A Future For Viral Sites?

future for viral websitesAre Viral Sites Dead?

So I confess, I’ve been thinking about creating a viral website. OK I said it.

I mean of course a site that depends on organic sharing of its content from readers on social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, etc., rather than focusing on SEO traffic or paid traffic.

(Naturally you can pay for traffic from social media platforms, but the focus starts with people finding your content, then sharing it in a burst of enthusiasm.)

I can hear the eye-rolls among you: how can I even consider a viral site in September 2017?

Is Virality Dead?

Am I not aware that for a several reasons the model is dying and that many sites which had lots of success a couple of years ago are really struggling now?

Yeah, I’m aware.

I know the Facebook algorithm changed to favor content shared by users’ friends and family more than companies or people trying to make a buck.

I know that viral sites are dropping like flies, or if they haven’t stopped posting entirely (a surprising number or formerly successful sites have) they have a small fraction of the visitors they once did.

I know I need some kind of “pivot to video” strategy to take advantage of the way Facebook’s algo is favoring video nowadays.

I even know that one exception (so far) to the nosedives viral sites are taking is LittleThings.com, which seems to still have some traction maybe because it prioritizes content creation rather than just ‘curation’ (i.e. ‘repurposing’ or rewriting content….).


Knowing all this I remember something that happened around the turn of the century.

And something that happened in the past couple of weeks.

Exhibit 1: The “dot-com bubble” and bust was proclaimed by some–many?– at the time to be the logical end of irrational exuberance surrounding amazing technology.

Tech was making implications it couldn’t possibly fulfill. Falling stock prices seemed to seal the deal, to some.

But what happened? The best of those companies–even many that had huge drawdowns in their stock price, did not go out of business.

Years later–Apple and Amazon are two incredible examples–they came back stronger than ever: both the companies and their stock prices.

Exhibit 2: In the last couple of weeks Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have experienced gut-wrenching collapses in price for anyone holding them.

I don’t know what will happen with all the cryptocurrencies that have sprung up in the last months, but I’m pretty sure of one thing. Regardless how their current values wash out in the next months and years, the technology–cryptocurrencies and Blockchain technology–will change the world.

Just what we know we can do with them now is too compelling for both not to be a huge part of our future.

Viral SuperNova

I think that what we’ve seen with viral websites is the beginning of something bigger than any of us really understand, yet. I think it’s wrapped up with “fake news” and even Donald Trump getting elected.

I think many factors have converged and we as a society are collectively creating new ways to tell our stories, to hear stories and be entertained too, to select what is important to us, and to make money in a new economic landscape.

I think a small clue was the rapid outsized success of viral sites. I really do. A nerve was hit. Scott Delong, operating from a bedroom with a few contractors helping him, sells Viralnova for 100 million dollars.

Virality 2.0

The word is “outsized”. The scale here was what was incredible, and Facebook changing their algo doesn’t mean these sort of rapid, scalable attractors of mass attention are done yet, in my opinion.

Because virality itself is somehow just getting started, with or without the Facebook algo shoveling attention to these sites.

If information wants to be free, attention wants to be possessed. That’s still true, potentially at viral scale, even if the viral site 1.0 model is broken.

Virality is a force still waiting to be harnessed.  The question is how to create a viable business model around Virality 2.0.


Should You Use Google Adsense?

using google adsense

using google adsenseMonetizing your website. Using the Internet to make money. Unless your website is a hobby–nothing wrong with that by the way–it’s why you’re playing this game, right?

Look–using Google Adsense is one of the easiest ways to make money with a website. Sign up and get approved, create your ads and paste the code you’re given into your site.

In my opinion it’s not the best way to make money online, for most websites.

And I don’t say this because I ‘ve had any problems making money with Adsense, or the program itself.

In fact, for years I was using Adsense on about 100 niche and authority websites I’d created or bought starting in 2008.

They made me enough to live here in Bali, Indonesia, and 90% of my income at the time was from Adsense.

Not only that, you might notice that I’m using Adsense on this very website!

So what am I talking about?

What You’re Saying When You Use Adsense

When you put Adsense on your site you’re essentially saying you have no better idea for that valuable space than ads contexual advertising will send you.

And as good as Google is at serving ads related to the content of the page, the usage habits of the person looking at the content and the browser they’re using, etc., the ad inventory Google has available to serve your readers is limited.

More to the point, you can’t really expect these ads to convert as well as some other things you could do with the same space.

Now, ideally website monetization is something you wrap into the initial planning for the site; its focus and audience. You’ll always need to be flexible but you should have in mind a place to start. So, what other options are there? Check this out:

Adsense Alternatives

Say your passion was antique furniture, and you started a site and created quality content on where to buy it, how much to pay for antiques, how to care for them, etc.

This quality content would attract free, targeted visitors from Google and other search engines to your site. To create a more lasting connection to otherwise casual readers you’d start an email list, where you could offer premium tips, or just connect more directly with your readership.

Over time it would make sense to create products in the form of books or courses on say, refinishing furniture, how to spot fake antiques, etc.

You’d market these products to your email list subscribers. Can you see how effective and lucrative it can be to show your own offers to people who know you and trust your opinions on your topic?

Especially compared to using Google Adsense.

If you went into building this site with this sort of plan, you’d make far, far more than contextual ads. A site making a coupe hundred dollars per month can make thousands if it is properly monetized. I’ve seen it.

And know this: you can go much further with this kind of monetization custom-made for your readers than I can outline in a few sentences, as you get to know them better.

Of course, you could already own a site that you created or purchased without having much of a plan in place. That’s why I have Adsense on this site, Digital Media Minute.

Is this site well-suited as a tool to build an email list and for selling digital or physical products in the tech niche? Of course!

And I do have a plan for a course, geared toward geeks who’d like to earn more from the Internet with their skills…

In closing, I’ll mention one monetization model for which Adsense is appropriate. No doubt there are others, but this is interesting and chances are you see Adsense on this kind of site every single day.

Viral websites succeed based on the sheer number of posts they can push out each day, and the number of views (and Adsense clicks) their content gets. Resources are put toward getting as much distribution and reach as possible using social media, etc.

Matching a piece of content with an offer that might be appropriate for readers of the article would have a cost associated with it, and you do see affiliate links in content on these sites.

However, Adsense ads normally reside in the template or code of the site and don’t have to be manually inserted into maybe dozens of posts per day, so they’re a quick solution here that makes sense.

My point isn’t to dissuade you from using Adsense at all. I’m just encouraging you to have a flexible monetization plan in place if you’re just starting a site, and always be thinking about how to better monetize as you get going.

If you have any comments or questions please drop me a line below.