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How to Generate Effective Content Ideas

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Where do ideas come from?

It’s a bit of an odd question, isn’t it? The Ancients believed that actual goddesses—also known as Muses—were responsible for our creative inspiration. In our day and age, content marketers and creatives need a little more. After all, you don’t have the leisure to wait for the gods!

There are two different ways you can generate content ideas:

  • By yourself
  • With a group

Let's dig into each a bit further.

Creating Ideas on Your Own

There are four things you should keep in mind when generating content ideas on your own, including:

  • What are your buyer personas’ reading habits?
  • What are your competitors doing?
  • What are people talking about on Quora?
  • What can you learn from your search engine optimization efforts?

Let’s take a look. 

Understanding reading habits

Put yourself in the shoes of your prospects. Empathize with them. What are their challenges and pain points? What do they read on the web and get educated about? Is there a specific blog or website they frequently visit?

If you can, try interviewing some of your best customers by phone or email and find out about their reading habits. What do they like or dislike about your content?

It's easy to find which of your contacts are most engaged with your content through their contact record. Consider creating a SMART list to identify:

  • Contacts that visited specific content on your website – maybe your most popular pages
  • Contacts that have consumed a specific amount of your website pages – maybe 50+ pages visited

Once you identify a list of contacts, find out what they like about your content, and what they would like to see more of.

Learn more on how to create a SMART list in HubSpot.

Next, use a tool like Buzzsumo to see which content has the best social media performance. Just type a domain name, and you’ll get a list of the pages, along with their performance by social media channel.

For example, let's imagine you're writing for a Boston real estate company. Type "Boston real estate" in Buzzsumo and check out the top results. You’ll find posts about how much it costs to live near Boston's MBTA stops, what rising real estate prices mean for the area, and what you need to earn on average in order to afford a typical apartment. From just a simple search, you can get a sense of the most talked-about social media posts about Boston real estate—and get plenty of topic ideas to fuel your content marketing.

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Alternatively, you can go to the blog directly and look at the most popular posts.

Research your competitors 

Another tactic—especially if you’re unsure about your personas’ reading habits—is to look at your competitors’ content marketing efforts. If you share a similar target audience, it’s likely that the content that performs well on their site will also appeal to your prospects. So look at what they’re producing and what’s really resonating. Here again, use Buzzsumo to quickly scan their websites and see what's performing well. 

Check out Quora

Sometimes you might not be able to find out where your audience lives online. That’s okay. Another approach to coming up with content generation ideas is to start with a set of keywords, such as industry or profession.

For example, let’s assume your target audience is business development representatives. Now go to Quora, a popular question-and-answer site where anyone can ask a question and get answers from the community. Although anyone can participate, moderators do a great job at limiting noise and keeping quality high. 

After searching for “business development representatives,” Quora will return a series of popular questions that contain the keyword, such as, “What are some good and bad practices on compensating business development representatives?”

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Without even looking at the answers, this tactic provides valuable insights into common challenges and questions for individuals in that field. How cool is that? 

Analyze your SEO efforts 

There are a few search engine optimization tools and techniques you can use to generate content ideas. A go-to is the Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tool). Assuming it’s properly verified with your domain, you should be able to view which queries users typed into Google to find your website, as well as topics you're ranking for, even if it's not on the first page. This is super valuable intel because you’re getting actual keywords people are typing in.

Two other quick ways to leverage Google is the autocomplete functionality and “related searches.”

Autocomplete is when Google suggests a query as you type in the search bar. These “search predictions” might uncover ideas around a topic that you hadn’t thought about. Let's assume you're looking for content ideas about vacation. Type, "best vacation" and Google will autocomplete with, "best vacation spots" or "best vacation deals."

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“Related searches” appears at the bottom of the search results page and offers additional suggestions. For example, let's assume you type, "Is cat litter toxic?" Google's related searches will suggest, "Is cat litter toxic to humans?" or even "is cat litter biodegradable?"

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As you can see, there are many ways to come out with content ideas on your own. But what about leveraging others?

Creating Ideas with Others

Valuable content ideas can come from every department in your company, not just the marketing team. A productive way to get content ideas out of everyone's heads is to host a structured brainstorm.  

Running a brainstorm 

To start, invite team members who don’t spend their day thinking about content, you’ll likely get new ideas from a different perspective.

There are hundreds of ways to format and host a brainstorm. To help you get started, here are a few best practices that all successful brainstorms have in common.

First, pick someone to moderate and set a clear agenda. Agenda items could include items like:

  • what’s the problem we’re trying to solve?
  • how long will the session last?
  • rules of engagement

Brainstorms can quickly dissolve into an unproductive group hangout if there’s no direction. Make sure someone owns the meeting and that everyone follows his or her guidelines. 

Next, create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas. It can be uncomfortable to ask coworkers to come up with random ideas, especially those who aren't used to doing so on a regular basis. People easily get self-conscious, so use icebreakers. 

For example, run through a basic word association game. The first person says a word—let's say, "fries," then the following person mentions another association, like "French" or “cheese,” and on and on until either the first word is mentioned again or a certain amount of time has elapsed. It's amazing what connections people make! This is a great way to get your creative juices flowing!

Next, leverage “braindumps.” A braindump is an uninterrupted period of time (typically no more than two to three minutes long) when you jot down all the ideas that come to your mind. The goal is quantity, not quality. Don’t overthink your answers or wonder how good they are. Just get them on paper as quickly as possible. 

For example, if you were writing content for an HVAC manufacturer, you could suggest a braindump about all the topics that come to mind when you think about home heating, ventilating, and air conditioning. Suggestions might include, “tips to keep your house cool during the summer” or “eco-friendly ways to heat your garage.”

Note that this type of exercise works equally well with experts and people who don't know anything about the topic.

Also, use sticky notes, whiteboards, and other visual aids to keep track of ideas. Sticky notes are especially effective, as it's easy to group them together by topic and identify trends and common themes. Try and display everyone’s ideas so the process feels democratic and transparent. You want the experience to be positive so people will want to do it again in the future.

You should know that “constraints breed creativity.” So make sure to set strict time limits— both for the length of the meeting (no longer than an hour) and the braindumps. You can sometimes let people voice really good ideas after the time is up, but make sure they’re exceptions.

Finally, remember that the main goal of a brainstorm is to generate new, unexpected ideas. It might not be the time to refine those ideas or critique them. So if all you get out of them is a dozen or so ideas for you to expand and improve upon—that might be enough. 

If you found this information helpful and want to learn more about how to develop a well-rounded content marketing foundation, sign up for HubSpot's free Content Marketing Certification course.  

Pre-register for HubSpot Academy's all-new Content Marketing Certification Course

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