You can learn some of the best things about blogging by looking at the world’s most popular blogs.
These blogs are popular for a reason. And they only get more popular as time goes on. Viral popularity feeds popularity, snowballing into a massive cultural force.
I like learning from people and businesses who know what they’re doing. Some of the top features of the world’s most popular blogs demonstrate three powerful lessons that you can implement on your blog.
A note about selection: These three blogs – The Huffington Post, TMZ, and Business Insider – are the most popular on the eBiz list, which collates data from Alexa, U.S. Traffic Rank, Compete, and Quantcast.
And are websites truly blogs? Yes. A blog is bigger than you might think.
Each of these blogs is, indeed, a blog, but each includes a lot of writers and a massive output of content.
1. Find and publish killer content
The Huffington Post: 110 million estimated unique monthly visitors
Question: How does HuffPost manage to publish some of the most viral articles on the Internet?
Answer: Because HuffPost is a news aggregator.
The Huffington Post publishes articles found elsewhere on the web by aggregating or collecting these articles and publishing them on its domain.
The Huffington Post employs people not just to write great content, but to look for great content that other people write. When they find it, The Huffington Post publishes it.
The result? Maniacal sharing and instant popularity.
HuffPost’s most popular article in the past year was the somewhat prurient “5 Reasons You Should Have Sex With Your Husband Every Night.”
But where did HuffPost find this article with such shareable potential?
On another blog.
Meg Conley published her insanely popular article in December 2012.
HuffPost republished the article in August 2014.
You may not choose to aggregate, which is fine. However, you can offer your own content for syndication – the process of pushing your blog content to third-party sites. It’s like saying, “free article here!” A variety of syndication networks helps bloggers promote their content this way.
2. Feed and fuel curiosity
TMZ: 30 million unique monthly visitors
TMZ is a website about celebrities. OK, it’s an unabashed gossip site. And it’s insanely popular.
The question is why? Keith O’Brien tries, somewhat clumsily, to explain the obsession with celebrity gossip:
I think TMZ and gossip sites are popular of course because of the culture we live in – where celebrities’ lives are spectator sports and where pieces of content – rumors, snippets of video, Instagram photos, insensitive Tweets – can easily power the stream.
In other words, celebrity gossip sites are popular because we like to watch celebrities. But why do people like to watch celebrities?
We are insatiably curious beings. Curiosity is ingrained in the body’s neurology, empowering our learning, our discovery, and even motivating our actions. Add celebrities into the mix and we are curious about how the elite live with fame and fortune – sometimes a life to which we aspire.
TMZ feeds this desire for such information while feeding and sustaining the desire for more content on the subject.
The headlines – specific, salacious, and appealing – pique curiosity.
Each of TMZ’s headlines tantalizes with information, but leaves readers wanting just a bit more:
- Mariah Carey in a SKIN-TIGHT Wet Suit – Wait ’Til You See These Curves – The teasing headline compels people to click and see those curves.
- Justin Bieber Opens Up on Relationship & Was That a Slam Directed at Selena?! – People want to hear the inside perspective and determine if indeed the singer was slamming Selena.
- You Won’t Even Recognize Candace Cameron Bure Now – Or will we? Must click. Must see.
And on the headlines go, driven by the engine of curiosity.
Thankfully, celebrity sites don’t have a monopoly on curiosity. Every blog has a niche, and every niche has curious readers. Your goal is to engage the curiosity of your readers to elicit their engagement.
In my blog, Quicksprout, I’ve tried to engage curiosity with headlines such as this: How a Ferrari Made Me a Million Bucks. (So far, it’s my third-most popular post.)
I knew it worked when people left comments like this one:
- Write powerful and intriguing headlines.
- Offer secrets, tips, tricks, hacks, or inside information.
- Provide exclusive information to people who sign up or provide their email addresses.
3. Know your audience absolutely
Business Insider: 25.5 million estimated unique monthly visitors
Business Insider knows who it is trying to reach. Evidently, it does a darn good job of it.
How can I be so sure?
Take a look at the stats. Growing a fanatical reader base of nearly 30 million doesn’t happen through haphazard, unfocused article blasting. Business Insider is bigger than its rival CNBC and outperforms Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and other massive news sites.
Henry Blodget, Business Insider’s CEO explains, “Our site is half the size of The Wall Street Journal, and they have about 1,700 people on staff.” Business Insider, by contrast, runs a lean, mean content-generation machine with far fewer people.
So, what are the characteristics of Business Insider’s target audience?
- Many Wall Street traders
- Consume content during the workday
- Average four minutes on the site (which is the estimated reading attention span of Wall Street traders)
- Read Clusterstock more than any other section on site
Business Insider pivots to make the most of this audience and its proclivity for engaging headlines, its love of business news, and its human curiosity about celebs, clothing tips, and cool start-ups.
Entrepreneur Mark Cuban got it right with his analysis on Business Insider:
I like that they pull no punches. They find stories that you would sit and discuss with friends and associates, that are topical, interesting, and often give a unique side of a story. I’m a big fan.
How do you create content that people would “sit and discuss with friends?” You have to know for whom you’re writing.
Everything about content marketing rests on this one point – who is your audience? If I’m writing for fitness aficionados, I’m going to write a certain way. If I’m writing for programmers, I’m going to write another way. What works for group A is not going to work for group B.
If you want to take your content marketing to the next level, what’s the most important thing you can do?
- Write more frequently?
- Write longer content?
- Post more images?
- Do more social promotion?
- Create better headlines?
All of those are important but useless if you don’t know your audience. Defining your target audience is critical to the success of any marketing effort, especially content marketing.
Now, just to be clear, these aren’t the only things that have skyrocketed The Huffington Post, TMZ, and Business Insider to stardom. A website doesn’t hit the top three by a single trick.
Even so, they’re doing some things right. And you can imitate those things.
It comes down to great content. You don’t need a star staff, a celebrity endorsement, or a $7 million round of funding to be successful in the content marketing game. You have all that you need right now.
Looking to score big points with your target audience? CMI’s 2016 Content Marketing Playbook has tips, insights, and ideas that can help increase your success with 24 of the top content marketing tactics.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute