How to accidentally write a popular blog post

I accidentally wrote a blog post that receives more than a million page views every year. For proof, type “delete mail” into Google. My post How to delete ALL mail messages from iPhone/iPad in one step is #1 of the 127+ million results.

Actually, I’ve accidentally written several popular posts, and I’ve finally figured out what happened. Want to know what I’ve learned, so you can deliberately write popular posts? Read on!

First, check out a couple more of my popular posts.

  1. Google “ipad plan transfer“. Of the 17+ million results, How to move an unlimited AT&T data plan to a new iPad ranks #2 — right behind Apple’s official support article on this topic.
  2. Google “http error wordpress“. Even though my post How to solve the infuriating HTTP error when uploading images or videos to WordPress is only a few months old, it ranks #7 of the 8+ million results. (And it’s moving up the page!)

Surprisingly, I didn’t write these posts to get lots of page views. Here’s what happened. I wrote these posts because I discovered good answers for problems that were bugging me and wanted to share my solutions with the world. What I didn’t realize was that many other people were also having these problems and, while looking for good answers, found my posts. Google did its magic…and the rest is history!

So I’m going to share what I’ve accidentally learned about how to write popular blog posts. While celebrity dramas, heartrending stories, and clickbait content are always going to be big draws, anyone who has solved a common tricky problem can use the following process to write a popular blog post.

First: Choose a problem you’ve encountered that drives you crazy
Choose a problem you’ve encountered that drives you crazy, either because the answer:

  • isn’t on the internet; or
  • there are articles on how to fix the problem, but none of them are helpful, clear, and definitive.

For example, in January 2014 I got tired of deleting emails from my iPhone one at a time. Surely, I thought, there must be some way to delete all emails at once. I spent an hour searching for a solution and, buried amongst numerous complaints that Apple was so [expletive deleted] unreasonable, found a completely unintuitive method that was somewhat poorly explained. I tried it and it worked. So I wrote up a cleaner version of the process (with full attribution to the original poster). That’s how my most popular “delete mail” post came into being.

Remember this. Just about every time you find a solution on the internet, you end up on a web page that’s highly ranked for that problem. For example, Googling “diy treadmill desk” takes you to “How To Build A Treadmill Desk For Under $20” (on a lifestyle blogger’s site). Googling “fix broken dishwasher” gives you “How To Fix Broken Dishwasher” (a dishwasher parts commercial site that contains useful information for diagnosing dishwasher problems). In my experience, Google is pretty good at discovering and highly ranking web pages that contain genuinely useful information. It may take a few months for the Googleverse to recognize quality, but I’ll bet on quality over tortuous SEO machinations any time. Find and solve a problem that drives people crazy — and the post that people flock to could be yours.

Second: Figure out how to definitively solve the problem (best) or at least solve it far better than any other “solution” you can find (still useful)
OK, this can be tricky. Finding a definitive or best solution may take a while.

I purchased the original Apple iPad from AT&T the day it shipped. AT&T promised an unlimited AT&T cellular data access plan for the sum of $29.99/month. Within 30 days, AT&T reneged on this promise and discontinued all unlimited data plans, but said that people like me could keep their unlimited plans as long as they were never canceled.

So when it became time to upgrade my original iPad I wanted to transfer my unlimited data plan to my newer iPad 3.

I quickly discovered that AT&T did [and still does] not make this process easy. Searching the internet again turned up multiple complaints and pleas for help, but did not provide any useful information on what I should do. It took me several hours of numerous calls and research, to discover out how to transfer the plan. Since the resulting solution took about ten minutes, I thought I’d share what I had learned so that other people wouldn’t have to go through the same thing.

It turns out that AT&T sold about a million of the original iPads, and some sizable fraction of these buyers continue to buy newer iPads and want to keep their unlimited data plans (still $29.99/month!) According to Google, my blog post still remains the definitive resource for a successful upgrade.

Third: Write up how you solved the problem as clearly as possible
Having found how to quickly transfer my iPad data plan, I documented the multiple steps as simply and clearly as possible. I had gone through several blind alleys during my solution exploration, so I was careful to strip them out and provide an accurate set of instructions with no errors or ambiguity. When a new iPhone or iPad is released — and also, amusingly, at the start of every year when owners make new year resolutions to clear up all the emails on their iDevice — my post receives a swell of interest, though it has active readers at every moment.

To ensure that the post remains an accurate solution, I’ve made a few minor updates when Apple changes things or someone adds a helpful comment.

Fourth: Add a blog title that clearly describes the problem you’ve solved
I suggest that your title starts with the phrase “How to”. Make sure that the products or platforms that the solution covers are included in the title. I am far from an expert at titling for maximum SEO, but the titles of the three posts I mentioned here seem to have done the trick:

How to delete ALL mail messages from iPhone/iPad in one step
How to move an unlimited AT&T data plan to a new iPad
How to solve the infuriating HTTP error when uploading images or videos to WordPress

Fifth (optional, but recommended): Look for other posts on the problem and add comments pointing to your solution
There are many “solutions” to the http WordPress image uploading issue I mention above, but they all describe things to try that may solve the problem. You can spend hours trying them out, often without success. Since I had found a foolproof way to get the images uploaded, after I posted it, I added comments to some of the top Google results, sharing that I had found a solution that works and including link to my post. I have already received some responses from the authors of these posts, thanking me, and in one case pinning my comment to the top of the comment list.

Spending a little time doing this — being sure to use respectful “trying to help” phrasing — may well help the popularity of your blog post to rise.

That’s it!
I hope this post has helped you to think about ways for you to write popular blog posts too. As always, please feel free to add improvements and suggestions in the comments below. And if you get to write a popular blog post as a result of this post, please let us know!

  • IOS 11 was just released, and the traffic on my “delete mail post” immediately rose by 40%. Similar increases occur (and persist for a few months) every time Apple releases a new iPhone or IOS version.

  • Three weeks after writing this post, a Google search on “http error wordpress” now brings up my post as Google’s featured snippet (i.e. the highlighted search result at the top of the page) and my post is now listed at position #3 (formerly #7) of 12+ million results.