I was always taught to play it cool when something great happened. When wide receivers dance in the end zone, I still scowl "C'mon, act like you've done it before!" at the TV like an old, grumpy man. However, last Thursday, I had a post on LinkedIn privacy absolutely blow up and dammit, I'm excited.
Now, unwritten rules of "playing it cool" in the blogosphere state that these explosions should seemingly go unnoticed, and you certainly shouldn't analyze and write about it only one week later. But I'm going to strike while the iron is hot and share the timeline, methodology, highlights and lessons learned from this incredible experience.
On Wednesday, May 8th, this new blog welcomed just 17 visits. By the end of the following day, I had driven 32,226 visits, made it to the top of Digg, Techmeme, Hacker News and a host of others, had my post syndicated by Gizmodo, received a flood of emails and was even approached for an interview.
First, a little background...
This is a very new blog. I've only been posting on it for two months now and I had what I would now consider very modest goals for 2013 in terms of traffic. All of the Interactually social properties are very new as well, and all of them have very small followings. Prior to last Thursday, the site received only a handful of daily visits.
On Thursday morning, once the post was live but before I shared it with anyone, I read a new article by Caleb Wojcik on ThinkTraffic. In the opening of the post, he linked to a 2011 article by Steve Kamb titled: What Happens When Gizmodo Unleashes a Flood of 42,000+ People on Your Blog.
I thought to myself "Wouldn't that be cool?"
Timeline of Craziness
10:00 PM - 12:30 AM (5/8): Wrote the LinkedIn article while sucking down an unhealthy amount of caffeine
7:00 AM: Post goes live
10:36 AM: Shared the article on Twitter, Facebook and Google+
10:41 AM: Submitted the article to Inbound.org and Hacker News
11:10 AM: Saw notifications for a few comments coming in already
11:32 AM: Refreshed Google Analytics to see that I had 1,100 visits in the past hour
11:34 AM: ...still staring at the screen in disbelief
11:37 AM: Received an email from Gizmodo requesting permission to syndicate my post
11:38 AM: Checked pants
11:42 AM: Site goes down for the 1st time
11:43 AM: Did this weird, face-twitchy thing. Things get a little blurry for a minute
11:48 AM: Contacted hosting company who informs me I've surpassed my maximum MySQL database query limit; I agree to upgrade my hosting plan to have the query limit raised
11:50 AM: Site comes back up
11:56 AM: 2,600 visits
12:00 PM: 3,100 visits
12:10 PM: I have to leave for a prior engagement I couldn't get out of. I'm stupid.
12:20 PM: "I wonder if anyone has noticed me shaking?"
12:55 PM: I return to find my site has been down for some time. 5,200 visits.
1:00 PM: Manage to get the site back up
2:10 PM: Analytics reports over 500 people are on my site at one time
3:00 PM: Hit peak traffic for the day; 5,000 visits in just one hour
3:35 PM: The Gizmodo article goes live
3:36 PM - 12:00 AM: Frantically monitor site, traffic sources and numerous discussions around the interwebs
By the end of the day, I had racked up 32,226 visits to the site and the Gizmodo article was making the rounds twice as fast. My traffic goals for all of 2013 had been achieved in just six hours; then achieved again six hours later.
By this point, you may have noticed that I did absolutely nothing special in regards to social media or outreach to get this article to spread like wild fire. I worked with what I had (which wasn't much) and focused solely on the quality of the article. If you read Steve Kamb's article, this might sound familiar...
As my LinkedIn article mentioned, I first noticed their creepiness last fall. It was then that I opened a blank document that I sporadically added screenshots and notes to as I noticed new things and came across oddities that made me scratch my head just through my regular use of LinkedIn. Between the time I opened that blank document and May 7th when I sat down to write the full article, I probably only put 15-20 minutes of time into the post.
While the article only took a couple hours to write, I had eight months worth of examples and notes to draw upon. This helped me easily fill in the gaps and produce an in-depth article.
The takeaway from this is that you don't necessarily need to spend 8-10 hours on a single post for it to strike a chord, but you do need to put plenty of thought and dedication into it. As of now, I have around 20 posts saved as drafts as I continue to gather data and notes for future articles.
- 32,226 visits on Day 1
- 65,000+ visits to-date
- 90,000+ views on the Gizmodo article
- #3 on Hacker News
- #4 on Inbound.org
- Featured spot on Digg
- Featured spot on Techmeme
- Links galore from awesome sites like PandoDaily and Marketing Land
- Hundreds of shares on Twitter, Facebook and Google+
- Hundreds of comments and discussions between this site, Hacker News, Gizmodo, Twitter, etc.
- Seeing myself quoted on some of my favorite sites
- An inbox full of encouragement
- A nervous thrill I don't think I've ever felt before
The Lessons Learned
Make Sure Your Day is Free
As you can see in the timeline above, I had to leave during perhaps the most crucial hour following my post. With just 17 visits the day before, I didn't have even the slightest clue that the post could take off, so I agreed to the engagement not long after the post went live.
Of course, the site also went down while I was gone. As shown in the hourly graph below, traffic took a big hit around noon before roaring back over the next couple hours. I can't help but wonder how much further the post could have gone if it didn't hit that roadblock so early on.
Make Sure Your Hosting Company Can Handle the Load
My hosting company ensured me that their servers could handle the traffic, but I didn't know anything about the MySQL database query limit. That's something I wouldn't have even thought to ask about. Again, despite the success of the article, it stings a bit to look at that drop in traffic above. In total, I contacted my hosting company four times throughout the day.
Know your hosting plan inside and out. If you manage your own server, make sure you're prepared at all times---even if you're currently only getting 17 visits a day.
You're Never Too New or Too Small For This to Happen
When I read Steve Kamb's article, I was uplifted by the possibility of a sudden explosion of traffic but humbled by the fact that he mentioned having written quality stuff for two years. I've been writing on this blog for two months.
I assumed that I had to have some traffic and some sort of a following in order for a post to reach a tipping point. Certainly more than 17 daily visits. "I'm not followed by any influencers or anything, how could this possibly spread?"
I realize that this kind of explosion this early in the blog's life is an outlier, but it's certainly encouraging for anyone who recently launched a new blog.
Google's Real-Time Analytics is Awesome for Staying On Top
Back when Real-Time Analytics within Google Analytics first came out in beta, I thought it was entertaining, but not the most beneficial use of time. Last Thursday, it became my command center. I had it permanently up in my browser so I could see where new sources of traffic were coming in. If I saw an influx from a certain site, I jumped over to that site to see what was going on and if there was a discussion I could hop in on.
A few times, I saw traffic plunge in real-time, which made me refresh my post to find that it had temporarily gone down again. Without this constant feed, I probably wouldn't have thought to refresh the post for some time.
I plan on writing about this in more detail in the future, but Real-Time Analytics proved to be invaluable for managing and monitoring how your work is being shared around the web so that you can react and foster further discussion and growth.
Have Something to Give!
I have a number of projects in the works, including an upcoming ebook. However, being a new blog I don't have anything users can actually grab onto or download. Readers finished my post, some bounced around a couple more pages and left. They left with whatever value or entertainment they derived from my post---which is great---but I would have liked them to leave with something more.
Spend Some Time Thinking About How to Capture Emails
Last week, the only place where users could join my email list was through the inconspicuous "Stay Informed" form at the top of my sidebar. Now, they can join using that form or, well...still only that one. It's far from ideal and needs a lot of improvement, I admit, but it's something. (Update: I've since made some adjustments to my email capture strategy, but it is always evolving)
Clearly, with so little traffic, I didn't think this was a huge priority yet. In fact, this is where the MVP (minimum viable product) theory can bite you in the ass. My thinking was that I just needed to get something that worked up and running and work on a better solution as the traffic began to pick up. In reality, if the stars align in your favor and you get a flood of traffic, you've already missed out on a significant opportunity before you can pivot.
Certainly get something that works up and running as soon as possible, but don't wait to improve upon it.
This is what is incredibly wonderful about the internet. You simply never know when your words and your name will be seen by hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people.
Personally, I learned more from writing one post and one day's events than I have from hundreds of other authors' blog posts, podcasts and various conferences. The bottom line, as evidenced by this new blog, is that you never know when your words will ignite something; something that hits a nerve within readers and compels them to comment, discuss and share.