When it comes to blending your content ideation with SEO, creating cutting-edge content is a resource-heavy task. You need both the tools, the personnel, and the industry expertise to ensure you’re staying ahead of the curve.
But what does staying ahead of the curve mean, exactly? In the context of content ideation, it means finding what content is currently making waves in your industry, analyzing the data to see why it works, and finding ways to improve it.
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It also means paying close attention to content trends in tangential markets — or even completely non-related fields — so you can gather fresh ideas and insights that might work in your own industry.
The consumption of different types of content will keep your creative edge sharp, and tracking how that content performs will help you make data-driven decisions as opposed to acting off of gut feelings when developing new ideas.
But that still leaves a lot of questions unanswered, like “What’s the creative process behind developing sound ideas?”, or “How to do you home in on what’s trending, and how can you make it better?” Those are part of the content ideation process, too.
Don’t worry. We’ve answered all these questions and more below.
Here are five ways you can improve content ideation for your brand:
1. Learn to Conduct Effective Brainstorms
What is an effective brainstorm? It’s one where you leave the room at the end with clear-cut ideas for you and your team.
But in the context of developing content, you’re not necessarily trying to ideate topics out of thin air like you might be accustomed to. Rather, you should gather ideas backed by social proof and think of ways you can reinvent that content for your own brand.
Let’s discuss how to organize your brainstorm first.
i. Organizing Your Brainstorm
Have everyone participating in your brainstorm upload their ideas to a group doc, like Google Sheets. This will help you centralize your ideas so you can discuss them as a group.
But before we go further, what exactly constitutes a good idea?
For content marketing, a genuinely good idea must have some form of social proof. Social proof comes in many forms, but always indicates that something about the content holds value for its audience.
General social proof metrics (for content marketing) include:
- Search volume
- Social shares
So, once you’ve found relevant content that ticks one or several of these boxes, you know you’ve got a good idea to dissect in your brainstorm.
Now, contrary to how most brainstorms typically go (that is, people throw out ideas “popcorn style” until inspiration dies down), your content brainstorm needs a little more structure and guidance.
Have one member walk your team through each item on your content doc. As the mediator goes down the list, have the team member that inserted the idea discuss to the team why they think it would be a good piece of content to pursue.
This way, you discuss all the ideas in an open table format that allows the group to contribute their thoughts on different types of content. With this method, you can discuss what data lead you to include a certain piece and develop data-driven, organic ideas.
Now that we’ve discussed how to conduct a brainstorm, let’s talk about how to analyze the competition.
2. Find What’s Working for Your Competition
When conducting a competitor analysis, there are generally three metrics you need to look into:
There might be other metrics that you’re more interested in, but these are the top three for many agencies and companies. How do these apply to content ideation? Let’s break them down.
i. Search Volume
Search volume indicates how popular or relevant a certain keyword is, which in turn indicates how competitive a term it is. If your goal is to rank in the SERPssem for a specific term, then you want to focus on search volume. How do you determine what’s a good SEO post using search volume?
Let’s take a look at an example using the keyword “wedding dresses.”
According to SEMrush, a term like “wedding dresses” garners 823,000 searches a month. That’s awfully high. We can see other matching terms have high search volumes, too.
Now, let’s check on the keyword difficulty.
The keyword’s high difficulty means that it’s a money keyword that tons of other websites are vying for in the SERPs. So, what does that mean for your content ideation? It means it’s not a keyword you should consider tackling content marketing — at least directly.
Rather, we need to look at something a lot less competitive. Let’s try something more longtail, like “wedding dress gift ideas.”
With 33,100 SV, it’s also a competitive term. But look to the right at Related Keywords. We see terms like “good wedding gift ideas” sitting at 320, and below that, terms like “wedding presents” and “wedding present ideas” with 1,900 - 2,400 SV.
Those are types of keywords you should be targeting for your content. Now that we have our sights set on realistic terms to rank for, your creativity can guide you a bit when thinking of article ideas.
ii. Linking Root Domains
Another metric for success is checking out how many referring links a single piece of content has. A high number of linking root domains (LRD) pointing to a piece means that the content has something of value, be it an infographic, a long-form resource guide, or something news related.
Now, before we go any farther, let’s clarify why we’re focusing on LRDs and not a total number of backlinks. You could have 10 links from the same two websites, or 10 links pointing to you from 10 unique URLs.
You want to build a diverse backlink profile, so LRDs are more valuable and indicative to Google of quality content.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, what’s the best way to find LRDs? You can use any backlinking tool you want, but Ahrefs is a solid choice if you haven’t invested in one yet. Using our wedding dress example, let’s take a look at some content doing well.
Using Ahref’s Best By Links tool, we can see what content on a given site has the most links. Staying with our wedding dress example, let’s use the site The Knot:
Now, let’s see what content ranks well.
The column on the far right shows us the number of LRDs for each page. The top piece of content for The Knot is their article, “58 Most Romantic Ways to Propose” with 299 LRDs. That’s really good!
This will give you a clear idea of what topics in a niche generate lots of links. These types of pieces are what you call linkbait, and they show you exactly what types of content your competition has had the most success with.
iii. Social Shares
Lastly, another indicator of great content is social shares. Video and visual content typically do the best with earning shares. Using the wedding dress example yet again, we can see what types of content, or keywords, perform well on social using tools like Buzzsumo.
As you can see, “wedding gift ideas” is doing really well on Facebook. The NYmag article “75 Unique Wedding Gift Ideas” also got a lot of repins.
By analyzing these metrics, we can see what types of content does well, and you can determine what you need to do to improve it.
3. Gather Ideas from Content Outside of Your Niche
This might sound similar to a competitor analysis, but it differs in that you can be less rigid about the types of social proof you’re looking for to validate a good idea for your brand.
Instead, you can look at any and all types of content, even those mediums which you might not have the resources to pull off in-house. If you don’t have a video studio, but you find video content that blows you away, it’s worth looking into what it is about that content that is so appealing.
Do they effectively use brand colors in imagery? Or is it something about the combination of editing and music that just works for you? What are some ways you can port the idea over to your own team?
We see examples of this in content all the time. Let’s take a look.
This piece about insuring Star Wars vehicles by Insure the Gap is definitely not what you’d expect to see on a car insurance blog:
But it instantly makes a not-so-interesting topic more relatable. So the idea worked for a car insurance company, why not try it somewhere else? That’s exactly what OppLoans did.
They didn’t reinvent the visual, but they discuss in depth the prices of recreating Star Wars vehicles.
Another example of a company in a different industry using the Star Wars idea to create cool content is Ovo Energy. They created an awesome infographic about the costs of manning and operating the Death Star.
Something else worth noting about this Ovo Energy piece is its timeliness: They created this infographic just before the release of Rogue One. That wasn’t coincidental — they used the hype surrounding the film to their advantage.
It’s an excellent example of how content marketers can piggyback on timely events to amplify the success of content.
4. Find Ways to Add Value to Your Content
So, we’ve looked at how to analyze competitor content and how to track content in other industries. How can you improve the content that already does well
Obviously, this varies case by case. The best way to do this is to look at what lacks in your competitor’s content.
For example, if their blog post is written well but has a bad design, creating “better” content could be a matter of aesthetics. How can you make your blog post easier on the eyes? Another option is to frame the information in an infographic. This gives your content visual appeal and makes it a shareable asset that can then be promoted to earn quicker links.
Another option is to look at their text. Is it thin? Or does it leave out information that could benefit the audience? If so, the solution is easy: Write meatier content that satisfies the searcher’s intent. This will also allow you to hit semantic keywords in your content, which will help your piece rank better.
If your competitor offers 25 stats, then you should include 30. Are their articles averaging around 500 words? Then you should hit 700+.
Do you see a trend here?
5. Take Advantage of Newsjacking
We touched on this earlier with the Death Star example, but a great way to come up with ideas is to pay attention to what’s trending. Current events are great for this, but there are other ways you can track trending topics.
Here is a brief list of places to check regularly to see what’s happening:
- Reddit: Everyone knows Reddit (or you should). You can go here to see what people are talking about all over the internet. Some good “/r” pages worth following are Infographics, Data Is Beautiful, and any other industry-related topics of interest for you.
- SparkToro: This is Rand Fishkin’s new company. One of its free tools allows you to see what top digital marketers are tweeting about. While this is definitely more niche, you can still find inspiration here.
- Epic Beat: Epic Beat is a software that allows you to monitor content in different niches to see what’s trending. One of its features lets you see how audiences engage with different reading levels and word counts. Definitely a great way to get telling insights about your space.
- Ahrefs: We already mentioned Ahrefs earlier, but they also have a cool feature called Content Explorer that will show you what the most popular content is at a given moment. Or, you can type in a specific keyword to see what comes up for that topic.
- Google Trends: Google Trends allows you to view current and past organic search trends. So, if anything “newsy” happens in your industry, you should be able to tell by your audience’s search queries.
Timeliness is crucial for your content. If it’s fresh and delivers what searchers are looking for, you can bet they will share it, link to it, or even write about it elsewhere. The best case scenario for writing topical, newsy pieces is that it blows up, resulting in syndicated links.
When this happens, you can sit back and watch as people link to your post. It’s a true indicator that you did something right with your content, and it will inspire you to find new ways to achieve the same results every time.
A large part of content ideation is awareness. You need to be on the lookout for internet trends and always checking your favorite websites for new content.
Once you’ve found a few sites that produce content you love, be sure to check up on them regularly. Who knows? You might get inspired to create something even they envy.
Zach is a content marketer and freelance writer who enjoys covering all things SEO and digital marketing. When he isn't churning out content for Zerys, you can find him binging Star Wars movies or going out for a long run.