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The power of your content marketing doesn’t rest on ideas. It rests on ideas that appeal to your audience. If you lack ideas, you will lack content. If you lack ideas that grab the attention of your audience, you will lack READERS.
How do you keep a fresh supply of ideas that have reader appeal?
We asked 9 experts to give us a detailed look at their tips for developing content ideas, then we tried them. At the end of our research, we had 27 topics on our list of content ideas. You can see them (and download the spreadsheet) here.
The ideas, and our process, as well as some bonus tips and lazy day hacks will keep you writing, and more importantly, keep your audience engaged.
I’d also suggest pairing this information with an understanding of the formats and types of content that your audience prefers.
I looked up Ann Handley’s “Everybody Writes” on Amazon.
“Look Inside” showed me all the chapter titles, including:
And, here are some of the ideas these chapters inspired:
Notice that there is plenty of room for me to add my own spin to what’s published in a book–by answering a why question, or sketching out a process, or trying something and writing about how it went.
If I know that my audience prefers “How to” content, I can structure my post in that way. For example, Find A Writing Buddy becomes How To Find A Writing Buddy.
You can find some hidden gems in the comments section of your blog posts, suggests Lisa. Reader questions are a sure fire way to provide problem-solving content your target audience is searching for.
This sounds simple in theory, but in practice, operationalizing the collection of ideas from blog comments is a bit more complex. Lisa offers up her strategy to help others get started.
I moderate all comments for the CMI blog, so I see everything that comes in. If I see any themes to the questions or differences in opinion, I make a note in a tab in our “Master Tracker” of topics to consider, or I’ll reach out to the original author to write another post. I use Google Sheets to track content ideas. Trello is also a great tool to use. When contributors are looking for topics to write about, I refer to this list, Lisa says.
I decided to try Lisa’s process with the comments for a recent post at contentmarketinginstitute.com. A reader asked about trends for a specific audience sector.
The question points to an interest in content marketing for mid-sized businesses.
The next step I would suggest is to evaluate the “new” topic to determine if there is already a lot of content surrounding it.
If there’s not, you have most likely found a niche where you can bring a great answer to the table.
BuzzSumo can simplify the process, just type a topic into the content analysis feature, and you will be shown the number of articles on the topic along with the average shares. The skill is in finding a niche topic which is of interest to your audience. You can combine this research with tools such as SEMrush, Moz’s Keyword Tool and Google Trends to find niche topics that have high potential.
This chart can help you to think about the content you have and what you may need to add.
Amanda uses the same tactic with other blogs.
“Sometimes I look at content that’s been extremely engaging in my industry and then review the comments on that content. What did people have questions about? What did they disagree with? The comments can provide excellent insights on other perspectives of a topic that haven’t been explored or covered yet.”
If you want to try Amanda’s tip, but you’re stuck for ways to analyze long lists of comments, or if you just want another set of “eyes” to spot things you’ve missed, I’d recommend a text analysis tool. I love the free analyzer at online-utility.
I snagged all of the comments from a Whiteboard Friday post at moz.com (5097 words total) and pasted it into the analyzer.
In less than 5 seconds I had a collection of terms used frequently in these comments, arranged by frequency.
My next step is to look them over, eliminate duplicates, and think through patterns or outliers with potential.
Here are 5 phrases that stood out to me in this list of comments, and a proposed title for a new piece about each:
Reach out to the blog’s original author or the people who commented to see if they would like to collaborate on the post. Even one collaborator can double the reach of our content as you both share the finished product with your networks.
Shayla says, “I get new ideas from industry-related conference agendas. Those topics are heavily vetted and offer insight to the latest trends.”
She used this tactic to develop “How Emotional Targeting Converts More Leads,” for the Kissmetrics blog. The post got 2.9 thousand shares–the fourth highest at Kissmetrics for the year it was published, and 56 backlinks–the median for the site is 10.
Here’s an example from the conference agenda for Inbound 2017.
Data-driven remarketing caught my eye.
It’s not a topic that I frequently write about, so I used BuzzSumo’s Question Analyzer to get a feel for the types of questions people are asking about remarketing.
The all-time results help me to get an overview of the topic. But, the shorter list from the past year is even more helpful.
Immediately I have a full slate of ideas, many of them already formatted as “how to” posts, which my audience strongly prefers. If I’m not sure of how to answer the question, a quick click through to the site provides me with a slate of answers that I can read, test, and develop as my own.
Contact the speaker from the Inbound conference and ask her to contribute to your article.
Post your article, which solves a relevant remarketing problem, into the forum where the original question was asked.
If you find a gold-mine post with a ton of questions, write a post about the questions themselves. For example: 16 things other marketers want to know about SEO, or You won’t believe how many questions people have about SEO.
Jason says, ideas are everywhere! “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” This quote from Ray Bradbury is applicable, not only to the creative process, but also in the ideation stages, Jason says.
Sometimes, our content team will gather for brainstorm sessions and we’ll throw numerous ideas at the wall and see what sticks. It’s amazing what happens when we collectively build upon each other’s ideas and “yes and” one other (to use an improv term). Not only do these sessions generate new story ideas, but they are also a place where we formulate an action point that can support other teams within our company.
Story ideas happen outside the office as well. We’re inspired by walking and driving our city streets, by reading a constant flow of newspapers, magazines, etc. and because we work in the travel space, the places we go and the people we meet while on the move are often important sources for story ideas.
One story that generated thousands of social shares for us is “One super touristy thing you must do in 13 U.S. cities.” This idea sprang from a shared affection for clichéd (but nevertheless essential) tourist attractions like Café du Monde in New Orleans and architectural boat tours in Chicago. We took a gamble that we were not alone in thinking this would resonate with readers. Happily, it did! He concludes.
I love Jason’s reference to the reading his team does. I like to call this “informed creativity.” When you are immersed in the language and thought of an industry, you are much quicker to spot something new and understand how it is important or helpful to others in your sphere of influence.
I took a quick look at the days trending marketing articles. One piece in particular caught my eye, “ True to its word, P&G has slashed the number of sites it advertises on.”
A skim of the first few paragraphs revealed that one reason for the change in P&G’s ads is a concern that they not appear on fringe sites or with politically inflammatory ads. Because Fake News is a hot topic right now, my interest was further piqued.
The article also touches on one of the key drivers for content marketing overall–decreasing effectiveness of ads.
Two content ideas spring to mind:
What to do when ads aren’t the answer
In a world of fake news owned media assets are the best investment you can make.
Write a round up post of the weeks most shared content, or the posts that your team thought were most relevant.
I get great content ideas from Twitter chats, Lucy says. Both from the actual chat topic and questions, but also from the side conversations the topic brings up.
Not familiar with Twitter chats?
Social Media Examiner defines them as, “A public Twitter conversation around one unique hashtag. This hashtag allows you to follow the discussion and participate in it. Twitter chats are usually recurring and on specific topics to regularly connect people with these interests.”
y hard to find a list of relevant twitter chats. Madalyn Sklar, who hosts #twittersmarter, maintains a list of dates and times for twitter chats centered on social media and content marekting.
One twitter chat I enjoy is #contentchat. I took a look at some of the questions that popped up first in search. Immediately, I had two great list post topics:
Tweetchat or Tweetdeck are both great resources for folllowing and participating in a twitter chat.
It may be ironic to include this in a round-up post, but I find doing expert round-up posts is a great way to engage an audience in a specific niche, Stephen says.
These posts are relatively quick to compile if you use tools to accelerate your research. What’s great about them is they have a double whammy in terms of reach. Most influencers you include will share it with their followers, and your audience shares it to.
Stephen describes his process for creating round-up posts.
Use BuzzSumo to identify the top 20-25 influencers in a specific domain or niche that your audience cares about – Social Selling for example. I’ll use a range of metrics, including total volume of followers.
I’m looking for influencers who have a well-engaged audience and who are frequent publishers and sharers of content on the topic, so I look at retweet levels and view content they’ve authored and shared too.
Write a post that highlights each influencer, and includes a short overview: what their specific angle or focus is, a link to a recent post of theirs, links to their social profiles.
Promote the post to the influencers, sharing on social and mentioning them to let them know you’ve included them in the post. I usually send a direct message on Twitter and/or LinkedIn to do this.
Connect with influencers and continue to share their content, as it is key part of building relationships with influencers.
These posts are relatively quick to compile if you use tools to accelerate your research. What’s great about them is they have a double whammy in terms of reach – most influencers you include will share it with their followers, and your audience shares it too as it’s a good baseline for people new to the domain and experts looking to check who’s worth following.
It’s had 1.2k shares in its first 6 weeks, more than a lot of content that took longer to create, and it’s helped us build deeper relationships with Social Selling influencers on the list. So there’s a lesson in there… tap into other experts and leverage their network and expertise.
Ann Smarty recommends structuring posts thematically because that style is easier for readers to follow than a long list with no imposed framework.
For more on creating advanced round ups, see Ann’s execellent post “How to Collaborate: Example, Tips & Tools for the Ultimate Influencer-Sourced Content Asset”.
Ashley recommends going directly to the customer in a one-on-one conversations or with a customer surveys. Both can be a great way to gather information about your customers needs and pain points, she says.
This can be as easy as taking a look at your inbox. For example, I did a quick search and found this,
“I’m wondering if there is any recording of a webinar you’ve done for digital content specialists or any resources I can share with the broader group?”
We have overview webinars, but none that were scripted and recorded for this particular job focus.
I also found this,
“The searches we set up for home based businesses keeps bringing up results for corporate jobs you can work from home, not home based businesses that are worked by the owner. Can you help?”
I quickly fixed the search for the customer, and could easily describe the steps in a post that would help other users.
Brittany recommends shadowing the sales and support teams, going through their motions along with them on a regular basis. Reading through the customer support mailbox, or listening into sales calls in real-time are other great ways to get insight into real issues coming up in the buying process.
Take careful notice about questions customers ask, then work with the customer support or sales team to “pinpoint the most viable” solutions. Plug those ideas into your content calendar, Brittany says.
Her post 9 Advanced Monitoring Tips For Pro Mention Users was created in collaboration with sales and support teams. It highlights features that new customers typically don’t notice when they purchase Mention.
During a session at Content Marketing World, Gini Dietrich described a process for matching prospects’ exact language with marketing materials.
She used text analysis tools to isolate the phrases most used in a survey about business topics. Then, used those phrases in marketing materials developed after the survey.
I wanted to try combining Gini’s tip with Brittany’s, substituting a very small group of survey responses from a questionnaire for input from our customer support teams.
Here are the phrases that stood out to me from the surveys, along with some first draft headline ideas that match the language.
When you uncover a content idea, ask yourself if you can add something new or valuable to the conversation. For example, there is more heavily shared content about “how to go viral” than there is about “how to find influencers.” A
Ashley Zeckman summarizes the problem well. “At one point or another, we’ve all experienced the dreaded content slump. No matter how hard you try, the topics and the words just aren’t flowing.” Customer insights, brainstorming session, and various tools all help.”
But, the true solution lies in this:
“Teams need to know the data and be nimble enough to make changes to meet the needs of customers.”
We hope this post will provide you with better tools to get the data you need, and some nimble approaches to try when you hit the inevitable content idea dry spell.
Curious about the ideas we came up with as we tried each of the influencer tips above?
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