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7 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Viral Blog Post

Last year I wrote a blog post that went viral.

It was a thrilling, scary, exhausting, fun experience.

A few paragraphs that had started as a Facebook comment quickly flew around the world. My blog post was reprinted in the Huffington Post, Thought Catalogue, and dozens of other sites that I don’t even know about. It was shared on Facebook, debated on Reddit, translated into a few other languages, and rebutted by a handful of bloggers.

On one of those days alone, I got over 160,000 pageviews. In one week, I got more traffic on my site than in the rest of the year combined. That one post was quickly seen by over half a million people.

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 3.15.19 PM

For most of a week, I just sat glued to my screen, watching the comments and tweets and responses roll in. Friends sent encouraging messages, and strangers sent terribly unkind e-mails. Then life went back to normal.

If I had the chance, this is what I’d tell myself before my first viral blog post:

1. Upgrade your server.

I hit publish right before I left for work on Tuesday morning. By the time I got to work fifteen minutes later, it had already been shared hundreds of times.  And before lunchtime, my blog had crashed.

Take a look:


The post went live at about 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday. My site first crashed at 11:00 a.m. It took a few hours to get it live, and then traffic continued to swell. Before midnight, it had crashed again. The next day, traffic quickly climbed again, and just as quickly crashed again around lunchtime.

On the third day, when I thought I had finally fixed all the server problems, my site received a DDOS attack (when a bunch of computers band together to take down your site) and it crashed again.

It turns out, a simple $10/month host isn’t built to withstand hundreds of people trying to visit your site at once. That’s what a customer service guy from my host told me on Tuesday morning. He told me that I had to upgrade to a $300/month service to handle the traffic. So I whipped out my credit card and upgraded. While it sounds simple, I literally spent at least 15 hours on the phone with technical support that week trying (and failing) to keep my site from crashing.

This began a two-month nightmare of trying to find a hosting service that would provide the service that I needed without crashing my blog. Because I don’t ALWAYS have 150,000 page views in a day, I quickly found myself paying way more than I could afford for a service I didn’t need. And yet, when I downgraded to a smaller server, it couldn’t handle surges of traffic and would crash again.

Flywheel Hosting has been the solution to all my problems. I finally signed up with them this spring for $75/month, and they handle all the traffic I can throw at them. Plus, they take care of all the technical nuts and bolts I don’t understand, the updates, the backups, and the security. They even deal with those pesky coordinated attempts to crash my site.

2. Install ads on your blog.

Shortly before I published that post, I had signed up for a service than runs a few ads on my blog. Unlike ads I had been running previously, these ones paid by the pageview instead of by the month. At the end of November, I got a check from them for over $500. Fortunately, this was able to help offset the nearly $1000 I spent in the span of a few months trying to get a decent host/server setup.

If you are getting a lot of traffic on your site, or think you might soon, make sure you have Google AdSense or some other pay-per-pageview ads set up. You won’t get rich, but it might help you break even.

3. Write a comment policy.

In the course of a week, that once post received over a thousand comments. At first I was enthralled.

But then the brawls broke out. Trolls showed up. Individual debates went on for dozens of comments. Many responses were longer than the blog post itself. I started seeing tweets saying “This is a great piece, but skip the comments.” That’s when I decided to grab my virtual broom and go clean up the comments section.

I started by Googling “comment policy examples” and realized something I’d forgotten along the way – this is my blog. This is my space. Hell, I’m paying $300/month to keep it online. I own no one anything in the comments section. If the comments section sucks, that’s up to me to fix. And I can delete comments at will.

So I wrote a comment policy explaining just that, and then set about deleting comments. Eventually I deleted half of them. Some people cried “Censorship!”, but I just pointed to my shiny new comment policy and promptly, ironically, deleted their complains about censorship.

4. Don’t read all the comments.

I don’t think the human brain was built to withstand hundreds of people simultaneously telling you that you’re the best ever and also that you’re a terrible person who’s full of shit.

When I first started out as a blogger, I was thrilled to get comments. But with a thousand comments on my post plus another thousand comments over on the Huffington Post, and there were enough comments to completely overwhelm me.

I’ve had a few viral blog posts since then. This one on the Huffington Post also got a thousand comments, and I’ve read hardly any of them. Sometimes, that’s just the best decision.

5. Take a break.

It’s a strange, strange thing seeing your name and your words flying around the internet. Combined with the stress of trying to keep a server from crashing, the excitement of being re-posted in major websites, and the sick feeling of seeing your personal life torn apart and analyzed by strangers, having a viral blog post can be exhausting.

Take a break. Close the computer. Go to a movie theater and forget it all for a few hours. Spend time with real people who care about you. This is good advice for always, I suppose, but especially for those days when your head is spinning.

Oh, and if you get any e-mails with the subject line “die hitler”, just go ahead and delete them.

6. Move on.

A viral blog post is a short event. Within a week or so, your traffic will slow down and your blog will be back to normal. A lot of people will forget your name. This is a good thing.

After that one post, I was absolutely stuck when I tried to write again. How do you follow THAT? It turns out, you don’t.

Just write whatever words come next. Write something and move on.  Some of your words might be wildly popular. Others will be seen by only a few. It’s hard, but I’m learning not let those numbers define me.

Web stats are interesting. Viral posts are fun. But they’re a lousy indicator of value.

7. Just write, and see what happens. 

[ image: Flickr ]

published May 14, 2014

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