Every writer has been there: staring at a blank page, waiting for an idea to form. It can be a stressful and frustrating experience – especially if you’re writing to help grow your business.
SEO content is an incredibly powerful way to drive traffic and conversions to your website. But it can be difficult to know where to start if you’re not familiar with the process.
By stabbing in the dark with your ideas, and not paying attention to what your audience want to read, you could be left with content on your site that doesn’t attract traffic or nurture prospects into customers.
So how can you come up with ideas that actually have an impact on your business goals? In this content ideation guide, you’ll find methods for coming up with valuable and ultimately profitable topics, as well as a list of helpful tools to support you.
We’ve even enlisted the help of other SEO experts in the industry to share their top tips and advice. By the end, you’ll have a complete ideation toolkit, so you’re never left staring at a blank page again.
Here’s what’s included:
- What is content ideation?
- Setting goals for your SEO content
- Content ideation methods
- How to validate your content ideas
- Content ideation tools
But first, let’s explore what content ideation actually means.
What is Content Ideation?: Definition and Meaning
Content ideation is the process of coming up with ideas for content. It refers to sourcing and producing ideas that will add business value.
By this, we mean content that supports your business’ growth. For example, it may drive awareness, conversions, leads, develop your brand or attract high-quality backlinks.
How do you know what content that ‘adds value’ looks like? Well, first you need to set goals.
Setting Goals for Your SEO Content
Content produced as part of an SEO strategy is most effective when it has a clear purpose in mind. Otherwise, it may not be clear what action the user should take next.
Here are some goals you can set for your content:
- Brand awareness
- Free sign-ups (e.g. a newsletter)
Different types of content work better for different goals. Fun, light-hearted blogs that entertain your target audience are great for awareness and branding. But they might not convert your users (yet).
In contrast, how-to guides that solve your audience’s pain points might push them closer to a purchase, for example.
Your goal is your ‘north star’ that you should be aiming towards throughout the ideation process. Once you have this, you can validate your ideas by considering whether the content will help achieve this aim.
Now, it’s time to explore some methods for coming up with ideas, which will steer your content in the right direction.
6 Content Ideation Methods
1. Circles of Focus
One way to get your creative juices flowing is by using a framework. ‘Circles of Focus’ from Laura Hampton is a strategy that helps align content ideas with your business goals.
Content topics are broken down into three segments:
- The Tertiary segment contains topics that your audience are interested in more broadly. For example, a vegan dog food brand may write about top tips for training your dog.
- The Secondary segment contains topics that are slightly more relevant to your business offering. In this case, they may write about dog nutrition.
- Finally, the Core segment contains topics that are laser-focused on your business offering and target audience. Here, the brand may write about vegan diets for dogs.
The theory follows that topics in the Core segment are more likely to result in a conversion. This is because you’ll be attracting a smaller audience that will actually be interested in your products or services.
It all ties back to your content goals. If you’re wanting to drive awareness, topics in the Tertiary segment may get more eyeballs on your website. But if you’re looking for sales, ideas in the Core may be better aligned with your aims.
This framework is a great way to spark ideas. It helps direct your thinking towards topics that will drive business growth, and not those that will waste your time focusing on the wrong areas.
2. Newsjacking and Trends
One reactive technique for coming up with ideas is newsjacking. This is where you respond to trending topics in the news through your content.
For example, when Tiger King was popular in 2020, The SEO Works wrote a blog post about how Joe Exotic uses ‘black hat’ SEO techniques.
According to Maryia Fokina, a PR and Content Specialist at Tidio, this technique “will provide you with relevant PR, help you with link-building, and allow you to establish yourself as a trendsetter in a particular industry.”
This is because journalists are more likely to cover stories that reference a topic that’s currently trending, as it will lead to their article being shared more widely.
A guide to black hat SEO techniques is certainly useful. But attaching it to something like Tiger King is a great way to catch the reader’s eye.
This technique does require you to be aware of what’s happening in the news. Thankfully, there are tools and processes you can implement to stay on top of this.
Google Trends lets you see which topics are popular in your industry over time.
For example, you can see below that searches for ‘Tiger King’ peak in March 2020 when the series was released, and there has been a recent spike in interest due to the arrival of the second series on Netflix.
Type in relevant search terms for your industry, and see whether they are increasing or decreasing in popularity.
If a term is becoming more popular, this is a great time to create some content and capitalise on the increase in search demand.
There are other ways you can keep on top of industry news. Why not dedicate five minutes every day to browsing through relevant publications to see if there are any stories you can ‘newsjack’?
For example, if a brand-new study is published in your niche, you could write an article responding to this. This could then be turned into quotes for journalists to use in their articles, potentially leading to a backlink to your site.
Newsjacking is hard to ‘plan’ for. You can never anticipate what’s going to happen in the news, but it’s a valuable content ideation method for sourcing shareable ideas.
These reactive pieces of content do, however, have a shorter lifespan. If your goal is to create evergreen content alongside these, there are many other ideation methods you can use.
3. Competitor Analysis
If you’re drawing a blank when trying to come up with ideas, your competitors are a great place to start.
First, have a quick browse of their blog and see what types of content they’re creating. Are they focusing on reactive content, evergreen how-to guides, or something else entirely? This alone should give you some ideas for the kinds of content you could create.
Don’t take these ideas at face value, though. Even if they’re creating this content, it may not be successful in achieving their aims.
There are tools you can use to get a better idea of what actually drives organic traffic to their website. SEMrush’s ‘Organic Research’ tool is one example.
Say you run a crafting website and you’re competing with Hobbycraft. Put their blog URL into the tool, navigate to ‘Pages’, and you can see which posts attract the most traffic from search engines.
It’s important to note that this metric is only an estimation. We can never truly know how much traffic this blog receives without access to the website’s analytics. However, competitor data like this is still worth utilising as a rough guide for identifying which topics have the potential to bring users to your site.
As a result, you can replicate – and improve upon – the pages that are already working for your competitors.
If your aim is to attract backlinks, you can also use SEMrush’s backlinks analytics tool. Here, you can see which pages on the site attract the most backlinks.
If you find a particular content format is successful in gaining backlinks for them, you could take the format and put your own spin on it.
As Alice Wilks, Head of Digital PR at Fibre Marketing, puts it: “In terms of creative campaigns, we can find a lot of inspiration when we deep dive into the backlinks of industry leaders (not just direct competitors) of a client’s service or product and industry.
“Note which campaigns performed well, and the format of the content. Was it a case study, an infographic, a tool? Is your client able to offer the same, or even better, something of MORE value to their ideal audience?”
According to Darren Kingman, Founder of Root Digital, content ideation is all about answering an interesting question. In particular, “you’re looking for something that either hasn’t been answered before”, or existing content from competitors where the “methodology doesn’t provide a completely accurate answer.”
That’s why he launched a bank of digital PR case studies, which allows you to find existing campaigns to build upon or adapt for different industries.
Taking inspiration from similar websites and campaigns is great. However, don’t lose sight of what makes your product or service unique. In fact, your own audience can be a great source of inspiration.
4. Audience Pain Points
Businesses exist to solve problems. You sell products and services because there is a clear demand for them, and valuable content is another way to help your audience solve these problems too.
These ‘pain points’ are a great starting point in your content ideation process.
Say you launch a recipe box delivery service. One of the problems this service solves is that your customers don’t have a lot of time to cook.
They may already be searching for recipe boxes, but some of these people may not even be aware that this solution exists.
Instead, they may be searching for ‘quick recipe ideas’ or ‘easy recipes to cook in 15 minutes’.
By creating content that answers these queries, you can ease their pain points, and slowly introduce them to your products and services.
Scott Winstead, Founder of MyElearningWorld.com, has grown organic traffic to his site over a number of years. He recommends that you “drill down your target audience to as specific a persona as possible. If you go too broad, you’ll likely be competing with too much good content.”
“However, the more niche, the less competitive the keywords, and the more useful the content will be to your audience. This means they’re more likely to find it, read it, act on it, and share it.”
As part of your ideation process, write a list of your audience’s pain points. Then, think of ways you can help alleviate these issues with content.
If your product increases productivity, write a blog about useful productivity tools. If your product helps alleviate back pain at night, write a blog about the best positions to sleep in, for example.
This is a great starting point for any ideation session, as it means you’ll never lose sight of your readers’ needs and interests.
5. Keyword Research and SERP Analysis
The best content ideas for your website are audience-focused and data-driven.
In particular, keyword research is one of the most effective ways to use data to source new content ideas.
Using free tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner, you can discover keywords that people are searching for. Then, you can create content to answer these queries.
For example, if your website sells dog food, type ‘dog food’ into Keyword Planner. Here, you can see what people are searching for, alongside the average number of monthly searches and how competitive the keywords are.
Based on the keyword below, you could write a round-up style blog post listing all the human foods that are safe for dogs to eat. Since the keyword has a good amount of monthly searches and isn’t too competitive, it’s likely that if you create unique and quality content, you have the opportunity to attract organic traffic to the page.
*Note that it’s important to place this data in the context of your website. If your website is brand new, it may not have much authority, and you’ll struggle to rank for competitive terms. Be realistic and aim for low competition keywords if you’re just starting out.
Tools like Answer the Public are also very useful. If you type in a seed word, you can see the questions people ask about the topic in Google.
From a quick glance, we can see that ‘what dog food is best for puppies’ could be a valuable blog post to write.
These tools are a great starting point, but we also recommend analysing the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) before finalising your idea. To do this, simply type your keyword into Google and look at the top results.
Itamar Blauer, a freelance SEO Consultant, says: “When you look at the results on page one, check closely to see what kind of intent Google is determining to be the most relevant for the search query.”
“If you see consistencies, you should definitely follow suit to keep your content aligned with what Google thinks users want.”
Google has ranked these pages highly because they provide what the user is looking for. In other words, they’re doing something right that you can learn from.
If you have the keyword ‘Thai green curry recipe’ and all the top results are ‘Easy’ recipes, for example, it makes sense to follow suit, rather than publishing a more advanced tutorial.
Keyword research sparks ideas, whereas SERP analysis helps you understand the angle your content needs to take.
6. Social Listening and Social Media
SEO tools are just one way of sourcing content ideas. In addition, you can also turn to social media channels.
Your audience will likely be using social media to discuss trends in your industry. If people are talking about a particular topic a lot, then it makes sense to join in on the conversation.
There are tools you can use to keep on top of this. Sprout Social, Hootsuite and Synthesio all allow you to listen to what your audience is saying online.
You can also do this by bookmarking relevant hashtags and search terms. Check these links every day, week or month, depending on how much content you create.
Ask yourself: How many people are talking about the topic? Are the social media posts receiving a lot of engagement?
Focus on these high-value topics and react quickly if you can. Otherwise, the conversation may have moved on before you post your contribution.
If you have a social media team, it’s worth collaborating with them too. Ask them to pass on topics, trends and conversations that they notice are popular in the industry. This will give you a steady stream of inspiration for content ideas for your website too.
Remember, though, that content which aims to rank and generate traffic must be designed for search engines. Just because a topic is popular on social media doesn’t mean that it will help you achieve your SEO goals.
Before finalising an idea, it’s best practice to validate it first, so you can be more confident that the content will be worthwhile.
How to Validate Your SEO Content Ideas
You don’t want to waste hours of your time creating SEO content that won’t add value to your business. To avoid falling into this trap, make sure you validate your ideas first before you start writing.
Here are three key things to check during the content ideation process:
1. Does the idea align with your goals?
Everything you do should tie back to your original goals. Are you aiming for awareness, leads, conversions, backlinks?
There are endless possibilities when it comes to generating content ideas. However, you want to focus on ideas that will actually make a difference to your traffic and revenue.
If your content is laser-focused on your goals, you’ll see a greater return on the time you’ve invested.
2. Is the idea relevant to your audience?
Your audience should be at the heart of your content strategy. Ultimately, you need to make sure the right people read your content, so they have a higher chance of converting into customers in the long-term.
Think about your audience and their pain points. Will this content help solve their problems? What value does it add to them? Is it useful, interesting or inspiring?
If you attract the right kind of person, they’ll be more likely to share and engage with it.
3. Do you have data to justify the idea?
For content designed to improve your visibility in search results, you need to be sure that your idea will positively impact your organic performance. The kinds of data you can draw upon include:
- Keyword search volume
- Keyword competition score
- Estimated organic traffic
- Number of backlinks to competitor pages/similar case studies
If you have data to back up your ideas, you can be more confident that they’ll actually work. By validating your ideas in this way, you can discard ideas that are unlikely to result in SEO growth, and focus on topics that will actually impact your outcomes.
Content Ideation Tools
Throughout your content ideation process, there are tools that can help you make informed, data-driven decisions, such as:
- Google Keyword Planner: discover keyword ideas, the average number of monthly searches, how competitive the queries are and the seasonality of certain keywords.
- SEMrush: learn what kind of content attracts organic traffic and backlinks for your competitors.
- Google Trends: see what topics are trending in your niche.
- Answer the Public: type in a seed topic to learn what questions people ask in Google.
- Hootsuite/Synthesio/Sprout Social: listen to what your audience is talking about on social media.
Content ideation can be a time-consuming process. But with the methods and tools above, you now have a toolkit to find audience-focused, goal-aligned and data-driven ideas.
Need more help devising a content strategy?
The SEO Works is made up of a team of SEO experts who are experienced in producing content that adds business value to our clients.
Liam is an SEO Team Leader with a background in journalism. They’re passionate about E-A-T, ethical SEO and devising content strategies that get clients results.