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How to Come up with Ideas of What to Blog About

Published by James ParsonsContent Marketing • Posted January 27, 2016
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Writing an active blog is hard work. One good, solid blog post can take 2-3 hours to put together, assuming you know your stuff and have references on hand. If you’re doing your own research and need to harvest and analyze data, it can be even worse.

Now say you’re running blogs for three different sites, each of them posting on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. That’s three posts per site per week, for nine total posts per week. At three hours each – a low average if you’re making original content – that’s 27 hours spent on your blogs alone. It’s very nearly a full time job on its own, and it doesn’t leave a lot of time each week for managing other aspects of your business.

Even if you’re hiring writers to outsource your writing, you still have some responsibility. You’re not foisting your entire blog off on those writers. No, you’re giving them assignments, and those assignments typically include the base content for the blog posts you want written. You’re developing headlines and topics, providing data and sources, to make sure your writers produce exactly what you want. It saves you some time, but you still have work to do.

Unless you completely outsource your blog to a marketing agency, you’re going to have to come up with topics and headlines. To do that, you’re going to need a process. It’s easy at the start, when you can cover basic topics and beginner’s guides. As time passes, though, you get into more and more esoteric topics, and tap the well dry.

The content is there, the creativity, the ideas; it’s just slightly beyond your grasp. To continue the water analogy, it’s like a layer of ice covering a lake; you can reach it in a dozen ways, so long as you know about those ways. You can chainsaw through the ice, you can melt it, you can wait until a crack forms, and more.

That’s what the ideas and methods I’m going to provide are; means of breaking the ice and getting to the sweet, sweet ideas within.

Maintain an Ideas File

The first thing you should do is set up some kind of cloud-based text file, at minimum. Evernote and similar apps are excellent for this, but any sort of freely-editable text file on a cloud storage server like Google Drive or Dropbox will work. The goal is to put a file or set of files together that you can access from any device at any time. Whenever you have an idea for a blog post, or a topic you want to cover, or a question a customer asks, or even just something inspirational in the world around you, add it to the file.

Google Docs Screenshot

The file will be your ever-present Ideas File. It’s extremely important because it will dramatically increase your idea retention, and even spur idea generation. How often have you had an idea on the commute to work and been unable to remember it by the time you reached your desk? Write it down! Now, I’m not saying text it in while driving, that would be reckless. No, either pull over to do it or keep the idea in mind until you get to the company parking lot. Just make sure you have it written down before you go into the office, where a million distractions wait to purge it from your mind.

With time and practice, you’ll get into the habit of noting things down and filtering out worthless ideas you’ll never use. You’ll be more practiced at writing things down, and you’ll start to seek out opportunities to generate new ideas.

Use Title Generators

Title generators are common, and they run the gamut from valuable to worthless. They all operate in different ways; some have lists of templates, some cull from current headlines, some pull from Google autocomplete, and others are more random. You can read about a list of the best we’ve found over here.

Do It Better

This is an excellent blogging technique because it also ties into various link building strategies.

The first thing you need to do is some research to find content on competitor sites that has accumulated links and traffic. Ideally, this will be evergreen content. Even more ideally, it will be mediocre.

Content Length

The second step is to take the premise and do it yourself, even better than they did it. Cover the same topic in more detail, with more information, updated statistics, or a better walkthrough. Include screenshots and images whenever possible. Turn this thing from “blog post” into “ultimate guide”. Kick it up a notch, as a certain famous chef would say.

The third step is to promote that post in a way that puts it into the view of the people linking to the competition. Try to subvert their links and supplant their content. Yours is better in every way; why wouldn’t people link to it?

Identify the Needs of Your Customers

Customers very, very rarely come to your site just to browse. Nine times out of ten, they have a goal in mind. They have certain information they want to find, and something about your snippet led them to your post over the others in a search results page. Or, more likely, they’ve opened five or six results in tabs and are going through them to find what they need.

Figure out your customers. Monitor their comments and their chatter on social media. Come up with a list of pain points; things they want to know, things they need, things they’re trying to learn. Identify a way you can take that pain point and convert it into a blog post, which you can then promote to them. They never know you were watching their conversations, and simply think you’re good at producing what they want to know.

If you have an audience that comments and discusses things on your blog, keep a close eye on the things they say. You’ll find opportunities to respond or cover topics in greater detail. Often, they will directly ask you to do so, and that right there is demand you can satisfy. Queue it up in your ideas file.

Write a Rebuttal

Blog Post Rebuttal

Sometimes the content you find looking for things to improve is too good to do better. In these cases, you can sometimes write a rebuttal instead. Often, you can find bloggers making predictions about the future. You can even find some on this blog, about how Authorship will still be a big thing, about the future of various services, and that sort of thing.

When you find that kind of post, take the opposite stance and write a rebuttal. Even if you don’t particularly believe in the opposite stance, it gets discussion going. People respond to you because they want to argue one way or the other, or refute your evidence, or add more evidence to the pile.

Spruce Up Old Content

Old content falls into disrepair, just like everything else in the universe governed by entropy. Facts fall out of date, sources disappear, opinions change, and on and on. One way to fill in slots in your blogging plan is to go over some of that old content and re-create it with fresh data, fresh opinions, and a fresh perspective.

There are two ways to go about this; amending and overhauling. Amending content maintains the URL and incoming links, but updates the information, with an editor’s note at the top to explain to people that it’s not as old as it looks. Overhauled content needs much more work and deserves an entirely fresh post, possibly with a link in the old post to direct any stray readers. You can read more about both here.

Spin Print Content

Every industry has print publications, and some of them will not have an online presence. You will often find content in those that you can’t find anywhere else. You can take those topics, then, and write your own versions.

Note that I am in no way advocating spinning software or blatant copying. Plagiarism is a big enough problem in the world without you adding to it. No, you’re just taking trends and topics, not content itself. You might even want to start a post with “I read a post about X in Y Journal the other day…” to make it clear there’s a deliberate reference and not theft.

Local News Coverage

There is often a gap between local news coverage and broad industry coverage. Local news agencies are looking for high profile stores, which probably aren’t happening in your industry. Broad industry-wide coverage focuses on more important region and national stories, leaving your local happenings to wither.

You can fill this niche by covering local industry news. It might not be the most attractive to new readers, particularly readers who aren’t local, but it can be good filler and makes you a resource for a particularly useful local subset of readers.

Personal Predictions and Retrospectives

Predictions Example

The number one example of this I can think of is the annual “10 Predictions for SEO” article series Rand Fishkin produces for Moz each year. In this series of articles, published the first week or two of January every year, Rand makes predictions about how his industry – SEO and internet marketing – will change and evolve over the coming year. He also takes the time to review his post from the previous year, to judge how accurate his predictions were and to give you context for how accurate he has been, historically.

To be honest, this formula is perfect if you have the knowledge, experience, and presence to pull it off. People love these kinds of predictions, both because they can ride a bandwagon and predict the same thing, and because they can decry them as inaccurate and ride that wave as well. If you can pull off such an article series, it can be great link fodder for an entire year.

Follow Industry Trends

Every industry changes and evolves over time. Some things come, others go. Take SEO for example; there was the rise and fall of guest posting, the various link building techniques, the inflation and changing strategies surrounding content marketing, the current trends towards influencer marketing, and a whole lot more.

Follow these trends. Monitor them, and monitor the people who are most influential in deciding what tends and what doesn’t. Keep an eye on what big businesses in your niche are doing, and try to predict where those trends will lead. Anticipate problems and write about their solutions before they’re major problems. Capitalize on news, and become one of the people that others look to in times of change.

Create Common Guides

How do you do X thing? How can you replace a Y? What do you need in order to Z? Every industry has tasks that must be completed. It might be setting up a piece of software or using it in a certain way. It might be a hardware replacement. It might be a repair. It might be something more conceptual, like this post you’re reading now.

How to Guide Example

Come up with these topics and write about them. Cover them as deeply as possible, with as much detail and assistance as necessary to make an excellent post. A good guide with screenshots or photos, labeled to show small details, can be excellent for your traffic and reputation. Plus, the steps are unlikely to change; even with updating software, people on old versions will want to know how to do it the old way.

Browse Reddit for Ideas

Reddit is many things, but one thing I’ve found it excels at is being a sort of crowdsourced customer service platform for just about anything. Every major piece of software or hobby has a sub-Reddit, and every sub-Reddit has experienced users willing to dispense their advice. People come to these subs to ask questions, and hopefully have them answered in a constructive way.

You can use this in two ways. The first, obviously, is to take the questions people ask and write lengthy, detailed answers for them. You might not solve the problem for that one person – the turnaround from question to publication of the post is too long – but you can solve it for anyone else who comes after.

The second way you can use Reddit like this is to watch for other people asking the same question. When they do, swoop in and provide a concise, succinct version of the answer. In the same post, link to your post with the more detailed answer. This builds links and traffic while avoiding Reddit’s ban on advertising, because you’re providing value directly.

Write a Hypothetical Negative and Try to Prove It

This is very much like the rebuttal above, but it doesn’t require an initial post to respond to. All you need to do is pick a controversial opinion and set about trying to prove it right. This is an interesting cognitive exercise, as well as a writing exercise. You’ll have to ignore valuable evidence in favor of proving your point, and you’ll have to deal with the fallout of people trying to prove you wrong or calling you stupid for doing so.

No one is going to believe a post I write titled “Why Google is Dying” for example, but they sure as heck will click it to figure out what I’m talking about. It’s clickbait without being obvious, annoying clickbait.

Snowflake a Core Topic

Sometimes you just need to go back to basics. Take a broad topic and snowflake it out to find sub-sub-sub ideas you can cover.

What is snowflaking? It comes from the snowflake method of novel writing, where you take one overall plot sentence and break that up into two slightly more detailed sentences covering events, and continue breaking each up into smaller and smaller portions until you have a complete outline. The fractal branches go into greater and greater details.

Snowflake Schema

For example, if I start with SEO as a topic, I can snowflake that out into sub-topics like PPC ads, link building, content marketing, and influencer marketing. Under each you can go deeper, like with content marketing, I can expand it into doing keyword research, tips for writing posts, post-publication promotion, and more. Keep going under tips for writing and you can get ideas about how to use bullet points, how to cite sources, how to create internal links efficiently, and how to optimize headlines.

Go as deep as you can and come up with singular, granular ideas. These ideas will lead you to entire blog posts, covering topics that are often excellent resources for beginning and intermediate users.

Look Up Quora Questions

Quora is the new Yahoo Answers, but better in every way. It’s a Q&A site where marketers and experts gather to answer, and in the process build up their brand name and reputation. It’s great for marketing and linking posts, but it’s also great for harvesting ideas. Keep an eye on industry-relevant sections of the site and answer questions that you can link to your content. Find questions that haven’t been answered and write your own content. Again, like Reddit, it’s a two-faced means of marketing.

Solicit Guest Posts

Sometimes, you just can’t fill in all the gaps yourself. Your ideas file is giving you no help and you’re running out of queued posts. In these cases, buy yourself a little time by soliciting guest posts from industry veterans and other bloggers. They’ll be happy for the exposure and links, and you get prime content without needing to create it yourself.


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