One million unique visitors in two weeks. Nearly two hundred million total attention minutes. A content marketing launch for the record books!
This is the story of how a small startup built a content project that went viral and what any other company struggling to break out of the storytelling box can learn from it.
The keys to any content marketing success involve a number of familiar components: a story worth sharing, taking advantage of popular or just-percolating trends, and finding an audience to connect with. Yet, even when ticking off all those boxes, many brands find it hard to get meaningful traction in a world crowded with content.
Consider many of the benchmarks of success. Red Bull – the undisputed king of content marketing – gets about 830,000 unique visitors to their portal. Buzzfeed’s top sponsored campaigns, for major brands like Lenovo – get between 1.5 million and 800,000 “views” over the course of many months, with most of those impressions being bought and paid for (so much for sharing!).
While those numbers are something any company would kill for, our content managed to blow them away – and we did it with zero advertising budget.
Before we get to the exciting statistics and how we got there, let’s talk about a little game called Pokémon Go, and what it has to do with OpenRide, a ridesharing startup.
In case you missed it, Pokémon Go is the biggest mobile game in history. Drawing off a powerful combination of nostalgia and unique game mechanics, Pokémon Go has sent millions of people worldwide out into their neighborhoods to capture “nearby” Pokémon on their phones.
Not only did this game captivate the world, it captivated the two-person engineering team at OpenRide. In fact, after the game’s initial launch, the all-consuming search for Pokémon dominated all conversation at OpenRide. And those same engineers recognized a problem: other than randomly walking the streets, game players lacked any good way to know where powerful or rare Pokémon might be.
With their expertise in mapping, data logging, and location records, it was clear they could whip up a solution quickly; in fact, it took fewer than 36 hours. What no one on the team knew was how this little side project would turn into one of the biggest content marketing launches of all time.
Now that we had built Pokémapper, we were ready to show it to the world. We knew there were thousands of communities of Pokémon Go players out there, and we thought they’d be excited to hear about a new tool that would help them play the game smarter.
Given that the game is so locally oriented, its biggest communities were tied to specific geographies. Think Facebook communities with names like Pokémon Go: East Coast and sub-Reddits like PokémonGoSF. By not being nationally focused, this meant these individual communities would be smaller, making it easier for our new content to get noticed. Once we had worked some of these local communities, we could then participate in larger, half a million strong networks like https://www.reddit.com/r/Pokemon.
It was now early in the afternoon of Wednesday, July 13th. After seeding the site to a few communities, we also thought it was worth emailing a couple of reporters that had been covering the Pokémon Go spectacle, to get their reactions and see if they found the site interesting.
With things seemingly all wrapped up, we finally got back to our normal day-to-day activities and tried to put the thought of pocket monsters to the back of our minds for a while.
After a few hours, someone on the team noticed that hey – it looks like Pokémapper is actually getting some visits! People were coming in from Reddit and Facebook, and our first press mention came in via Curbed. As the day ended, we hit a little over 20,000 sessions. That seemed amazing; some people had found the site, checked it out, and we even exceeded our modest goal of a few thousand visitors. We went to sleep with smiles on our faces, not knowing what was about to hit us the next day.
We woke up to the site just screaming with traffic, our servers struggling to keep up. As more and more people noticed our content and shared it with each other, more bloggers had caught wind of the story as well.
All of a sudden sites all over the country were writing about us, and traffic was just surging in. Thursday we hit 95,000 sessions as we scrambled to make the site scalable (and not spend our entire budget on web hosting) at these unforeseen activity levels. Amazingly, the site continued to grow, as news outlets the world over joined the Pokémon Go craze and wrote about what a vital resource Pokémapper is to any new player. Stories came in from The Netherlands, South Africa, Japan, Germany, and more, eventually culminating in a peak traffic day on July 17th of 140,123 unique visitors and 156,102 sessions.
These numbers were amazing, but we weren’t content to let the site just “pop” once and be done. So, we introduced new features to encourage users to keep sharing the site with friends. The biggest was a “my map” feature, letting any given visitor show the world which specific Pokémon they had contributed to the record. If there’s one thing people love to talk about, it’s themselves, so naturally, sharing took off dramatically once this went live.
As the amount of data logged to the site kept growing, we also realized we were sitting on a treasure trove of interesting Pokémon Go statistics: which Pokémon were most common in certain cities, which ones were most searched for, how time of day affects game play, etc. This let us continue to feed the world interesting stories, keeping them coming back for more, as well as bringing in continuous new users.
While the site has (thankfully) calmed down a bit from the headiest days of week one, visitors both new and returning continue to come to the site, giving us a good 60,000 to 80,000 uniques per day. And, as Pokémon Go still hasn’t even launched in most of the world, there’s enormous untapped potential for continued growth of our content. Should the site even out at say only 65,000 users per day, that would still mean that subsequent months would average about 2 million unique visitors, putting us on par with major blogs like, for example, any of Gawker’s web properties.
Fortunately, the success hasn’t just been for our content project, but for the real business as well. We now have dozens of great links pointing to OpenRide and have gotten to introduce new people to the concept of ridesharing in longer interviews and press mentions. We’ve collected tens of thousands of new email addresses to communicate our service with, and site traffic has grown to record levels. And once we start organizing shared rides to popular Pokémon destinations, we expect even more conversions between the two sites.
The best part of this success story is that there’s something that anyone with content struggling for attention can learn from it. You need to start by stepping back and assessing what the information is you’re trying to put out into the world. Simply talking about yourself and your brand no longer cuts it, as there’s enough self-indulgent drivel out there as is. Give the world something it’s asking for, give visitors information they didn’t have before and couldn’t get elsewhere.
Then, once you’ve armed people with this new information, make sure you help them share it. Make spreading the site fun and game-like. Make it so any blog or publication reporting on you has an interesting hook to entice their own readers with. Most importantly, make sure there are knock-on effects, so the success of your content helps your core business as well. ROI is always important, so simply riding a trend wave doesn’t mean much if there isn’t some connection to your company and what it stands for. And the most important lesson of all – make sure you have fun doing it!