5 Things Bloggers Should Know before Going Viral
I didn’t think twice about hitting the “Publish” button on 4 Reasons Christians Need to Quit Sharing Hoaxes that Monday morning.
Up to this point, my modest little blog hadn’t seen more than 200 hundred visitors in a day. I blogged because I enjoyed the process and writing has always been a way for me to really discover how I felt about an idea or topic. A few friends and family members read it (and whoever stumbled across it in their news feed), but that was about it.
By the time I got to work on this Monday morning, the post had been read over 1,000 times. I was excited—and horrified. If I knew that it would get that much traffic, I would have put some serious effort into it. I spent much of that day hitting refresh . . . over . . . and over . . . and over. By lunch it had been read over 5,000 times. I couldn’t believe it, and I told anyone who’d listen.
The unthinkable happens
During that spike someone had read and shared, 3 Phrases Christians Should Quit Relying On, a post I had written seven months earlier. As July closed, my blog had been visited 88,000 times. In August, it jumped to 430,000. In less than two months my blog had been visited over half a million times.
In less than two months my blog had been visited over half a million times.
You might be a blog writer reading this and think to yourself, “WOAH! I would give anything for that kind of traffic.”
You might be a successful blogger yourself and think, “Pffft . . . 500,000!? Big deal. I get more hits than that before I finish my coffee in the morning.”
You might be a casual writer/reader and think, “What is this bragging stat whore even talking about!?”
I’m sharing those stats for a couple reasons:
- We say “viral” all the time, but it’s kind of a relative—so it’s helpful to define our terms. I mean, one man’s viral is another woman’s day of lackluster pageviews.
- I’ll use those numbers to make an upcoming point.
Although this post is aimed at blog writers within the Christian sphere, there will definitely be some elements here that will be helpful to online writers of many genres. Here are five things I kind of wish I knew before my blog blew up:
1. Going viral will mess up your head
As I said earlier, I started a blog because I enjoy writing. I really didn’t have a good plan or goal. If a 150 people read my words, I was a happy camper. But come September, after this little viral episode, everything was different.
All of the sudden, I was chasing the dragon, trying to get lightening to strike again. I abandoned ideas that meant something to me to pursue pieces that I thought would get tons of shares. If a post was only read 5,000 times, I’d get bummed out that it wasn’t getting more traction.
Isn’t that crazy!? Two months ago 5,000 views would have blown my mind! Now I was turning into a petulant little brat. “5,000!? Is that it?” One taste of “success” and my focus completely changed. I wasn’t getting joy from writing; I was instantly looking for affirmation in shares, pageviews, follows, retweets, likes, etc.
Remember when I told you that in August of 2013 I had 430,000 visitors to my blog? Well, in all of 2014, I had less than 110,000. And honestly, that’s fantastic . . . unless you had a month where you had over 400k. That one viral month sullied what should be seen as an awesome accomplishment.
Going viral is a terrible goal
Virality is no respecter of skill or talent even though there’s a temptation to think it’s about your abilities. The truth is that there are a lot of reasons things go viral. For a moment in 2013, something I wrote resonated with tons of people, but there are a lot of blogs out there that are more insightful and better written than mine. Many of them won’t get 500 views in a day.
That’s okay. A successful blog should be a about building a loyal readership, discovering how to reach people through a robust email list and the right social media channels, and cashing in on your growing understanding of SEO. Being a successful blogger is like playing the stock market, if you’re not in it for the long haul, you’re going to end up frustrated.
2. No one you know really cares
When you go viral, it’s going to be the most amazing thing! You’re going to feel like a Kardashian—but you’re not. Most people will be excited for you because they’ve heard that “going viral” was good, but their interest will wane long before your excitement does.
Internet famous isn’t famous
Most of my friends were like, “so . . . a lot of people looked at your internet thing? I guess that’s pretty cool.” No one particularly cares . . . and do you know why? Because internet famous isn’t famous.
I go to a church of less than a hundred people—guess how many of them regularly read my blog. Or, better yet, guess how many of them even know what a blog is. Few. Very few.
That’s not a complaint; it’s a reality. If you’re praying for some kind of viral event because you think it is going to change your life, fill some internal vacancy, or unlock the door to a million opportunities, it probably won’t. It’s a mirage and a treadmill.
There is so much viral noise now that it’s not met with much interest or long-term value. If you want opportunities, you’re still going to have to work for them. Sorry.
3. Don’t wait until you’re viral to think about advertising
If you think that you might want advertising in the future, start thinking about it before you go viral. I decided I should quit dragging my feet about advertising almost a month after my viral event.
I signed up for WordPress WordAds, and after a month got a check for almost $800. I was ecstatic at first, but then I was heartbroken. I was still experiencing some small aftershocks from my month of heavy traffic, but I let over 400k views slip through my fingers. If I had been on the ball a little earlier, that episode would have put some coin in my pocket, but I missed out.
I’m using Google Adsense now . . . and spend most of my time trying to get them to stop running Thai dating site ads on my blog.
4. Prepare for the critics and thieves
The internet’s like the old west—it runs on its own set of laws and ethics. Once you start getting an audience, you’re going to discover it things about the blogosphere you didn’t know existed. And you’re not shielded from it because you’re a Christian blogger. In fact, I think some negative elements are more evident in religious circles. And you’re thrown to those lions way too fast the first time you go viral.
Maybe it’s this bad if you’re a fashion, marketing, or music blogger, but if you write Christian content, YOU WILL BE CRITICIZED. It’s going to be vehement and it’s going to get mean. I get a lot of obnoxious comments (I don’t post them if they’re too abusive), but it’s some of the tweets, private messages, and emails that surprise me.
I’ve been called an “ambassador for hell,” an inbred halfwit, a Philistine (that one made me laugh), and more. I had someone tell me they hope that God takes me home before I do any more damage, and I’ve gotten more than one barely veiled threat (including a Google Maps image of my neighborhood with my house circled).
People can be pretty scary when they feel their most treasured beliefs are being questioned. It’s just ironic to get this kind of nonsense from people who claim to be followers of Jesus.
I’ve even seen popular Christian bloggers who, in my opinion, aren’t saying anything remotely challenging get torn apart online. So it’s not behavior that’s reserved for people who are pushing the envelop. You can post the sweetest YouTube video of your grandma, and someone inevitably will say something crass and raunchy.
Having a wider reach will bring in people who are vicious, and you need to have a pretty thick skin. I’m afraid that I’m often way too sensitive for this platform.
A while after I went viral, friends and co-workers would send me multiple blog posts that blatantly stole my ideas or content. One post (that went somewhat viral itself) copied the idea and three or four paragraphs simply changing a few words.
I started seeing it a lot. An awesome writer like Micah J. Murray writes a post like Why I Can’t Say Love the Sin/Hate the Sinner Anymore, and a week or two later, eight different blogs are doing their variation on the exact same topic without giving any credit to the originator.
A post I wrote entitled Dude, Quit Telling Me about Your Smoking Hot Wife started getting a lot of traction. The very next day a blogger—whose Deathstar-sized online platform makes mine look like Alderaan—wrote a very similar post about the exact same topic. Coincidence? No . . . he actually worked next door to me and I’d seen him do this same thing to others.
I walked into his office, probably entirely too frustrated, and asked him what he thought he was doing. His answer? Just writing about trending topics. Dude . . . IT’S TRENDING BECAUSE I WROTE THE POST YESTERDAY! It’s not like it was a big cultural phenomenon that you decided to give your $.02 on.
I tried to explain that when a blogging WalMart absorbs and regurgitates better content from smaller boutique blogs, they appear to be the originators of the idea and siphon readers away from the the actual creative people. He just didn’t get it—and probably figured I was just jealous.
When you go viral, you get on the radar of the internet’s Halliburtons who desperately need content . . . and you get noticed by the little blog startups who are also looking to make a name for themselves. Both will justify borrowing heavily from you.
5. Be wise about the doors that open
Magazines and websites
There are plenty of marketers who are interested in your content. Huge online magazines and well-known websites need to feed their monsters daily content to exist (and bring in ad revenue). The problem is that no one wants to pay people to write. So instead of having a stable of writers, they scour the internet for quality content they can run.
The SEO you get from a good backlink can be worth its weight in gold.
When they come to you, it’s going to be really thrilling. I mean this big website that everyone’s heard of wants to feature your content! But . . . they’re not going to pay you, they’re going to offer you a link back to your blog. It’s not a bad trade and I’ll gladly do it with sites like that I enjoy. But you need to realize that the backlink to your blog is worth way than the traffic you think you’ll get from your their running of your post.
If you don’t understand what’s going on, it can be hard to see your article get shared thousands and thousands of times and watch only one out of every 100 readers click through to your site. So don’t say yes to these opportunities if you think you’re going to get tons of traffic. You might . . . and then again, you might not. Just know that the SEO you get from a good backlink can be worth its weight in gold.
A sobering thought
Writers who get paid for what they do are a dying breed. As I said earlier, most large websites and online magazines don’t keep a stable of well paid authors. The internet has given so many people the opportunity to be read, but like anything, lucrative writing is about supply and demand. Right now the supply is meeting the demand like gangbusters.
I appreciate the opportunities to get my work featured in other venues, but every time I do it, I know I’m contributing to the devaluing my craft. It’s a tragic Faustian bargain.
Marketing runs in cycles. If something works really well (and is cheap), it won’t be too long before everyone’s doing it. If your blog gets popular, you’ll start getting a lot of publishers who want you to review upcoming books on your blog.
On top of that, publishers are starting to expect writers to do more and more of their own marketing. The blog circuit is a good way to reach a lot of people for the cost of an advanced copy. So both publishers and authors will reach out to visible bloggers to feature their books.
If you’re like me, you’ll think “Free book? Okay!” But spend some time thinking about it, and if you decide to do it, be very choosy. Because here’s the truth: your success as a blogger is going to depend on your ability to find your voice and stick to your guns. Publisher don’t really care about strip-mining your effectiveness to sell a few books. There will be new viral blogs and marketing opportunities tomorrow.
If you jump at every opportunity to review a book, you’re going to get off message. You will either become a book blog, or you’ll start hemorrhaging readers who never know what to expect when they come to your site.
If you can find books that fit your voice or do interviews with people you find meaningful, do it. But going viral puts you in a place where you need to be comfortable saying, “No.” You’ll get a lot of requests and you’ll undermine your goals by agreeing to all of them. I know how tempted the idea of free books can be!
There you have it. Those are a couple things I learned the hard way. I’m interested in your experiences! Leave me a comment and tell some of the things you’ve learned from blogging!