Posted on Fri 12 September 2014

Behind the titles: where post ideas came from

I find it fascinating to look through my archive of published work and remember how each post came to be. Some of them in particular have interesting stories behind the topics and titles. I've collected a few of my previous posts to share with you how each idea was born and what lesson we can take away from each example.

You'll notice almost all of these are from the Buffer blog. For the most part, posts I write for my own blog, the Exist blog, or for sites like Crew and Zapier, generally come from a very simple place—a personal experience, some new research, or simply a topic I'm curious about. Working in a team at Buffer, and taking cues from such a large audience, led to more interesting stories behind some of the content.

Sleep your way to creativity and 9 more surefire methods for more ideas

I'd written a few posts preceding this one about creativity and the science behind it. The more I covered this topic from different angles, the more sprawling it felt and I started to feel a bit overwhelmed by all the content I'd written on this topic—I couldn't even remember all of it.

So the idea for this post was to roundup all of the angles I'd already covered about creativity and pull them together into one big "super post" that gave an overview of each facet. I linked to previous posts so readers could dive deeper on any specific element they were interested in.

Takeaway: If you've covered one topic from lots of different angles, try rounding them up in one place and linking to the more in-depth posts.

The science of failure: Why highly successful people crave mistakes

This post came from an idea I'd tried to capture a couple of times. When I was working at Attendly, we put together a collection of 18 stories of failure and redemption from startup founders. At Buffer, I wrote a similar post: The 13 biggest failures from successful entrepreneurs.

Both of these posts were popular, showing that readers enjoy seeing how successful entrepreneurs have learned from their mistakes. That led me to exploring failure in general, and why many people crave it.

Takeaway: When you find a particular topic is popular with your readers, revisit it and try different angles.

5 More unexpected ways to work smarter, not harder

Leo suggested the topic of "ways to work smarter, not harder". I took that and ran with it—hitting 2,000 words at just the halfway point. We tried to keep Buffer posts from being longer than 2,000 words, so I stopped there.

The original post was so popular that I used the leftovers from my original draft to create this "part 2" post.

Takeaway: When you can't fit everything you want to cover into one post, try doing a two-parter or even a longer series. You can use the first post to test audience interest before continuing, too.

The secret to creativity, intelligence, and scientific thinking: being able to make connections

Leo published a tweet from the @buffer account that turned out to be really popular:

We realised our audience was interested in this topic, and took the cue to create a full post about it. The same thing happened when we tweeted this:

We went on to create a blog post about marketing products, called People don’t buy products, they buy better versions of themselves.

Takeaway: Listen to your audience.

5 Ways to get through writer’s block or content marketing fatigue

I remember the day I wrote The marketer’s guide to Google Analytics. I spent half a day struggling to get started, giving up and taking walks to try to get in the right frame of mind, and wanted to pack in the topic altogether. I finally found a way to start it: I wrote about the struggle I was having. Here's my introduction:

Admission time: I don’t know much about Google Analytics. In fact, I generally gloss over when I read anything about it, since I usually find it all quite overwhelming and hard to understand. And not that much fun, to be honest.

After that post was published, I wanted to share the experience I'd had in case it could help other writers. I did some research into writer's block and found other methods to include alongside mine.

Takeaway: Share what you learn.

Happiness is not enough: Why a life without meaning will make you sick

The most popular post I ever wrote for Buffer was 10 Simple things you can do today that will make you happier, backed by science. After seeing the success of that post continue for months after we'd published it, I came across some research into happiness that showed another side of the topic.

This post looked at the downsides of happiness, when it's not paired with meaning.

Takeaway: Show all sides of a topic, to give your audience a well-rounded view.

From ideas to traffic results: How we run a blog with 700,000 readers per month

This post took a look at the process of creating, publishing and promoting content for the Buffer blog. Buffer is big on transparency, and we knew that most of our audience were marketers who were doing similar things with their own businesses.

Takeaway: Share behind-the-scenes looks at your company that are relevant to your audience.

Which comes first, the words or the music? Creative partnerships in action

I love musical theatre, and I listen to scores from musicals a lot. A couple of my favourites include some discussion about creative partnerships. Listening to them brought up the idea of exploring how creative partnerships work among startup founders.

I even including some quotes from musical theatre in this post.

Takeaway: Doing things that are seemingly unrelated to your work often brings up applicable ideas, so always be open to finding those connections.

22 Tips to better care for introverts and extroverts

I made a big mistake. I thought I knew what the terms "introvert" and "extrovert" meant, but I was wrong. When I realised this, I wrote this post to share what I'd learned with our audience, and explore the spectrum of intro- and extroversion more deeply.

Takeaway: Share the mistakes you make and the lessons you've learned.

10 Simple things you can do today that will make you happier, backed by science

Leo suggested I write a post that was a list of ways to be happier, backed by science. I wrote that post in my normal style and we published it on the Buffer blog. To this day, it continues to be one of the 10 most popular posts on the Buffer blog, even though is has been more than a year since we published it. It also has over 350 comments now.

There's no real secret to why this post is so popular. It's a combination of a topic the Buffer audience cares about and my usual style of taking research studies and making the results easy to understand and relate to.

Takeaway: Sometimes there are flukes. Keep making great content and focus on consistency, not trying to repeat the flukes.

As your trove of content grows, you'll find that looking back at what worked, what didn't, and where the ideas came from can help you plan ahead for future content.


P.S. I make some stuff you might like: Exist, a personal analytics app to help you understand your life, and Larder, a bookmarking app for developers.

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