The Huffington Post – How to Pick the Right Topics

When it comes to getting your article accepted by The Huffington Post, the topic (and your specific angle on that topic) are of paramount importance.

In fact a submission which has a strong idea at its heart (and an equally strong headline) but only average writing is far more likely to be accepted than an average idea and headline with great writing in the body of the article itself.

And in truth, the standard of writing at The Huffington Post, at least among its guest authors, is not tremendously high.

But that doesn't matter because most readers are interested in ideas, not immaculate writing.

The point is, your choice of topic is everything.

Given that, how do you make sure your topic is on point?

What kind of posts does the Huffington Post want?

The Huffington Post wants highly shareable, potentially viral pieces, covering a wide range of topics.

For example:

  • Well-sourced timely news posts (Politics)
  • Research-driven pieces about the current issues (Religion, Gay Voices, Black Voices)
  • Moving personal narratives about parenting, relationships, or living a better life (Parents, Women, Healthy Living, Weddings, Divorce, Post50)
  • Photo-centric pieces (Travel)

So how do you find the perfect topic?

In principle at least, finding the right topic for your article is straightforward.

You look for topics that have been popular on the site before.

That's because, with the exception of breaking news, pretty much every topic you might consider writing about has already been covered by someone else. In fact, probably several people.

But that's okay, for two reasons:

  1. You can always find a new spin on an old topic
  2. People who are interested in a topic will always want to read more about that topic

Finding popular topics

Finding popular topics is simply a case of finding popular articles and then working out the article's topic.

We've already given you a great starting point with our guide The Huffington Post's Most Popular Articles (included with this toolkit), which is a recent list of the most popular posts in each of the most popular sections.

Just find the section you'd like to target with a submission and study the most popular posts.

In practice, you'll want to look beyond this list, so here's how to find popular articles on your own.

Visit one of the sections you'd like to pitch and look for the following types of articles:

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1) Articles that have been widely shared on social media

If you like something you've seen online, one common way to show your appreciation – and let others know about it – is to share it on one of the major social platforms, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

Articles that have been shared by lots of people get read by lots of people, which brings more traffic to The Huffington Post. And since the site works on an advertising model, more traffic is always a good thing.

To work out if a post was widely shared, look at the sharing toolbar at the top of each post. Here's an example:

The article above was shared over 100,000 times on Facebook and in fact Facebook is the primary platform for sharing of Huffington Post content.

2) Articles that attracted lots of comments

Another measure of popularity is the level of conversation that happens in response to the article being published.

On most blogs and online magazines that conversation happens in the comments section at the bottom of the article.

A high number of comments means that people found the article interesting, or at least worthy of discussion, and want to share their views with other people.

Discussions like this are good for The Huffington Post because they keep visitors on the site for longer, which means they're more likely to read other articles.

Here's an example of the comments section of a post about adult coloring that attracted more than 100 comments:

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3) Articles featured on the section home page

The Huffington Post publishes more than 1,000 articles every day, far more than they can show on the main front page, or even the home pages of the individual sections.

If an article appears on a section home page, that means a section editor has decided to give it extra prominence. They might do that because an article is already proving popular, and they want to get it in front of more people. Or because they feel the post deserves a chance to become popular.

Either way, studying the posts that are selected to appear on the home page of the section you're looking to pitch will show you the topics that are popular, and the topics editors think will become popular.

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What's the Difference Between a Popular Post and a Popular Topic?

Obviously, finding the most popular posts for a section is only partially helpful when choosing topics. You can’t just pitch exactly the same ideas.

So you need to develop the skill of extracting the topic from the post.

Here are a few examples taken from the HuffPost Parents section above:

  • 10 Movies to Teach My Son About Life (Topic: Life lessons)
  • I'm Not Waiting Until My Kids Are Older to Enjoy Life (Topic: Happiness for parents)
  • The Worst Mother I've Ever Seen (Topic: Bad parenting)

You should be able to see that each headline represents just one angle on its topic. Of course, many other angles exist.

Here are some alternative angles on the topics above:

  • 10 Lessons about Life I Wish I'd Learned In My Twenties (Topic: Life lessons)
  • How to Kick Back and Enjoy Life (Even If You Have Young Kids) (Topic: Happiness for parents)
  • 10 Parenting Blunders You'd Never Admit To Friends (Topic: Bad parenting)

How to Find a New Angle on Your Topic

Finding a new angle on a popular topic is part art and part science.

Usually, you'll need to brainstorm a few dozen ideas to find two or three that are worth pitching.

Here are three ways to come up with a killer perspective on a well-worn topic.

1) Combine ideas from two existing headlines

Once you know your topic, one way to put a new spin on it is to borrow a headline style from other topics.

So let's say your topic was "bad parenting".

You could combine that topic with the headline "10 Movies to Teach My Son About Life", which might give you: "10 Movies Featuring Parents From Hell".

2) Use a different article template

There are a number of popular article "templates" that crop up again and again on The Huffington Post.

In fact, we describe them in our guide 9 Successful Templates You Can Steal (included with this toolkit).

You can approach your topic from a new angle by using a different template to the one used in the original popular article.

So, for instance, if a popular article tackles your topic by making a "Bold Claim", you could try tackling the same topic using another template, like "Story", "Controversy" or "Shock".

3) Create a mind map

Using pen and paper, or a free online mind-mapping tool such as Mindmup, put your popular topic in the center of the page and brainstorm related ideas for an article.

Don't overthink it – just get down as many ideas as you can. Here's an example for the "Bad parenting" topic:

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If one idea naturally leads to another idea, or a specific headline, then you can create it as a child of the idea that inspired it.

For example:

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