11 Ways to Become the MacGyver of Blog Topics
Penguin’s CEO, Perry Nalevka, recently posted a discussion in the Content Marketing Academy Group on LinkedIn. This is one of my favorite groups on LinkedIn because they’re extremely strict about moderation and don’t allow discussions with links…i.e. no blatant self-promotion! While it poses a challenge for marketers, it’s a worthwhile one that, at the end of the day, only improves your output. So now back to the topic at hand.
Perry posed the question “How do you come up with blog topics?”
In addition to generating 37 comments to date and being selected “Manager’s Choice”, this blog also got Perry the coveted Top Contributor slot. I wrote this blog because I wanted to highlight some of the really great tips that came out of the discussion that followed. So without further ado…
The Top 11 Tips for Generating Blog Topics
1. Keep an idea list
This idea is fairly obvious and most commenters echoed this as part of their best practice so it seemed only fair to give it top billing. We do this at Penguin as well and all of our ideas get plugged into a chart highlighting what we think will be the best end game for each idea. Something along the lines of:
2. Define your industry’s FAQs
Blogs should be about sharing valuable information and educating your audience. I am often faced with the question of how to generate blog topics, especially for companies that are brand new to blogging – hence, this blog post. In our LinkedIn discussion, I think Jeffrey B. Eisenberg said it best:
“The most straightforward strategy is to identify the questions your customers/prospects are asking and then answer them as genuinely and effectively as possible. I think this is most useful as a blog strategy but it can apply to other content forms as well (especially eBooks, videos, etc).”
At Penguin Strategies, we kick off new projects with a Content Marketer’s Blueprint that helps us define what FAQs a company should be answering. Find out more about it here.
3. Let Google do your footwork
This recommendation, compliments of Samantha Landa, gets the writer’s choice award by far! Using Google auto-populate to generate ideas is so simple it’s brilliant and we’ve used it a ton since I first read this suggestion. Samantha says:
“Sometimes I let Google auto populate do the magic. I use the brand name, industry keywords or relevant topics in a question. For example, a painting company might input "do painters" and see that "do painters move furniture" comes up. A social media consultant might type, "is Facebook" and see results like "is Facebook messenger safe". These could all be blog posts for each respective target market, and using Google may help you identify some of the questions where people are looking for answers.”
4. Crowd-source your ideas
This next suggestion came from Karianna L. Haasch.
“Polling other people in your company from time to time is a good way to come up with ideas, too. I work at a multi-disciplinary firm, so I am often able to get a fresh perspective from designers, engineers, digital developers, and production workers.”
Michelle Diebels-Larsen seconded the idea and even described exactly how she’s kicking off her idea list.
“I created an editorial calendar and soon we will have a session with representatives from all teams (sales, support, backoffice, operations, marketing etc) where we will define the major "themes" for next year. I will then ask all participants to come up with a list with the 10 most frequently asked questions, issues that come up at customer visits, win/loss deals (why did we win/ why did we loose) and am sure that these lists will lead to many relevant topics for blog posts. Hopefully we can have these sessions a few times a year, and will lead to more engagement across the organization.”
For many of the tech companies we work with, often the sales team or sales engineers will have insights directly from customers that can help generate new leads…you just need to know what’s important to customers so you can speak directly to them. Marketing doesn’t happen in a vacuum so ask around to find out what matters.
5. Follow current events
Karianna was full of great ideas and contributed this tidbit to the discussion.
“As for the topics themselves, I base them on a number of criteria. Current events, company events, new clients, and new projects are all factors. I take advantage of potential hashtags - like #BlackFriday or #SuperBowlXLVIII (because I share all of my blog posts on social media). Sometimes I write blogs tailored to a specific product category that I know one of our clients is involved with (for example, power tools or sunscreen). I also keep up on industry news, and if I notice a trending topic, I'll contribute a blog on the subject.”
One company that knocked this out of the park recently was BlazeMeter, a performance testing and monitoring solution, with their campaign focused around Black Friday. They kicked off early writing blogs that touched on a pain point many eCommerce sites have – can their website handle the increased traffic that will be generated by Black Friday. Not only did the campaign give them multiple blog ideas, it also generated considerable recognition for the company and as a result, they were asked to contribute to a major industry publication.
6. Talk to the experts
This option isn’t relevant to everyone but taking points from industry analysts, researchers, and academics can be a great source for blog generation. In many B2B industries, analysts can hold the key to great content. Joseph Solis capitalizes on their publications for his ideas.
“I follow researchers and academics that are doing studies relevant to my audience. Constantly reading academic journals, for instance, is a great source of valuable content. If they publish something new, I make sure I give them a call right away and get a quote from them.
It may not be ideal if your objective is immediate lead generation but it certainly builds credibility and trust in your brand."
7. Trust your Instincts
Camille Heidebrecht explains that her best blogs often come from her gut and I’ll second this sentiment. The blogs I enjoy writing the most and also pick up the best traction are the ones that come right when inspiration strikes.
“Of course, the first thing I do is comb the news media and Twitter every day before I even get my coffee. But for the most part, I draw from my personal experiences. My best blog posts are the ones that I think of right on the spot and just go with it. Often, I just drop everything and post. They are always relevant, timely, well-received, and shared the most.”
8. Be human
Commenter Gina Balarin said it perfectly in her response – “The most highly read and shared blogs for us are those that combine: something human/emotional, with a topical theme/event (especially from the news), and good writing with a distinctive tone.
It's all about H2H people - Human to Human.
And the same goes for finding blog topics: even the most boring subject can be interesting and shareable if it's compared to something cool. e.g. What Clark Kent and Spreadsheets have in common.”
9. Take inspiration wherever you can get it
As we mentioned earlier in this blog, inspiration can make or break a blog. Though we may not want to admit it, readers can tell when the writer isn’t inspired. I constantly have our blog on my mind and have been known to jump up and down with excitement when a great idea pops into my head. Bob Scheier offers some suggestions that help him to harness his inspiration even if he can’t sit down to punch out a blog.
“I forward myself, via email, interesting Twitter feeds with ideas, observations I can either refute or add (hopefully) insights to. I can easily do that from my phone in off moments during the day, using Twitter almost like a "clip file" to mine for blog posts.”
10. The SEO Answer
While it would probably be more fun to rely solely on inspiration, current events, and whatever ideas strike our fancy, the reality is that our blogs need to be about more than just that. Randy Aimone took a more practical approach to the discussion, citing (and rightly so) that we can’t ignore SEO.
“The better answer from an SEO perspective is doing good keyword research for phrases that your target market/buyer persona is actively searching for. You are looking for relatively high volume searches with relatively low competition... Those are results that will help your blog (and website) get results.”
11. Use an idea generator
If, after all the above suggestions, you’re still at a loss for blog topics, consider using an idea generator. Nathan Ellering suggested the Content Idea Generator by Portent. Hubspot has a similar solution they call the Blog Topic Generator.
“If you know the main thing you want to talk about (in the form of a noun), this tool [Portent] gives some pretty crazy headlines you could modify for a real post. At any rate, if you know your keyword, the tool has helped me think about different ways I can approach an article.
Most of the time, when I write a post, I have a gnawing idea in the back of my mind before it just needs to come out—then I brain dump everything into a post. That doesn't really work well for obvious reasons (rambling and way, way too long).
So now when I have an idea, I try to figure out all the different ways to approach that topic. Coming up with 25 headlines before ever writing helps me take that topic and create multiple posts about it. And that helps me build credibility about the topic in general.”