10 Lessons Learned From Running A Failed Viral News Site
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 guests 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.
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 audiences, 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.
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 afterward.
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 that 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.
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Unless you have a dedicated team of developers working on your site (and even so), don’t try to reinvent the wheel.
(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.
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.
- 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.
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!).
- Focus on one task at a time – make it a priority -- and try to be the best that you can be at it
- Don’t do anything else until you’re finished
- 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.
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.
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:
It’s true that people interact much more with content posted directly on Facebook that on an external website.
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.
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.
It is not always about how fast and good you post.
It is not always about the 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.
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 of 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.
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 given 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.
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 $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 fewer and fewer visits... less money I was making, obviously.
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 where 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 How to Get More Targeted Traffic To Your Niche Sites With Social Media and just one The Ultimate Guide to Niche Site Monetization: With 35 Real-Life Money-Making Examples that you never know when it is going to stop flowing... it’s way too risky.
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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.
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 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,