Long term effects of a viral post

I am not a blogger blogging about blogging – I’ll leave that to the experts in the industry. However, I feel I have something important to share about the business of blogging now so I’ll branch out today. If you don’t have a blog, this information will not pertain to you in the least – I advise you to click away now. If you stick with it… well, don’t blame me if you’re bored silly… For those of you with blogs, I think you’ll find this very pertinent.

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We’ve all heard about viral posts – those posts that take off and spread like wildfire through cyberspace. I had heard about them, but never figured I’d have one.

I was recently surprised when one of my posts (50 Lessons I wish I had learned earlier) took off and went viral. In the month of December, that one post received over a million views. I sat in front of my computer monitor watching my stats go crazy and couldn’t help but wonder what the long-term effects of the phenomenon would be. How would this affect my stats in the future? Would it make any difference at all?

Familyonbikes stats December 2011In the first ten days of December we had 338,948 unique visitors resulting in 726,294 pageviews (according to Google Analytics). That translates to nearly 40,000 people per day coming to our site – a HUGE increase over our typical 500 – 700 visitors. How many of those visitors would come back and become long-term readers?

I prowled the internet searching for information on the long-term effects of viral posts, but could find very little. What I really wanted to know was if there would be any long-term benefit of the spike. None of my blogger friends had ever had a spike of the magnitude of ours, but they all reported their traffic resorting back to normal levels within a few days of a smaller spike hitting. I had no idea what to expect.

In this post I’ll analyze our stats one month out from when the spike hit.

The numbers

–> Prior to this spike hitting, we were averaging around 500 – 700 unique visitors per day.

–> The spike lasted thirteen days, reaching its peak of 53,633 unique visitors on the second day. Over the next eleven days, the numbers gradually decreased until they leveled out at around 6,000 uniques/day.

–> Since December 13 (25 days now), we’ve been holding steady at between 5000 and 9000 daily uniques. At this point, we expect it to remain steady at this level, which is more than a ten-fold increase over what we had prior to this spike.

Where does the traffic come from?

If we analyze the traffic from the entire month to see where it’s coming from, we find that 426,384 visitors, or 83% of our entire traffic came to us via StumbleUpon. The vast majority of SU visitors are one-time only with very little retention.

Better traffic is from Facebook. Our viral post has been shared on Facebook 13,500 times which brought us 8256 unique visitors. Facebook traffic typically has a much higher “stick” rate than StumbleUpon.

The best news, however, is that we had 71,599 uniques come to us directly in the month of December. That means they’ve either bookmarked the page or typed the url directly into their navigation bar. This is the best type of traffic as they are highly interested in our blog and tend to be return visitors. To put this in perspective, before the spike hit we got around 3500 people coming directly to our site per month.

As the month progressed we saw the proportion of direct traffic increase.

familyonbikes traffic sources

How long do they stay?

We noticed our bounce rate skyrocketing earlier in the month with so much traffic coming in for that one post only. According to Google Analytics, our viral post was viewed 1,038,542 times in the month of December. The rest of our site altogether received 50,011 views. We can surmise that the vast majority of visitors to my lessons learned post bounced in and bounced right back out.

Before the spike hit, the average time spent on our site was 1:48. Two days later at the height of the spike, that time was down to 0:12. Now, a month later, it’s climbed back up to 0:54. It’s still not as high as before the spike hit, but it’s climbing steadily.

familyonbikes time on siteIt appears that we’ve gained quite a few long-term followers. Our numbers are up ten-fold in terms of visits to our website, and they’re up considerably for our RSS feed,  newsletter mailing list, Facebook likes, and Twitter followers.

We have no idea what the long-term effects of this post will be, but one month out it looks promising. I plan to write a few posts tracking our stats in the aftermath of this post. Now, a full 38 days after the spike hit, that one post is still receiving approximately 10,000 views per day. Will that continue? Only time will tell.

**I have now written an update to this post nearly 9 months after the viral post started. Long-term effects of a viral post: 9 months after **

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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24 Responses to Long term effects of a viral post

  1. Robert January 8, 2012 at 2:12 am #

    Well done on getting a post to go viral – that’s what most bloggers try to achieve – widespread notice of their time and effort . You may find if you dig a bit further that a mainstream site may have sourced your post on Stumble Upon – hence why it went viral.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Robert,
    That could very well be. Unfortunately, when it first started I was busy at a craft fair so couldn’t take the time to figure out what happened. Now it would be way too buried. I’ll always be curious…

    [Reply]

  2. Patricia Ellis Herr January 8, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Great post. Also, kudos for living your life the way you want to live it, and for encouraging your kids to follow their dreams. I have two young girl adventurers who like to climb mountains; it’s nice to read about other families having big adventures.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Patricia Ellis Herr,
    Thank you! There’s no other way to live besides living your dream! As far as I’m concerned anyway.

    [Reply]

  3. Bohemian Trails January 8, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    Interesting article and metrics. I’ve never had a viral post but it sounds like it helped grow your brand. Congrats :)

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Bohemian Trails,
    It’s still a bit early to know what the fallout of this will be, but it’s looking good!

    [Reply]

  4. Richard January 8, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

    I think it’d be possible and worth it to figure out where it came from, Nancy.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Richard,
    I know it started with StumbleUpon, but that’s about it. I doubt I’ll ever know exactly how it started.

    [Reply]

  5. Hig January 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    Thanks, this is really interesting. Not many people share this sort of info… I’ve been thinking I should, but haven’t. :) We run a site that’s only part blog, but overall it’s blog-esque content.

    We went through a comparable but smaller viral spike because of a single photo a couple years ago. Site-wide we went from ~200 to a peak of 8000 per day. It was much sharper (only a few days) than the spike you experienced, but there were several related spikes that occurred weeks later as different sites picked up the photo. We did not experience any noticeable long-term increase in traffic.

    Way back in 2007 when we first launched our site and had almost no traffic, we got a small spike (peaked at ~600 visitors a day) from a newspaper article, and following that we did retain a nearly doubling of traffic (<100 to about 200 per day).

    More recently we've climbed to about your pre-spike levels, and much of that is driven by a larger flux of search traffic starting in Aug of 2011… after digging in Analytics and doing some reading I still have no idea why.

    Anyway, I think that you experienced the best kind of spike – people really decided they liked your work. Congratulations – now I need to read some more and see if I want to add you to my RSS. :)

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Hig,
    I really wish more people would share their numbers. It’s so hard to get any kind of idea where you stand because it’s hard to know what kind of traffic others are getting. This is exactly the kind of info I wanted, so I decided to put it out there.

    We’ve had smaller spikes before where we picked up some readers, but this one appears to have stuck. It’s still a bit too early to tell exactly what will happen, but it’s looking very promising.

    [Reply]

  6. Don Faust January 8, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    We’re waiting for that to happen! We get consistent numbers above your old targets, but we’ve only had a few spikes, and that’s it.

    What was the post? I’d like to read it.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Don Faust,
    It’s bizarre because I think there is any way to predict when something will take off. It’s like it has a mind of its own. Here’s the post that went crazy: http://familyonbikes.org/blog/2011/11/50-lessons-i-wish-i-had-learned-earlier/

    [Reply]

  7. Bret @ Green Global Travel January 9, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    Very interesting! We’ve had a few posts that spiked with 1500-2000 hits in a day, but nothing whatsoever like this. It does seem very random, and pretty much impossible to duplicate. Congratulations, though: It must have been extremely exciting!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Bret @ Green Global Travel,
    It’s totally random and there’s no way to predict it. I was glued to my monitor watching my stats! The StumbeUpon counter on the page was going up by about 2000 every fifteen minutes. Very bizarre!

    [Reply]

  8. Jason | BodesWell January 9, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

    Interesting analysis… I’ve always wondered what would happen if one article was shared on a large scale. Now, I just need to go write that article…

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Jason | BodesWell,
    Trouble is, you can’t really “write that article” – there’s absolutely no predicting it. I had NO IDEA that this thing would go crazy. It would be nice if we could predict things a bit better…

    [Reply]

  9. Brooke vs. the World January 9, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    I want a viral post! :) Will be interested to see how much this impacts your site in the coming months. Crazy, crazy world that stumbleupon.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Brooke vs. the World,
    I never even thought about a viral post – never even entertained the thought. Needless to say, I was pretty stunned to see my stats go crazy! I’m really curious to see what the impact will be in 6 months or a year.

    The bizarre thing (to me anyway) is that now we’re getting about 50% of the traffic to that post from StumbleUpon and about 50% direct traffic. I have no idea where the direct traffic is coming from.

    [Reply]

  10. Andrew January 10, 2012 at 2:36 am #

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Like a few other bloggers I have had some small term spikes, a few thousand over a couple of days from StumbleUpon. Like you say though there seems to be little way in predicting one of these kind of posts.
    Oddly my biggest traffic driver now is a post that seems to have crawled up in the search rankings for what I think of as an obscure set of keywords, but I get consistent numbers.

    [Reply]

  11. Virag - Escapist Mom January 13, 2012 at 5:47 am #

    It is great to see your analysis! A huge congrat for that! Personally (but I am not an expert though) I belive that FaceBook contributes to traffic peaks more than anythin else. FB is a great social media tool!

    [Reply]

  12. Sam January 19, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    Its exciting when a post goes viral. My post on hiking up Angels Landing in Zion National Park went viral not so long ago, not as large as large as your spike but significant for me. It gave me a blogging motivational boost and some ongoing increase in traffic.

    I would say its a testament to your overall blog content that you’ve managed to retain part of the increased readership.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Sam,
    When our site was hacked and was down for 36 hours we lost all our StumbleUpon traffic. However, our google traffic is way up now. We aren’t as high as we were for those few weeks, but nearly double what we were before the spike hit!

    [Reply]

  13. Cole @ FourJandals.com August 23, 2012 at 3:19 am #

    Could you update this post Nancy? Would love to see the effects now 8 months on? Cheers

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Cole @ FourJandals.com, I will. I actually have the post nearly written and am working on getting screen shots put together. I should have it up today or tomorrow :) Thanks for the push!

    [Reply]

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