“What should I write about?” Every content manager comes up against this question at least once — sometimes, once a week. While there’s no foolproof way to come up with good ideas on demand, there are some tips and tricks to get the ideas flowing. Let’s take a look at six content creation strategies to use as a foundation for your idea factory. Whatever your industry, whoever your target, these will help you.
1. Consume everything
Inspiration is nothing more than an outside stimulus activating a chain of thoughts. To find inspiration — to continually come up with more ideas — you need more stimulation. You need to consume. Whenever you consume a word or a phrase, an image, a scene, even when you gaze out over a beautiful landscape, your brain processes that information. It tries to fit that information inside of a preexisting box of experiences and associations. Thus, when you look at X, your brain will be triggered to think of Y.
Nearly every musician and producer claims to listen to other artists for inspiration. Designers keep a library of influences they look back on time and time again. I’ll grab a book (nonfiction, usually on the subjects of psychology, business, startups or writing) and start reading until I get an idea for a piece or series. Consuming hasn’t failed me yet.
2. Practice this writing exercise
The purpose of any content is to provide value to the reader. What better way to add value than to answer questions? Search engines are built around this concept. Use this writing exercise to find questions worth answering.
Take a phrase. Take a concept, subject, idea — anything. Now create 15-20 questions around that topic. Let’s go with “content marketing” as an example. What is content marketing? How does content marketing work? How long does it take to see results from content marketing? I’ll spare you.
From this, you get 15 ideas surrounding one topic. When I practice this, it only takes me about two minutes to come up with those 15 ideas. This writing exercise is especially great for creating serial content, because you can give short and sweet answers to myriad questions, each as an individual piece of content. Try it with anything — if you’re a culinary blog, use “sweet potato.” If you’re in entertainment, use “Taylor Swift.” If you’re in B2B software, use “small business software.” Your options are nearly limitless.
3. Hit the forums
Which social forums are relevant to your brand? I guarantee there’s at least one Subreddit perfect for you to dive into. What about Growthhackers? Or Inbound.org, or Quora, or Hacker News, or some other network that fits your audience? These are fantastic places to find ideas, because you can see what real people are looking for and struggling to understand. Your job as a content creator is to provide value and meet people where they are. This approach marries those duties. What’s even better is that you can get multiple pieces of content out of one question.
You can give that person an answer right there on the platform. It doesn’t have to be a 1,200-word beauty with headers and images, but you can give them an answer. Now everyone else who comes across that question can see your answer, and engage with you and/or your brand. Then you can work on that 1,200-word beauty of an answer for your own blog or guest post.
4. Lay out your sales funnel
If you don’t have defined stages of your sales funnel, you need to create them. Doing so will help you do a number of things, but for our purposes here, it will particularly help you tailor your voice and content to a specific audience in a specific state of mind. As an example, let’s look at three stages: awareness, evaluation and purchase.
In the awareness stage, consumers are just discovering their need (or desire) for whatever it is you provide, and they possibly haven’t heard of you before. What kind of information would you want these people to have? How would you bring to light that their situation could be better? In how many ways could you do that? Write about it.
In the evaluation stage, consumers have realized they need to make a change. What information can you share that would convince them to solve their problems through you, rather than through one of your competitors? What about your products, services or support makes your brand better or more enjoyable to work with?
In the purchase stage, they’re getting ready to make a purchase. At this stage you want to offer coupons, free trials or demos, or ask them to purchase. This is where a firm call-to-action comes into play, where you really turn on the salesmanship.
At each of these stages, you should have pools of helpful content to direct consumers through your pipeline. Look for gaps in your content at each stage and fill those holes.
5. Break out the keyword search tools
Google knows just about everything about just about everyone, and you can find a good deal of this information. Your best bet (what most content marketers would recommend) is to purchase a relatively cheap tool like KeywordTool.io, which will allow you to see how much people are searching for any particular word or phrase. More importantly, this enables you to see what the competition is for that keyword. Your ideal is a keyword with a high search volume and low competition, because that means any content you create with that keyword stands a better chance of making it higher in Google’s search results.
Another (free) way to check how much people are searching for what is to jump in Adwords. You don’t have to go through with the purchasing process, but you can type in as many keywords as you can think of, and compare their search volume. Take the top searches, and start using them in conjunction with Point 2 to create a nearly limitless stock of ideas. If you’re using Google Analytics (recommended), you can also view your Webmaster Tools to see search volume and how you rank for every keyword currently used on your website. Take your pic of keywords you want to rank higher for.
6. Use Content Studio
If only there were a tool that let you search published content by keyword or topic and then sorted them by date, publication or social shares, so you could see which content is performing best online…
ClearVoice’s Content Studio is such a tool. Not only can you brainstorm ideas using our robust search tools, but you can see what’s trending in your industry and identify top influencers in your space.
These six content creation strategies work well individually, and when used together, you may never be stumped for an idea again.