Lessons learned from achieving virality with a startup blog. Twice.

My online connections know that in the past few months I achieved some magic with the blog of the startup that I co-founded and left: 140.000 unique visitors with only two blog posts on the same topic. Time has come to reveal the full story of how I managed to reach this result, what were the challenges and how I think it can be replicated.

reaching virality with a startup blog

1. TOPIC AND TARGETING

This startup blog counted about 20 posts in 2013 (being a co-founder and the only business person in the team means juggling with one thousand things and unfortunately this was all I could pull off). The posts were ranging from recruitment reports and trends presentations to interviews with recruiters and funny posts with visuals. None spiked at more than 700 visitors.

One day I thought about writing about what are the salaries for developers and designers (a segment of our target group that was soon to become the only niche we were targeting) in different countries, inspired by a developer friend that was looking for jobs in other countries and did not know exactly what to reply to the question: “What are your salary expectations?”.

I googled what’s out there on the topic and I came up with an infographic and two tables with numbers, all quite recent and decent. I assembled a post called “Salaries for developers and designers across the world”, containing this content and some comments aside. It was nothing breaking news, as I was reusing content found online.

I didn’t expect the amazing outcome about to come.

But surprise, surprise! It went super viral through Twitter, Facebook and websites re-posting the content. Even Mike Butcher, well-known editor at TechCrunch, shared it. It reached more than 20.000 visits in the first day and some thousands more afterwards. Plus more than 100 backlinks (but of little SEO value).

As it seemed, the topic was of high interest to the target group and the content also contained some shocking numbers (developers in Australia and designers in Switzerland earning the most in the world?!). 

Conclusion: it is just fine to re-use existing content at a bit of time distance since its first release (mine were a few months old). The secret relies on how interesting is the topic, rather than having super smart (industry analysis or alike) and new content.

Then I thought that the topic was so cool and I tried to replicate it. The following posts were using the same “salary honey” and same use of existing infographics and tables, but for different niches. I came up with “Gaming jobs salary reports” and “Salaries for sales professionals around the world”.

And surprise, surprise again! Nothing happened. No spike in traffic.

My conclusions were: don’t target too narrow niches (going from developers and designers to gaming professionals) and don’t expect virality by targeting people that are not so much into technology (sales professionals are more offline than online, as opposed to developers who are super tech addicts).

2. DISTRIBUTION

Normally I was posting the articles in Startup Jobs groups on Facebook. By seeing the hockey stick in Google Analytics with the viral post, I thought of helping the content reach out even more, since I was obviously onto something here. I joined plenty of Facebook groups of developers and designers of any kind and I posted the article. Most of them appreciated my posting, since it was informative content, rather than a sales-y post. I also retweeted people who tweeted our content.

The third day I invested EUR 5 on boosting the post on the startup Facebook page. This didn’t prove much value. It got the post to be seen by 7000 people (connections of those who liked our FB page) in two days, but not so many clicks as the traffic dropped dramatically.

But the traffic driven by this article was resuscitated once more by HackerNews, which is highly used by the target group of the article. Apparently our article drove many comments on their platform and became a trending topic. So they promoted our article. This made us spike again at more than 10.000 visits in the first day of their tweet and more afterwards.

HN

To conclude: you can get much more than an initial spike by helping the article with a push in distribution. As you cannot “spam” not-owned social media channels too often, my recommendation is to see first if the content has potential, and only push the posts that are worth it. And by push I mean massive push. Also, not to be neglected: make it easy for people to share (tweet and like buttons all over your post).

3. WEBSITE-READY. AND PRODUCT-READY.

Now you might expect that this viral post brought us also a spike in the user base. Wrong!

Not many of the blog readers went on the product website. In fact, the site traffic didn’t spike at all during the blog spikes. It was actually funny how I didn’t even realize we are onto blog virality until we reached 18.000 visits on the blog. That was because my main KPI and the data I constantly tracked was the number of new users. The day the blog post went viral I could barely notice an increase in user acquisition. The same goes for product website traffic – no spike.

Why did this waste happen? The website and blog integration sucked. The blog was on a poorly branded wordpress page, not fully integrated on the product website (as we had many other development priorities with the product first, because we were still in pre product-market fit). And the blog was not properly set to convert to the maximum potential. All people had to was a domain name, a logo on the sidebar to get from the blog to the product and a link at the end of the article.

Gradually, I made some modifications to optimize the conversion rate from blog reader to website visitor. I posted a banner at the end of the blog post to redirect them to the website. I figured that just a text and a link was not enough in a post full of visuals, so a banner should emphasize more our invitation to the main website. This got a slightly better conversion rate, but not something that would make me happy. Then I created a pop up with the same banner. A slight increase in conversion rate again, but still below 0.1%. I added more menu items to highlight the path to the main website. No impressive results.

My main advice: when virality hits, better be ready! This means have everything optimized for conversions long before you aim at creating quality content. And preferably, have the product-market fit before you invest into marketing, even if it is inbound.

4. HACKS

After all this, I didn’t quit. I knew there must have been a better way. I really wanted to reach a spike in traction too, as it would highly benefit our investors, media and client relations. And I knew I had something good, so I can juice it more.

Step one: I thought how to improve the content. I noticed people were commenting that the numbers shown in the infographic were not so good and there were wanted countries missing. Knowing that there is a huge interest in the topic, I decided to invest more effort into having a better content on it: we started our own survey on how much do developers and designers earn in different countries.

And the beauty of this survey came mainly on a perfect integration with the product website. Instead of having a third-party survey form on our blog, we developed a page on the product website to gather the answers. It was simple, took less than a minute to complete, and people could answer one question by using one of our product features. After submitting, people were redirected to a thank you page with buttons to sign up for our product by using their social media profiles.

To kick start distribution, I created some partnerships with startup and tech event organizers that promoted our survey. And I posted it more than once on more than 100 Facebook and Google+ groups of developers and designers.

The survey was bringing us a steady amount of users, but still nothing impressive (never more than 50 a day, while being a free platform).

When we reached 1160 answers, I decided to present the intermediary results, while leaving the survey open. I made the graphics and wrote the post: “Best countries to work and live in as a developer”. Each graphic was branded and linked to the product website. It also contained a banner invitation to gather more answers, as the survey was still open. I published the article again on all the FB groups of developers.

And boom! Virality again!

53.000 unique visitors in the first four days after posting the second article on the same topic. But this time with a much better conversion rate from blog visitors to product website visitors: 11.000 unique visitors (>10%). This also topped up with reaching more than 1000 new answers in the survey.Unfortunately, not the same increase can be said about conversion rate from visitors to users. Which I mainly attribute to not having a product-market fit.

blog results nov13

 

site results nov13

 

Apparently, even if you hit virality once, it can always be boosted.

I hope you found this article useful. Spread the word around and share your own experience.