What I Wish I Knew Before That Post Went Viral

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What I Wish I Knew Before That Post Went Viral

A little over a month ago, one of my blog posts went viral.

It was my post Apple iOS7 Tips & Tricks, published 6 days before the operating system was released to the public. It was based on my experiences as a beta tester.

My previous definition of a viral post was “any post that receives five times your average views in a week.” Because we all have those posts that catch some steam and spread like wildfire, and that’s awesome.

But this was different.

This post was viral.

That single post received 90,720 views in one day.

947,863 views to date.

It brought me the highest day of traffic for My Crazy Good Life, at 160,384 pageviews.

It crashed my blog and put me in hot water with my host.

It cost me a lot of money, and made me miss quite a few deadlines.

And that post spread to other posts within my blog, thanks to interlinks. In just over one month, my little blog had received over one million pageviews.

Boy, have I learned a lot in the past six weeks. And I’m sharing.

Timeline of Viral Post

Here’s the timeline of the first 9 days the post was published:

Key

Day 1. Published iOS 7 Tips & Tricks on a Friday afternoon after Karen noticed that my guest post on her blog (iPhone 101 Tips & Tricks) was getting a lot of traffic. I pinned it a few times and shared once on Twitter and Facebook.

353 Pageviews: Viral Post

 

Day 2. I noticed the post being pinned–a lot. Within 24 hours of being posted, the iOS 7 post was pinned about 2,000 times.

1282 Pageviews: Viral Post

 

Day 3. Noticing my previous “record high day” of 2,200 pageviews being blown out of the water, I called my host. I’d heard too many bloggers talk about how they got so much traffic that their host shut them down. That wasn’t going to happen to this girl.

Me: So, I have this post that’s going viral. What do I have to do to my account to make sure it won’t be shut down?

Host Gator: Nothing! You’re good – you have unlimited bandwidth, so congrats and enjoy this!

Me: Well, I’m thinking it’s not that easy. You see, I’m at 2,500 views today and we still have three days until the operating system hits, so I’m thinking this is going to be pretty big. Like, tens of thousands of views probably on Wednesday.

Host Gator: I know! Seriously, you’re good – unlimited bandwidth. Don’t stress.

Me: You’re sure? I’m only paying $15/month for hosting. That doesn’t sound very unlimited to me.

Host Gator: You’re in good hands. Don’t stress.

3319 Pageviews: Viral post

 

 

 

Day 4. I sat, waiting and watching. And watching. I put an ad on the post and signed up for a Google dfp account. I also asked a few of my facebook boost groups to share the post for me, making sure I was getting the maximum amount of eyes on it.

8120 Pageviews: Viral Post

Day 5. The day before the release date of iOS7, and I noticed my blog was a little slow. As I was heading to bed at 10pm I checked my email and there it was: a warning from Host Gator.

I had exceeded my bandwidth and unless I found a way to fix it, they were shutting me down. Their email chain said a few things: disable SEO by Yoast, as it causes excessive loading; enable a super cache; move the post receiving all the traffic to its own static page; disable the search feature on my blog.

I did the things I could, and received another warning about 15 minutes later.

I called them. This was exactly what I didn’t want to happen.

I was put in touch with the rudest customer service rep I’d ever spoken with. I had loved Host Gator up until this point.

I explained that I tried to avoid this by calling Sunday, why wasn’t this mentioned? I had unlimited bandwidth, right?!

Host Gator: Ma’am, UNLIMITED does NOT MEAN INFINITE.

Me: Well, ummm, yes. Actually, it does.

Host Gator: Well, not in terms of bandwidth.

Me: Oh, I must have misunderstood that from our conversation Sunday. Maybe I didn’t ask for enough clarification?

16000 Pageviews

Day 6. The way this works is, you receive a warning that your host has blocked your account. You can choose to lift that block 5 times before it’s permanent.

At this point, Host Gator claimed they could do nothing for me. They couldn’t give me more bandwidth, they couldn’t congratulate me on the traffic and turn their heads to let my blog ride this out, even though my bandwidth usage before this post didn’t ever come close to what I actually paid for.

They couldn’t transfer me to a dedicated server without taking my blog down for 3-5 days.

Today was the release of the new Apple operating system.

My post had been pinned 118,300 times.

My pageviews had been doubling every day since the article posted.

And I was going to be shut down.

I emailed the person who takes care of my technical blog stuff. She listened to me swear. She swore with me. She shook her head when she heard what happened and she told me how to fix it.

I had to change hosting companies.

A Small Orange was recommended to me, and after emailing back and forth a bit (they’re quick and responsive) we had a plan.

52000 Pageviews

Day 7. After a few heated phone calls, Host Gator logged into my WordPress blog, changed the password on me, and kicked me out.

They installed a cache plugin of their choosing, but didn’t activate it.

In addition, they disabled the cache plugin that had previously been activated.

Essentially, they broke their own rules (they said I had to have a cache plugin) and caused my CPU usage to skyrocket, which shut my blog down.

I was the girl. I was the blogger who was on the phone crying to a total stranger and attempting to keep her cool.

I was livid.

That night, my blog helper switched my accounts to a cloud server with A Small Orange. She worked in the middle of the night to avoid the peak traffic hours.

After a series of long outages all day long, Host Gator shut me down at 7pm, which was the start of my peak traffic time, 7pm-11pm.

Viral Post Stats

Day 8. I woke up with A Small Orange. They were helpful and quick to respond to all of my questions. I knew more about caching and bandwidth and CPU usage than I ever needed to know at this point.

After noticing my views were slowing down a bit, the Ninjas at A Small Orange (that’s what they call themselves, it’s in their email signatures) helped me install a cache program into my server and showed me where to keep an eye on my views.

I just went from paying $15/month for hosting to $100/month. I also hired my someone to switch my three sites to A Small Orange and set up my ad network accounts.

Having a viral post is expensive.

52000

Day 9. I had no idea that a viral post could bring you traffic for such a long time. I guess in my head it was a 1-2 day thing. I was 9 days after the post and still seeing tens of thousands of views. The traffic was pouring in from Pinterest at this point.

Total views on the viral post as of 10/30: 534,700
Total pins as of 10/30: 155,000

Here’s what I learned:
Things you have control over:

  • Your analytics. You can check them regularly and monitor your traffic, which I highly recommend.
  • Your hosting package: switch to a dedicated server as soon as you see a post getting big like that. If I had switched (using my blog helper, not what Host Gator was offering to do) that Sunday when I called to ask Host Gator about my account, I would have been moved to the new server by the time the operating system was released, and wouldn’t have lost those 12 hours of traffic (and ad money!).
  • Ads on your blog. You don’t have to put them on every post or on your sidebar, but apply to networks and add them to individual posts that are doing well. The main reason? You’ll be able to quickly ad more of them to your blog when you have a viral post. I had to wait to be approved to different ad networks after this happened, which ended up costing me money.
  • SEO. SEO your posts. 80% of my viral traffic came from Pinterest. The other 20% came from searches. To this day, 6 weeks later, 9/10 searches on my blog are for iOS7 issues.
  • A great tech guru. Having someone “in my back pocket” during this crazy time was a lifesaver. She offered advice and knows a heck of a lot more about all this than I do. She was there when I needed her and quickly to offer her help at (literally) all hours. She understood what was going on and how important it was to me.

Things you have no control over:

  • The speed at which your post travels. Don’t stress about being shut down if it’s going to happen–you can’t do a thing about it. You can’t stop people from clicking on or sharing your post.
  • Your blog up-time or downtime. I had to contact a few people and ask for grace when my blog was unstable. I was told that writing posts, checking plugins and other “back end issues” would affect the way the front of the blog was crashing performing, so I should stay out. I had three sponsored posts that missed their deadlines, which stressed me out more than anything. But, there was nothing at all that I could do about it at that time except apologize and ask for an extension on my deadlines.

What I wish I knew then:

I wish I had listened to the quiet whispers in the blogging community and moved to a blogger-friendly host. Not only for instances like this (which I understand don’t happen often at all), but to support smaller hosting companies who understand the importance of blog up-time. A Small Orange responds quickly to my inquiries, is patient with explaining all of the confusing back end blog information that I don’t understand and more than anything, they are kind and respectful. If you’re turning your blog into a career, a blogger-friendly hosting company is a non-negotiable.

For 99% of hosting companies, bandwidth is limited, even if they advertise that it’s unlimited. Be aware of that.

What I’m doing different now:

I’m using Google dfp for my ads. It has doubled my ad income, which makes a huge difference. I’m also a bit more tied to my analytics, which I’m embarrassed to admit. Maybe once my traffic returns to normal, I’ll break away from checking and documenting my numbers so much.

My popular posts now have a place on my sidebar, for easy access from any page within my blog.

Adding a line at the top of my posts with a link for my email subscription. I’ve seen a 200% increase in my subscribers since doing that for all of my popular posts.

Bottom line: I followed my own rules for making a post go viral, and after several smaller *viral* posts, I hit it big. I’m reluctant to take credit for it, as it’s not something that can be replicated. I do, however, know that through creating pinnable images, using SEO, creating web-friendly content that was relevant to current trends and being a step ahead of most tech blogs, I did play a part in the success of this post.

After all was said and done, I made a few dollars. I lost a lot of time. And my pageviews have increased substantially (even after taking the viral post out of the mix).

And I’m pretty excited about that.

 

Viral post Stats

Update: June 2014, 9 months later

My viral post still receives between 200-600 hits a day. Still a lot of Pinterest traffic, but a lot of search traffic as well. I have been able to reduce my hosting plan to a $50/month one, but my overall traffic still isn’t anywhere near what it was last year at this time. I credit the viral post and a lot of linking out to other posts for the subscribers and readers I’ve gained.

 

 

Comments

  1. Wow! Who knew? Maybe you since you called Host Gator, but I, though not a newbie, know nothing about the tech side. Thanks for sharing your experience and so happy you are achieving success with such a wonderful team.

  2. Whoa this is crazy! Thanks for sharing your experience and these great tips! It’s great to know that hostgator is not reliable when you make it big. Congrats and keep up the amazing work!!

    • Thanks, Amber! I think if I had been on a dedicated server, Host Gator would have been more reliable. Unfortunately, the rep I spoke with didn’t make the right suggestions :-/

  3. Yikes! I’m suddenly glad my blog is so small and rarely gets more than 40 visits a day! Okay, granted I wish it were more like 200 visits a day but for now, I’m still a very small blog.

    Glad to read this all worked out for you in the end. It sucks Host Gator was not more helpful and turned into huge jerks. Their loss!

  4. This was so helpful, Becca. Now I feel a bit better about picking the host I did. They are small but the customer service is impeccable. I also need to look into Google dfp immediately.

  5. Found this post on Pinterest (where else?!). Thanks for the information. I have never had this experience, but hope to some day (well, maybe not the whole experience…). Now I’m heading over to read your post on making content go viral. Thanks.

  6. I had the EXACT same thing happen with Host Gator, except I have an online retail shop. It was in the middle of a big sale on a popular product, and they shut me down. I had to move to a dedicated server, the site was fully down about 12 hours, then took 3 days to full propagate. Thousands of dollars lost, I feel your pain!

  7. Wow so, so exciting! Thanks for sharing! Guess you just never know if a post will go viral but good to know what happens when it does. Any chance you will do a post on google ad sense and google dfp in the near future . I have a few posts that do pretty well and bring me most of my traffic. Would love put an ad on those but I have no idea where to begin. Each time I sit down and start to do it I just feel dumb.

    • Mindi, I wish I could do a post on dfp. Unfortunately, it seems others feel the same way because they are very limited posts on it. Here’s one I found: http://www.labnol.org/internet/google-dfp-tutorial/ At the time I had it installed, I wasn’t able to attempt to do it myself (I was dealing with the hosting issues and my sponsored deadlines), so I hired someone to install it for me. The bottom line is that I am making more by using it, though I don’t really know how. As someone who is on top of *almost* everything blog-related, I’ve given myself permission to let this one go.

  8. Thanks so much for all that you share! I’m new to blogging and have been following you for a while, learning so much from you. I just recently moved to being self-hosted on HostGator and had similar rude and unhelpful customer service interactions with them. I’m a long way from going viral with anything, but this is good awareness. I’m going to network to build some good relationships (like yours with Sarah) and will eventually move from HostGator to a more responsive host. Congrats to you on your viral post!!

    • Thank you so much, Kate! It makes my day knowing you have found my blog helpful!

      I thought I was a long way from going viral, as well – you just never know.

  9. You weren’t kidding when you said it was the best and worst day of your life. Not the first time I read about this hosting company failing a customer. (and I’m about to write about hosting companies.) I love the graphics you added to this post!

    • Seriously!! It was.

      And – I got these graphics free from Creative Market – they have free graphics, font and templates every week!

  10. This is such a great post, Becca! I am so happy for you that you hit it big…while you hit some snags, it is totally you to share this advice with everyone to help us avoid it if we ever have this happen. THANK YOU!

  11. Have you heard of the saying, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”? What about, “you get what you pay for”? Really, what are you expecting from $4/month? I do agree that “unlimited bandwidth” is misleading and that their support quality can be questionable, but it is just as unreasonable to believe that this assertion based entirely on marketing entitles you to all the bandwidth in the world. Please also take note that your sentiment in moving between the two web hosts is lost as HostGator and A Small Orange are owned by the same holding company, EIG.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endurance_International_Group

    There might be some differences in your interactions between the two hosts respectively, but what you might be more concerned about is how much infrastructure is shared among these providers as EIG is known for consolidating their subsidiaries into the same data centers.

    I do congratulate you on your success. Hope this is a learning experience for you in identifying your hosting needs so you may perform proper research into your requirements and act accordingly.

    • Andre,
      I think you’ve missed Becca’s point entirely. She wasn’t expecting unlimited bandwidth for $4. She questioned it and sought out advice/help from Host Gator when she saw the post taking off. Their uninformed employees and lack of customer service is the problem here. What else could she have truly done at that point but to “believe” what Host Gator was saying.. Clearly now we know the employee she spoke with either lied or was clueless…. Either way unacceptable.

      The point of this post is informative for bloggers so they know what could happen if they have a viral post and certainly a cautionary tale about using Host Gator or really any host company. The lack of control you truly have over your site on that end is scary.

        • At the time, I didn’t realize they were owned by the same company. To be honest, though, it does’t matter. The parent company may be the same, but obviously the training and expectations at A Small Orange are much higher than those at Host Gator, in my opinion.

  12. Hi,

    I wanted to add to your conversation here. EIG Insurance owns both HG and ASO. So I would still make sure you have money on hand to transfer again. We as a design Company went with Liquid Web where I can scale the server if I get a high load.

    Otherwise, very well written and good advice!

    • Thanks, Jonah. I’m confident that though owned by the same parent company, A Small Orange has much different expectations as a company than Host Gator does.

  13. I had HostGator once. It only took once before I realized what they were really like. .-. It’s sad you had to learn the hard way, though.

    My host is pretty awesome; they’re much cheaper than the $100/mo. you’re paying. o.O ASO is kind of a smaller hosting site, though. Anytime a host says anything is unlimited, you should be wary of your resources. When your website begins to use more resources on the server than other sites is when it becomes a problem. The servers hosts use also make a big impact on the amount of activity your website will be able to withstand.

    Good luck in the future! :)

  14. […] Good Life has a wonderful and horrible example about why it does matter…especially when your content goes viral. If something ever goes wrong for me with RFE Hosting, I will likely choose A Small Orange based […]

  15. Cloudflare can save tons of bandwidth. It caches static content and serves it up from their own content servers. I pay $40 per year for a vps with 2gb of ram, 2gb of swap, 4 cores, and 3tb of transfer. I know vps isn’t a good approach for many, but it works for me, and is dirt cheap.

    I may not have any “viral” posts yet, but if I ever do, I’m ready for it!

    • I’ve heard a lot about Cloudfare, Mike, and have been cautioned against using it. I am looking into it further on my own now, as it kind of seems like a no-brainer to me. Thanks for the tip :)

  16. I’m small-fries…but I’m still going to try to add to your traffic. I’ve yet to read your iOS7 tips & tricks, but this post was one of the best posts of blogging issues I’ve ever read. THANK YOU!!

  17. $11+ per hour is a nice little bit of pocket change for this learning experience. I hope it continues to grow for you since the post will undoubtedly keep getting good traffic. This was a really interesting story from behind the scenes. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  18. I really enjoyed reading this breakdown of what happens behind the scenes!

    I’ve had a few instances where my host wasn’t able to keep up with the demand of my sites, and I’m currently looking for a new host to get ready for 2014. I have a lot planned (whether it goes viral or not doesn’t much matter, I just hate having downtime on my site during launches) and I want to make sure not to lose sleep over it!

    Thanks for recommending A Small Orange and for sharing your candid experience!

  19. Great post!

    I have a very minimal website just to hold the account under my name and possibly start a blog with. My contract with the hosting company expires at the end of the year and I’ve had nothing but trouble with the hosting service. Thanks to your recommendation, I’ll be switching to A Small Orange. All the best!

    Zane

  20. Sadly, every provider in the shared hosting world does that. Sorry you ran into it. My mother in law had the same thing happen. Such is life.

    I’m an independent guy who has worked closely with some of the above mentioned providers as a consultant/architect/developer/whatever. The above companies are extremely talented at doing very specific things – running reliable hosting environments, doing so with limited resources, and keeping costs low for end users. But once they get into situations like high volumes of traffic for a single client, it’s the moon to them.

    My specialty is running extremely high performance web environments – upwards of 10 million requests per hour, on very small servers – think $25 per month per server (with several around the world for redundancy), plus several thousand for bandwidth.

    A couple things:
    1 – What you already know. You’re totally right – bandwidth is expensive. Even if you’re not running the CPU really high (ie, if you ran your own Memcache + Batcache setup like wordpress.com), bandwidth still costs a lot – something like $0.15 per GB. So your page has about 1MB of content – so every thousand page views costs about $0.15 in pure traffic. So a hundred thousand page views would be around $15 in bandwidth alone. That’s about the point at which you’ll get bandwidth-throttled even if you’re running very little CPU. Just using a CDN like Cloudfront would take care of 99% of this, but it basically just shifts the costs to you a little more directly.

    2 – What you probably don’t know. Typically, you only need a really high end hosting environment if your caching setup is either (a) totally jacked – which is pretty much standard for anything you can install yourself; or (b) you’re not caching and have a fairly small level of traffic (around 10k visits per CPU per day). With a decent caching setup (no CDN), it’s possible to handle around 10k views per second, on a single CPU.

    So, that said, there are several ways to do caching and CDN well; they scale directly with your level of traffic, and don’t require you to switch to a super expensive dedicated environment. The major thing with caching is to ensure that the cached content isn’t served by PHP – because starting up PHP is by far the most expensive step in generating a page. You want something that’s keeping a copy of your pages in memory and serving them right at the point where the end-user’s computer is requesting the page. If it’s hitting the disk at all, a server is typically limited to serving 20 cached pages or scripts or stylesheets per second (assuming you don’t have a pile of extra RAM sitting around)… So that’s a big reason why your site still takes so long to load, even on a dedicated server – even with the caching plugin, it’s still hitting both PHP and making the hard disk look around for stuff.

    The obvious and quick solution is Cloudflare, and it’s unfortunate you didn’t find this out during your sage. You point your frontend domain at their servers, and they run a pretty efficient geographically distributed caching thing for your site, which still runs on the same shared-hosting environment. So basically, Cloudflare takes all the load + bandwidth off of your own hosting environment (which can be basically as cheap as you desire), and you pay for bandwidth that’s actually used by people who are visiting your site. Sometimes you run into issues with new content not showing up instantly, but it usually resolves itself a few minutes later.

    The other options are similar environments in which they are using a similar caching/distribution technology but also serve as your hosting company. This works pretty well, and you have a single point of contact to help (or blame) if you have any issues. You do have to switch hosting providers, but typically they’re good about helping you through the process. I’m a fan of this methodology because you have a little more control of everything going on, and if you have to edit things manually (which is all I really do), you don’t have to wait for cache purges to clear around the world. Pagely (http://www.page.ly) is a great example of this.

    So… The moral of the story of is: Use an environment that sells by bandwidth and uses a smarter caching solution – any of the normal WordPress caching plugins really only buy you a factor of two or three difference because they still require a lot of overhead in terms of having the wrong web server, storing data on hard disk, or running PHP when it’s not needed. A dedicated server is totally unnecessary unless you have a pretty specific set of circumstances that require it.

    So that’s all. If you have any questions I’d be glad to answer – if I don’t respond right away, I’m just trying to keep up with the queue.

  21. That exact same thing happened to me! HostGastor totally screwed me, and I’ll never give them another dime. But why would I? ‘Cause A Small Orange is AWESOME! I’ve never been happier with a host before.

    Congrats on the viral post!!! :-)

  22. Great post! I am far from having a viral post, but definitely an eye-opener! Didn’t know you could be shut down b/c of too many people reading your post! Wow!

    Pinned for the future!

    • You can! It’s nuts, but I understand where they’re coming from.

      And you never know how far away you are from a viral post… I never would have guessed it would have happened to me!

  23. Unfortunately, unless/until we do have a post go viral, most of us can’t afford $100/month hosting. :( So we’ll pretty much all end up in that boat at one point or another if we ever get that big. :P

  24. I just loved how honest and real this post was. Thank you. I don’t expect to ever have a viral post like this. In spite of all the headache, I am super happy for you. I even pinned that post to my boards, not even knowing it was yours :)

  25. WOW> no idea about any of this. Not that I’ve had a viral post (or post about things that would really go viral), but this is crazy! It’s a good problem to have I suppose since you’re prepared now for next time (which undoubtedly there will be now that you’re a bonified tech blogger w/ stats!!)
    xoMorgann
    http://www.glitterinthegrey.com

  26. That’s crazy! I did a post when the Walgreens Black Friday ad was leaked and I had an amazing response, not near what you did! I couldn’t imagine my host shutting me down! Glad you were able to pick yourself back up! haha!

  27. Wow, I didn’t even think about the consequences of what could happen to a viral post. And since my blog isn’t really monetize, I’d be hosed because I can’t afford to hire a tech person let alone pay $100/month for hosting! EEK. This is all good info to know and pay attention to. Thanks for all the honest info!

  28. Host Gator did the exact same thing to me! I’m glad you wrote this blog post, bloggers need to know. In my opinion, Host Gator is very dishonest with their practices. It’s absolutely silly to penalize bloggers for growth.. instead of just giving them a warning and helping them move up to better hosting. They lose a lot of business by the way they do things. We are now on Media Temple virtual dedicated.

  29. […] may have read about the misfortune some bloggers have when their posts goes viral. Depending on your blog host, a number of bad things can happen. […]

  30. This is exactly what happened to me yesterday…it has been terrible! My site is STILL down, so I’m switching to Media Temple. Hoping this switch will be made soon. It is horrible that HG does this to people to experience a surge of traffic. I was shocked. I read your post last week and knew I needed to switch, but this happened too fast to me! Thank you for sharing this…it’s nice to know I’m not alone!

    • I am so sorry! I just looked and it seems that you’re still down–you’re definitely not alone, and know that in the long run this will be a fun blessing in disguise. ;)

    • I am SO sorry, Andrea! It is an expensive lesson. I was just able to downgrade my hosting plan yesterday (3 months after the post). Let me know if I can do anything for you!

  31. I found you on Pinterest. :) I had no idea this was even a possibility. Thank you do much for sharing your experienced wisdom. I’m not very techno-savvy so I’d love to see a future post on what to look for Ina host. Thanks!

  32. Thanks for sharing your experience. The same thing happened to me today. I was up 200,000+ views in one day then poof* my hoster has taken my website hostage for suspicious activity. They know now it was a viral post and supposedly are working to get me back online but haven’t yet. I’m still waiting. Thanks for the awesome tips. You helped talk me off a ledge.

  33. This is a big concern for me. I don’t make enough money from my blog to purchase better hosting. My web host told me that I have “unlimited” bandwidth so I’m always checking my stats!

  34. Wow. I can’t believe they wouldn’t do more to accommodate the traffic! And you took all of the right steps – how aggravating! I don’t understand hosting… I just upgraded mine because I was getting more traffic and that’s what they recommended but I have no clue what it means. I had no idea a host could go in and change the password on your account and lock you out… that seems unethical.

  35. I had a blogpost go viral last Christmas, but I didn’t have this problem. Thank goodness! I am with godaddy, but now I want to look into the bandwidth because this Christmas, I am going to push that post again. I had no idea that it would go viral. It was a huge blessing! Since I am going to put a ton of work into sharing that post around Christmas time again, I want to make sure that this doesn’t happen! I’m so sorry this happened to you!

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