The biggest problem facing many business and corporate bloggers is figuring out what to write about. When you’re trying to put together an editorial calendar for a year’s worth of weekly newsletters, or generate 365 topics for a daily business blog, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
The good news is that if you know where to look, it’s easy to generate a variety of content topics. Here’s a quick overview of some of the approaches that I use in my own content generation, as well as when I’m working with clients on their content marketing strategies. We’ll take a closer look at strategies to stay organized, and then dive into different ideas for generating content inspiration.
Get organized: centralize all your post ideas
There’s nothing more frustrating that losing fantastic ideas that could be filling critical slots in your content calendar. One way to avoid that is to start your process by centralizing your ideas. Whether it’s a spreadsheet on your computer, a file on your Google Drive or DropBox account, or another tab in your project management software, commit to this early.
Figure out a system that will really work with your workflow and then set up a schedule for updating it. Daily, weekly or even monthly check-ins are enough, depending on your actual content volume. But what’s most important is to avoid the frustration and sense of wasted effort that can happen when you’re running low on ideas and can’t find or recall the inspiration you had from a book you read, a client conversation, or while you were out for a job. Personally, I love to use my iPhone’s voice memo app to record ideas whenever they come to mind. Each idea is like a gold nugget, and gets me excited about my next topic to write about.
Transition this to a content calendar
Another key strategy for making your content marketing efforts successful is to ensure that you’re maintaining a content calendar. This can be an easy transition from the idea storage list above. Your editorial calendar’s objective is simple: to outline the pieces of content that you’re on the hook for, the dates that they’re run, and what you intend to talk about. Having this ensures that you’ll be able to meet your content goals, easily fit this deliverable into your schedule, and delegate responsibilities when necessary.
Take the time to sketch out what your content calendar should look like. Whether your goals are ambitious or you simply want to let your customers know that your business still has a pulse, this approach will work. Choose a chunk of time – anywhere from a month to a year – and start to fill out the blanks. What kind of content are you going to be creating? What’s your schedule for doing so? With these mapped out, you’ll know that you need, for example, 52 newsletter issues and 52 blog posts created for your business. You’ve then got a target for the number of topics you need to come up with.
Ways to brainstorm topic ideas
For some people, it’s helpful to have that topic target in mind because it lets you know when you can stop looking for new titles. For others, free form brainstorming creates less pressure and allows them to be more generative with their approach. Whatever works for you is okay; just set yourself up for success.
1. Commonly asked questions
In every business, there are a number of questions that come up again and again. Recently, I was reviewing a site for a regional bank. In the process of discussing potential content, I asked if there were common questions that customers ask. Unsurprisingly, customers that are evaluating their options for banking solutions tend to ask similar questions. Here’s just a quick overview of some of those questions:
- Should I get a savings account or a checking account?
- What’s the difference between account types?
- What are my investment options that keep my funds liquid?
- How can I better understand my options for a new mortgage?
- Why do interest rates change so frequently, and how can I get the best rate?
- If I’m interested in online or mobile banking, how can I be sure that my security concerns are met?
One very fruitful approach for coming up with topics that will be of interest to both customers and prospects is to create a list of the most frequently asked questions that you hear during customer interactions. Another approach to this same type of exercise is to imagine sales conversations or informational conversations with specific types of customers.
For the bank, a family seeking to invest their nest egg is a different animal altogether than a savvy business manager with tough questions about institutional investment options. Close your eyes and envision that first meeting. What do they typically ask? You can also try to remember the specifics of actual recent client conversations that you’ve had, if you’re having trouble connecting with an archetype.
Once you’ve created the topics, take a look at your list with a fresh eye. Are there different aspects of a particular topic that could be broken down into multiple posts? Should you take more than one angle on a particular topic? For example, one company was recently working to develop content for a blog about MySQL, which is a programming language. The language features sixteen specific type of queries for one aspect of the programming.
Initially, the company was going to write a mega post that discussed all sixteen types of queries, providing a 30,000 foot look at the options. But in looking at their audience – mostly beginning programmers – it became clear that more in-depth posts about each of the sixteen types would be more valuable. Sometimes it’s worth considering how your audience will use the information. It can inspire you to treat the post in a whole new way.
2. Social media conversations
Another goldmine of potential topics is social media. Hopefully, your company is active on social media and engaging with your customers and fans. After all, social media is one of the three pillars of SEO. In addition to sharing your content, you can use social media to help brainstorm a number of topic ideas. There are several different ways to do so:
- Follow what topics and things people are asking you about via your social media account. There’s a good chance that these concerns could be explored in another venue, and would be of interest to a broader audience. Short questions or trends can lead to entire blog posts.
- Consider using social media listening software. There are many different programs on the market that are designed to help you track conversations related to specific keywords. For example, Sendible offers a tool that can be used in this way. You can specify keywords or topics and conversations that you want to follow. By keeping abreast of this chat, you’ll quickly identify hot topics to talk about in a very organic way.
- Get to know the hashtags that are popular in your space, and use those in your tracking efforts. Websites like Hashtags.org are a great place to start your exploration for relevant tags.
- Use Twitter search and Google Trends to find out what people are searching for. This is a great, real time feedback loop that helps you stay attuned with what’s hot and what topics you can easily link to your content creation efforts.
- Take a closer look at the visual content that’s capturing people’s imaginations. What images are most popular on Pinterest? What videos in your niche are getting great viewing statistics on YouTube and Vimeo? These topics can be a great place to get more ideas about what’s hot in your industry. Use them as topical inspiration to create complementary content in another form, such as a blog post, white paper, or podcast.
By treating social media as a fertile ground for extracting interesting topics, you’ll be in an excellent position to identify trends and topics ahead of your competition. Using this as part of your ongoing content generation strategy will help you develop into an active voice in your industry, and help build your reputation for being a thought leader that’s worth following to keep a pulse on upcoming trends. Social media has other benefits aside from being a great source for content ideas, too.
3. Follow publications in your space
Print and online publications in your space are another avenue to get ideas of the latest topics and trends to capture your industry. While many industry publications are geared toward professionals rather than customers, it’s possible to focus on translating these topics into materials that are appropriate for customers.
For example, a trend piece geared toward your colleagues might focus on overly technical aspects of the installation or purchase process. But those same trends could be featured in a Hot Trends piece for consumers, by offering ideas on how to evaluate whether new products are right for them or by offering the first “ultimate” buying guide. The core challenge here is that you need to find the spin that is going to interest your customers or prospects.
A great exercise is to grab an edition of a B2B magazine or industry publication in your space, and take each of the feature articles in turn. How could that topic be developed or spun out into a related piece that you could cover in your newsletter or blog? Spend 15 minutes systematically doing this, and you’ll not only walk away with a list of great topic ideas, you’ll also develop a critical skill, which is the ability to identify potential topics and rework them for your own content ideas.
Just to reiterate, the idea isn’t to steal ideas or plagiarize, but rather to find inspiration within your industry to fuel your content development efforts is a smart practice.
4. Keywords and search trends
Another way to connect your SEO strategy and your content marketing strategy together is through keywords. After all, one of the goals of developing online content is to help you rank well for specific words. There’s a simple system that you can use to tie your SEO campaign to your content generation. Here’s one approach to consider.
- Start with your core keyword list. Brainstorm possible related terms and create a seed list.
- Use a tool such as Longtail Pro or Market Samurai to expand your keyword list, and specifically to find long tail versions of the keywords. A long tail keyword is a cluster of a few terms, e.g. “How to buy red sneakers” vs. “red sneakers.” Long tail terms often offer a lot of possibility for blog post topics and e-newsletter articles.
- Google’s Autosuggest Tool is a great way to explore permutations of different terms. The tool works simply: you enter a term into the Google search box, and it will populate with a range of different search phrases that are used by searchers. For example, if you enter the term “omelet” you receive suggestions such as “omelet restaurants in my area,” “omelet recipes,” and “omelets for dieters.” These suggestions can take you search for topics in unexpected and helpful directions.
Generating enough content to fuel your inbound marketing strategy can seem overwhelming. Just sitting down at your keyboard and staring at the blank Word document in front of you is sure to induce anxiety! But with some planning and a strategic approach, you may be surprised to find that it’s easy to identify topics and to cultivate the skills to recognize potential topics as you go along. For more information about building a content strategy, see my article titled “How to Build a Kickass Content Strategy.”
Let me know your top strategies for brainstorming blog posts, white papers, and other content types in the comments below.