This is a guest contribution from Matt Clough.
Whether your blog falls within a niche with apparently endless opportunities or a dreaded “boring” one, the one thing that all bloggers (and writers in general) come up against at some point or another is writer’s block.
You might have covered every conceivable question your readers might ask; you may simply be burned out. However, by embracing the inherent psychological trait of contrarianism, you can unlock a veritable treasure trove of content ideas.
No matter whether you’re someone who delights in playing devil’s advocate or who just isn’t convinced that OK Computer by Radiohead is the greatest thing since sliced bread, everyone has a little contrarian in them.
As a blogger, there’s a constant temptation to tell people what you think they want to hear. There are of course benefits to this approach: you might make your readers feel fuzzy and warm by affirming their beliefs.
However, there’s several significant reasons why you shouldn’t always set out to bend to your reader’s opinions and why instead you should allow your argumentative inner-self to speak out in your writing.
The Psychology of Contrarianism
At the most basic level, contrarianism makes you stand out from the crowd. If everyone in your niche is fixated on “Why [new product] is going to change the world”, going against the grain and starting a discussion about how it might not revolutionise life as we know it is bound to get attention.
Then there’s the significant scientific evidence that people love talking about controversial topics – provided they’re not too controversial. In general, it’s advisable to steer clear of blogging too frequently on topics that have, you know, caused wars; religion and politics are two topics to avoid.
If you’re dealing with a subjective topic that has something like a 50/50 split of opinion, then you’ll not only entice those who disagree with you, but those who agree with your stance and like seeing their views confirmed.
What’s the upshot of all this?
- Going against the mass consensus or coming down on one side of a popular debate will increase your click through rates by catching the eye in a sea of repetitive, parroted content.
- We’re also psychologically more likely to share something which challenges our views or makes us angry rather than a post that simply confirms our opinions, so you can expect to see your enhanced CTR amplified considerably via social shares.
- Finally, the same reasons that encourage sharing will inevitably bring about engagement and, in particular, comments. After all, if you’re tapping into a topic that people are passionate about and making them question themselves or what they’ve read elsewhere, they’re bound to have something to say about it.
Sounds like a win-win(-win) right?
Refining your ideas and finding your angle
Stop right there.
Before you start firing off articles about how every influencer in your niche is a grade-A moron or how a patently terrible idea is actually a stroke of genius, you need to appreciate that controversial content is a volatile weapon, capable of backfiring if not executed with the same care and precision as the rest of your blogging efforts.
Be sure to follow these four tips to ensure that you can harness your inner contrarian without landing yourself in hot water:
1. Be as thorough as possible.
Simply saying a commonly-held belief is wrong with nothing to support your claim will smack of contrarianism for contrarianism’s sake.
A well thought out argument – backed up with statistical evidence if possible – is absolutely critical if you’re to avoid anything other than a maelstrom of derision. You need to formulate your ideas and make them watertight.
2. Pick your fights.
As I alluded to above, there’s no point trying to fight your niche’s King Kong of truth unless you have a truly ironclad argument (in which case you may be on to a real winner, such as the Copyblogger example below). Instead, find those debates that tend to be 50/50 – such as toilet paper orientation – or start ones where people will be engaged without being offended.
3. Stay relevant and focused.
While I’m all for letting your contrarian side off the leash, be sure to not lose sight of what it is you’re trying to achieve with your content and who your target audience is.
Contrarianism is a primal psychological trait and, if left unchecked, can give your blogging an irrational, ranty style.
4. Carefully package your posts.
One of the most common mistakes that bloggers make when it comes to crafting contentious content is by being too confrontational.
Going for the jugular may grab the reader’s attention, but crossing the line from controversial to offensive means they’re unlikely to return for more. Just because the idea was borne out of thinking as a contrarian doesn’t mean the end product need be quite so polarised.
Headlines are particularly crucial when it comes to picking the right angle.
3 examples of fantastic contrarian content
No matter if you love or loathe Facebook, it’s hard to argue with nearly 1.5 billion users and countless businesses and blogs that have been propelled to success off the back of Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild.
By positioning their post as an explanation of why they’re leaving Facebook rather than criticising those still there, Copyblogger avoid a possible backlash while retaining the attraction of their unusual stance.
The Paleo diet is a fantastic target for contrarian content, as it has passionate advocates and equally vocal detractors.
However, the Everywhereist does a good job of avoiding alienating either camp by appearing biased, as they clearly demonstrate that the position they eventually adopt on the issue – decidedly negative – is only arrived at after some pretty robust evidence; the writer herself trying the diet.
In this post, Pacific Standard put together a compelling case for drinking in moderation being healthy. Not only do they offer reams of scientifically-backed evidence to support their claim, but they also debunk the evidence used by those on the other side of the argument.
Like so many things in marketing, harnessing contrarianism isn’t an exact science.
However, by ensuring that you follow the example of the sites above – carefully picking your fights, keeping sight of your target audience, backing your arguments up and disproving the opposing point of view – you can hit upon countless new ideas for engaging, thought-provoking content that will have readers flocking to your blog.
Not only that, but contrarian content will also do wonders for brand building by allowing you to stand out from the crowd as being an honest, trustworthy authority blogger unafraid to say it like it is.
Contrarian content may make you the odd enemy, but it’s certain to make your blog a lot more new friends.
Matt Clough is the content marketing manager at Cloggs and has covered a wide range of topics, including marketing, branding, SEO and entertainment and the arts for the likes of Search Engine Land, the Guardian and the Independent.