Marketers estimate needing 67 ideas per quarter to be successful (Kapost Survey of B2B Marketers, 2017)
Quick, I need some ideas today! Sound familiar? Here’s how you can supercharge your inspiration! Being stuck for ideas with deadlines looming, is a nailbiting sensation content writers experience daily. First rule is to channel the panic and the frozen brain reaction into reasoned action to make ideation happen. This article is for techniques and tools to keep the idea larder well stocked on a continuing basis. All it takes is to open the larder door, survey the contents and think what you are going to make out of these ingredients today. Not having a larder puts you in far greater danger of being stuck for ideas.
Here at Internetrix, all the team, marketers, developers, designers, analytics analysts and project managers, get involved in writing Blog articles. Some find it easy to come up with ideas, others less so. Marketing needs a constant stream of fresh ideas, so this article is to share with the team and with anyone stuck for ideas and needing inspiration.
How much time will this cost me? Firstly, try to be one step ahead, so that you are prepared. Keep a ‘running list’ to jot down your ideas whenever they occur, so that you will ideally have a larder of ideas available when that dreaded urgency strikes. Use whatever works for you, preferably something that is quick and easy: notepad; notes app; Evernote; or even talk to yourself on Slack or set up a draft email to yourself on Gmail (it works for me).
How much dosh do I have to spend? Ideas love to roam free, so many of the tools and techniques mentioned here are free. If generating ideas is part of your work role, then core tools save effort=time=money so there is a return on investment if you trial tools first, then purchase the ones that work hardest for you.
How is this article constructed? As a bug enthusiast, I often spend days and nights out hunting for spiders, large and small, all with fascinating lives, not least the ones that make webs. The structure of this article is web-like, dip in wherever you like in the text, to snag what interests you; then jot down your results and wrap in your larder. My choice of sources is not exhaustive, but eclectic, ranging from the obvious to the less well-known. Enjoy exploring and please do share your own comments and advice.
A wonderful place to look out over the crowds of ideas waiting for you, and a good place for me to start, is http://answerthepublic.com . If you are outside the UK, set your location before you search. This tool accesses Google autosuggestions and restructures them, for example, in the ‘Questions’ interface as an array of ideas. Here is an image for ‘ideas’.
Click on the topics and subtopics to drill deeper. Explore the ‘alphabetical’ and ‘preposition’ permutations or switch to a list form.
Top ways to be in the mood to think up ideas.
Getting in the mood for ideas varies for each person. Top tips range from listening to music, exercising, sketching, turning your opinion upside down, to simply taking a bath.
"Why is it I always get my best ideas while shaving?" - Albert Einstein
For me, a great start is sipping a cup of coffee, pushing aside the iPad, and gazing out of the train window on the commute; or a glass of wine and feet up on the balcony if I’m working from home.
In an office environment not all these options are available, but going somewhere quiet with a cup of coffee; bouncing questions off colleagues; or sneaking off to a cafe can be one of many ways to light the fuse under the muse. Talk or message with a work colleague who has direct customer contact about the kinds of customer worry or confusion that keep coming up.
www.answerthepublic.com made me aware of an excellent exploration of ideas in the book titled: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson who summarises:
“Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle; reinvent. Build a tangled bank.” Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
Go visual, go tactile.
I love Mindmapping which is like doodling on steroids. Make a mind map to visualise your ideas, following every imaginable train of thought, mapping a network of icons, images, lines, and thoughts onto a page. This is visual brainstorming, so all ideas are good ones until your page is full, then you can refine. The maps can be simple or highly complicated. There are many free and paid mindmapping apps - probably best to start out with a free or trial one, for example Coggle: https://coggle.it/ . Here is a Coggle example that took just a few minutes to visualise thoughts.
If whirly, squiggly things are not for you, mapping your mind also works fine as a list to jot down blocks of ideas which you can tease out into bullet points and subheadings as soon as the idea flow sets in. What also works is to print a copy of your mindmap, scribble or doodle on it; then input in the app; then rinse and repeat.
If you are competent in another language, it can help to switch tongue, following the trail of inspiration across the web to get a different viewpoint on your topic and generate ideas. This can also be a good way to break inspiration block by changing the linguistic landscape. Different languages, different cultures, different searches, different questions asked, different ideas: everyone is looking for content.
Top places to find ideas.
Your Own Company.
Inspiration for company articles starts from key questions thinking around your reader’s and customer’s point of view:
- What do they like or keep asking for?
What do they hate?
What are their biggest worries or hindrances to doing business with you?
Where do you fit in their picture, what are you doing and how are you doing it?
Revisit past content you wrote.
Skim to see if it would be an idea to update what you wrote, slice it differently, or splice it together with another idea.
Here’s a quick list for proven channels of inspiration:
Talk about your company. How you do things and why. Successes. New or updated products and services.
Lists. 7 top reasons; 19 key methods.
Write a guide.
Reply to a question on the why, when, what or how.
Dust down older articles.
A case study or success story with concrete examples and testimonials.
Provide infographs to illustrate or tell the story.
Video. Tales from the customer frontline. Interview a thought leader.
Statistics. Success metrics. ‘Before and after’ numbers for projects.
Browse your competition.
See what they are covering and what they lack in coverage. See my comments later on using Buzzsumo to monitor your brands, clients, and competitors; find top performing content; and identify trends.
Use news feeds.
Target your news sources around competitors, trade associations, topic words, social media, blog comments, Facebook and Linkedin groups, etc. Once you have your news sources, set up the feed (RSS, Twitter, etc); and filter out duplicates, noisemakers (lots of noise but no substance) and firehoses (a deluge of information), so that the news you get is pertinent, manageable, and reflects what you want. For RSS with Facebook, try https://www.wallflux.com/ that neatly works as a freemium product. Consider using an automated news feed system to view and store your feeds. A useful tool of this type is http://feedly.com which assembles your favourite sources, blogs, and keyword alerts into a quick and convenient feed.
Crowdsource through forums.
Pick your topics and visit or join in conversations to see what is front of mind and flavour of the month. Google dropped the Discussions button, but thanks to a kind digital warrior, it is available to install in Chrome as an extension here https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/discussions-button-for-go/igjiggoeheaondbmhmilpmbdkpgcjmdn . Input your search term in Google as normal; then on the search results page under the search box you will see a ‘Discussions’ category button to click. This will then give you tailored general sources.
Quora.com. With over 190 million users monthly, Quora is a rich source of ideas from questions and answers. Key in your keyword in the search box, then click ‘questions’ in the sidebar navigation. A high number of ‘follows’ beneath the question listing is a sign of high interest. Similarly, when browsing threads in forums for ideas, note those with the highest number of ‘views’ as likely choices.
Linkedin. Another source for work-related forums or Groups is Linkedin. There are two ways you can find groups. You can search for them by name or keyword or you can browse those recommended for you by LinkedIn.
To search for groups by name or keyword:
In the search box at the top of your LinkedIn homepage, type keywords or group name of interest and click Search.
On the search results page, click the Groups tab.
To browse groups recommended for you by LinkedIn:
Click the Work icon in the top right of your LinkedIn homepage and select Groups from the dropdown.
Click Discover at the top of the page to view suggested groups.
You can then request membership by clicking the Ask to join button under the group description.
Browse social media.
Do searches on your topics across Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other channels to see who is leading the discussion and sharing or generating new ideas. Search for social media hashtags associated with your keywords and industry, see where they lead and who follows. Popularity shows through high numbers of Facebook Likes or Twitter retweets. Pinterest is a site for visually sharing and posting interests - key in your search term and note high interest by the number of ‘pins’ and ‘followers’; also note the sub-categories beneath the main topic.
Buzzsumo http://buzzsumo.com/ does a great job of showing social media posts and shares, including number of shares across Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and Google+ and Pinterest. This a prime place to qualify your ideas, see if and how they might have traction. A restricted free version is available as well as a trial. The paid version offers lots more functions; I’m just mentioning a couple here. For example, you can search for the key influencers in any topic area, then follow them directly from within the app. BuzzSumo allows you to understand the content that resonates with influencers; see what the influencer shares, the topics they share most often and the domains they share. To be aware of your competition, search for the most shared content for a competitor’s domain to see what works for them. See the content formats they are using and the networks where they are most successful.
Turn to books.
Search Amazon for books on your topic. Click on the cover of the book, then look at the table of contents page for topic ideas. Here is the view after clicking on the cover image of another of the books by Steven Johnson, a writer I mentioned earlier:
Read the comments to see what readers feel is missing, filter to low star ratings. In the section above, a reader giving low stars airs his opinion on what he wants: “I was hoping to learn how I could incorporate more fun into my life to create something innovative and possibly lucrative (through history's examples)”. Could there be an article here?
Browse the latest book reviews in your field or see if there is an idea to take a broad concept or raging trend from another industry and cover it for yours.
Top tools for ideas.
Use Google Alerts to set up alerts for your topics.
Go to Google Alerts.
In the box at the top, enter a topic you want to follow.
To change your settings, click Show options. You can change:
How often you get notifications
The types of sites you’ll see
The part of the world you want info from
How many results you want to see
What accounts get the alert
Think about what people in your field are looking for and what terms they are using. The way to see this is to look at the autocomplete or suggestions dropdown in the Google search field when you type in your search terms. Mix around your search terms, try using question terms, like ‘how to’ or ‘where’. Use the ‘wildcard’ function in Google where you key in * or _ in the search phrase. For example, how to * ideas.
As you type your search terms, you will see autocomplete change its suggestions which also show up at the foot of the page under ‘Searches related to ...’.
Use this website to quickly find new keywords not available in the Google Keyword Planner. Think of a bunch of keywords, then click https://ubersuggest.io/ which accesses Google suggestions and presents them without the need to type in multiple terms.
More keyword ideas drawn all at once from multiple search engines, such as Amazon, Youtube, Netflix, etc, are neatly displayed on http://soovle.com/
A world of information in its own right, just a mention for ideas here which may seem obvious: use your own website’s Google Analytics tool to see the search terms used by visitors to your website. Assessing the language used in specific questions will provide ideas for content to respond to questions specifically about your company.
Sign up or sign in to the Google Adwords keyword tool. This provides in-depth ideas and shows you how popular certain terms are. It also shows which keywords are getting the most traffic and attracting top dollar from advertisers.
Key in your search term in the Google search box, then click on Videos in the tabs that appear under the search box. With over 30 million visitors per day, and over a billion users, YouTube is a rich source of content ideas.
Related topics, related queries, and trending patterns.
Top blogs for ideas.
Browse thought leaders. Look for blogs and measure which ones are popular by looking at ‘most visited’ or ‘most popular’ categories. Buzzsumo, mentioned earlier, is great for influencer research. Use it to search topic areas or keywords, filter by reach, authority, influence and engagement; then sort your results by a wide range of metrics.
Top titles for ideas.
Spark interesting ideas for titles using the free Hubspot topic generator at https://www.hubspot.com/blog-topic-generator? All that is needed is three concepts: I input content, ideation and inspiration below. The results look good to me, the sort of titles that would attract attention.
For a touch of light fun, you can take a quick look at the free Portent Title Maker at https://www.portent.com/tools/title-maker which spits out some rough and ready titles that might be the bright spark you seek.
"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." - John Steinbeck
I hope this article has been helpful and you are on your way, having fun, breeding ideas, beating deadlines, living wild and free in content country. Now over to you to share and comment on your ideas about how to find blog ideas.
Need help with your content? Talk to us about your ideas. Internetrix combines digital consulting with winning website design, smart website development and strong digital analytics and digital marketing skills to drive revenue or cut costs for our clients. We deliver web-based consulting, development and performance projects to customers across the Asia Pacific ranging from small business sole traders to ASX listed businesses and all levels of Australian government.