4 Lessons I Learned From a 500,000 Pageview Blog Post
Just over a year ago, I created a monster. You might have seen it lurking around a newsfeed or social network near you – it’s our Ultimate Complete Social Media Sizing Cheat Sheet. I found myself constantly using ‘Inspect Element’ when creating images for social sharing or profiles, and the thought struck me that it might be useful to have all of those dimensions in one place. The rest of the cheat sheet’s origin story might surprise you. I’ll explain a little more about it’s exigency along with three lessons that I learned from the final product.
Lesson #1 – Focus On What’s Hurting You
The inspiration for the cheat sheet came from checking and re-checking social sites for image dimensions. Surprisingly, it took a long time for me to realize that pain point and translate it into something valuable to share. What would have helped? If I had been as diligent about time tracking then as I am now, I would have been able to easily see how much time I had been sinking into looking up dimensions. The lesson here is to document what you do, what’s hurting you, and see if there’s an easy way that you can fix it.
Lesson #2 – Be Selfish With Your Content
The exposure and valuable link can be a tempting reason to shop great content for contribution to a large publisher. That’s what I did with the social media cheat sheet; fortunately, nobody wanted it (seriously, I asked a lot of people if they would accept it as a guest contribution). Half a million uniques, 18,500 social shares, and 709 linking domains later, I look back happily on being turned away; if I hadn’t been, we would have earned one link and maybe a handful of referred visits. I learned this lesson on accident, but it taught me something important: keep the best content for yourself. Chances are better than not that being selfish will net you much better long-term rewards than giving it away would have.
Lesson #3 – Be Realistic (and Strategic) About Defining Success
When the post was first gaining traction, I would religiously check Google Analytics, looking for businesses contacting us about our SEO services or social media management services that had seen the cheat sheet. I was always disappointed. The problem here was that I was connecting success with direct lead generation from the content; what I learned was that great content doesn’t drive leads, it drives links. With this fresh perspective, I was able to realign both my expectations and my analysis; here’s what I found: the influx of links we received boosted the overall profile of our domain in the search results. Here’s a graph of all of our traffic from organic with just Cheat Sheet traffic segmented out:
Sure, the traffic that came to the site was un-targeted, non-relevant, and low value. However, the links that the content netted resulted in a huge boost in organic traffic to our site, even after organic traffic to the cheat sheet dropped off. Once I understood this value, I began to approach everything that I did with a fresh perspective on defining, measuring, and understanding my success. Further analysis let me see that this was valuable, converting traffic being indirectly netted by our content.
Lesson #4 – Even Evergreen Plants Need Pruning
Making the cheat sheet took a long time. It’s even harder to find the time to do it all again. Design changes to social platforms tend to happen in waves, and Facebook especially likes to perform slow roll-outs that make deciding which sizing to display as canonical and when to change it difficult. Remember Timeline? That took over a year for Facebook to fully roll out. When was the right time to change the dimensions from the old-style pages to the new style? Make these kinds of decisions early on and really commit to staying on top of them before the workload piles up – the cheat sheet is in desperate need of a refresh, and short-sighted thinking in designing it is partly to blame.
Hopefully, you can apply the lessons I’ve learned from my successes and mistakes. Remember to find inspiration by logging and examining your own pain points, truly evaluating the value of contributing versus holding onto a piece of great content, defining and understanding strategic measurement and goals, and commit to keeping your evergreen content truly evergreen.
What experience have you had with popular content? Share the lessons you’ve learned in the comments.