realized what my 4,000 visitors a day were Really meant.
I had 4,000 people on my side every day. From all websites on the Internet, they made a conscious decision to spend part of their time with mine. And although I didn’t have 100,000 visitors a day, that number meant I got about 120,000 visitors a month.
Which was definitely worth celebrating.
But I also noticed that they were now being changed briefly. Because each time they visited, they received formulaic headlines and fluffy content that was specifically written to be shared instead of solving their problems.
And that had to change.
I changed not only what I wrote, but also how I wrote. My new goal was to serve the readers I already had and to increase my traffic slowly over time, rather than with great success.
To serve my readers, of course, I had to know what they wanted. So I asked them by sending surveys with the following questions:
- “Who are you?”
- “What problems are you having?”
- “What questions need to be answered?”
Through these surveys, I learned a lot about my readers, the problems they were facing, and what they wanted to know. And I wrote content specifically to answer your question and try to solve your problems instead of getting clicks. And because I didn’t keep updating my stats to see if I managed to go viral again, I had a lot more time to write them.
I not only wrote more useful content, but also more of it. I quickly went from four jobs a week to five, seven and finally ten.
The human touch
Another bonus was that I had more time to interact with my readers. I have responded to comments several times and we have started a forum to build a community there.
I also started to take advantage of the traffic I got by encouraging these visitors to become subscribers. I focused more on creating my email list and email content that appealed to these readers and kept bringing them back to the website.
I was still trying to write shared content from time to time. But instead of trying to hit the ball out of the park with every post, I would try about a dozen posts once.
And as it turned out, whenever I did did Write shared content that my writers liked to share with me because I served them better.
Again, they were more like spikes than massive growth for my blog. But they certainly helped in terms of social evidence.
A month after I decided to focus on my readers rather than my traffic, I got 4,500 visitors a day. Three months later, that number had grown to 6,000 visitors a day. And a year later, my blog got 9,000 visitors a day.
There is still an occasional increase in traffic. But these tips are just a bonus. My goal is to increase my traffic day by day and keep people long-term.
And now it’s normal for us to have 100,000 visitors a day. But only because I stopped chasing viral traffic and started creating content to help my readers.
I honestly hope that you will experience this moment when one of your posts goes viral and your traffic goes over the roof. But don’t let your long-term goals distract you. Remember why you started blogging in the first place. And never take for granted the fact that you keep visiting your blog.
Take care of her. And they will take care of you in the coming years.
Credit: George Pagan III
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