The Psychology of Successful Blog Posts

The psychology of a successful blog post
1 September 2014 Post Author:
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This post is mostly aimed towards those who are relatively new to the blogosphere….

…However, I believe that the key points of this post can be beneficial to bloggers of all statuses.

My goal is to breakdown the psychology of my most successful post to date in order to help you in your future posts.

By “successful post”, I mean that I was very pleased with the results following this post regarding traffic, comments, subscribers and more.

I recently returned from an incredible vacation in beautiful Cozumel, Mexico. Throughout my 10-day trip, I was able to capture some amazing photos and videos which wasn’t hard to do on the beautiful tropical island. I knew I had an awesome potential post on my hands and I wanted to highlight the beauty of Cozumel’s gorgeous scenery, marine life and its people to let others know about this amazing place.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it

I was anxious to share my trip highlights with my blog readers and beyond, so I began thinking about the best way to go about doing so.

As it often does, Simon Cinek’s famous research discovery from his incredible TedTalk began ringing in my ear: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it“. Cinek made this discovery after striving to answer the question of why some people and organizations are more innovative, influential, profitable and productive than others, year after year.

He studied people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Steve Jobs, the Wright Brothers and more, and determined that they had one uniting characteristic – they started with “why” and that determined the purpose of their work.

(For those of you unfamiliar with this talk, do yourself and your readers a huge favor – check it out immediately.)

So what the heck does this have to do with travel blogging?

This talk and discovery by Cinek is something that gives me clarity and purpose in my day to day tasks, especially in my writing. Based on all the research I have done and the successful bloggers I have followed and studied, it has become clear that the most successful writers and bloggers focus primarily on their audience. They write not based on the ‘what’, but based on the ‘why’: to inspire others to do X (in your case, most likely to travel and explore), to help others do Y, to show others the most effective way to do Z, etc.

After reminding myself of this, I then identified the “what” of my post and what I was trying to convey: I went on vacation to Cozumel, Mexico, did some cool things while there, and took some awesome pictures.

As for the “why”: To showcase the beautiful island of Cozumel, it’s amazing marine life, scenery and people. After making this distinction, It was clear to see which would resonate more with those who viewed my post.

The key to this distinction was that I took the emphasis off of me and my vacation, and placed it on Cozumel and its beautiful features (people, wildlife, scenery, etc.)

After deciding upon the goal of my post – to highlight and showcase Cozumel’s natural beauty, marine life and kind people – I then thought of the best way to do so. A photo post with a gallery or two and a blurb here and there? Ugh, lame… A scrolling slideshow? Yikes, wake me up when that’s over…

After thinking about the “why” of my post as well as what would be most attractive to my reader, I finally decided upon a list post.

Now if you are even vaguely familiar with the world wide web and/or Facebook, you know one thing for sure: we love lists. Twenty epic ALS challenge fails, 35 of the world’s cutest puppies, 15 people who are more annoying than the Kardashian’s. Ok, I’ll admit that I made up that last one (obviously it is not possible to be more annoying than the Kardashians), but if these examples had links attached to them, you would likely click them. Why? Because lists are universally appealing.

We hate surprises for the same reason that we hate trying wasabi-coated octopus for the first time (it was delicious) or meeting our girlfriend’s parents: we don’t know what to expect.

The unexpected causes anxiety, not for YOU (as a travel writer who enjoys traveling and craves the unknown), but for most. Lists fix this problem.

We as humans are cognitive misers, meaning we are always actively looking to save time and effort when engaging in various cognitive processes (decision-making, reading, writing, etc.). Lists feed our inner cognitive miser; they get right to the point, they specify what is to come and they appeal to everyone, even those who are incredibly busy or those with terrible ADD like me. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend a few minutes reading 10 Ways to Get a Killer 6-Pack or 5 Ways to Become a Millionaire Overnight (now you can see why sleazy promo titles get our attention)?

After deciding on a list post and taking all the above into consideration I decided on “30 Reasons Why You Should Visit Cozumel (in pictures)”.

I came to this decision after carefully thinking of the advantages:

  • my “why” was explicitly stated, immediately putting the focus on the why vs. the what,
  • it was in an easily readable and shareable list,
  • plus it was tied to a specific geographic location, perfect for targeting.

After putting together my post, making a few edits to the photos and captions, I was ready to publish. I hooked up my Hootsuite account to post on my Facebook, Google+ and Twitter pages the next day, set up my MailChimp email campaign to go out the next morning at 8:30AM EST and went to bed with una sonrisa (Spanish for ‘a smile’).

However, if I left it at that, my post certainly would not have taken off like it did.

Once the post went live the next morning, it was time to focus on one of the most important aspects of overall blogging success: promotion.

I’m a young blogger and so is my audience. If I were to rely solely on organic engagement, traffic and subscribers, sure my community would grow, but astronomically slower than it would without promotion. Promotion is essential to building your blog, audience, subscribers, and more; whether it’s in the form of guest posts, features or anything else, your content needs to be placed in front of audiences bigger than your own.

Before and after my post went live, I spent a few hours researching potential audiences who would appreciate and enjoy my post – websites, businesses, companies, Facebook groups, Facebook pages and more. I was convinced that anyone who either lived in Cozumel or loved visiting Cozumel would be my biggest supporters. After determining the appropriate people or groups to contact, I reached out to them.

So you spammed a bunch of websites and Facebook pages – come on, bro!

You may believe this to be the case, but again, my post was not about me, or even my website. It was about showing others why they should visit Cozumel in 30 beautiful pictures. I loved Cozumel and had an amazing time, and was simply sharing my post with others who felt the same about this beautiful place. And as I had expected, those whom I reached out to were more than happy to share my post.

Why?

Because by sharing and promoting my post, these people and individuals were essentially promoting themselves! It was a win-win for everyone.

Just to recap, here are the key reasons why I believe this particular post was my most successful post to date. These points are something that you can use and put into practice with your own writing to increase your likelihood of success, maximizing your audience and your reach.

  1. Identify your why. Why are you writing this post? Why should others care? Remember: people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Always write with this in mind.
  2. It’s not about you, it’s about your audience. Why engage yourself in travel writing/blogging instead of just keeping a daily journal? Because you want to share your writing with others. People follow others to be informed, entertained and inspired. If your writing fails to do any of these three things, your success will be severely limited. Make sure that your emphasis is not on you and your travels, but instead on your audience. Take the emphasis off of you and onto others. Showcase and highlight those people or places that made your trip so memorable – how can they benefit in some way from my post? How can I create something that resonates with them and something that they appreciate, something they are proud of? If you can do this, you will surely reap the benefits from your grateful audience.
  3. Specific geographic location. The more specific the better. Narrow down your niche market to be as specific as possible. If you can narrow the focus down to a certain city or town (or island), you will have much greater success targeting your audience. Spread the word about your post by reaching out to government websites, tourism/travel sites, Facebook pages, groups, Twitter accounts and more. This should go without saying, but make sure your post contains some flagship content that will be enjoyed by many.
  4. People love lists. List posts are universally appealing. Humans are cognitive misers, actively looking to save time and be more efficient when it comes to reading and other cognitive activities. Lists reduce anxiety by specifying what is to come and they are incredibly easy to read (and share).
  5. Actively promote your killer content, on post day and beyond. So you’ve spent hours perfecting this post. You’ve done your research and you’re extremely happy with the final product. Post day comes and you can’t wait to see the feedback you receive… well, don’t wait! Reach out to those with audiences much larger than yours in order to maximize your reach. If you have followed the above steps, others will be more than happy to share your post, so what are you waiting for?!
  6. Create content that promotes those who are reading it! Make it easy on yourself – set yourself up for success by creating content that promotes the individuals and groups who are reading it! When you do this, it is a win-win for everyone. Why wouldn’t your reader share the post that brags about how awesome their hometown is or how awesome their favorite travel destination is?

The feedback that came after my post was pretty amazing, and incredibly exciting for a blogger like myself. I exceeded my record number of views by nearly 3x in one day, surpassing my launch day traffic.

click to see Facebook Likes Shares and Comments

click to see Facebook Likes Shares and Comments

My article was featured by, shared and reposted by numerous websites, tourism boards, travel forums, Facebook pages, Facebook groups and receives thousands of likes, shares and more. My subscription list increased by nearly 30% in just three days. But these were far from the most rewarding result of my post…

The most rewarding thing that came from my post was the incredible comments I received from proud Cozumelians and fellow lovers of Cozumel. I was told that my post had captured “the true essence of Cozumel” and that they were thankful that I could share their island with the world. This sense of gratitude shown to me by my readers was what made this post a real success in my eyes.

Sure, some of this stuff may seem like common sense, and some may think to themselves “gosh, this kid is an idiot!”, but I hope this post provides some real value to you and your future writing. Thanks for reading and I would love to hear your feedback in the comments!

~ Matt
Share your best blog post promotion tips!

2 Responses to “The Psychology of Successful Blog Posts”

  1. Excellent advice, Matt – thanks for sharing!

    There’s a lot of controversy (not to mention snobbery) over the issue of “list” blog posts…a lot of writers (and editors) look down their nose at them, but I would bet that in their more honest moments, those people would have to admit the they can’t help wanting to read them too, just like the rest of us (personally I love them!).

    AND for the record, common-sense advice is ALWAYS worth repeating. :-)

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