Surprise: Blog Post Ideas that Worked vs Those that Didn’t Unexpectedly

When it comes to blog post ideas I have more than I can implement. Often the choice is not mine but the clients’.

Many times I am sure an idea will succeed on a grand scale while some articles are rather “important” than to be expected to become popular.

Here are examples of both expectations and the surprising results.

Popularity vs importance


After a decade of professional blogging I know pretty well what works and what doesn’t on the Web at a particular time. I can’t cite scientific data in most cases and often I have to rely on a gut feeling. It proves me right in the majority of cases but sometimes I surprise myself.

Of course there are numerous factors deciding whether an article or other content piece will succeed in getting popular. One post would be probably not even enough to explain all the intricacies. Let it be said that not everything what’s popular is also good. Remember that even Hitler has been elected chancellor by popular vote. Nazi Germany wasn’t a dictatorship from day one.

Popularity can be a double-edged sword.

How many bloggers and journalists tried to become popular over night by declaring “SEO is dead” just to lose their credibility for years to come? Getting popular is not the only goal of each article I write.

Quite frequently there is something important to tell everybody so that I come up with an idea that would make the message interesting for those who should care about it. In an ideal world the most important messages get the biggest audiences.

In reality cats and celebrities rule the attention economy.

Even in a business to business environment like SEO there are some topics everybody favors while others that are much more significant get ignored. One of the best examples is site speed. Nobody besides a few nerds really care for it but it really affects businesses. Actually you may lose a lot money because of a slow site.

I don’t even pitch site speed articles because they usually are about repeating the same old techniques everybody chooses to ignore anyway. I usually propose other “important” topics though.

Key ingredients of shareable content

There are a few ingredients you have to add to an article to make sure it gets shared a lot. Optimization for search traffic or for returning visitors coming directly is often different. For social media success an intriguing headline is crucial. It needs to include

  • a topic everybody cares about already (such as content marketing, link building, growth hacking)
  • novelty (new, latest, [year])
  • actionable advice (how to, tutorial, guide)
  • data driven insights (study, survey, infographic)
  • positive personal experience (how I, case study)

Such a post needs a striking image or even better more than one. Something intriguing and out of ordinary is the best choice, in other words it’s an eye catcher. People involved who will share it initially are also key to shareability. The best content does not make sense without an audience or at least people who tell others about it.

Surprising success example


My by far most popular article on social media during the last 6 months has been “Why Covering Content Beats Links for Attracting Influencers” here on Positionly. This was an awkward article with a cumbersome and difficult to grasp headline. It’s also the short version. I have reduced the original headline idea by a few words.


I didn’t write this one in order to get popular. It was meant as an explanation to my blog publishers who tend to play safe and always prefer the good old topics and headlines that have worked in the past no matter what’s going on currently and where the larger audiences reside by now.

 Surprising failure example

One of my unexpectedly not very successful articles has been “Industrial Strength Outreach Prerequisites” over at Squawk. The post does almost everything right, the topic “outreach” matters to all kinds of people, be it

  • PR
  • marketing
  • SEO

practitioners of all levels. I’ve used an example of an agency that solely focuses on influencer outreach and relationship building and thrives pretty well by doing so.


It’s almost a case study with the exception that I wasn’t featuring my own work but showed off how other did it right. The headline might appear a bit clunky but the unusual wording makes it unique and appealing without sounding obviously promotional. It’s basically synonymous with “Awesome Outreach Techniques” without being boring or so I thought.

Squawk is not very widely read but it’s owned by the Raven Tools founder and gets a lot of additional publicity by their audiences. It’s not a problem of promotion then. Somehow the article failed to get into the limelight despite of it.

Possible explanation

Sometimes we as content creators are focusing so much on perceived success that we become boring and formulaic. We try to recreate past successes by copying them until nothing of value is left.

When we forget that we have to succeed by gaining a large audience on social media and instead try to spread the word about issues that really matter we not only sound more convincing we also strike a chord with larger audiences. Last but not least it’s not only about people on social media.

Searchers and regular readers might appear seemingly from nowhere and make a content piece popular on social media too.

After all everybody is “social” by now. When we stop writing for the social media “persona” and use fewer superlatives and headline formulas we get the attention of people bored with those repetitive “me too” articles.

Things we deem important might matter to a lot of other people as well even though we don’t have the proof yet that such a new topic might have mass appeal. Taking risks often pays off while trying to go after the safe bet might not. Repeating yourself makes fewer returning visitors listen. Coming up with something new may get their attention again.

* (CC BY 2.0)  Creative Commons image by Tangi Bertin

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Tad Chef

Blog, Social Media & Search Specialist at
My name is Tadeusz Szewczyk but most people know me as Tad Chef. I help people with blogs, social media and search both in German & English. I also write about these for weblogs from around the world and my own blog over at This is my virtual return to my place of birth, Poland.

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