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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. Be controversial?

    I think a lot of people consider my blog to be TOO controversial.

    Perhaps it is good to be “just a little” controversial.

  2. Awe, I don’t like homework – but I just might do it anyway. I appreciate the list. Thank you.

  3. The tips are quite useful, but it looks like that the tips are only for bloggers who have been blogging for some time. I wonder if there would be any problems if starters blog in this way.

  4. Everyone is doing same and interesting thing is some time you also repeat same old stuff with new wrapper.

    We all do unless and until new things hit to the market like twitter or similar kind of.

    But however your way of style of always refreshing.

  5. Darren – those are, once again, no doubt, very useful advice. But the irony to me is whenever I have the pen and paper with me the ideas never come :( But when I drive thru the city for example my mind would be filled with ideas that I won’t be able to write down.

    Lately I’ve been using my iPhone’s Voice Recording capabilities record my thoughts. Would certainly love to have the flow with the pen, paper and my whiteboard.

  6. Heya Darren! Was reading this post in my reader, saw the part on design and I went “true that”!

    Could share that since I was busy with my day-job that I had from the beginning of 2009, my posts quality dropped by a tonne — and so did my daily views (averaging 30, 50 max).

    It was only at the last week of July that I deconstructed and reconstructed a theme from a very popular blog and applied to mine that got a sudden jump (w/o any new post) to an average of 250 uniques, 500+ hits daily!

    Design change works. Thanks for this post!

  7. Let me think for a moment… I have a blog about psychic phenomena… I’m writing posts as believer… Maybe I should write few posts as pseudo-sceptic? Muhahaha (evil scientist laugh in the background) :D

  8. Better still take a vacation, free up your mind and hit back with a fresher head to write.

  9. Fresh content is easy, just post a topic about your hobbies.

  10. Was this a Freudian slip: “Grab a pen and paper or a market and a whiteboard ” ?

    Grab a market indeed :)

  11. I think about running out of content to write about all the time. That eventually I’ll start writing about topics irrelavent to my blog. The ideas you mentioned on about how to surprise your readers give me hope for the future. Thanks for the great post.

  12. Thank you Darren for writing this great series.

    I really enjoy learning from you.

    To me, compelling content will make me motivated to act upon that I have fear on.

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