Content marketing is difficult. There, I said it. Constantly writing and creating engaging content for specific audiences on a regular basis just isn’t easy. To make things worse, sometimes coming up with topic ideas can take hours. I’ve found myself staring at a wall for 20 minutes just thinking about mobile development, pondering what others wanted to know about it.
To help myself discover new questions, in-depth topics and popular ideas within each subject area of my content marketing, I’ve built a list of tools I use online to help me brainstorm new post ideas. To help you get past the topic hurdle, I’m sharing it with you.
Take Advantage of Existing Conversations on Social Media
People are already talking about the topics that interest them. You just have to hone in on these discussions. There are dozens of social analytics tools to do this, but I prefer the following:
A social analytics tool built specifically for Twitter, Topsy’s Social Search allows you to find conversations around your areas of expertise or other specific terms. When I’m completely out of ideas, I turn to the tool’s Social Trends functionality to determine what people are fired up about on the Internet. I then mold my next content marketing piece around one of the topics, expanding upon the discussion.
This hashtag search tool allows you to review related hashtags to your familiar, probably over-evaluated one. Using its search results, follow the gingerbread crumb trail of hashtags to widen your net and capture more conversations around a particular topic. For example, my results for a search on#cmgr lead me to #SMM and #Social. Even better, you can monitor hashtags and set up alerts to help you stay on top of hot topics in your industry.
I use this tool to narrow my search specifically by location and tone, but it provides other beneficial functionalities as well. To tighten the radius of a search, identify an area under the Places section. For example, I like to monitor the social discussions around mobile app development within Missouri. Twitter Advanced Search even allows you to find questions specifically, which provides you a unique opportunity to provide audience members with an answer through a content marketing piece.
This tool allows for many specific search parameters, so I suggest playing with the tool to really narrow the conversations and tweets in your results. Don’t forget to save your advanced searches! You don’t want to have to fill out all of those fields every single time you want to see updated results.
Join several groups related to your products and/or services and monitor the types of information professionals discuss within them. LinkedIn has a daily email that alerts you of new conversations, so you can skim them all in one place and determine if you can provide an answer to a question or add value to a discussion before even making the jump to the social network. After you build that content marketing piece, don’t forget to share it with these groups, engaging their members by providing the very information they seek.
I liken visiting Quora to tumbling down the rabbit hole. Sometimes, it’s a gold mine, and sometimes its a major time investment with little return. I visit the Q&A-based site when I need to write a long, valuable in-depth blog post but don’t know where to start. You can follow specific topics and even get regular alerts when new questions are asked around them. Don’t forget to chime in on topics you can answer then and there but don’t have an interest in weaving into your content marketing strategy. You can build yourself up as an industry thought leader with just a few minutes a day, and with enough effort, users may seek you out on their own for other questions related specifically to your products and/or services.
This tool evaluates the interests of your social media connections based on previous articles you’ve shared and provides insights on topics you should be discussing to continue to capture their attention. I recently discovered Swayy, and I love how it serves as a content discovery engine based on my individual interests and those of my connections. Swayy basically delivers a list of subjects to focus on to engage my specific followers, which helps me generate new content ideas. I often find my audiences are interested in areas of my expertise I thought they wouldn’t be, which opens up new avenues for my content marketing strategy.
You can use this tool to identify trending stories as well, but BuzzSumo’s unique selling point is its analysis by specific content types. After all, content marketing isn’t just about blogging and articles. Marketers must utilize many different formats to reach their audiences and maintain engagement. Infographics, presentations, ebooks, white papers, podcasts and everything in between should be explored and tested. To brainstorm your next content marketing idea, filter a list of the top 20 trending pieces related to your business and look for a pattern. Are they all related to one question? Do they leave a piece unanswered? Are there too many infographics, providing a big opportunity for a video?
As a list addict, I’m obsessed with List.ly, which, at bare bones, is just a database of lists. Users can build them on whatever topics they like. I like to search for specific topics and rank my results by the number of “favorites” each gets. For example, a search for “mobile analytics” returns a list titled “List of Mobile Analytics Tools.” It’s been viewed 8,000 times. Obviously, lists of tools that make marketers’ lives a bit easier are popular. To get your creative juices flowing, check out the popular lists on the tool’s homepage to spark a fun idea related to your regular content marketing subjects.
9. Industry Forums
Much like LinkedIn groups and Quora, forums provide a unique opportunity to find specific in-depth questions your target audiences are discussing. While they often require daily activity for you gain traction as a thought leader, you can just drop in on a regular basis to see the types of questions they ask one another. If you create highly-targeted content marketing pieces based on their answers, their next search could bring them straight to you.
Make Google Do the Work For You
Google wants brands and their marketers to continue to create content. They want more in-depth, valuable information to entice more users and more searches. To facilitate this process, the search engine giant provides digital marketers with plenty of curation tools for more successful content marketing.
10. Google Trends
Besides providing current trending search queries, which you can newsjack, Google Trends can help you visualize the popularity of a topic, especially when compared to multiple queries. By juxtaposing keywords, you can identify interesting trends related to your business and then tailor your content marketing pieces around explanations for causation or industry forecasts.
For example, I’ve always found the following trend of mobile website design v. responsive website design interesting as brands move away from building separate websites for mobile users and move toward responsive resources to enhance the user experience on all devices. A great content marketing piece could analyze this trend and provide reasoning around it.
11. Google Alerts
Want to know what’s being said about a specific topic soon after it hits the online world? You can set up Google Alerts to inform you of new content around unique search queries. For example, I have daily alerts for “online marketing” which provide a nice list of content marketing ideas in my inbox every morning for that specific service.
12. Google Correlate
Guess what word is most correlated with the search query “mobile development?” “Convenient.” This could imply that those seeking mobile development want to avoid a drawn-out process that requires a ton of their attention and time. This one suggestion sparks at least half a dozen content marketing ideas for me. It also provides a potential insight about one of my target audiences and piques my interest in learning more.
Don’t forget the difference between causation and correlation. Just be careful when creating topics based on the information you find within Google Correlate. Don’t jump to any conclusions!
13. Google Scholar
Sometimes, all you need for your next great addition to your content marketing plan is one great piece of information on which to build an entire piece. Google Scholar returns quality online resources, ensuring your research is sound and not full of sketchy facts and statistics. It’s also a great place to discover new studies and research on your subject areas.
You can take these bite-size insights and turn them into entire content marketing pieces by building upon them, deciphering their meaning and forecasting what it means for the future of your industry. Data is interesting, and readers are always looking to learn something knew, even if they don’t always realize it. You can take one small lesson and blow it up in an interesting, fun, enlightening way.
14. Google Analytics
If you regularly monitor your website with an analytics tool, such as Google Analytics, you know that some of your content and digital resources are more popular than others. Really dig into this data you already have to discover how well you’re serving your audiences. Do your posts on one topic perform better than others? Why? Do your how-to posts get more traction than your other types of content? Focus on what’s working and expand upon these content marketing topics and formats for new ideas.
15. Blog Comments
Dig through your recent posts to determine not only which topics your audiences have heightened interest in but also to uncover any questions you may have overlooked. Does one commenter seem to slightly misunderstand your main point on one post? Clarify with a follow-up one. Do you notice any trends with the types of questions or comments you receive? What kind of information can you give these loyal audience members to enhance their experience?
I recently worked with a coworker on a post about utilizing internal resources for content marketing idea curation, so if you want a more in-depth explanation of how to capitalize on Google Analytics and blog comments, I highly recommend checking it out.
16. Customer Complaints and Questions
Customer Service Reps are gold mines of information. They handle customer complaints and inquiries every single day. Sit down with them on a regular basis and discuss the top ten questions they receive. Then write a post for every single one. Elaborate on the answers. Provide reasoning. Create such an in-depth answer that your CSRs reference it.
You could even take this one step further and ask your team to end each customer call with a question of their own: “Do you have any questions about our products or services I could answer for you? What confuses you about our company that you want to learn more about?” Listen to your customers, and dozens of topic ideas will follow.
Bonus – If your customers are visiting your website or Google to find these answers before thinking to contact customer service, your traffic could increase just because you’re meeting a major information need.
Check Out the Competition
17. List of Competitor Blogs and Social Media Accounts
Successful companies stay on top by keeping an eye on the competition’s moves. If you’re already monitoring their business maneuvers, you may as well keep an eye on their content marketing strategies. Create a private Twitter list for your competitors. Visit it regularly to see what type of information they’re sharing. What kinds of blogs are they posting? Are they using different content formats than yours? Does it seem to be working? Read their blogs and the comments that follow. Could you explain something better? Maybe you could answer a question one of their commenters have.
Tip: If you want to determine how often a content marketing piece has been shared, and therefore its popularity, I highly suggest checking out MuckRack. You can input any URL and it returns the number of times it’s been shared on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Oh, and don’t feel guilty for checking out the competition on a regular basis. If you want to stay one step ahead of them, you have to know what they’re doing right now.
Play with a Title Generator
Digital marketers are lucky. There are just hundreds of tools available online to make our jobs easier, and most of them are free! Sometimes when I’m short on time or just can’t get my brain to turn on (Hello, Monday mornings!), I play around with title and topic generators. They’re fun, and even if they don’t deliver a great idea, they at least help get the creative juices flowing. Here are my two favorites:
Portent operates with a simple formula: Verb + Noun + Your Subject + Audience Reference. It’s not always in that order, and sometimes the lines get blurred between verbs and nouns, but it’s all there. Even better, the generator drops in little digital marketing tips (and/or one-liners) with the generated content idea, so you get a little extra inspiration to get your brain moving.
My favorite generated title thus far: “Save Your Marriage Using Only Search Engine Marketing”
I’d read that story.
Raising the bar to a more serious level, HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator requests three nouns. That’s it. Then it returns a week’s worth of blog topics. Should you use this list verbatim? No, absolutely not, but it can help you take a step back from your content marketing subjects and see topic possibilities with fresh eyes. It also makes dreaming up specific pieces much more fun.
Stop Thinking So Hard
20. Go Learn Something
I have this problem – the more I learn, the more in-depth questions I have, the more I want to learn. It’s an exhausting revolving door, but my knowledge base is always growing. When I hit a wall and can’t figure out how to do something, I start the research process to find a satisfactory answer. Then I throw myself into another challenge.
Do you have the same problem? If you’re spending a lot of your time learning new things about your industry or field, capitalize on all of that research and share your insights with your target audiences. Content marketing is all about sharing knowledge, after all, so make your efforts to learn and grow work double-time by using it to expand your blog topics and audiences.
A perfect example? This post started out as my ever-growing documented list of my favorite places to hit when I get the dreaded writer’s block.
21. Let Your Interests Guide You
At the end of your rope? Step away from your computer. You heard me. Leave. Go for a walk. Read a book. Complete a puzzle. Go people-watch at your favorite local park.
I dream up most of my best blog post ideas while dabbling in my hobbies and not even remotely thinking about my content marketing plan. I’m usually not even thinking about work. I’ll be building with legos or reading about physics or listening to Sam Cooke and then bam! Inspiration hits.
Expanding your field of interests not only makes you more interesting – it also provides ideas from completely different fields and opens you up to more readers who seek informative content from a unique angle. So take a break from the content marketing idea-generating and go have a bit of fun. Just don’t forget to bring a pen and paper to scribble down all of your ideas!
Are you ready to get moving? Don’t ever get stuck again. Bookmark this article for when you run out of ideas and need to find a good content marketing topic quickly. I use this list on a regular basis, and it never fails me.
If I missed any awesome tools, let me know in a comment below. I’d love to see this list continue to grow!