Ideation 101: How to Develop Strong Article Themes that Work

Cover image with blog title

Recent data shows that there are 4 million blog posts published every day, making it difficult to stand out online. If you’re having trouble coming up with unique ideas for your content, you’re not alone — ideation is a challenge for most content marketers.  

With so much competition, your articles and blog posts should offer something new and memorable. But with so much content already out there, it can often feel like everything you can write about has already been covered. Effective content creation relies heavily on great ideas, so it’s critical that your ideation helps you flesh out those topics before you start writing.

There are some strategies, though, that can help you cut through that feeling and generate new, value-added ideas that resonate with your audience. Here are 17 ideation tips to get you started.

Time-Tested Techniques

1. The Skyscraper Technique

The skyscraper technique has been around for a few years, and it still works when executed correctly. Technically, there are two parts to using this technique — developing the article theme and then building backlinks — but let’s focus on the former.

The idea is to find a few high-performing pages in your niche or ones that are ranking for your keywords, and then figure out how you can do the content better to land your page higher in the search results. The easiest way to do this is to look at what’s in those ranking pages and then write a new article that’s longer and more thorough — as if you’re taking a building and adding 40 stories to make it a skyscraper. If the pages you find that rank are out-of-date, then simply update them. It sometimes really is just that easy.

2. Asking the 5 Questions

The 5 Whys is a brainstorming tactic used for root cause analysis and determining what the customer wants, but you can employ a different form of this tool in ideation. When using the 5 Whys, you ask a Why question, and then you keep asking related Why questions until you get to a specific answer — usually you get there by the 5th Why.

When you ideate, you don’t have to limit yourself to Why, but can employ all types of questions.

Here’s an example of the brainstorming method used to come up with topics to write for a client that sells audio equipment.

  • Who are we writing content for? Audiophiles
  • What do audiophiles care about? Music quality and experience
  • How does the client serve that need? By providing the best quality equipment they can and offering custom system designs
  • What is a custom system design? A system designed for the sonic preferences of the customer and his or her space

From just these few questions, you have ideas for articles such as:

  • Why is music quality important?
  • What is a custom system design?
  • How does your room impact your audio experience?
  • The best speakers for small spaces
  • X speakers that deliver great sound in big rooms

You can see how continuing to ask questions can drive even more content ideas.

3. Semantically Speaking

Creating clusters of semantically related content is a great way to boost your SEO, but it’s also a great way to identify good topics to write about. If you use a tool like LSIGraph, and enter one of your targeted keywords, it’ll give you a list of related keywords that you should touch on in whatever piece of content you’re writing for that targeted keyword. Doing this can increase the quality of your content and make it semantically complete.

Screenshot of LSIGraph keyword search

But again, chances are you’re not going super in-depth on each individual semantically related keyword you find in the pillar article. So why not go super in-depth on a new post that links back to the pillar?

4. Take a Cue from the Unicorns

If you’ve been blogging for a while, chances are you have some unicorn posts that generate a lot of traffic and engagement. Chances are also that you touch on subtopics in those articles that you can branch out from to create new articles.

Identifying those subtopics and creating new articles focused just on them can be a great source of new topics, and you can also leverage the success of the original post to boost the new one. Go into the original post and update it to link to the new one. Email your subscribes to let them know you’ve expanded on the topic.

This helps you corner the market for these related topics, and also helps support a topic cluster approach to SEO.

5. Is and Is Not Matrix

An is/is not matrix is simply a list of all the things something is and is not. It’s a great tool when you’re trying to understand what a brand is, but it can also help you define exactly what type of articles a client wants.

For example, if a client is a lifestyle brand, humorous, coming out with an Easter line of clothing and not averse to listicles but it is not religious, political or heavy on self-promotion, putting these definitions down on paper makes it easier to steer ideation.

With those parameters in mind, you might quickly come up with non-sales titles such as “X Ways to Bring Easter Egg Design Feels to Your Holiday Wardrobe” or “X Adorably Funny Easter Decor and Fashion Concepts.”

Is/Is Not Matrix Example

Online Tools

6. Use Google’s Suggestions

Google’s auto-complete feature can spark some great ideas fast. You have to turn on trending searches for this function to work, but if it’s on, Google will complete your search as you type with other potentially popular searches. The ideas provided by Google are mined from information about what you’re typing into the search bar, what things you’ve searched for before and the types of things other people are searching for.

You can see in the examples below how you might use this search engine feature to gather ideas for either a DIY blog or a knife brand.

DIY Google auto complete search results screenshot

7. Find Questions Consumers Are Asking

Another great tool that can help with ideation is Answer the Public.

Screenshot example of Answer the Public platform for searching for keywords or topics

This service lets you enter a targeted keyword or topic and then generates a list of questions that actual consumers are asking. You can typically find some good questions from these results, run the Skyscraper method on them and then create a piece of content that delivers exceptional value to consumers with a real need.

8. Use Topic Generators

There are a number of tools available that will help you come up with topics to cover just based on a seed keyword or topic.

Portent’s Content Idea Generator is a great tool for doing this. Just enter your subject, and it will give you a suggested title.

Screenshot of Portent's Content Idea Generator

Note that many of these won’t quite make sense or catch your attention, but keep refreshing and chances are you’ll find something you can work with.

Hubspot offers a similar tool as well.

Screenshot of HubSpot's Blog Ideas Generator

There really are a lot of these tools out there. Don’t make them the lynchpin of your ideation, but they do make great supporting tools.

Curation

9. Repurposing the News

You have to be careful how you repurpose news stories, especially if they’re political in nature at all. You must consider the brand’s voice and style and approach news stories with the right spirit for each client.

It’s also important to remember that “news” encompasses a lot more than what shows up on nightly television, and turning to local events and culture or industry news is often a better tactic for ideation.

First, consider what is going on in your industry. Has anyone made a big announcement or issued a report about trends? While you may not want to leverage announcements from direct competition, you can often use these events to your benefit. For example, if you’re an office supply retailer and someone comes out with a new productivity software, you might write an article titled “XYZ Productivity Software and Other Tools to Help You Get Stuff Done.”

You can do the same thing with local news. If you’re a local cupcakery and there’s a big festival coming up, you might write about how cupcakes can be incorporated into the fun.

10. Content Curation/Best Of Posts

If you do keyword research for something like “SEO WordPress plugin,” you’re likely to see a related term similar to “best SEO WordPress plugins.” With so much information out there, many searchers want someone to give them a review of what’s out there and tell them what’s worthwhile. That could be products, services or even information.

Spend some time to evaluate the market, collect the top options, and write a recap for each where you add your expert opinion. Readers will appreciate this, you might rank for some valuable search traffic and it can position you as an authority in the space.

Feel like all the good content has already been written?
How to Write Unique Articles

Look Externally

11. Evaluate How Others Are Doing Something

You’ll often find that many blog posts focus on giving fairly generic advice without a lot of data, examples or actionable information. A great way to counter this trend is to write posts that let you show off your understanding of a topic by applying it to real word examples and writing up your analysis.

For example, let’s say you’re an SEO expert. What if you looked at 5 sites in the real estate industry and analyzed their tactics, explained what was good and bad and then showed how they’re currently ranking?

This is a great way for you to show your knowledge in a way that’s really valuable for your readers, and might prompt them to contact you to get more of your expert advice.

12. Interview an Industry Expert

Everyone can write an article on “how to train a dog” by researching the exact same sources available to all on the web. That’s part of what results in creating generic content.

But, what if you were able to go directly to an expert source and get new information?

While it can take a bit of hustle to connect with and convince an expert to participate in your interview, if you can do it, these types of posts can really generate a ton of buzz.

You might even take the approach of asking them to be on your podcast or webinar, and then transcribe the video to create your article.

13. Pay Attention On Social

If you know where your audience hangs out and discusses things, you should be hanging out there too. Places like Twitter, Reddit, forums and even industry-focused Slack groups are a great place to chat with experts in your industry.

Picking up on things they’re chatting about, questions they’re asking or things they’re complaining about can be a great starting off point for your next article.

Look Internally

14. Share How You Did Something Well

People love reading about success (and failure) stories backed up by real data. And in a content landscape lacking in concrete data, if you can share how you succeeded in doing something along with some performance data, it can really resonate with your audience.

For example, did you just create a sweet explainer video? We did that a while ago, and our CEO, Clayton, shared the process he used step by step. This continues to be one of our most popular blog posts because it’s actionable and shows real results.

15. Make a Prediction

We’re not asking you to be the next Nostradamus (but there’s good money in it if you can), but you know your industry better than most, and you probably have a good idea where it’s headed.

That’s knowledge that a lot of your competitors might not have, and if you share a bit, it can go a long way toward establishing your authority in the space. And with authority comes an increased chance that people will turn to you when they need help, resulting in more leads.

16. Evaluate New Tools and Services

You’re probably trying out a lot of new tools and services all the time. Hubspot found that marketers average using 12 tools when doing their jobs, with many using way more.

If you’re doing this, why not share your experiences? Your readers will appreciate your expert opinions, the tool you’re using would probably appreciate it and it can keep your blog fresh.

17. Answering Your Customer’s Questions

You don’t even have to ask your own questions. Spend a little time on your social media, forums or blog to see what consumers are asking and turn those queries into articles.

Chatting with your sales and customer service teams to find out what questions they get asked most often is also a great source of topics. A side benefit to this is that by answering these questions with blog posts, you can create sales enablement content that your reps can share with their clients. This helps your reps and your customers.

ALSO – How To Write Blog Posts That Drive Results

Ideas, Ideas, Ideas

This list features some of our favorite methods for ideation, but it’s honestly not complete. There are many great ways to come up with article ideas that will resonate with your audience, but what’s important is that you find the ones that work for you and your business.

Any other ideation tactics you think we should include? Let us know in the comments!

Nissa Wallace

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Helping manage over 15,000 clients from over 80 countries, Nissa works with the customer success team at Crowd Content. Her goal is to help clients create unique and relevant content for their digital strategy. Originally from a small town in the mountains, Nissa moved to Vancouver Island to satisfy her curiosity about sociology, and complete her degree in it. When she takes a break from clients and content, Nissa spends time with her partner and her dog, Tickle. She also loves to embroider, paint and draw.

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