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The Anatomy Of A “Viral” Blog Post

It’s been a crazy week here on 101 Books, and I thought I’d share that experience with you.

The main purpose of this blog is obvious: To read through the Time list. That’s my priority. But 101 Books is also a blog about writing, and even blogging in general at times, and that’s where this post falls.

Last Friday through this past Tuesday was just nuts. I’ve experienced abnormally high traffic with one post before, but that traffic usually comes from one or two main sources, like the WordPress Freshly Pressed feature, for instance.

I also have steady traffic from all of you guys who read the blog every day—for which I’m extremely grateful. So I guess you could say I’ve had some success here and there, after many failures too.

But my post on Friday, April 26—My 2-Year-Old Judges Books By Their Covers—was the first time I’ve experienced a legitimately viral post. That is, a post that was picked up by several sources and produced a week-long enormous spike to my blog traffic.

Since I started 101 Books, I’ve become a bit of stats junkie. That’s both a good and a bad thing. I notice trends and develop posting strategies based on those trends, but I also can become too caught up and/or obsessed with my blog traffic.

So with that in mind, and for those of you who are into the science of blogging, like me, I thought I’d share exactly what happened with this post and how it went “viral.”

The post went live Friday April 26 at 7:30 A.M. CT just like any other post. Around 8 that morning, a friend (without my knowledge) posted a link in the Reddit Books section.

In Reddit Books last Friday, it was the most popular post for the day. Reddit sent me a few thousand referrals on Friday, and probably instigated what happened next.

On Saturday morning, I noticed a large spike in traffic from Twitter. So, out of curiousity, I pulled up all the tweets to see who might have tweeted about it.

To my surprise, the Twitter account of Maria Popova was on the list, better known as “brainpicker.” Her verified Twitter account has more than 330,000 followers. I presume she discovered the post through Reddit because she’s never tweeted any of my posts before. To add to the fun, she posted about it on her blog.

Through the weekend, thanks to Reddit and Maria’s tweet/blog posts, my traffic remained steady and about three times as high as it usually is on weekends.

The next hit came on Monday morning. Buzz Feed picked up the post from Maria (brainpicker) and featured it on their site with a link back to my blog. After that, traffic really went nuts. Obviously, Buzz Feed was sending a lot of traffic my way, but so was Twitter and Facebook.

The Buzz Feed post opened it up to all sorts of people who tweeted about it, like Publisher’s Weekly, Random House,  Scribner and others. Speaking of design, a popular design blog called Under Consideration even posted about it.

HuffPo5All day Monday morning, traffic was through the roof and at a pace I’ve only seen once before—back when WordPress Freshly Pressed this post about Jonathan Franzen’s 10 Rules of Writing.

I thought that was about it on the “virality” (is that a word?), but it wasn’t. Thanks to the Buzz Feed post, I presume, Huffington Post Books picked up the post and linked back to my blog.

Once again, traffic spiked up even more on Monday afternoon. By Monday evening, the post was the second most popular single post in the history of 101 Books. That’s a post that went live just four days prior on a blog that has existed for nearly three years with 600 posts.

The takeaway? Patience. Keep at it. Keep plugging away and eventually people will notice, if that’s what you want. Because let’s be honest: Even the most ardent among us who say we don’t care who reads our blog, even those people don’t mind a little attention every now and then.

So to recap: It went a little like this: Reddit–>Brainpicker–>BuzzFeed–>Twitter and Facebook–>Huffington Post–>Mind Blown.

I don’t know exactly how to define the word “viral” in the context of blogging. But, for me, my son’s post was about as viral as a post has ever been on 101 Books.

Ten years from now, I can’t wait to tell my son about the day his lion-focused literary insights made it to the front page of Huffington Post Books and Buzz Feed.

And that’s what was so cool about that post: I really didn’t have much to do with it. The honesty and sincerity of a two year old judging a book cover is just too hard to pass up.

That’s why, if he’s still into it, we’ll be sitting down again soon to get his thoughts on even more book covers. Can’t wait for that.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share with you guys a little bit of the whirlwind this past week has been. It’s amazing how the most simple of posts can connect with people.

Take note of that on your own blogs. There’s nothing wrong with a “simple” post. Give it a try and see what happens.

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50 Comments Post a comment
  1. RFL #

    I follow you here on WP, but I saw your post again from Maria’s twitter. I was excited for you when I recognized it. Congratulations on going viral!

    Like

    May 3, 2013
  2. Congratulations!!!

    Like

    May 3, 2013
  3. Amy #

    Your son will love this story when he’s older! Congratulations.

    Like

    May 3, 2013
    • I think that’s why that post was special for me. It’s definitely something I can share with him throughout his life.

      Like

      May 3, 2013
  4. Reblogged this on Mary Elizabeth Hall and commented:
    Here’s a little encouragement for all my fellow blogsters!

    Like

    May 3, 2013
  5. Gwen #

    I follow you on WordPress, and I loved your “My two-year-old judges” post. I had no idea all the viral activity was going on behind the scenes. It’s amazing what posts resonate with readers, to the point of it taking on a life of its own. I certainly can’t relate to the amount of traffic you’ve generated here on your blog, but I often wonder what it is about certain posts I’ve written that attracts more readers than others. There’s one post that’s never disappeared from the radar: “A reader’s purpose: why do you read?” I wrote this post more than 2 months ago, and it still gets daily hits. Can’t explain it.

    I admire what you’re doing here. You have a unique concept that’s deserving of the large audience you’ve attained. Congrats.

    Like

    May 3, 2013
    • Thanks Gwen. For me, the posts that are relatable are always the most popular posts. Giving advice, sharing experiences, anything with a human element in it. I think that’s probably why your purpose of reading post continues to do well. And once a post begins generating traffic, that helps it’s “Google juice,” which only helps it generate even more traffic through search engines and the like. It’s fun to watch a post like that have success over a long period of time.

      Like

      May 3, 2013
  6. hmunro #

    Congratulations on becoming a literary virus! 🙂 I’m glad your post got so much screen time — very well-deserved.

    Like

    May 3, 2013
  7. authorsherysenoelledubose #

    Congratulations! I’m happy for you. And that’s good advice too because a couple of days ago, I was so discouraged considered shutting my blog down. My husband encouraged me to keep plugging away and be patient. So I will.

    Like

    May 3, 2013
  8. wow well done, you deserve it.

    Like

    May 3, 2013
  9. Cool write-up. How high, in visits, is that Monday spike? We can only see relative height here.
    I have had this happen, and come to the conclusion that most viral boosts are not really contributing the the overall readership of the blog. What matters really is that some of these folks actually follow you now, then you have gained. So you will see a higher level of subscription or sustained higher level of reading platform going forward, it will have made a difference.

    In my own experience, a reddit spike is just that. A spike that brings in a high number for your “highest day” and that’s what it remains. There is little loyalty from reddit readers who jumped to the link, stayed 3 seconds, and went back.

    I enjoyed y our summary, though!

    Like

    May 3, 2013
    • The cool thing about the Reddit link was that it kicked off everything else that allowed the post to go crazy. I don’t usually share specific numbers, but since you asked: The Monday spike was about 10,000 page views. It obviously went down after that, but traffic has been higher than normal all week. And, to your point, the best part about all this is the blog has gained about 500 followers in the last week. And that’s the real win.

      Like

      May 3, 2013
      • 10,000 is a good healthy spike – yes, and if you picked up 500 followers, that’s what it’s all about. If Reddit triggered the others – very cool.
        I have no problem with you deleting these comments of mine so your numbers remain private…

        Like

        May 3, 2013
  10. Jen #

    Kids have a unique perspective on life. It draws us in because who but a two-year-old could think the Judy Blume book was about lion feet? 🙂

    Like

    May 3, 2013
    • That was one of my favorites. He’s got some interesting insight for sure.

      Like

      May 3, 2013
  11. Reblogged this on Publishing Reviews.

    Like

    May 3, 2013
  12. getting viral might be such a cool thing, unfortunately, I haven’t experienced it yet…

    Like

    May 3, 2013
  13. Congrats! Really interesting to see an insider’s point-of-view of this process!

    Like

    May 3, 2013
  14. Reblogged this on WordPress 101.

    Like

    May 3, 2013
  15. Congrats! This is definitely a blog worthy of the recognition it is receiving! Very happy for you! 🙂

    Like

    May 3, 2013
  16. Wow I had no idea! Congrats! I can say I knew you when 😉

    Like

    May 3, 2013
    • Thanks! You’ve been around here since the beginning, that’s for sure.

      Like

      May 3, 2013
  17. It’s good to read of your experiences this week – I read the post myself when I picked it up via Huffington Post, and enjoyed; it’s also nice now to know a bit more context as well. And as a recent entrant into the blogosphere, it’s encouraging to know that you can eventually break through. Good work!

    Like

    May 3, 2013
    • Very cool. Glad to hear some of that Huff Po traffic stuck. Welcome to the blog!

      Like

      May 3, 2013
  18. Very cool!! I’m sure there are some bloggers that take this in stride, but I’m still among the few that does a happy dance whenever something like that happens to me. Congrats on going viral!

    Like

    May 3, 2013
  19. Very cool that you shared that “viralization” (word?) process. When I got Freshly Pressed and saw the blog stats spike in real-time, that was pretty surreal and amazing. I can only imagine how exciting it would for a post to go viral via the readers. Congrats to you and thanks again for sharing the experience!!

    Like

    May 3, 2013
  20. The only two posts I have had get a big amount of viewers is 1. for the book Is Your Cat Trying to Kill You by the Oatmeal, and the 2. if for the book Cat Daddy by Jackson Galaxy. They aren’t viral or anything but what’s funny is that the only reason the Cat Daddy gets any hits is because there is a viral video with a model dancing in a bikini and it’s called Cat Daddy. I am sure people looking for that are shocked when they find my blog and discover it’s a book blog!! Congrats on the great post. I really do love it!

    Like

    May 3, 2013
  21. Robert, I have been blogging for less than a month. In my searching for other blogs to follow (mine is about parenting), yours is BY FAR the best blog I have found! Your posts are original, interesting and provocative. I love reading books I do refer to them as they relate to my own posts. You are my hope in this world of mediocre blogs. I commend you for posting each day and imagine that this is a true passion of yours. Also to be commended is your very polite response to readers’ comments. Bravissimo!

    Like

    May 4, 2013
    • Thanks for your kind words, Cate! That means a lot. This blog is a challenge, but in a good way. Everyone like you who reads it helps make it even more fun. Thanks again.

      Like

      May 6, 2013
  22. I love that you will get to tell your son about this. That makes it extra-special. Thanks for the summary as well. That was quite interesting to read.

    Like

    May 4, 2013
  23. Reblogged this on Dogpatch Writers Collective and commented:
    Hello from the Dogpatch,
    Check out this very interesting account of how a truly great post from 101 Books went viral. The lovely story behind the “author” of the post is even better.

    Like

    May 4, 2013
  24. i was just wondering…what is the best time, in your experience, to post on your blog? i’ve tried different times, mostly in the mid morning hours and a couple times in the evening around 5. i haven’t gotten much luck with followers and all, but i’m about a 2-week-old blogger with 31 followers. I noticed your blog was AWESOME and had tons of posts and all and was wondering if you can give an ole newbie like me some friendly advice 🙂

    Like

    May 6, 2013
  25. there is nothing more fun than that… the things kids say are golden! I remember my son, at 3, asking me if police men have lips!! We still laugh about that and he is nearly 17 now. very happy for your success!!

    Like

    May 7, 2013
    • kids do say pretty funny stuff. my mom was talking to my sister about giving her daughter (3 at the time) raisins, because they give you iron. My niece then argued saying exasperatedly, “you cant IRON a raisin!”

      Like

      May 7, 2013
  26. Congratulations! Very exciting! And, now, of course, I’ll have to read that post. I missed it!

    Like

    May 13, 2013
  27. Wow. This is so great. I have to admit it makes me envious! But you really deserve it. Your blog is very very good. I just read your take on Mrs. Dalloway, one of my favorite novels of all time. Nevertheless, I have to admit you made very valid and thorough observations. I’ll be following closely to read about other great books!

    Like

    May 16, 2013
    • Ah, I forgot. I found your blog because Melissa Janda nominated you for her blog award. 🙂

      Like

      May 16, 2013
  28. Reblogged this on Karuna's Treasure Blog and commented:
    This is a post from one of my favorite bloggers. He talks about his experience of a blog that he wrote going “viral” and ending up on the front page of The Huffington Post Books. Should be interesting to my fellow bloggers.

    Like

    May 20, 2013
  29. I think that kid’s point of view is always the most sincere. Now I really want to read that post, cus unfortunately I missed it. Congrats for your job, your posts are always interesting, and keeping high people’s attention is not so simple!

    Like

    February 28, 2014

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  1. 8 Generic Blog Post Ideas That (Usually) Work | 101 Books
  2. My Most Popular Posts, Broken Down By Category | 101 Books

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