December 9th, 2010: 5:01PM: “It’s up! It’s up! GO GO GO.” I received this IM from my friend Lindsay who had been watching Gizmodo like a hawk ever since I told her that my travel-hacking article, “How to Travel the World for $418″ was going to be syndicated on the tech giant’s website.
For the next 48 hours, it felt like I had taken over the internet.
A week later, I was still trying to get caught up on the hundreds upon hundreds of emails, almost a thousand new subscribers to the site, and even crazy radio interview requests including one with a station in Tokyo, Japan. As of today, that article on Gizmodo has been viewed 330,000 times on Gizmodo, shared thousands and thousands of times on Twitter and Facebook, and was their #2 How-To article for 2010.
That day, I learned the true power of the connected world in which we live…it’s freaking awesome.
While on my big trip around the globe, I reached out to my friend Corbett and asked if I could put together an article for Think Traffic that showed what happened to my site when it was “Gizmodo’d.” Fortunately, he agreed, and right on time (…five months late), here’s that breakdown on what happened, why it happened, and what resulted because of it.
The Back Story
Back in December I hit publish around 10AM on an article for my site NerdFitness.com called “How to Travel Around the World for $418.” With my site being a fitness website and having very little to do with travel, it wasn’t exactly in the list of ‘generally discussed topics.’ However, my site deals with a lot of aspects of my life along with fitness tips, and I figured people might be interested in reading about the big adventure I had coming up.
As it turned out, people outside of the Nerd Fitness community were interested in my article as well!
Within thirty minutes of publication, I started getting IM’s from my nerd friends who frequent sites like Digg, Reddit, HackerNews, etc. – all saying generally the same thing: “hey man, your article is popping up on HackerNews, and shooting up the list quickly.”
About thirty minutes after that, I received an email from an editor at Gizmodo that said something to the affect of:
We saw your article today, and we’d like to syndicate it on Gizmodo. We get x million page views a month and x million unique monthly visitors. Let us know if you’re interested!
At this point I spit out coffee all over my keyboard, and I wasn’t even drinking any. I did a happy dance around my apartment for ten minutes, replied with an enthusiastic “absolutely,” and then spent the next six hours hitting refresh on Gizmodo’s home page like a hawk (they didn’t tell me when they’d be posting it). As the hours went on, I started to wonder if something had gone wrong or if they decided not to post it. Then, right as the clock struck 5pm, the article had been republished on Gizmodo with custom artwork (which blew me away), and a big header announcing “Steve Kamb wanted to travel the world” and links up the wazoo back to my website.
What Kind of Traffic Did It Send to My Site?
See if you can guess which day the article was posted?
Here are some rough stats for the my site before, during, and after:
- Average visits per day from 11/8 to 12/8: 844 visits
- Visits on article: 23,051 visits
- Visits on day after article: 19,023 visits
- Average visits per day from 12/16 to 1/16: 1,625 visits
Here are the top sources of incoming traffic to Nerd Fitness for the two days the article “blew up.” Although I have a huge number of “direct traffic” numbers, more than any other source, I have to imagine that most of those are from either one of the big sites and were improperly tracked by my analytics:
If you look at the stats, the bounce rate for Gizmodo people who clicked through was at 45%, way less than every other source, and also had a much higher pages per visit number than other sites as well.
Now, we all know that web traffic isn’t the end all be-all metric. Like stepping on a scale compared to accurately measuring your body fat percentage (fitness reference ftw!)….tracking visits is nothing compared to tracking engaged and active visitors who stick around.
So, what were my subscriber numbers like? According to Feedburner:
- December 3, 2010 – 2,736 subscribers
- December 7, 2010 – 2,792 subscribers
- ARTICLE DAY
- Decmeber 9th, 2010 – 3,215 subscribers
- December 13th, 2010 – 3,415 subscribers
I’d say I added somewhere between 500-700 subscribers in the days immediately following the article going viral, which is 1.2% of the 42,000 new visits on those days. After that, the numbers settled in to a more consistent growth, but a growth that was definitely faster than before. I attribute this to obviously the buzz slowing down, but people continued to find the article continuously since then.
My twitter numbers also skyrocketed:
I added 300+ followers over the few days following the article going viral; after growing at a snails pace for two years, it was great to see things take off. My twitter follower growth certainly accelerated after the boost as well.
Now, as far as REALLY engaged readers went, I probably received 350-400 emails from readers who wanted to do one of three things:
- Wish me luck
- Offer advice
- Meet up while I was traveling!
It took me two weeks to get back to everybody (many people wrote emails that were 1000+ words), but I made sure to reply to each and every person that emailed me. I was even able to meet up with a handful of them in each place I went which was cooler than I could have expected.
So, those are the numbers, let’s dig into the lessons learned from it all.
A few things that probably limited my overall conversions:
- I wrote an article about travel hacking, on a primarily fitness focused website, that got syndicated on a tech website. Although I’ve incorporated some travel posts into my writing (especially now that I’ve begun my epic adventure), the only people that clicked through were people that were interested in travel hacking, and the only people that stuck around were folks that were also interested in fitness.
- Gizmodo and the other sites that helped me “blow up” are big tech sites that are designed for people who want to read random cool stuff and move onto the next thing. I’m sure quite a few of those 300,000 read the article, said “cool!” and then went back to reading about the next iPad iPod.
- My site was NOT optimized to capture email addresses and encourage return visits at all. I had a link in my footer asking people to sign up but it wasn’t well designed, and my archives weren’t easy to find if people wanted to read all of my previous posts.
But a few things worked in my favor as well:
- I had two years of backlogs of articles waiting for people when they showed up. Although it seemed like an “overnight success” to the new people who found the site, I had been two years of daily writing for people to read back on. If somebody wanted to learn more about Nerd Fitness and Steve Kamb, it was all right there for them.
- I already had 2,700 subscribers and a thriving community when people showed up. It’s like showing up to a party that is already packed with people – you want to stay because other people are there so it must be fun!
- I announced in the article that although I normally talked about fitness, I planned on blogging about my adventure on the site. I know quite a few people who stuck around who weren’t fitness fans but just wanted to read about my trip.
- A call to action with a link to my email address was right in the article. Because of that, I was able to make a personal connection with 350-400 people who then became invested in me as a person and my adventure.
So, how did my article get Gizmodo’d?
It’s weird that I truly had nothing to do with promoting my article and getting on Gizmodo. I simply wrote the article, hit “publish” and then followed my normal routine of sending out one tweet and one facebook message to announce it.
Somebody else read it and shared it on HackerNews. Somebody else posted it on Stumbleupon, Reddit, and Digg. Somebody else sent it into Gizmodo.
I started to think about why this article wet viral when nothing else I had written in the past two years had even come close to this amount of buzz. Here’s my conclusion:
This opportunity happened because I wrote “epic shit.”
I’ve come to realize that the posts that have resonated most with my readers and have been shared the most are the posts that do a few key things:
- Provide specific, actionable, step-by-step information on how to solve a problem
- Entertain and tell a fun story
- Show something awesome, but then break it down into bite-sized pieces so the reader can say “hey, I can do that.”
This article did all three of those things, and it was certainly epic. I took a seemingly ridiculous idea “Travel the world for $418,” which hooked the reader, and then explained in excruciating detail exactly HOW I planned on traveling the world for that amount of money.
This article was successful because it removed all of the uncertainty and guesswork from the big scary concept of travel hacking – I covered every single aspect of planning my trip, from which credit cards I signed up for to placing my call to American Airlines to book the trip. I even had a section that covered all of the potential questions I thought I’d get. It was a one-stop-shop for booking an epic global adventure.
What did I learn?
I said it above, I said it before, and I’ll say it again – content is king. My article made it onto Gizmodo because I consistently wrote great content for two years and this one happened to be the one that caught their attention. I didn’t solicit anybody, I didn’t call in any favors, I didn’t (and still haven’t) spent a dollar on advertising – I wrote something worth sharing.
In my first nine months of blogging at NF, I had less than 90 subscribers – I was consistently writing generic fitness articles that people could find anywhere. It wasn’t until I started really focusing on writing great articles, full of unique perspectives and applicable information that Nerd Fitness went from “meh” to “must share” and things started to take off.
Sure Gizmodo helped push me to another level, but there was two years of hundreds of articles, incredibly late nights and very early mornings that got me there. You never know what article will be your tipping point, so you need to consistently write epic shit, over and over.
You can’t count on a big break…I didn’t write my article hoping it would go viral. I haven’t written an article since then that expected to go viral either. Because honestly you never know what will work and what won’t. So, I just keep doing what I’m doing – writing as much great stuff as possible, helping as many people as possible, and working as hard as possible.
I know that more good things will eventually happen if I keep doing enough of the right thing. Last month, I gave a guest lecture at Google. Want to know how I got that gig? They emailed ME!
Don’t focus on writing the next viral article or creating the next viral video – focus on writing great stuff, producing unique content that cannot be found anywhere else, or solving a problem in a completely different way from anybody else, and it will get shared. If it happens to be in the right place at the right time, it might go viral.
But you can give your best stuff away. Although I received a great deal of traffic and subscribers from that particular article, I added almost a thousand engaged and eager subscribers overnight much earlier in my blogging career with a single guest post on The Art of Manliness. I spent THREE months working on that article and even enlisted the help of an author friend to help me edit and rewrite it…ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT.
Cultivate relationships with big bloggers, and never ask for anything – go out of your way to be helpful, and then when you ask about writing a guest post, explain that its an article that you think will be very helpful to their readers.
It’s taken me 2000+ words to get to this point, so let’s do a recap:
- Write epic shit. If you do this consistently enough, people will start to share your stuff with the world, and one of those people might be the editor of a big site.
- Write helpful stuff. Most people do nothing because they’re afraid of making a mistake – if you can explain exact steps you’ve taken to solve a problem, people will be more likely to follow those steps for themselves or share it with somebody who has a similar problem.
- Be unique, dammit. My article wasn’t about the “10 best twitter tips!” or “11 lessons I learned about making money online!” It was a cool article about a ridiculously awesome concept that nobody thought was possible. I’m not telling you that you have to take an epic trip around the world to write something unique, but you do need to do something differently than everybody else if you’re going to stand out.
How can you help your audience in a unique way? Have you solved a problem differently than everybody else? Do you have a great story to tell? How can I help YOU get your next big article shared?
Leave a comment and I’d be glad to help.