Elle & Company

Case Study: The Story Behind a Viral Post

Jenn CoyleLauren Hooker11 Comments

Every blogger wants her posts to be well-received. She dreams about getting comments, tweets, pins, and other social shares.

Starting to see regular traffic is awesome enough for any blogger. When you start to jump over the threshold of “great post” to “viral post,” you know you did something right.

I started blogging in 2009. After several false starts and years down the road, I realized I was going to have the most fun (and have the most engagement) if I sought to help people. Now, I teach digital illustration and hand lettering with the occasional blog post about, well, blogging. After about 6 months of weekly posting, I really hit my stride.

However, it was one of the first tutorials I posted that went "viral"—meaning it brought in more traffic than I've ever seen before. Its corresponding YouTube video now has over 50,000 views. The post continues to bring in more and more traffic even though I (admittedly) haven't updated my blog in several months now.

Here are some details about the post, how I optimized it for engagement and exposure, and the results. At the end of the article, I'll share my takeaway tips so you can work to make your posts more popular.

Case Study: The Story Behind A Viral Post - The Elle & Company Collaborative

About the Post


In early November 2014, I posted one of my first tutorials: How to digitize your hand lettering using Illustrator's Image Trace. I was just getting into hand lettering at the time and was happy to share my method.

I've always prided myself on my step-by-step, comprehensive tutorials, so I found it easy to create this post. In fact, because I'm a huge fan of time management, I have the exact number of hours logged for creation of the original version of this post: 2 hours and 39 seconds.

The post was about 1,000 words and a handful of screenshots showing each step.

While I love the quote I used as an example, the original header from a blogger's perspective is embarrassing. It doesn't contain any information about what the post teaches or if it even is a tutorial.

Case Study: The Story Behind A Viral Post - The Elle & Company Collaborative

Enter the Content Upgrade Magic


In February 2015, after reading advice from a lot of awesome bloggers like Lauren, I decided to do a content upgrade on the post and create a corresponding YouTube video. I also improved the header image so it would be more self-explanatory and therefore Pinterest-friendly. It went from the image above to this:

Case Study: The Story Behind A Viral Post - The Elle & Company Collaborative

The video was a 6-minute tutorial created on (almost) a whim, to prove to myself I could teach in a video format. At the time, I was thinking about recording a class for Skillshare but couldn't get over my nerves, so I figured it'd be easier to throw a couple videos up on YouTube as a trial-run. It turns out the video was one of the best whims I've ever had. I wish I could tell you I approached this methodically, but it was only my second time upgrading my content and giving ideo a real shot.


The Statistics Behind the Successful Post: The Post


Here's the traffic for the post:

  • Nov 2014 - 86 views, 64 unique (published November 1)
  • Dec 2014 - 178 views, 165 unique
  • Jan 2015 - 562 views, 513 unique
  • Feb 2015 - 970 views, 882 unique
  • Mar 2015 - 2,588 views, 2,416 unique (content upgrade)
  • Apr 2015 - 3,283 views, 3,038 unique
  • May 2015 - 3,307 views, 3,092 unique
  • Jun 2015 - 4,652 views, 4,335 unique
  • Jul 2015 - 4,496 views, 4,174 unique
  • Aug 2015 - 5,114 views, 4,765 unique
  • Sep 2015 - 5,037 views, 4,667 unique (projected)

Honesty time: I stopped making a regular blogging effort in May of this year. I started at a day job in January and by May I was burnt out. (However, I'll be leaving in October to pursue blogging and online teaching full time!)

The most important part of that story? I stopped blogging regularly in May. Take a look at those numbers again. Usually, traffic for my posts drop off if I don't updating my content regularly. But instead, the numbers continued to climb.


The Statistics Behind the Successful Post: The Video


Let me preface this by saying: the statistics for this video aren't normal for my blog. The statistics, in fact, still boggle my mind. Bear with me.

At the time of writing this post, the 6-minute tutorial video surpassed 50,000 views on YouTube. With minimal promotion, the number of views continues to grow. It's now listed in YouTube's nice sidebar of Suggested Videos when a viewer is watching a similar video.

Case Study: The Story Behind A Viral Post - The Elle & Company Collaborative

This chart showing video views just goes to show you how having a great YouTube video title and description with a transcript is going to help—a lot.


The Statistics Behind the Successful Post: Pinterest Traffic


Before I jump into this part, let me note that social media traffic for this post, according to Google Analytics, is abysmal. Except for Pinterest:

  • Nov 2014 - 0 (published November 1)
  • Dec 2014 - 2
  • Jan 2015 - 16
  • Feb 2015 - 148
  • Mar 2015 - 643 (content upgrade)
  • Apr 2015 - 738
  • May 2015 - 569
  • Jun 2015 - 1,799
  • Jul 2015 - 1,611
  • Aug 2015 - 1,797
  • Sep 2015 - 1,662 (projected)

These statistics are proof that having a pinnable image attached to quality content is going to get you more traffic. Traffic from Pinterest increased 4x during the month I revamped the post and uploaded a new header image. Quadrupled!


The Statistics Behind the Successful Post: SEO


Lauren talks a lot about SEO on her blog, so I know you're accustomed to it. Even though Pinterest continues to be my primary or secondary source of traffic to my Digitizing Hand Lettering post, organic search competes with Pinterest heavily.

Using this Custom SEO report from Google, here are some stats regarding SEO and this post:

  • Nov 2014 - 0 (published November 1)
  • Dec 2014 - 2
  • Jan 2015 - 16
  • Feb 2015 - 148
  • Mar 2015 - 643 (content upgrade)
  • Apr 2015 - 738
  • May 2015 - 569
  • Jun 2015 - 1,799
  • Jul 2015 - 1,611
  • Aug 2015 - 1,797
  • Sep 2015 - 1,662 (projected)

Taking a Closer Look at the Numbers


This post is full of statistics and information, some of which you may not even deem relevant. But some of the trends and data points can't be ignored, as they're proof that something's working!

Post views: There's a clear jump in post views after the content upgrade in March 2015. In fact, the views nearly tripled from one month to the next! But even before that content upgrade, there was a fierce swing from 86 to 178 to 562 to 970. This indicates the topic was helpful and interesting, despite the poor presentation.

After the content upgrade, the number of post views continued to increase despite my lack of blogging efforts. This shows the post was shareable and helpful. The content is also evergreen, meaning it will be able to help people for a very long time to come.

The video: Because the trends of the video are similar to the post, we can assume people found the topic helpful and shareable. Based on the overwhelming number of comments of the video, there was one trend that was clear: people appreciated my clear and concise teaching style. This one quote captures the essence of most of the comments: "Wonderful tutorial! Finally someone who knows what they're doing and how to present it without making people suffer through endless 'ums' and 'oops' :)"

Interestingly enough, the video hardly pushed traffic back to my blog. The content must've been contained enough to where people didn't need or want to see more. That's okay by me, but there is a missed opportunity here.

Pinterest: It always surprises me when bloggers say Pinterest is one of their top sources of traffic, but the case is the same for me across the board, not just for this post! When I did the content upgrade and added a more pinnable image, traffic from Pinterest increased significantly and is continuing to rise due to pins and re-pins. Awesome!

SEO: The Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, on this post is doing quite well. Honestly guys, the nuts and bolts of SEO still escapes me. But I do know having honest-to-goodness strings of keywords in your post over and over will help your post rank higher in searches. That said, the content upgrade in March speaks to that, because I added a full transcript of my video to the post. That's right: every. single. word. of the video tutorial is now in the content of the post, meaning the content is practically doubled. Is this cheating? No… simply because the written content of the tutorial is slightly different from what I say in the video. Plus, SEO gives you points for being accessible and having a written transcript of a video is super-duper accessible-friendly.


The Takeaways: Tips to Help Your Posts Reach their Full Potential


TL;DR? I completely understand. But sometimes it takes all the data and analyzation to understand why you often see the same blogging tips from different bloggers.

1. Write a helpful post. People are searching the internet to solve problems every day. Aim to help people consistently with your blog. You'll not only gain new folks who stumble across your blog, but you'll also gain loyal readers.

2. Create evergreen content. Create content that will stand the test of time for months or years to come. You'll get repeat visitors who forget a step. Your post will also be shared organically like, "Hey, I found this really awesome post about how to do that, here's the link."

3. Use a shareable image. Pinterest is growing quickly: take advantage of that and create a "cover" image that is easy to read and explains what your post is about. Vertical images do better on Pinterest. Even better: make it on-brand so your pins will become recognizable. Even even better? Create an image suite so your post will look great when you share it on every platform: Twitter, Facebook, etc.

4. Find ways to upgrade your content. If you see a post is doing much better than others, think of ways to upgrade the content. If you're teaching something, create a video to walk people through the steps if they prefer to learn that way. Include downloadable worksheets to make your post more engaging.

5. Up your game. As much as I hate promoting competition in the blogosphere, it exists, and can't be ignored. But no matter what, aim to do your best and push yourself to deliver really awesome, helpful content. If this means recording a 6-minute YouTube video for 2 hours so you don't have a video full of ums and oops's, it can help take your work that much further.

I hope these tips helped you! What type of practices or content upgrades have worked for you and your blog?


About the Author


I'm Jenn Coyle, a Philadelphia-based designer and writer. INFJ. I live for funky-cute illustration styles and have a passion for typography. Follow along with my tutorials on HelloBrio.com to learn about digital illustration, or take my Skillshare classes. I create hand drawn fonts and stock illustrations