“Okay, I know blogging is good for my business but…what should I write about?”
I hear this question all the time, and have seen how it completely deflates marketers. It hits you as you’re starting a new website or blog. It strikes months down the line when you feel totally tapped out of ideas.
Breathe. You’ve got this. I’m going to show you some proven, actionable ways to fill your content calendar.
I know, “actionable” is a helluva buzzword, but I chose it for a reason. Truth is, there are so many articles on this subject that I initially thought this might not be worth writing about. But upon closer inspection, I noticed that most of them focused on the theory behind successful content; some discussed the types of blog posts you can write, while others offered tips on how to leverage past content. These articles are super helpful and I recommend reading them…but that’s not what this is about.
This is about 29 specific tools, brainstorming questions, and topics you can use to create a killer content calendar. Get your typing fingers ready.
Note: For this post, I used the example of a vegetable farm in Niagara, Ontario, Canada, which is what my partner does for a living. By the end of this post, I had literally hundreds of content ideas he could use for his business in the future (because who doesn’t love unsolicited advice over the dinner table?)
- Use Google autocomplete/Google suggestions to see what people are searching for online. To do this successfully, you should browse privately so Google doesn’t show you any customized suggestions (on Chrome, this means opening an incognito window). Simple go to Google, type in a keyword related to your business, and take a look at the suggestions that come up in the search bar. Then enter your query and scroll to the bottom of the page for even better results.
Obviously, these suggestions are pretty broad, but this is just a starting point. If I were to look at these suggestions, I would probably see that “Ontario vegetable tips” is a space where I could add value. So let’s search that for more details about what tips people are looking for:
Awesome! We have a few ideas here already. Repeat the process, keep refining, and you’ll get a whole bunch of great topics to choose from.
- Use Google Keyword Planner to find opportunity. Google Keyword Planner is a ridiculously powerful tool for SEO. While it’s designed for Google Adwords users, the data it offers is fabulous for bloggers as well. You do need a free adwords account to get started, which is kind of annoying, but the tool is worth it (also, Adwords can be a great tool for future campaigns – I’ll cover that another day!). Once you have the tool open, just type in a topic and BAM! You’ll get a list of related keywords along with data on how often they are searched on Google and the level of “competition” online. As a rule of thumb, you want to build content around keywords with medium to high monthly searches and very low competition. Here are a few in our niche:
SEO sidenote: In our example, the businesses is local and I want to attract relevant traffic. That means local SEO is in order. With this tool, I can refine my search and see which keywords are popular in our area. I should also be sure to sprinkle local keywords (Niagara, St. Catherines, Burlington, Ontario) into the article. I may not get as much traffic by narrowing the article to a particular location, but the people who do come to my site are more likely to be potential customers.
- Search recent news articles. I’m a big fan of creating timely content based on trends and events. A quick search will give you tons of ideas.
On my search, the first two stories got my wheels turning – I could write about the benefits of vegetables for the health of local seniors/people in nursing homes, or talk about how greenhouse trends affect the local food market. I can also see which news networks carry local agriculture stories, which is great insight for any PR/media relations work in the future.
- Use Buzzsumo to see what works in your niche. Learning from other peoples’ success is a great way to win online. Just type your niche into Buzzsumo, and you’ll be greeted with the most shared articles using that keyword:This not only helps you see what people are sharing in your field, but where they are sharing it. For example, no one is really sharing vegetable buying articles on LinkedIn…but Facebook and Pinterest are happenin’ places for fans of this kind of content. This can help you figure out which social media networks your business should be active on.
- Check out recent questions on Quora. This website might just be your new best friend. With Quora, you can seek information, add value to others answering their questions, and (of course) use the search function to see what other people want to know.
Quora is also really useful as a content marketing tool itself. If you see a question that is super in your niche and you have the perfect answer, answer it for increased exposure and connection. Be sure to optimize your Quora profile first, so the people you help know where to find you!
- Hit up Reddit. A lot of honest, non-salesy conversations happen on reddit. Tuning into them is a great way to understand where people are coming from and to cut through the noise of more marketing-centered platforms. There are a couple ways to use reddit for content ideas – either type a keyword in the search bar or find subreddits (these are category-specific forums) where your audience hangs out. For example, I could learn a lot about the concerns of people who want to eat healthy with subreddits like this or this, or maybe start a dialogue with fellow farmers here. There are so many places to explore!
- Read forums specific to your niche. Reddit and Quora aren’t the only places where people discuss things online – there are specialty forums for nearly every subject imaginable. The best way to find them is to type your niche into a forum-specific search engine like Board Reader. Believe me, a half hour spent “eavesdropping” on conversations online will give you a whole new perspective on your target audience. Just look at all the interesting discussions on the first page of my forum search:
- Write down every question you are asked by customers. On market days, my partner gets asked tons of questions about how to grow, cook, and pickle vegetables. As a produce mastermind (yes, that’s the official title I have given him), he answers the questions amazingly. And guess what? Those people come back again, and again, and again. This is adding value in action. This is how meaningful content marketing begins. Bringing this tried-and-true Q&A online can be a big win for your content strategy. It’s pretty easy to implement: simply write down every question you are asked in your business. Write down every instance where your share information that helps someone. I guarantee that for every one person asking you a question, there are usually hundreds wondering the same thing.
- And write down every question you ask during the day. Even if you’re an expert at what you do, you will inevitably get stumped from time to time. And because you are such an expert, chances are you get stumped by some pretty specific questions. You may even have trouble finding answers online and find yourself doing a lot of digging and innovating to solve the problem. Guess what? That problem you solved, the one where no website could really help you, that could be your next blog post.
- Visit AnswerThePublic.com. This simple, powerful tool scans popular search engine questions in your niche and presents you with relevant content ideas. Just type your topic into the search bar (aka “The Seeker”) and you will get a response that looks something like this:
Understandably, I am obsessed with this tool.
- Tell a story. In the content marketing world, we talk a lot about “adding value” with engaging writing, smart insights, and solid facts. But effective “brand journalism” (yes, another buzzword) requires you to watch for good stories within your community or organization. Wealth Simple, for example, has achieved huge social media success with their Money Diaries series. My beloved employer throughout University, Haunted Walks Inc., has a bangin’ podcast that showcases their great storytelling skills. Stories inspire connection and action, both of which have value for your business. Talk about what is happening in your community. Tell an inspiring story about your employees. Lean on your company history here and there. While I don’t believe a focus on stories is necessary for every brand (SEO building might depend more fact-based articles), you should consider it if transparency, community and customer service are in your DNA.
- Create a Twitter list of thought leaders in your field. With Twitter lists, you can create a custom feed of tweets from people who care about the same things your customers do. Pay attention to them. Following the people who inspire you can really get your wheels turning, plus interacting with them is great for brand-building. If you’ve never created a Twitter list before, check out the how-to here.
- And use Twitter to keep an eye on your ideal customers. If following your peers is a good idea, then following your potential customers is a GREAT idea. You can also leverage lists to pay attention to what your potential customers discuss, and learn how you can add value to them. Tying your content to the needs of people on social media and building relationships on platforms like Twitter can also help when it comes time to promote your articles.
- Get active on Pinterest. Pinterest is a visual search engine which drives a lot of traffic, so it’s worth putting your content up on the website. It’s also an amazing place to discover fresh content ideas. Just check out my first couple results when I typed in “buying food.” Infographics like these could inspire some killer locally-focused blog posts!
- See what people in other markets are doing. You want to write unique articles which solve a new problem or tell a story no one else has. If I have a business in Niagara, I don’t just want to look at what other Ontario farmers are doing – I want to see how people are winning in other markets, so I can be the first one to do it in my area. This is especially important for locally-based businesses, but online brands should also be stepping outside their exact niche to get ideas. If you are selling tractors, for example, don’t just observe other tractor companies – see how truck sellers, greenhouse builders, and even seed growers are winning online. This can help you stand out from your competitors in a big way.
- Watch TED talks. Whatever your niche is, there is probably an inspiring TED Talk (or five, or fifty) about it. Watch these videos. Learn from them. Be inspired by them. If you’re anything like me, these will make you think about your niche in a different way and lead to a ton of content ideas.
- In fact, just hang out on YouTube for a bit…and (gasp!) read the comments. Okay, okay, I admit youtube comments are a scary place. But great video content can inspire written content, and seeing what people are asking after watching these videos can be eye-opening. For instance, a comment under this popular video on the most healthy vegetables asked for preparation tips for the vegetables mentioned. YouTube can be an especially rich resource for counselors, doctors, coaches, teachers, and other people who offer one on one services. Vlogs and informational videos offer a great peek into what people are struggling with and reveal key questions you can answer for your customers. Bonus: Watching videos can also inspire ideas for, well, videos. That’s good news, since statistics show that you should definitely be thinking about multimedia content these days.
- Look for recent studies in your niche. If you want to catch peoples’ attention and appear authoritative online, pulling from recent studies is a great move. Finding science that backs your product or interests your customers is a great way to elicit a few clicks. To get inspired, just visit Google News and search your topic + studies (or study) and take a look at the results. Once you have an article idea, you can find similar studies and data through Google Scholar.
- Share (and humanize) statistics. While looking through studies, news, and other blog posts, you will come across eye-catching numbers. You might even have some of your own to share. People like data, especially when it is easy understand and easily applies to them. Since you are on the front lines of your industry, you can offer interesting insights into what those numbers mean. That can lead to some very shareable content.
- Dispel common myths. Is there something people believe about your niche that you keep clearing up? Does “common knowledge” lack some complexity? As long as you are not condescending, setting myths straight can be a real opportunity to stand out from the crowd. This is especially the case when the truth is good news for your audience; for example, this article I wrote about the myth of sexual peak was a hit with my client’s 50+ male target demographic.
- Teach people how to do something. Tutorials have three benefits: They are be super easy to write for those familiar with the task, they drive a lot of relevant traffic, and they can directly solve a problem for your visitors. Make a list of things you know how to do that your customer might want to know about. In our example, a farmer could write about how to grow herbs most effectively, how to pickle certain produce, or how to match local produce with Niagara wines. Make a list of what you know how to do and refer back to it when you are stuck for ideas!
- Open up a little. People buy from people, not from companies or brands. While you want to put your best foot forward, talking about your business like it is perfect makes you a lot less relateable. Share changes you have made, realizations you have had, and growth areas with your audience. Share your “mistakes” by presenting them as “improvements,” and humanize your brand with stories. Try these fill-in-the-blanks on for size:
- What We Learned From Trying (#) Ways to (xxx)
- (#) Truths About (xxx) We’ve Learned the Hard Way
- Why We Changed From (xxx) to (xxx)
- After (#) Years Doing (xxx), Here’s What We Have Learned
- How Things Have Changed with (xxx) and What We Are Doing About It
- Keep an eye on the calendar. Do the holidays influence your customers at all? What about the weather, seasonal foods, business quarters, or school schedules? If your are regularly filling your website with great evergreen content, it’s worthwhile to invest in some seasonal pieces as well. Simply pull out a calendar and identify how your customers’ buying patterns (and your own offerings) are influenced by different times of year. You may also want to make note of other special “days” related to your niche, such as UN International Days/Weeks, historical dates of note, or wackier “holidays.”
- Sign up for Google Alerts for regular inspiration. I am constantly updating lists of content ideas for my clients. After the first round of research and brainstorming, most of my ideas come from two activities: listening to my audience (which we have already covered) and paying attention to media monitoring tools. In fact, signing up for daily Google Alerts on a couple topics is the first thing I do after signing onto a content gig. Simply enter select keywords and Google will automatically send news stories that mention your topic. That’s it! Now your inbox will be filled with important updates and endless inspiration.
- And sign up for HARO (Help a Reporter Out). This one may be less of a direct route to your niche, but it’s a great way to keep an eye on the media. HARO sends PR people 3 emails per day with source requests from journalists (psst, if you are working to get your biz noticed, you are totally a PR person!) . This helps you learn the subjects that interest the media, as well as the angles they are using to dig into these topics. You can build your brand by reaching out to journalists who can benefit from your expertise, and get great content ideas by seeing what they are writing about.
- Use a Blog Topic Generator. Unless you are a straight B2B brand, you will want to put your creativity hat on before using these. Blog topic generators tend to offer fairly generic suggestions for blog content, but they do highlight tried-and-true themes that you can play with. I recommend these for people who are trying to brainstorm long-form evergreen content with some viral potential. While you might not be able to lift the headlines right off the page, you will definitely find some themes and angles worth digging into. Here are a few blog topic generators worth checking out:
- Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator – Enter up to 3 keywords. This offers mainly B2B concepts but is general enough to work for anyone.
- iMPACT’s Blog Title Generator – If you want to create a click-worthy title before digging into content creation, check this tool out for some winning headline formulas.
- Portant’s Title Maker – This light-hearted tool will make you laugh while showing you the elements of a great blog topic/title. It may or may not give you inspiration, but you can learn a lot from they way they organize titles. Plus suggestions like this will make your day:
- Discuss who you are talking to and what their biggest questions/pain points are. Before you even start a content calendar, you should identify customer personas. That’s a fancy marketing term for figuring out who will buy your stuff. Identify who these people are, what they like, and what bugs them. Do market research if you can; otherwise, lean on your experience and write down 3-5 descriptions of your ideal customers. For example, a farm blog could identify a health-conscious young family, a retiree who likes to make canned goods, and a successful restaurant owner/head chef. After identifying these personas, make point form notes about the things that stress them out, the questions they could have, and the benefits you could bring them. These notes will blossom into amazing content ideas, as well as making you a way better at communicating with people like this later in the sales process.
- Give props to someone in your community. Karma is a real thing in the online world, and sharing great work someone else is doing can be really helpful for your brand. At a minimum, your audience will appreciate being introduced to something cool, and you will get to explore ideas that make your business better. There is also the possibility that the person, event, or organization you mentioned will share your content, widening your audience in a big way. Make sure you email and /or tweet your article their way when it’s published, so they know you’ve given them a digital high five.
- Make a list of the things you do best. Despite my strong belief in learning from the success of others, unique content is still the only real way to find success online. Yes, you can refine ideas and give them new life, but you should always be thinking about what you have to offer an audience that can make you stand out from competitors. If you’re stuck on a content or copy project, try making a list of things you bring to the table. What are you really good at? What compliments do you get from customers? If you run out of ideas, ask your customers, employees, and family/friends. Create a brainstorming list entitled “What My People Are Experts In” and/or “What My Business Offers Customers.” After sketching out a few points, I’m willing to bet content ideas will jump right off the page.
Want to brainstorm content ideas with me? My complimentary 20-minute consultation is a great way to pick up personalized tips and content strategy for your business.
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