These 6 Topics Are the Most Surprising Hits on Publishers’ Websites

Lina Timm
Lina Timm
Jun 8, 2016 · 6 min read

We all like having tons of readers. Most times you know before publishing what will work well and what is only interesting for a small group of users. But then there are those stories that work surprisingly well and outnumber everything else without real explanation. We asked our community of digital journalists about their “story heroes” and here’s what they found. (Spoiler: tech works.)

This article is part of the weekly challenge in our Slack Community “Digital Journalism Rocks”. We started a Slack team for all those who love digital journalism and love to share their knowledge. Interested in joining us? It’s free. And it rocks. #djrocks

Everything about Android

by Florian Blaschke, t3n

Story: In terms of visits the most successful article on this year so far is a listicle about smartphones, that will get the Android Marshmallow update. For sure, it has been that successful, because the Android system is so fragmented and no one really knows, which gadget gets which update (which seems still strange to me). But that it outpaced articles about WhatsApp’s end to end encryption or the mega trends 2016, surprised me anyway (I know, this is a bit from the perspective of an Apple user …).

Explanation: I think, this case shows two things: Never underestimate a fanbase — and never think, a story is too trivial, just because it „only“ collects obvious information. One of the basic functions of journalism is service — and when it’s well done, it works.

by Simon Hurtz,

Story: Last year, I ranted about exactly the same problem (Android fragmentation) — and the article was a great success. Hands down, the title (“Why Android user should envy Apple users”) is a bit, well, pointed (our readers love Apple, they click on every headline as long as it mentions an iPhone or another Apple gadget), but nevertheless, the number of visits surprised me.

Explanation: Until now, we don’t really know where all the readers came from. It wasn’t that successful on Facebook (1k interactions, I think) and according to Chartbeat, Google wasn’t an important referrer either. It must be some kind of “dark social” (Xing? Newsletters? Whatsapp? Email?), but we have no idea about the details. Obviously, Android is a thing (which shouldn’t surprise you if you look at the number of users).

A 360° Story about the Gotthard Tunnel

by Martin Oswald, SRF

Story: At SRF our VR Project “Gotthard360” performed extremly well. For us is the first of a kind form of storytelling, to take our users into the heart of the new mega-tunnel through the alps — and with a helicopter over it.

Explanation: VR is quite a hype at the moment — we have to admit. And the opening of the Gotthard tunnel in a few days gives us a certain momentum. But on the editorial side I think we found a nice way to tell the story, how the tunnel was constructed and give the user a bit of control to look around 360. It’s a visual highlight.

added by Simon Hurtz,

Speaking for the SZ, VR is definitely hyped — overhyped. Articles on VR (any: gadget tests, essays, whatever) are worse than articles on diplomacy with Azerbaijan in terms of engagement.

Stories that connect to something in the lives of the reader

by Kurt Stukenberg, Greenpeace Magazine

Story: I have to mention two articles, very different though. The one dealt with weapons fabricated in the south of Germany at the Bodensee. The headlines was like “The War Begins at Bodensee”.

Explanation: We published the article in August, when the refugee “crisis” was a big topic, so in my opinion it was the headline that attracted users: They read about wars far away that drive refugees to Europe every day, but it seemed as if there is no real connection to Germany except the fact, that the refugees try to flee to Europe to be safe. our article made the connection to Germany in a special way: because German companies sell weapons around the world (4th largest arms exporter) they are used in armed conflicts as well which escalades them an pushes refugees to Europe.

Story: The other one is an Adbusting image. We used the Nutella Ad as a pattern to mention the fact that eating Nutella exploits child labour. We got huge traffic for that especially on social and even foreign media took our Facebook post to do an article about it.

Explanation: To me it seems clear that the success is a combination of the impressive Nutella ad as the original work an — again — the connection effect: Everybody got Nutella in their household and it affects me directly if I am responsible for child labour and environmental destruction.

Stories related to Football

by Nicola Balkenhol, Deutschlandradio

We’re seeing this phenomenon really often. Eg: Last year this piece “Why Özil doesn’t sing the German anthem” brought ten thousands of clicks to our website for some days. For our english friends: A German-Korean icehockey-player explains why he and german soccer-stars like Özil don’t sing the anthem at the beginning of an international game — because they don’t feel fully accepted in Germany.

Explanation: We tried to check it out, why this piece from 2012 performed so well by using our analytics (which is AT-Internet), but we didn’t find an explanation. AT-I isn’t good in analyzing deep links, so we assume that our piece was mentioned in a newsletter(s).

Everything about Windows 95

by Stefan Dörner,

Story: Everything with “Windows 95” in the headline performs really good on, which is not surprising, if you think about it.

Explanation: From Buzzfeed we know that nostalgia is a big driver in what people read and share — and Windows 95 is one of the biggest shared memories of people who are now in their 30s.

added by Simon Hurtz,

Quite the same at the SZ. Windows seems to be a really big thing for our readers. Especially Microsoft trying to push its users into updating to Windows 10 gets us some ten thousand views every time. The same applies to Apple (obvious, so many lovers and haters out there) and the never ending story of vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash (haters only, definitely). A year ago, there was a time when we had to publish a new warning every two or three days — and every time, it turned out to be our most successful article.

Things everyone knows but doesn’t spend much time thinking about it

by Dejan Nikolic, Content Insights

Story: Everytime we publish an article about little things everyone knows about but doesn’t spend much time thinking about it, especially if based on stereotypes, we get strong results in engagement and exposure. Women and parallel parking, men not working on legs muscles in gyms, new parents boring the hell out of everyone on Facebook with how their baby burps or blinks…

Explanation: The important thing next to finding a subject like this is to have a twist with humor in it. We don’t use click-bait headlines, the ones revealing everything work just as fine. Also, combining a current fad on social with a political issue at hand to make a point in a headline works wonders for us, even when used ironically.

Bonus: Get mentioned in Xing’s (or other) Newsletter

by Florian Blaschke

Xing and it’s newsletters indeed are a serious source of traffic for us. Every morning, when the numbers of readers on our site exceeds a certain number, we can be quite sure, that one of our articles has been featured in a Xing newsletter.

by Simon Hurtz

Same here. Exactly the same. Sometimes, we have 800 concurrents through Xing. That’s quite similar to a “Top Thema” (i.e. an article that is placed on the homepage and not only in the topic specific section, e.g. politics, economics or tech).

by Kurt Stukenberg

I can confirm that for, especially the newsletter sent by the new XING “Klartext”-Section gives us visits as well.

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Lina Timm

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Lina Timm

Digital Enthusiast. Journalism and Startups. Program Manager @MediaLabBayern. Founder of

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