“Content is king.”
We’ve all heard it, time and again. But how do you come up with something that’s worth anything? Day in and day out, it seems like everyone’s writing content—a lot of it. But 90% of the commentaries on the web go down the drain, and only the remaining 10% makes it to the top of Google’s rankings, or Inbound.org, or Mashable, and makes the rounds via social channels.
Aside from the fact that it’s hard work to churn out lengthy, valuable content on a regular basis, it’s also difficult to come up with interesting ideas. From my perspective, that’s been the biggest challenge of maintaining AudienceBloom’s content strategy.
How do you identify topics that will connect with your audience? How do you come up with post ideas that will help you rank well? How do you locate ideas that will have an impact on your content strategy (and lead to more traffic, revenue, and brand building)?
Over the years, a pattern has emerged that has helped me keep coming up with new and solid article ideas.
As simple as it sounds, it can’t really work unless you do a lot of reading. Regardless of what niche/market you are in, there’s always a lot to learn, a lot to read, a lot to assimilate. If you are fully involved in the market, you surely have many personal experiences: these, too, come under “education” which should help you generate good topic ideas for your content.
So briefly, remember these three things:
Let’s dive in to the details.
1. Read and Curate Great Content
Content curation has become a mantra for many writers these days. Although I’m not a big fan of curated content, it’s definitely a productive way to come up with posts. The key is to find really helpful, actionable, and highly interesting/unique content across the web. The danger with curated content is that if you use it too often, your readers will come to think of you as just a resource-person/website rather than an authority.
This means you don’t want to pick the most obvious, popular content and thread all those bits together to create your curated posts. If a content is particularly popular (let’s say it’s gone viral), you can assume that most of your target audience has already read or seen it. So unless it’s so vital that it bears repeating, or you can put an extra spin on it by expanding on the central idea, better not include those links in your curated content.
Bottom line: Curated content is effective when used sparingly. Think of weekly roundups or monthly roundups of the best writing across the web in your market/niche. Ideally, your post should be a mixture of news/general information, “actionable” content, and some innovation or discovery.
How to come up with curated content:
Bonus tip: While reading and curating other content, you’ll get plenty of ideas from what other people in your industry or niche decided to write about. Can you give your own take or spin on a topic someone else wrote about? Did they get it wrong? Write your own version of it! There are lots of “How to come up with ideas for content” articles on the Web written by many different authors, but that didn’t stop me from writing my own. Why? Because I think my version is the most helpful and thorough of them all. Good content always wins, and it’s usually easy to improve on existing content ideas.
2. Compile Lists
In my experience, nothing performs better than a list post. If you clicked on the title of this article to read it, then you’re now a data point strengthening this hypothesis. List posts are crisp, easily consumable, and can be very informative.
You can make list posts out of a variety of things. If you stumble upon three different methods in three separate blogs, then bingo: you’ve got a “3 Ways To…” post idea, ready to roll.
3. Write “How-to’s”
“How To Do Something” is another evergreen article title format. Coming up with one can be tough, however, unless you’ve figured out something yourself and can blog about it in your own terms.
It’s easy to regurgitate what others have already blogged, and it’s difficult to write something unique. But if you’ve done or tried something yourself (with the help of other resources, no doubt), and then you write about it, that content is going to be more powerful. It has voice and it has an experience. Most importantly, it has the persona.
I like to compose “How to” posts when I need to figure out something for my own good. One example that comes to mind is a post I wrote for Search Engine Journal called “How to Set Up Your Company in Bing Business Portal.” I got the idea for that post when I realized that I had no idea how to do it, and I wanted to learn. As I learned, I took screenshots, walking through each of the steps, and wrote it down in article format.
Another instance in which “How to” posts are useful is when you would like to train your employees or clients how to do something. If you want them to learn how to do it, then it’s a safe bet that it’s useful information that other people would find value in knowing how to do as well. One example of this was my popular post titled “How to Find Guest Blogging Opportunities.” Obviously, with the popularity of guest blogging at an all-time high, I wanted to outline a quick and efficient method for finding opportunities for my employees. I decided to publish the blog publically since I believe it has a ton of value as a resource for other folks as well.
How-to posts perform best when you’ve figured out what your market wants. To do that, you should consult:
If possible, try to interact directly with your target audience—through forums, comments, email newsletters, etc.
4. Discovered something? Write about it
If you figure out a new way to measure ROI through Google Analytics, that’s going to be a great thing to share. If you came up with a new way to reduce load times, there’s another post idea! There are many things you do every day… and if you do something new, unique, or even something that’s old but still time-saving, cost-effective, or groundbreaking in some way or another, you’ve found a new post idea to write about.
One example of this was my post for VentureBeat titled “How to Reduce Stress as an Entrepreneur.” The article details my experience with stress, some examples of how that stress started pervading my life, and the steps I took to solve the problems, complete with specific recommendations for tools and plugins I discovered that help de-stress my life.
One objection to this idea might be that you’re afraid to share trade secrets or cool little advantages you’ve discovered. My advice is this: if you figured it out, someone else has too, or will soon. And the first person to publish the article about it will receive all the recognition, inbound links, website traffic, and referrals. So, don’t withhold information because you’re afraid your competitors will use it. Instead, think about ways you can be more helpful than your competitors are to your target market; how can you be the authority in your space that your potential customers think of when they’re ready to buy?
5. Get controversial
Plunging into a controversy is risky business but if done correctly, you could have a shot at virality. A good, controversial post — say, “Everything You Know About SEO Is Wrong” — has the ability to generate instant and relevant reader interest. But where do you find controversies?
Stay on top of the best places to make sure you have your finger on the pulse of the market.
In the end, coming up with content ideas is half the battle, but it’s the first part of the battle. And if the content ideas are no good, the post won’t draw much interest. I hope these five tips for coming up with ideas helps you overcome the first challenge on your road to becoming a content marketing expert. Do you have other ways to come up with article ideas? Let me know in the comments!