4 go-to brainstorming hacks for content marketers in need of inspiration

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Let’s face it, there will always come a time in every content marketer’s week when the proverbial ‘brick wall’ is hit and creativity begins to wear thin. To make matters worse, search algorithm changes have emphasised the need for quality content that values detail, high levels of user engagement and originality. So, with standards for both onsite and offsite content continuing to rise, brainstorming or ‘ideation’  (to use the correct marketing buzzword) can often seem like a rather daunting prospect. However, for those who are dissatisfied with lackluster content ideas or are simply staring vacantly at the cursor on an empty word document, there are a number of methods and processes worth experimenting with before you give up or ask for help.

Here are a few of my go-to brainstorming hacks for the uninspired, the exhausted and the sometimes desperate.

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Image credit : Jacob Bøtter, Brainsotmr

1) Utilise your keyword research

Content ideation should always begin by assessing the keyword landscape for your company or client. Providing your keyword research is complete and up to date, it’s worth singling out five or six high volume search terms which the company have a realistic chance of improving their rankings for in the SERPs. Once you have selected your keywords, it’s important to identify the different variations of these terms and the popular questions or queries associated with them, as these can often lead to new content ideas or help you narrow down the focus on suitable new topics. Google’s ‘Keyword Planner’ is easily the best tool for generating new keyword ideas and opportunities and can lead you to interesting new directions when it comes to planning new content.

For example, quite recently I performed a basic search in Keyword Planner using terms associated with family/group holidays in the UK. After a bit of rummaging through the planner’s suggested ad groups, I eventually came across a number of noteworthy new high volume keyword opportunities such as ‘rural retreats’, ‘dog friendly holidays’ and ‘beach cottages in Cornwall’. These new keyword ideas not only helped narrow down my subject matter but also introduced me to several new potential content concepts for my client. You can also use platforms such as Keyword Tool and SerpStat to generate quick keyword suggestions for your chosen industry or sector. Both tools also allow you to filter the results by ‘question’ which can sometimes give you quick insights into the kind of queries being asked for your chosen subject or topic.

2) Learn from your competitors

When devising a content strategy it is vital to analyse the competitive landscape and conduct some thorough research into the performance of content produced by competitors. Firstly, it’s useful to identify companies who are also ranking for your key terms within the SERPs as they are likely to provide you with some valuable inspiration (even if you simply take a quick gloss over the topics they’ve written about on their blogs). Once you have put together a shortlist of suitable competitors, try running some of their URLs (either the homepage or the company blog) through BuzzSumo’s Content Research Tool in order to discover what has been performing well socially on the site and driving shares from influential companies. The software conveniently crawls all the pages on the site, ranks each page in order of ‘total shares’ (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc.) and even provides you with a detailed list of social media profiles who have been sharing the article/page. You can also complete searches using keywords, this is incredibly useful to discover content which is trending within your chosen industry.

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Image credit: Jason Howie, Social Media apps

If you’re still struggling to find inspiration you can also delve into the backlink profiles of your competitors. Software such as Majestic will allow you to enter competitor’s URLs and sift through the site’s backlinks in order to find out where the company is acquiring their most valuable links from. Although this can be quite time-consuming, you can usually find evidence of successful content campaigns within the lists and discover articles, micro-sites or infographics which have previously performed well within the industry.

3) Create an archive for ‘great content’

Ever seen a piece of content which has really wowed you and made you look back at your own work with an unbridled sense of shame and disappointment? You might share it with a few mates, give it a retweet or send it around the office but it’s vitally important that you store the URL somewhere – regardless of whether it’s related to your industry, client(s) or own interests. Having an extensive archive of ‘great content’ will always prove valuable for future brainstorming and you’ll probably end up kicking yourself when you’re scrolling through your Twitter feed or browser history trying to find ‘that awesome infographic you saw on Buzzfeed last week’. Whether it’s a big budget interactive infographic, an impressive video demonstration or simply a cool way of visualising data, save the URL, categorise it and store it in a document which is easy to access. At Found, we store our ‘inspiring content pieces’ on a platform called Murally  -essentially an interactive digital whiteboard which allows you to display and organise information, links and images from a variety of sources all in one place in and share it with other team members. Our content inspiration lists are divided up by scale/budget and always provide life-saving resources to refer to if we’re struggling for new ideas or looking for new ways to visualise data sets.

4) Get your calendars in check

An editorial calendar is essential to the success of any content strategy as valuable links and social shares are often generated from content released with key dates or occasions in mind. Regardless of whether you’re putting together a long term or short term strategy, a well-produced calendar highlighting key industry dates, events and occasions will improve your brainstorming session. They should provide you with a fairly comprehensive understanding of your client’s or company’s industry and key areas of focus. So, whether it’s a charity awareness day, an awards ceremony or a major sporting event, you’ll always manage to find a way to utilise key dates or events and plan large or small pieces of content around them.

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Image credit: Dafne Cholet, Calendar*   

Creating unique, timely and richly detailed content strategies for your site isn’t something which happens overnight and can often take weeks or sometimes months to really pull together. However, the techniques outlined above should provide you with a few new starting points for content ideation and strategy development, and will hopefully allow you to break through any barriers currently hampering your creativity.

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