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Six Steps to Make Sure Your Site Is Ready to Go Viral

This guest post is by Nancy Sathre-Vogel of Family on Bikes.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Surely Google Analytics was confusing my site with another, way more popular site. There was no way my visitor numbers could be so high!

And yet they were. One of my posts had taken off and was spreading like wildfire. Those viral post phenomena that happen to others were now happening to me.

The first day, 17,000 visitors came to my website. The next day we topped out at 56,000. Readers were coming in droves.

It was exciting. It was exhilarating. My site, viral! Wow!

And then I took a moment to see what they were seeing. Oh my.

I, like so many other bloggers, had figured people would come to my site in the way I had designed it. They would enter via my homepage, then click on to individual posts. Everything was ready for that kind of traffic.

But the viral post, 50 Lessons I wish I had learned earlier, wasn’t following that pattern. Hundreds of thousands of visitors were pouring into my site directly to an individual post. When I took time to evaluate that post, I realized just how unprepared I was.

For the next few days, my husband and I scrambled to get our site up to snuff. We evaluated and planned and created images and installed widgets. Had we done all that before the spike hit, we could have captured more of that traffic.

Maybe it’s not too late for you. Here are six steps you can take to make sure your site is ready to capture new readers when one of your posts starts spreading like wildfire.

1. Create a new page with no text at all

You don’t want to be distracted by a post; you want to look at everything else on the page. Study your title, your sidebars, your footer. Look at the layout with no post there at all and see what kind of message it sends. Is it consistent with your goals?

2. What do you want your readers to know about you and/or about your site?

That one viral post may or may not be typical of your other posts, so make sure you’re crystal clear in terms of communicating what you’re about on every page.

Our site is about the lessons we learned as we bicycled from Alaska to Argentina, but nowhere on the viral post was that information to be found. Had the new readers entered through the home page, they would have read all about it, but they didn’t. So they didn’t! They had no idea what we’d done or what we were about. We quickly put together a brief bio to add to our sidebar.

3. What do you want your readers to do?

Do you want them to be inspired to take further action? Buy your book? Sign up for your newsletter? Make sure that action is spelled out on every page. Maybe you’ll take care of it with a widget on your sidebar, or maybe a popup. However you want to get the message to them, make sure readers know what you want them to do when they enter your site.

We had written some books, and wanted to direct attention to them. But that information was on the home page, not on individual posts. We scrambled to get that up on the sidebar too.

4. Can they easily share your post?

If your Twitter and Facebook share buttons are hidden away down in the gobbledygook at the bottom of the post, how likely is it that your readers will find them? Likewise, if the buttons appear only at the top of the post, what’s the likelihood that they’ll scroll back up after reading?

Don’t clutter your site with share buttons everywhere, but make it easy for readers to find and access them.

5. Are your RSS feed, signup, Twitter, and Facebook buttons easy to find?

If your reader likes what he sees, you want to make it easy for him to follow you.

6. Are your categories self-explanatory and detailed enough?

Put yourself in the shoes of someone coming to your blog for the very first time. Will they be able to find the info you’ve just encouraged them to look for?

Remember that you’ve got only a few seconds to capture a new reader. Whichever page they use to enter your site, that’s the page that needs to be prepared. Which means, of course, that every page needs to be prepared. If you’ve done everything you can to get key information in your sidebar, header, and footer, then you’re ready to go. Let it fly!

Nancy Sathre-Vogel is chief blogger at Family on Bikes. Together with her family, she spent three years cycling from Alaska to Argentina. Now, she back at home writing books and blog posts about their adventures.

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Comments

  1. That’s the most overlooked item amongst bloggers, blogs aren’t typical websites, most of our visitors come in through the posts (either through social sharing or SEO), you need to be ready, your tip about posting a blank page/post and checking it out is a smart idea.

    Making sure people coming to your website through any page know what to do (or more importantly what you want them to do).

    • Keerthi says:

      One missed point is that the resources should be scalable for viral traffic. If traffic spikes and server goes down then there is no point in going viral.

      Also having a light box popup to capture emails of one shot visitors is a great way to capitalize on viral traffic. What say?

      • I totally agree that you’ve got to have a server that can handle the spike. We were fortunate in that our site didn’t crash at all during the spike – it worked like a charm. I was pretty surprised by that.

        I personally hate those popups to capture emails so don’t use one, but I know they do work. I guess that’s something each person needs to decide for their own blog.

  2. Adam R says:

    I actually do use the blank post idea every time before I launch a site as it gives me a clear picture of the post surroundings. If the sidebars and widgets have a certain color scheme I try and incorporate a certain amount of the colors into the post as well so it creates a nice blending effect. People often value take the aesthetic appeal of a website into consideration and sometimes it just gets overlooked unknowingly.

  3. Do share buttons really encourage any sharing? Or won’t people share anyway without them?

    • I can only speak for me, but if there isn’t an easy way to share, I typically won’t bother. If the blog owner doesn’t care about shares enough to make it easy for me, then I figure they don’t care if I share their post or not.

  4. Alex says:

    Congratulations on getting a viral post!! And the site share an amazing story that should be read by others!! From Alaska to argentina… thats crazy talk!! Great read as well! Thanks

  5. Dwayne@TWC says:

    This is a very timely post, Nancy. I literally spent this past weekend updating my blog design and just made it live maybe 10 minutes ago. I did my best to make sure all of the tips you just wrote about were applied to my site and I’m hoping people will enjoy it.

  6. AC says:

    This is a great list. I really like the idea of stepping back and looking at a page with no content on it to really see what you are promoting about your site. Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. Nick Palmer says:

    As always, more great advice. I can always use help to improve traffic!

  8. I have most of these tips in place- Of course there is always tweaking that can be done- I’ll check to make sure there is no “gobbledygook” :)

  9. Justin Mazza says:

    That is some insane traffic for one post Nancy. Going viral is awesome and I have several paranormal posts that I wrote in October (Halloween) that get’s 100′s of visits a day still.

    Most of it is from StumbleUpon which the readers tend to digest your post and move onto the next Stumble.

    • That’s definitely the downside to SU. Although a huge amount of our viral traffic was from StumbleUpon, it led to a lot of other traffic as well. It certainly started on SU, but then moved on and started spreading like crazy on Facebook. It never hit Twitter all that much – not sure why.

  10. I like your tip at number 2. I myself only have a bio on my “About” page, which if I think about it, is absurd! When I’m reading a new blog that I find interesting, I always want to read more about the author, and I love it when it’s easily accessible – but I didn’t make mine easily accessible! lol – I will definitely be implementing this, thanks! :D

  11. Great post Nancy…wow, 17k visitors! Glad you were able to get your books to where they could easily see them. Hope they converted too. Thanks for this tips; I intend to use them as a checklist for my site.

    • Also most of that crazy traffic is now gone, we did pick up quite a few new readers from the whole thing. It’s all about capturing whatever you can – and those huge spikes are notorious for being one time shots.

  12. Great post, we had a massive influx of traffic at the turn of year which is dropping off now. Since this spike in traffic we re-evaluated the user experience so that we were giving more to our vistors such as taken the top banner off and promoting our own social media pages instead. If I had read this sooner maybe we may have acted sooner because by the time you take action on these spikes many vistors have been and gone.

  13. Pete@News says:

    It’s great to experience a spike in traffic increase, but saddening to see them come and go with you having the opportunity to capture a few of them ;)

  14. Tom says:

    Congratulation! It’s always a great surprise when you see such a huge boost on you analytics stat.

    “Put yourself in the shoes of someone coming to your blog for the very first time” – I think this is what every blogger should do before they start typing.

    • You’re absolutely right. Every word we type and every single thing we have on our page should be there for a purpose. Too often we jump in without thinking about what it all means.

      • Tom says:

        Exactly. But by the end of the day, it’s worth it. Readers will notice if you write without a purpose.

  15. These are such great tips to clean up our blogs. I updated my themes this weekend – looking for a cleaner look. I really like your suggestion that we create a blank page and just look at the extra on our site. I’m going to do that this week.

    Thanks again!

    • Thanks Kimberly! It’s hard to see all the other stuff when the main article competes for our attention. By eliminating that, it’s easy to see what changes need to be made.

  16. This post is a fantastic lesson for anyone interested in viral marketing. A blogger may not know exactly what post or video will take off, but they can be prepared just in case their next one is it. Did you have another viral hit after you made the adjustments? If so, did you see the impact of the changes you made the second time around?

    • No, we haven’t had another one take off. It’s pretty awful to watch the stats drop down, and down, and down… It’s still higher than it was before the spike, but nowhere near the crazy traffic we were getting before.

  17. Alex Taylor says:

    It’s not often I come across a totally new idea, but I did in this post.

    The idea to create a blank post with nothing but a title is fantastic. I’ve been toying with new sidebar layouts lately, and despite trying everything I could think of to get a better idea of how my site would be interpreted by my readers, a blank post never entered my mind.

    Think I’ll be trying that on all of my blogs over the next few days!

  18. janwong says:

    Nice tips. Not only it prepares your site to go viral, I believe it is also steps for one to start blogging. After all, it’s good to start with the right foot forward. Thanks for sharing ;)

  19. IR says:

    These steps were very helpful for me. I was able to give instructions that were clear about writing a

    succesful blog.

    Thanks

  20. Step number 1 is so simple yet I have never done it. Great way to view your sites layout. Cheers!

  21. Okto says:

    I am in the second opinion of point No 3. It would help reader to do necessary action as we want which in result it will generate sales if you had a business blog and implemented it in each post.

  22. Sandra says:

    Great advice. I love my blog and the way it appears on MY computer. But when I see it on other people’s computers, the layout changes and it messes up my formatting. I wish I knew a way around this issue. Another thing that has happened to me twice now is that Blogger will change something and then, suddenly, my formatting is screwed up and pictures are out of align, sometimes covering up the writing. I have spent hours and HOURS fixing it just to have it happen again a year later. I gave up. So some of my older blog posts look terrible but I just can’t devote the time needed to fix it all.

  23. Hi Nancy,

    Super tips here.

    Setting up a page with no text is an awesome piece of advice. See how your site looks without the meat, without the text.

    You quickly see how focused or cluttered your site looks. Make your call to action prominent on each page. You have 1 purpose for your blog: share content. But there is a follow up purpose, a call to action. It could be signing up for your list, a freebie, or simply sharing the post. Or maybe you want readers to comment and engage. Whatever the call, make it clear and definite.

    I keep my design clear and simple so readers can see my main call. It sticks out like a sore thumb because I know I want my readers to do one thing: sign up for my list, tour my website and see if my cash gifting team is a good match for them.

    Since this is my main call I focus on this action at the end of each of my posts too. Feel free to direct readers to your call more than once on any page or post.

    Make your social icons easy to spot. Gain trust. Develop relationships. Show folks the real you, by opening up and sharing of yourself. My social icons and call are the 2 most prominent icons on my site because I want readers to take a free tour and get to know me better.

    Thanks for sharing your insight Nancy.

    Ryan

    • Thanks for elaborating on it! I tend to not use “marketing speak” but you’re right – that call to action needs to be prominent!

      • Lisa Bassett says:

        I am doing a tech project, and I need to get a response from a blogger, so i chose this post. Why is it important for a call to action to be prominent? What is the benefit of someone commenting on your post? Please respond ASAP!!!!!!!!!!

        • A call to action needs to be prominent so your reader knows what you want them to do. They may or may not do it even if it is clear, but if you don’t make it clear, it’s really a shot in the dark.

          As for comments, you’re trying to engage your reader. The more engaged they are with your story, the more likely they are to buy your product/do what you want them to do.

  24. Don says:

    GREAT post Nancy. Thank you very much. Some really good tips. Simple but very effective I’m sure.

    Thank you once again Nancy :)

    Don

  25. These really are good tips with making sure that buttons are easy to find, and the categories organized as well. Thanks for sharing this post.

  26. I have come across a few blog posts where I wanted to tweet and couldn’t really find the tweet button. Then there are blogs where I wanted to subscribe but couldn’t really find the subscribe button. Naturally, I wouldn’t really spend more than a few seconds looking for it. If I’m really determined, I might just send a message to the blog owner asking about it.
    Good blog design tips..

    It’s important to have a good blog design, even though that alone will not guarantee that it’s going to go viral.

  27. Carlos Ramos says:

    Never thought of the idea of putting a blank page and observe what is around the ‘no content”.

    Going to try that soon!

  28. Thanks Nancy for the tips..I am a blogger in my initial stages and learning is the process of evolvement for me at the moment. I keep on looking around for posts that wud help me promote my blog. It ll be great if u cud go through my blog and suggest some improvements.Thanks!

  29. For many people who make a living via the internet having their tweet, blog post or video go viral is a dream. Having a tweet go viral is some of the best free advertising or marketing you can get. You will have more people going to your website checking out who you are and what you have to offer. More visitors means more sales!

  30. Niall Devitt says:

    Thanks Nancy, I love the idea of creating a new page with no text, it may seem obvious but I hadn’t thought about it like that before, great idea!

  31. Daniel says:

    Some good advice, Nancy.

    I have not really heard the “Blank Page” idea spoken of all that much.

    Could be a good way to visualize what may be the best way to present the blog pages, before adding post content. Some top Bloggers have mention how many sites are overcrowded and advise them to possible remove certain sidebar items to cut down on unnecessary clutter. So your advice makes a lot of sense.

    Your trip from Canada to Argentina by bike sounds like it would have been a great experience.
    I spent some time in (Argentina) where we drove from Buenos Aires to Mendoza then later drove through the Andes to Santiago(Chile).

  32. Mike Awwad says:

    What a very inspiring post about the power of viral marketing. I never knew it was possible to get that much traffic from a single post, wow! I might have to rethink my search engine strategy, I’ve clearly been ignoring an awesome traffic generating technique. Thanks for the great post Nancy, looking forward to your next one :)

  33. Great tips, Nancy – and I’ll add one more that I heard from a fellow travel blogger when his site got a link from the New York Times – make sure your server is prepared to handle it!

    I think one of the things we tend to forget is what newbies see. We see our site SO often that it just becomes background. Your ideas should be foremost in our mind – Thank You!

  34. I LOVE the blank page idea. I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of that before. It’s so simple, and yet it really drives the point. It’s like decluttering your webpage. :)

  35. It’s definitly very important that your blog is ready for wahtever might happen. Going viral is the dream come true of any blogger, but are we ready for this if that happened today?

    Once our content is released to the social medias and the search engines, there is no telling. That content is gone and we don’t own it anymore, beware for those who aren’t ready :)

  36. Tash Hughes says:

    Congratulations on such a great amount of traffic, Nancy! And hopefully you’ll catch more of them in your next spike.

    The idea of a blank post is fantastic – as said by many before me, it is an obvious thing to do but not something I’d thought to try. I have some blog maintenance time scheduled for next week and I will be using this technique!

    Do you get a lot of people using your category links? I have read a fe people saying that categories are of no value – I personally think they are a goo idea, but am curious as to whether people do use them much?

    • I get quite a few people using some of them – specifically my education and finance categories. Those seem to the ideas that people most want to search for within my site.

      I think a lot of it depends on the niche of the blog. I can see how they wouldn’t work well for some blogs.

  37. Great blog I like it. The tips that you have are good.

  38. Awesome reminders. I am still unprepared if measured by your list above. Maybe because I still cannot imagine my site having 17k readers, let alone, 56k. But better be prepared. Think big and let it come!

  39. Bob says:

    excelent post

  40. This post is a fantastic lesson for anyone interested in viral marketing.For many people who make a living via the internet having their tweet, blog post or video go viral is a dream.Nice tips. Not only it prepares your site to go viral, I believe it is also steps for one to start blogging.

  41. Sriram Raj says:

    It is great to hear 17 k and 56 k readers. The post must be most thrilling and exciting because it is being written by one of the most experienced blogger in web.

    Even a new blogger would love to read those tips. And this time you write I think you will be well prepared

  42. Towhid Zaman says:

    fantastic information.I think using viral sharing popup box is also a good option.