How To Hack the News Cycle and Go Viral: The Pokémon GO Story

For several months we have been developing our comprehensive blog strategy aimed at targeting a variety of industries and specific personas within each industry. Our blog calendar is planned out by our content team and blog posts are scheduled at least two weeks in advance. These posts are researched and written a day or two in advance but it is absolutely essential that we are ready to change focus and shift scheduling depending on the news cycle.

That is exactly what happened with Pokémon GO.

Pokémon GO was initially released in the US, Australia, and New Zealand on Wednesday, July 6th and there was very little marketing involved in its release. On Thursday, July 7th, we began to see some rumblings about the app online, particularly on Reddit, where one post of a man catching a Pidgey while his wife gave birth went viral (we later used this image in our blog post).

That same day, myself, Ari Rosenstein, our Senior Director of Marketing, and Joseph Schwartz our Blog Editor had all independently heard of Pokémon Go and decided to dive into the data and push off our blog schedule to accommodate this new phenomenon.

Stumbling upon Pokémon GO on Reddit was no accident, and as part of our daily content research, we scour the Internet to find the latest digital trends. This involves tracking trending subreddits on Reddit, researching trends on Twitter, subscribing to popular publishers such as Business Insider and Buzzfeed, and checking online trends using SimilarWeb’s trending app page.

Fast forward to Sunday, July 10th and many mainstream websites were reporting on Pokémon GO’s popularity. USA Today reported that teens were using lures to rob people, CNN reported that a girl had found a dead body while playing the game, and many other news stories began to emerge regarding the game’s popularity. Everyone knew it was becoming popular, but nobody knew how popular!

Except us.

Every day, when we write blog posts on our Digital Vision blog, we use SimilarWeb data to show trends, insights, and marketing and business strategies. SimilarWeb has data on every website and app and every day we process billions of data points that turn digital noise into actionable insights.

The first thing we did when looking at the data behind the app was check the growth in US installs. Our data on apps comes from Android devices and we are able to tell what percent of Android devices have the app installed, a metric we also refer to as ‘reach’.

By July 8th, Pokémon GO had reached just over 5% of US Android phones, a data point that is pretty impressive on its own. However, showing one statistic on its own doesn’t carry much weight and it was then that we made the crucial decision to compare Pokémon GO to other apps.

We began researching data behind some well known US Android apps to find an app that Pokémon GO had already passed. This was done using our SimilarWeb App Index which ranks apps using an algorithm based on Current Installs and Daily Active Users. We soon discovered that Tinder, the exceptionally popular dating app, was installed on roughly 2.5% of US Android phones meaning that within 3 days Pokémon GO had a larger reach than Tinder. We also figured that like Tinder, Pokémon GO was beginning to connect people, and it was no surprise when PokeDate launched a few weeks later.

vs tinder

Next, we began researching SimilarWeb data on Daily Active Users (DAUs) to discover not just how large the app’s reach was, but how large the app’s usage was. By July 8th, almost 3% of the entire US Android population was using the app, meaning most of those who downloaded Pokémon GO were also playing Pokémon GO.

Once again, we knew 3% was high, but without context, the number doesn’t make much sense. Similar to the process we used for finding a benchmark on the app’s reach, we quickly found one app which had a similar percent of DAUs in the US.

Enter Twitter.

Similar to Tinder, we looked at Twitter as a benchmark, an idea which stemmed, once again, from the social nature of both apps. According to our early data, Pokémon GO was trailing Twitter on DAUs but by a very small margin. We knew that given the trajectory of the app, combined with the online zeitgeist, it was only a matter of time. Hence, in the blog, Joseph wrote that, “in a few more days, Pokémon GO will likely have more Daily Active Users than the well-established social network.”

v twitter

To cap off the post, we looked at how people outside the US and Australia were downloading the app, and found that traffic to had increased 597% in just one day. This APK site allowed international users to circumvent the app store and download the app online. Traffic to the site came mostly via search, and search terms were mostly Pokémon related.

After the post went live, we shared it on our social media channels and began checking our Google Analytics account to track the Real-Time analytics. Our tweet, which focused on the Tinder angle became one of our most popular tweets and began to give us a trickle of blog traffic.

Soon, however, we noticed a huge surge in blog traffic, coming thanks to a Reddit post on the Pokémon GO subreddit, which got nearly 3,000 upvotes.

Then came the media coverage, with Forbes covering our post only a few hours after we published. The headline Forbes used was ‘Pokémon GO’ Is About To Surpass Twitter In Daily Active Users On Android and it was this comparison that set the tone for media coverage over the next few weeks. The Forbes article included links to our blog post and embedded the Twitter VS Pokémon GO graph you see above.

As of this writing, the Forbes article had over 450,000 views, over 40,000 Social Media shares (according to BuzzSumo), and brought us over 3,000 new visitors to our blog. Using our new Keyword Analysis tool, we can also discover that, among publishers, Forbes ‘won’ the Pokémon GO news cycle in July and took 3.5% of all organic desktop traffic for the keyword ‘pokemon go’.


Though Forbes was the first publication to cover our post, it was far from being the last and on Monday, our PR Director, whose role includes ensuring coverage of our blog posts and reports, sent out the blog post to dozens of journalists, many of whom we have spent months cultivating relationships with. From there, the press kept coming and coming and coming.

In total, we had well over 1000 online publications who quoted us and linked to our blog post (including The New York Times, CNNCNET, Business Inisder, USA TodayFortune, TechCrunch, BBC, etc.)  and within 4 days of publishing, we had brought over 200,000 visitors to our blog. To put that in perspective, throughout the entire Q1 2016, our blog had just over 82,000 visitors, meaning in 4 days we had beaten 3 months by 144%. Monday, July 11th became our best day of traffic all-time to

Referrals, however, only accounted for a quarter of our blog traffic during the week after Pokémon GO, and it was Organic Search that brought us the most blog visitors overall. The search term ‘pokemon go’ alone brought us 6,000 blog visitors many of whom came because the post was indexed by Google as “In the News”. We also saw a significant amount of search traffic from search terms such as ‘pokemon go downloads’ and ‘pokemon go stats’ which combined to bring 8,500 visitors. People were looking for the data behind Pokémon GO and we were there to provide it.

How To Hack the News Cycle and Go Viral: The Pokémon GO Story

While this huge uptick in blog visitors was certainly a win for our team, visitors is not the only metric by which we measure success. With our awesome BI team, we were able to see a major increase in registrations to SimilarWeb Pro and compared registrations on Monday, July 11th to the average registrations on Mondays from the previous 4 weeks. Overall, registrations were up 22%, and using the same formula, we discovered that brand search was up by 40%.

Our blog visitors weren’t just reading one article and leaving, many were actually registering for SimilarWeb and finding out more about the wonders that can be done with our data.

If you yourself are a blog editor or content marketer, you’re likely asking how you too can replicate this level of success. Below are 11 of our best tips:

  1. Have an editorial calendar but don’t be afraid to deviate from it. Had we waited until later in the week to post about Pokémon GO, we would have missed out on the news cycle and not gone as viral as we did. When to publish is just as crucial as what to publish.
  2. Make reading the news a part of your daily schedule. Whether on your commute or at your desk, reading the news is a crucial first step in discovering what’s trending online. Social networks like Reddit and Twitter are also good ways to see what the internet is talking about on any given day.
  3. Listen to your marketing team. On Thursday, 3 members of our marketing team all independently mentioned that we should consider writing about Pokémon GO. We knew this was something not to be missed.
  4. Use comparisons whenever possible. No matter what type of content you create, you will inevitably use a statistic or fact or figure that is familiar to you but will need context for others. Comparing your fact or figure to something well-known will provide context and understanding for the masses.
  5. Make a prediction, have an opinion. Facts and numbers are nice, but using those to try and predict the future is what will really get people’s attention. If your prediction turns out to be wrong, as long as it is solidly based on data and facts, you can explain in a follow-up post why it was wrong.
  6. Teamwork. Teamwork. Teamwork. Our Pokémon GO post wouldn’t have been as successful if we hadn’t coordinated the distribution with our Social Media Manager and PR Director. Furthermore, we had keyword research help from our Head of SEO and data analysis help from our Data Science team.
  7. Graphs provide a visual for your insights. If you can show your data in addition to dissecting the data, it will allow your readers to absorb the data themselves. Furthermore, many of your blog readers will likely be scrolling through your content, and an eye-popping graph will capture their attention quickly.
  8. Don’t forget about other visuals. In our Pokémon GO post, we included the image of a Pokémon appearing in a hospital delivery room and this further helped increase the posts readability. In some of our follow-up posts, we embedded tweets, gifs, and other images, to give the posts a certain flow that kept readers interested.
  9. Target your post, but don’t be exclusive. As I mentioned in the intro, we write our blog posts with a specific industry and persona in mind. For this post, the industry was game apps, and the intended persona was Business Researcher. For Business Researchers, we matched our data with early data on Niantic’s revenue and showed how increases in usage correlated to increases in stock value. This data provided value to our targeted persona but was also relatable to a massive readership.
  10. Get your blog indexed by Google News. This process can take a while but will be well worth the effort. Have your marketing team research the requirements of getting indexed and build up your domain authority over time. This effort was coordinated by our head of SEO and Growth team.
  11. Use SimilarWeb to provide insights and data for your blog. SimilarWeb is a content creator’s goldmine and every day we use our data to create interesting and relevant blog posts. This data can also help you uncover and track online trends. If you are writing about any website or app, you can find free data and insights on our homepage or contact us here for more. Furthermore, our free browser extension can provide you with quick insights on any website in the world, without ever having to leave the site.

If you’d like to contact me, feel free to reach out on Twitter @MAlexenberg.


About the Author -

Moshe Alexenberg is the Head of Content and Digital Insights at SimilarWeb. He has an MBA in Strategic Management and his online marketing expertise is in content marketing, digital storytelling, and data analytics.

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