A Real Life Example (and Analysis) of Epic Content Gone Viral

Today’s reader story is incredible and focuses on a real life story of how writing epic content can drastically improve your traffic.

I love to give advice here on the blog, but when people take action, implement those ideas and see massive results—I love it even more!

This is why I do what I do.

A couple of days ago, I received an email from Jim Harmer, an SPI fan who blogs at Improve Photography:

“Hey Pat. From your last podcast [session #23], I implemented your tips on how to drive more traffic to a website.  Check out the JPEG screen capture that I attached to this email to see how your tips have impacted the traffic to my site in the last few days!  It has been INSANE!!!  One of the articles I posted a couple days ago has been shared over 1,000 times on facebook/twitter/google+.

And here is the screen capture Jim sent along with his email, which is really what caught my attention:

Improve Photography unique visitors show a doubling of daily visitors with publishing of epic content post

This. Is. Awesome!

I replied with some congratulatory remarks, of course, but I was curious—what exact strategies did Jim put into place?

So I asked him, and this is what he replied with:

“I think what made the difference for me is when you were talking about “Epic content.” I have spent the last several months learning everything I could possibly learn about SEO and making my website as SEO friendly as humanly possible.  I have gone to great lengths to get good backlinks and to optimize the site.  While the site has seen a SLOW and steady increase in traffic over the last 6 months, it has never really gone viral. I was committed to writing one article every single day, but not necessarily to make each article “epic.”

After hearing your podcast last week, I sat down for five hours trying to write the best content that I could possibly come up with.  It took me about an hour just to come up with a good subject, but when I saw the results of what putting out truly epic content can accomplish, I was amazed.  The website traffic SPIKED to levels that I could never have imagined, and the traffic has stayed constant for several days now.  That first article I wrote after listening to your podcast was shared over 1,000 times on Facebook/Twitter/Google+.  It’s not that I haven’t always tried to write good blog posts, but I have never committed myself to spending several hours getting it PERFECT before.”

There’s a lot of fantastic advice we can take away from Jim’s reply:

When I got this response from Jim, I thought to myself, “This would be SO perfect to share on the blog”, so I asked him a few more questions, interview style, so we could all benefit from his experience, and he kindly agreed.

How Jim Harmer Used Epic Content to Boost Traffic

1. What is the name and link of the epic post?

The first post I wrote after listening to the podcast last week was 22 Things You Can Do Today to Change Your Photography Forever.  I have been writing daily photography tips at ImprovePhotography.com for about six months now and I have never seen that kind of traffic before.

2. How did you come up with the topic for the post?

As you [and Corbett] mentioned on the podcast, the format idea for this post came from the original on the ManVsDebt website. While this was a unique idea for the post, I have written lots of posts with catchy titles that flopped big time.  What made the difference in this article is that I spent a lot of time writing NEW ideas that people probably hadn’t seen before on other sites.

3. Did you think that the post would go viral like it did?

I was hoping it would be a big post for me, but this technique brought WAY more traffic that I expected, and it has stayed fairly constant.  While that first post was definitely a big win, the posts I have written since then have double the traffic that my posts usually got before I implemented this technique.

4. What do you think made your post go viral?

I tried to implement a lot of tricks to make this post work, and I think all of them worked together to make the post successful

(1) I have Facebook/Twitter/Google+ share buttons on the website so it is convenient for people to share.  I find that about half of the people who share my posts use the buttons, and half of them just post it themselves.

(2) Without trying to be annoying about it, I simply asked people to share the post on social media.  Since my post was a list of tips, I made the last item on the list a little bit of a joke asking people to share the post.  Since the people liked the content, they were inclined to pay it forward.

(3) I intentionally mentioned other popular photography websites in the posts and linked to them.  I smiled from ear-to-ear when I saw this method pay off when the writers of those blogs mentioned the article to their HUGE Twitter/Facebook followings.  This has paid off for me nearly every time I flatter the “big wigs” in my niche by talking up their sites.  FLATTERY GETS LINKS!

(4) Even if the content didn’t include the best tips ever written, most of the tips were unique.  I read a lot of photography articles, so I know what people typically write about.  When I started making the list, I promised myself that at least half of the tips had to be creative and unique stuff that weren’t obvious or cliche.

5. The content was epic, as we know, but besides that, what really happened after you pressed publish?

It was strange.  I sent out the post around noon and I saw a good increase of traffic that day, but when I woke up the next morning, I had over 75 emails in my inbox of people asking photography questions, receipts from people who bought my eBooks, comments to moderate on the site, etc. It seems like it took about 15 hours for enough people to have shared the post that it could truly go viral.

6. How have you been trying to keep the traffic coming and consistent since writing your epic post?

At the bottom of that first post I wrote after listening to the podcast, I encouraged people to LIKE Improve Photography to get daily photography tips on Facebook.  Since all my articles get posted on Facebook/Twitter automatically, I was able to add a lot of people to my new Facebook page.

7. What has been the result, besides the great exposure and traffic, of your post going viral?

Honestly, the biggest benefit was not that I had a lot of ads get clicked on–though that occurred.  Nor was it that people bought a lot of my photography eBooks–though that occurred as well.  The biggest benefit is that it really impacted the public’s view of my brand.  Because people saw creative and unique content on my site as their first exposure to my growing site, I think I am seen more as an authoritative source of information in the industry rather than being just another photoblogger who tries to write controversial stuff to get attention.  It really put a smile on my face when I read this comment from a new reader after he read my new posts: “Move over, Ken Rockwell (a famous blogger in my niche), there is a new guy in town who is much better and informative.”   I personally happen to really like Ken Rockwell, but I was pleased to see that the article impacted the way that my industry understands my brand.

8. What other tips from the podcast did you find to be helpful?

The part about branding and differentiating your site was really helpful to me.  On the podcast, [you] mentioned the importance of telling users what makes your site different.  That made me think of a commercial I have been hearing on a podcast.  On Leo Laporte’s Tech Guy podcast, he advertises the Ford Escape in repeated commercials.  Every time I think of the Ford Escape, I can hardly say the name of the car without thinking “The All-New 100% re-invented 2011 Ford Escape with My Ford Touch technology.”  This advertisement has impacted me by clearly stating what makes that product different than the other cars.

I have implemented [the] differentiation tip by always stating what is different about it when I write the name of my site.  I NEVER say, “I run the Improve Photography website.”  Now I always say, “I write daily photography tips at ImprovePhotography.com.”  What differentiates my site from all the other photography websites?  If you go to my site, you will learn a new tip every single day.  Oh, and by the way, you have already heard me say “Daily photography tips at ImprovePhotography.com” three times in this Q&A.  Did it impact the way you view my site?

A special thanks to Jim for sharing his experience with us! This is truly inspiring stuff!

He writes daily so I didn’t have time to catch him before he published the post after the one he mentioned here, but my advice to anyone who sees this kind of traffic and exposes themselves and their blog to a ton of brand new visitors from viral content is—make sure your next post is just as epic, if not—more epic, because that’s how you can easily show that you mean business and you’re always going to be providing high quality content that people should absolutely come back to read. It sounds like Jim already knew that though.

I love it!

Cheers, and have a fantastic and safe weekend

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  • Pat Flynn

    Hi, I’m Pat, founder of SPI and host of the Smart Passive Income Podcast. Let’s continue the conversation over in our communities.

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