Note: This post has been updated several times. It starts out 12 hours after the original post had attracted 1,000 visitors, and I continued to update it as the views went up to and past 100,000. Read to the bottom to get the full story.
I recently created my first post in BuzzFeed’s Community section, What Would 2016 U.S. Presidential Candidates Look Like With Beards, applying some tips from Matthew Barby’s post on how he made it to BuzzFeed’s homepage, twice. Within 12 hours the post was up to 1,000 views. But given that I write for Forbes, Entrepreneur, where I have established audiences and can get 1,000 views in even few hours, why would I post to BuzzFeed’s Community section where anyone can post?
Two reasons; 1) the content wasn’t appropriate for Forbes or Entrepreneur, and 2) I was curious.
Ok, ok, so the initial results are not exactly unbelievable, and your jaw is not going to drop. But what I’ve learned so far has been interesting for me, but I think it will be more interesting for you, especially if you’re looking for a way to market your business and you don’t have the luxury of being able to publish on Forbes or some other similarly high profile publication. First, some background.
As you may know, I run a digital marketing agency called MWI. We have a client called Beardbrand. They sell beard oil and other men’s grooming products. You may have seen them when they were featured on Shark Tank.
When we get a new client, I try to internalize everything about them, and then I pay attention to random ideas that come into my head. In this case, I was out trail running one day in my backyard in Hong Kong and I was thinking about the 2016 U.S. election season, which is well under way. The thought occurred to me that we haven’t had a U.S. President with a beard in some time. Then I thought it would be interesting to see what the current crop of candidates would look like with beards. Then I thought it would be a funny blog post to put together some photoshopped images of the candidates with beards. And perhaps we could turn this into some good viral marketing for Beardbrand.
We hired a designer, Hrach Drambyan, via UpWork, to create 10 images for us. We pitched the idea to Beardbrand, but it turns out they have a strict “no politics” rule for their marketing. They don’t refer to politics, they don’t touch it. Fair enough, and probably wise on their part. But I thought the images were too hilarious to not post somewhere, so we asked them if we could post them online anyway, but without it being part of their marketing. They said sure.
Originally I was just going to post it here on my blog, but our SEO/social wizard Jordan Kasteler suggested I post it to BuzzFeed. I had never posted to BuzzFeed before, so I thought it would be a fun experiment.
BuzzFeed Posting Tips
As mentioned above, Matthew Barby’s post is the one to read if you want to know how someone got on the homepage of BuzzFeed. I haven’t done that yet, I’ve only gotten 1,000 views in 12 hours, and we’ll have to wait to see where things go. But here are some great tips Barby shared, some of which I applied, and some of which I purposely didn’t:
1. Phrase your headline as a question. Hence “10 2016 U.S. Presidential Candidates With Beards” became “What Would 2016 U.S. Presidential Candidates Look Like With Beards?”
2. High word count. This didn’t seem to apply to my post, because it’s dependent on photos. Instead, I looked at other popular BuzzFeed posts that were lists of photos, and noticed many of them started off with virtually no text, and got right to the photos. For example:
3. Headline length. According to Barby’s research, headlines with 7 words perform best. Mine would already have been about 7, but having 8-10 appears to work just about as well as 7. Mine comes out to 10, with some of them being short “words” like “U.S.” and “2016” so hopefully mine hits that sweet spot.
4. Check the community feature checkbox. I would have done this regardless, but I’m glad Barby pointed it out just in case.
By the way, I’d like to point out that since I started writing this post, the BuzzFeed post has added 200 views.
What Happened Next
I posted the article, shared it on my social media channels, and went to bed. I’m in Hong Kong, and was getting to bed late, so this was around 11 am EST on Thursday, July 30th.
When I woke up at 5 am for an international conference call, I checked the view count and it was just under 500. It rose to 560 over the next few hours. Not exactly impressive. I assumed at this point it had flopped and sent Jordan this message:
It’s at about 560 views right now, mostly through Facebook. Any other ideas for helping this “pop” so that perhaps it will get the attention of BuzzFeed and get promoted upward to where it starts generating it’s own traffic?
While I waited for Jordan to respond, I posted again on Twitter, tagging the candidates handles in my tweets, then posted in a Facebook group I’m part of, which is focused on active political folks in Utah. I don’t know if that did the trick or if it was something else, but it was around that time the traffic started to tick up a bit faster. Was it the tweets? No, these seemed to have very minimal impact. Facebook was where most of the traffic was coming from.
I then went back to Barby’s post to see if there were any other tips, and latched onto Barby’s explanation of social lift:
Your post’s “Social Lift” is a metric used by BuzzFeed staff to calculate how much attention the post is getting on social media, which is calculated by dividing the number of visitors coming to the post from social media with the traffic to the post generated simply from within BuzzFeed. Once these two numbers are divided, BuzzFeed adds 1 to the number to give you your final Social Lift metric.
The higher this metric is, the better.
The post Barby had gotten onto BuzzFeed’s homepage had 146,000 total views, 35,000 of which were social views, giving his post a social lift rating of 1.3x. Here how it looked for him when he created the post:
Here’s what my post looks like at this moment:
Fewer views, obviously, but check out the social lift. While my sample size is small, it appears that this post does quite well when it comes to social lift. Perhaps my post was very shareable on Facebook. The question now…how do I take advantage of that? Here is Barby’s recommendation:
Once your post has passed the moderation stage, run some paid social advertising on the likes of Reddit, StumbleUpon, Facebook and Twitter to get as much traffic as possible coming through to the article. Be aggressive with the advertising to get as much traffic to the post once it is initially promoted as you can.
So I quickly set up a Facebook ad to promote the BuzzFeed piece. I put $200 in the budget, bid clicks at $1.53 per click (per Facebook’s suggestion–a bit expensive if you ask me), and set it to accelerated to get as many clicks as quickly as possible. Before any ad traffic came in I checked the stats on the article again. 1,300 views, social lift of 55x. Then I went and took a shower and got ready for the rest of my day, waiting to see what would happen.
When I came back a little while later, I saw that the ad had 66 results, but 17 clicks…? Turns out I had accidentally connected the ad to a Facebook Page, which I thought I specifically didn’t, but somehow I had. This meant people could interact with the ad in ways other than simply clicking through to the webpage. In other words, I only had 17 clicks. I fixed the error. I also noticed that the Facebook ad text was breaking because I had put in “U.S.” instead of “US” and Facebook had autocorrected it to be “U. S. ” with spaces, and the “U” was on one line and the “S” was on the next. That probably wasn’t great for looking like something credible to click on. Also fixed that. Now, to wait again and see. The annoying part is that any small change to your Facebook ad requires that it go through review again, which keeps it from being shown for several minutes.
By the way, at this point the article was up to 1,500 views, with 63x social lift. Only 17 of those views were paid, so it was clear the article was still growing on its own, despite it being 11:40 pm EST. Oops, not so fast. After fixing the ad, the stats suddenly jumped to 141 clicks. Enough to explain most of the increased visitors during the past hour or so.
Then my ad stopped displaying. Turns out I had old credit card information in the account. I updated it, paid the bill, but the ad wouldn’t turn back on. After searching the help center for answers, I finally emailed Facebook support.
In the meantime, I decided to try out a different kind of Facebook advertising. Rather than buying the ads on the right hand side, I decided to promote a post, meaning the post would show up in the Facebook feed. The cost to do this was a lot less (I set the cost per click at 10 cents) and let it rip.
Despite the ads being turned off, the article was up to 1,800 views, with 72x social lift. July 31st, 12:30 am EST.
I was then away from my computer for 11 hours. During that time Facebook ads weren’t running because I had bid them too low. But the post had still been performing well, going up to 3,500 views with 58x social lift. 11:35 am, EST, still the 31st. But 11:35 pm Hong Kong time. Time to go to bed and then check in the morning Hong Kong time, evening time EST. Here’s the official screenshot.
I’m going to go ahead and publish this post, but keep updating it. Who knows, by the time all is said and done your jaw might actually drop.
Update: Friday July 31st, 9:00 pm EST. Woke up in the morning in Hong Kong to find that one of my Facebook ads was working, but the other still wasn’t. Contacted Facebook support again. Checked BuzzFeed stats and saw that visits had doubled and the social lift had risen dramatically. But seed views were still low, telling me that BuzzFeed hadn’t yet taken notice and wasn’t promoting the post at all. What would it take to get that critical boost?
Update: Saturday Aug 1st, 12:25 am EST. Hmm. This thing just keeps going up and up, with the vast majority of traffic coming from Facebook.
100x social lift? Not bad. We should hit 10,000 on this within the next hour.
Lest you think this is all “artificial,” paid traffic, here’s exactly what I’ve spent so far and how many clicks it has generated.
A total of $256.52 at this point, for 1,112 clicks. The vast majority is still natural Facebook traffic.
I tweeted to Barby to see if he had any suggestions for getting bumped up by BuzzFeed. His two suggestions:
- Wait. “It can take around 48 for them to promote it.”
- “The links at the end may be too promotional.”
Since it seems to be growing well right now, I think I’ll just wait. Don’t want to change too many variables at once, and if it gets bumped up by BuzzFeed with the links, that’s more ideal.
Update Saturday, August 1st, 9:30 am EST. Not a lot of activity last night, US time, but now that it’s morning in the US it seems to be climbing again. It’s gone past 10,000 and is now just past 12,000 views. Still no love from BuzzFeed itself, as you can see from the low number of seed views. In fact, only 33 people have seen it directly through BuzzFeed.
That’s why the social lift metric keeps going up. The only place people are seeing this is on Facebook. I’ve spent a bit more on ads, which accounts directly for perhaps 1,000 of the last 3,000 views. I’ll leave everything for the rest of the weekend and won’t check back until Monday morning, Hong Kong time (Sunday evening, EST). We’ll see where things are at then.
Update Sunday, August 2nd, 6:49 pm EST. Good morning from Hong Kong. Wow, things are going well! Despite ads not running for most of the time since my last update, we’re up to 40,000 views, with approximately 33,000 of those coming from Facebook.
Still no love from BuzzFeed itself. But it has definitely gone a bit viral on Facebook. Here’s the total amount of spending/paid traffic on Facebook. I won’t be doing anymore, unless something unforeseen comes up.
The question remains why the post hasn’t been picked up by BuzzFeed itself for promotion on the site. It’s still Sunday in the US, so we’ll see if anything changes once Monday rolls around EST.
Update Monday, August 3rd, 7:57 PM EST. Up to 49,000 views. In case you’re curious, this has driven about 237 visits to Beardbrand. This blog post you’re reading right now has received several hundred views as well. Still no love from BuzzFeed itself.
Update Wednesday, August 5th, 10:45 AM EST. 53,000 views. Here’s a different way of looking at the data that’s a bit more informative. It shows how traffic spiked during daytime hours in the US, and how social sharing boosted it.
Update Sunday, August 9th, 11:10 pm EST. Boom! 92,000+ views.
Last week I performed an experiment with Twitter and Facebook advertising, which I turned into a new post at Twitter’s Revenue Problem Explained In One Graphic. That explains at least part of the new traffic, but something else appears to have happened over the weekend, well after the ads stopped. Check this out:
The graphic above only shows traffic for the past 48 hours. The traffic is virtually from Facebook. The question is, what happened? What caused that huge spike in Facebook traffic just before 6 am on the 9th, and then a substantial bump again at 6 pm leading to fairly sustained traffic?
Update Monday, 10 Aug, 10:51 PM EST. 100K views.
I’m still not sure where the spike in Facebook traffic came from. Michelle Bachman and some other folks with large followings tweeted it over the weekend, so it’s possible that it was reshared from Twitter to Facebook and caused another bout of social sharing on Facebook. Still nothing from BuzzFeed, although I noticed one of their staff members tweeted it and mentioned he was doing so in spite of the promotional aspect of the post, so perhaps that is what has held it back from getting more exposure on the site. Of course if I removed any mention of Beardbrand from the post, then it wouldn’t do them any good, so I’ll take my measly 100K views with the promotional language.Liked it? Share it!