Outreach matters. Research matters. Your tone, style and delivery matter. But ultimately, nothing contributes more to the success of your content than the idea.
Assuming you have above average skills as a writer and a researcher, the idea is really what makes or breaks your blog post. People need content based around an idea that is either unique or extremely useful to them.
You need quality ideas. How? It starts with having a lot of ideas.
Because with enough quantity, you get quality. That’s why I believe you can’t have too many ideas or too many ways to come up with them.
Here are 16 bite-size ways to come up with ideas that will separate you from your peers on the web.
Head over to Quora and take a look at the kinds of questions people are asking about your topic. You can do the same with Yahoo! Answers. Also, don't forget about the power of forums. We don’t usually realize this, but 45 percent of American social media users visit a forum every day. In fact, 62 percent visit a forum every week.
These forums are loadedwith people who are interested in your subject matter. Take a look at the kinds of questions these people ask. Other places you can look for questions include Tweet Chats, Google+ Communities and Facebook Groups. (All that said, I would probably still start with forums and Quora.)
Buy a book and read it, or at least skim it. Or go to the library. The internet is vast, but it isn’t infinite.
We’ve all ran into a problem we know somebody has an answer to, then discovered it was “un-Google-able.” This happens surprisingly often. There are still plenty of ideas and insights contained in books that have never fully made their way onto the internet. Books are an incredible place to find ideas.
Conduct a survey. Better yet, just ask people about problems they want solved. Email your audience and ask them to let you know what they’re struggling with.
If you don’t have an audience, try asking people on other platforms, like forums or social networks. If you don’t seem to gain any traction by doing this, try heading over to SurveyMonkey and use their audience tool to buy survey answers. It’s only $1 per survey. If you ask an open-ended question about what your target audience members are dealing with, that’s $1 per blog post idea. Pretty cheap when you think about it that way.
Ask your own employees about problems they might be struggling with. This might be considerably easy with a project management tool such as WorkZone, but it can certainly be done with email. While the needs of your employees aren’t always completely identical to the needs of your audience, they can certainly overlap. If there’s little or no overlap at all, ask them to recommend ideas that might interest your audience, especially if you have anybody working in customer service.
Remember when I said to read books? Here’s a related idea: try browsing book categories related to your subject matter in Amazon. You don’t even need to readthe books to start developing an idea of what kind of information people are willing to pay for in your category. This can be a gold mine of ideas that you can and should capitalize on. You know there’s an interest in something if there’s a book written about it and it’s actually selling.
Browse information sources that can be considered “dense.” I already mentioned books, but you may want to go even deeper and try Google Scholar. This allows you to search for academic papers and peer-reviewed literature from trusted journals. People take you very seriously when you cite academic work, as opposed to a blog or just pulling information out of nowhere.
On that note, why not crack open a textbook? The fact that it’s a “difficult” source is what makes it so useful. You are bound to find information in a textbook that hasn’t been spiced up and presented in a way that the internet will love. It’s almost a guarantee.
If you’re trying to come up with something a bit more “viral,” (even though that’s not a very good word to describe what’s happening) here’s one thing to keep in mind.
Research by Jonah Berger suggests that the most shared content on the web is awe-inspiring, surprising and elicits strong positive emotions like humor and inspiration. Creativity is key if your goal is to inspire awe, surprise people and make them laugh.
A surprisingly easy way to make this happen is to combine two or more random concepts and look for similarities. You could even use a random word generator to accomplish this. You will probably need to do this more than once, but you will eventually stumble on something funny and surprising, maybe even awe-inspiring.
Find relevant categories in StumbleUpon, which will take you to random pages on the internet about your selected topics, and start Stumbling. This will shake you out of your habits and bring you to parts of the web you probably don’t already frequent. This should help you find new ideas that you hadn’t even considered looking for, which is a good way to get the ball rolling.
Read something from outside of your topic, and think about how you might be able to apply it in your neck of the woods. There is almost always someconnection between any two subjects, even if it’s only through an analogy. This is another way to come up with creative ideas that might be surprising, funny or awe-inspiring. While you don’t want to mix and match topics too much, the vast majority of bloggers and content marketers don't do this nearly enough.
Often, we feel like we need to know what we are supposed to say before we say it. This is one of the biggest obstacles to coming up with content ideas.
Try this instead: pay attention to the questions you ask yourself. Allow yourself to be curious. If you start to wonder about something, write it down. If it’s hard to find a good answer to that question, you know you’re on the right track. Interesting questions are the cornerstone of interesting content. Write down as many questions as you can. Realize that you aren’t doing it right unless some of the questions you ask are completely absurd. You will soon have more ideas than you know what to do with.
There’s a good chance you’ve already burned your way through Google’s Keyword Planner looking for ideas (and if you haven’t, you probably should). However, you may not have thought about using Google Correlate. This tool allows you to put in a subject matter and see related searches.
I’ve found you get the closest matches if you correlate using “Compare U.S. states” as opposed to weekly and monthly time series, but sometimes broader results are better anyway. This tool will tell you what other kinds of things your audience is likely interested in, without the tunnel vision that you get in the Keyword Planner. Be warned that you need to use fairly broad keywords in order to get any results out of this tool.
Try interviewing an expert in a topic or another blogger. Not only is this likely to send additional traffic, it’s also likely to get ideas rolling, especially if the person you interview is at least a little bit outside of your topic. You are likely to see connections between your two subject matters, and end up with an interview that covers new ground.
Browse Technorati, but do it differentlythan the other bloggers in your niche. It’s important to avoid saying the same things others have already said. Instead of looking at the top blogs in your own subject, take a look at the top blogs in relatedsubjects. Once again, it’s all about bringing in insights from other disciplines. This will give your content a level of freshness that other bloggers will envy.
You can also use Topsy to do this. Another tool I recently fell in love with is Swayy, which uses machine learning algorithms to bring you relevant content. Again, however, remember that the whole point is to follow subjects that are only loosely related to your topic.
Take a look at the keywords people are using to find your site in Webmaster Tools, especially when you dig down into the rare terms. There is the danger of tunnel vision here, so keep your eyes open for search queries that look different from what you’ve already written about.
Think about any problems you've had recently, and how you dealt with them. If it’s directly related to your subject, write about that. People love anecdotes. If it’s not directly related to your subject, think about it and see if there’s some way to tie it in. Again, you might discover a surprising connection and an analogy that could be useful for your audience.
I hope you learned something today! If you did, we’d love it if you passed this along. Thanks for reading.
*Image used courtesy of Pixabay.
Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder and VP of Marketing of an internet marketing company, E2M Solutions and a creative design agency, OnlyDesign. He’s passionate about startup marketing, entrepreneurship and all things inbound marketing. Catch him on Twitter to discuss on any of these topics. His last article for SEMrush was "How to be Smart in a World of Idiotic Marketers."