Most of the time when I write about cookies and affiliate marketing, I mean the digital cookies that result in our tracking. Not this time. This is a story about how actual cookies resulted in Facebook likes, Pinterest traffic, backlinks, and more… but not until almost a full year after a post was published. More importantly, it’s about the long-term benefits you can get out of good content.
If you want to read all about the technical aspects behind how our site was able to keep up with the traffic and the programming behind it all, check out Eric’s post: Be Ready for Viral Sharing. This is essential if you do not want your site to crash or to spend a fortune in hosting!
It Started with the Cookies
Todd Farmer, Eric Nagel, and I have a system for our Wine Club blog. We publish X number of “money posts” (highly monetized) and X number of “filler” posts. We call them “filler” for short, but they are really the content that makes up the site beyond just writing about our merchants. They can be evergreen posts related to our merchant (like How to Choose a Wine Club), Pinterest-worthy posts (like Red Wine Chocolate Cupcakes), or timely posts (like Fondue Day).
The Pairing Wine with Girl Scout Cookies post was meant to be both timely and Pinterest-worthy. Eric created an image that would clearly show both the Girl Scout cookies and the wine.
On February 7, 2013, we published it, Pinned it, posted it on Facebook and Twitter, etc. All our normal methods of sharing. In the first week, it had 319 pageviews. A couple of repins. A couple of likes. Nothing spectacular. In the time since then, it has gotten a little traffic here and there. But nothing like what happened starting January 11, 2014.
Surge in Traffic
Almost a full year after the post was published, and while we were all out of town at Affiliate Summit, the post all of a sudden took off. On the first day, we saw a jump in traffic that was out of the ordinary but not exciting. By the next day, the post was getting thousands of views. Within 5 days, it was getting so many thousands of views a day that it made our usual “busy season” look like a blip in the data.
Here’s a normal year for us. Traffic is steady enough throughout the year to be profitable, but December is by far our best month.
Now using the exact same Google Analytics results only taking them out one more month, look how insignificant that wonderful month of December looks compared to the traffic spike we saw when the cookies and wine post went viral.
Did it finally take off on Pinterest? Was CNN linking to it? What was causing all of this traffic? Interestingly enough, we traced it back to a Google Image search. The right person liked it and many others started to follow.
Social Signals Make a Difference
As we started digging into the data, we noticed that Facebook was the early driver of most of the new traffic. Within about 5 days the page had amassed over 100K Facebook likes (and still increasing). In addition, it had been Tweeted hundreds of times and Pinterest pins were exceeding 4K. At one point, the Pinterest pins were up so much that Pinterest had exceeded Facebook as the top traffic source.
The more popular the post became socially, the more people who added to the popularity with their likes and pins. The more people were seeing their friends like or comment on it, the more likely they were to check it out themselves. To get more popular, you have to already be popular. The problem the first year we wrote the post was that it just wasn’t popular yet.
Benefits Beyond Traffic to the Post
Fantastic! We got traffic to a post that was hardly even monetized. What good is that? Actually, quite a bit. Here are a few of the benefits that came out of the post:
- We were able to seek out a special deal based on the traffic, and we received an exclusive coupon and custom landing page from one of our merchants.
- Completely natural backlinks from at least 25 different sites including blogs, forums, media, Tumblr, and other sharing sites we had never even heard of.
- Radio station interview to air this week. (Hopefully with another great backlink)
- 10% increase in subscribers to our newsletter.
- Increase of over 20% in our Facebook Fan Page, despite most of the Facebook traffic not coming from our own sharing of the post.
- Increase in other Facebook posts being seen due to the increased engagement on the cookie post.
In addition to all of that, we saw an overall increase in traffic to other pages of the site (versus January 2013).
In fact, some days the traffic to the rest of the site was up over 400% over last year. Time on site went up from 1:31 to 3:44.
Putting it All Together
After digesting a LOT of data, checking PR of backlinks, reading comments, etc., here are my biggest takeaways from what this post taught our team.
- There is real, substantiated value in creating long-term content that is not about direct monetization but rather the overall health of your site.
- Not every post takes off when you want it to and how you want it to, but viral traffic can come when you least expect it.
- In addition to creating new posts, revisit old posts and see if you can get new traffic on them.
- A good viral post is worth 10+ guest posts when it comes to getting backlinks.
- Facebook really can be useful to your business and drive traffic, just not by trying to force it.
- Data is your friend. You should be consistently tracking various metrics and be able to compare across different data sets.
- Brand your images. We learned this AFTER we had already done the image for this post but wish that we had learned it before.
- The exact dimensions of an image or length of an article are less important than the creativity of the idea behind it.
- Be sure your server is prepared for unprecedented traffic and you know that the benefits will outweigh the costs.
- Your friends in the industry will be as excited about your social media successes as you are.
Have you ever had a post just boom unexpectedly? What do you think caused it? Are there any lessons in our adventure with Wine and Cookies that you can apply to your own site?