I’ve been writing online content in a professional capacity since February 2013. In that time I’ve personally produced (according to my Google Drive) roughly 3500 pieces of new content — give or take — and that doesn’t account for any content pieces in other Google Drives that I’ve edited, revised, or added my two cents to before publication. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve written, like, a lot of words on the internet. In fact, I regularly encounter my own stuff online without looking for it, and I have a sneaking suspicion that ChatGTP is nothing more than a bunch of my early client work banding together to take on the world.
In other words, if you can SFW Google it, then chances are I’ve written about it or something like it, which makes me about as close to an expert on web content as you’re likely to find. And I can tell you this: Every successful piece of content starts with an idea. Finding the right ideas to build marketing content around may be the most important step in your entire content strategy.
This is where content ideation comes into play.
What Is Content Ideation?
Content ideation is the process of generating new and innovative ideas for online content that will (ideally) resonate with your target audience. After all, there are currently about 1.13 billion websites on the internet, and if you want to be heard over a crowd of that size you need to have something worth talking about. To put it another way, the most important element to your content’s success isn’t what you write; it’s what you write about.
The topics you choose for your content are crucial, as they are what will draw your customers in and keep them engaged. But many businesses struggle with ideation. Why? Because originality is tough, and so is coming up with fresh ideas — particularly when you operate in a niche.
And unfortunately, in addition to being a difficult battle, it’s also one that never really ends. In the rapidly-evolving world of online content, the distinction between timely articles and those that are hopelessly obsolete can be measured in weeks… if not days. So you not only have to come up with engaging new subjects, but you also have to keep coming up with them forever. Or at least until you’re done trying to connect with your audience.
So why keep at it? Because the rewards more than makeup for the effort.
Why Is Content Ideation Important?
I like to remind myself that every piece of content produced needs to accomplish at least one of the following goals:
- Educate readers.
- Inspire readers.
- Entertain readers.
To do this, the pearl of the content must be built, layer by layer, around the sand grain of an effective idea. Ideation is the process that sifts those sand grains, helping you locate the best from among the rest. And that’s about as far as I’m interested in taking this particular metaphor because clams are gross.
Used correctly, ideation provides the subjects, topics, and angles to create engaging content that attracts and retains your audience’s attention. As such, content ideation is an essential step in creating a successful content marketing strategy. And, wouldn’t you know, it delivers several major advantages to the beleaguered marketer:
Scaling Your Marketing Strategy
Remember a few paragraphs back when I compared creating content to a never-ending battle? Well, the right approach to content ideation not only gives you the resources to keep pace with your content demands but also expand. By generating a diverse range of ideas all at once you eliminate one of the most time-consuming aspects of content generation: that part right at the beginning where you sit around scratching your head wondering what to write about.
Content ideation is an idea factory — brainstorming industrialized. It’s a way to generate powerful, relevant topics at scale so that when it comes time to write, you already know what subjects to cover. And writing is only the tip of the iceberg.
With the right approach to content ideation, you can turn a single idea or piece of content into an entire series, scaling your marketing strategy for greater reach and impact. An eBook can be quickly partitioned out into multiple pieces of blog content, and dozens of social media posts. A white paper can be summarized in a video and turned into socially shareable infographics. A single interactive can be supported by linked posts and proprietary research. And so on.
And, as you track your readers’ journey through your content, you can see what resonates, what doesn’t, and what other ideas could play into your best-performing topics. Leverage this effectively, and you can build pillar pages supporting other high-quality pages and all connected through an intricate (and SEO-boosting) series of internal links. It’s a beautiful thing. And it all comes back to effective ideation.
Sticking to the Plan
A lot of content marketers and would-be thought leaders look at content creation as a sort of art form. And it is (or at least that’s what I tell myself), but that doesn’t mean it can exist without structure, planning, and schedules. Approaching content only when you feel inspired means that your posts will be so few and far between that they’ll be unlikely to make much of a difference to your overall SEO strategy.
And, interestingly enough, just sitting down and letting the Force (or whatever) guide you usually doesn’t result in the best content. Just as an architect spends a significant amount of time drawing and modeling before any foundations ever get poured, content creators need a clear plan if they want to build anything of value. Content ideation helps ensure that ideas, topics, links, and intentions are fully formed before you share them with your audience, while also giving you time to perform research and source supporting materials.
This becomes even more important when you’re creating content as part of a team — giving your associates a clear schedule of what will be completed, when, and how to move forward into the next steps.
Knowing Your Target Audience
The Oracle (both the one at Delphi and the one in the Matrix) cautioned visitors to “know thyself.” Marketers know better. “Thyself” doesn’t generate clicks; if you want to make a splash in the SERP you need to “know thy audience.”
Understanding the interests, intentions, and needs of your target audience is foundational to establishing a meaningful connection. Proper content ideation takes this truth and runs with it through analytics, keyword research, and social media monitoring. Ideas aren’t born ex nihilo; they’re the end product of a complex process that has as much to do with data as it does with discernment. And unlike hunches, the numbers are never wrong.
Content Ideation Tips
We’ve covered the importance of content ideation. Which — given that you probably arrived on this page already convinced that content ideation is worth pursuing — puts us firmly at square one. Sorry about that. Let me make it up to you with some valuable ideation tips:
Expand Your Approach to Brainstorming
Yeah, I know that brainstorming isn’t exactly a “new” idea, but it’s worth highlighting here for one specific reason: A lot of content creators don’t do it right. Brainstorming is more than just sitting around trying to think up blog posts; it should be a group activity that brings together as many different points of view as possible to pool insights and come up with topics that no single participant would be capable of ideating on their own.
In other words, make brainstorming an event (catering is optional). If you operate as part of a larger company, involve people from every team and department and let them know beforehand so they have time to consider the prompt. And, if you’re a one-person show, reach out to friends, associates, and others who might be willing to offer a new point of view. The more brains, the bigger the storm, so open that sucker up.
Keep Your Finger on the Pulse
To be informative you first need to be informed. Knowing what’s going on in your industry, what new trends are significant to your niche, and what possible changes, innovations, or disruptions are on the horizon will give you the groundwork to create content that is relevant. Follow these trends by keeping up with industry news, blogs, social media accounts, and any other sources of timely observations and opinions.
This begs the question: Are the key thought leaders talking about something because it’s relevant, or is it relevant because they’re talking about it? Well, let me answer that question with another question: What’s the difference? Either way, if the biggest movers and shakers in your industry focus on a specific topic, you should consider doing the same. Just make sure that you include your unique insights and angles, because one thing the internet doesn’t need is more copy-cat content.
Don’t Skimp on the Research
Here’s where the data happens, starting with keyword research. I use a proprietary BASE tool when I do my research (one of the perks of working for a leading search marketing agency) but there are other effective keyword research programs available, such as Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, and Ahrefs. These take into account the current search-engine landscape and pull out relevant keywords that are worth pursuing based on current search trends. You can then use those keywords (long-tail and short-tail) as the seeds for powerful, SEO-capable content.
Remember, however, that we’re in the third decade of the new millennium; there’s more to ranking content than just stuffing it full of keywords. And there’s a whole lot more to actually creating a connection with your audience. You need the right keywords to show up in the SERP? Fine. Put them in there. But make sure that the content you build around them is valuable in and of itself, and not simply as a fancy way to dress up a search term you’d like to get your hands on.
Fill Those Content Gaps
When it comes to content ideation, always mind the gap(s). Performing competitive gap analyses gives you the power to take a close look at the competitors in your SERP, analyze their content, and then identify areas where they are lacking. Why would you want to do this? Because a content gap for a competitor is a content opportunity for you! You can gain a competitive advantage by offering content that is more comprehensive, engaging, and relevant than what your competitors are providing.
Oh, and while you’re at it, turn your competitive gap analysis tools around and audit your own site. Get your house in order and shore up any weaknesses in your existing content strategy by finding and plugging the content gaps that you may have overlooked.
At the end of the day, no one knows what your audience wants more than your audience. So… ask them. Reach out to your customers and readers and solicit their feedback. How useful is the content you’re currently providing? What topics or subjects would they like to see you address? Are there any vital points that are getting left out? Surveys, polls, emails, and social media posts can all start the conversation and give your audience a channel to share their valuable ideas and insights.
Of course, not every reader is interested in responding to surveys. If you’d like to get an idea of what your audience thinks, it’s time to start dropping some (virtual) eaves. Social listening allows you to passively monitor social media platforms, forums, and communities to understand what your target audience is discussing. And you don’t have to be some creepy lurker to make this happen; Hootsuite, Sprout Social, Buzzsumo, and other tools automate this task, tracking relevant conversations, identifying trending topics, and helping you develop an understanding of your audience’s needs and preferences.
Creating Content Content in the Knowledge that Your Content Can Contend
I’ve written a lot of words on the internet, but what I’ve produced barely scratches the surface of all of the topics that are out there just waiting to be explored. Content ideation opens up these possibilities in ways that traditional writing can’t match, giving you the foundational insights and reliable data you need to identify the topics that matter.
Stay on those trends. Work with your team and your audience. Establish yourself as a thought leader. And, if you’d like some help turning your top content ideas into content reality, let us know. BASE Search Marketing content services bring writing talent and industry experience together, so you never have to worry about whether the words on the screen match the idea at the heart of your strategy. Click here to get started, and put your best ideas to the best possible use.