It’s a terrible feeling.
You’ve poured your heart and soul into an article. Hours have been spent polishing the language and double checking your references.
You click publish and wait for the dozens of comments, hundreds of shares and recognition you deserve.
But, it never comes.
The article you’ve spent so long perfecting joins the thousands of others that fail to make their mark. No shares, no comments and a view count that barely registers.
Your article is a failure.
So what went wrong? It’s a compelling, well written article that quickly gets to the heart of the matter. Why aren’t your audience going crazy like they do for the big time bloggers?
Well, the chances are that the article topic just isn’t what your readers are looking for.
For a long time my focus was all wrong. I focused on articles I wanted to read and covered topics for which I needed to gain a deeper understanding. I assumed that there were others out there who had the same problem and, well, you know what they say about assumption.
The truth is your focus needs to be firmly on your audience. You need to understand what it is they want to read, the problems that they have and the solutions they’re looking for.
It’s never about you.
Understand what an audience wants and you’re already half way to a winning article.
But wait. How do you find out what your audience wants to read?
That’s the million dollar question.
If you’ve got a large audience you could send out a survey and get the information right from those you’re writing for, but those with a large audience have probably already figured out what resonates well.
So what about the rest of us. The writers who don’t have a huge audience. How can the newbie bloggers and developing writers find the article topics that your audience love?
Well, you’ve got one of three paths to take for your article research.
1 – The Pete Boyle Method – Trust me, this isn’t as narcissistic as it sounds. The Pete Boyle Method involves throwing any idea out there to see what sticks. If something does well, you give yourself a pat on the back but fail to use the knowledge to develop your future content. It was the idiotic approach I used for a very long time.
2 – The Half Arsed Research Method – This is the method that many advocate and the majority follow. It’s not bad, it’s just not as good as it can be. You read as many blog posts within the niche as possible (which you should be doing anyway) to see what sort of trending topics there are. If there’s a site you like, you use the ‘top posts’ widget to navigate to your next article*.
3 – The Whole Arsed Research Method – This is the two-step method I’ve devised which will give you a exportable spreadsheet of a websites top posts and pages. You’ll have an actual list of the most popular articles on a site to read through, pick apart and understand to further your own future content.
*A quick caveat – Before I get onto my method I want to quickly examine popular post widgets like that one over there on the right. To put it bluntly, don’t trust them.
A lot of popular post widgets base the articles they display on view counts, but that’s not always the case. Some of the more savvy marketers out there will customise a popular post widget to display what they want it to.
This could be the top posts, posts with the most affiliate links or even those posts the webmaster thinks deserves more views. Generally speaking they’re a good rule of thumb, but I wouldn’t ever trust them implicitly.
So let’s take the guesswork out of your research?
Here’s What You Do First
The first step is incredibly simple.
Draw up a short list of popular blogs within your (or the prospect you’re targeting’s) niche.
That’s it. You can choose one or several. Personally I did this with ten sites when doing a little research for future HaW articles.
If you’re not sure on what to look for when choosing a site, consider the below:
1. Your prospect’s site (if you’re pitching a blog owner you need to know what their audience loves)
2. Find a site with a similar or overlapping niche
3. Do they have a large following / audience. If you’re not sure, check them out on Alexa.com for an estimation of traffic.
4. Find a blog that does what you / your prospect does, only better.
5. Is it run by someone who is well-respected in the industry?
Once you’ve got your shortlist of target sites, it’s time to head on over to the free tool that’s going to be doing all of the work for us.
Here’s Your Secret Research Weapon
The service is completely free but you will need to register after about five searches (I’ve not received any spammy awful emails from them).
Follow the above link and you’ll see the below.
The search bar is all you’re going to need on this page.
Enter the first site you’d like to research and click search. I’ve used boostblogtraffic.com in the example above. Mainly as I think the CEO, Jon Morrow is one of the best online writers around.
Pro-tip – Be sure you’re using the websites blog page URL. Some sites don’t have the blog on their homepage instead giving it its own URL. I recently used this method to get onto the writing team at Crazy Egg. Their site has a lot of pages not related to articles so I used the blog.crazyegg.com URL ensuring I only received article results.
Once your search has completed you’ll see a page similar to the one below. There’s a shed load of decent information you can explore if you’d like, but right now we’re going to click-through to the ‘Top Pages’ section on the left.
Click through to top pages and scroll down to see a list of the website’s top pages.
Before you start clicking through to the links you need to separate the wheat from the chaff. Most sites will have their ‘About’ or ‘Archives’ pages included in their most viewed. Whilst these pages have their uses, we want to focus on the popular articles.
There’s no option to exclude these so we’re going to have to get rid of them the old-fashioned way. Click on ‘Request CSV’ and you’ll be told that your report is processing.
Within three to five minutes of clicking ‘Request CSV’ you’ll receive an email with a download link.
Download and open the file.
You’ll see that there are a number of columns relating to page authority and links which aren’t important for our needs. Delete the unwanted columns and you’ll have an easily navigable spreadsheet.
I’ve limited my spreadsheets to URL and article title (the titles don’t always show up).
Now that I’ve got a cleaned up spreadsheet I’ll delete the rows of any URLs that don’t link to an article. The URL will display the name of the page it links to making it pretty easy to figure out what’s not going to be useful.
The whole process should take no longer than five to ten minutes. That’s five to ten minutes to get a full list of a successful sites most popular articles.
These are the articles that you should be reading. These articles are the ones that get the attention and links we’re all after..
Read as few or as many as you want. But pay attention when reading. Examine the tone of voice, the way the author approaches the topic, the language used and how they structure their article.
don’t forget that this is research, you’re not reading for enjoyment here.
Analyse each article as thoroughly as possible and think about how you can use what’s contained within them to improve your own content.
Can you cover a similar topic from a fresh perspective? Is there something you disagree with (contrarian articles often get a lot of love)? Can you adapt the style and structure to make your own articles more enjoyable to read?
If you’re targeting the right sites there’s a lot to be learned. There’s a reason your target site is popular and successful and you should be able to use aspects of their strategy and style to further your own business.
So, now you’ve got a quick method to find the top performing articles on any website. Use it to improve your own content, study a site you’d like to write for or simply for your own interest.
How does it stack up to your current research methods?
P.S If you want to save yourself some time and see the spreadsheet I’ve put together on various writing websites, drop a comment below and I’ll put a copy up. The spreadsheet has the top ten articles for ten popular writing sites. It should make for some good educational and information reading!
Image – photosteve101