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Where Marketers Go to Grow

February 19, 2014 // 9:00 AM

How to Think Up a Year's Worth of Blog Post Topics in an Hour

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blog_ideasLast November, I got my team in a room and asked them to do something that sounded nearly impossible: brainstorm a year's worth of blog topics in under an hour. That's an aggressive target -- I know -- but we needed enough titles to support the Blog Topic Generator's algorithm. 

So we all sat around the conference room table, writing blog ideas in a Google spreadsheet. The first five minutes, we were stumped. The eight of us tentatively put in a few ideas ... and then all of a sudden ideas were flowing. One idea would suddenly morph into 10, and before we knew it, we had almost 300 titles ... and we still had 15 minutes to spare. 

Sounds like a fairytale, right? Who has their next year of blog post ideas at their fingertips, never mind thought of them all within an hour?

Well, it's certainly not a myth. It's not even a luxury reserved for only well-established companies that are rolling in dough. All you need is a Google spreadsheet/Word doc/Evernote note/pen and paper, and the right blog topic brainstorming process.

You've already got the first part covered, so keep on reading to get the process we used to come up with those few hundred titles in under an hour. Remember: The key to this whole process is to not start from scratch each time you need a topic -- just iterate off old topics to come up with unique and compelling new topics. So let's get to it!

1) Come up with your first topic.

This step is probably the hardest of the bunch: coming up with your very first topic. If you're struggling to get down even one idea, there are a few go-to places you can always turn. 

First are your customers. What kinds of questions do they have, and how could you answer them in a blog post? If you don't know what their struggles are, send them (or someone internally who deals closely with them) an email. You could also try sitting in on a few sales calls to see what your company's prospects are asking -- not only will you suddenly have way more to blog about, but you can also help your sales reps close more deals. 

There are lots of ways you can get blog ideas, but these are two of the most efficient and effective ways to get them. 

2) Change the topic scope.

Okay, so now you have one idea. Great! Now it's time to iterate.

The first way you iterate is by changing the topic from something broad to something narrow. Let's say your first idea is "15 Social Media Tips and Tricks for Beginners" -- you can change that topic to more niche ones like "15 Pinterest Tips and Tricks for Beginners" or "15 Facebook Tips and Tricks for Beginners". You can also go from narrow to broad in the same manner ("15 Marketing Tips and Tricks for Beginners"), or go from one narrow topic to another ("15 Twitter Tips and Tricks for Beginners"), or even go from narrow to narrower ("15 Facebook Company Page Tips and Tricks for Beginners").

Then boom: you have a bunch of ideas from one, all because you changed the scope of the topic. 

3) Change up the timeframe.

Even though these post ideas are evergreen, you can use specific timeframes to iterate on a blog topic.

Let's take a very broad topic like "The History of SEO." This is a field that has been around for years, so if you were to write about the entire history, it'd be a long, comprehensive post ... but if you wanted to squeeze more juice out of that topic, you could restrict the topic to a certain timeframe like the past month. The new title would then be "What You Missed This Month in the SEO Industry". Or you could restrict it to a year: "The Biggest Changes in SEO in 2013".

4) Choose a new audience.

Often, you'll have multiple audiences you're writing for -- and they probably aren't interested in reading the same exact post, even if they're interested in similar topics. For example, a post for a CMO and a post for an entry-level person might both be about Facebook, but one will be more strategic and one will be more tactical.

It's easier than you'd think to frame the post for that person -- one way to do it is to just add their name in the title. For example, "What Every Entry-Level Marketer Should Know About Facebook" could also be "What Every CMO Should Know About Facebook".

Obviously those will be two very different posts when you get down to it, but the initial concept is one and the same: Facebook tips.

5) Go negative or positive. 

When most people think of blog post ideas, they think in the positive mindset: "20 Social Media Rules You Should Always Follow." It makes sense -- we're trying to be helpful with our content, so it's natural to try to be upbeat and positive. But you can actually come up with way more topic ideas if you embrace your negative side.

So let's take that initial post idea and turn it negative: "20 Social Media Rules You Should Never Follow". Simple, right? This little trick can help you think of more creative and attention-grabbing blog topics -- that are often more fun to write, too.

6) Introduce new formats. 

When all else fails, try plugging recurring themes into new formats. So a title like "The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing" could easily become "The Ultimate Email Marketing Checklist" or "The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing [Infographic]".

The angle of your post will likely have to change to correspond with the format (not everything should be an infographic, or a video, or a cartoon), but thinking through new format types alongside your regular topics will help you identify new ways of thinking about something you've blogged about over and over.

7) Remove titles that don't solve for your customers or audience. 

At the very end of all this, you're going to have a huge list, but not every topic is going to be a great choice for your blog. Some may not align with your brand's positioning or some may feel played out and stale. Be ruthless and cut out any topics that don't fit the bill. You'll be left with some great ideas that you can use as you like through the rest of the year.

But remember, the goal of this brainstorming process is to set a good foundation for your content backlog -- not dictate what you must blog about over the next year. It's likely that your editorial or marketing strategy will change, or you hear about some breaking news that you need to blog about ASAP. So use this brainstorming session as the foundation of your editorial calendar, not the entirety of it.

Do you have a process for thinking of new blog post topics so your well doesn't run dry? Share your tips with us in the comments below. 

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