This Is The Best 30-Minute Content Marketing Brainstorming Process
CoSchedule's Headline Analyzer Studio will score your overall headline quality and rate its ability to result in social shares, increased traffic, and SEO value.Test every headline before you publish. Try Headline Studio »
Consistently coming up with strong content marketing ideas is challenging.
You have deadlines to hit. There are performance goals to meet. The drive to be creative on-the-spot adds more pressure that you don’t need.
What you do need, however, is a reliable process for generating genius ideas fast.
What if we told you it was possible to come up with 30 content ideas in just 30 minutes? Not just any 30 topics, either. We mean topics your audience will actually want to read about.
Most things that sound too good to be true are usually garbage. However, this is the actual (garbage-free) process we use here at CoSchedule. We can confirm from first-hand experience that this process works, and the results speak for themselves.
Table Of Contents
- Why It Is Important To Have A Content Brainstorming Process
- Write Down As Many Potential Content Ideas As You Can (10 Minutes)
- How To Rank Your Content Ideas On A Three-Point Scale (10 Minutes)
- Narrow Down Your Best Content Topics (10 Minutes)
- How To Apply This Brainstorming Process If You’re Working Solo
- 4 Important Tips For Making This Content Brainstorming Process Work
- How To Validate Content Ideas With Keyword Research
- What If I Can’t Find Keywords With High Search Volume For My Topic
In this post, we'll teach you how to:
- Use a free-writing exercise to generate tons of topics fast.
- Use a 3-point scoring system to sort out your top blog topics.
- Identify only the very best topics you'll actually write about.
There isn't a secret involved. There is, however, a smart methodology behind our brainstorming process. It just involves a little bit of quick thinking and intuitive judgement to make the best use of your limited time.
Why It Is Important To Have A Brainstorming Process
Creative ideas don't always appear out of thin air.
Sometimes you'll have the most awesome inspiration when you least expect it. Some of us do our best thinking in the shower, or right before we head to bed at night.
However, bloggers and marketers don't always have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike. Your boss likely expects brilliance from you all the time (doubly so when deadlines are approaching). You have no excuse not to deliver, either. Consistent creativity keeps you paid and keeps your content efforts moving forward.
Establishing a formal brainstorming process is the best way (or at least the most reliable way) to never run out of ideas. It achieves the following three things:
- It forces you to consciously consider what your audience wants from you.
- It helps get the creative gears turning in your head, producing ideas you might not otherwise have thought of.
- It leverages the power of your team to generate more ideas than one person could alone (although it's still a useful process for those going solo too).
Write Down As Many Potential Ideas As You Can (10 Minutes)
The first step is to write down as many ideas as you can think of. This works best with a whiteboard and markers, Post-It Notes, or anything else you can pin up on a wall later.
- Give all your team members something to write with.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes.
- Instruct everyone to free write as many ideas as they can think of before the timer runs out. It's important that no one looks at each other's writing or talks to anyone (yet).
Don't worry whether your ideas are any good right away. The goal is to simply get your thoughts out of your head and out into the world. If in doubt, write it down anyway. You'll have time to sort out what's good and what's not later.
How To Rank Your Ideas On A Three-Point Scale (10 Minutes)
Now it's time for some constructive criticism.
If you wrote your ideas down on note cards or sticky notes, now is the time to paste them up on a wall. They can be posted anywhere as long as everyone can easily read them. Here's what our board looked like after using this process:
Position all your ideas on the left side of the wall or white board. Then, to the right, make three columns labeled 1, 2, and 3.
How To Score Each Topic
There are two ways you can approach this. Let's walk through each one.
Method One: Read Your Ideas Out Loud
- Have one person on your team read each idea (or read them aloud to yourself).
- Then, have each team member rank each idea a 1 (weak), 2 (average), or 3 (exceptional). Say each response out loud.
- Place each idea into its respective column on the board.
This approach lends itself well to collaboration. It gives the team an opportunity to discuss why they think an idea is good or bad.
However, it also has a tendency to encourage group-think. Members might hear another person say "3" and be compelled to follow suit. This makes it important to stress honesty with each answer.
Method Two: Score Ideas Silently
- Have one person read off each topic.
- Then, each team member submits their score to the reader via chat message. You can use essentially any messaging system you'd like. We use Hipchat at CoSchedule, but Slack is another popular option to consider. You could even simply use Facebook Messenger or Google Hangouts.
- The reader then looks at each score, and places them into a document (you can use Word, Google Docs, Google Keep, Evernote, or anything else similar).
- Keep track of every idea that scores a unanimous 3. You can keep track of other ideas too if you'd like, but the unquestionable 3's are what you want to remember.
- Finally, the reader presents the team with a list of 3s. Your team can then discuss which of those ideas are worth writing about.
The advantage to this technique is that it provides more honest feedback. When people can't hear what other people are saying, they tend to respond the way they truly think, without outside influence.
However, it also cuts down on collaboration and discussion. This makes this approach faster, but sometimes, added communication can be beneficial for sorting out the best ideas.
Which Content Brainstorming Method Does CoSchedule Use?
We've used both Method One and Method Two. Generally, our content marketing team prefers Method Two. It produces slightly fewer ideas overall, because less ideas get scored highly. However, these ideas tend to be stronger. Both approaches are effective, however, and Method One might be a better choice if having a higher quantity of ideas is important.
Narrow Down Your Best Content Ideas (10 Minutes)
You've now generated a ton of ideas in 30 minutes. Now, the final phase of this process is to sharpen your best concepts.
For our team here at CoSchedule, we usually leave a brainstorming session with around 30 to 50 ideas. From there, you'll narrow down the best ones that you'll actually write about.
Review your final list of 3's and identify the following for each idea:
- What problem would this post solve, or what question would it answer?
- What angle would this post take?
- What are some quick, hypothetical headlines that might work with this post?
The goal is to make sure you have a clear picture of what each post will look like.
4 Key Indicators For Strong Content Ideas
We need to further clarify what makes a topic a 3 (versus a 1 or a 2). A 1 does not satisfy the following requirements while a 2 might satisfy one or two (but not all four).
Strong ideas that should qualify as a 3, however, meet the following standards:
Strong ideas are unique. In this context, we'll define "unique" as something you haven't already written about. If a given topic is something you've covered previously, you'll need to ensure you're taking a different angle, or are exploring a different facet of that topic.
Strong ideas match your audience's interests. If you're just starting out, you might not know what your audience is interested in. However, if you're getting a lot of questions about something, that's probably a good topic to write about.
Strong ideas fit within your expertise. Your ideas should fit within the topical scope of what your brand or company is about. For example, a great post about how to change your own motor oil wouldn't be a good fit for a food blog. Strong topics are well aligned with your expertise and with what readers expect from you.
Don't let this deter you from thinking outside the box. Just be sure that the topics you choose are:
- Relevant to your audience.
- Things you're an expert on (or something you can make yourself an expert on through research and testing).
The strongest ideas are those you can do better than anyone else. This ties into the previous point about staying within your topical area of expertise. In order to write a blog post that's going to drive organic search traffic and kick up a storm on social media, it needs to be good.
In fact, it needs to be better than good. It needs to address its given topic with more and better information than at least 90% of what else is out there. If you're in a competitive niche, this might mean using the skyscraper technique to build off what larger competitors have already done.
The main takeaway is to ask whether you can write a better post on a topic than any other post that already exists. If that answer is no, the next question to ask is "Can you can write a post that's different from any other post out there?" That could mean your post introduces a new perspective on a topic. It could also mean your post adds information or provides findings from your own original research.
How To Apply This Content Marketing Brainstorming Process If You're Working Solo
Let's say you're working alone. If you're a one-person blogger or marketing department, then how do you make this process work?
The short answer is much the same as you would with a team. The only difference is you write and rate your ideas yourself. However, there are a few tips to keep in mind:
- You'll need to be your own worst critic. Without outside perspective, it might be tempting to say, "All of my ideas are genius!" However, you only want to publish your very best ideas. Make sure you filter accordingly.
- Read your ideas out loud, even if only to yourself. Like we said earlier, posts that sound good on paper occasionally sound weak out loud.
4 Important Tips For Making This Brainstorming Process Work
The more you run through this process, the more efficient you'll get. You'll also likely find yourself coming up with better ideas over time, too.
In order to get the most from this approach to brainstorming, there are some things you'll need to keep in mind.
- Don't think, just act. Go with your gut when judging ideas. The ones that get you the most excited right away are usually the ones you know you should write.
- Focus on quantity first, then edit for quality. Letting yourself free write ideas loosens up your creative muscles. This can help surface ideas you might not have otherwise.
- Monitor your success. Once you have written a few posts using this process, pay close attention to which posts do best. If a post underperforms, then ask yourself why it didn't do well. Conversely, note what goes right with posts that really take off. This will help you better identify what a "3" looks like for your blog.
- Don't take it personally if your ideas get shot down. If an idea gets shot down, try not to take it as a commentary on yourself. The idea behind this process is to generate lots of ideas quickly. A lot of those ideas naturally won't make it.
How To Validate Blog Post Topics With Keyword Research
Once you've invested your half-hour into your blog topic brainstorming process, the next step is to do some keyword research. If you have a team member who is particularly interested in SEO, this is a good additional task for them to take on.
The goal here is to find keywords related to your topics that you can use in your blog posts.
This may take a little bit of additional time. However, it's worth it to ensure your blog topics drive traffic. Use these three quick keyword research tactics to gauge which of your proposed topics are best:
1. Use the SERPs.com Keywordini tool:
2. Then, copy the keywords from the CSV export:
3. Next, paste those keywords into the Google Adwords Keyword Planner:
Need help with the keyword planner? Watch this video:
4. Try using those keywords in searches on Facebook or Twitter. Then, see what discussions are happening around those keywords. This will give you an idea of what kinds of words and language people use when discussing your topic.
5. Manually search those keywords in Google as well. Review the top 10 results. Next, ask if the posts that currently exist for that keyword accurately match the same idea behind your topic.
For example, let's say you want to write about carpet cleaning. That could mean home carpet cleaning or commercial carpet cleaning. If it turns out that most people who are looking for that keyword want their home carpets cleaned, but your business only works with commercial clients, then you might need to find a better keyword.
What If I Can't Find Keywords With High Search Volume For My Topic?
You might have an idea that you know your audience would love, but isn't relevant to any keywords with strong search volume. Does this mean you should abandon that idea?
Writing a blog post without backing it up with strong keyword data is a risk.
You could spend a lot of time creating something that gets a strong initial push on social media and email but then fails to drive sustained traffic from search engines. However, it's possible that your idea doesn't get searched a lot because it answers a question people don't know they should be asking.
In these cases, it's helpful to find a way to align your idea with something people are searching for.
Struggling To Find Good Keywords?
Here are three tips you can follow when you're struggling to find good keywords (when you know you've got a strong topic):
- Ask your social media audience for their thoughts on a given topic. If you get a lot of responses or stir up some discussion, that's a good indicator there's interest out there.
- Try searching for keywords around topics related to your suggested topic. This might help you come up with more ideas that are better matched to your audience's interests. Keyword Studio is an excellent paid tool well suited to this purpose.
- Use Hubspot's Blog Topic Generator. Just enter three nouns related to your topic:
You'll now have five fresh blog topics related to your main idea. These hypothetical ideas may include keyword variations or other verbs or adjectives, too. Those additional words, combined with nouns related to your topic, may create keyword phrases you might not have thought of.
Try taking some of the variations this tool produces, and look them up using Google's Keyword Planner (or another keyword tool). It's possible you could come up with some strong keywords after all.
Now Try Brainstorming Some Blog Topics!
This process provides us with roughly a month's worth of ideas each time we run through it. Depending on how often you publish, you may need to try going through these steps more often. However, one thing that's for certain is you'll never run out of blog topics.
Try putting this process to use with your own team. Then, come back and let us know how it went. If you have additional tips or difficulties, we want to know!
January 6, 2017