How to come up with content ideas

The middle of the night; when you’re driving; in the shower – why is it that we always seem to come up with our best ideas for content when we can’t easily jot them down? By the time we get to our desks, our minds have wandered elsewhere. But where are those ideas when we need them the most, eh? They’re MIA; off canoodling with some other content marketer while we’re left vulnerable out on the frontline.

So where are we supposed to get these ideas from? Don’t worry, we’re not about to get all metaphysical on you. We’re going to tell it like it is. We’re going to give it to you straight. That’s why we thought we’d let the mystifying, surrealist filmmaker David Lynch explain it for us – using fish.

“Ideas are like fish,” he says. “If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”

Thanks David – it all makes sense now. To come up with fantastic and original content ideas, you’ve got to go deeper.

Man thinking about fishing

Data, data; high value!

When we’re coming up with content ideas for clients, we always start with the nitty-gritty – getting deep into the data. Your website’s Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools accounts are a great place to start. What pages are the most popular? Is there a particular product or service which is drawing the most attention and keeping people engaged for longer? This is information that should be informing your next batch of content ideas.

The info you’ll find here will also inform other marketing activity surrounding your content, such as improving your search ranking on particular terms related to your offering.

Our own deep data platform, Apollo Insights, helps us identify content opportunities and ideas, because it shows us what a client’s customers are looking for. Here are two examples of how we do this.

Apollo Insights pulls in data for a client site from multiple sources, including SEM Rush and Google Webmaster Tools (GWT). We can filter this data to show all queries with less than 10 impressions (GWT) and more than 1000 volume (SEM Rush).

This helps us spot search queries for which the website has some visibility but where there is an opportunity to get more.

In the second example, below, we search the data for the word ‘activity’, to see which specific queries appear. Comparing impressions (current visibility) with volume (potential visibility), we can see which kind of specific phrasing is used by potential customers of a client’s website when they are looking for information about a specific topic.

So, say we need ideas for a piece of content for a car hire client; we can search for ‘car hire in…’ and it will provide us with a list of the most searched-for destinations. We can then tailor our content around these places.

Industry insights (or: ‘How we learned to start spying on competitors and love social media’)

You’ll know your industry better than anyone. Even if you don’t want to produce the content yourself, by keeping your ear to the ground you should always be able to come up with themes and topics that are going to be relevant to your audience right now. Here are a few things to keep an eye out for:

  • New industry-wide reports with interesting statistics
  • New products made by other companies (not competitors) which will affect the service your prospective clients offer
  • Breaking news stories which are related to the industry (topics/keywords likely to have high search volumes)

At the same time, you should also keep up with the Joneses. Conduct a bit of competitor analysis, both in terms of what they’re offering and also the type of content they’re producing. The intention isn’t to imitate; it’s to innovate. How can you take a competitor’s content idea and improve it? Is there an important angle that you think they’ve missed?

The next port of call is social media. Check out your competitors’ Twitter accounts, Facebook profiles and so on. Are there particular industry-themes that they’re posting about that seem to be getting a lot of attention? Or is there an event, hashtag or meme that is trending at the moment? Build content around these social media trends and aim to get as much interaction as possible.

Dr Strangelove meme

Scrumptious teamwork

You might be the marketing expert in your team, but that doesn’t mean that people working in other departments don’t have a few ideas up their sleeves. If you’re not tapping them up for ideas, you’re missing a trick.

It’s time to scrum down. Ask a member of each department in your company to get together with you in a room and brainstorm ideas. These team ‘scrums’ are sure to give you a far wider scope for content ideas than you’d ever manage to get on your own. Your sales team, for example, will be able to give insight into their most common queries and customer pain points. Your technology/IT team will be able to give ideas regarding how new developments could affect your audience’s operations.

The important thing to remember is that, even if an idea seems too big or too small initially, you should always note it down. You may be able to draw inspiration from it when your brain goes blank.

So, now you know where content ideas come from. It’s simple really – you can either keep a waterproof, voice-activated notepad on you at all times, or go deep and catch a big, beautiful fish. How’s that for giving it to you straight?

Jack Stanton profile picture
Jack Stanton

Freelance content marketing specialist, feature writer and marketing copywriter with more than a decade of experience in online content creation.

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