I sometimes visualise a piece of written content as my dream home. The house is the article as a whole, and each room represents a paragraph. The specific detailing and furnishing are the words and formatting I use. And the final flourishes that draw the attention of visitors are the visual elements such as graphics and illustrations I might utilise to get a point across.
But what about the most important part, the thing lies at the heart of it all – the blueprint?
The blueprint for a dream house is the place where it all begins. The place that all those other features that I talked about above spring from. And for a great piece of content, the source of all the other good stuff is the idea: the kernel of the question that needs to be answered or the content that your audience will love consuming.
Getting that idea right, that very first step, is the thing that will likely make or break your content. Sound daunting? It doesn’t have to be. Let’s go through why getting your idea right is crucial, where you can start generating your ideas, and how to provide value once you’ve found your idea.
Getting it right
Ideation is a fancy word that just combines two others – “idea” and “generation”. The reason this is so important is just like the concept of the blueprint and the house. If the measurements in the blueprint are off, the end result won’t be appealing. And if they’re really off, the whole structure will be unsound.
It’s the same principle for content and content marketing. You can have the literary range of Shakespeare and the writing flair of Liane Moriarty, George R.R. Martin, or Michael Lewis, but even those attributes won’t save you if your idea is something that your audience simply doesn’t care about. If they don’t care (i.e., it doesn’t answer a question they may have), or can’t be persuaded to care (i.e., you can’t grab their interest in the first three lines) then your content is likely to be the equivalent of expired milk: not likely to be consumed and a waste of money to boot.
So how do you overcome that risk and take practical steps to generate great ideas?
If your goal is to increase your chances of generating great ideas then saving the checklist below on your phone or desktop somewhere is a good place to start.
It’s a set of practical strategies you can implement today. And better yet, you don’t have to do all of them all of the time. It’s the habit of doing at least some of them, most of the time, that will increase your chances of identifying those killer topics for your content marketing.
How often do you think “I must remember that for later” but then fail to recall what the subject of that thought was? This is where a digital second brain can help. This tool will be your collection of all of the ideas, images, and articles that you come across that can serve as a basis for your content. Having them all in one place also helps you see links between topics, which greatly increases the likelihood of your content appealing to a wider audience or being more in-depth and useful.
Some great tools to do this are the apps Evernote, Pocket and Trello. The notes function on your phone also works well for random thoughts and ideas, though it is limited if you want to capture whole articles that may serve as inspiration. Emailing yourself and having a dedicated “content ideas” folder to file those emails in your inbox also works.
Sherlock Holmes the competition
The internet gives an unparalleled view of your competitors that would have been impossible not long ago. But this is not a dark art or an unethical practice.
If you don’t research what is working well for your competitors, then how can you improve your own offering? And similarly, if you look at what isn’t working, it will help you save time and resources on making the same mistakes!
So how do you do effective research on the marketplace?
First of all, it’s important to realise that your competition research doesn’t have to be limited to the same city or even the same country. Imagine you’re an IT consultant selling network solutions to businesses with between 20 and 200 employees and between two and five offices. You might struggle to find too many examples of those in your neighbourhood.
But there are likely dozens of such businesses nationally, and hundreds worldwide. Seek out similar businesses in comparable countries like New Zealand and the United Kingdom. See what the best looking and most professional websites are doing. Benchmarking yourself against an international field will raise your standards and make it more likely you stand out from your local peers.
Secondly, look at the details. Most businesses will share their content that they publish on their websites simultaneously on Facebook and/or LinkedIn. Look at the kind of engagement these pieces get on those websites. Specifically, you’re looking at “likes”, “shares” and “comments” on those pieces as measures of engagement. A post that has multiple interactions and interest is far more likely to be valuable to the target audience than one with only a couple of likes.
Thirdly, take specific note of the styles of content and what seems most engaging. For example, the “How To DIY Fix / Buy An… (insert item here)” content on Bunnings.com.au is much more popular than the regular blog style content.
Similarly, “Q&A” style content on health and fitness websites outperforms because of the likelihood someone will want to ask a question specific to their circumstances.
Take note of what works in your industry and for your audience, and plan ideas and content that dovetails with it.
Use data tools – the great thing about the internet is that everything that is done on it is measured. For content marketing, that has resulted in a host of tools for the marketer’s toolkit. Here are a few you should get familiar with:
• Google Trends lets you map interest in keywords and phrases relative to other topics.
• Open Site Explorer allows you to see what pages on competitor sites get the most interest from browsers so you can plan your own better.
• Similar Web lets you see what keywords are generating traffic to similar websites.
• Simply Measured lets you get down into the detail and analyse what the top posts and content is on other websites.
Translating the idea into production
Generating the idea is one thing. But most ideas never make it off the drawing board (or out of the “Notes” app) before they become dated or irrelevant. So the last two tips for generating great content are simple but non-negotiable.
First, create an editorial calendar . This is especially effective if you get a few people to share the load of writing content for your business. You can all share idea generation and lessen the time required to actually write and edit. Yes, this is like setting homework. And yes, it 100% works by making people accountable and responsible for actual deliverables (even if it is just one person writing).
Second, there has to be a routine. If your content marketing strategy is to “write a blog post whenever I get time” it can pretty much be guaranteed that it won’t happen. Blocking off 90 minutes every Tuesday straight after lunch though? Now that’s an actionable way to make sure ideas turn into marketable content.
I could go on with more ideas about how to generate great ideas and get them to deliver results. But if you give the above a try, then you will already be well ahead of the curve (and most of your competitors). And if you have any questions about specifics or how we can offer you services to make the above much simpler for you and your business, feel free to drop me an email at [email protected]