I’ve been doing this a while…
…and six (and a half) years of producing content hasn’t just given me grey hairs .
It’s been worth it though. I’ve received some impressive stats (we’ll get to that later), picked up busloads of knowledge, slicked my routine into a seamless content managing machine and got an awesome job out of it. But it wasn’t always like that.
Let’s rewind to when I started out. I was just another fresh-faced university graduate, with the dream of creating a money-spinning blog, that commanded an awesome audience and allowed me to create for a living.
I was young and naïve, and for some stupid reason believed that people would want to hear what I wanted to say, without ever considering who those people were .
My content marketing career began with articles slowly-produced at near perfect standards . I’d spend days editing and redrafting articles, with nothing but quality, flowing writing in mind.
It worked, but at a snail’s pace . My audience inched up in size, and after months of sweating over every word on the page, I was left feeling alienated and annoyed at my lack of return.
So, I shifted my focus, replicating the tactics of other blogs that produced short, lower-quality articles every day (sometimes two or three times). First drafts became final drafts, unthinkably short pieces of content were published.
Traffic grew but at a cost . All of the good stats I’d gained from the small audience, were gone. More people were visiting, but fewer were returning and they were spending less time on site.
A number of things soon dawned on me: I hadn’t been focusing on my audience and neither of those techniques were going to get me where I wanted to be.
I analysed everything and started again. This time I would not fail.
When I started, my idea of producing the best-written articles on the internet was flawed, because content wins over style . I wanted to retain the good analytics (time on page, bounce rate, views per visit) without the cost of stressing over every sentence, while marrying that in with the decent traffic scores I’d received from regularly publishing new content.
A content marketing sweet spot, that achieves the best of both worlds.
In this post, I’m going to talk about how to produce QUALITY , engaging, audience-growing content regularly, and by the end, you’re going to be all geared up to hit the sweet spot in your industry too.
I’m going to share a whole list of tools I use to produce content ideas, that will get you wet-at-the-mouth excited, but first, we need to (briefly) discuss the fundamentals.
You won’t be able to run, if you can’t stand on two feet first.
Pick a medium. Video, audio, written or visual .
I’m a Content Director, so I have to be an expert on all of them. Einstein Marketer produces a variety of content, because it reaches wider audiences. This means towing a tight line between designers, writers and video producers…
…and I’ll show you how to do that, I promise…
…but, for the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to talk about my first (content) love, and the medium that has gained me 100,000+ of social shares, 1,000,000’s of page views and an immeasurable amount of engagement…
Video might be the hot up and comer, audio might hit audiences on-the-go, and images might appeal to viewers with short attention spans, but written content is an art form that keeps on rewarding .
Dispelling a Myth
The first thing I’d like to do is eradicate an idea I see branded about all too much:
Myth: We should all spend a day creating 100’s of content ideas and syphon them into a calendar.
Maybe this works for some people, but it doesn’t for me. I have a content calendar, but it’s only compiled of work I’ve already created, from my ‘bank’.
I always make sure I’m 15–25 posts ahead of where I need to be (and yes, I probably wrote this long before you read it!).
I update my content calendar every time I write an article. Which means, instead of stockpiling a calendar full of future ideas, I have a calendar of content that’s ready to be published.
This keeps my mind clear and allows me to write about whichever idea takes my fancy on that day. It also gives me tons of flexibility to react to news and my audience’s wishes. I find this technique produces more quality content, because I enjoy writing these articles.
If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to write a blog you dreamt up three months ago, give up the traditional content calendar and give my style a shot.
I’d spend some time compiling a ‘bank’ of ready to publish content before going live with it. If you’re really committed, you can have 15–20 blogs ready in a month.
Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been doing this a while and it’s allowed me to find something that’s tough for people starting out, rhythm.
When it comes to content creation, RHYTHM IS EVERYTHING .
I regularly read blogs about cheats, tricks and hacks, but when it comes to content, very few of those have any serious effects on workload.
I’ve had the privilege of working with some really amazing clients in the past, and if there’s one underlying trait that flows through all of them, it’s consistency…
…and that’s found in RHYTHM.
During a day at work, I have to (amongst other things) manage the website, create and edit client content, watch videos, listen to audios, communicate with designers, edit, proof read, communicate with clients and prospects, strategise and finally, write for you guys.
I’m able to squeeze that last little thing in because I’ve found my rhythm, and that’s given our blog the ability to grow and develop a (pretty cool) audience.
You must get into such a powerful day-to-day flow that even when you’re tired, agitated, annoyed or frustrated, you can still bust out a 1500-word article .
The only way you’ll do this is by conditioning. Write every day. If you’re just starting out, that includes weekends. Keep it up and it’ll become second nature.
And remember, rhythm is easy to break, so don’t let it slip!
Just because I don’t have a content calendar full of ideas, it doesn’t mean I don’t have loads of them.
I use a sticky notes app that’s always pinned to my home-screen, to note down anything I think blog worthy. I’ve got the same on my phone too.
As of right now, I have 87 ideas on these apps.
So, when it came to writing this post, I scrolled through the list, and decided to create this one today. I already had the key points in my notes, spent an hour planning exactly what I wanted to write, and now, here I am writing it.
But, that’s not the important thing. The crux of this blog, (now we’ve got the housekeeping out of the way), is to show you how to come up with blog ideas in a never-ending stream …
…so, just like me, you’ve always got a whole host of ideas to choose from.
That sub-head (above) is the reason I don’t like pre-planned content calendars.
If you’ve got rhythm when inspiration strikes, you’ll be able to produce high-quality articles in short spaces of time .
I act immediately on inspiration . And because I know how to find it, I regularly gain success from content.
In order for you to find it too, I’ve compiled a short list of places to look:
It’s no secret that stories absolutely kill it. Audiences love them, giving you busloads of sweet content marketing metrics…
…and they can be found in the tiniest moments.
When something happens in my life that can be applied to a marketing theory, guess what I do?
I write about it!
These blogs get tons of shares, traffic and TIME ON PAGE stats (which Google loves), because they draw readers through the entire article, open loops and (should) relate to your target reader .
Here are a few examples from the Einstein blog-
- I had a nightmare call with a prospect, related it to marketing mistakes, and created 5 Crappy Errors That’ll Kill your Marketing Campaign
- My television broke, and I bought a new one that was WAY out of my budget, inspiring me to write, We the Customer, Are Not Numbers on a Spreadsheet
- I received a FREE bunch of grapes from my local fruit and veg man, and created The Theory of Reciprocation: Get Back Big, By Giving Small First
- A suspect-looking Instagram influencer wanted to write a guest post on our blog, inspiring Are You Being Followed By Robots? And Should You Buy Followers? Instagram Bots, The Complete Guide
These little moments can create really amazing blog posts, so make sure you’re always on the lookout, and never be afraid to link two completely different subjects together. Which leads us smoothly onto the next inspiration source…
Some people think that combined relevance focusses your audience, but I’ve found that it broadens it.
If you don’t know what it is, it’s two completely separate subjects brought together by a piece of content.
Let me explain with the help of a Venn diagram:
You’d think that the audience who likes both marketing and Donald Trump is smaller than either, and you’d be right! But, when you create content that references both, you actually attract two audiences.
Your audience reach looks more like this:
These two completely separate topics inspired me to create the blog, 5 Reasons Why Donald Trump Should Be Your Marketing Manager .
This post drove plenty of traffic to the site and welcomed new return readers to our content. It was enjoyable to research and took no time at all to create.
I’d suggest combining something you know and are passionate about in your personal life, with a topic from your industry.
If there is an event coming up, or something of interest in the news, these also do really well because the topic is trending. Our World Cup Personality Marketing Quiz was created as a piece of fun for our audience and caused a big increase in our traffic.
This blog is a perfect example…
…I create content every day , and this article explains how I do it. Content creation, management and strategy are day-to-day tasks that I regularly use for inspiration.
People always want to know how to up their game, and I’m no different. When I see articles, guides or blogs from other people who do similar tasks, I always check them out because it might improve my performance .
Your audience are the same. The majority will already be in your industry and will want to discover new ways to better themselves.
Even if you think a simple task is menial, somebody else might find HUGE VALUE in it.
This positively affects my content production and quality almost every day.
To explain what it is, I’m going to use IT as an example.
Let’s pretend I want to write a new blog about finding the content marketing sweet spot and within that blog I talk about Inspiration, and within that heading, I reveal a trick I use called Microscopic Focus .
Now, let’s suppose that as well as summarising it within that blog, I could actually write an entire blog about Microscopic Focus…
This super-simple inspiration technique is regularly used by content marketers and guarantees to supply you with loads of ideas. Just make sure you take a note of your idea before it disappears!
Angle vs Topic
If I write an in-depth article about Facebook advertising , does that mean it’s finished forever?
I consider every new topic (I write about), to be a toe-dip. That doesn’t mean I write short, meaningless articles that don’t hold any value. It’s quite the opposite.
The new topic is actually a test to see if my audience likes, engages and responds to it. If they don’t, it’s no problem because I’ve got plenty more content that I know they’ll like (from previous topic tests)…
…and if they do, jackpot . I can use that topic to create loads of new ideas, by using a variety of angles.
This beautiful term allows content marketers all over the world to stay sane . It means we don’t constantly have to find new topics to write about.
For every different topic, there are 1,000,000’s of angles . So, if you write something that your audience loves, create a new angle on the topic and go again.
I’ve always found the angles which yield the best are those that say the opposite to what everyone else is saying .
To understand why, consider your own browsing history. If you were to see 10 articles that all said something widely understood, and then you saw one that actually contradicts that sentiment, what are you most likely to click on?
A little while ago I wrote an article called, SEO: Boring, Irrelevant and Not Sexy . This blog absolutely crushed our traffic records, because it went against what a lot of people consider a bedrock of digital marketing.
I’ve saved the MOST IMPORTANT inspiration source until last.
Forget the content, knowledge, research and website, your audience are your most important asset by a million miles.
So, if they ask for something, give it to them. Throw all your other ideas to the back of the queue and push theirs straight to the front.
Look at content marketing like a shop: Your content is the product, and your audience are the customers. If they all come in and say they’d buy something that you don’t have, what will they do if you don’t supply it?
Do you think they’d go elsewhere?
It’s absolutely crucial that every action you make is based around your audience.
A really effective tactic is to occasionally ask them what they’d like. You can do this by running polls/surveys on social media platforms, asking them for feedback, or emailing them (if you have a responsive list).
Just remember not to ask too much of them. Instead of engaging them, it will irritate them and you’ll lose your audience forever.
Tools: Inspiration from Machines
The above inspiration sources should give you a constant stream of new ideas without even breaking your usual routine…
…but, in order to improve your content QUALITY, I’ve compiled a list of amazing tools (I use).
Before we start, do not expect these tools to do all the hard-work for you. They can supplement your ongoing content efforts, and deliver ideas that enrich your community, but not much else!
Use them as they were designed to be used. That doesn’t mean copying or replicating opinions. Form your own, using experience, knowledge and the interests of your audience.
This is a freemium website, that runs up to 5 searches a day for FREE.
The website’s search algorithm hunts down the most shared articles on social for specific keywords and presents users with the top ten most shared content on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit .
Here’s an example search:
The broad topic search above, demonstrates the most SHARABLE articles created for my chosen search, ‘Content Marketing ’…
…using this broad search, I am able to discover the most popular angles about the subject, and can either use Microscopic focus, to hone in on one particular part of an article, or create a completely new piece of content that covers a similar subject.
In this circumstance, I can see that people interested in content marketing have shared an article with a large number in the title (acting as social proof ). I can also see that it is research, which tells me that this audience want to develop their understanding on the topic.
In second position there’s an article entitled ‘How to Never Run Out of Content Ideas Again’ .
If you were to combine the top two results, add in your own knowledge, experience and audience interests, you might just end up with an article called, I Published 104 Blog Articles in 124 Days, Here’s How I Never Run Out of Ideas .
I suggest using the FREE 5 searches per day on broad subjects, and ‘chunking down’ as your knowledge expands.
Social proof is a great indicator of success and engagement. Making BuzzSumo a handy idea generating tool, but…
…it shouldn’t be used as anything. Use the most shared content as inspiration, not replication.
The world’s biggest Q and A website offers content marketers a great opportunity to listen to their target audience.
The site was created with one clear goal, provide answers to questions that Google cannot answer…
…and it’s doing pretty well. At the time of writing this post, the site received 647.33 million visits in the previous month.
It allows users to search for specific topics, giving us the chance to peer inside our target audiences minds .
When we know what an audience wants, we can easily create a plan to provide them with it. This comes in the shape of researched, proven and valuable content.
The Quora search also allows us to sort results according to our needs. We can view the Q & A’s by ‘Read’, ‘Answer’ and ‘Topic FAQ’.
I’ve found that all three of these options provide valuable insights, but if you’re just getting started with the platform, visit ‘Topic FAQ’ first.
This section will show you the most asked questions, potentially giving you the resources to fill your ‘idea bank’.
If you prefer to fill up your content calendar with a ton of ideas in one hit , this tool is the thing for you.
Visually, this tool looks amazing, but it’s the value of the content that makes it such a necessary side-arm for anybody serious about making it in content marketing.
Answer the Public allows us to LISTEN to our target reader again, giving an insight into the things they’ve been searching for. By gaining this information we can understand their motivations and emotions …
…and most importantly, their pain points and information gaps .
When I’ve found a topic that my audience LOVE, I always search it on Answer the Public . This gives me inspiration for new angles on well-covered subjects and means I can target my content at my audience.
Google Trends is no big secret, but it’s certainly underused, due to its wide-ranging applications.
I love using Google Trends for content ideas. As well as giving me insights into up and coming interests, it also gives me tons of topics for Combined Relevance posts.
Before searching for trends around my topic, I visit the homepage and scroll down to the Recently Trending stats. These search terms keep me up-to-date with what’s popular and often inspires new posts (as long as I can find an angle that’s relevant to my audience).
When I’m done with that section, I get down to the search. Google Trends allows you unlimited searches, so don’t be afraid to ‘chunk-down’ into really particular keywords .
I’m going to stick with the ‘content marketing’ search I’ve used in all my examples so far, and explain exactly how I use it.
The first thing I check is popularity. I make the search specific to ‘WORLDWIDE’, ‘UNITED KINGDOM’ and finally ‘UNITED STATES’ (the UK and USA are where most of my audience are based).
When I know that my topic is popular or rising (at least), I scroll down the page to RELATED TOPICS and RELATED QUERIES. This is where the ideas are…
Within these lists, I am able to see the TOP search queries for my chosen keyword, and the TOP related topic. This is really useful if you’ve never used Google Trends for content generation, but I use it all the time, and I know those TOP search queries and related topics rarely change…
….so, I change the filter from TOP to RISING. By doing this, I am able to see the growing popularity of new SEARCH QUERIES, and use these as angles, or new content topics to test.
If you don’t use Google Trends regularly, you are really missing a trick. You MUST keep your finger on your industry’s pulse, Trends is the perfect place to do this.
Neil Patel’s blog is an awesome source of valuable information for your marketing efforts, but his website also has a tool that can inspire loads of new content ideas.
UberSuggest works by suggesting new keywords, based on your search.
I am able to see the search VOLUME, CPC and COMPETITION, simply by searching for my keyword, and then, I can see these stats for all suggested keywords.
But, instead of skimming through the list and randomly plucking ideas out, I sort my results by SEARCH VOLUME.
When you try this for yourself, you’ll see that the broadest terms are at the top, and as you go down, they become more specific.
These (slightly) more specific terms are a great place to find new ideas that are searched for and relevant to your topic.
Reddit is a super-simple platform that has grown a loyal, engaged and very responsive audience. At the time of writing this blog, they had just received 1.57 Billion visits in a month !
So, no matter how niche your industry, it’s certain that you’ll be able to find your target audience in there somewhere.
If you don’t know what Reddit is, it’s basically a discussion and comment website that shares all sorts of content, which can be up or downvoted by users.
This is really valuable to content marketers because it’s another route into our target audiences’ minds.
To get the best out of it for content generation, search for your keyword at the top of the homepage:
The results page automatically shows the most relevant posts from ALL-TIME. This kicks back plenty of useful information, and you might immediately stumble on an idea .
I like to judge popularity by the up and down votes on the left-hand side. (The longer a post has been on Reddit, the more engagement it is likely to have, but, don’t count old posts out!)
When I’m done reading the posts (with the highest engagement) AND THE COMMENTS, I return to the results page and click the Communities and Users tab .
From here, I select the most relevant communities with the largest audiences. This will (almost always) mean more than one community, which gives us more results.
I enter the community (by clicking on it, no secret handshakes required), and SORT the results to the TOP POSTS in the last month, week and 24 hours.
There is such a variety of content on REDDIT, that it’s an absolute must for content ideas. Users feel free to express their opinions, make comments and be brutally honest. Make sure you check relevant communities and HOT TOPICS at least once a week. It’s a goldmine.
This is my least favoured inspiration source (because there’s no thought involved), but that’s not to say it can’t work for you.
I prefer to work on articles I’m prepared for, using my knowledge, experience and relevant research, HubSpot’s idea generator lists 5 content ideas based on 1–3 nouns , meaning you might write about things you aren’t a specialist or expert on.
The key thing to remember is, DON’T SACRIFICE QUALITY FOR QUANTITY . Some of these ideas might sound amazing, but it’s not worth just writing something for the sake of it. Focus on your audience. If there is an idea in there that’ll work for you, AWESOME…
…if not, use one of the other tools I’ve listed.
If you’re feeling lazy (and lucky), the idea generator might be the place for you, but I strongly advise that you only use this as a last resort.
People who write a lot tend to read a lot too. I’m no different.
I try to get through a book at least every 2–4 weeks (depending on length). There is loads of untold information in long copy, that you just cannot find in blogs and articles.
Try to fit reading into your schedule , maybe you could read at lunch? On your commute? In bed? Just half an hour a day will do. It will improve your writing skills and contribute tons of useable ideas.
I prefer to test the tactics and strategies I learn from this source before I write about them (not everything is transferrable), because long copy gives you so much more detail.
Reading might sound really straightforward, but it’s a source that is often overlooked and forgotten.
Don’t forget it!
I’ve had to trim this article down because I could (seriously) go on all day about content idea generation .
The tools I’ve listed should be used regularly, but not relied upon. If you aren’t an expert, why should anybody listen to you? Think about your value, and how it relates to your target audience…
…and base everything you do around them.