I get it.
You don’t want to be one of the millions of bloggers stuck in the land of sameness — indistinguishable as you parrot the same old advice everybody else does.
You want your voice to be heard, and you want it to feel vibrant, fresh and new.
But your blog topic feels threadbare, and you’ve got no bloody idea how to make it exciting again. Every angle has been rewritten, rehashed and reused. It bores you so much you’d rather poke your eye out with a stick of spaghetti than write another post.
So you search for answers on how to stand out.
But all you find is airy-fairy platitudes. Provide unique insights! Be interesting! Write in your own voice!
It’s all surface-level hoopla that lacks the substance and specifics you really need.
So I scoured the Internet in search of posts that felt new and exciting despite having well-trodden topics. And I unearthed a handful of practical tactics you could add to your repertoire.
Enough small talk. Let’s get into it …
Tactic #1: Turn Fluffy Concepts into Living, Breathing Characters
Procrastination. It’s a well-worn topic. It’s also a bit of an ethereal concept — untouchable, yet it touches us all.
But in this insanely viral post, Tim Urban skillfully brings procrastination to life by casting interesting characters to play the roles of emotions that live inside a procrastinator’s brain. See what I mean …
Mel Wicks also did it when she created the Imp to play the role of Imposter Syndrome — another fluffy concept.
I call this voice the “Imp.” Her full name is Imposter Syndrome, and chances are you’ve already met. If you’ve ever had that dread of being outed as a fraud because you don’t stack up to other writers, you’ve experienced Imposter Syndrome, and you have an Imp of your own.
Doing this makes reading about fluffy concepts much more fun and interesting for the reader. You bring the topic to life, as readers can visualize these characters better than ideas that only exist inside our minds.
So if you write about a topic that only exists in the abstract plane, consider breathing some life into it. Think of crazy names for concepts or aspects of problems that your readers may face, and cast human or animal characters in their roles.
Your readers will love it.
Tactic #2: Make Your Readers Choose a Side
Trump or Clinton? Yankees or Red Sox? Ebooks or paperbacks?
You can’t help but choose a side. It’s a natural reaction, and it’s one that you as the writer can play to your advantage. It’ll create standout content for even the most dreary topics.
Devise contrasting sides or categories and compare them to spark your reader’s attention.
Take, for example, Elle Luna’s post, The Crossroads of Should and Must, in which she rockets interest levels to amazing heights by contrasting two paths we can choose to take. It’s a home run of a post that takes the well-trodden topic of “living life to the fullest” to an entirely new level.
And then we have the $2 Billion Wall Street Journal Sales Letter, which is one of the most successful sales letters ever written:
It begins by introducing two young men, painting a picture of their near-identical happy lives, then throws in a surprising contrast to generate curiosity and emotion that makes it impossible to stop reading.
Contrasting two sides like this can be both engaging and persuasive. Readers will be swept up by the comparisons, and they’ll find themselves agreeing with the side you want them to pick.
So next time you write about a dreary topic, consider presenting two opposite sides, and force the reader to choose one.
Tactic #3: Make Them Laugh So Loud They Wake Up People in China
Humor is the perfect way to flip the script on a humdrum blog topic. Oli Gardner proved this point beautifully in his highly entertaining post on landing page optimization.
His setup was gold and left no doubt in the reader’s mind that the post was going to be an interesting ride.
Homepages suck. Blah.
Do some A/B testing. Blah.
Base your optimization strategy on customer feedback. Blah.
All of those statements are true. But they sound boring and being boring is lame. It’s twenty fourteen and I refuse to be lame.
If you want to be a non-lame marketer, it’s really easy. Read this post, have a laugh, and treat everything I say as gospel.
And he certainly continued to deliver throughout the entire post.
But what if you’re not funny? Humor can’t be taught, right?
Sure, some people seem to be born oozing raw comedic talent, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are doomed. You’ll have to do the legwork, but it’ll be worth it. Many of the most successful and memorable blog posts ever written contain humor or quirkiness.
Here are two of the simpler humor writing tricks to get you started.
Humor Technique #1: The Rule of Threes
Simply put, you write three statements. The first two are the setup, and they establish a thought pattern. Then you add a third, incongruent idea, which is your main point or punchline. Like this:
The rule of three is a classic joke structure that you’ll see used by many comedy writers. Here are a couple of examples by the pros so you can see it in action.
See how that works?
Humor Technique #2: Ridiculous Exaggeration
Exaggeration is an age-old trick used to emphasize importance and evoke strong emotions. It’s also a powerful way to inject humor into a post. You can embellish or stretch everyday truths, over- or understate distance or size, and express extreme or ridiculous emotions.
Geraldine DeRuiter’s side-splitting post I Went Paleo and Now I Hate Everything is a good example, as it’s riddled with exaggeration. Just check out these entertaining quotes:
To do this yourself, begin with a common situation, such as having dismal site traffic. Then play with how it makes you feel, what it makes you want to do, etc. Here are a few I came up with:
- Dive into a pit of Kleenex and cry like a baby.
- Send a fire-breathing dragon to incinerate Google HQ.
- Run away and live in an igloo for the rest of your life.
You get the idea.
So dust off that funny bone and give it a go. It’s a hoot.
Tactic #4: Give Data-Driven Answers to Compelling Questions
In his book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger reveals the results of a study of New York Times articles. He discovered that science articles that discuss research results are more likely to go viral because “they frequently chronicle innovations and discoveries” that evoke a feeling of awe in readers.
In other words, readers love data-driven content.
So instead of approaching your topic the same way as everyone else, perform an experiment or run a survey and share the results with your readers in a post.
That’s what Mark Manson did when he crowdsourced his article, The Ultimate Relationship Guide to End All Relationship Guides™.
Rather than share his own opinion, he ran a survey by the people in his audience who were happily married for 10+ years that asked for their best relationship advice. He then turned the most common answers into an article.
BuzzSumo took another approach. They analyzed 100 million headlines to find the commonalities that popular headlines share and the ones unpopular ones share. Lots of content has been written about writing headlines, but data-backed insights like these are hard to come by.
Of course, you may not have access to thousands of subscribers like Mark does, or to millions of headlines and their share counts, like BuzzSumo does, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create data-driven content.
You could run a survey through Facebook Groups or forums. There are plenty of communities online that you could tap into. And hey, you might just go out into the real world and survey people on the street. That works too!
Or you could run a small-scale experiment of your own. For example, if you write about social skills, you could try different conversation openers with strangers and track their responses, seeing which ones work best.
Or, you know, you could grab data and research results from studies that have already been conducted.
Creating data-driven content takes work, but the end result will be a fascinating post that will stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Tactic #5: Inject Your Post with a Healthy Dose of Attitude
There’s a powerful theme that appears in many wildly interesting posts — they all ooze head-flicking, hip-swaggering attitude.
They’re unmistakable because the writer totally embraces their irreverence. They’re written with wit and quirk. They’re unconventional, confrontational and bold. And they border on unreasonable as the writer dances on the edge of insult.
An undeniable strength and passion is woven through every word. There’s total conviction and unwavering commitment to the main idea.
David Wong nails it in his post, 5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Own Life (Without Knowing It):
Johnny B. Truant also does it well in his post, The Universe Doesn’t Give a Flying F**k About You (I mean, that title alone …) His irreverent message of “You don’t matter” hits hard, yet he turns it into something inspirational.
In fact, it should matter to you more than it currently does. If you knew how small you are and how short a time you have to do what you can, you wouldn’t waste time watching five fucking hours of TV a day. You wouldn’t waste time doing a job you hate. You wouldn’t waste the little time you have dealing with assholes, feeling sorry for yourself, or being timid about the things you’d really like to do.
And let’s not forget Jon Morrow’s How to Be Smart in a World of Dumb Bloggers. He just flat-out calls his readers dumb and gets away with it.
It’s because you’re dumb.
And if you ever want a chance in hell of anyone listening to you, you’d better smarten up.
Any post you write with irreverence will stand head and shoulders above the masses. Nobody remembers a fence-sitting, white-bread boring post. They remember the hilarious rant in which the writer unleashes daggers of unspoken truth upon a popular idea or common situation. They remember the posts in which the writer says the things that everybody wishes they had the balls to say — but don’t.
Be willing to put your neck on the line. And be ready to piss a few people off along the way. You’re not a blogger to lull people to sleep. You’re a blogger because you’ve got amazing ideas that need to be heard.
Do this by kicking your emotions into a higher gear. Give yourself permission to write freely — not as you should, but as you want. Don’t be angry, be furious. Don’t be happy, be delirious. Don’t be annoyed, be completely pissed off.
Tactic #6: Snare Your Readers’ Attention with a Surprisingly Mismatched Tone
Let’s start by imagining that all your readers are Walking Dead zombies.
They’re stumbling through their days on autopilot, scrolling through their newsfeeds in a stupor. Your only hope is to shove something unexpected into their eyeballs and shock them back to the here and now.
Contrasting your tone with the topic is a fantastic way to inject interest into your post. You can:
- Mismatch a story about disappointment with an appreciative tone.
- Be annoyed by simplicity.
- Find pleasure in the pain of something going wrong.
- Write about something you hate as if you love it.
For example, like this …
And check out this hilarious post about the worry of thinking you have cancer. A topic that summons expectations of gravity and worry.
So today I placed my boobs into a giant, hospital-grade George Foreman grill and held my breath as the nurse took the X-ray.
The headline piques interest, and the wry and unexpected tone of the opening sentence snares your attention and commits you to an irreversible free-fall until the end of the post.
Tactic #7: Predict the Future
The future is the devil we don’t know. And it’s cloaked in uncertainty.
Your readers desire for certainty about tomorrow is as guaranteed as day turns into night — and it can be used to your advantage.
Build your reader a safe haven of certainty by predicting the future as Jon did here by sharing his view on how to write great content in 2014.
There’s evidence everywhere to illustrate how not-so-interesting, written-to-death topics, such as content marketing, can continue to pull huge share counts every year by exposing trends for the immediate future.
Mike Blankenship also worked this tactic nicely in How to Write a Paragraph in 2017.
But what if you don’t know the future?
Remember that none of us do. Chances are, however, that you know the history of your niche (if you don’t, get researching), you’ve checked out your competition, and you have an opinion about how things are evolving.
So be bold. Write a future prediction that becomes a magnet for attention as it creates hope, generates discussion and encourages new ways of thinking for your reader. If you get it wrong, no one’s going to call you on it — it’ll just vanish into the fog of forgotten posts. (You can always delete it too.)
Tactic #8: Pepper Your Post with Quirky Visuals
You’ve probably heard that you should add visual content to your blog posts. And yes, adding infographics, screenshots or photographs can do a lot to liven up your posts… But you can also use visual content to add some whimsy and fun to your posts.
Several of the posts I’ve already featured as examples do this.
Take the aforementioned Medium post from Elle Luna, the Crossroads of Should and Must. She doesn’t just have her readers pick a side, her post is also full of line drawings like this:
The casual nature of these line drawings lifts the feeling from humdrum to fun and injects the post with an entertaining dose of personality and character. As soon as the reader scans the page, they instantly feel like they’re in for a treat.
Tim Urban also uses drawings in his post about procrastination (and every other post he writes).
Line drawings are a great way to move away from the dry formality of graphs and screenshots, but they’re not your only option.
If you don’t feel that artistic — though you don’t have to be that artistic to draw a stick figure — you can also use other quirky imagery, like memes, cartoons and funny pictures. These can be found on the web or easily created with tools like Canva and other meme generators.
If you look back on Geraldine de Ruiter’s I Went Paleo and Now I Hate Everything, she interchanges the expected photos of food with images and GIFs like these:
Dull topics are more likely to send your reader’s brain for a coffee break instead of paying full attention. Keep them riveted to their seats by entertaining them with unusual, surprising and vibrant visuals.
Time to Breathe New Life into Those Old and Boring Topics
No blog topic is too boring, too dull or too worn-out to ever be interesting again. It’s you, the writer, who has everything within you to make it interesting.
Because when you do, your voice will be heard and you’ll know you’re helping others as you share new ways of doing things, thinking, and approaching tasks, work or life.
Your posts will stand out from the masses of regurgitated ideas and cookie-cutter advice.
Your posts will open the doors of possibility for your readers, and let you shine brightly.
So which tactic are you going to try first? Pick one and start today.
Light up your blog topic with an explosion of freshness like only you can.