How We Quadrupled Monthly Traffic With a “Shot in the Arm”

We’ve written before that top of funnel content can be a great loss leader. We’ve also talked about how to handle outlier articles that make the rest of your content look bad. Today, we have a perfect example of both—one that makes a strong case for investing in content at the very tippy top of the funnel.

Our teammate Jan-Erik Asplund recently wrote a piece for the Animalz blog that blew up. The piece—BLUF: The Military Standard That Can Make Your Writing More Powerful—trended on Hacker News and racked up 30,000+ pageviews in just a few days. It was shared all over Twitter, included in a few popular newsletters, mentioned on Lifehacker, and earned links from 120 domains. We had a real whale on our hands.

Given that we had just written about this phenomenon—where a “shot in the arm” creates a massive traffic surge, then quickly dissipates—I braced for the withdrawal. I expected that after a big September, traffic would return to normal in October. The surge from Jan’s article would wear off, leaving us all wondering how to replicate the success of that article.

To my genuine surprise, traffic continued to increase even after the surge. Traffic increased 313% from August to September, then jumped another 8% in October. Keep in mind that the October growth happened without the massive surge from Hacker News, which only lasted a few days. We followed our own advice and filtered the whale out of Google Analytics to measure the true impact on our traffic.

This graph tells the story of how a shot in the arm can actually lift your entire site. It compares the BLUF article (orange) with the rest of the site minus the BLUF article. As it turned out, the BLUF article acted like a catapult, rocketing our traffic from the 5-10% monthly gains we’re used to, nearly doubling traffic two months in a row.

This phenomenon might excite you, or it might frustrate you. Creating viral content for social media to accumulate backlinks that boost organic visits is certainly a roundabout way to stimulate growth. Either way, the BLUF article is proof that it actually works.

We recommend giving this a try with a few caveats:

  • It’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle, so don’t get too frustrated if your first few attempts don’t deliver great results.
  • Wait until you have a really strong idea, then go all-in. Half-hearted attempts will only waste your time.
  • Don’t divert too much attention from your core content strategy. The compound returns of organic traffic are far more predictable and reliable. It’d be better to grow slowly via organic than hope for a viral hit to boost traffic.

We also asked Jan for his best advice on recreating the magic of the BLUF post. He provided these necessary-but-insufficient factors:

  • Self-promotion is off-limits: Forget your product and all of your conversion metrics. Content only thrives on social if it is clean of any content marketing defects.
  • Commit to a strong narrative hook: Decide what kind of story you plan to tell, tell only that story, and tell it as well as it can be told.
  • Tailor every word to the distribution channel: Your best bet for success is to reverse-engineer previously successful content on the channels you plan to distribute on.

There’s also some element of luck. It’s really difficult to predict exactly what will resonate and why. If you choose to try your hand at a shot-in-the-arm strategy, don’t dedicate more than about 10-15% of your content creation time to it.

This is a great way to unleash your team’s creativity. Challenge them to think way outside the box, free from the reins of keywords and CTAs. It could be just the shot in the arm your site needs to take off.