Matt Cutts, former head of Google’s Webspam team, has been busy drumming it into us for the last few years: “Think like a user.” When it comes to writing content, however, this can be easier said than done, especially when you’ve been tasked with mapping out a month’s-worth of multi-channel content and you’re staring at a blank screen. Writer’s block happens to the best of us, so here are 10 sources of inspiration, for your reference any time you need a fresh batch of content ideas.
There’s no better way to think like a user than to buy that user a pint and talk to him/her, yet it’s amazing how many content marketers try to come up with ideas for content without consulting the people they hope will read it. Get to know your customers as well as you can: ask them about what interests them, what concerns them, and what sort of topics they would like your content to address. If you don’t have direct customer access, ask your customer-facing colleagues to keep track of popular queries and concerns. You can also use social listening tools, such as Brandwatch, to find out what your users think about your brand and its context. You can then position your content to respond accordingly.
When you can’t talk to your users directly, Google Analytics is the next best thing, because its ‘Behaviour’ section tells you how people are responding to your existing content – and when you know this, you can start to create new content that hits the mark. Check out the ‘Site Content’ section to identify your best and worst pages in terms of bounce rate and time spent on a page. Create more content around the themes that are proving popular, and think about how you can improve the content that isn’t working so well. If users are able to perform searches on your site, use the ‘Site Search’ reports to find out what they’re looking for, and make sure your content meets these needs.
Social media is an excellent source of content ideas. Tools like Topsy, Buzzsumo and Content Explorer can show you which topics are trending in your sector. Topsy is especially handy because its API enables you to look through several years’ worth of sent tweets to look for patterns of popular content that you can exploit. It’s also worth keeping an eye on Reddit (and its many subreddits) for popular threads.
Social bookmarking sites such as Digg and Delicious can give you plenty of insight into the sorts of pieces that users are endorsing. A great source of inspiration for article titles is Pocket, because its @PocketHits Twitter account reveals which pieces sounded intriguing enough to be saved for future reference.
Most industries are teeming with opportunities to generate content ideas, for those who get involved in what’s happening. Conferences, trend briefings, magazines, networking events, podcasts, webinars, and TED talks should all serve to prompt new angles for authority-building content.
To state the obvious, it’s never OK to copy a competitor’s content. However, analysing your closest competitors’ content strategies is the only way to answer the question “How can I do it better?” For instance, if your competitor has received lots of social shares for their ‘10 ways’ listicle, write a ‘20 ways’ version with better examples, and deeper research. Always seek to add value, find a new angle, and outperform the competition.
Search terms give you vital clues to the sort of content people are looking for. We all know that Google will no longer tolerate keyword-stuffed articles, but it’s still important to create content around your most important search terms, which you can identify via Google Keyword Planner or Keywordtool.io amongst others. It’s also worth checking Google Trends to look for patterns around your main search terms.
There are numerous blog aggregator sites, but the most well-known is Alltop. Even well-established blogs can struggle to be accepted onto this site, such is the level of competition to get featured. This is good news from your point of view as a content marketer, because you will be able to gain inspiration from some of the best blogs in each sector.
Question-and-answer sites like Quora and Yahoo Answers can give you a very accurate idea of what information your target audience is seeking. You can create content that answers these questions both on the sites themselves, and within your own blog pieces and guides. To expand your search, look for questions being asked in groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, plus industry forums.
Numbers can often inspire words, especially when they relate to new developments within your industry. Databases such as Mintel and Nexis can provide you with relevant statistics for your sector, and you can use these to write your own reports and opinion pieces, or create great new infographics which readers will want to share. You can also commission your own data via services such as OnePoll, or you can collect first hand data via SurveyMonkey or Qualtrics.
Whether you choose one, a few or all of these methods to generate content ideas, the most important thing is to make sure you write something of real value. There are many routes to content, of which traffic from Google is just one – so always write for the customer first and foremost.