Key Metrics: Number of spiky posts published per quarter, Spikes created per quarter.
Why it Matters: Spiky content will drive a high number of new unique visitors to your site in a very short time frame. Use these traffic spikes to serve retargeting ad impressions to visitors.
Final Result: Higher brand awareness, a refilled retargeting audience, and new organic backlinks.
What is spiky content?
“Spiky” content is designed to be widely shared or go “viral.”
The goal is that a certain percentage of spiky posts will be picked up on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook Groups, Hacker News, industry newsletters, or whatever channel is most appropriate for your audience.
We call these channels multiplicators. Multiplicators are channels that you can tap into to get your content in front of a much larger audience. These channels consistently work on increasing their audience reach as it is part of their business model.
Let’s take an industry newsletter as an example. Most newsletter businesses rely on selling sponsorship slots or ads within their newsletters to advertisers who are looking to reach a very targeted audience. The more subscribers the newsletter has, the greater the reach for potential advertisers and the more expensive the sponsorship slot.
As you might imagine, it’s in the newsletter curator’s best interest to increase their subscriber count (audience size), so most do this by consistently serving high-quality content to their subscribers.
Of course, you can buy sponsorship slots in a newsletter (for example, you can link to gated assets to obtain a “direct route” to turning someone into a “known name” in your database), but you can also try getting some of your blog posts organically placed in their newsletter. Assuming your content is relevant, interesting, and well-written, the newsletter might include it organically.
When this happens, you might get a huge boost in traffic for a short period of time after the newsletter shares your piece. This traffic spike is the goal of your spiky content.
Publish one spiky post per month.
A good goal is to publish one new spiky piece of content per month. Trying to get something to “go viral” is very hard, so you might assume that one in three will actually “take off.” We’ll show you how these numbers work out later in this section.
Below is an example of what these “spikes” will look like in your Google Analytics account.
In this example, we published blog posts that created some smaller spikes in late 2019 and early 2020 before publishing an article that created a significant spike in late September of 2020. This big spike brought in over 20,000 unique visitors in one week alone!
How to create spiky content
Not every post you create will go viral, but some things have a higher chance than others. Timely, polarizing, opinionated, and personal content tends to improve your chances. Most big brands avoid weighing in on controversial topics, so if you’re willing to swim upstream, you have the opportunity to stand out by making your stance known.
There are three key factors in producing successful spiky content:
1. Understanding your target market
First, it is an advantage to know what people in your target market are talking about and what resonates with them. This makes it hard to outsource this kind of content or hire a general content writer to produce it. Specialized agencies (like Draft.dev for technical content) or ghostwriters might be able to help though.
2. Writing with authority
Second, it helps when this content comes from someone with authority and an existing network. This is why founders, executives, and influencers (minor celebrities in their sphere) usually have the best chance at producing spiky content.
3. Writing for humans
Finally, it’s important to remember that these are posts created for humans. Don’t worry too much about search engine optimization (SEO) or keywords for this content, but instead, focus on writing them with distribution and “shareability” in mind. Then, invest time sharing and promoting the post across the right channels.
If you’re interested in learning more about content distribution into the “right channels,” sign up for our dedicated module on “Content Distribution Playbooks.”
Consider your values
Of course, you have to make sure that your content aligns with your core values.
For example, you might avoid writing about a direct competitor’s recent outage while touting your 99.99%+ uptime guarantee, as that kind of controversy goes against your values. Some businesses may feel this kind of direct attack is okay, but others won’t.
Spiky content in action
Jeff Hunter, the co-founder of AnyList, wrote an article in 2020 titled, Why AnyList Won’t Be Supporting Sign In with Apple.
The post was timely - people were talking about Apple’s feud with Hey.com at the time - and intentionally controversial. It hit the front page of Hacker News (a website popular with startup founders and tech journalists) with over 1000 upvotes and netted their domain hundreds of new backlinks, according to ahrefs.com. Based on previous experience with Hacker News, being featured on its front page usually drives tens of thousands of visitors.
Awareness generation and retargeting audiences
Capturing big traffic spikes in retargeting audiences is an incredibly valuable tool to increase brand awareness. As described above, retargeting lets you serve ads to your visitors as they browse other websites within a specified timeframe.
By consistently creating traffic spikes every quarter, you’ll have a new pool of users to serve retargeting ads to. This tactic allows you to reach these readers for weeks with ad impressions, making your single piece of content worth much more than the few minutes they spend on-site reading it.
How does retargeting drive brand awareness?
Say a reader in your target audience is subscribed to a specific newsletter (your multiplicator), and they see an interesting article featured in the newsletter. They click on it and end up on your blog. If they’ve visited your blog before and read other interesting posts, they might think, “Ahh, that’s another good article from <Your Company>.”
They don’t necessarily even know what your company does yet, but they occasionally read your articles. This is where retargeting ads start to shine.
You can create a simple graphic that shows your logo, company name, and tagline to serve as a retargeting ad to your audience. When readers visit other websites, they will see your company’s logo and start to recognize it. They also see the tagline, which makes them aware of what your company actually does. Instead of just consuming your content and then leaving, they can decide whether your service is something they need or want to learn more about.
The great thing about retargeting ads is that you don’t pay for impressions (just clicks), so retargeting allows you to build brand awareness without necessarily spending a lot of money.
Set a 90-day or shorter retargeting duration.
You can choose to retarget users for up to 90 days. You might think this is aggressive, but when you’re trying to establish awareness in the early days, a long retargeting window is okay.
Mature brands can shorten their retargeting duration as they have already created base awareness and might have the means to publish spiky blog posts more frequently. They might also focus their retargeting ads on different goals like lead creation by advertising a gated asset.
Your goal is to generate a new spiky article before the 90-day retargeting window from the previous article expires. Of course, you can’t assume that every one of your spiky blog posts will get picked up by a multiplicator (like an industry newsletter), but if 1 in 3 does, you would need to publish one spiky blog post per month (3x30 = 90 days).
Capture users and make them aware of what you do
If you set up an email signup form as described in the first part of this course, you’re also likely to get a lot of email signups during traffic spikes. Even if these users aren’t your ideal customers, you can use a drip campaign or regular email newsletter to make them aware of what you do and qualify them.
Before publishing a spiky blog post, make sure to think about the ideal calls to action on the article. These readers might know what you do, and they might not be interested in it yet, so asking them to immediately sign up or “talk to sales” is probably not the best choice.
You could create special offers or calls to action on each spiky post to improve your signup rate, but it is much easier to offer a gated asset that gets readers onto your email list.
This call to action should appeal to the “most common denominator” for your audience, so the downloadable asset should be an awareness (top of the funnel) or consideration (middle of the funnel) piece of content.
To learn more about creating gated assets, sign up for access to our module on “Keyword Audits and Content Clusters.”
Spiky traffic and backlinks
Finally, spiky posts will attract backlinks. Other blogs and newsletters look to social media to source content, so you’ll see a residual traffic increase for days or weeks after your initial spike.
External backlinks to your spiky content from quality sources (i.e., domains with high domain rating) will help raise your domain rating. This allows your other blog posts and product landing pages to rank higher (assuming they’re all served on the same domain and not a subdomain or an entirely different domain).
You’ll see the most sustainable, long-term value from your evergreen content, but by augmenting it with spikes that help build brand awareness and fill up your retargeting audiences, you’ll create a healthy, scalable, predictable content engine.