3 Popular Content Formats ‒ and 3 Superior Alternatives (Part One)


Content is like magic tricks.

The first time somebody shows you a good one, you’re blown away.

Rinse and repeat enough times, though ‒ and it gets boring. Your eyes start wandering in search of something new and shiny…

…only everyone else is doing the same magic tricks from the same old dog-eared book.

Everywhere you look online, you see the same content formats over and over again. And no matter how good the content is… because literally everyone is doing the same thing, it becomes very hard to stand out and compete.

If you want yours to resonate with readers, it’s time to zag when everybody else zigs. It’s time to retire ‒ or reinvent ‒ the old and overused content types!

And that’s exactly what today’s post is about. We will talk about 3 most overused content formats… and, because we don’t want to be naysaying Nellies, we will suggest 3 effective, attention-grabbing alternatives that you can create instead.

Sound good? Let’s go!

1. “Expert roundup” content ‒ awesome but overdone

Doing an expert roundup post used to be a surefire way to get thousands of eyeballs on your content. You would reach out to influencers, ask them a question, record the response, compile all the different takes into a single article (or a presentation, or any other format), and boom! ‒ you have a high-performing piece of content.

The tactic worked like a charm, so of course everybody started doing it. Right now, it’s easier to find expert roundup content online than sand on the beach ‒ and it doesn’t generate the same ROI it used to.

The question is, what could possibly replace it, let alone outperform it?

And the superior alternative is… case studies!

Case studies make for exceptionally shareable, compelling content. It could be a case study about your brand, one of your customers, or a completely unrelated person or business you “profiled” (with their permission, of course).

Anyone can create a juicy case study. The only two requirements are:

  1. It needs to feature a transformation ‒ the more dramatic, the better. Losing 128 pounds, making five million dollars in a week, adding 200,000 subscribers… you get the idea. And the transformation should be relevant and desirable to your target readership.
  2. To be compelling, your case study has to be detailed. There is too much fluffy, worthless content out there. Your readers want actionable takeaways whenever possible, otherwise they will just say, “Well, good for this person, but I can’t do it.”

Next time you come up with an idea for a case study, make sure it checks both of these boxes. If the transformation is profound, and you can achieve the level of detail necessary, you have a winner! Who needs those expert roundups anyway?

2. Interviews with influencers ‒ samey and uncompelling

Most interviews go like this:

A business owner ‒ who doesn’t interview people for a living ‒ is friends with big-shot CEO we’ll call Steve. “Why don’t I interview Steve?” they think. “It’s going to be great fun, and I can put it on my blog, or podcast.”

They ask Steve for an interview about an industry topic that their target market cares about. CEO Steve obliges. During the interview, he repeats the same rehearsed talking points he gives to every interviewer. They make him and his company look good, but provide very little value to the audience.

If you have ever listened to multiple podcast interviews with the same person, and were disappointed that they say the same things in every single one of them, you know exactly how underwhelming it feels.

The question is, what can you do about it? What’s a better piece of content than an interview?

And the superior alternative is… still interviews, surprisingly!

Just not the kind everybody else in your industry is doing.

The truth is, you can’t replace interviews with anything else. There’s no getting around it ‒ we love listening to people’s stories. No other kind of content creates the same emotional response, or engages people quite as much.

So the only superior alternative to interviews is better interviews. There are four ways you can create interviews that break the mold and genuinely hook your audience:

  1. Seek out people from outside of your industry. The further removed, the better. Your industry is a pond. Everybody knows who the big fish are. They have been interviewed dozens of times. But would a Navy SEAL be interesting to your audience? How about a Buddhist teacher? A design expert? A dog trainer? If you want to stand out, you should find a fascinating outsider and interview them.
  2. Interview people with contrarian opinions, and whose advice goes against conventional wisdom. There is great value in challenging the established opinion on something. Provide value to your target audience by exposing them to insights they might not have considered (like how play is more important for success than work).
  3. Embrace distractions, detours, tangents, and weird personal details. People don’t consume interview content just for the insights on a certain topic. If you are interviewing a marketer, and it just happens to come up that they have a killer homemade vodka recipe, let them share. If you talk to a world-class designer and an intense personal story comes out, let it unfold. Your interviewees will be happy with an opportunity to mix it up, and your audience will appreciate a bit of entertainment with their education.
  4. Level up your skills as an interviewer. And if you outsource or delegate the task to someone else, make sure they do. A poorly done interview is painful to read, or listen to ‒ and if you interview people at least semi-regularly, you should keep improving.

3. Generic list posts ‒ come on, it’s 2017!

Do we even need to explain it?

All these “X Tips for Business Success” and “Y Ways to Get More Customers” and “N Things You Won’t Believe People Used Before Toilet Paper” pieces are the content equivalent of junk food ‒ lots of filler, zero value.

Of course, most marketers defend list posts by saying that they work well, even now. And surely, you have read enough articles on this blog to know that we don’t shy away from them either!

So what gives?

You see, there’s a way to approach listicles that makes all the difference. We’ll talk about it right now…

And the superior alternative is… expanded list posts!

Expanded list posts are simply those that expand (didn’t see that coming, did you?) on the topic in some way. In three ways, actually:

  1. By offering a detailed explanation on how to apply each tactic, strategy, tip, you name it. For example, a list post about 5 types of emails you could send to your list would just contain the types of emails and short descriptions for each. An expanded list post would have all of that, plus example scripts for the emails, along with a brief guide or checklist on how to write each of them.
  2. By going completely overboard on the number of entries. Forget “5 ways,” or “10 ways”how about 130? Massive listicles are still very popular. So if you’re worried that your list post doesn’t catch people’s interest, try tripling or quadrupling it!
  3. By providing alternative entries, like this post does. So rather than just list “10 marketing mistakes,” an expanded list post would also provide helpful alternatives or fixes for each. This increases perceived value of the content substantially, but keeps it relatively easy to create.

Which content type will you be phasing out first?

You don’t have to adhere to the same tired formulas to engineer high-performing content. You can put a spin on existing formats and create something fresh and wonderful ‒ or focus on the less-overdone, more effective alternative instead!

We hope you will be putting the insights from this article to the test in the very near future. And in case you wanted to see some more types of content on this list, don’t worry ‒ Part Two is coming!

Next week, we’ll take a look at three more overused content formats that you can ‒ and should ‒ improve or replace with more effective alternatives. Stay tuned!

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