Every now and then in the life of a blog, you post something that drives traffic through the roof. In our case, my post last night about news of Bigfoot allegedly being found drove record traffic to The Inquisitr, delivering out first ever day in excess of 100,000 page views (we’re 3 months old). Traffic has been up the last two weeks across the board, but nothing close to this post, so it was completely unexpected, although always welcomed. The surge is starting to slow down giving me a little time to reflect on what we could have done better, and what I learned from the experience. Here’s my lessons from a Bigfoot traffic spike.
Always Be Prepared
A Digg front page early on aside, we’d never had a huge day like this before, and we weren’t prepared. I woke up to find JR emailing me to say that the site was throwing the occasional database error and was generally slow. At that stage the story had 30,000 page views and the peak was yet to come. The challenge was to maximize server response times and neutralize any time outs, thankfully though our MediaTemple Dedicated Virtual server never once crashed, so in some ways we were lucky, I’d hate to think what would have happened if I’d been on a standalone box or shared hosting plan.
The scramble was on. How do we bring the load down. I started with WP-Super-Cache, but this took some time to install because I couldn’t ftp into the site for a while due to the load. Got that installed…then nothing. Oh, you have to update your .htaccess file, did that, and likely due to a redirect plugin I had running, it messed with the site settings, causing posts to return a post not found error message. Scrub that, look again, eventually find Hypercache and install that. Not sure if it’s working or not, but something took the edge of the memory load, even if the CPU was still tracking 99-100%.
My error was not having something installed and ready in advance. I spent hours trying to fix a problem when I should have had something easily at hand. If you’re running a WordPress install, find a good cache solution, and have it ready, or if you’re confident with the settings, have it on all the time, like many of the bigger sites do.
Sometimes quirky works
I know a few people have had a chuckle today over The Inquisitr getting traffic from a Bigfoot story, but we’re fortunate that the site has always had a space for odd and funny stories. When I wrote the post, I had no idea it would deliver this sort of traffic, but it did in spades. Sometimes thinking outside the square and being quirky can pay off. The lesson is that sometimes it pays to be different.
You don’t have to be first, but early helps
We weren’t the first site with the bigfoot story, but we were among the first to report it as word got out. Being first and unique is an important part of defining any blog, but sometimes a good story should be reported even when you’re not first to it. I’d bet the traffic to the sites who had this first was much bigger again, but we still managed to stake our claim.
Sometimes Digg doesn’t matter
The interesting thing for me in the traffic is that the story never hit the top of any of the major social voting sites, including Digg. We got a bit of traffic from Reddit (3k) but the rest came from all over the place (Google was 20%). Now we’ll never say no to being Dugg, and we love Digg traffic, but ultimately sometimes Digg doesn’t matter in scoring a surge of traffic. The other interesting thing with the traffic, 21% was via the front page direct, not the post. This in part was driven by references in the press to inquisitr.com without links. People seem to have no issues with copy and pasting a URL directly in for more. Naturally we’d have liked hard links, but you take what you can get.
When I realized that the traffic was increasing and a significant amount of it was hitting the front page first, I put a post up introducing the site to new readers, complete with link to the Bigfoot post they were looking for so they could easily find it, and left the post on top for 6 hours. It’s a strategy used by Darren Rowse and I have no idea yet whether it worked but it’s a decent idea that’s worth considering if you ever get a big traffic spike.
Naturally I hope we have more days like this to help pay the bills and to grow the site. Whether this spike results in more long term traffic for The Inquisitr is yet to be seen, although I’ve noticed with smaller hits that the base level on the slow days keeps showing bigger numbers so I’m hopeful that this is some welcome momentum for the site. The lessons learned for me are to be prepared, and keep at it because you never know when you’ll strike a hit post. It can be done, and anyone with enough smarts and some luck thrown in for good measure can do it.