This is what happened in the summer of 2016 for Nintendo and Niantic, the companies behind Pokemon Go. The augmented reality mobile game became a global phenomenon, almost overnight.
Other times in business, gold may just strike a company.
At least that’s what it felt like at AppInstitute in the summer of 2016, when we published a piece of Pokemon-related content on our website that garnered so much response it crashed our servers. OK, when I put it that way it doesn’t sound quite like gold — especially when compared to the billions of dollars Niantic made with their app. But, still. This Pokemon thing was a big deal for us. Maybe a little background would help.
Baby Got Back(links)
In the last couple of years, we’ve been building out the company blog with a focus on the intersection of mobile apps and marketing.
As it turns out, that’s a really busy intersection.
We were investing in the creation of quality, shareable content — and so was everybody else. That’s because we’re all content marketers now: this is what Google demands of us.
I mean, they didn’t literally demand it, but the way their algorithms are set up to assess a site’s relevance to any search makes a content-oriented strategy necessary. SEO and maintaining page ranks isn’t just a matter of having the right keywords on your site. Google also takes into account the number (and kind) of other websites linking back to you to determine your ranking on search results. The more “important” or popular the site is that’s linking back, the greater the weight Google places on that. Think of backlinks as your friends vouching for you: the more esteemed your friends, the more valuable their support.
Also, Google says these links need to be natural. That’s kind of a vague descriptor, but the intent is clear. In the simplest of terms: An unnatural link would be me leaving my URL in the comments section of a Mashable article. A natural link would be a Mashable article that uses my content as a source and links back to it (ahem).
In any case, this was where we found ourselves early in the summer of 2016. Our blog had been attracting visitors, with regular posting and social mentions spreading the word. Our ranking was high, but tenuous. It was a constant battle to stay relevant, so we really focused on building up our backlinks. The more we could get other sites pointing to us as an authority, the deeper our grasp on the coveted Page 1 listing.
To do this, we brainstormed ideas to direct the internet’s attention over in our direction. We wanted something light and shareable, with enough empirical heft to make it attractive to tech writers and bloggers looking for stories.
Ultimately, we decided to go with a web page that featured a real-time stat counter. In this case, we wanted to focus on mobile app growth. We’d show App Store downloads and revenues creeping ever higher for top mobile apps.
We fashioned the counter so that it started at zero whenever a user landed on the page.
What made the counter more sharable was the aspect of being able to view downloads and revenue climb in real time. It gave users context. We all agreed this was a solid plan, and moved ahead with the page design and marketing research end of it.
And then Pokemon Go happened.
I Like Big Bucks And I Cannot Lie
On July 6, 2016, we were putting the finishing touches on our app counter and already had a full promotion strategy in place.
That same day, Pokemon Go debuted on the Apple and Android App Stores and generated around $4 million in revenue. Within 13 hours, it occupied the top spot on Apple’s HIghest Grossing App chart. Our team immediately agreed on two observations about these numbers:
- Holy moly, that’s a lot of money! (Full disclosure: we did not say “moly.”)
- We needed to refocus our downloads and revenue counter around this incredible story.
With respect to observation number two, it was a no-brainer, even if we were only a few days away from our own launch. There’s just no better way to create shareable content than to have it be something that is of the moment. Content should always be fresh and current, but this was different. Pokemon Go was huge, and the world was having a shared moment. It would have been foolish not to capitalize on the opportunity we were handed. We also recognized that moments have ends, and we needed to get this done quickly, before the craze mellowed itself out and people got tired of hearing about it.
This is what I meant when I say “gold struck us.” Because it was at the top of the charts, Pokemon Go would have been part of our post regardless — but it would have been nothing more than an item on the “Highest Grossing Games” list. But at that moment there was so much hype around the game’s success, and it felt like we’d been handed a marketing gift.
And it turned out we were right.
Though we left most of the page intact, we gave Pokemon Go counter a spot above the fold and the legend read, “While you’ve been on this page Pokemon Go has taken over the world.” That made all the difference. The campaign was a huge success: in seven days, we attracted 92,000 visitors to our site — and I wasn’t joking earlier when I said the spike in traffic crashed our servers. We also amassed nearly 450 new backlinks (279 from “high authority” domains), and we started ranking for 294 new keywords.
All we had to do was change the focus of our content to piggyback on the Pokemon Go craze. That, and a whole lot of promotion. You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?
Take the Average App Man and Tell Him That: It’s Gotta Pack Much Stats
While our coders were busy revamping the page to is new Pokemon-centric theme, we went back to the beginning to identify who we were going to target in promoting our page. We narrowed the audience down to two (pretty large) categories:
- – Pokemon fans, who we found by searching for, and then joining, user communities and forums on the topic. We also searched users and groups on social media channels.
- – Journalists and bloggers, who were not quite as easy to locate as the fans. Our research led us to some great Twitter lists and we were able to identify the names and Twitter accounts of many tech writers and bloggers. From there, we used software — Kimono and Email Hunter — to automate the retrieving of all their email addresses.
We compiled our master list of forums and users that we thought would be most interested in the Pokemon counter. When the site went live, that’s when the real work began. Among the many efforts we made to make sure the right people were aware of this content:
- – For everyone we had an email address for, we sent an email. We used Replyapp to manage this email as a campaign, though, so we could monitor its progress and results. Each email was personalized (addressing the person by name), and the body of its text was short and to the point. Basically: We’ve got stats about the Pokemon Go craze, and you might be interested in them. Here’s the URL. It was a little more elegant than that, but you get the idea.
- – For Twitter users, we didn’t just send a cold DM hoping they’d read it. Instead, we had team members going through everyone on our list one by one. They’d follow the person, like one of their tweets, retweet it, and then sent a DM with the same message as the email, more or less.
- – Still on Twitter, we pinned a post with the link to the counter to the top of our main outreach account’s feed. Then we used software to automate the liking of any posts using keywords related to Pokemon.
- – We reached out to people from our list on Facebook, using Facebook Messenger, and also posted the link on several community forums we’d previously identified.
- – On Pokemon fan forums, we created accounts and posted the link to our counter.
- – We also got active on Quora, asking and answering questions about the stat site and gaining exposure as the questions showed up in others’ feeds.
- – Since we were all-in at this point, we figured we’d throw some money at the promotion too. We ran a campaign on Google Adwords targeted at searches related to Pokemon. Using Facebook Ads, our campaign was targeted at journalists and writers with interest in Pokemon Go. That’s a weird and tiny niche, now that I think about it. But if they existed, we were going to reach them.
They’re Hooked and They Can’t Stop Staring
Now would be the time when I go over the results and how well all this worked out, but I’ve already done that. And besides, the point of this piece is not to revel in my team’s success. The point is that we all learnt something from that success. I know our tech team did when our servers crashed.
Getting caught by surprise by the huge reaction caused me to step back and look at what was behind it. Although we knew it could be big, I never expected the kind of response that our content got. We’re all aware that creating engaging and fun content is the starting point. The content should always be topical — the bigger the topic, the better the response.
We got a little lucky in that we were already working on something that was a perfect fit for the tech story of the summer. You can bet that I’ll be keeping my eye out for the next big phenomenon that would make for a good topic.
And while the nature of the internet makes it easy for content to go viral, you still have to get that content in front of the right people at first. All viral content starts with the first share: find a whole group of people who are likely to share it, and you’re ahead of the game. But you’ve got to find those people. Nobody said digital marketing success would be easy. Your content strategy needs to be planned meticulously — plan every detail and target your promotions heavily.
You need to be completely organized about it if you want to achieve results that surprise you.
Originally published at bitly.com on June 6, 2017.