It’s very rare for me to do a follow-up post on any subject, let alone in such a short timeframe, but my recent post on Viral Nova caused quite a fuss. Pageviews wise, it was the most popular I’ve published this year but more surprising was how many emails and comments the topic received.
Many of them were to let me know about the Facebook click fraud video that’s gone viral and the articles from both Business Insider and Bloomberg on Upworthy losing Facebook traffic . I hope to dispel their claims and more in this follow-up post.
After all, you did ask for it.
Thank you to everyone who does follow me on Facebook, I always appreciate seeing involvement there and try to reply / like any and all relevant comments.
Since the post is a week old now you’re probably wondering if I’ve heard about any successes. I’ve definitely seen a few failures and, yes, I’m happy to announce I’ve seen a few that have started off very successfully as well. All built in the last week.
Someone who launched a website of this style a few months ago left a comment on the previous blog post and shared that his website made $100,000 in one week, just one month after he launched it.
Daniel confirmed that this is Australian dollars so at the current exchange rate that’s about $90,000 USD. I don’t really doubt Daniel’s claim, partly because his comment actually had an avatar and partly because his site actually looked good. However, some people may be suspicious.
Yet, if you look at the Alexa chart for his website, the big spike corresponds with what he wrote in follow-up comments. He had a crazy week of both income and traffic:
For that brief period of time, his website was almost one of the top 1,000 on the entire internet (according to Alexa). Very impressive, Daniel, and thanks for sharing!
I also received some feedback from Danny Chapman who decided to try some “Viral Nova” style advertising on Facebook. Here’s what he shared as a comment on our Facebook page:
I also chatted with him via email where he shared a little more about how he’s getting such good results. He has basically taken the ideas from my posts on this subject and combined them in different ways. So he’s profiting from eBay with Facebook ads and also utilising the Viral Nova style in multiple campaigns.
He states, “I’ve done some work similar to that of Viral Nova in my niche and I’ve gained over 1500 shares on FB for a tenner, not too mention all the other KPI’s.”
A tenner is 10 pounds, if you didn’t get that reference.
One person happily shared their new site on my Facebook page and, since I could see he was making a lot of mistakes, I asked him if I could publicly critique the website here and he obliged.
Edgar just started a website called Flippin Cool after reading my post. Right from the start, I can see some things he’s doing wrong. He said he would like to learn from a critique so let’s get into it (please note that I wouldn’t have done this without his permission).
#1 Remove the Right Sidebar Arrow A.S.A.P
There are some clear statements in the Adsense TOS that state you cannot direct people to click on ads on your website. I know that is not what he is attempting to do but I can easily see Google banning him for this if they catch on.
Please note I warned Edgar of this a few days before the blog post went live because I thought it was that important and he removed it as advised.
#2 An Email Opt-in Form Isn’t Relevant Just Yet
I don’t really like the idea of centering the website in-between two columns but if you’re going to do it, at least make the top left portion of the website more enticing. Nobody is going to give you their email without going through a lot of content first.
Again, I prefer the idea of content being on the left rather than packed between navigation, but at least put something there that entices people to click on more articles or simply share your website via social media. Even just moving your category links here (which are really nicely designed by the way) would be an improvement.
It’s prime real estate, especially when your website is new, so don’t use it for an opt-in box for unconverted site visitors.
#3 Make Your Headlines Bigger
They’re your biggest hook when it comes to building sites like this so make sure that people can actually see them clearly.
#4 Get Rid of the Weird Effects
This is obviously something you would have to test, but I think the two main UI effects which I’ve noticed on the website are too distracting. The first one is the semi-transparent share bar which appears over images. There are times when one of your posts doesn’t even fit on one of my 27″ monitors because they’re so long, and that share bar isn’t helping.
#5 Improve the Content
I guess my final tip is perhaps my most important: Post better content. Even though I don’t really enjoy these kind of sites, I would much rather scroll through Viral Nova or HelloU than come to your website. The meme’s aren’t that great and the implementation is quite sloppy (huge black bars on pictures, some very pixelated, etc.), yet content is the only reason people will come to your site in the first place so you have to work on this.
The other sites I covered do a very good job with their headlines. They actually leave you curious for an answer so you click through to read more “You wouldn’t believe what happened next”.
There are a few more points I could cover but those seem to be the most important to take care of for now. Hopefully that gave Edgar some things to work on and gave you an idea of what is important when it comes to design in this industry.
After the initial post I received dozens of tweets, emails and comments letting me know about a Business Insider slash Bloomberg article that was making its way around the tech web. The essence of the article was that Facebook have made changes to their algorithm which is making it harder for these “Viral nova style” websites to get traffic from the social network.
This is essentially because Facebook have limited how much content from brands will show up in a users news feed.
BI made a very compelling argument, with multiple traffic examples to back it up. The only problem is that it’s a very poorly researched article, written essentially for pageviews. Writing the article for pageviews is fairly ironic, since that’s exactly the type of websites they are covering. Almost anyone I talk to in the business world thinks of business insider as the Buzz Feed of tech blogging.
Visitor numbers are far, far more important to these websites than accuracy. Something you would have found out if you ever read the Daily Mail.
They like to be very sensationalist. Here’s the chart for Upworthy which started off their blog post:
Sorry for the small graph size. That’s the biggest Business Insider provided.
Either way, it shows that Upworthy clearly received a drop in traffic over December compared to November. There’s no disputing that.
There is some disputing room, however, for the conclusions they came to because of this drop. Or rather, the lack of them.
First of all, guess what happens in December? That’s right, Christmas and New Year (or New Year’s Eve if you want to be picky). It is a known-fact that internet traffic decreases over this period of time. It’s just like how, in all likelihood, your website gets more traffic on weekdays then it does on weekends. People are less likely to be on the computer at weekends and holiday periods.
I would say Xmas shopping is an exception to this, but these websites aren’t selling Christmas gifts.
Business Insider used BuzzFeed as an example of a website that is growing in visitor numbers despite the Facebook algorithm changes. They even wrote three blog posts on the subjecting hypothesising why. Yet not in one single article did they show that BuzzFeed also dropped massively in the December period.
One commenter criticising the article also stated that November is the most popular month online, hence the traffic spike. Sadly, despite my own research on this topic, I have no idea what the figures are for the most popular months for internet usage. I tried every term variation I could think of to find the information, but I guess my Google skills just aren’t good enough. If anyone has this data, please do share it in the comments and I’ll include it as an update.
In my searching for the data however, I did for this news article about the Mail Online and the Guardian websites:
“Mail Online topped 80 million monthly online browsers for the first time in November in a busy news period when guardian.co.uk also broke new traffic records.
The UK’s most popular newspaper website continued its remarkable climb with monthly users up by 7.57% compared with October, to 84,977,460 – an increase of 65% compared with November last year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations report published on Thursday. Daily users of Mail Online topped 5 million, an 11.6% climb on the previous month.
Guardian.co.uk, the Guardian News & Media website network that includes MediaGuardian.co.uk, also recorded a rise in traffic last month, with monthly users rising to 63,589,633 in November.
I also found a website called The Drum who also had a record November:
“The November statistic overtakes the site’s previous record of 846,296 visits during the month of September this year. November also recorded 1,340,109 page views and 686,454 unique visitors during the same 30-day period.”
Of course, I could probably find examples like this for any month in the year, but it shows there’s a good chance that November is just a great month across the web. The Mail Online (The Daily Mail) is a great website to compare the figures to, since their numbers also went up and a lot of their content is similar in nature.
Business Insider even asked the Upworthy founder about their supposed traffic drop, and received a very logical response:
“Koechley points out that more people visited Upworthy in December 2013 and January 2014 than they did in October 2013 — so the overall trend is still positive. He’s right. Upworthy had 5 million readers a year ago and has 50 million today.” Why did they take so long to point this out? They don’t want the facts to ruin a good story.
Here’s the fact I see in Quantcast: They’re coming back.
Another company that Business Insider mentioned failing in their article were Elite Daily. They did not show that this is another site well back on the rise in February, up 20% for unique visitors. This would not be happening if Facebook had suddenly crushed their business model. The decline would continue or at least level, but not decrease.
Now, just because I’ve posted these graphs I don’t want you to think I’m telling you there’s nothing to worry about. I don’t want to make the same mistake I possibly made in the last post making this look over simplistic. The truth is when your traffic eggs are primarily in one F-shaped basket, your business model is always going to be at risk.
However, I don’t think any of the reporting from Business Insider should be met with much credibility until a few months further down the line. After all, Business Insider totally forgot they reported on this already, in another light, regarding Viral Nova,
“But DeLong told AllThingsD’s Mike Issac on Twitter that ViralNova’s traffic has only increased since Facebook’s algorithm changes.”
Great headline Business Insider, but poor effort on the research.
Another discussion I feel compelled to comment on is the Click Fraud video that has been circling the web by Veritasium. In the video, which has received 1.3 million views in just 6 days, the speaker shares multiple examples where he has paid for Facebook likes and received a lot of inactive people checking out his page.
The big argument was that while certain fans / likes from some countries were engaging in his page, likes from countries like the Philippines were essentially worthless because their users were not interacting with the page.
This is not the first time Facebook have been accused of Click Fraud. Back in 2012 there was a huge wave of press after one company found that up to 80% of the traffic landing on their website from Facebook ads were simply bots.
The creator of the Veritisium Youtube channel, where the video went viral, stated that he doesn’t actually blame Facebook directly for the inactive clicks. He believes that a lot of the click-farm companies (where you can buy thousands of likes for a relatively cheap price) also click on ‘legitimate’ pages as well to make their own personal profiles look more natural.
Sadly, the video really lacks some important information (and most of it is focused back on incidents from 2012). The fact that one of the examples only had a $25 budget and there’s no specification on whether ads targeted all countries or not.
It’s a really important point because then the easy answer is to just block all of the countries in your ad campaigns which might be causing these issues.
A friend of mine is currently running a campaign in one of these countries and gave me permission to access their campaign data. First of all, here’s a breakdown to the fans of this one specific page:
If you look at the data, you can clearly tell which ad markets the page is targeting:
The stats are fairly conclusive; the page received the exact type of Fans that were being paid for (besides the lone Hungarian). The page is not being inundated with likes from people in the Philippines and India.
Sure, click farms aren’t very nice to have, but it’s very easy to get around paying for inactive likes from third world countries with some simple targeting.
Jon Loomer also wrote a great piece on the video with similar comments. Here’s what he had to say:
“If you target countries that aren’t relevant to you and are known to be havens for click farms, you will end up with a bunch of worthless likes. This isn’t 2012 anymore. You can no longer play ignorant to this.
Likewise, if you target ads very broadly at “cat lovers” don’t expect to get high quality fans. In fact, don’t expect any actual “cat lovers” to respond when you create a completely unrelated post about a scientific experiment.
Your most relevant audience is your actual customers. When you create Facebook ads, you start with them. The further you get away from that center, the less confidence you should have in the results.
Luckily for you, there are plenty of ways to target a highly relevant audience instead of blindly targeting click farm countries and broad, fluffy interests.”
Just to clarify on the Thai example, posts on this page have also been promoted through the “Boost Post” option. This did not affect the countries that the ads were reaching nor did it attract any poor, unengaged readers.
The page is also profitable.
I was emailed by Azzam who wanted to know what the Stack That Money guys thought about the video. I chatted with Mr. Green and here’s what he had to say:
“Does Facebook serve fraudulent clicks and likes through their ad platform? Yes. Do affiliates still make money? Yes. We are still talking $xx,xxx profit per day. Every traffic source has fraudulent traffic (yes, Google too). I guess scare tactic videos like these help affiliates like us, who find out for themselves whether we can get campaigns profitable, instead of waiting for some fictional all go, green lights.”
I’m definitely not trying to claim the platform is perfect here; there are clearly issues. But I hope this doesn’t stop a lot of people from experimenting with ads (please don’t spend more than you’re willing to lose) because they think they’ll get nothing but fake clicks.
Partly because I write such long blog posts on this website, I find myself procrastinating from time to time. It’s because I procrastinate about writing different sections of an article that I end up re-reading the article multiple times instead of just continuing to write. It’s this constant reading that helps me spot 99% of spelling and grammar mistakes. I would say my last post more mistakes than average, so when I’ve made quite a few spelling or grammar mistakes it usually means an article was easier for me to write.
Most of the content came off the top of my head, rather than having to be planned and researched. For example my 5-step strategy plan at the bottom of the original post is not something I had to go and study; it was very easy and quick to write.
This also means that I didn’t talk about some things as in-depth as I should have, and I apologise for that. There were two main things I’m going to make up for now…
I will say that I really don’t know too much about copyright law on the web. I covered it a little for my post on getting file sharers to stop torrenting my software, but I had to do some extra research for this post. I do regret that I didn’t cover this subject more in the original post.
The comments from ViperChill readers were quite divided. Some had a “this is plain theft and terrible!” outlook while others had the view that “Google did the same thing to build their business or all the big brands do it so it’s OK”.
The main thing that is being copied by all of these sites of course are images from other sources. At times many of them share and dissect Youtube videos but those can be embedded on any site anyway; publishers can turn that off in Youtube settings if they don’t want the video shared.
One website I found discussing the topic of image copyright and infringement online was Zombie Journalism. Their article (website appears to be down) showed that even law makers can be confused by subjects of Copyright but their post has a very clear message: If you don’t have permission, don’t share it.
To stay on the safe side of things when it comes to using images from other websites, get written permission.
Of course, this is something I don’t believe any of these websites are actually doing.
A few years ago (actually, 7 years ago) Sarah Bird, the now CEO of Moz, wrote a really in-depth article on the subject of copyright when it comes to images.
Sarah covered the topic of Fair Use, which I believe is what a number of these sites will claim to be following the guidelines of:
“Section 107 of the Copyright Act abrogates Section 106 by permitting others to use your original works so long as the use is “fair.” To put it more simply, copyright holders don’t really have 100% exclusive rights to their material.”
I did email Sarah for more information on this topic but I’m sorry to say I didn’t get a response. It would have been nice to have a more professional viewpoint.
I sent across a semi-cheeky question over to the Viral Nova founder on Twitter, and here was his response:
After looking at the site, I find that very, very hard to believe but I hope they are trying to make his claim happen.
Why do I find it hard to believe? Well, dozens of their posts simply have no credit at all. This post, this post, this post, this post and so on have no source linked to them anywhere on the page. There’s absolutely no way they own those images.
What I did find interesting was that large brands are doing the exact same thing. I am certainly not an expert on copyright infringement but I am sure that other big companies have done their homework. Companies like Time Magazine and The Huffington Post know whether they can use images from other websites or not. They have lawyers and legal people they can ask about that.
Is this fair use?
All three sites are taking images from one Facebook page and wrapping them in their advertisements.
Please don’t think I’m singling out Viral Nova here, all of these style websites seem to be doing the exact same thing. After Scott’s claim though, I decided to do some digging. On one of their most recent posts they share a graduation photo of a little girl, linking to the source AZ Family. Yet on the AZ family website, their TOS are very clear:
“3.2 Your Right to Use Site Content. You may use the Content only for your personal, non-commercial use, and you may download or print a single copy of any portion of the Content or other downloadable items displayed on the Services only for your personal, non-commercial use, provided you do not remove or modify any trademark, copyright, or other notices contained in that Content. You may not modify, copy, publish, upload, post, transmit, sell, create new works based upon, or distribute the Content or the Services in any manner without our written authorization”
Notice the non-commercial use part. The images are not only being used personally and I find it hard to believe that VN went out and got that written authorization, as with the hundreds of other sites using their image.
Something that also came to my attention recently was the problems people may be having with Google Adsense, which is the main source of income for many of these websites, including Viral Nova. Spencer Haws purchased a Pinterest-style website which also curates a lot of content. Unfortunately because of the content, Google sent him this:
I do have to wonder how the others haven’t been “caught”. Making Google too much money, perhaps?
In the original post I stated that if you want to give yourself the best chance of success in this industry then make sure you have a budget of at least $500. Judging by some feedback I have received, some people think that number is a little low and suggest at least $1,000. They may very well by right, but I would say that even just $100 is good to see if your campaigns are generating any results in terms of likes, shares and Facebook traffic.
A large part of what I do on this blog is to motivate people to take action. There’s a fine line between motivation to help people and giving false hope. I genuinely, from the bottom of my heart, see no reason why some people reading ViperChill will not have great success with this. A few have already had great success with it, but I don’t want to position it like it’s the easiest thing in the world.
It’s going to take some work.
Scotts comment is interesting, albeit odd. After all, there literally are hundreds if not thousands of websites having success with this business angle. He definitely wasn’t the first – and has a clear incentive to not want people to build more sites in this industry – but he’s right in that I probably over simplified things.
Though, I did mention multiple times that if you were to venture down this road then it’s something you’re going to have to take seriously. I made comments like, “If you’re going to really give this a serious shot” and “Again, if you’re going to be fairly serious about this then I expect your budget to be fairly large”.
I would say that if you’re not getting results like Danny and many others and not willing to fail 100 times before figuring your Facebook ads and your angle out, this venture is almost certainly not for you. A very common theme throughout my interview with the STM guys is that you have to keep going if you’re going to make it in paid advertising. You have to see your investment as a learning experience.
That being said, if a tactic keeps getting banned in Google and you keep following it without making any money, it would be silly to keep trying that tactic. There are often clear signs that that what you’re doing just isn’t going to work.
With all that in mind, there are two things I truly believe:
With your own time availability, budget and potential dedication to a project like this, you should know for yourself whether it’s an online business you should get involved in.
Within any industry, there are going to be ways to branch off from the main audience focus and cement yourself as a leader in a smaller niche market. I definitely see the potential to do that with these viral-content type websites.
Angle #1: ¿Entiende usted?
One option is to focus on something other than English. Some of the success stories I’ve been emailed about in the last few days are doing exactly this in countries you probably wouldn’t even think about.
A good example is all of the clones on Facebook for the website 9Gag, which have been posting 9Gag content in different languages.
There’s the Malaysian 9 Gag:
There’s the Thai 9 Gag:
There’s also the Singapore 9Gag:
There’s also a lot more 9Gag translators out there. This should give you a small glimpse that people all over the world are finding this style of content interesting, so if you’re able to write in another language then there may be a market for you to tap with a lot less competition.
Angle #2: Go Niche
There is definitely the opportunity present to use this style of content and focus on specific niches. A good example is the Facebook page and website named Do You Even inspired by the phrase “Do you even lift?” which seems to be pretty popular online these days.
The official page for the website has over half a million likes right now and half of that figure are actually talking about the page.
There are even other pages with the same name with impressive follower counts:
I’ve seen successful pages like this – where you make meme’s relevant to your industry – about cooking, motorbike enthusiasts and even surfing. People go nuts for these kind of jokes when they’re related to something they have a real passion for, and they share them with other people who have that same passion.
You do have to wonder how good it is for younger generations (or even current generations) to be constantly exposed to this style of content. On one hand, we’re pretty much hard-wired to have our buttons pushed in the same way, so maybe there’s nothing we could do about it anyway? After all, liking the same things is why content can actually go viral.
I’m seeing more websites than ever using their type of headlines to get traffic. Business Insider is a good example. Even if they have always been on the fairly sensationalist side, their efforts in the headline and angle departments have ramped up ten-fold in the last year.
Similarly, the most popular Bitcoin blog, Coindesk (which is growing ridiculously fast) is also deploying these kinds of headlines on their updates:
This isn’t new and this isn’t to say that we’re doomed. People still read in-depth articles on topics they care about. This article is a good example. There’s a good chance that nobody in your immediate family would be interested in this, but here you are reading it.
I don’t think many companies, besides the exception of perhaps BuzzFeed, get into this type of online business and plan to be in it for the long run. I very much see it as a wave people are riding and when Facebook or Adsense cut off their traffic and revenue, there will be nothing sufficient to replace either company. Unless StumbleUpon suddenly grows their userbase by the hundreds of millions, the Facebook wave is the only option.
And wow – at least for now – these are some really big waves…