10 Lessons Learned From Running A Failed Viral News Site

Filed in Case Studies, Traffic by on September 24, 2015

Everybody loves to read a success story.

I really wish I had the perfect one to share with all of you NicheHacks readers.

But I don’t.

The path to success in online business is hard and many times, things just don’t work as we expect them to.

(According to Don Silver who guest posted on ChrisDucker.com, 90% of new internet businesses fail in the first four months.)

They say the reason we fall so we can learn how to get back up. So today I’ll be sharing my fail here.

I hope you can all learn from my mistakes and avoid the common traps that destroyed my viral news website.

Hi there!

My name is Louie Luc and I’ve worked hard for the past four years on my viral news website which was monetized with Google AdSense.

It featured the latest viral videos on the Internet and was targeting Portuguese-speaking audience, mainly because I’m... from Portugal.

I’m referring to it in the past, due to the fact that I decided to quit a few months ago.

Why?

Because it got “killed” by Google and Facebook.

A Google AdSense ban, changes in Facebook reach, wrong decisions, and countless obstacles forced me to take this difficult decision.

The vast majority of the things we pick up in life come from our fails, so I’m safe to say I learned a big deal in the process.

This is your chance to learn from my mistakes and wrong decisions. I hope it can help you.

 

1. Don’t Try To Reinvent The Wheel. Use What Already Is Working For Others

When planning out how my viral blog was going to be, I took the custom site option.

I refused using WordPress or a similar CMS (Content Managing System) and decided to develop my own software from scratch.

I'm originally a web developer and I thought I could easily pull it off. (Plus, I had just been laid off from work. This would also come as an opportunity to add new stuff to my portfolio to show off on future job interviews.)

I would have my own customized version of a viral news website and any extra feature I needed would be just a matter of developing it afterwards.

No one would have a site like mine, representing a huge advantage against my competitors -- I thought to myself...

What was I thinking...???

To develop new features or to fix existing bugs it takes time.

It usually takes a LOT of... time.

Time is precisely what you don’t have when you’re running a viral news website.

Your site HAS to be updated every day, several times a day with new exciting posts which have to be shared across your social networks.

This is what really matters in this business, because sharing new content brings you more social traffic.

If there’s a bug that needs urgent fixing or you need an extra feature, it will rob you of time to do the important stuff like posting and sharing fresh content.

 

(P.S. If you'd like to download a free checklist of 31 traffic hacks click here or the image below)

 

Lesson learned:

Unless you have a dedicated team of developers working on your site (and even so), don’t try to reinvent the wheel.

If something (like WordPress) is already working for others, it will work for you too. Just pick or buy a theme and some plugins to customize it and make it unique.

(Plus, WordPress has built-in capabilities that improve your SEO and it has a whole community of developers who help test, maintain and improve it. Can’t really beat that, right?)

Focus on your content and every time you need an extra feature just search through the thousands of available plugins.

You’re not copying anyone or following the trend, you’re doing what makes sense and is better for you.

 

2. You Don’t Have Superpowers. Stop Trying To Do Everything At The Same Time

What I said above brings us to what is called the "superhero syndrome".

Chris Ducker (author of “Virtual Freedom”) came up with this expression to explain the feeling we entrepreneurs have when we think we can do it all.

(I used to still do thing I can do it all by myself.)

Try to do this every day for four years:

  • Searching and watching for videos to post
  • Creating and editing pictures
  • Figuring out the most compelling titles
  • Sharing posts on all of your social channels
  • And starting the process all over again multiples times a day.

Plus:

  • Fixing your site’s bugs
  • Improving its core functions and still...
  • Trying to learn more about social media marketing and new computer languages...

(Not to mention this is not the only site I ran simultaneously!)

It will burn you out.

And, because you’re tired, your will to keep pushing forward will dry out very quickly making you fail and take wrong decisions.

 

Lesson learned:

Don’t try to do everything at the same time all by yourself.

Unfortunately, you’re not Superman or Superwoman (although it would sure be awesome if you were!).

  1. Focus on one task at a time – make it a priority -- and try to be the best that you can be at it
  2. Don’t do anything else until you’re finished
  3. Find someone to help you, build your team or hire one or more virtual assistants

Never leave it for your spare time because that's when you should be refreshing and taking a break.

Also: save time to rest and enjoy life.

That’s important too :).

 

 

3. You Really Can’t Buy Fans For Your Facebook Page

So I had my site built, my viral posts published but I needed more traffic.

Viral news websites live on social traffic.

So the most logical move would be to increase my site’s Facebook fan page followers...

How could I achieve this?
By buying Facebook “Likes” for my page.

After several Facebook ad campaigns (99) and spending almost € 800 (about $900 USD), I ended up with 110,000+ page followers.

 

facebook-ads-buying-likes-total-spent

 

facebook-fan-page-total-likes

 

This turned out to be a HUGE mistake that almost destroyed my page:

New followers didn’t know or care about my project (even in the viral news business you have to build a good connection with your audience) and their engagement was close to nothing.

Together with Facebook changes (organic reach for pages with more than 100k fans dropped to 5%, according to Locowise), my page’s reach dropped to shameful levels.

 

Lesson learned:

There’s no use in buying “Likes” on Facebook. You just can’t buy what people like.

Your fan base must be built genuinely.

People should follow you because they truly like you and want to receive news about you, not because they were convinced by an advertisement they saw, clicked and forgot.

 

4. Increase Your Site’s Value, Not Someone Else’s

I used to think I should have great content on my site’s Facebook page too. Like funny or viral pictures and videos.

That would bring new followers and potentially new visitors to my site.

I was right... and wrong:

Right, because...
It’s true that people interact much more with content posted directly on Facebook that on an external website.

Wrong, because...
If the majority of your work is posting and uploading stuff to Facebook, you’re forgetting about your site and what needs to be posted there.

 

Lesson learned:

If you spend most of your time “building” someone else’s website, you’re missing the opportunity to increase your site’s value with new content.

Adding value to your site must be your number one priority.
Once your content is posted it will sit there and earn you money across the years.

Don’t just “give away” free stuff to someone else’s website (i.e., your Facebook page is not really yours).

It’s okay to post something on Facebook directly to attract new followers and to make existent followers see you’re not just sharing links to your site, but don’t do it all the time.

Plus, posting a different type of content (like pictures) from your main content type (in my case, videos) may get people confused about what your site is really about: "viral videos or viral pictures???".

 

5. Don’t Underestimate Your Competitors

Another thing I did wrong was thinking I could easily overtake my competition just because...

My plan was to create better posts, publish them earlier and share them on all my social channels.

The issue is that there is an enormous amount of players with dozen hundreds of similar pages competing for the golden spot.

It’s virtually impossible to beat the pack and be the first to post the latest trending YouTube video.

Just to make things clearer:

My biggest competitor has 1,500,000+ Facebook followers and counting.

Even if I posted the same video earlier with a more compelling title, a better featured picture and a more detailed introductory text...

I couldn’t really beat that endless number of fans the other page has.

And guess what:

There’s another site which was the first of its kind (everybody else just copied their approach) that usually presents better content, posts it earlier and has only one third of that fan count.

 

Lesson learned:

It is not always about how fast and good you post.

It is not always about quality or hard work.

Luck, sometimes, plays a big role in success.

And, in the viral news website business, being the trending famous site everybody talks about and loves plays an even bigger role.

If you forget about that you’ll end up feeling frustrated because you simply can’t beat your competition.

 

 

6. Google AdSense Strict Policy Is Really, Really... Strict

When the site started, it had a .COM domain name.

About two years later, on one “lucky” day, I received the bad news:

My domain name had just been banned from AdSense.

In Google's eyes, I had duplicate content on my site meaning it was just another automated spammy site to make money from AdSense.

The moment I got that dreadful email noticing me of the Google AdSense ban my whole world fell apart.

It was the beginning of the... end.

The supposedly duplicate content was nothing more than official synopsis I decided to post together with three movie trailers.

They were just one paragraph long but that was enough to get me banned.

 

Lesson learned:

When Google asks you to follow their rules, they are not just asking.

They are demanding you to follow them.

Or else... you’ll face the consequences.

Their rules are strict, but ought to be followed.

So... follow them, follow them, follow them!

 

7. Being Banned Is Quite a Blow, But You Have To Keep Pushing

After the domain ban what I felt was that all of the work -- I was working on this website full time, about 12 hours a day -- had been for nothing.

Why would I build it all over again?

To risk being banned from AdSense yet another time?

I felt so demotivated and down I completely lost my strength and will to do anything.

But this was my job, my dream project and I just couldn’t give up that easily.

It gave me time to think about how I would solve this major setback.

I searched for AdSense alternatives and found tons useless and spammy stuff.

But I did find good examples of people making money online and I even rediscovered the affiliate marketing business model which lead me to where I am today.

 

Lesson learned:

Even during the biggest crisis, you must try and find positive things to take from them.

If I hadn’t searched for alternatives, maybe I would have gave up my dream of making a living off the Internet.

I felt more confident reading from successful entrepreneurs’ blogs and decided to keep pushing.

 

8. Do Not Neglect Free Organic Traffic And Be Careful When You Choose Your TLD

Since my .COM domain name was “dead” for Google AdSense, I bought the .PT version of my domain name so I could display AdSense ads again and maintain my site’s brand name.

I knew country TLDs (Top Level Domains) are more geared to their respective countries, but I thought it would not mind that much as long as my site was the best viral news website in Portugal.

(Sometimes the site is so strong it goes beyond its country boundaries in Google’s international targeting.)

I '301 redirected' all of the traffic to the new domain and used Webmaster Tools to tell Google I had changed domains.

This was over 1 year ago or so and Webmaster Tools still says the change is not finished...

Well, you know free organic traffic for a viral news website is never going to be that great but it can still help you.

The issue was that the domain name change lowered the free traffic I got from Google even more. Especially due to the fact I chose to use a country TLD.

Portugal is a tiny, (cozy,) little country, but one must not forget about all those other Portuguese-speaking countries that stopped seeing my site ranked on their local versions of Google.

That’s 215 million native speakers alone...

So I lost truckloads of potential traffic.

 

Lesson learned:

If you have a viral news website don’t neglect free organic traffic.

It’s not that much but any help is always welcome.

If you need to change your domain name, picking a country TLD will affect your Google rankings globally because of the way Google treats them.

You may end up losing an even greater amount of traffic besides the amount you’ll eventually lose on any domain name change.

 

9. Let’s Not Forget: All Your Work Needs to Bring You A Return

Add “low organic traffic” with “low social reach” and you’ll get almost no money from AdSense. The amount you earn is so low you can’t even dream of paying your bills with it.

I’ve always earned about a $1 USD per 1,000 visits on average.
If I had 10,000 visits on a day, I’d make $10 USD; 20,000 visits - $20 USD, and so forth.

With less and less visits... less money I was making, obviously.

 

Lesson learned:

Online businesses are just like any other business; their goal is to make you money.

I don’t want to sound like Mr. Wonderful too much here but... if your business is not profitable and you’re losing money every day, it’s time to make a decision and quit.

Here’s a good resource here you can learn how to measure the success of your site in one place.

 

10. Decisions Are Tough, Even If That Means Quitting

All of these mistakes, bumps, obstacles and no profit led me to think things over.

I needed security and I needed an income. After all, this was my job and I had to pay my bills.

My dream of building the most successful viral news website had to be put away.

I had to make a decision.

So I decided to leave the site.

It was a tough decision, believe me.
All of those years working on that project felt like turning my back on a friend...

But it was time to move on and switch business models.
Depending on free social traffic and just one revenue stream that you never know when it is going to stop flowing... it’s way too risky.

 

(P.S. If you'd like to download a free checklist of 31 traffic hacks click here or the image below)

 

Lesson learned:

Quitting doesn’t always mean it’s a bad thing.

Sometimes it can be better for you.

Many times you’re living a dream that only you believe in and that is doing you harm.

Stop, think about it and take the wise, conscious decision to... leave.

 

 

Conclusion

Leaving my viral news website did not mean quitting my dream of making money online.

It’s just that I no longer want my whole business to depend on unreliable organic social traffic and unpredictable interpretations of Google AdSense policies that may destroy your business overnight.

I’m not saying I’ll forget about AdSense and Facebook altogether.

But I’ll use them much more wisely and carefully now, making sure that they are not my only sources of revenue and traffic.

I’m learning and building new projects now in the affiliate marketing business model and I’ll take some of the lessons learned from running a viral news website to help me succeed.

I hope this post has helped you and that you don’t make the same mistakes I did.

 

Feel free to ask me anything!

I’d love to clear any doubts you may have and/or read about your own experience too.

Leave your comment or question below.

Thanks so much for your time!

To Your Viral Success,
Louie Luc

Nader Qudimat
Forged by the iron and cold steel, Nader takes his knowledge and hulk smashes it into his bodybuilding blog, FitFrek.

He is Stuart's right hand man as a VA, and is dedicated to make a empire online and he's doing so while studying for his MBA.
Nader Qudimat on FacebookNader Qudimat on GoogleNader Qudimat on InstagramNader Qudimat on PinterestNader Qudimat on Twitter

Comments (28)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. This is really a great lesson Louie,
    Spending that much time on a site without seeing any good outcome can really be very boring and heart breaking however, i think you made the right choice by leaving it behind because you might actually waste more time and money trying to make it work.

    However, did you try to like, convert the site into a wordpress blog? I think that might have worked somehow.

    I love the idea of not trying to re-invent the wheel because you will later be proven to be wrong especially when everyone is already following the route you're tying to avoid and its working for them.

    So finally Louie, what did you do with the site or did i miss it on the post? Did you sold it or you just abandoned it to die off on its own?

    • Louie Luc says:

      Hi there Thedore and thank you for your kind comment.

      Yeap, I thought about converting it to a WordPress blog -- it would just be a matter of creating and running a simple PHP script with some SQL statements -- but I had so many customizations and unique plugins of my own it would be hard to find replacement plugins for WordPress.

      The site did have a golden period where one of the posts alone had over 100,000 shares and like 500,000+ visits.

      When then the site started to die -- and what killed it was being banned from AdSense + FB algo change -- I dropped the whole idea of converting it to WordPress and the extra tons of ideas I had (including a YouTube channel, my own TV recording studio, singers doing their covers to feature on the YT channel, etc) all of this was stopped.

      The site is still active. I'm trying to start making money online again from other businesses and maybe then I'll try to get it back to life (using WordPress too).

      Cheers,
      Louie

  2. Kam says:

    Great article. I love reading about this kind of stuff. Sometimes I think I learn more from reading about failure than reading about success. Fantastic article man!

    • Louie Luc says:

      Thanks so much Kam!

      Failures and mistakes in life always teach you more (if you're willing to learn the lesson, that is) than anything else. That's why I quoted «why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up» from Batman - The Dark Knight Rises. 😉

      Cheers,
      Louie

  3. Julian says:

    Hey Louie,

    Great stuff, man. I always like reading about mistakes by bloggers, marketers, and website owners.

    #2 is real! haha Just today I tried to work on 2 things: write a post and finish my freebie offer...

    ...not good, man. I ended falling asleep after a few hours. hehe I always do 2 or more things at once. Most of the time I won't even realize it until I get tired.

    Need to work on that, I guess.

    Great post though, Louie.

    Cheers.

    • Louie Luc says:

      Yo Julian,

      Yeap, we tend to think we have superpowers. 🙂
      It would be awesome if we did, though!

      Thanks for your comment.

      Best of luck with your tasks,
      Louie

  4. tammy says:

    Great to have learnt so much from your fail story. I am a newbie and it's my 5th months running my site and I'm also from the 90% said in the research.

    How are you treating your viral news site? Just don't update content or you change the way you run it? I'm asking mainly because I have a site that I can't monetize and don't know how I should treat it.

    Thanks for taking your time to answer my question!

    • Louie Luc says:

      Hi Tammy and thank you for commenting!

      I sure hope you can make it and leave that 90% for good!

      Don't give up your dreams, focus, stick with your objectives and keep pushing.
      But also always try to see what you could be doing better and correct your wrongs, even if that means to 'kill' a site (just try really hard before you do it though).

      I left the site all by itself for now.
      I have content there, ads getting me little money, some search engine traffic and I'll leave it as it is for now.

      Due to the site's age and because it became a known brand I sometimes get proposals to write new articles about certain topics (where I need to include the sponsor dofollow link). Even this week I got another deal just like that (€ 60 for a 500 word article, not a bad deal I suppose).

      To your success,
      Louie

  5. Cristina says:

    Hello Louie,

    I had so much to learn from this article. Is always good to learn from other people mistakes and avoid doing them on your own. I am really sorry for what happened with your viral news website and all the time you put in to, it must been so painful.

    But you are a strong person, something like this didn't made you don't want to follow your dreams anymore. I been checking your Buzz Nitrous blog for a while and I can honestly say you are doing an amazing job there. I love the fact that you are being so honest to your readers and your articles, are a pleasure to read.

    This time you got into a different niche - online marketing and advertising and I am sure you are on the right track. You are making a wonderful progress. Good luck with everything, and as I am a beginner I have a lot of things to learn from you. For now, I need to stop trying to do to many things at the same time and focus only on one thing at once. Thank you so much for sharing your story with the Niche Hacks community. It meas a lot.

    I wish you a lot of success,
    Cristina

    • Louie Luc says:

      Hello there Cristina!

      For those of you who don't know Cristina, she is quickly becoming my favorite female blogger and, most importantly, a good friend of mine.

      I know she is just starting but I can bet you a 1,000 bucks she will shine very brightly in the near future with her 'GetYourOnlineBusiness.com' blog.

      Thank you for your kind and supporting words, Cristina. They mean a lot to me. 🙂

      You're right, we should all take time to learn from the mistakes and experiences others share with us so we don't make them.

      I'm on a different business now and I'm confident I'll make it, especially when I have such amazing and kind persons like you helping and supporting me.

      You're gonna make it,
      Louie

      • Cristina says:

        Hello Louie,

        Thank you so much for your kind comment and for being so supportive with me. It feels so good to have a great friend like you and we can both share our experiences with our blogs. Beginning are never easy, especially for those that just started their first blog. But it's somehow really exciting and I truly enjoy working on it.

        That's what in the end matters, to love what you are doing. Remember, that you will always have my support and whenever you need a hand with anything, I will be more than happy to help you out.

        To Yours Success,
        Cristina 🙂

        • Louie Luc says:

          Totally agree Cristina!
          "Love what you're doing" and help others with your content along the way should be your main focus.

          Same here, I'll help you always!

          All the best,
          Louie

  6. HansM says:

    Hi Louie,

    This really a great article. It should appeal to every experienced marketer, since we all have had the same kind of issues. Accounts banned... duh. I could have written it - well, I couldn't, but I do have comparable experienced.
    My advice to newbies would be to read this page carefully, and then again, and again, and write down the important lessons (aka mistakes). Most internet marketers would charge a decent amount of manage to present info like this, packaged as a course or a WSO.

    Well done Louie!

    • Louie Luc says:

      Hi Hans!

      Thanks for your kind support!

      I may add that these were only 10 of the lessons I learned running my viral news website (back when I launched it, the whole 'viral news site' concept wasn't that really present). I could easily add more 3/4 lessons to this.

      Best of luck my friend,
      Louie

  7. Louie, thank so much for a thorough and honest article. Everybody's willing to brag about their successes, and only few can share their failures. I appreciate your openness.

    I was surprised to read that Google AdSense can block a website based on a seemingly small amount of duplicated content. I thought the whole website must be flooded with it...

    Anyway it seems that it is relatively easy to fix the ban? By moving the website to a new domain?

    You wrote:
    >> This was over 1 year ago or so and Webmaster Tools still says the change is not finished...
    I wonder what you mean? Why isn't the change yet finished?

    Again, thanks for a great post, Louie. I found it super useful, and I feel for you and your project!

  8. Louie Luc says:

    Hi Nadia,

    Thank you for your words. 🙂

    I like to be honest about everything and I don't like to brag, never did. 🙂

    Yeap, only 3 short paragraphs (two sentences per paragraph really -- each one of those posted on three different articles) got me banned.

    Do you know what the problem is?
    Google 'sees' viral news sites as something spammy: lots of posts with very little written content (in my case, a YouTube video and a short description) and bamm! for them it's nothing more than automatically created pages to fool AdSense and make money.

    Changing domains is never a good think, you'll lose a lot of organic search traffic, but that's the solution I tried. (Besides you can still get your entire AdSense account terminated after too many bans. And you lose all the money not yet paid after a ban.)

    I also changed where ads appeared on my site. Only on posts with lots of written content. I even removed AdSense ads from the index and category pages so I wasn't banned again (due to no written content there, just titles and featured images).

    I used Webmaster Tools to inform Google of the domain name change (from the .COM to the .PT) so they could transfer all the indexed info they had on my site to the new domain. Whenever I check Webmaster Tools still says the change is not complete.

    Best of luck,
    Louie

  9. sensei says:

    Why not just rebrand your site and start with the foundation you have?

    That work has not completely gone to waste. It's not always about starting something new the right way, sometimes it just takes a pivot of focus.

    Good luck either way.

  10. Louie Luc says:

    Hi sensei,

    Thanks for your comment. 🙂

    Rebrand it and start with the foundation I already have?

    Well, I could actually do that but the same dangers would remain:

    -- Fb fan page's URL has the brand name on it --> to rebrand it would mean to keep the same outdated URL (unless I created a new page for the new brand and merged the two together to keep the fans -- have to see it if it's possible, though);

    -- fans were already showing low interest as it is;

    -- rebranding into something new would push my fans even further apart;

    -- rebranding takes a lot of work, think about everything that had the "old" brand name on it (text / links in posts, images, videos, YouTube channel, social profiles, even news in newspaper and tv shows) -- can imagine the insane amount of work, time and money it would take and to remarket the rebranding?

    -- rebranding to a new .COM domain name would mean to keep the same content that had been considered spammy by AdSense

    No, I'm sorry. Rebranding would seem a bad idea to me.

    What I could do and I did in a way was to create a whole new site and share that site's content on my "old" Facebook page. But the low reach made me get very low number of clicks and then, again, people wouldn't understand why I was posting content from a different site.

    Besides, this online business model does not work for me anymore as it is (to be dependant on social traffic and that one revenue stream, I mean).

    Cheers,
    Louie

  11. Ashis says:

    I have just simple sweet question. Why did you not sell your website?

  12. Louie Luc says:

    Hi Ashis,

    Thanks for your question. 🙂

    Something I forgot to say (or emphasize better) on my guest post was that the Portuguese market (and maybe all the other similar markets) works very differently from the 1st tier countries' market (US, Canada, UK, Australia).

    Who would want a Portuguese-written site targeting Portuguese-speaking audience?
    Chances are very few people and the money wouldn't be that great.

    People here (Portugal) would rather build something from scratch.
    There's not that mentality of purchasing stuff that you can do yourself, even if it takes longer and is harder.

    Besides I usually get offers to post sponsored articles that pay me about €60 per article. (I already have some posted hence I cannot delete/sell the site, they must be kept published).

    And I still have that dream of turning things around in the future with a different approach regarding the business model (traffic + monetization strategies).

    Cheers,
    Louie

    • Ashis says:

      Hey Louie.

      Thanks for replying so fast. I guessed so, when I hit "Post comment" button.

      What would be the url of your site? if I may have a look?

  13. Louie Luc says:

    Hi Ashis,

    Of course I would mind people visiting and taking a look at my site.
    I'd be happy, actually.

    Unfortunately, for security reasons, I'm not allowed to reveal its URL.
    I'm sorry!

    If there's anything else you need me to explain, just ask! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Louie

  14. Nelius Knight says:

    Great post, very informative.