This is a guest post by Joel Runyon of Impossible HQ.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a story about an encounter I had with an old man named Russell Kirsch in a Portland coffee shop.
While it was a good story, I wasn’t quite sure if it “fit.” I debated on whether to even post it in the first place, but I took my own advice and I hit publish anyways. At first it got a little traction. It had followed up a post about my recent six-pack challenge which had gotten quite a bit of traffic, but it essentially did a small spike and I thought that was it.
Then Sunday came.
Now everybody knows that Sunday is the worst day for traffic. Nobody reads blogs on Sundays. Nobody opens emails on Saturdays. Nobody is on twitter on Sundays. But apparently nobody was paying attention to any of those generalizations this Sunday.
I was drafting up a new post, when all of a sudden, I kept getting a server error. I noticed my hosting was down and then someone tweeted me to let me know I hit the front page of Hacker News.
I checked it out and sure enough, there the site was on HN. I scrambled to get the site together as different news outlets picked up the article.
As it turned out, we sat atop Hacker News for about 8 hours and got picked up multiple times on Reddit, twice on Boing Boing, SoulPancake, MetaFilter, Fark, Motley Fool and even Oprah.com – yes that Oprah.
Over the next 14 days, the traffic kept spiking over and over again. In total (so far), the post has brought in over ½ million total new visitors (200,000 visitors just from Facebook), 11,000+ new tweets, thousands of new subscribers and scores of evil commenters from the dark, dark recesses of the internetverse (and it’s still going).
All of this and I didn’t even plan on posting the story to begin with!
So I did it – I went viral. But going viral is actually way more stressful than it sounds. Especially when it’s completely unexpected.
So, how do you manage going viral without losing your mind, melting your server, and completely disrupting everything you’ve worked so hard to build? Well, this is what I did.
9 Steps To Manage Your Next Viral Post
1. Slow Down & Breathe
You just got ½ million hits! You’re blogging famous! You’re on freaking OPRAH!
Slow down killer.
Get your head out of the clouds and stop imagining all the ways Tim Ferriss is going to be jealous of you. Remember, you’re not that big of a deal yet.
Conversely, a lot of traffic can be paralyzing. You simply have never seen this much traffic before. It may sound counterintuitive, but success can be paralyzing.
Either way, take 30 seconds, slow down, calm yourself and breathe. It’s going to be okay.
2. Upgrade Your Hosting
Calm, yet? Good, now run to your hosting provider and make sure they’re up for the challenge.
Bluehost is great for starting out your blog, but the truth is that I’ve outgrown Bluehost for the last year or so. It took this influx of traffic to wake me up. As soon as we got on the front page of Hacker News, Bluehost was toast.
I threw down the big bucks for a VPS and since I’m technically illiterate, Jeff from Spyr Media personally saved my butt and helped me transfer hosts in the middle of the traffic onslaught.
A billion hits to your site won’t do you any good if your site is down the entire time and everyone gets a 500 error. Make sure your server can handle it!
3. Have a Clear Call To Action
The nature of viral is that your conversion rates will be lower than normal traffic – viral traffic tends to have a high bounce rate – but that’s not an excuse not to have a conversion point in the first place.
Have a very clear call-to-action at the end of your post. Most likely, that will involve an email opt-in incentive. If you don’t have one yet, you should start creating one yesterday.
I included a personalized link at the bottom of the article as well as a standard opt-in at the bottom of the post.
As a result, I’ve doubled my list size that I’ve been building for the last 2 years in less than 14 days.
4. Have Good Content To Start With
Okay, there’s not much you can actually do with this part, but a major reason for the overall success of this post was the fact that I had been busting my butt for the last 2 years writing content throughout the blog.
Specifically, the week prior to the post exploding, I had written some of the most popular blog articles in my blog’s recent history. That content, along with compelling headlines and images, gave people a reason to stick around my site and not bounce out after they read the initial article.
5. Introduce Them To Your Brand
There’s a ton of different elements to Impossible HQ. If I don’t introduce people to them all, they can get lost with all the stuff going on.
One of the first pieces I wrote after the Russell post took off was “A Crash Course Introduction to Impossible HQ” that took time to introduce people to the most recent challenge and the upcoming charity project we’re taking part in to build a school in Guatemala.
This step lays out exactly what you’re about right up front with people and lets them know the next steps to take after the initial call-to-action.
6. Follow Up With Good Content
Some of my follow up content to the Russell post has been the most trafficked content in a while. I made a point on my follow-up article to take a very brand focused approach and infuse the articles with the hard-nose, no-excuses, just-do-it attitude that I try to have permeate the Impossible brand.
Because people would come to the Russell post a couple days after I had posted it, there would be a new blog or two up when they arrived and many of them read the recent posts as well.
As a result, 5 of my 9 most trafficked articles ever were written in the last month.
7. Ride That Train
People loved Russell, so I shelved some of the posts on my schedule and gave them more Russell. I followed up the story with 7 actionable things I learned from the encounter. I used it to answer some questions, address some of the haters and give a little more back story on the my interactions with him.
I also linked the two posts together so that they fed each other traffic. People read both and a large majority ended up sharing both stories as a “part 1” and a “part 2” section of the story. As a result, the follow up story has gotten a ton of hits as well.
If something resonates people, don’t try to force feed them something else – just give them more of what they wanted.
8. Enjoy It
It’s fun to say you’ve got 500,000 visitors in just a couple weeks, but you probably won’t have it happen constantly.
Sit back and enjoy it for a second – after all – it’s cool to see 60,000-100,000 people on your site in a given day. Enjoy it.
9. Stay Calm And Carry On
But don’t forget to get back to work.
You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.
– Henry Ford
Viral is great, but at the same time, you can’t coast forever on what you “did that one time.”
Keep working. Don’t let one post blow you off your mission or distract you from what you’re trying to build. If you don’t keep writing epic sh*t, people will leave.
Having a post go viral might be a big influx of subscribers, but if you bask in the glory of these visitors coming to your site, you’ll be really disappointed when the traffic eventually tapers off and you realize you never took advantage of it and built something.
Viral posts are awesome, but they’re not the climax of your blog. Use them as a launching point. Then keep building things, moving forward, and launch even bigger things down the road.