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It’s so easy to think that all of the best ideas have already been thought of, but then each year something else comes along that makes you go “why didn’t I think of that?” Whether it’s Pinterest, Snapchat or even Flappy Bird, it’s amazing that new ways to communicate and play are still being “invented”. One such example that I want to share with you today is simply about giving crack to Facebook users and becoming rich because of it.
Not actual crack, of course, but crack in the form of content that they just have to share with their friends on the world’s most popular social network. What’s more amazing is that your website can look terrible, you don’t have to get any of your own images or write any of your own content, and you can be up and running with traffic in the next 12 hours. Don’t believe me? I have more than one example. Let’s go…
A few weeks ago someone tweeted an article to me on Business Insider entitled “Why Viral Nova Might Sell“. If you haven’t heard of Viral Nova yet, then what I’m about to say might get you as curious as I was when I saw the website was for sale: It was founded in May 2013 and by December 2013 it hit over 100 million unique visitors for that month alone. I have a feeling that the audience here is not likely to be the type that have been sharing their posts on Facebook, but you may have recently found them in your Facebook stream.
Here’s a very simple gist of what Viral Nova are doing:
And I’m sure you’re going to click over to the site eventually, but here’s an example of some of those headlines:
The end result is content that Facebook users love to share in the tens of thousands for every post.
In just a few weeks since I first heard about this website they’ve went from having 900,000 fans (likes) on Facebook to just over 1.1 million. I know it’s not rare to see pages with millions of fans, but keep in mind that this site was only launched back in May of 2013 and almost instantly started receiving millions of website visitors.
The website founder, Scott De Long, is just 31 years old and has years of successful website flipping under his belt. In an interview with Business Insider he stated that he’s easily making six-figures per month and Business Insider estimates that he made $400,000 in December alone.
As mentioned, every single article I’ve looked at on the website is simply taken from other sources…images included. There’s a good reason they have a DMCA link in the bottom of their website, they don’t own and didn’t create any of the content they’re making all of this money from.
Reddit seems to be a good source of content inspiration:
It’s not like Scott De Long is alone in his idea to copy content from other websites though. Sites like 9Gag, I Can Has Cheezburger and many others have been doing so for a really long time.
Here are the Google search results for the title of an IMGUR post that was released just 8 days ago:
One image that went viral is now on millions of websites, not limited to those with names like SRSLulz, FunnyPictureQuotes.com, GagsArea, I Can Has Cheezburger, Funri, 4Chan and many more.
Even after recent Facebook changes, which many similar site owners expected would reduce traffic to their news articles, Viral Nova seems to be thriving.
“Facebook just changed its NewsFeed algorithm to highlight high quality content on Facebook, rather than dinky links from websites that try and game it. ViralNova arguably tries to game Facebook, hence its ability to scale to 100 million monthly visitors in just eight months.
But DeLong told AllThingsD’s Mike Issac on Twitter that ViralNova’s traffic has only increased since Facebook’s algorithm changes.”
As I said earlier, I first heard about the site when it was up for sale. Anyone who has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in a short span of time and wants to sell their website either needs a quick influx of cash or doesn’t think it’s going to make money for much longer.
Now, it’s important that we’re not so quick to judge. I looked into the site owners past and he has a history of building and selling websites, with such examples being:
Without a doubt, he is one of the most successful individuals I’ve ever heard of when it comes to profiting online. That’s exactly why I don’t understand his comments on wanting to sell the website because he doesn’t want to handle staff and an office. Having an office is obviously not compulsory of course in an age where you can hire virtual assistants for a small fee. Even 37 Signals (now rebranded to Basecamp) make millions of dollars every month and the majority of their staff have never met each other.
Here are his exact words (Twitter embeds below, sorry if they don’t work in your RSS reader or email inbox):
@ajs Well, if you consider 16 hours a day – every weekend – and nonstop problems to tackle all alone "lazy"… then yes.
— Scott DeLong (@scottintheworld) January 14, 2014
@ajs If I took weekends off, that means I'm scheduling "rushed" content for the weekend. That has lasting negative effects.
— Scott DeLong (@scottintheworld) January 14, 2014
Other tweets of his states that he doesn’t want to get investors, start an office and all that kind of thing. Well, first of all, he’s already hiring freelancers to run the site (just two, I should add) so I see absolutely no reason why he can’t simply get more.
What would two full-time American staff, who get to work from home, cost? $2,000 a month each? $3,000-$5,000 if you want someone with a more impressive CV? Either way, they’re not likely to even make a dent in the profits he seems to be pulling in from the website.
I totally understand the argument of wanting to sell websites and choosing something new to focus on, but there is absolutely no reason I can think of that he needs to be working 16 hours per day, weekends included, to keep the site going. It’s not like they’re having to come up with original articles. Everything else was another person’s original work.
This article wouldn’t give you much hope or doing the same if I didn’t show you other examples of sites that are experiencing massive growth due to employing very similar tactics.
Example #1: Distractify
This is another website which has only just been created in recent months and is receiving a huge amount of traffic from Facebook:
Example #2: Bored Panda
I didn’t actually discover this website on Facebook, Diggy had actually sent me a link to one of their articles on the best places to live, but with a 1,800 Alexa Rank and their latest article with 78,000 views, they’re clearly doing well.
Bored Panda is definitely one of the uglier sites I’ve seen trying to capitalise on the Facebook market but my experience tells me that ugly sites tend to convert pretty well when it comes to ad clicks. Especially when their navigation bar is nothing but Adsense ads.
Example #3: Hello U
HelloU describe themselves as your daily feel good digest. I have no doubt the site owners are feeling amazing every day when they check how much money they made on Adsense while they were sleeping.
Example #4: UpWorthy
Upworthy, which seems to have a name inspired by Reddit’s “upvote” system, is quite possibly bigger than Viral Nova at this moment in time and seems to have a more professional approach to this industry.
Before I get into the ethics and legality of running a website like this, I must stress that if you are going to attempt to get into this niche then you have to act fast.
Here’s reason number one: It took Viral Nova just a month to reach millions of visitors.
Keep in mind that Compete only tracks US visitors so no doubt a few million came from other countries as well. Especially when Compete only shows 10 million people for December yet they reached over 100 million.
Here’s reason number two: Websites starting right now are still banking hard.
From what I can tell, based on my Terminator-like eyesight, that spike has hit around the end of January, early February, so I think there’s still a lot of room for competitors. Obviously there’s going to come a point though when even hardcore Facebook users are overloaded with similar pages to follow, and they’ll stick with what they’re reading already.
The people that are interested in the idea have probably already started thinking of domain names. This section is probably quite pointless as I’m sure you’ve already decided if you’re going to try and build a site like this or not.
For me personally, I did try this idea on a very small scale after reading the Business Insider article and…it worked. Surprisingly well. I’ll get to the steps in a minute.
Although it worked, it’s not really a business model I want to focus on. There is a lot of money to be made, but I also have too many projects on my plate to give it a serious shot. No doubt the thing that is going to keep you earning money is the continual posting of new click-bait articles on Facebook every single day. I’ve barely had time to work on our XXX niche case study site so I’ll probably not go any further than my initial testing.
It’s not the most ethical way to make a living – after all, the content is unlikely to be “yours” – but it hasn’t stopped the hundreds of people who have built these types of websites already and the thousands that are no doubt coming in the next few months. I can’t really say too much about the audience because it’s just not me. I really don’t find myself clicking on those types of articles on Facebook. I’m busy enough as it is and don’t really need any more distractions.
However, there’s clearly a very, very large market of people who spend a lot of time on Facebook and just want something to read. And by these figures, using the phrase “very very large market” is no doubt an understatement.
If it’s not for you, then you can stop reading right around this point. I hope you found the blog post interesting and found it a nice break from my over-analytical SEO posts.
If you think you might actually give this a shot though, let me tell you how I would go about doing things.
Step 1: Pick a Simple Brand Name
It doesn’t have to be anything special but keep in mind it should be used for your website and your Facebook page. Bored Panda is a name that’s enough to get you into the top 1,000 of Alexa so really don’t stress this part too much. It’s more important that you actually get the site up and running as soon as possible.
Random suggestions from the top of my head include Viralocity, Tissues Required (if you’re going for the emotional story angle like Mothers and Sons being reunited) and Clicktastic. Like I said, I really don’t think this matters too much. Nameboy.com is a good resource to check out if you’re struggling though.
Step 2: Set-up Your Site & Facebook Page
I’m not going to go into a lot of depth about web hosting here so just go and pick whichever hosting company that has some sort of credibility. While not everyone has had the best experiences with DreamHost, Hostgator and Bluehost, you’re unlikely to go far wrong with one of those options.
If you’re going to really give this a serious shot then pick a hosting company you can grow with. One that offers both VPS and Dedicated Servers so if your site takes off, you don’t need to worry about moving it elsewhere. I have no doubt that click-happy Facebook users aren’t too patient for a website to load so definitely install the usual caching plugins and follow my supercharge WordPress guide.
As far as your Facebook page goes, starting with the basics should be enough. That means making sure you have a cover photo, profile picture and some updates which don’t include links.
Step 3: Follow the Competition, Backwards
We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here so the easiest option is to look for some of the most popular articles on sites that are already adopting this kind of strategy. I’ve mentioned four above which should give you an easy starting point.
What I would do personally is head on over to Viral Nova and use their pagination at the bottom of the homepage to go back to their first ever articles back in May. Chances are that the internet has forgotten about those stories and it’s your chance to revive them. Take time to note which articles received the most shares and likes (where applicable) so you’re not wasting time copying stories that didn’t get much social traffic.
Step 4: Set-Up A Facebook Ad Campaign
As I mentioned previously, I did try this strategy so please listen to me when I say it’s better to promote the page itself than it is your individual posts. I paid for ads towards a page (in the form of Page Likes) which is fairly typical but also used the “boost” option where Facebook allows you to promote posts to people who like your page and their friends.
Since my page didn’t have too many likes when I did this it really didn’t work out too well. What has been really interesting to me is that I stopped the campaign almost two weeks ago and I’m still getting 2-5 likes every single day. I know that’s not a huge number, but when you factor in that I only promoted three articles and spent less than $15 then it’s actually quite surprising, if not impressive.
I have a huge post on how to go about setting up Facebook ads here.
Again, if you’re going to be fairly serious about this then I expect your budget to be fairly large. The more money you can put into this to get your brand started, the better. The lowest investment I would suggest anyone make is around $500. If you don’t have that budget to start promoting your page via Facebook ads then I possibly wouldn’t start.
I’m sure there is someone who could make it work on a smaller budget, but you’re not going to make it very easy for yourself.
There are other social media platforms you can advertise on like LinkedIn, StumbleUpon and even Twitter have their own ad platform now, but since the majority of traffic is likely to come from Facebook their platform is where I would spend most of my time.
Step 5: Track, Test, Repeat
As with any internet marketing campaign, it’s important that you’re tracking what actually works and what doesn’t. With enough articles you’re quickly going to see which ones people like to share and which ones don’t get much social action. I would say that the majority of your time should be spent on crafting titles that get people to click through to your website.
As far as testing goes, don’t always be satisfied that you’ve found the perfect formula to get traffic. Always be testing new angles but keep an eye and strong focus on what is clearly working.
Then it’s simply a matter of repeating what you’ve done already. I don’t expect that you would have to keep buying ads on Facebook for very long. Once your initial budget is used up then you should have an audience which are going to like and share your posts, meaning you will reach their friends on Facebook for free. Assuming that your content (read: headlines) are good enough.
What do you think about building this kind of website? Is it something you’re going to try? If you have any questions, I’ll give any advice in the comments since I won’t be amongst your competition. Normal SEO posts will be coming soon…