Go viral? Challenge accepted

Or, how to get half a million hits in seven days.

13 January 2015
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About a week ago I put a new website online.

It’s been mildly popular, so I thought I’d take a look at what’s been going on.

This is the first of two posts. In this one we’ll explore the data and some reflections on creating viral content. In part two we’ll take a look at people’s reactions to the message itself.

Show me the data

Ok, here are the headlines after one week online:

  • 488,000 pageviews (from 444,000 sessions)
  • 104,000 Facebook interactions
  • 2,100 Twitter shares

This is a decent amount of data for traffic analysis, so here are some charts:

Google Analytics dashboard

If you cut the data by time of day, it’s been busiest in the evenings. Traffic tends to peak between 10:00pm and 11:00pm.

Unsurprisingly, almost all of the traffic came from the UK. Of that, a large proportion originated in London (or from connections with a London IP address, at any rate).

Most of the traffic was from mobile devices, with mobile and tablets combined accounting for nearly 75% of sessions.

Social network referrals were dominated by Facebook, which is consistent with what Upworthy have been saying for a while: Zuck is still king.

The big stat for Facebook interactions displayed on the site itself is actually an aggregate figure. If we use the Graph API we can start to break it down:


And here is a bonus chart showing Facebook interactions by age and gender:

Facebook insights

Let’s go viral

When I was putting the site together I thought there was a chance it might take off. Of course luck has a big (perhaps the biggest) part to play in whether something goes viral. But there are things you can do to increase your chances.

Provoke an emotional response

I guess I had an in-built advantage here given the subject matter.

Nevertheless, framing is still really important. In this case the site’s title is designed to make people curious, and the punchline is only revealed when you click through to the site itself. It’s no coincidence that “Reasons you should…” and “[X] reasons why…” are common titles for highly-shared BuzzFeed articles.

This seems to have worked particularly well on Facebook, with people posting the link to wind up their friends as well as to show solidarity with the cause.

Select a good URL

I was able to get a domain that matched the title of the site verbatim (and a .com to boot). This means the link is (a) easy to remember / tell people about, and (b) sharable without any additional explanation required.

Get the timing right

In this case the site has a pretty clear political message, and I put it online the same day that the first wave of campaigning for the 2015 general election started. It was also right at the start of the year, on what is often a slow news day and the first day back at work for many people.

Include a clear call to action

The site is pretty direct about asking people to share the link with their friends. And there are prominent buttons for Facebook and Twitter to make it as easy as possible. I chose not to include Google+ or LinkedIn buttons this time.

Optimise for social media

I used open graph tags to include a social media-friendly excerpt for the page (more framing to encourage clicks), along with a high-res preview image. This is important because it’s what people see in their newsfeeds if one of their friends shares a link to the site.

Find the right vector

All of this is academic unless you can achieve critical mass. Things really took off when @WomenDefyUKIP shared the link on their Facebook page. Other big contributions included shares by @Trumpton_UKIP and @fleetstreetfox on Twitter.

Coming up

In part two we’ll take a look at what the reaction to the message itself has been like, and talk a bit about where things might go from here. Stay tuned!

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Blogging like a hacker