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SURPRISE! How to Create Compelling Content by Being Playful

Posted By Darren Rowse 6th of August 2009 Writing Content 0 Comments

blah_blah_blah.pngHave you ever been in a blogging rut?

You start out blogging with loads of fresh ideas and inspiration but after months of creating unique content you hit a wall!

You feel like you’re saying the same stuff over and over and instead of sitting down to blog each day with excitement you stare at that blinking cursor on a blank page and slip into a zombie like trance.

Of course your readers might be in a similar trance-like state – because while the things you say are all valid and make good points your posts have begun to merge into one and have lost some of their freshness…..

If I’m describing your experience of blogging I’ve got two things to say to you:

  1. You’re not alone – most bloggers go through this.

In our last post in our series on Creating Compelling Content on a blog I talked about experimenting with different voices in your blogging because it helped you to find your ‘blogging mojo’ or voice as a blogger. The other benefit of trying new voices on a blog is that I find it ‘wakes up’ readers and provides them with something fresh and different. It can also ‘wake up’ you as a blogger as it presents you with a new challenge and way of approaching your topic.

In a sense when you experiment with a new ‘voice’ or style of writing you are doing something a little ‘surprising’ with your readers that can grab their attention – particularly those who’ve been reading your blog for a while and who become a little zombie like in their reading.

Surprise Your Readers

Track with most successful blogs for a few weeks and you’ll find that from time to time many of them throw curve balls or surprises at their readers in one way or another. They often have a habit of presenting content that is a little left of center that is attention grabbing and/or refreshing.

Blogging is a medium that has always been a playful medium where creativity is valued so why not go with this and do something a little different in the next day or two with your blogging.

How to Be Surprising?

This might be a bit of a hard question to answer because being surprising is by nature doing something unexpected – but there are many ways to do something that can snap your readers out of a trance. Here’s a few that come to mind:

  1. Write something controversial – if your blog is usually fairly middle of the rode and doesn’t express too many opinions throwing in a strongly worded opinion piece can definitely stir things up a little.
  2. Argue Against Your Normal Opinion – sometimes throwing a post into the mix of your blog that plays devils advocate or that explores a very different point of view can be refreshing. Example: in my post What’s Wrong with Blogging? I asked readers to tell me what they don’t like about blogging. While it’s kind of an odd post to have on a blog that argues the case FOR blogging it was well received by readers.
  3. Use an Eye Catching Image – just adding a striking image to a post can really lift it from ‘blah blah blah’ to ‘compelling’
  4. Using Humor/Satire – I still get readers telling me how my post ‘ProBlogger launches PayPerTweet‘ grabbed their attention back on April fools day in 2008.
  5. Use a Metaphor – Use an unexpected illustration from life to explore a topic on your blog – Examples: Lessons from an Umbrella SalesmanBlogging in Formation (Lessons from a Goose)What McDonalds Taught me about BloggingLessons from Tower Defense on How to Reinvent Your Blog.
  6. Use a Different Medium – throw in a video, a screen cast, a podcast, some pictures – mixing up your mediums can grab attention, connect with readers in a new way and show a different side of you as a blogger
  7. Design – changing your design or even just adding a new logo can give your blog a new ‘look’.
  8. Expanding Topics to Related Areas – most blogs have a fairly well defined niche that they stick to but in most cases there are topics that surround that niche that can be good to dip into at times. For example here at ProBlogger I tend to focus mostly upon techniques to improve a blog – but occasionally dip into the topic of health issues for bloggers like in this week’s post on ‘Nimble Fingers‘. While still on topic it’s a little ‘different’ to normal (as observed by quite a few comments and emails I had in response to the post).

Extra Tip – Coming up with fresh and surprising content on a blog takes work but also is about listening to the crazy little ideas that pop into your head from time to time. For me they usually start as bizarre ideas that come while I’m halfway through doing something else – the key for me is to capture the ideas as they come and then put aside time to make them a reality.

While it takes intentionality and work the benefit of such surprises is that sometimes loyal and long term readers fall into a bit of a trance with a blog – throw something a little out of the blue and surprising once in a while and you can reignite the reader relationship and give them a bit of renewed energy for your blog.

An added bonus of these kinds of ‘surprising moments’ on a blog is that it’s also often these blue things that generate the most buzz on other sites and create incoming links as other bloggers or Twitter users link up to show you what you’re experimenting with on your blog.

Your Homework for Today

mind-map.jpgYour homework today is to set aside 15 minutes to ‘play’. Grab a pen and paper or a market and a whiteboard and spend some time mind mapping. I’ve outlined how to create a mind map previously – but write a word that has something to do with your blog in the middle of your page and then begin to brainstorm other words, topics, ideas that relate to that word.

Nothing is too crazy or left field while you’re doing this exercise. Just let your mind wonder and be creative as you ‘play’ with your topic. You might not come up with any concrete ideas but even in doing this exercise you’re giving your brain a chance to explore your topic in a different way and you might just unlock something that sparks into an idea you can use down the track.

I try to set aside short periods of time for this type of activity each week – sometimes I get lots of ideas, sometimes I get none – but over time it’s injected a lot of creativity and surprises into what I do.

What You Said on the Topic

Before I began this series of posts on compelling content I asked readers to submit their own ideas on what makes content compelling. Here’s what some of them said on related topics to this post:

  • “Content is compelling when it is new. New information, a new perspective, a new way of dealing with something.” – Cathy
  • “Unusual perspectives. I like to read about things that are weird and interesting.” – Elizabeth
  • “Something that takes a new, fresh look at an issue.” – Alisa
  • “A different perspective on a popular topic is compelling.” – hollywoodlvwork
  • “Sometimes compelling content for me is the kind of article that leaves me reeling a little – it leaves me shaking my head and realizing how little I knew about the topic because the author has explored it in a way that I hadn’t considered before. In this way it is ‘shocking’ – not because it’s controversial or bad – but because it’s given me a completely new perspective on a topic I thought I had little more to learn about.” – Grant
  • “To me, “Compelling content” doesn’t need to be new information. Rather, I’d like to gain new perspective on existing ideas and be reminded that I’ve always known those principles.” – Takuya

What do you have to add on the topic? I’d love to hear the ideas that come out of your mind mapping homework above. I’m also keen to hear of your previous experiences with ‘surprising’ things you’ve done on your blog?

This post continues my series of posts on Creating Compelling Content on your Blog. So far we’ve covered being in tune with your readers, creating reader interaction and experimenting with different voices.

A special thanks to Kate from Soy Sauce Carnival for the cartoon at the top of this post!

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Haha,

    I like this idea, and it what blogs should be in the first place. Because blogs are initially for personnel use, and we can voice out in our own tone.

    Using playful content and conversational topics can move readers to act or even be your word of mouth in promoting your blog.

  2. Hello All,
    Well the idea of getting some thing controversial is nice .. but can be risky … chance of losing some of your RSS readers always their in your back of your mind . But still its true it would shake every one up .
    I also like the concept of writing some thing that you normally do not expect people to write about …
    Thanks and I would do my home work for sure …

  3. “Using a Different Medium” rang a big bell in my head! I have been using only text till now.

    I will now try out video/audio.

    Arguing against normal is also a good option as you said! I have not yet tried it too and I will soon try it out. Thanks for the tips.

  4. This post is very timely considering I am just coming out of a “rut” on my personal finance blog.

    Most recently I decided to have a little fun with my readers by “defending” the recent excessive bonus payouts by Goldman Sachs, and other investment banks!

    The post has become a hit with some readers even being “Stumbled” and voted on “Reddit”.

    I plan on writing more satire articles in the future!

  5. wow… it will be very useful for me…


  6. I wish I were a bit more talented graphically, because I think the cartoons are funny.

    I do a bit of the “curveball” with my Fiction Friday series – my short stories are all over the map, from children’s stories to violent crime stories.

  7. Thanks for the tips. I might give it a try.

  8. And I suggest taking your brainstorming notebook out under a tree in a park or some other setting in the wilds of real life where you might not usually work on blog things. Could free up your mind up even further to playfulness.

  9. I could say that the post I wrote is very surprising. It´s not the typical post, but I needed to write it to support the situation we’re living on my contry.

  10. This is just what I’m struggling with right now. My blog is only 3 weeks old, and it’s based on my thesis from grad school. It’s about each of us taking responsibility for wildlife conservation on our own properties. There’s a lot of information I want to give to folks, but I want it to be fun as well.

    I need to move from “thesis speak” and “lecture speak” to something that still gets the point across, but is more interesting and fun. I’m having trouble making the transition, but will put your suggestions to work today and see what happens. Thanks as always.

  11. I think everyone appreciates some humor. So if your post can be entertaining as well as informative, it just makes it that much better.

    – Arif

  12. Some people create compelling content and they don’t even know it. Just by using your personality or experiences in your writing can cause you to create great content that might spark a great discussion

  13. Great post, Darren. I think every blogger and writer goes through that phase when they run out of ideas or topics to write about. Your post is the guidance they need when they hit that wall. Thanks for all the great information.

  14. There comes a time when the ‘compelling’ content on blogs such as ‘learn how to blog’ blogs just ain’t compelling any more – no matter which way they put things. This is because I’ve got to the point in learning about blogging where every ‘learn to’ blog seems to be posting the same information over and over again just in different ways.

    Thank goodness for titles and lists in posts – it means I can scan the content and just be reminded of the things I have already learnt about blogging.

    It would be interesting to find out how long a reader returns to a ‘learn to blog’ blog. Is it for their first year of blogging? …and then every now and then? Or do they persist for a couple of years? I’m at the point where I have dropped a lot of my other ‘learn to blog’ feeds coz I just don’t think I need them any more. However, I have two sticking around just to jog my memory about the ‘business of blogging’ ;)

  15. Creating compelling content needn’t necessarily be created by you.

    In fact, some of our more popular posts have been when we highlight the fun, playful work of others.

    Readers find the resource we’ve found useful and entertaining. And, we’ve been entertained and shaken up, too.

    Smack dab in the middle of reading tips on writing and building your website, we threw in this article on Abduzeedo’s Etch A Sketch Collection. http://www.igomogul.com/blog/2009/07/17/pick-of-the-week-abduzeedos-etch-a-sketch-collection.html

    It was hit AND the Abduzeedo guys were very appreciative of receiving our Pick of the Week.

    Happiness all around! :)

    Sara @ iGoMogul

  16. I think this is applicable for people writing on complex or academic topics; being able to relate those topics to something everyone can understand will increase your blog readership.

    FP.com has bloggers writing about what Jay Z can teach us about foreign policy. Topics like that interest new people. I’m trying to do it on my blog.

  17. A compelling post to me would be one that urged me to complete some sort of action. Either implementing a new habit or technique of some sort because I was swayed to believe it would be beneficial or to take action on a specific task that the post insist I try. This post was compelling in that way. I actually was moved to do the mind map brainstorming exercise. This was very beneficial information. And not because it was new, but the post was written in a way that “compelled” me to take action. :)

  18. I’ve been in something of a dry spell lately, but just in the past few days, I’ve felt my muse return, my writing enthusiasm rekindle, and blogs ideas materializing very easily.

    I had this idea a couple of days ago to turn a comment I had posted on another site into a blog post of my own. So early this morning I did just that. With this post, Living On the Edge, I shot for a much more personal & sorta self-deprecating topic and (what I hope to be) a much lighter & more witty style of writing than I normally muster up.

    Where my blog entries are usually informative articles, minor rants, or humorous stuff, I aimed to make this one stand out as more of a playful story-based post. Perhaps simply because it developed so informally & unintentionally, it was a lot of fun and almost effortless to write.

  19. Ya know, I love playing devil’s advocate when participating in discussions in person or on the internet, but for some reason I just never seem to do it with blog posts. Not really sure why that is, but I think its something I’ll have to try out in the near future…

  20. Yes it’s true that controversial content can force your readers to read the entire article with more interest and with their comments about the topics.

  21. I have been reading ProBlogger since – well before time(!) or before I began blogging about a year ago and loved it. Totally loved your 31 days and all the assignments… But the last week or two have just been totally amazing and I want to just dive in and play … I am definitely going to give this a try, our blog is definitely due for a bit of a shake-up/wake-up. Thanks for all the “compelling posts!!!

  22. There was a time that instead of just being a preacher of the WORD as my blog is about Bible Verses and reflections, I shifted to becoming more personal. relating my posts to my personal experiences and what my reader can do and learn from them. there was a time as well that I posted about American Idol on a Christian Blog giving it a door for non-christian readers to be able to connect as well. ABout the ideas just popping out anytime: that is so true. I even have a pen and a notepad with me coz while I’m going to work, I can think of great ideas for the site and I make sure that i write them or else I’ll forget them.

    thanks for the tip!

  23. Monkey Monkey Monkey

    Soy Sauce!

    My interviews are usually pretty playful. But they could be NAKED more playful.

  24. Be controversial. Everybody has heard what everybody is normally saying. Go against the grain and on the edge a little bit. There isnt a better way to spark a ton of comments or a whole twitter conversation around your blog then to strike up a debate.

  25. I always try to write with humor, it’s just my style, but sometimes I don’t really write about my niche at all and solely focus on making a funny post that is tagged as me just rambling.

  26. I like to shake things up. Some time I blog in the nude….is that what you were talking about?

  27. I’m still in a very experimental stage with my blog, so this post was right up my alley.

    One more way to shake things up: play with language a little bit. Use a little more slang or use a little less slang. Put your points into a poem. Write in rhyming couplets. (Or even write a haiku titled Blah Blah Blah!)

    When I’m stuck on a post, I find that messing around with the language a bit (sometimes in really absurd ways) helps me get the mental juices flowing again.

  28. Read other blogs. There is this misconception because an article or video appears somewhere else if you present it to your user you are just creating duplicate content. People are busy and if they like you and your writing style they will appreciate it when you put compelling interesting content in front of them. That’s what makes me subscribe to a blog feed in the first place. I don’t care if the article appears a million times online, if it’s relevant to me and I want to get it from a source I like and trust.

  29. It is totally true. It is important to offer fresh info to the readers. I think being creative is important. To be compelling is not easy. Because the readers automatically expect to read something new. I find my self brainstorm to come up with new material. It is not always that easy. Thank you for sharing.

  30. Nice post Darren! a blogger needs to be consistently brilliant, giving a surprise is another tip, thanks for that

  31. Adding a personal touch to your blog is productive.

  32. A post that teaches me something new about a topic I’m interested in, or offers me a fresh perspective on knowledge I already possess.

  33. Also, you have screwed up your tenses here: “Comments will be closed off on this post 90 days after it was published. “

  34. Great ideas to get us out of the rut of just targeting that audience and keeping focused on our topic. Thanks for giving me permission to shake it up. I’m relieved because I’d been doing it anyway but thought is was bad and naughty. Now I know it’s perfectly normal and nothing to be ashamed of:) In fact I can be proud of it. Just embedded my first youtube video in my 4 months old blog yesterday to give my readers a break from reading! Cheers.

  35. Absoulutely right, Mr. Darren,….
    You know i was kinda lose something in my mind when i got nothing to write down on my blog every single day, hey what’s going on with me?, i always askin’ that to myself , but i’m trying to read all my thought out into my articles everyday, and treat my readers as my lord, i know that they need fresh content in every single page i published. So right now i’m starting to provide a video via youtube or i created by myself, perhaps the visitor or my loyal readers can get more excitement or enjoy on my blog. As far as i concern every blogger has a different way to perform their blogs.

  36. i’m always mixing it up. i’d be so freaking bored with my blog i’d want to just blow the thing up if i wasn’t always doing the things posted in this piece. like today for instance, i wrote and gathered the videos for The Official Top 10 Bands That Suck List. sometimes you just need to do the opposite of what everybody else does. cause there is a need for The Official Top 10 Bands That Suck List. maybe except for re-designing my site everyday. every piece i write contains most of the suggestions listed above. to me this piece was more about how not to get bored with your blog and have some fun.

  37. Okay so my take on this because I am one of the zillion mom bloggers, is to create content that is compelling but people CAN relate to and content that rings a bell with them. It’s almost like saying, hey, we’re alike. But, I try to mix it up and change the subject and almost always inject humor because that seems to work for me.

  38. I’m going to do the mapping thing today. Sounds like an interesting exercise. I love the graphics you used at the top – made me smile.

  39. Some great ideas.

    Controversial topics have worked for me in the past although humorous voices have fallen flat in the past… Other countries just don’t understand our trademark British, sarcastic wit it seems! :)

    Oh and a final point: blogging enjoyment is far more important than losing a couple of subscribers due to change in my opinion. :)

    All the best,

  40. Only started blogging a few weeks ago and I am already starting to panic about what to write in the future. Nice tips by the way – definitely something to think about when writers block rears it’s ugly head.


  41. Thanks for the sharing these tips Darren, need to work on it in order to improve my writing and become atleast surprising to my readers.

  42. Mind mapping is absolutely important before creating a post. I already made it as one of my blogging habits.

    Agree with the points. Looking forward to apply them. Thanks a lot!

  43. Hello Darren,

    Fresh & unique content is always attract readers.
    Also you have described mind mapping method is always best to create any type of content. I personaly think that when you write a content just write that calls reader’s emotions. That’s it.

    Again thank you for your very informative post.



  44. I think adding a video from time to time to a text only blog is a great idea. But maybe you could do a post on how to post them and not effect how Google search results views you. Doesn’t posting videos hurt your rankings?

  45. I always throw in a swing ball even if it is right in the middle of something serious. Readers like to see that your human after all.

  46. This one is right up my alley, and I do do this often on my blogs. I love being creative, and hate when blogs are cookie cutter copies of one another, all having the same ideas, looking alike — with identical type of posts. However, I’ve been told that this is just “not allowed” on “serious blogs,” not if you want to “get ahead in proffessional blogging.” You’ll run the risk of “losing your rss readers” or something disasterous like that. This also is supposed to run true for twitter. In personal branding, I often get the message we are being told to “stand out in the crowd — brand ourself as unique,” and at the same time, “for God’s sake, please blend in! — or you’ll be branded as too different and not mainstream enough.” It’s strange and I’m kind of tired of the mixed messages. So I really like what you have to say today! Although I do realize there are boundaries and risks, and you must weigh everything out, including your niche, and your target audience…

    This morning I did the exercise you mentioned (before even reading this post!) and came up with a post that will be an ongoing series. It was really thinking outside the box. At first I thought, can I really use this? And then thought, why not? It’s my blog, and we need to be more innovative and not have cookie cutter posts. It’s all about what our readers want anyway. So I’ll post it tonight.

    Thanks for giving us lots of ideas and food for thought, Darren.

    krissy knox :)
    follow me on twitter:

  47. @BloggerDaily Totally agree with you. I also find that mind mapping is a great way to think my way through a blog post that I am working on. It helps me structure my blog posts before I start writing them.


  48. I have used mind maps before and they are a great way to produce ideas.

  49. I can not agree more with this. Yes, sometimes we should add humor to for refreshment. Although, for instance, our blog is about health tips, we can post funny stories sometimes – find the stories related to our blog topic if possible….

    And the mind mapping concept is very valuable, too.

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