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3 Things the Most Successful Pieces of Content Have in Common

3 Things the Most Successful Pieces of Content Have in Common

elements successful content


Editor’s note: This post was written by Rohan, who creates digital master plans at E2M Solutions for companies seeking advanced search marketing services. He also works on mobile UX improvement for startups and sui generis brands at Hit him up on Google+ for a chat on any of these areas.

We are swimming in a veritable ocean of content on the internet today. Data shows that we create over 211 million pieces of content every minute.

Videos, articles, infographics, images, memes, GIFs – the sheer variety can be mind boggling. From absolute garbage that has been spun and re-spun a million times to pieces that are tearjerkers hands down, the quality of all this content is equally diverse.

So what does it take to stand out in the midst of this unmitigated clutter attack? You’d be tempted to think “quality content.” Well, you’re not wrong there. However, what constitutes quality? What is that secret ingredient X that takes certain pieces viral while others languish in the backrooms of the internet?

Greek philosopher Aristotle had a head start on us in this area. As the foremost thinker of his times, Aristotle had vested interests in presenting his ideas in such a way that they remain extraordinary for posterity. He hit upon a formula for memorable and persuasive content that stands relevant even today.

  • Ethos meaning Credibility
  • Pathos meaning Emotion
  • Logos meaning Logic

Content that satisfies one or more of these requirements has a good shot at being remarkable. But how do you weave Ethos, Pathos, Logos into contemporary, digitally-focused content? Here are a few ideas:

  1. A Diamond Is Forever: Offer Eternal Value

De Beers has women around the world convinced that a diamond is forever. Just as the “Forevermark” was De Beers’ road to riches, content that retains its value forever is your businesses claim to eternal popularity. Focus on creating content that remains relevant not just today or tomorrow, but even a few years down the line. A good example is this article by Econsultancy about web dashboards. Even though the number of shares on it look modest at face value, Econsultancy received between 5,000 and 10,000 page views a week for over a year, from June 2013 to June 2014, thanks to this single piece of content.

elements successful content


I’ve experienced this first-hand. Our post on keyword tools was the most popular page on the site for two years straight and received more visits than the homepage during this period (July 2013 to June 2015).

elements successful content

Another article – Confessions of a Google Spammer – is currently reigning over all others in terms of popularity. With over 97,000 shares and 161,000 views in less than three months since being published, this one has tapped into a definite “forever popular” secret. The fact that this article offers a big takeaway – don’t mess with Google and its algorithms – in the form of a dramatic story, complete with plot twists, a fall from grace and an eventual resurgence, makes it a great anytime read. Hell, the most popular comment on the article is from Rand Fishkin himself. Way to go, eternal value!

Pro-tip: Using a keyword research tool like SEMRush or discover keywords that have been consistently showing good demand over the long term – a year, two years – in your industry niche. Create extremely high-quality content that scores on at least one of Aristotle’s three parameters – authority, emotion, and logic – to get your hands on a content success story.

  1. Pander to Your Audience’s Narcissistic Side

A big reason why we share stuff on the internet is because it makes us look good. Or smart. Or desirable. Or is plain and simple flattering to our narcissistic sides.

Noah Kagan and his team analyzed over 100 million pieces of content and came up with an interesting discovery. Of the 10 most shared articles in 2014, 6 pieces were actually quizzes!

These weren’t your garden variety quizzes either. They were specifically quizzes that revolved around the reader and were complimentary and congratulatory to them in some way or the other. Take a look at the top 6 list compiled by Kagan:

All of these quizzes have certain aspects in common. They are focused squarely on the reader, making them highly engaging to each individual, not unlike astrology and its popularity. They are fun to do and are unafraid to take a stand – they don’t care if they tell you that you belong in the backwaters of the Florida Everglades instead of a shiny high-rise in New York City.

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elements successful content

Pro-tip: Create content from your reader’s point of view. Your business is secondary when your main goal is to draw in the audience and keep them interested. Want to throw in a quiz or two? Google Forms is everybody’s friend, of course. Or, if you want more customization to boot, pick a tool like 123ContactForm to build your own quiz in seconds. The tool also allows you to embed your quizzes into social media posts, blogs or other content platforms, making sharing easier than ever.

  1. Bring Out the Kleenex: Emotional Connect

There are a number of things that are guaranteed to bring out the blubbery, soft, emotional side of us. Babies, puppies, nostalgia, are just a handful from a long list. In part, they also correspond to the kinds of content we see getting shared all over social media without any external force pushing them along.

To find out why some pieces went viral while others did not, Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman, professors from the Wharton School of Business, studied every single New York Times article over a three month period. They found that two factors predictably determined an article’s success:

  • Articles that evoked positive emotions outranked those that evoked negative emotions by miles. This is easy to understand. People like sharing happy content more than depressing stuff.
  • The way each article (whether positive or negative) excited the user also had a significant impact on its share-ability. This means that not only did positive content that evoked awe or respect go viral, negative content that aroused strong emotions like anger or anxiety was shared widely too. The latter is probably explained by the massive outrage that we see across social media sites on pretty much all hot button issues. The language and terminology used by social platforms is also at play here. For instance, you wouldn’t want to “like” or “favorite” news of someone’s death.


Pro-tip: When creating or curating content that taps into audience’s emotions, go for pieces that are positive in sentiment, as opposed to negative ones. Even among the happy, uplifting pieces of content, build in a sense of awe, pride or novelty to exponentially increase its share-worthiness.

Parting Words

Clearly, Aristotle is not the only source of content marketing wisdom. If, as a content marketer, you’ve had the good fortune as I did to analyze thousands of pieces of content over a number of years yourself, you will eventually come to conclusions similar to the above as must-haves to create a priceless piece of content.

You might also find this useful: The Art of Creative Blog Writing

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