How to Come Up With Content Ideas

Illustration of lightbulb and text

Constantly coming up with new ideas to fuel your blog and email newsletter can be challenging, and even exhausting! Indeed, developing content ideas is often cited as the single most significant roadblock to developing a rigorous and effective content marketing strategy.

I’ve been writing professionally for over a decade, and online for seven years. My partner always asks me, “Don’t you ever run out of ideas?!”

Well, no. Honestly, coming up with ideas is the easy part! But it’s something that I’ve developed as a habit and it’s not accident. I’ve got an organized system in place to help me generate ideas for the articles I pitch and write for clients.

That’s why in this post, we’re going to explore tips and tricks to help you come up with enough content ideas for your website and your MailPoet newsletters so you always have something to write about.

What kind of content do you need?

While it’s not always the first question you need to answer, you might find it helpful both to your business and your marketing goals to know what kind of content you need. In the early days of the internet, “content” was usually defined pretty narrowly: whatever you happened to write for your blog or website.

But today, content can come in a near endless variety of permutations. Some examples of content might include:

  • The written word. Articles and blog posts. A tried and true method, for sure, but one that has proven its effectiveness over years.
  • Images. Whether you think about it this way or not, images are indeed content — and, when uploaded with proper alt text, search engines can make sense of your images.
  • Videos. Perhaps the most engaging form of content on the web today, videos can take the form of quick tutorials or long PR pieces, depending on your target audience.
  • Podcasts. One of the more novel forms of content used in marketing today, podcasts are essentially downloadable radio shows. And people love them. I personally listen to them every day.
  • Email newsletters. This is an oldie but a goodie. Email newsletters have been around for years, but they’re finding new life these days thanks to email segmentation coupled with targeted advertising. With half of users aged 18-24 now seeking relief from social media, according to research group Origin, there’s an opportunity to connect and engage via email. For more: Top 5 Time-Saving Tips for Creating Email Newsletter Content.

Much of your content will be some kind of hybrid creation: a little video and a lot of words, or a blog article with a featured video, or a podcast with a highly customized image. It’s rare for one type of content to work all on its own. But it can happen.

Once you know the kind of content you need…

Each type of content is going to have its own requirements, limitations, and advantages. Video, for example, has amazing click-through rates and engagement, but it’s costly to produce.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that you want your content to be connect with your readers. To do this, check out our post Authenticity, or How to Write Genuine Content.

Knowing the types of content can help you generate ideas for that content, and vice versa. There are simply some topics that will be better covered in a video tutorial than a blog post, or in an email newsletter rather than a podcast.

7 tips for coming up with content ideas

Developing your own content ideas can be quite challenging, even if you’re a veteran of content marketing campaigns. But here are a few nearly universal tips — all tips I personally use — that can get the ball rolling.

1. Read widely

I try and read as much as I can about what’s happening in WordPress, because that’s the niche I tend to write about the most. I also keep tabs on what’s happening generally in tech and in the copywriting world.

Reading a wide range blogs and websites is a great source of inspiration for new posts. I also subscribe to a lot of newsletters like Hacker News, Versioning and NextDraft. When I’m not in front of my computer, I love listening to tech and business podcasts.

For example, the idea for a popular post I wrote for the Pagely blog, 40 Must-Read Blogs for Leadership & Entrepreneurs came from looking at my Feedly list and thinking that one of my Feedly collections might be helpful for others.

2. Let Google do your brainstorming

Google is an incredibly sophisticated search engine, so it’s not surprising that the company has spent a great deal of time and money researching how people think. Its predictive search text is proof that this was a fruitful labor.

When you start typing your search, Google’s predictive algorithm will fill in the missing words with other popular searches.

Google search with auto completion.

And it’s an excellent way to start your brainstorming process. Let’s say that your business involves selling artwork. When you start typing “Artwork” into Google, the search engine provides the following suggestions:

Google search for artwork.

Sure, not every suggestion is going to be a winner, and your articles may or may not end up becoming more specific (you can then type your more specific prompt into Google), but this is a great way to see what people out in the rest of the world really want to know.

The suggestions might not become your next topic all on their own, but they might lead you there. And that’s a big step up from a blank page.

There are some great tools out there that utilize Google’s search prediction functionality and data. Answer The Public and Clearscope are just two examples.

3. Find a community

There’s a community for everything, from science fiction television shows to automotive parts. And your business is no different. The trick is you need to find your community — the forums and the message boards and the social media groups where your community hangs out.

Once you’ve found that community resource, you can convert message board topics to those content ideas for your own blog posts, articles, or email newsletters. This has the advantage of being well-calibrated to your community already — you know these are topics they care about.

The key here is to ensure you’re adding something to the conversation. If your business or organization offers a solution to a common issue discussed in the community, for example, you can create an excellent article with a built-in audience primed to share and engage. And that’s really the cornerstone of many content marketing strategies.

4. Check your comments

You might not realize it, but your readers are leaving you big ideas for your next piece of content. All you have to do is check your comments.

When you post an article or a blog, it’s likely that you’ll generate at least a few reader comments. Likewise, when you send out an email newsletter, you’ll often receive at least one or two questions back in return. Those comments and questions are a great opportunity to mine some topic ideas.

  • If one of your email newsletter subscribers asks you a direct question, it’s a good bet that other subscribers will have the same question (or close enough). Turn this into a topic for a blog post or your next newsletter.
  • A comment praising one particular piece of your article or raising a question about another part of your blog is pointing you in the right direction. These types of comments are telling you exactly what your readers are interested in.
  • Articles or blog posts that generate a significant amount of commenting should go right into your “follow up” pile. Start planning the next installment of that blog post or newsletter soon because you’re on to something.

There are several advantages to taking content ideas right from your users. First and foremost, you don’t have to guess what your users will be interested in. Second, you immediately know that you’re addressing a concern that your readers have articulated, so you know it’s going to be relevant to your readers.

5. Use your own research

Inevitably your business is going to have to do some problem-solving. That’s just part of growing any business. Luckily, you can use that research to drive your own content ideas and needs. You can take your own research and use that to develop content. Your research, then, becomes doubly valuable.

Let’s say that you run a restaurant of some kind (maybe a casual Italian joint, because that sounds delicious), and you want to appeal to a younger crowd. This can easily drive new content ideas:

  • You’ll likely research what eating habits Millennials engage in. And that’s a great topic for an article or blog post. Maybe there are some weird and wonderful habits you could explore?
  • You could research how tastes have changed over the decades, how some foods have become popular while others have waned. That’s another good topic for a blog post.
  • As part of your research, you might talk to chefs or culinary experts in your area. Those areas could at once inform your business decisions and make excellent episodes of a podcast or a series of blog posts.

You can see how three easy research steps — all research into your own business growth needs — can help you develop content topics you can use in a variety of places.

6. Keep a running list

Content creation is a continuous, never-ending project. You’re always going to need content. That’s why keeping a running list can be exceptionally useful. Even the most creative marketing professional is going to have hot streaks and lulls. Sometimes ideas just flow with more ease.

That’s why keeping a running list of topic ideas is one of my best practices. If you need to generate five topic ideas and you’re feeling creative, don’t call it quits at five. Keep going! If you’re feeling creative, just keep that list going as long as you can.

  • Don’t worry about whether the topics will still be relevant in a month or two. Chances are, all of your topics will be relevant again sometime.
  • Having a backlog or running list of topics means you’ll be able to plan your content strategy in advance, an important step in content marketing.
  • The longer your running list, the more willing you’ll be to eliminate shallow ideas and focus on the good ones. (This should not be your concern as you brainstorm, however.)

Ideas for content can come to you anywhere and anytime. Having somewhere you can keep track of your ideas is vital to organizing and tracking your strategy. Personally, I use the Notes app on my iPhone. In the past, I used physical notebooks. There are many project management apps — like Asana, which I use, too —  that can also make this easy to achieve over the long run.

7. Brainstorm with intention and thought

To say that one of the best ways to come up with new content ideas is to brainstorm seems… obvious. In fact, it’s so obvious as to be unhelpful. Of course you should brainstorm! But the trick is that most people don’t really know how to brainstorm. There’s more to it than just thinking really hard, or gathering your team in a room and throwing ideas at the wall.

  • A good brainstorming session requires structure. Generally, this means trying to answer a single, focused question, but the exact setup doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you have some ground rules and limitations on your brainstorming.
  • Try various brainstorming techniques in order to generate ideas. This could include mind mapping, listing, free-writing, and so on. (If these sound like the steps you used to take before writing a paper for school, that’s because they basically are.)

It’s important that you frame your brainstorming session as something more than “Let’s come up with ideas.” Limiting the scope of your brainstorming will often increase the creativity.

8. Let data be your guide

When all else fails, fall back on data. Or, depending on your viewpoint, maybe you’d like to look at the data first. The point is that even a common (or free) data suite, such as Google Analytics, can give you a lot of information about your audience.

And knowing your audience can spark some of your best content ideas. Google Analytics can provide baseline demographic information, such as:

  • The age or gender of users who visit your website.
  • Where users who visit your website come from (what country, state, or city).
  • What type of device visitors to your website typically use.

There are other analytics and data gathering apps that can provide you with even more specific information (and, of course, Google Analytics offers all kinds of upgrades). If you find that the vast majority of your audience is comprised of women, you can compose content to appeal to that audience (or to expand that audience).

Using that data to help create your content can help ensure that your ideas are relevant for your audience and calibrated for your users.

Content ideas are everywhere — you just have to know where to look

There are no signs that content as a marketing strategy is going anywhere anytime soon. This means the content you’ve created will keep working for you year after year. All you have to do is come up with the ideas first! Hopefully, these tips have helped you figure out how to come up with content ideas with ease.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this gem of a blog post: Lessons in Writing Memorable Content from the Master of Wit, Oscar Wilde.

What are your strategies for coming up with content for your blog or email newsletter? Share your strategies in the comments below!