Gone Viral? Dealing with a Half Million Visitors and Thousands of Subscribers in 2 Weeks

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.

Joel Runyon is the author of Impossible HQ where he pushes his limits through physical challenges by doing the impossible. His most recent challenge was discovering how to get a six-pack in just 8 weeks.

41 thoughts on “Gone Viral? Dealing with a Half Million Visitors and Thousands of Subscribers in 2 Weeks”

  1. Super cool story here Joel.

    I am a big fan of your blog, and you inspire me to go and travel for one year, doing what I like to do. Really!

    I also took one month of cold showers… 😉

    Travel one year, and living of my online bizz – Not impossible.

  2. Ok, I do not understand something here. You said that you received over 11 000 tweets. But it shows that you have only 196 tweets on your article. How that could be possible?

  3. What a great post. go viral is very important to help your site and by this the traffic will be coming back depend on the content you get on your site. this article is a most read for everybody that’s planning to transform his/her site. thanks for sharing

  4. Joel,

    Wow! It is always a bloggers dream to go viral. Yet so few of us have experience it. Congrats to you!

    I often think that I would not want to go viral. Viral means mass quantities of strangers probing my site. Sure strangers come everyday but not in droves. But it is my usuals that tend to comment and interact. I love my regulars and they love me, it’s just one big love fest. (I’m just kidding but you get my point. ) They keep me going on some days. When all those strangers come there could be haters, spammers and trolls. I know that we all can’t get along and I do welcome every point of view. But I don’t know if I cold handle good or bad in large quantities.

    You gave great points. What rings true in my head was to give your audience what it wants. If something is popular give them more of that. You don’t need to go viral to obtain this either. You can give them more of your more popular subjects from your most visited posts.

    I have never had to get a larger host so what is VPS? Is that a single server instead of shared?

    Congrats again and thanks for the tips!

    1. Bonus bullet point: Spam & Trash the haters. If people call you out, that’s okay, but when people start telling other people to “get cancer” or start wishing death on other commenters, get rid of them.

      A little debate is welcome (and actually good), but if you get people who get overly nasty, toss ’em and don’t look back.

  5. Read the article when it was published. And the moment I read it, I knew it was gonna go viral. Congrats on the success, this just goes on to show that stories are indeed powerful. If you’ve got a great story to tell and if it’s something people can relate to/connect to, then you won’t find it hard to get eyeballs.

    Also, the way you structured the post and wrote it also played a big role in it going viral. In a way, you made us readers vicariously re-live the experience through you. And that’s awesome.

    Of course there are many different factors that come together to get serious viral action going. But still this post is a real-world example of the power of the Internet. It’s up to us how we leverage it.

  6. I haven’t been blogging for long, so I’ve never thought about a post going viral. Thanks for explaining what to do and when. I’ll Evernote this post just in case.

  7. Really got a kick out of this post. There is not only inspiration for us as bloggers, but for retirees that think they are past their prime to enjoy doing anything useful again. I’ve sent the post over to my husband who is in the latter category. Maybe he’ll get the butt-kicking he needs to get him out of his retiree blues.

  8. Get your head out of the clouds and stop imagining all the ways Tim Ferriss is going to be jealous of you.

    You made a mistake there man, Tim aint jealous of you – infact, he does not know you got 500k visitors. I am freaking jealous of you. Lol$

    Nice one here Joel. I’ve always say this: try find your voice and do what works for you. The first day I got 500+ visitors, it was when i interviewed an amazon kindle publisher (like last month) and its been so sweet for me since then….

    I can see you going places and let’s take over the industry. Tim Ferris, Chris G, even Corbet Barr should retire as well!!!


  9. Now the challenge is what to do with your hosting, if you don’t have any viral posts as yet? Just sit and wait for suddenly a big hit, and your site going down?

    I bet most of us bloggers are in that situation, and don’t want to switch to expensive hosting at this moment.

    1. Remco you don’t need to go viral before you should afford a better provider.

      I have been on the rollercoaster, called Bluehost, and regret going with them in the first place. Yet, I needed a wake up call as well. The question I ask is, how much is your blog worth to you?

      Here’s my cautionary tale: I went with Bluehost because of their Whois Anonymizer and because they were cheap. They give you unlimited traffic and webspace for a small price.

      However, I got dumped by them (quickly) when my site was victim of a vicious DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack which targeted several German sites that were in the food sector. They wanted to blackmail the owners. Something I later found out after the local DA wrote me a letter asking for an official statement for the investigation. I never filed a report or anything but this scheme was HUGE! Also I never got the blackmail because all of my Bluehost accounts were frozen.

      So what would a good host do when one of their customers gets attacked? Apparently kick you out, because they don’t want to secure their servers against further attacks. That is what happened to me. All accounts frozen, site down, domain not accessible, rankings leading to nowhere. All the work GONE.

      They were ‘kind’ enough to give me access to the database and file system so I could secure everything and go looking for another host.

      I switched to domainfactory (df.eu) which is closer to my target market any way. When I told them I was the victim of a DDOS I asked if they were willing to take me in. Of course. They were happy to have me.

      Yet I had to get a new domain name and forward my old domain via 301 to my new home. Rankings permantely slashed by 25-50%.

      My old domain was offline for a total of 8 days and had slipped in the rankings already. That combined with the 301 and reset age of the domain does that to your previous hard work.

      Do you want that to happen to your blog? Do you want to see the fruits of your work be gone because you were too cheap to pay for solid hosting? How much do I pay now? 9,95€/month (~13$).

      What do I get?

      Well after I 301ed my old domain, the DDOS continued and my new home went offline again. I went PALE. I really wanted to vomit. I contacted the support, assuming that I’d be kicked out, again.

      Not this time.

      They switched me to my own dedicated server (which is free with df for 7 days per year) as a preemptive measure. They helped me securing my .htaccess, block known clients that are usually used in DDOS attacks and they also did other stuff that I have no clue about what it means 😉

      Since then I never had trouble again. That is worth 10€/month to me. Knowing that when I wake, my blog will still be there and I have a good support team that will help me any way they can and never let me down.

      Now would you say that 10€ is expensive hosting? I don’t. Would I say that EVERY blogger needs that type of hosting? Yes, because you never know and 10€ is just eating one less Pizza/month.

      Oh before I forget, do you want to know what causes Bluehost servers to crash? 3.000 visitors in 2 hours. I kid you not.

      Remco don’t prepare for if something goes wrong, but for when something goes wrong. Remember Murphy’s law 😉

    2. Thanks Tim !! Very learningfull. I am now with hostgator on $6 per month….so the switch to 10 EURO is not so much, although I am hosting now multiple websites.

      plenty food for thought!

      I am just reading too much about posts going viral, and websites going down. Big bloggers who didn’t prepare !! Don’t want to go that road

  10. Great story Joel ,

    I think the lesson learn is that you should never ignore anyone because you don’t know where they come from or who they really are..You did the right thing and it paid off for you..

    Nice work

  11. Nice on Joel, good tips. It was a great post. I think the is a real opportunity for a hosting company to come in with a reasonable level entry plan on a scalable cloud infrastucture. Moving hosts suck, cloud setups that allow you to scale without restarting like setup would have been ideal (particularly so you had the option to scale back afterwards). Problem is there aren’t many that I know of that offer this yet. Another DCer Mark had the same experience as you a few weeks back.

  12. Seeing these boxes everywhere across this post made it difficult to read, BUT this is pretty awesome! I’ve always known to back up great posts that bring in new subscribers with more great content, and this is just a great reminder of exactly why.

    Also, the hosting is a major player in going viral. I WILL be at the point where I’ll need a VPS within 12 months which will be fun!

    Thanks for the great post,
    -Gabe Johansson

  13. When I saw this story last week I got excited. Chance encounters like this make life worth living

    It also reminds me to always be open to new things. You just never know what that person, that incident, that one time encounter could bring

    LOVE IT!

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

  14. Hi Joel,

    Excellent post and great tips and certainly Call to Action in your story or your post or your landing page plays a crucial role to generate leads for you as everybody doing blogging to earn income and generates leads eventually.

    Call to Action should be very concise and easily understandable for end user to do what you actually want him to act like.

  15. Very inspiring story. You could almost say going viral is just like hitting the lottery. You dream about it, then when someone actually hits it they dont know what to do, then it can potentially ruin them.

    I will keep these tips in the memory bank for that (fingers crossed) day when i hit the viral lottery.

  16. Writing a viral post is one of my goals! This is very encouraging and exciting news for me because I know that every post has the potential to be viral, I just have to get it in front of the right people!

  17. Hey Joel,

    I really enjoyed reading this and congrats on your success. I still find the internet a very funny place – and stories like this one make it fascinating.

    Do you mind sharing how much the big bucks were and what host you moved to next?

    thanks for sharing this,

    take care & best wishes,


  18. Great article with several very important things to remember.

    The hosting side of things is one that I had early concerns about. I’ve heard other bloggers wondering how much of a hosting upgrade they needed. What I did was got online with the provider and discussed what potential traffic spikes would do and what I would need to handle that. They walked me through it and it was a pretty easy solution.

    The other points of the article are great too. Be prepared, convert, follow up, enjoy, repeat. Solid job.


  19. Awesome, this advices are gold. I’m sure everybody wants to be famous and have 100,000+ visitors, but it can be a little bit stressing to handle that kind of traffic, thankfully I do have tech background but still it can be really hard to deal with all this.

  20. I love how simple the article is that went viral. Nothing big, just an image and story that everyone can relate too. You also did a good job of helping the reader come to their own conclusion about the lessons learned.

  21. It’s funny how front page of Yahoo, Hacker News or Reddit often comes with server crashing.

    Some of my websites are currentlt hosted on a VPS, where resources can be upgraded quickly. To me it looks like a great compromise pricewise.

    But I haven’t had the opportunity to test it though. :)

    Congrats to you btw !

  22. Hi Joel,

    I got here via an offer I tend to accept (Corbett’s blogging course). Then I saw this article, good drawn in by the headline and thought “well, yeah, another story about goiing viral and all this stuff, maybe I click the link to his article to see what it’s all about”


    It’s moving and motivating stories like your article that make the internet a worthwile (although virtual) place to be for me. It’s interesting and the article over at Impossible HQ is very well written. It also sucked me right in… First I just scrolled through the page, looking at the image wondering what kind of story you have to tell. But once I arrived at “I invented the computer” I fell in love with your post.

    It’s amazingly well written and your conlcusions here on thinktraffic are – from my perspective – the perfect follow up.

    There’s also – besides all the congratulations – really well written and highly informative stuff in the comments, especially Tim’s story on chosing a good hosting provider.

    Thanks to you, Joel, for sharing this and thanks to everyone contributing their valuable input via comments. Very motivating!

  23. We just had a similar problem. Our early sign-up page, http://www.aroundwire.com, went viral on StumbleUpon. Next thing we know, it stops loading for people!!! Our solution was to host it on Amazon Web Services with load balancing. Now, every time there is a spike in traffic, it automatically adds server resources.

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