In the introduction to his opus The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe claimed that material is a much more crucial part of good writing than talent.
Who cares how eloquent you are if your subject matter doesn’t matter?
But while Wolfe was referring to the writing of fiction and journalism, he could equally have been referring to online content marketing.
If your content is to stand any chance of being successful online, it has to be relevant, resonant, and fresh.
And for this, you need some very good content ideas.
This can be particularly challenging if you’re a B2B company. It means you need to consistently come up with fascinating ways of talking about some rather boring topics.
I say “boring” for want of a better word. No business is inherently “boring”. But the fact of the matter is that successful content – that is, content that ranks organically, that attracts a huge number of inbound links, and that encourages sharing across social media – tends to be focused on a core set of subjects.
And unless you’re working in travel, tourism, food, drink, or tech, then I’m afraid that huge swathes of the internet are going to find your subject matter to be somewhat “boring”.
But with a bit of creative thinking, you can still serve up the sort of content that can get people talking.
All you have to do is strive to answer the sort of questions people might be asking about your topic while monitoring the sort of content that has performed well before.
And lucky for you, there’s a wealth of tools out there that can help you to uncover these insights.
Here’s just three of them, and these aren’t even the most obvious or the most popular tools. So if you’d like to recommend any more, share them in the comments below!
1) Reddit – The Content Ideas Goldmine
Reddit is the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet”. The conversations that take place here are a goldmine for anyone who does anything online.
Reddit’s design is a bit old-school, and its users – Redditors – can be a bit stand-offish. So if you’ve never used the site before, you might find it a bit intimidating to begin with.
But there’s no need to even sign up. If you’re just using Reddit to find content ideas, all you have to do is enter your area of expertise into this search box:
Almost anything you could care to mention has a passionate online community that exists solely to discuss your chosen topic.
These communities are called “Subreddits”, and this search box can help you to find them.
As a result, you can enter almost anything into that search box and receive a wealth of content ideas.
Let’s say you’re a carpenter, and you want some ideas for your carpentry blog.
This is the sort of thing you’ll see when you search for “carpentry” on Reddit:
I’ve added that red box to highlight the Subreddits. An initial three have been found for carpentry, and clicking “next” beneath will show you more.
You can dive into any one of those Subreddits and find a delicious feast of discussion. Let’s take a look at the top result.
Each of these posts presents real questions that someone has asked about the topic at hand. So if you want your content to resonate, you might consider answering these questions.
With this in mind, even a cursory glance at this Subreddit provides enough content ideas to keep your carpentry blog going for months:
- Wood Dust – Know The Risks
- What Brands Can’t A Carpenter Do Without?
- Everything You Need to Know About Framing Brackets
- How to Get the Perfect Finish for Plywood
- How to Get Started with Carpentry
And that’s just from glancing at the first eight results on the first page of just one Subreddit.
There are thousands of pages on this Subreddit alone. And as we saw when conducting our initial search, this is just one of many Subreddits dedicated to discussing carpentry.
So if you spend just a few hours exploring Reddit, you can potentially find hundreds of content ideas.
Make sure you record your ideas in a spreadsheet, and be sure to include a link to the specific Reddit post next to each idea. This way, when it comes time to actually write the post in question, you’ll be able to review the entire Reddit discussion.
My esteemed colleague Michelle covered the use of Reddit for content ideation in considerable depth. She focused specifically on B2B content marketing. So if that’s your bag, give her blog a read!
AnswerThePublic is “that free visual keyword research & content ideas tool.”
Visit their homepage and you’ll see a rather noble gent who looks a little befuddled. He has questions, you see. Maybe you could help him?
This tool essentially presents you with a number of real searches that have been made by real people, all of which have been framed as a question.
You can view these questions in a number of ways – alphabetically, by preposition, and as a handy visualisation.
Here’s a bit of the visualisation for “carpentry”:
Again, a single glance is all it takes to come up with a number of ideas for your expert carpentry blog:
- Are Carpentry & Joinery The Same?
- How To Make A Chair
- Which Joints Are The Strongest?
- When Did Carpentry First Start As A Trade?
If you find these visualisations a bit confusing, you can also view all of the search terms found in alphabetical order:
You’ll see the tool found 836 searches that included the term “carpentry”. And that’s just for the UK. You can narrow your search down by country, if you wish.
By no means will all of these searches be relevant, but it will definitely be worth your while to make a note of every term that is relevant. This will give you a good keyword for which you can optimise a future blog.
3) Ahrefs Content Explorer
Note: A subscription is required to make full use of this service. But you can still get some good results from using the free trial version.
Reddit and AnswerThePublic provide an insight into the sort of questions that people are asking about your particular topic. Ahrefs can give you an idea of the sort of content that has previously proven successful.
Enter your chosen topic and you’ll see an up to date list of the most popular content that has ever been written on this subject.
Let’s take a quick look at the initial results we get for “carpentry”:
These are just the first three of the total 2,117,253 results.
Ahrefs measure success by a number of metrics, including the total and median number of social media shares, the amount of organic traffic the post received, the amount of referring domains (that is, links), and the domain rating of the site in question.
You can sort the results by any one of these metrics, as well as by publication date, by language, and by the specific referring domain.
You can even drill down to see who specifically tweeted about each of these posts.
And if you like your data visualised, clicking “details” under any post will give you a nice series of charts:
Ahrefs can even show you the organic keywords that were used to find each post, and the anchor text that was used to link to it by the referring domains.
This tool is almost scarily powerful, but there are a couple of downsides to using it.
First, as mentioned above, for best results you must be prepared to pay.
Second, while it’s undoubtedly good to know what sort of content has proven successful in the past, you must take care when using this information to shape your content plan.
It isn’t good practice to simply copy these ideas wholesale. Most of this content will have resonated because it was unique. It was the sort of thing that people had never seen before, and it offered the sort of insight that appears to have struck a major chord.
You cannot expect to repeat this success through simply serving the same content, but in a different way.
But nonetheless, the Ahrefs Content Explorer can provide some essential insights into the sort of titles that encourage clicks, and the sort of influential sites that might be willing to feature your content.
So while it might not provide any content ideas per se, it can help to shape your previous research, and give you a good list of targets for when you need to do some outreach with your content.
As to how exactly you’d parse this data to gain these insights could be another blog post in itself, and I’ve already rambled on for nearly 1,500 words.
So if you’d like a bit of help shaping your content strategy, why not get in touch?
And if you’d like to share any of your favourite sites or resources for content ideation, feel free to discuss them in the comments!