The Cold, Hard Truth About Receiving 16,937 New Visitors In One Day (or Is Viral Traffic Worth It?)


If you’re not interested in the behind-the-scenes of what happens if one of your blog posts goes viral then please skip this article. If you have a blog, or are just interested in this sort of thing, this is for you.

My last article, 21 Reasons To Quit Your Day Job And Travel The World, hit really big on StumbleUpon:

It’s the first time this has happened on such a large scale to one of my articles and the funny thing is I almost didn’t post that article.

I woke up Monday here in Chiang Mai and didn’t realize it was Monday. Since I posted the first Sweet Shit Saturday article on Saturday my blog posting internal clock was a bit off.

I went about my day and got back to my apartment around 3pm. That’s 4am EST in the US. I post my articles around 7am EST on posting day. (There’s a reason for this which I’ll discuss another day.)

I turned on my computer to do some writing and immediately remembered: “It’s Monday, I need to post an article!” While it’s really no big deal to me if I miss the 7am EST deadline I do like to stick to it to keep that habit going (<– must read article).

I opened up my WordPress Drafts (at any given time I have ~20 draft articles in some stage of completion) and picked a draft called 27 Reasons To Quit Your Day Job, which stood out to me.

The problem was this draft was only 60 words and had only 3 reasons. Some of my other drafts were very near completion, so I had some work to do by choosing this one. Over the next few hours I worked on the article, edited it, and finally decided to make it 21 Reasons instead of 27.

Server Crippling Traffic?

3 hours after posting someone with a big StumbleUpon following Thumbed Up (StumbleUpon lingo) my article and traffic started going nuts. ~2k views in 20 minutes. Thankfully, even though I use a shared server on, my site didn’t go down. (Although it did slow down and the database crapped out for a minute). I have some safeguards in place to handle huge spikes in traffic which I will write about another time.

Tangent: When I first launched this blog I had some problems with Bluehost. At the time I was receiving less than 100 visitors/day. As my traffic increased, their reliability increased. So if you’re looking for a Web host, Bluehost is a good (and very low cost) option.

At about 3,300 views the SU traffic slowed down considerably. I thought to myself, “hmm, well, that was cool!” Then I asked myself “hmm, I wonder if I can keep it going?”

How To Keep The Traffic Going?

I e-mailed some friends, explained what was going on and asked them to Thumb Up the article. As far as I know only 1 person did the Thumbs Up, so I hardly gamed the system. (I’m talking to you StumbleUpon police!)

Then I installed the WP Greetbox Plugin, which greets visitors with a message based on how they come to your site. So new StumbleUpon visitors were greeted with a message similar to: “Greetings fellow Stumbler! If you like this article please give it a Thumbs Up and don’t forget to subscribe to the RSS feed.”

By this time it was late here in Chiang Mai so I went to sleep.

When I woke up the stats more than quadrupled. More people I don’t know were doing the Thumbs Up. According to StumbleUpon itself the article received 14k views that day. But my own internal stats tell me StumbleUpon sent 16,937 unique visitors. I’m not sure why there’s the huge disconnect.

The Surprising Truth About Viral Traffic

I always thought traffic from social sites would be worthless. You know, stick around for 5 seconds and move on. I was dead wrong.

As you can see StumbleUpon visitors stayed for an average of 2 minutes 21 seconds. That rocks! That means that StumbleUpon visitors actually read the article or maybe checked out some other stuff on my site.

In addition to that my RSS subscribers increased by 136, which is about 3-4 times any normal day, so I would attribute ~100 RSS subscribers to StumbleUpon. (Thank you if you found this site on StumbleUpon!)

How To Guarantee Viral Visitors

I’m not sure you can. To be honest, I’ve had tons of articles I thought would do better on StumbleUpon or Digg than 21 Reasons To Quit Your Day Job, but none of them have done much of anything as far as viral traffic goes.

My recommendation is to focus on writing consistently high quality content and don’t worry about viral visitors at all. If they come, it’s a nice bonus. That said, there are things you can actively do that will guarantee you increase traffic to your blog.

How To Guarantee A Consistent Stream Of New Visitors To Your Blog

The big one is guest posting and another one is gift giving. I’ll write about giving gifts another time. It’s something I stumbled onto without even realizing I was doing it. It has nothing to do with buying anybody anything. :)

Guest posting is not easy. Even for me. I’ve had a nice long streak of guest post after guest post being rejected (ignored would be the proper term). Don’t worry, I have thick skin, I’ll be fine. ;)

Wrap Up

1) Viral visitors from StumbleUpon are actually awesome!
2) Don’t focus on trying to get visitors from social networking sites, because you’ll lose track of what’s really important: your current audience/readership.
3) To guarantee new visitors write an article for somebody else’s Web site and submit it as a guest post. You’re much more likely to get traffic this way than via social networking sites.
4) Give gifts. (Any guesses to what I mean by this? Comment below…)


  1. Rock on! I’ve been thinking about installing the WP-GreetBox plugin for a while. I might just get around to it now that you mention it.

    You got me curious about your high-traffic spike protection strategies, and gift giving. Teaser extraordinarie, garhgh!

  2. Great write up Karol! I installed WP-Greetbox when I initially made my blog and because of that I have well over a dozen articles with 5k+ stumbles – it also helps to encourage people to retweet, and facebook share and so on. (Side note: since I don’t know when Baker is posting the video with me, I’ve added a greeting from his URL that his readers would appreciate; it means I don’t have to immediately jump on creating a special post for that, when it does come up, and will do the same if I know a big site will mention mine in future).

    Just one thing I’d point out – to my knowledge, people with a big following don’t really influence something going viral in SU that much, even though their posts will be stumbled more. It’s not like Digg for example, with its power users. Those who first pressed the buttons for my posts to go viral did not have many previous stumbles or friends. I don’t know how their algorithm works, but I’d say it’s more complex than that.

    I think your post fits the category very well, and lists seem to attract stumbleupon visitors more than bulky posts. My Irish-English post was stumbled in the “travel” category, but I think I would have gone way beyond just 20 seconds average if it would have been in the “linguistics” category (but unfortunately, that will not be in so many people’s preferences as a category they’d like to stumble).

    What has been fantastic is the flowover from my stumble traffic. Because I have links to the next posts at the top of my current post, I have actually gotten thousands of hits to adjacent posts, which I do actually think represent my best writing more accurately.

    I’m glad SU has helped your subscriber numbers – it hasn’t done that so much for me yet, but I would never complain because the small fraction that DO decide to stick around or share it on facebook etc. are what make the difference. I quite like that tip of the iceberg from stumbleupon ;)

    My own host is Dreamhost – I moved to them even when I had my basic site just showing embedded videos, on a dirt-cheap host, when one of my posts went viral on meneame (the Spanish version of Digg) and my monthly bandwidth was used up in an hour!!! Dreamhost claim to be digg-effect proof and my site has not been slown down at all during traffic spikes, I highly recommend them!

    • Thanks for pointing out that the algorithm is more complex. I guess I should have stated that, and I know it’s not really as simple as what I wrote. But you can see who the first person to stumble your article is and the person who stumbled mine had a lot of SU subscribers/friends. I incorrectly assumed that had something to do with what happened.

  3. Hey Karol,

    Really appreciate you taking the time to write about the inner workings of your blog. I find this stuff really helpful. You mentioned that you’re going to write about why you post at 7am EST and other things along those lines in the future. All I can say is that I am eagerly awaiting such posts.

    Keep up the good work buddy.

    • Thanks Jason!

      It’s so good to hear you find this type of stuff helpful. Sometimes I’m not sure whether I should post certain articles and it’s good to know when I make a correct decision. :)


  4. Having discovered your blog through said viral explosion, I thought it fitting I comment here. :)

    Congrats on that article taking off from under you! It was a very poignant, concise, relavent and easy flowing article! Well put together, however last minute it may have been. I’m looking forward to reading about your ‘gift giving’ techniques and the reasons behind you ungodly early posting as well (ungodly only because I’m on the West Coast).

    • Thank you for finding me via StumbleUpon Andi!

      An article about giving gifts is coming soon, although my goal is to get it published as a guest post on a much bigger blog.


  5. Consistently masterful organization, editing, and presentation in your blog. Thank you for keeping it simple, clear, and always interesting.

    • Thanks for playing Damien! You’re close, but far. ;) Highlighting other blogs is definitely a form of giving gifts though it’s not what I’m talking about.

  6. Karol, congrats then! ;)

    Have you noticed if after the inital spike if you’re RSS subscribers are dropping? Or is it staying consistent?

    That’s pretty damn cool.

    • RSS subs have fallen a little from 3 days ago. Attrition is normal, but assuming all unsubscribes were from StumbleUpon I’m still RSS positive from the viral traffic. And I know I have new awesome readers because of comments/e-mails from Stumblers, so I’m thrilled with the situation. :)

  7. You again surprise me Karol with a new side to your blog! Not only do you write passionately about a most amazing lifestyle, you aren’t afraid to get down into the nitty-gritty of how things work and for that matter, how things don’t. Thanks for a consistently outstanding blog!

  8. Yet another exemplary posting/gift. So much meat on the bone.

    I’ll be curious to read your post on ‘gifting’–and about that 7 am posting thing. I’ll keep my guess on that one to myself just now.
    In the interim, I view/revel in your entire blog as a gift.–and a rather ridiculously extraordinary one at that!
    In The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran proposes that ” It is when you give of yourself that you truly give”, and so it is with you.
    I love how you share so many aspects of your life and knowledge. We get to interact with a whole human being–not just someone with their web business game face on–as if you transmitted a hologram rather than a one dimensional, flat cardboard cut-out.
    And that has much greater value than any e-book–in my seldom to be humble opinion.

  9. Hi Karol,

    Thanks for the inside look. I think your directive of “focus on writing consistently high quality content and don’t worry about viral visitors at all” is right on the money — if the content is good the world will share it for you.

    But I do have to say that there are benefits for deliberately writing an occasional post that lends itself to viral sharing (namely provocatively-titled lists.). My two biggest hits (the most recent one delivered 100,000 SU hits in a week!) were both big lists, and I knew they would be SU hits before I published them. Both have brought me loads of regular readers (and an embarrassingly high bounce rate) and I’m glad I wrote them.

    These SU favorites continue to have occasional re-explosions, even months later, and it seems that the trickle of visitors never fully ceases.

    There is a very predictable pattern to what takes off on SU: easily digestible posts with attention-grabbing headlines, that make you nod your head in agreement. I think it’s worth harnessing that pattern, because it can bring people who will be interested in more than just that type of post. I intend to publish something SU-sympathetic about once a month. The benefits are too great to ignore.

    • StumbleUpon isn’t about selling. It’s just cool to get lots of traffic to a blog post. And it’s also cool to see that that traffic is beneficial and not just an ego boost.

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