Why you should be reading this:
We studied what the pros do and identified an end-to-end process to keep your idea pipeline always full of fresh content ideas tailored to your audience.
Reading this post you will learn how to:
- Organize your content ideas effectively
- Run a thorough analysis of your competitor’s content
- Hold effective brainstorming session with your team
What Does Effective Content Marketing Look Like
1 – Have a Strategy
First things first: never produce content for the sake of it, it’s a waste.
You need to have a content strategy in place, with clear goals, messaging and target audience.
If you don’t have one in place, or want to optimize yours, check out this post: 5 essential elements for a great content strategy.
2 – Post Often
Second: to keep your audience engaged, frequency is key.
Here some data from Hubspot on the topic:
- Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got almost 3.5X more traffic than companies that published between 0 – 4 monthly posts.
- B2B companies that blogged 11+ times per month had almost 3X more traffic than those blogging 0 – 1 times per month.
Key takeaway: frequency matters, to grow an audience you need to post often.
3 – Content Shock and Content Quality
Till a couple of years ago posting often was enough to rank among first positions.
But content marketing has now turned into a gold rush and each individual post is getting less attention.
Content supply is exponentially exploding while content demand is flat. – Mark Schaefer, Content Shock
This means that on average content articles will get less engagement.
Here some stats.
Buzzsumo and Moz ran an analysis of the shares and links of 1 million posts, it turned out that:
- 50% of randomly selected posts received 8 shares or less
- 75% of these posts received 39 shares or less
- 75% of these posts achieved zero referring domain links
[You can check the full report here: 50% of Content Gets 8 Shares Or Less: Why Content Fails And How To Fix It]
Why does that matter?
- Only the very best articles get all the attention (over 100,000 shares for some of them).
- Without any referring domain link your article will end up sinking into oblivion – not to mention the shortfall in terms of SEO.
Long story short, it’s not just about the quantity of ideas, you must find great content ideas.
Putting it all together, the take away is: if you want your content to stand out, you need to post high quality content and post often.
Having a constant stream of fresh (and great) content ideas can be tough and here’s a step by step process to help you with that.
STEP 1: Organize Your Content Ideas
Content ideas are everywhere: every post, video and podcast are full of great ideas you can use for our content production. – a gold mine we usually fail to leverage due to our lack of organization.
Before even starting looking for new ideas, the first thing you need to do is set up a system to save and store them.
This is where swipe files come in: a system for recording and recalling ideas to have a catalogue of great ideas to fall back on for those days when you wake up with nothing fresh in your head. – Jerod Morris, Copyblogger
You can use swipe files to gather resources: articles, videos, podcasts, but also marketing methods and strategies.
There are several tools you can use to create your own swipe file:
- Pocket: save any link you find interesting and access it from the web or the app later.
- Pinterest: store links on pinboards, one board of each topic.
- Evernote: the most popular bookmarking tool out there, lets you share your swipe file with your teammates.
- Trello: ditto, with a nice UX touch (I love how you can drag and drop boards and cards to reorganize them). Here’s a public Trello board for content marketers you can copy and adapt to your business and processes.
Here’s the framework we use internally, you can use it as an example to create yours.
We divide content ideas into:
- Suggested: a repository for everything that comes to our mind, this comes in extremely handy during our brainstorming sessions.
- Approved: ideas that have been reviewed and approved by our content manager and will be sent to production.
- Declined: ideas that don’t fit our content strategy. Here’s a heads up, never delete ideas, they can become useful down the road. That’s why we created this section too.
For each idea, we advise to fill the following sections:
- Title: make it explicatory, doesn’t need to be the final one.
- Content type: ebook, blog post, infographic and so on.
- Description: why should we write about this subject, what topics should we touch, how would this benefit our users?
- Resources: where did you get the idea from?
Setting up a template with specific fields, encourages people to think through the idea, which helps a ton during the approval phase.
We use the idea pipeline in our software for this, but you can replicate the framework on a trello board or a spreadsheet.
To save you time we built one you can download below.
Now that you have a system to keep your content ideas organized let’s see how you can find new ones.
STEP 2: Study Your Competitors
Competitive analysis is not about stealing your competitor’s strategies, rather a way for you to:
- understand what content your competitors are offering in terms of topics and content types,
- analyse what content resonates the most with your audience and
- identify the gaps to be filled.
Once you have a better understanding of the content landscape of your market, you can choose how you want to contribute, find your unique take, and go for it!
Define who your competitors are
First off, define the scope of your research by identifying who your competitors are.
We can break down competitors into two groups:
- “Business competitors”: companies offering a product or service similar to yours.
- “Content competitors”: those who write content on the same topics as you, and thus compete with you in the SERP (search engine result pages).
For example: Contentools is a content marketing platform and all we write about is content marketing, with a focus on content marketing management.
Besides other content marketing platforms, our “content competitors” range from content marketing consultants to marketing automation softwares, since their content competes with our for our readers attention.
You want to keep an eye open for both groups.
Once you identify your top 3 to 5 competitors, it’s time to dive deep:
- Discover their content arsenal
- Run a SERP analysis
- Monitor their social results
Discover their content arsenal
Hubspot wrote an incredible post about how to conduct a thorough competitive analysis. It’s a long post, but totally worth the read (if you’re interested, the link is below).
Here are the main highlights:
1. Find where your competitors’ content lives:
Perform a website audit to determine where their content is housed: a blog, case studies, learning center, a webinar section… It’s all about poking around.
- the site navigation (sections / subsections),
- the footer and
- the HTML sitemap (if available).
2. Perform a content audit:
- How much content is your competitor publishing? (segment by content type: blog posts, case studies, white papers, ebooks, etc.)
- How often? (again, segment by content type)
- What topics are being discussed?
This is a manual and rather time-consuming process, but you can rely on site crawling tools such as Xenu Link Sleuth, as advised by Corey Wainwright, the author of this article.
3. Evaluate content quality:
- How accurate and deep is their content?
- Form and content? (tone used, long vs. short, article structure…)
- Who is writing it? (internal / external)
- How structured is their blog? (follow / share buttons, content categorizations, authors’ bios)
4. Evaluate their on-page SEO, check out how keywords are used in:
- Page title
- Article title
- H1 tags
- Images name and alt text and so on
Run a SERP analysis
Running a SERP analysis allows you to evaluate your competitors’ performance on search engines and how they are achieving such performance.
SERP stands for Search Engine Results Pages.
It basically means: the list of results (organic and paid) you get when looking for something on Google or Bing or any other search engine [you can read more here]
Top ranking on SERP can assure you a fair amount of traffic.
According to the latest study by Chikita on Google’s results, the first results received 35% of clicks, the second 17% and third 12%.
After the 10th position, a link will get less than 1% of traffic.
When performing a serp search, you should focus on:
1 – Keywords: what keywords your competitors are focusing on to rank: this will help you understand how and what your target customers search for.
2 – Backlinks: where your competitors earning traffic from.
Backlinks remain an extremely important Google ranking factor. We found the number of domains linking to a page correlated with rankings more than any other factor. – Search engine ranking factor study, Brian Dean
Brian Dean (@backlinko) and Eric Van Buskirk (clickstream), analyzed 1 million google search results to find which factors correlate with first page search engine rankings.
Backlinks scored first. [You can find the full report here]
Backlink research allows you to discover which websites are interested in publishing content related to your market or vertical, and leverage this information by:
- Commenting on their articles: you can link back to your materials, just make sure to add real value to the thread and avoid spammy copy-paste comments. (we’ll write about this soon).
- Offering to guest post for them or republish one of your articles,
- Implementing the Moving Man Tactic:
- Find sites or resources that have changed names, shut down, or moved.
- Find sites linking to the old page using your backlink checking tool of choice (for instance Ahrefs).
- Give them a heads up about their outdated link and (gently) suggest to link out to your resources instead.
There are quite a few tools out there to help you compare SERP results over time. Here’s a selection:
- Keyword Difficulty and SERP Analysis Tool by Moz is the leading voice in the SEO world. It’is a great start if you already know the keywords you want to target.
- SEMrush has a similar tool as well but is mostly made for Search Engine.
- SimilarWeb is great for competitor research, link building, competitor ranking tracking, and market entry research.
- Ahrefs: to track your and your competitor’s backlinks, keywords, mentions and more.
Monitor their social results
By monitoring your competitors’ content performance on social media, you can understand what types of content and topics resonate most with your audience.
There are 3 factors to take into account when performing this analysis:
- Topic: what the piece of content is about
- Format (content type): long form blog post, infographic, ebook.
- Channel: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and so on.
Each social channel has it’s own characteristics and audience and your goal is to figure out what combination of topic / format works best for each one.
A great tool for this is Buzzsumo.
Buzzsumo allows you to perform both keyword based and domain based search, and provide you with a list of articles tackling a specific topic or published by a specific publisher, sorted by the number of shares.
Here’s how you can combine the two:
- Keyword based research: start searching for keywords in your industry in to find what content is trending and who’s writing that content.
- Domain based search: one you identify the top 3 – 5 performers, run a domain based search to identify what their best content is.
This will give you an incredible amount of content ideas to bring to the brainstorming table.
You can also try NinjaOutreach to monitor social shares. Although this is mainly an outreach software, it also has the capacity to find the most shared content and see who shared it.
STEP 3: Add your Unique Spin With Effective Brainstorming
After studying the market and your competitors to see what’s trending and what’s not, it’s time to bring your team together for some serious brainstorming.
This is where you and your team combine knowledge, findings and experience to come up with original content ideas tailored to your audience.
Here a few suggestions and best practices to keep in mind when running brainstorming sessions:
1. Establish a clear direction: make it clear where you are heading.
- Goals: “Come up with 20 content ideas to develop during Q1”
- Audience: introduce your persona to the group before starting. [check out “Buyer personas: all you need to build yours”]
2. Include people from different departments: especially those who have daily interaction with prospects or users, such as sales and customer success reps, who can bring to the table key insights and perspectives other than the marketing one.
3. Keep it small: you can have as many people as you want, but you’d better break a big group into smaller ones to facilitate management.
4. All ideas are good ideas: your goal is to create an atmosphere that helps participants break out of their traditional mindset, making them feel free to speak.
To break the ice, come up with bad ideas first: start throwing some bad ideas out there, this will make participants feel more comfortable thinking out the box.
5. Break and build ideas: multiply your ideas by breaking them down or building them up. If you’re starting with a really general theme, try breaking it down into parts and details and seeing if other ideas branch from it. Or, you can do the opposite, and build up a more specific idea to have it cover a broader perspective.
6. Use lateral thinking: Sometimes the best way to get a fresh take on a new idea is to come at it sideways.
[Mark Johnstone’s presentation on How to Produce Better Content Ideas]
Start with your original subject and “explore tangential relationships” (Beginner’s guide to content ideation, Moz).
Let’s say you provide an interior design service. Beside talking about how you stack against your competitors, you can take it a lot further and tackle topics like:
- Product reviews
- Design trends and styles
- Design through history and cultures
- Great artisans and designers of our time
You could even create a guide to help your readers develop their interior design skills, which will make them more aware of the value of your service.
When engaging with lateral thinking, possibilities are endless. You can use softwares such as Coggle to organize process, but pen and paper will do it too.[Here 5 steps to apply lateral thinking to your creative work, Shane Snow]
7. Change your physical environment: where you conduct your brainstorming sessions influences the ideas your team comes up with. Switching up your physical environment can actually affect the way your brain works.
Here some good suggestions from Hubspot:
“Try holding brainstorming sessions in rooms that aren’t associated with regular team meetings. If you can’t change the room itself, try changing something about the room to stimulate the brain, such as rearranging the chairs or putting pictures on the walls. Another idea is to have your team stand up and walk around while brainstorming to encourage fluid creativity.” [7 Brainstorming Tricks to Inspire Brilliant Ideas, Lindsay Kolowich]
8. Record Everything: it’s always important to have a record of your process: comments, feedback, pros, cons, connections, descriptions and the like. This will help you review ideas down the road in case you need to find a second idea (or remember the nuances of the first one). You can use the idea brainstorming tool for this.
BONUS: Leverage The Content You Already Have
When writing content, besides the main topic you always touch a range topics laterally connected to it.
However, you can only drill down so much on these lateral topics, since adding too much information affects readability and can turn off your readers.
Guess what: you’ve just found another source of ideas.
For instance, in this article we mentioned that leaving commenting on to posts from sites related to your industry is a great way to get backlinks. At the same time, you can’t be spammy: you have to add real value.
Explaining why and how to add value with your comments would bring me off topic, but it’s a perfect idea for another piece of content.
I set up a spreadsheet and use it to keep track of these collateral ideas, dividing them based on the article they relate to.
Skim through your old content and look for interesting topics that deserve to be further explained.
- Organize your ideas to never lose them, use the idea brainstorming tool.
- Study your competitors to know what’s going on out there
- Brainstorm with your team to add your unique spin.
It’s time to get to work and write some great content, check out this post to learn how to automate content production with effective workflows.
Do you have other exclusive tips on content ideation? Please share them in the comment section, we love learning from our readers 🙂