Rand Fishkin wrote up a post recently about this topic – based largely on an excellent Ted talk by Kirby Ferguson, titled Embrace the Remix.

While we may not want to think that way at first – after all we want to think differently and create something new – what we are actually doing is taking an idea and giving our own angle and opinion for an audience.

How do we come up with creative content?

And how can you figure out what readers don’t know already? I’m not sure you can figure this out 100% – even if someone has written about something very similar before, it doesn’t mean your audience has read it.

And it also doesn’t mean that you can’t share your own experiences, key findings and opinions on a particular subject either.

Here’s some steps I would take for content ideation and planning:

1. Keyword research tools lack the creativity you need for great content

Let’s start with a common misconception I’ve found is that many people just assume that content strategy is just keyword research. It’s not! Keyword research lacks the creativity that you really need for outstanding content.

If no-one’s ever searched for your idea before and it has a low search volume, that’s probably a good thing – so if you use it, flip it on it’s head. Look for content that people aren’t looking for, and show them something new instead.

A keyword research tool just isn’t going to give you content ideas like this!

From an SEO perspective – it’s obviously important to consider keywords. But in order to create the best possible content to resonate with you audience, it’s really not. Aim to make an impact and you’ll generate lots of online attention and great links. If you can do a good job on that, SEO should be the easy part!

2. Talk to your team/clients

You want to find out what information and data you already have that’s unique and interesting. You might have to dig deep on this, but we often find that clients don’t always realise information they own exists – and they certainly don’t always realise it can be used for marketing purposes.

This is where you can really make your content unique, when you use your own data and research – take the Econsultancy/Outbrain content marketing survey results as an example. You can present data and information that is new and hasn’t been seen before.

And you’re the original source – so everyone is going to credit you for it when it’s shared. That’s perfect – you’ll letting your content naturally do it’s own outreach!

3) What types of content can fit into your content initiative?

Just because you’ve done some great research and turned it into a really useful infographic, that doesn’t mean you have to leave it there.

Why not think of additional ways you can use this content and share with different audiences – for example:

  • Blog posts/articles.
  • HTML5 interactive content.
  • Kinetic typography videos.
  • Socially targeted infograms.
  • etc…

There’s more than one way to get your message across, so if you’ve already put the hours and days into research – why shouldn’t you maximise the promotion too, by looking into different content opportunities and spreading your message to wider audiences.

4. Analytics: find the content that resonates

This is the most obvious one by far, but it’s surprising how many people generate new content, without really paying attention to what your audience likes and really resonates with them. It’s amazing what you’ll find out just from 10 minutes of digging around.

I often find that when I think I’ve written by best content, it sometimes doesn’t always get the attention or interaction I expected once published. And alternatively, I’d often write very
quick posts that I don’t really have high expectations for – I just expected it to be useful for a small audience – and those are the ones that quite often outperform the content that took several hours or days to create!

It’s a huge waste to have one really successful piece of content and to not learn anything about why this worked so well. Likewise, what content doesn’t work so well – so that you don’t make the same mistakes again.

5. Focus on making just one reader happy

Ask your audience what they want to know – it’s a very easy way of giving readers what they want.

And pay particular attention to the individual and less common answers. This might sound like an odd piece of advice – but rather than trying to please everyone (which you rarely can!), I often find that some of best previous posts have actually been largely driven by email responses to client questions.

At worst, I know when I’m writing a response that it should help out this one person. But normally you’ll find that if one person is asking this question, there’s probably a much larger number who are trying to tackle the same issue.

6. Do, Know, Go

I wrote up this process recently – but it’s a very simple way of looking to ensure that you are giving readers what they want – so that they can find you through search. Whether that’s informational, transactional or branded content – it doesn’t matter, you make sure you can cater for everything during that journey.

7. Set clear timescales and goals on brainstorming

It can be easy to try and do a quick job on this and then focus on developing content – but the brainstorming and ideation phase really shouldn’t be overlooked. If you’ve got weak content idea – you’re always going to struggle to make a serious impact, no matter how good the execution is. So make sure you give this the attention it deserves.

You don’t even have to brainstorm together as a team – that helps, but if you can’t all get to be in a room at the same time – that’s not an excuse. There’s lots of different ways you can ideate – how you do it isn’t important. Actually making sure you do it is – so make sure you set timescales and clear goals and then stick to it!

8. Use Tools

Brainstorm ideas and manage content processes by using tools such as:

  1. Trello – managing and collaborating brainstorms with teams.
  2. Basecamp – for sharing ideas as a team.
  3. Google Drive – collaborating and adding comments to ideation documents.
  4. UberSuggest – generating different keyword ideas around content.
  5. WordTracker Questions Tool – find common questions you can answer.

9. Use your brain

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that despite the above, this is your best tool:

Most importantly you really think about what you (or your client) are looking to achieve.

10. Find popular content ideas via social media

I often find that the best ideas are trigged by simliar ideas which you’ve seen work well in the past.

So think of what content you’ve seen shared recently on social sites.

Spend time searching for top content on:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Tweetmeme
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Relevant blogs
  • Niche social media sites

Based on this research you can really popular content and start to generate some great ideas for your own content. Plus you know that if well-executed, with a good angle – this should resonate with social audiences, which always helps to build confidence in your ideas when that is one of your main promotional targets.


There’s lots of ways you can think of content ideas – it just takes a bit of thought, but it’s well worth the effort. I’d be interested to hear in the comments how you approach this?