What happens when your post goes viral? Do you think you’re ready for it? I did and I was incredibly wrong.
Last week, My Fitness Pal featured one of my posts on their roundup for 13 Easy Egg Recipes for Busy Mornings.
The day it happened, I knew it immediately. That morning, I received 6000 page views, which blew my mind. I wondered how long that would last. Then on the next day, it had dropped to 4000. And that was the pattern for the rest of the week. I landed somewhere around my normal 2000 daily page views and thought, “Well, that was short-lived.”
Oh boy, was I wrong.
By the time Monday rolled back around, I had all but forgotten about the feature. Until Tuesday morning, when I woke up and checked the analytics on my phone.
Normally when I check my analytics, I have anywhere from 2-20 people on my blog at one time…and 20 was on a GREAT day. At that moment, though, 167 people were on my blog. One hundred and sixty-seven. I logged on to my computer and discovered that I had received 8000 page views for that day…and it was only 8 AM. By 10 AM I reached 15,000. At the end of the day, I had reached 47,964 page views. For the day. (And in case you’re wondering, yes, yesterday I reached–and then surpassed–my goal for 2015. I now have over 80,000 page views for March! And I still have two weeks to go. Let’s see if we can maintain that!)
I don’t know if this constitutes as going viral, but it is certainly the closest I have ever gotten.
At the beginning of February, I explained how I had managed to more than double my page views in two months. At that point, I had gone from 15,000 monthly page views to 50,000. Pretty good!
By March 17, I had doubled that. All because the right blog featured that one post.
And I was sorely unprepared for what happened after. Here’s what I learned.
4 Things You Learn When Your Post Goes Viral
1. Database errors are hell.
I first realized there was a problem when Zach told me, “It’s too bad you didn’t deep link to this similar post.”
I’ve been working on manually adding “similar posts” to the bottom of all of my posts, as a way of keeping people on my blog. Basically saying, “Hey! Did you like that? Here’s another!” I have a plugin that does something similar, but I’ve found doing it manually is more reliable and gets me better results.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t really made it that far back, yet.
So I went to the post and clicked, “Edit” because, hey, it wasn’t too late!
Instead of taking me to my WordPress Dashabord, it told me I couldn’t access the site. It did that all day, which means scheduling new posts and social media posts really difficult.
A bit of research (meaning I copied and pasted the error into Google) told me that my shared server was having problems with all the traffic. (At that moment, I had 208 people on my blog.) I contacted my host, who told me I needed to upgrade to VPS.
A lot of you might be in a position to say, “Well, yeah! If it’s going to help my traffic, then definitely!”
People, I am not rich. I am barely financially stable. And Zach and I agreed a long time ago that any investments in my blog would come from my blog’s income. I bring in just enough money to pay for the cheap hosting I already have (which you already know if you saw my annual earnings report in How I Monetized My Blog). VPS is triple that price.
So when faced with the prospect of upgrading to a faster, more reliable server, my first thought was, “But what if the traffic doesn’t last?”
I’ve had popular posts before. Never THIS popular, but they’ve gotten up there. And my experience has been that it always slows back down. If this traffic was going to do the same thing, then that temporary traffic wasn’t worth the investment.
I know many of you are thinking, “But it could have become PERMANENT traffic! What if the people you lost were the permanent ones!” I don’t see any point in playing the “what if” game. What if the people I lost were interested in hacking my site? (Unlikely, but that’s the game.) Of course it could have become lasting traffic, but not all of it. Not enough of it. And when you’re on a budget, you have to make hard decisions like that…where neither answer will give you perfect results.
My decision was to wait two days. If the traffic didn’t continue, I wouldn’t upgrade yet. If it did, I would. (I’ve decided to upgrade, by the way, just not yet. The traffic slowed down a lot, but I’ve kept a large enough percentage that upgrading would be useful.)
Plus, after talking to customer service, I was told my blog could potentially be down for 20 minutes to 5 hours during the upgrade. And then possibly down again for 24 hours while the new IP address propagates. So if I upgrade, it has to be on a weekend, when my traffic is naturally slower. If I had jumped in and done it that day, I wouldn’t have just lost some traffic, I would have lost all of it.
In a perfect world, as soon as I hit 50k a couple months ago, I would have upgraded. That’s my recommendation to you. If you can afford to then, do it. But my world isn’t perfect.
2. Let the weird comments roll in.
On the scale of, “You didn’t read my post, but you’re going to ask VERY SPECIFIC questions that we already answered anyway” to “Maybe I should stop using my real name” how weird is your comment?
Joking aside, most of my comments weren’t bad. I got a lot of emails from people who wanted answers to questions that I had already addressed in the post…and that was mostly it. A couple people were a little demanding about what needs to be up on my site (and confused that it wasn’t already there. Guys, I would love to be your one stop shop for everything on the planet, but that’s just not possible. If you have something you think would make a great contribution, you can leave a polite suggestion or you can offer to guest post).
Fortunately, the negative comments stayed away from my blog. I went through My Fitness Pal’s comment section once (and only once) and I’m pretty glad they were there to absorb all of the crazy.
Even those weren’t so terrible, though (the ones I actually read). Most of the comments were from people complaining about whatever it is they felt like complaining about at that given moment. One person was mad that he had to click through to other blogs and didn’t understand why My Fitness Pal didn’t just copy and paste my recipe (the answer is, “Because the copyright on my blog says they can’t do that”).
Another person commented, “Those egg muffins don’t look filling at all. Guess I have to find something else.” I will admit that I DID respond to that with, “Actually, they’re very filling. Why don’t you try them before making assumptions?” I haven’t bothered to see if they replied. After I sent that, it occurred to me, “When you have a wider audience, you get weirder people [in that sense, growing your blog is a lot like growing up in a small town and moving to a city]. Time to ignore the comment section.”
I stand by that.
The secret to not getting upset over negative comments is to not care about negative comments. It’s something you have to train yourself to do, especially if you’re in the public eye (as bloggers are). I’ve gotten very good at that, but I have days where I’m not. And on those days, “Don’t read the comments” is my rule of thumb.The secret to not getting upset over negative comments is to not care about negative comments. It’s something you have to train yourself to do. Click To Tweet
3. People think you have all the answers. All of them.
Anytime you write something your readers didn’t think of, people think you’re a genius. So they treat you like a role model and hope that your success will become their success (or they go in the opposite direction. They feel their ideals are threatened because you sound like you know what you’re talking about and you disagreed with them. This happens anytime I bring up Blogger vs. WordPress).
Full disclosure: There is nothing special about me. I am an average person of average intelligence. If I seem like I know something you don’t, it’s because I either have more experience or I REALLY screwed something up and it gave me better perspective. Almost everything I know about blogging I learned through trial and error. I’ve crashed my own site, I’ve spent nearly three years marketing my site just to discover I was doing it wrong, I’ve greatly underestimated the importance of photography, and then I greatly underestimated the importance of hashtags.
All the “blogging mistakes” posts you see on Pinterest…I’ve made all of those mistakes. And a year from now, I’ll probably learn that I’ve been making a whole NEW bunch of mistakes. That’s basically the life of a blogger.
Same with cooking, knitting, embroidery, etc. You want to know the real reason I don’t post a lot of DIYs? It’s because I usually screw them up and have to either trash the project or start over. Yes, I taught myself all these skills. But it took me a year or more to learn each one, because teaching yourself new skills is really hard.
That said, people still tend to treat me as someone who can either offer them insight into all facets of life (no, really. I post one healthy recipe, against hundreds of unhealthy ones, and I get emails from people asking for dietary advice. Some people have even asked me, “How do I get my kids to eat this?” How should I know? I don’t have kids). But my success is not just MINE.
Ultimately, my success was due to someone else’s success. If My Fitness Pal hadn’t featured my post, I would still be inching my way up, hoping to reach at least 60,000 by the end of the month. Which is why in blogging, collaboration is more important than competition.
So I’m not entirely sure if I’m in a position to give advice on this. But if I can think of something that will benefit you, I’ll be sure to post it.
4. It doesn’t feel anything like you expect it will.
You think when one of your posts goes viral, it will feel great (like the kid in this video. Language warning, by the way). You’ll feel the pride of all that hard work and know that you earned this. It’ll be the best day of your life, right?
For me, I didn’t feel much of that. It felt anti-climactic and like I hadn’t done anything at all. This may have been due to the age of the post (I get pretty psyched when my newer posts get attention, but I remember how much work went into those ones). That was one of the first things I ever blogged about and suddenly, because I uploaded new photos, it was getting all this attention. It was great!
But at the time, I was mostly freaking out over my server errors…which came at a bad time, because as soon as I realized the site wasn’t working properly I remembered I needed to get a shower and go to my doctor’s appointment. So I sat in the waiting area for about an hour and a half stressing out over my site and the fact that I couldn’t be home taking care of it. I wasn’t able to just sit back and appreciate my new traffic. It was stressful and, honestly, I kept wishing it would stop.
Add to the fact that I hadn’t yet uploaded Wednesday’s post. I had it written, but I couldn’t log in to my Dashboard to schedule it. And I was worried I wouldn’t be able to. I kept jumping back and forth between, “Holy crap, I’m going to reach 80,000 this month, I can’t believe it!” and “Oh no, what if it doesn’t stop? What if this continues and I can’t log in to my site to deliver new content?”
It was overwhelming and exhausting (on the plus side, I slept better that night than I had in a long time).
In hindsight, the errors weren’t the end of the world. The craziness ended, my site didn’t crash, and I gained a lot of new, amazing subscribers.
And that makes all the stress worthwhile.
What are your thoughts on going viral?