I couldn’t believe my eyes.
It seemed like every single content marketing idea that I had just come up with was already readily available on Google.
And when it came to social media content and content marketing these names—Neil Patel, Kevan Lee, Belle Beth Cooper, and Garrett Moon—kept popping up again, and again, and again.
As a young, budding content marketer, I was distraught, and yet curious. How were these people able to come up with all these content marketing ideas and topics—some of which had barely germinated in my mind? Were they extraordinarily creative? Were they even mortal?
As it turns out, yes, they are all regular human beings just like you and me. And just like us, they had to start somewhere, too.
The good news is, thanks to technology, we live in a time of unprecedented access to resources and knowledge. By tapping the right sources, you can easily come up with enough marketing ideas to last a year and beyond.
Before we get started, it’s important to have a place where you can note down all your ideas—which is also known as a “swipe file”—even if they are just half-formed.
Your swipe file could be on a Google Docs spreadsheet, CoSchedule, or recorded with a plain ol’ pen-and-paper. If you’re ready, let’s dive into it.
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1. Look At What Others Are Writing About—And Do A Better Job
You probably already have a list of blogs and publications that you look up to and hope to emulate one day.
Why not start emulating them right away?
Have a look at their top posts, and come up with similar ones, but better. There’s a reason why these blog posts did well for them, and if your target audience overlaps with theirs, you can be sure that this will be a win.
Backlinko’s Brian Dean calls this the skyscraper technique. Here are four ways that you can make your post superior to the original (Thanks, Brian!):
- Make it bigger or longer: Go for broke, and find 100 ways to do help your audience instead of just 50. Making a comprehensive guide gives your audience a one-stop solution for what they're searching for, shows your expertise, and builds your credibility.
- Make it more up-to-date: A list post that did well in 2015 will likely do well again in 2016, and the year after, and so on. Build on what you know already works with your more recent knowledge.
- Make it look nicer: An infographic that visualizes text content that resonated with readers will certainly attract more attention. Heck, infographics are some of the most-shared types of social media content, and content with visuals included about every 100 words can grow your shares by 30%.
- Make it far more detailed: 100 bullet points will never compete with 100 points with brief descriptions.
Case in point: I recently noticed that there were multiple posts on beautiful resume designs that topped the first page of Google, but the biggest post listed only 50 examples. I decided to shoot for a list post of 70 well-designed resume examples.
This particular blog post ended up becoming our most-viewed article for that week and was shared more than 600 times on our social media channels in the same time period as well. Not too shabby.
If you’re not sure which blogs to look at, try entering your topic keywords into BuzzSumo, which will then magically churn out a list of the most-shared related content on the blogosphere:
2. Listen To What Your Customers Are Asking About
Think that it’s hard to come up with content marketing ideas for your niche? Try doing it for a pool company, and you’ll realize the true meaning of hard.
Yet back in 2009, Marcus Sheridan’s company River Pools and Spas was able to use content marketing to dominate the pool industry. His solution for coming up with topics is exceedingly simple: To answer his customers’ questions.
“The problem in my industry, and a lot of industries, is you don’t get a lot of great search results [online] because most businesses don’t want to give answers; they want to talk about their company,” he said in an interview with The New York Times.
“So I realized that if I was willing to answer all these questions that people have about fiberglass pools, we might have a chance to pull this out.”
When brainstorming with his clients over at his online marketing consulting business, The Sales Lion, Marcus reveals that he has “never had a company come up with less than 100 questions in 30 minutes.”
There are a number of ways to find out what your customers are asking about in your industry and business:
- Ask your sales teams who have regular interactions with the customers.
- Use a live chat app such as Zopim or Olark to chat with them online.
- Even better, organize a community meetup to engage with your users face-to-face. Hootsuite does Hootups, for example, while we run PiktoTours regularly at Piktochart. This method is highly recommended—we get a lot of invaluable feedback and suggestions from these meetups.
3. …And Listen To Others In Your Industry, Too
Your customers might be an excellent source of potential marketing ideas, but they might have missed out on a question that others asked.
How do you find out what the rest of the industry is curious about?
Find out where they gather to talk shop. Facebook groups, Twitter chats, and forums are some of the platforms that will bring them all together. It pays to become an active participant, as you can get industry-wide exposure over there.
Another popular platform that attracts questions across a variety of industries is Quora. According to Marc Bodnick, Quora’s head of business and community, the Q&A website has around 500,000 topics as of 2014. That’s a whole lot of potential blog topics to pick out right there!
To optimize your efforts, focus on questions that have a lot of followers, answers, or views, like this one:
With 1,700 followers and over 300,000 views, you can be sure that many people are curious to know what the perfect startup team is. Sounds like a great blog post in the making!
You can find most of these high-traffic questions in the topic FAQ:
As a bonus, you can post your answer to the topic with a link to the blog post you’ve written to get a boost in traffic as well. It will drive traffic to your blog in no time. This is because all the followers of a question will receive a notification email as soon as you post your answer. Game, set, and match.
4. Interview Industry Rockstars
Every industry has its rockstars. Startups have Elon Musk. Designers have Jony Ive. And marketers have Seth Godin.
And their success and experience make them a treasure trove of tips, tricks, and advice—things that your readers are dying to learn.
To get the most from them, it’s important to know them well first. Here’s where a little journalistic inquiry will come in handy. First, find out what their stories are, and what is so extraordinary about them.
Look for content marketing ideas and think about what your readers can learn from them like Contently did when they interviewed Seth Godin on the future of branded content. Come up with topics accordingly.
Connect their expertise to what you know your audience will dig, and you'll have a winner.
5. Be Authentic
Okay, that sounds like fluff, but hear me out.
People love stories. It’s built into us—we can’t help but look for the story in everything. This is because it's “a way for humans to feel that we have control over the world.”
And you are most uniquely qualified to talk about your own stories. I don’t mean for you to make up fictional tales.
Talk about your journey, struggles, and opinions. For example, what are your goals, and how are you trying to achieve them? Groove’s Alex Turnbull managed to build out a popular blog out of their singular mission: To reach $100,000 (and now $500,000) in revenue.
Think that you have nothing worth sharing? Everyone does, according to John O’Nolan from Ghost:
"These posts aren't just an exercise in narcissism, they can be incredibly useful for other people in your industry. Everyone has to start somewhere, and by learning from your mistakes the next generation can progress even quicker.”
Put the spirit of point 1 into action (publish better content than anyone else), and have a look at what kind of topics these example companies tackle—they could apply to you, too.
6. Keep Up-To-Date
Every industry has its own set of buzzwords and trends that constantly go in and out of fashion. If you’re quick enough, you can ride these waves and come up with post after post where you can put your two cents worth in.
Take the “guest blogging scare” of 2014 for instance. Google’s former head of the web spam team Matt Cutts had denounced guest blogging as a spammy practice, foreshadowing that Google would not view them kindly.
The marketing community blew up:
Buffer also did a great job analyzing what the change of Twitter favorites to likes would really mean for marketers, just a day or two after the news was released.
You can stay abreast of trending topics in your niche by using Google Alerts. Create an alert with keywords that are relevant to you and your company, and have it send updates to you as and when things surface.
NinjaOutreach is also an effective tool for finding out what topics are currently hot in the social media world:
Also, do keep a close lookout for recent research and studies on topics in your niche as well. A recent study by Constant Science found that roughly 65 percent of participants think that web content is a “hit or miss” or “unreliable.” Research-backed blog posts are an advantage you can easily tap on.
For example, we focus a lot on design-related topics over at the Piktochart blog. As such, I check the Visual Design section of Nielsen Norman Group’s website daily to see if there are any great tidbits that I can latch on to.
7. Refresh Old Hits
Not every blog post that you write will be a hit. Chances are that one or two might be, and end up bringing the bulk of traffic over to your site.
These articles are your crown jewels. See how you can create updated versions of them that are relevant to today so you can repeat that initial success. Hubspot does this on a regular basis:
Also, it’s worth putting in some time to analyze what makes them so good, and see if you can spin some content marketing ideas off of them. Do a blog content audit to find out which of your posts are suitable to do this. As Crew’s editor Jory Mackay found out, it is a tedious process, but well worth the trouble.
If your definitive guide to making infographics is regularly bringing in substantial repeat traffic, for example, it shows that there is interest among your readers in the process of creating infographics. Topics like "100 infographic ideas that work", which comes before the creation process, and "50 ways to market your infographic", which comes after, might also be attractive to your audience in this case.
This Is Just The Beginning...
As you can see, content marketing ideas are a dime a dozen. Coming up with them is the easy part. The tough part comes after, when you put pen to paper (or your fingers to the keyboard)—that’s a whole new ballgame with different rules!
So don’t get too wrapped up in ideation. Once you have a decent number of topics, get started right away. As Derek Sivers puts it: “To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.”