Creating a successful content website entails setting up a website, create attention-grabbing content, get a flow of traffic and eventually sit back relax as you get ready to collect your returns. That, however, is easier said than done.
Just like all other life endeavors, making a huge success online takes some effort. It is not a pipe dream but very doable albeit with quite a number of sacrifices and challenges.
This case study revolves around Scott how he managed to build ViralNova.com from zero to a $100m realm of business. That is seemingly an insurmountable accomplishment putting in mind that he launched the website in May 2013. It is been only 5 years!
By going through this guide, you will be equipped with tricks that can help you build a huge online blog empire like Scott’s, regardless of being a beginner.
It, therefore, goes without saying that we will have to cover a list of subtopics laid down below
- Scott’s Success Story(you might need to see the scope of ViralNova)
- How he (Scott) built ViralNova from ZERO to $100m + and how you can do that too.
- How to find Viral Content
- How to promote viral contentHow to write Socially Viral content
- How to monetize your websiteSummary on how you can replicate Scott’s story
- Designing Impacts overall strategy (Socially Viral WordPress theme)
Well, now it is time to drop the needle and let us get dancing!
Scott DeLong & The ViralNova.com Website
Crux: Scott is that normal guy, who saw an opportunity and seized it quickly. He is also a hard worker with zealous determination.
According to Fortune.com’s Erin Griffith, “…the rise of ViralNova is the stuff of Internet folklore,” and after reading this story, you will agree to that. On another normal day, ViralNova was just one of the many ways Scott could have chosen to avoid boredom.
Surprisingly, a couple of months after its launch, ViralNova was already making Scott thousands of dollars through ad revenue. The website has since then grown from a barely known blog to a multi-million dollar one-man empire without having to create a product or the websites very own original content.
Photo Credits: ViralNova
Born in the middle 80’s in the small town of Uhrichsville, Ohio, Scott DeLong was brought up by his mother, a homemaker and his stepfather, a trucker. He joined Kent State University and graduated in 2004 just a year into the launch of WordPress.
Scott got his first job at a marketing company known as Karcher Group, in North Canton and worked as an SEO. As we all know, most first jobs tend to pay peanuts and Scott used to live with his parents at the time as opposed to now when he can afford a mansion.
Scott DeLong’s Turning Point
2005 in the summer, that is Scott DeLong’s turning point. As he was perusing through SitePoint, a website popularly known for developers, he discovered a ‘for-sale’ listing that included dumpalink.com, a website that made $30,000 per month from ad revenue.
That kind amount of money is way bigger than Scott DeLong’s yearly paycheck and to Scott, that was a revelation.
With renewed inspiration weeks later, Scott came up with Nothing Toxic. The website published fascinating videos of skateboarding accidents, car wrecks and many other bloopers obtained from all over the internet. The website steamed up and began making $8,000 in a month from ad revenues as by December 2005.
Photo Credits: Bing
Later on, Scott quit his job and focused to grow Nothing Toxic until 2007 and sold 80% of the company’s stake to a Russian organization. One year later, Scott and the company decided to sell Nothing Toxic for around $800,000 to Break Media. At that time, that was quite a good amount of money.
Mywickedspace.com that served decorations for Myspace pages closed down when Facebook was invented. Celebparasite.com reigned superiority until TMZ outgrew it to become the popular source for sizzling celebrity gossips.
Scott then sold Godvine, which at the time was used to upload videos to devoted Christians, to Salem Communications by the end of 2012 in a deal worth $4.2 million.
The Birth of ViralNova
Towards the middle of 2013, ViralNova was born as an advanced version of Godvine. ViralNova was meant to be a broader version but without the religious tie. However, ViralNova performed under par for some time of the year contrary to what Scott had expected.
During the interview with Bloomberg Business by Felix Gillette, Scott claimed that he was worried that he had aimed too much by going for a broader portion of Facebook’s traffic.
However, there was a game-changing moment in January. Traffic from Facebook rose with a surge when a photo post about ‘a man on a beach’ recycled from DailyMail received around 1.5 million unique views in just one day. Scott’s pieces that had seemed to fall apart began pulling back in place with posts attracting millions of page visitors regularly.
Photo Credits: ViralNova
Scott, attributed the rapid surge in traffic to newly incorporated algorithms at Facebook not knowing that a similar change would also come back around and bite him in terms of reduced or lost traffic just a year later.
Before Scott had a chance to enjoy his new profound fame, there was a flood of knockoffs that emerged on the internet like Viral Viral Pictures, Viral Forest and Viral Circus all of which took the center stage. At that moment, competition became stiff but most of these websites were mere copycats and fell off with shame due to sheer lack of authenticity.
Evolution of ViralNova
From Alyson Shontell sentiments, “…the stress of running a one-person start-up became too much…” for young Scott. “His website was running on a bare-bones version of WordPress; ViralNova had so much traffic that any widget DeLong tried to add would break his site. And although ViralNova was netting DeLong millions of dollars personally, he was working 16 hours every day, even on weekends,” she added.
That was not healthy at all. Scott received multiple offers but chose to shake hands with Sean Beckner, a prominent entrepreneur from New York City. Sean had offered to buy a huge portion of ViralNova and after months of detailed discussions, Scott decided to take his deal.
Sean Becker now became the new ViralNova’s CEO. He brought along an executive team that consisted of Jeff Geurts, a CFO, Shaun Tilford, a CTO, and Ryan Elledge, the VP. Tilford pioneered the development of a custom CMS, which is currently referred to as Nova. One of the freelance writers, Sara Heddleston got a promotion to managing editor.
Photo Credits: ViralNova
The company employed a direct ad-sale team and extra freelance writers in the name of preparing for a brighter and busier future. As we talk, ViralNova hires at least 24 full-time creatives and, according to Sean Becker, the company is on track to net around $35 million annually. That is quite an achievement many people would dream of.
In early 2015, ViralNova at an estimated $100m (in equity and cold hard cash) was acquired by Zealot Networks, a digital media company founded by Dany Zappin, CEO of ex-Maker Studios. At this time, Scott DeLong could have finally taken a break and enjoy the good fortune he had worked hard for but he still pledged to stay on board.
ViralNova has developed by leaps and bounds ever since its inception. The company now emphasizes on creating its own authentic content as opposed to curating. Scott moved to New York as a way to get more serious about ViralNova and he was quoted saying:
“We’re are one of the largest websites in the world, and we want to grow it into an awesome media company.”
Apparently, the young guy still keeps a hawk-eye on transforming ViralNova from a click-bait viral kind of site to a website where you can visit and get a fresh look on the current happenings.
Having said all that, we are left with so many questions to answer like:
- How did a normal average young guy from a humble background pull it off?
- How did he manage to stay at the top on the market swarming with hard-nosed and at times better-funded competitors?
- How can someone replicate his success and achieve your dreams online?
All the answers to the questions above are all laid down below.
How Scott DeLong Built a Multi-Million Blog Empire
Crux: Start as early as possible, do not wait. Build a blog fast enough using the viral content. Promote and monetize your blog vigorously.
Scott DeLong does not sound like an imaginary character anymore, right? We have already proved that. Well, how about we find out how the young guy achieved what seems like a dream to many people? How can you make big money online?
Launch a Blog
In just but a week, Scott created VirolNova and was already publishing viral content daily. He chose WordPress,the most popular CMS, which is usually termed as people’s favorite. As you will observe in this piece, he also chose to use TruePixel, a premium WordPress theme before deciding to move onto SociallyViral, also a great theme.
Photo Credits: SociallyNova
Nowadays, it is easy to build a website using WordPress, themes and plugins available at your disposal. In only a day you can have a working website without having to write a single line of code. It is has become that easy.
Once your website is in place, all you need to do next is find jaw-dropping stories to create a buzz for your brand or company.
Find Viral Topics
Much of Scott’s success goes down to the how viral his content on ViralNova. During the launch of the website, he worked diligently to find the most popular topics at all times from other popular publishing websites like Buzzfeed, Imgur, Bored Panda, Reddit and Digg among others.
Scott would then go ahead and re-write the headlines, make them more fascinating for maximizing the daily click-through rates. Up till today, ViralNova’s headlines are not only scintillating but very enticing. Keeping in mind that his content is usually optimized for social media platforms, his posts are extensively shared.
Photo credits: Google.com
However, hanging out at only Buzzfeed and the co. sites does not guarantee you the best topics. How then do you get popular topics that could go viral with the aim of bringing back social media traffic in bulk? You will need to stay at the top on the latest trends – always!
The mining of popular eye-catching topics on the web is straightforward. You will get thrilling stories on social media networks and from data on the search engines with ease. How will you do it? Let us take a deeper look:
1. Social Networks
StumbleUpon, Delicious, Buzzfeed and Twitter among many more make up the universe of social networking. On these channels, hot topics will receive massive attention and will spread like wildfire. It is easy to spot hot topics and the latest trends by simply working on your Newsfeed.
For example, you will be able to tell what is hot on Twitter by using the little ‘search box’. You can also check the trending #hashtags section too and in turn, capitalize on those topics that show promise of going viral.
Photo Credits: Twitter
Keep in mind that you ought to act fast because whats trending today will probably not be as hot a few days down the line. However, by following Scott’s footsteps, you will not have to spend many hours creating content.
That will save you a good time that is very vital for working your way to success. Only extract the content you will need add a little oomph and most importantly go viral.
You can visit most social networking platforms individually, or you can decide to check them all at once by using tools like Popurls.com. The tool aggregates stories from a variety of websites.
In fact, the tools cover most trending topics under the sun and that makes it an ideal source of quick trending content.
2. Search Engine Data
Every time you searching for anything online, you probably start at search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo. This goes without saying that there is a probability of a popular story going rounds all over the internet and millions of people are also searching for it.
Once you are accessed to this data, you will be able to determine hot topics at any time. How do you go about it?
a) Google Trends
Photo Credits: Google
Google owns the largest share of the search engine market. That means, the company offers a close to an accurate representation of what people using the internet are interested in globally.
Google Trends is one of the futuristic tools on Google that connects you with the latest trends and popular stories on daily basis. The tool is user-friendly and very easy to use – as easy as ABC so you won’t have any troubles as a user.
Choose to work with specific keywords, measure their influence level, primary location, peak time and related searches all of which in aggregate make for very useful information. You can also check with Google Keyword Planner and Google+’s What’s Hot.
b) Yahoo! Trending
Photo Credits: Yahoo
Yahoo Trending is quite different from Google Trends. It is a yahoo blog that covers stories trending around the internet. Sometimes, the blog goes for a long time before updating the latest trends. So, you have to put that in mind when you visit the website to harvest topics.
Let us now go ahead and look at how we can transform the popular topics into highly viral posts that take social media by storm.
3. Social Media Tools
You can use various online social media tools that you can use to analyze as well as determine how viral some content is. Social media tools like Buzzsumo have really stood out in that direction
Photo Credits: Buzzsumo
Buzzsumo is a powerful online social media tool that is used for analyzing what kind of content performs best for any topic or competitor. With this tool, you will be able to find key influencers to promote your content too.
We have discussed more details about this tool elsewhere but by keying the topic of your choice in the search box, you will be able to find similar topics, which have gone viral on the internet. That will make your job of finding viral data easier.
How to Write Socially Viral Posts
Finding the fascinating topics is just the beginning step. The next step, which is writing a viral post, will require you to write content that is capable of prompting most social media users to hit the share button.
This means, that you will need to invest effort, money and time to create beguiling headlines, gather the ideal images and finally write not only edgy and snappy but also short articles that rule the internet world.
1. Catchy Headlines
Photo Credits: ViralNova
If you look at the picture closely, you will notice something about the headlines. There is Click-bait kind of headlines all over. The headlines created by ViralNova are everything except subtle. Over-promise and hyperbole are the writing styles that reign on the headlines and click-bait.
The headlines are very ‘clicky’ and sometimes you might end up wondering if you saw the post on Reddit, Facebook, or elsewhere. Aim for the same headline styles.
Remember, you are creating content for social media users with so many junk content and distractions on the internet plus so much competition as well. If you are looking forward to standing out, create catchy headlines.
Scott, in the beginning, had so much to learn and so do not be fazed, learning is very crucial and inevitable as we learn from our daily activities. Scott had to do AB split tests on headlines and eventually determined the better version headlines which performed best.
However, right now, he does not need to do the AB tests any more thanks to Tilford Nova, one of the staff members of ViralNova . Nova came up with a nifty tool that does the testing.
So, what usually happens if you do not have enough money to spend on custom-built CMS? Does that ring bells that you will have to AB split test your headlines manually as long as their business runs? NO! You can decide to bank on another tool like CoShedule Headline analyzer.
“ViralNova’s content succeeds because its headlines have the annoying insistence of a friend tugging at your sleeve and saying “Dude! Dude! You won’t believe who ran into this morning!” – Aaron Miles, ViralNova Sold for $100 Million, and You Won’t Believe How it Happened.
2. Write Short & Snappy Posts
Hot and catchy headlines will get most readers to your website as we have seen but it is the content that gets them to actively read and share what you publish. If the content is interesting, there are chances that people will share it as opposed to normal or drab content.
Put emotions into your content. However do not be overly emotional. Just keep things simple and relaxed and appeal to your readers. Additionally, try and avoid using jargon, most readers like content that they will easily understand so they finish up quickly.
When writing just imagine that you are holding a deeply intimate conversation with your target audience. Viral content is always short and precise. Therefore, just keep it like that.
Photo Credits: ViralNova
Be quite personal or more like it. You can throw some humor and sarcasm into the mix but do not overdo it. If you have to use Scott DeLong’s way, then all you need to do is create catchy headlines and then ‘borrow’ content from somewhere else.
At the end of it all, just remember to acknowledge the owners or original creators lest you will have to ‘pay for it’ (pun intended).
All said, your content should be visually captivating material and it does not really matter how you will source it.
“Good enough was never good enough for him (Scott). Every single video had to be amazing. He is 100 percent a perfectionist”. – Brian Warner.
There’s no limit in terms of volume of hot and click-bait topics on the web. When Scott started, he would post 10 articles daily. Recently, ViralNova posts around 10-20 stories in a day.
If your dream is creating a viral site, then you will need to create a naturally viral site with enough content more than your target audience can exhaust at any given point.
The exact number doesn’t always matter, just do your tests after then you will settle for a figure and ideal content that accumulates more engagement.
3. Optimize Your Images & Videos for Social Media
Creating visual content for social media will require a somewhat different approach. You definitely want your videos and photos to have a good visual impression.
Therefore, you can use tools like Adobe Photoshop, Pixel Editor just to name a few to resize, edit add text and come up with final images that are highly optimized for the social web. You can even create memes, animations and GIFs.
For your videos, you can transform them into vines and draw traffic when they go viral. You can also use video editing tools like Pinnacle Studio and SDC Free Video Editor among others to enhance your videos by cutting/trimming them into the required length and post them on your website.
Just make sure that your visual graphic content does not slow you down because that would be bad business for your website.
When you have done all that, you are just a couple of steps away from the success formula. The steps are promoting your posts and monetizing your website.
How To Promote Your Viral Posts
As we have discussed before in this case study, our inspirational icon Scott DeLong did not stop at content creation. He moved ahead and promoted his posts on Facebook actively.
Facebook, at the time when Scott launched ViralNova, was the most popular social media platform that had potential massive traffic. That is why he used it as a marketing tool for his website.
As we talk, ViralNova’s page on Facebook has more than 2.5m followers. Inward statistics have revealed that 90% of Scott’s traffic is from his followers on the Facebook page.
Felix Gillette says, “Along with a handful of other publishers, such as Upworthy and Distractify, ViralNova has perfected a new-fangled techniques of traffic metallurgy; it extracts large amounts of attention from Facebook using little more than cheap ingredients available to anybody on the web”
Nevertheless, you can never depend on one source of traffic for a long time if you want to succeed. You may fall from hero to zero when the third party, in this context, Facebook, changes their policies. Scott encountered problems of loss of traffic when Facebook launched their updated Newsfeed algorithm.
“Any time you’re dependent on piggybacking on another site for success, there’s no long term plan there. Viral media, as we understand it now, probably won’t exist soon – somebody will have to reinvent it. – Neetzan Zimmerman, Senior Director, The Hill.”
Learning from experience is learning the best way, and so did Scott. That is why he diversified his sources of traffic and now gets readers from a variety of websites like Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram among others.
Back to Facebook, their pages boast of insight sections that help you track the performance of your social posts, and also they reschedule your posting intervals.
This helps you to achieve an extensive impact and an organized Facebook activity that draws and maintains more traffic. However, you can do the following promotion tactics to increase your audience on Facebook:
- First, be aware of your target audience and know their hot buttons.
- Always write features or content that corresponds to your target audience’s need
- Include an attention grabbing featured image as the reader magnet
- Craft attractive headlines to draw your audience’s attention
- Format your posts on the blog to enhance easy consumption.
How To Monetize Your Blog
You have worked hard to draw traffic to your website, and now it is time to see the fruits of your labor. This is the fun part, as you cannot wait to see the statistics turn into real coins.
But how will you do it? How will you monetize your traffic? We will have to go the Scott’s way. The same way he makes thousands of dollars each month is what you will need to do to monetize your blog. ViralNova began with Google Adsense. The site also uses direct ad-sales and Taboola.
These streams of revenue have earned Scott and the co, a good fortune putting in mind the monetization methods are automated, except direct ad-sales.
It is important to keep in mind that recently there are so many monetization methods that have been launched online. For instance, there is affiliates sale, sponsored content and many more. As a flexible entrepreneur, you should go for those that you prefer but here we will look at Google Adsense as it is used by Scott in this case study.
Making Good Use of Google Adsense
Google AdSense is a superb program that allows you to show Google ads on your website or blog and at the end of the day getting you a percentage of the ad revenue that advertisers pay.
if you follow the 5 tips outlined below, you are going to make good use of Google Adsense.
a) Using Adsense Where It Makes Sense
Many people make a biggest by throwing ads on every website they come across. You should not waste time in this direction that is not a guarantee to bring you income.
Instead, choose a niche related to the content of your website where you will advertise it. By that, you will stretch out to people who would be interested in your blog.
b) Avoid ‘SmartPricing’
Google SmartPricing refers to a scheme in which Google offers their advertisers discounts based on the value of their website. They do that basing on the click-ratio of your site.If suppose you site has a high click-ratio it means your cost per ad-click will be higher.
You should avoid the SmartPricing as a starter, because not every regular visitor will click on the ads and it could be costly to you at the end.
c) Choose The Best Keywords
Google entails use of keywords and so in order to make the largest of the profits, you have to choose the most appropriate keywords that exists out there. You can use tools such as www.rumler .com to help you find the best keywords.
Keywords will also determine the ad s that will pop up on your blog or website. As well know, it’s usually annoying to visit blogs that have a clutter of ads that do not even make sense. Therefore, scheme your keywords so that you are able to impact on the kind of ads that show on your blog.
d) Choose Big Ads
AdSense ads come in variety of formats, so you may need to tailor them and see the ones that work best on your website. Having an ad that gives a good visual impression on your website is plus for you.
However, keep in mind that the big 336 x 280 sized ad has been proven to provide the best output in terms of revenue. Reasons could be, the ad is big enough for the visitors face or that size can be used to display video ads as well. Either way, it’s advisable to begin with an ad of close to that size.
e) Monitor Your Success
You need to keep track of the success of your ads no matter what you do with your website or blog. If you do not do that, then you will fail ultimately. Keeping track helps you to pinpoint ads that work and those that do not. With time, you will also discover specific ads that work best at a given time and those that work best throughout the year.
You can look at top pages on your blog and compare them with those that lag behind. As always, you can then do tests to find out reasons why those at the bottom of your list are lagging behind. If you find out, try incorporating the ideas into those pages that lag behind.
Keeping track will also help you observe whether your keywords are doing well. If not, you have to change them fast as possible. You can choose to do a keyword run weekly to ensure your blog is up to date.
In Summary – How To Approach All This
If you mind about reading all the details written all through this guide, do not worry, we got you covered. I made a summary for you, and it is here that you can pick up a pen and a paper to note down important points precisely from the summary of Scott’s success story that you can replicate.
1. Choose a Simple Brand Name
Choose a not only catchy but also a name that makes sense and should be available because you will be using it for your social media pages and your website as well.
Your brand name can be anything under the sun and a proper brand name catches the attention of readers. For instance, ‘Bored Panda’ as a brand has grown not only because of their content on their website but because of the name.
2. Launch Your Site & Set-Up Your Facebook Page
Once you have a brand name, you will need a reputable WordPress host after which you will have the website ready to go. You can check the best website hosts from the many available to choose the suitable one for you. I would recommend our WordPress hosts.
Make sure that the host you choose provides scalable packages because you would not wish to move your website when traffic gets to the tipping point.
You can then create a Facebook page which is quite straightforward. Begin with the basics, a profile picture, a cover photo and a couple of jaw-dropping updates/uploads without the links.
3. Beat The Competition
Competition is always healthy and at this stage, it is good to know how your competitors are doing plus the kind stories they share. We have aforementioned a couple of examples in this case study.
When checking out on your competitors, dig deep into their archives and serve yourself the most fascinating the internet has probably forgotten. Pick the past stories but most popular and then revive them.
4. Set-up a Facebook Advertising Strategy
As a starter, concentrate on Facebook first, since you are likely to obtain your viral traffic from a giant social media platform. There are other platforms like LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter among others and that gives you so many options.
There is so much fun on Facebook in terms of what you can do to advertise your website. In fact, you can get page likes for lower price rates, like $5 for 1000 likes in the name of Facebook Ads.
That means you can satisfyingly rock the Facebook world with as little as $500 as a starter. Configuring the ad on Facebook is quite straightforward and would not be complicated. If you need help you can check this guide.
The more likes for your page on Facebook the better for you because by using the Pay-Per-Click strategy, you will increase your revenue and visits on your site.
a) How Pay-Per-Click Strategy Works
You will have to pay every time people click on your ads. with that, you will get more people clicking on your ads. Your chances of directing more audience to your website increases with the more people click on your ads. That in turn increases our revenue.
5. Track, Test, Rinse, Repeat
The only way to find out what is working and what is not is by tracking the performance of your viral site. If you have enough content and tools, you will be able to distinguish posts that draw the most attention and those that flop.
Anyone at this stage would, of course, want to concentrate on posts that show promises of going viral rapidly. Assuming that you would have amassed a large following on Facebook at this time, your audience will begin sharing your posts across the channel and that rings a bell of ‘no more spending of money on ads’
You can now test many angles instead of having to settle for what you think is perfect and in turn landing more traffic. Use A/B testing. this can reveal the flaws and help you improve what you offer.
Having done that, you are only left with rinsing and repeating until you get something out of it. However, remember that it could take a couple of months to observe tangible profits.
Does your Design Impact Overall Strategy?
Crux: The design of your WordPress website will influence your general marketing strategy even if you have flawless content. a great, user-friendly and responsive site will favor your readers.
The design of your website has to be top-notch if you want to make money with your blog. We cannot dispute the fact that some viral blogs are somewhat not good-looking though. The fact is, a good website design will play a role in adding value to your brand.
Just like we had aforementioned, ViralNova used TruePixel, a beautiful WordPress theme, very responsive and has good ratings. You can as well acquire the same with as low as $59 and it comes with features that you will ever need.
Photo Credits: SociallyViral
Scott and his team then moved to the theme SociallyViral before they settled on the custom-made Nova 2 theme eventually. Nova 2 theme resembles SociallyViral a little but generally, it does it job quite well giving the reader a good impression of the site and it is responsive as well.
Lastly, a responsive website will help you stretch out to more people everywhere and regardless of the device they are using. You should acquire a WordPress theme that will guarantee you better SEO scores, top speed, and unlimited as exposure. Aside from that, it should appeal visually.
At this stage, all you will be left with is to test, track, rinse, and press the repeat button again and again. Oh, by the way, lest you forget to choose a simple name for your brand, a dependable website host and finally but most importantly, go through the rules on DMCA to guide you in the cases when you borrow someone else’s content.
Wrapping It Up
Making a big fortune online is hack-able. Not only Scott DeLong but also many others who did it and inspired the folktales of legends who ventured into uncharted zones and sang, ‘I came, I saw I conquered’ all the way to the bank. Just like Scott, you can also do it, and it could be so fast that you wouldn’t believe it yourself.