Gone are the days when you could create content around topics you want to speak about, or ideas you think your audience will love.
With thousands of new articles, podcasts, videos, and social media updates shared every day, getting discovered becomes difficult. What you need is the right content strategy in place to get in front of your target audience.
In this article, I’ll be diving into the ins and outs of finding new ideas for your content plan, as well as explaining how to approach this process strategically.
1. Set your content goals
Every blog post you publish, email campaign you send, and social media update you share has to help achieve your business goals.
So before you get to content ideas research, planning, and creation you need to define what you’re trying to achieve. Most marketers are trying to:
- Grow brand awareness
- Drive more signups
- Improve conversions
- Boost user engagement
- Upsell or cross-sell
- Build customer trust and loyalty
How you formulate your goals is equally important. Your key objectives should be easy to understand and measure. In other words, your goals have to be SMART.
Setting SMART goals can help you plan and manage your time efficiently. Most importantly, it encourages you to approach content creation strategically.
- Get more newsletter subscriptions
- Increase website traffic
- Grow product newsletter list by 20% by July 1st.
- Increase organic website traffic by 15% by March 31st.
With clear goals in place, you can decide what type of content you need to create. If you want to get more subscribers, perhaps it’s a good time to create an ebook sharing your best practices. And if you want to get backlinks to your blog, create an infographic. You get the drill.
2. Identify your audience’s pain points
Every piece of content you create should help solve your customers’ problem. In case your customers haven’t voiced their problems to you directly, you’ll have to do a little bit of digging on your own.
Keep an eye on Reddit discussions
You probably have heard marketers say that Reddit is a great place to promote your content. And that makes sense, with about 1.5 billion (yes, billion!) monthly visits, this online community and social news aggregation website can help you get discovered. But it’s exceptionally good for one more thing—helping you identify what your target audience’s pain points are.
By attentively following subreddits in your niche, you can find people discussing or asking questions about certain things in relation to what you do. Take note of those topics, it might be worth including them into your current or upcoming content.
Check what questions people are asking on Quora
Quora is a question-and-answer platform that receives more than 617 million visits every month. It’s home for more than 36 million questions about everything from lifestyle and fitness, to cryptocurrencies and YouTube superstars. So, chances are it also has quite a few questions related to your business.
Let’s say you’re selling custom phone cases. Enter “phone case” in Quora search and take a look at the most popular questions. The more followers the question has, the more people are interested in the answer.
Based on the search results, you can write a piece about the pros and cons of using a phone case. In it, mention where the reader can buy phone cases online, showcase some of the most exciting designs you have on your store.
3. Embrace seasonal content
Seasonal content has an expiration date, but during the time when it’s relevant, it can drive you more traffic than any existing piece of content. But if you want to make the most of your seasonal content, you need to plan your work in advance.
Let’s say you decided to write an article for back-to-school season. To tap into the growing topic interest, you should probably publish your piece in July or early August. And in order to have it ready by that time, you need to start working on your draft sometime in May or June.
Do yourself a favor and find a holiday marketing calendar with all the important dates of the year and add them to your editorial calendar. Most importantly, schedule publications of seasonal content at least a month before the actual holiday. And don’t forget to give yourself another month to actually prepare the copy and visuals.
Pro tip: Be careful when deciding what holidays you want to target because there’s a thin line between creating season-appropriate content and content that doesn’t fit the tone of the holiday. To avoid misunderstandings, research the meaning behind each event and keep your brand values and audience in mind.
4. Ask your audience what kind of content it wants
The most efficient way to determine what kind of content your audience wants is to simply ask. There are several ways you can actively engage with your readers to get their feedback:
- Send a short survey to your blog subscribers. Use Typeform or SurveyMonkey to create a beautiful survey with no more than 10 questions. Ask closed-ended and open-ended questions that help you identify what type of content your customers like and what they’d like to read in the future. To give them an extra incentive to respond, do a little giveaway—everyone who completes the survey is entered!
- Use social media polls. You can use a poll feature on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram Stories to connect with your audience. Suggest them two content ideas and ask which one they’d prefer reading, or ask their opinion about your latest blog post. Simple feedback like this can point you in the right direction while you search for new content ideas.
- Experiment with on-site polls. Similarly to social media polls, you can quickly survey your visitors while they are on your website using tools like HotJar. You can ask specific questions to visitors on specific pages, or target your questions based on their behavior on your site.
If you’re ready to start listening to your audience, here are some questions you can ask to get started:
- What type of content do you prefer?
- How did you enjoy our recent Instagram Live session?
- How did you enjoy this blog post?
- Would you like to see more content like this?
- Who should we interview next on our podcast?
- What are your favorite blog posts to read?
- What topic would you like to see us write more about?
- What should our next blog post be about?
- Who should we review next on our YouTube channel?
Use this feedback to shape up your content strategy according to your audience’s needs. Perhaps your blog posts are interesting and useful, but your customers would prefer seeing them in video format instead. Or maybe they are expecting your podcast to be more structured and feature different types of guests.
5. Analyze your existing content
Before you start running in a million directions with your new content ideas, take a moment to understand how well your current content performs.
Use Google Analytics to find best-performing articles on your blog. Then take a good look at them and try to identify how these articles are different from the rest of the content on your blog.
Pay attention to the structure, format, and language of these articles. You might learn that your readers enjoy detailed tutorials and interview case studies. A deep dive into your best-performing content can give you an idea of what topics your target audience is most attracted to.
Do a similar content assessment on your social media accounts too. Don’t just celebrate good performing content, try to understand what makes it special. Doing this will help you shape your content strategy and understand what type of content you should concentrate on more.
6. Follow popular content in your niche
In the world of the internet, the next big trend can emerge at any second. So it should be in your best interest to carefully follow industry news and trends. The easiest way to do this is to keep an eye on the content that your competitors, industry influencers, and target audience create and share on a daily basis.
You can use websites like Feedly or Inoreader to combine all of your favorite publications in one easy-to-read feed. Not only will this speed up the catching up time, but it will also help you identify some of the content tendencies across different websites.
Not every topic that is popular on the blogosphere receives the same attention on social media and vice versa. That’s why it’s a good idea to follow social media content accounts in your niche too. You simply can’t afford to miss out.
If you noticed that several businesses in your niche are speaking about a certain topic, you should also jump on the bandwagon before it’s too late. Your task here is simple: write about the same (or a similar) thing, but write it better, whether it means including more detailed information, showcasing real-life examples, or creating a better structure.
Pro tip: Take time going through the comment section of these articles too. The readers might have a few questions that weren’t answered in the article – that’s your chance to fill the gap!
7. Find relevant keywords in your niche
Keywords drive traffic to your website. That’s why you should target as many different (but relevant) keywords with your content to continuously grow your presence on search engines.
Think of keywords as wide content topics. To find new ones you’ll have to do keyword research. But don’t fret. This task isn’t as complicated, especially if you have the right tools at your fingertips.
The handiest tool you can use at the content ideation stage is probably SEMrush Topic Research. With a single click, you can discover new themes and topics for your content in relation to your focus keyword.
Let’s say you sell activewear and your target audience is people who practice yoga. Jot down the main themes and keywords that are related to what you do and hit search. If you want to target a specific location, you can select a region, city, and a language for some countries.
For this example, I decided to run a search for “bikram yoga” and selected to view the results as a Mind Map.
The best part about the Mind Map view is the ability to click on each keyword in the circle and see what questions people ask about it. It’s a true goldmine for marketers who want to create content that their target audience wants to read.
But, of course, there are other ways you can generate content ideas using the Topic Researcher tool, so put on your explorer’s hat!
8. Spy on your competitors
Since you and your competitors share a similar audience, chances are that what’s popular on their blog or social media feed can be popular on yours too. That’s why you want to not only keep an eye on what content your competitor puts up, but also which of their content performs well.
The easiest way to find relevant keywords for your content is to spy on your competitors’ keyword profiles. To do that, you can use the SEMrush Keyword Gap tool that compares keyword portfolios of several domains at a time.
Depending on the types of intersections you choose, you can compare:
- All keywords
- Unique to the first domain’s keywords
- Common keywords
- Unique keywords
Let’s pretend you’re working for a reusable glass cup company called SoL. One of your competitors is KeepCup. Since you want to find new keywords to target, select the intersection that shows keywords unique to the first domain’s (KeepCup) keywords:
You can sort results by what’s important to you. I decided to take a look at the keywords based on the website’s position in search results for the given keyword:
You might be thinking how identifying these keywords can help you generate more content ideas. Keywords are broad topics or themes related to a specific industry. So by finding new keywords, you’re exposing yourself to new content ideas.
Coming back to the keyword gap search you ran, based on the results you can see that as a cup retailer you could target the “coffee cup size chart” keyword—create a blog post or landing page showcasing and discussing the differences between the cup sizes you offer.
Use tools like BuzzSumo’s Content Analyzer to find what content gets the most shares on your competitor’s social media accounts.
Imagine you’re running a design and visual art magazine online and one of your direct competitors is a different magazine called Creative Boom. Taking a peek at their best performing content on social media can suggest what type of content you should create more.
You can filter results by date and sort them by Total Engagement or specify which social media channel you’re interested in.
If you were to visit the top 4 Creative Boom articles with the most shares, you’d quickly learn that all of them have one thing in common—they’re mostly visual. So every now and then you should probably share content that’s purely visual, if getting noticed by social media users is one of your content goals.
Some time ago, Facebook introduced Ad Library. While it was mainly created to increase transparency on the platform by letting users see active ads by brands, business owners were fast to use it for another purpose—spying on their competitors.
By seeing the actual ads your competitors are running you can learn not only what product and content they’re advertising, but also how they’re advertising it.
If you’re selling natural skincare products online, it’s probably worth taking a look at the ads of one of the bigger players in the game—iHerb.
In case you’re not familiar, iHerb sells a variety of healthy and natural products, from food to skincare and dietary supplements. While this store might not be your direct competitor, you can still keep an eye on their ads. Especially those that promote products similar to yours.
Is iHerb mostly running product ads? Or perhaps they’re promoting a blog post that features the product?
Whatever the case might be, a little digging can spark new ideas you could potentially add to your content plan.
Bonus: Try different content formats
Now that you identified your content marketing goals and have all the ideas for your content plan in one place, it’s time to think of the best way to present your content.
The same topic can be covered in several different angles, including:
- Common mistakes
- Myths busted
- Case studies
- Real-life examples
- List of best tools/apps
- List of best tips and tricks
If you’re not sure which format works best with your audience, take a look at the best performing content on each of your channels. Use this knowledge to decide how to write your textual content, but don’t forget to experiment with new formats every now and then.
Last but not least, repurpose your content, especially if it’s useful.
Last year we published a blog article listing top ecommerce holidays every online seller should target to drive more sales in 2019. To help promote the original article and deliver timely information to their audience, we shared a monthly calendar highlighting the upcoming events and holidays.
If you also have a killer article, think of how you can republish it in a similar way on social media, or consider turning it into an infographic or a podcast episode. It will require some work to adjust the content to the specific channel you decide to go after, but it will be worthwhile.
If you want to create outstanding content that gets discovered and drives user engagement, you need to approach content ideation and planning strategically.
Start by defining your content marketing goals and pain points of your target audience. From there, it’s all about good old research. And don’t forget to plan your content in advance—your team won’t have to prepare content on short notice and customers will receive information at the most relevant time.