I should've known something was off when I got five times more email subscribers in one day than usual.
I shrugged it off, assuming it was a glitch in Mailchimp, but when the same thing happened the next day, I decided to check my blog’s analytics. I was floored: my blog traffic had 10X-ed in two days. As I dug a little deeper, I realized that all that traffic was going to one post. I clicked through my analytics, feeling pretty pleased with myself, and then closed out of the window and went about my day.
Which was a big mistake. That post continued to blow up for weeks and drove abnormal traffic to my site for months afterward. And the more views it got, the more I realize just how badly prepared I was when the post blew up.
Instead of kicking myself for not doing more with this mini-viral situation, I'm making sure I’m ready if it ever happens again. Here’s how.
1. Create multiple opportunities for lead capture
First things first: if you have a website, you need to be using it to grow your email list.
Your email list is the most direct way to connect with your audience on a more personal, proactive level. It’s the way your audience gets to know you better, trust you more, and eventually want to work with you.
Even before my blog post blew up, I was working on growing my email list-- but my efforts were pretty half-assed: one button on my side bar, one button at the bottom of each post, an announcement bar at the top of the page. And all of them with wholly ignorable promises for vague things that no one wanted.
Despite my lame buttons, my email list still got 150 new subscribers in a week thanks to the increased traffic to my site-- but it could’ve been so much more if I had been more proactive about lead capture as soon as I noticed the post was going viral.
Here’s what I wish I’d done:
In-post call to action
Buttons are great and everything, but they’re rarely as effective as calls to action right in the post itself. The combo of text and link is much less intrusive than a button or pop-up (I know, I know, everyone hates pop-ups, but mine works, so it’s staying), and are therefore more likely to get clicked.
What’s also great about this kind of lead capture is that you can put it in your post in a natural way that feels helpful to your reader. It's almost an aside, a "oh, by the way..." that feels more conversational than salesy.
Similar to the call-to-action above, links in your posts to other related posts are golden. If a new reader likes what you have to say, in-post links will help them find other content they may like and encourage them to explore your site.
The more they click around, the more they’ll get to know you and like what you do-- and the more likely they’ll be to give you their email address.
2. Encourage comments
Full disclosure: I realized this was important like, 6 months after my post went viral when I noticed that it had over 35k views and zero comments. Let’s just marinate on that for a second: 35,000 people had clicked on that post, the majority of them read it and not one person commented.
No feedback. No engagement. No way for me to know who’s been reading and what they think. My analytics showed that most people were reading to the end of the post, but when they finished?
Poof-- they’re gone.
I know I started this list with lead capture, but don’t underestimate the power of building a community around your blog. Readers who take the time to comment on what you share are much more likely to come back for more-- especially if you respond to them and engage with them. Comments are a way to build real, two-way relationships with your readers, which builds your readership and, in turn, builds your business.
3. Install remarketing pixels for Facebook and Google Ads
I know, I know, that sounds technical. Don’t freak out.
Have you ever noticed how you’ll visit a website and then, a day later, an ad for that same site magically appears in your Facebook feed or when you're browsing the web?
That’s the pixels at work. (And believe me, they do work. Marie Forleo ads are stalking me on every site I visit.)
Listen, I’m not going to pretend to be a Facebook or Google Ads expert. I have no idea how the whole pixel thing works. I only recently learned about it when I was telling someone way more advanced than me about my traffic surge and he responded with, “I hope you have a Facebook pixel installed.”
I’ll leave the technical aspects of installing the pixels and exactly what they do to our friend Google, but I will say that if you have a website, even if you have no immediate plans for running Facebook or Google Ads, it might be worth getting those tags installed.
4. Keep re-sharing old content
Unless you’re blogging about current events, your content is most likely evergreen-- meaning it’s always relevant. So it’s a damn shame that the vast majority of us spend hours creating blog posts only to let them waste away in our archives after publication.
Don’t do that.
The blog post that was driving all this traffic to my site was three months old when I wrote this. It took off about six weeks after I published it. I had completely forgotten about it until I started getting all those notifications from my email list.
The thing is, most of your readers aren’t clicking back through your archives, devouring everything you’ve written. The average new visitor to your site only views about 3 pages (and it’s way less if they’re coming from social media), so it’s safe to assume that very few of your readers are familiar with ALL of your content.
The blog post you wrote months ago might feel “old” to you, but it’s new to people just discovering it. And as you build your following and readership, there will always be new readers. Don’t let your content gather dust on your website-- shake it off and re-promote it on social media.
5. Don’t underestimate Pinterest
Speaking of social media, let’s talk about Pinterest.
Pinterest gets a bad rap for being a platform full of mommy bloggers, Paleo recipes and mason jar DIYs, but it’s also an incredible way to get your blog posts seen: over 80% of my website traffic comes from Pinterest.
Of course, whether Pinterest is right for your business will depend on what kind of business you have. For example, it’s much better for online-based businesses than brick and mortar and is better for businesses targeting individuals, rather than consultants targeting companies.
But no matter what your business, if you’re blogging and want to build your readership, please, please don’t overlook Pinterest.
6. Know that numbers aren’t everything
For sure, seeing my blog readership sky-rocket was a total “I’m a boss” moment. When you’re running your own business and constantly doubting yourself, every win is worth celebrating.
But numbers aren't everything.
Yes, my site traffic feels like it’s on fire, but have all of those new readers brought in any new clients?
Nope. Not a one.
Building an engaged audience is hugely important for your business. But when you’re trying to increase your readership, please remember the most important word in that sentence: engaged.
Quality, not quantity, is what really grows your business. Unless you’re big into pay-per-view ads and have millions of readers, page views alone are not going to pay your bills.
As much as growing my readership is an ego boost, it’s not the 35k drive-by blog post readers who are going to help me build my business-- it’s the thousand true followers on my email list, the people who click on every blog post I put on Facebook, the people who actually need what I’m offering-- who make my business run. Those people are the ones I want reading my blog.
And those are the ones you should want too.
Clickbait titles, viral-happy subject matter, aggressive marketing tactics-- all of those might get our work in front of new readers, but will it make them stick around? Will it make them like us and trust us and, eventually, want what we’re offering?
Because at the end of the day, authenticity is key. Having a real tribe of people who share your values, believe in your philosophy and care about what you’re doing beats a million random page views any day.
A blog post going viral-ish is great, but it’s nothing compared to a productive, creative strategy session with one of my clients. Seeing a spike in my page views might give me an ego boost, but it doesn’t fill my heart as much as receiving an email from one of my readers saying how much my blog post helped her.
So yeah, the numbers are important. But they’ll never be as important as people.