How to Encourage Viral Serendipity on Your Blog

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Last week, a post of mine about a 12-day Cool Whip experiment started to take-off on Facebook, being shared more than 1,400 times and driving some nice traffic. That led to better search rankings and a lot more organic traffic a/k/a the traffic gift that keeps on giving.

Thing is….that post is nearly 3 years old!

What gives?

It’s all about creating opportunities for what I call “viral serendipity.”

About a month back, following the lead of my friend, blogger and author of The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin, I quietly added a “Best Of” page to the top navigation on this blog.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I was looking to accomplish a few goals:

  • Make it easier for people to go deeper into my blog and read more
  • More easily discover the most compelling posts from a library of more than 550,
  • Better segment the most popular content by major topic areas, and
  • Reinvigorate older posts that had great value, but may have hit the blog at a time where my overall traffic and brand were much leaner.

Put another way, I wanted to give visitors, especially newer ones, a way to serendipitously stumble upon my best content with the least amount of work, then nudge them to share it and see if it would get traction in social media.

Thus the term – Viral Serendipity.

So, what happened. Within 72 hours of adding the Best Of page:

  • It became one of the 10 most trafficked pages on the blog.
  • Average time on the page was nearly a minute, which for a page that’s just a listing of other pages is pretty huge
  • The bounce rate from the page was 34%, meaning 66 percent of visitors clicked deeper into the site after visiting the page, and
  • The exit % was 14%, meaning 86% of visitors stayed on the site after hitting this page.

And, I began to notice some relatively abandoned posts, many of them oldies but goodies, were being discovered by new readers, shared and getting a new lease on social media life. Especially in places like stumbleUpon, where a new thumbs up or review from the right person can trigger a lot of new traffic. Social traffic can lead to links, which can lead to improved google juice and sustained organic search traffic.

Does that mean you should all run out and slap up a Best Of page?

Maybe, maybe not. Best Of pages work well for me because they work within the existing structure, design and navigation framework of this site. I didn’t already have a similar feature and I had a logical place to include it in the top navigation on the blog. So, you’ve got to take that into account.

Best Of pages are also just one way to encourage changes in reader behavior like this. Related posts are another example, but not the way most bloggers do it, buried somewhere below the post (like mine, ack!). ScienceDaily.com does a really good job of running parallel related posts to the right of the body of the main content. I’d bet they get way better click-thru rates than the related post positioning on your standard blog, something I’ll likely test soon.

The bigger takeaway is…

Constantly explore new ways to make it easier for readers to discover and share your best stuff, especially content that’s really solid but hit the blog in back in the days when your tribe and traffic were a lot thinner.

Curious whether anyone else has tried this or any other approaches?

Share away in the comments…

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34 responses

34 responses to “How to Encourage Viral Serendipity on Your Blog”

  1. Hi Jonathan,

    This is a wonderful idea. Time to get crackin’ on it now 🙂

    A number of my best posts were written for an audience of crickets. I feel any blogger who is fairly creative had a similar experience. Before our audience grows we put out solid stuff on a consistent basis. Most of the time we have to pass the persistence test, waiting to be discovered while we create away.

    I frequently tweet and FB share some of my better posts but hadn’t thought of including a Page Tab chronicling my up to snuff stuff.

    Thanks for sharing the idea. Have a powerful day!

    RB

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yup, we all have to go through the cricket stage and we’re told you’ve gotta put out great content even then, so it’s nice to be able to bring it back to life.

  2. Seems it’s been a good week for evergreen content. You had a 3 year old post take off, Michael Hyatt had a 1 year old post that got good action. Good stuff is timeless. Like the “best of” idea. Of course, it has to start with creating something worthy of that title, right? Thanks!

    Randy

  3. I did a best of post lately, but had not turned it into a standing page. I saw similar results for the post while it was the most recent one though. Got lots of emails, comments, and Twitter messages from people saying that they had missed posts that were super helpful or entertaining; posts that I had thought people just ignored. Ha!

    You can bet that I’ll be adding a ‘Best of’ page soon though! Awesome idea!!

    PS – I would guess that quite a few blogs might add this feature after reading your post. 😉

  4. Sean Cook says:

    Jonathan,

    Thanks for sharing this idea. I’ve been looking at ways to rotate the more “evergreen” stuff back into the rotation, without basically writing new articles saying the same things differently.

    A solution like this could really help.

    Sean

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Fields, remarkablogger, Grant Griffiths, Tim Brownson, Tony Teegarden and others. Tony Teegarden said: RT @remarkablogger: RT @jonathanfields How to Create Viral Serendipity on Your Blog http://bit.ly/gkw7Vt (pls RT) […]

  6. Tim Brownson says:

    I’ve had a best off option for a while now, but here’s what I’m interested to know.

    Do you put in the posts that you think are best, or the ones that generate most comments?

    I am terrible at judging which posts of mine will do well and what I think are my better posts are often not seen that way by others, or so it would seem.

    • Mark Silver says:

      I’m really interested in this question, too- how did you choose? Probably a selection of both, eh?

      • Amy Oscar says:

        Ditto to the two Qs above, and this: Did you let people know the “Best Of” option was there or did readers just naturally migrate to it? Curious. Thanks, by the way. Another great post.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      That was the toughest part. I didn’t want to just set a default metric, so I actually went through all 500+ posts and pulled the ones (1) I had a strong personal connection to, (2) I felt had the most value, (3) generated serious conversation in the comments (though, for posts that were early in the life of the blog, there was no conversation, so I guessed which ones would’ve generated serious conversation), (4) were shared a lot across social media, or (5) some random combination of channeling, voodoo, quantum physics and metabolic calculations.

      It took a lot more work to curate the whole thing by hand, because my library is fairly large, but I felt it should be more of a hand-picked colletion than a wrote line-up.

  7. Dom says:

    Thanks Jonathan for this – it’s a timely reminder for me to make my older content more accessible to new visitors.

    Have a great weekend.

  8. Sachit Gupta says:

    I’m curious – did you experiment with the title of the link – ‘Best of’, ‘New Here?’, ‘Start Here’, ‘New? Start Here’, ‘Recommended Reading’ etc.? Might be going too granular, but I wonder if that makes a difference on the number of clicks.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      I didn’t, but I may well do that.

      I’ve done it with some of the other navigation headings and seen changes in traffic that blew me away (will share this in another post soon). It’s amazing how much a small change can make

  9. Kevin Kruse says:

    Jonathan, thanks for sharing this. I AM going to go add Best Of to my site. 🙂

    Also, how do you do the timed fade-in box on your site. A plug-in or custom code? Thanks!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      It’s custom-coded, but you are free to grab the code (view source in your browser) and modify it for your own use

  10. Love this idea – both as a writer and a reader.

    As a writer, it means the posts I slave over get a second chance at life instead of being snuffed out within 24-hrs of their publish date.

    As a reader, I love sites that make it easy for me to do a taste test by offering up a well-curated sampler of the best posts on the blog.

    Another, complementary way to accomplish this is by re-purposing old posts into new posts. For instance, a collaborative blog I write for ran a series of “road trip” posts this past summer. Each week, we dedicated one day to highlighting our favorite posts from the archive. We organized them by topic and the result was well-received by our readers. Another suggestion is to do a “wrap-up” on a series of posts. After you’ve published a series of posts as individual items, put up a single post that summarizes the whole series and includes links back to the older posts.

    The bottom line – be kind to your content. Don’t leave it languishing in the basement of your blog. Bring it up into the light and let it shine! 😉

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yup, that’s part of the reason I did it, too. I find it really helpful when I discover a new blog as a reader.

  11. caitlyn says:

    Just recently added the sidebar widget that lists and automatically updates using the posts with the most comments. Erroneously named the “most popular” posts. Of course, they are only the most commented upon.

    One such post had myself and a reader exchanging ideas back & forth several times … it was popular with us, but not necessarily the most popular with others.

    I get feedback in multiple ways – a facebook thumbs up (or 20!) doesn’t translate into comments on the blog page, for instance. Especially, now that I have my “funny” drawings in my posts there is lots more, “come see” going on.

    I’ll be looking at a “best of” page. I have hundreds of posts to choose from and I can see in my analytics which ones continue to drive traffic. Makes sense. Thanks.

  12. Jim Bessey says:

    I really like this simple/effective idea, Jonathan.

    A few weeks back I changed the way I display “top 5 posts on…” to include thumbnails & titles, updated each week. Traffic to these is certainly up, tho I’m really only helping the posts that don’t need the help?

    I’m going to try your way, too — simple enough to do, and not disruptive to my site’s design.

    Muchos Gracias, Senor!

  13. Re: “I began to notice some relatively abandoned posts, many of them oldies but goodies, were being discovered by new readers, shared and getting a new lease on social media life.”

    First off, I love the way you phrased that: “a new lease on social media life.” It’s always a great feeling when one of your old posts starts gaining some traction again because a new reader stumbled across it.

    I’ve used the “Popular Posts” plugin in the past as well as the “Linked Within” Plugin. I noticed that they both did a pretty good job of driving people to older posts on my site that hadn’t been visited in a while. This is great of course but I didn’t like the Link Within plugin’s position after a while so I removed it. I also didn’t feel like the content was always relevant.

    I’ve since removed the Popular Posts plugin too and instead added a “Must Reads” section to my sidebar as a text widget and added a “Best Of” page. I have sat down to really look at my stats as I try not to obsess over things but what I have noticed is a stead increase in subscribers both via rss and email. I placed subscription options prominently on my “Best Of” page.

    Anyway, great work on writing yours up Jonathan! Pretty good insight into how you constructed it and how it’s driving traffic in and around the site. I dig it!

  14. Jane says:

    I’m impressed at how much effort you put in to creating the Best Of (your answer to those who asked how you determined what to include).

    What I like about this is that it gets away from what isn’t great about blogs. People treat the content as ephemeral. But why should good stories or advice get lost to yesterday and beyond?

    I often browse the archives of sites like CopyBlogger.

    Good content is timeless after all.

    And congrats!

  15. Maggie Mae says:

    Great timing for me. Just migrated to wordpress and took on a co-authoring “job” on a highly recognized and well-traveled site in my niche. This would be a good time for me to investigate the same. Thanks!

  16. […] How to Encourage Viral Serendipity on Your Blog […]

  17. Thanks Jonathan for the idea !
    I used a “Related posts” plugin for a while, but was not so happy about it since it sometimes suggested bad or “not-so-good” articles.

    So I just created a “Best of” page in the form of suggestions for a newcomer. The funny thing is that I even discovered good articles that I had totally forgotten !

    (And by the way, I really like your blog)

  18. Dr. Chris says:

    At humbleobserver.net, I write about the unconventional wisdom of health. Health is broken into body, mind, and spirit. Body is further broken into movement (which includes exercise, postures, and activities of daily living), diet, and toxins.

    As I write material, I find it difficult in thinking about how I want to format the material so it is easily navigatable. I think a “start here” section would be great, but not sure if it’s the best way.

    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

  19. Milo says:

    Jonathan – fantastic idea. It really struck me what a great resource your best of page is. Have you thought about compiling the posts into a free e-book that people could download, and share? I’d love to be able to read all that info from a PDF rather than spending a long time in the browser. Just a thought!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Milo,

      Funny you mentioned that, I’m actually very likely to do something like create ebook collections based on some of the best of posts. The exercise of curating the posts for the Best Of page was a great first step in that direction

  20. Liv says:

    Great idea, Jonathan! I recently put up a Best Of page on my own blog, inspired by you. We’ll see what happens…

  21. Thank you! I’ve had a “Top 20” box on my sidebar…but I’ve always wanted a way to ‘honor’ posts that really stand out and that readers continue to talk about and refer to. So you inspired me to do a separate “Best Of” page! I’ve still got to make it look pretty…but there’s no better time than the present to simply get it out there. So appreciate the encouragement, Jonathan!

  22. Just discovered your blog. Like it. What a range…
    Good writing, interesting to me, topics. I liked your “Best Of” idea. I have a blog I’ve worked very hard on for over 2 years. It’s the quality of my posts that I focus on and I’m not good at getting it out there, increasing traffic that is (I have noticed tho’ that if someone #1’s me, I get a bump from that). So, I’ve built my readership the long, slow hard way.
    I’ll be back to look for your tips!
    Thanks.