From failure to viral content powerhouse: The Priceonomics story



100,000 views on a single piece of content.
Meh. That’s nothing for Priceonomics, the powerhouse company that produces viral content.

Some blogs never get a million views per year.
A single article like this one from Priceonomics can get over one million views in just a year.

Their blog is the ONLY advertising that Priceonomics does.  And it’s remarkable.

At the end of 2014, their content generated about 2,000,000 visitors per month.
All created by four writers.

Compare that to the huge team of over 300 that the now defunct employed in 2014. It becomes even more impressive when you realize that Gawker’s traffic that year breaks down to 361,111.11 visits per month generated by each writer. Priceonomics reaches about half a million views per writer.

The graph below compares monthly website visits generated per writer by major publications.

We did the best we could to get accurate data. The traffic numbers and number of writers were compiled from third party sources.

The graph should give you a reasonable idea of just how popular Priceonomics articles are, and just how good their writers are.

Rohin Dhar, the CEO, was one of the two original writers.
He was instrumental in creating the Priceonomics way of content marketing.

Today the small team is famous for the number of pieces they’ve created that have gone viral.

But it didn’t start out all roses and rainbows for Priceonomics.

The company started out writing and selling pricing guides (hence the company’s name), and struggled to get traction. They weren’t getting the consistent traffic they needed.

Some days we’d come into the office and find that traffic was booming. Other days we’d come in and find that Google had decided to decimate our traffic.

Not good. Their original idea was falling apart. Priceonomics could have easily gone the way of so many other startups and went belly up.

How Content Marketing Saved Priceonomics

Despite the setbacks, Rohin and his cofounder continued writing. At the time, they didn’t have any experience under their belts. They were “play-acting” at being marketers. To them, the point of a blog was to “talk about their products and sell them”.

So one fateful December evening in 2011, they carefully crafted a post titled “Buy Christmas Gifts for Hackers on Craigslist”. The post was designed to talk about their price guides and sell them. It was a standard, crappy marketing post. The same type of thing you find littering company’s blogs all over the internet.  But with Christmas looming close, just two days away, the founders had yet to finish the post.

As luck would have it, they decided to junk it.

Racking their brains they decided to write a new post, a post based on personal experience.
The post was titled “Adventures in Aeron Chair Arbitrage”.
It was the post that would change the fate of Priceonomics.

(image of the priceonomics team and the aeron chair)

The article told of the Priceonomics team’s unique experience finding underpriced Aeron Chairs on craigslist and selling them to other startups in the Bay Area for a tidy little profit.

It was well written. Entertaining.

Here’s a short excerpt from the post:

Here’s a story about the time we made $300 in profit buying used Aeron Chairs on Craigslist and reselling them to our Y Combinator classmates at marked up prices. Basically, we were experimenting if we could make a business out of arbitraging used goods. In short, we learned that lugging furniture around the Bay Area didn’t seem to be an especially scalable business model.

The team submitted the post to Hacker News. Slowly but surely, the post on Aeron Chairs rose to the top of Hacker News.
Thereafter, it was picked up by the Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch and others.

Most importantly, the post’s success showed the guys at Priceonomics that they could write massively popular viral content. By publishing interesting information on their blog, journalists actually came to them.

The small team quickly progressed to writing other pieces on their blog about their own data, and then to exploring broader questions based on outside information.

How Priceonomics Does Content Marketing Today

Today, the company tells beautiful stories powered by data.
These stories attract an audience.
And Priceonomics sells to that audience.

While the blog exists from a business standpoint to generate leads for their data services and their new content tracker product, Rohin has an “irrational” love for the blog. He loves publishing so much that he professes in his content marketing handbook, “We sell products so we can afford to write good things.”

Now, the Priceonomics blog successfully attracts both B2B and B2C content leads for the company. A unique mix of story-based information, content and PR is the top of their marketing funnel.

And it’s addictive to read.

In 2016, the site has averaged 941,082 views per month.
Put differently, the entire state of Montana visits the blog each month.

pasted image 0

In the past 12 months (October 2015 – October 2016) Priceonomics articles have been shared 504,322 times.

Not too shabby. That is 2,425 shares on average per article.
But that number is a bit misleading.

Priceonomics reported that in 2014 they published 319 articles.
Of those posts, ten articles accounted for 50% of their traffic.

The same holds true for the shares in 2016. Ten articles accounted for 66% of the total shares.
And of those ten, one single article, “Diamonds Are Bullshit”, brought in 34% of the total shares.

By no means are the rest of the articles duds. They still get thousands of shares and views each.

It’s an important lesson that you can learn from Priceonomics.
Only a small percentage of your content is going to be a huge hit.

And that’s okay.
In fact, it’s likely to happen.

How Do You Create Viral Content and Get It Shared Like Priceonomics?

First, you read their content marketing handbook.
Then you put in the elbow grease.
Find information.
Craft your story.

Also, you could directly ask Rohin to reveal his secrets and views about content marketing.
Or you could just read the interview we did with the prolific CEO below.

Here’s what we asked him:rohin

Do you consider yourself more as a data scientist or storyteller? Why?

A storyteller for sure! Turning data into awesome content is more about coming up with an interesting idea for an article then anything else. Will people care about this? Will journalists want to write about it? Will people share the topic with their friends?

While working with the data can be challenging, the harder part is idea generation.

What’s the most successful piece of content you’ve ever made? And why do you think it worked so well?

The most popular article we ever published was called “How Much Does it Cost To Book Your Favorite Band”, with over 2 million views.

It’s not our best article, but it’s easy to see why it’s popular: the article mentions everyone’s favorite band, so everyone was interested in reading it.

What tools are in your content marketing stack?

We primarily run our business on Content Tracker, a software program we built that anyone can use. It measures our inbound links, traffic, social sharing, and conversions generated by each article we write. It notifies us when we get new press mentions in Slack or by email.

We also use the Editorial Calendar to plan our schedule and A/B testing tool to pick the best headline in Tracker. Most of the features in Content Tracker are free, and we think all content marketers should use it.

What’s the one tip you have for content marketers who are looking to start producing data-driven content?

Put things in a ranked list.

What are the biggest trends in content marketing going to be for 2017?

I think companies are getting away from doing content marketing for brand building and realizing there isn’t huge upside in financing long-form articles that are unrelated to their businesses. B2B companies are pretty much entirely focused on lead generation and having good content they can send along to the accounts they are working to close. B2C companies are focused on conversations and generating inbound links for SEO.

If you want to hear more from Rohin and are interested in the Priceonomics data-driven style of viral content, then you’ll want to check out the Priceonomics Content Marketing Conference on November 1st.

Make sure you don’t miss our next interview. To get notified when we post it → join our email list

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *