Blogging doesn’t come easy. A lot of effort goes into coming up with ideas each day and spinning them out into useful articles for our lovely readers.
Some days are certainly harder than others and everyone suffers from writer’s block every now and then.
To help other bloggers through those dark times, I’ve come up with 14 places to look for inspiration when you’ve got a blank page in front of you and a looming deadline.
There are undoubtedly other tricks of the trade that I’ve neglected to mention, so please share your own sources of inspiration in the comments.
And for more information on this topic check out my articles detailing what I’ve learned from writing more than 1,000 blog posts, as well as my 10 tips for writing bitchin’ headlines...
What are people sharing?
Every industry has its own set of influencers and minor celebrities who have sufficient clout to steer the agenda for conversation and highlight important trends.
How you go about identifying these influencers is something we’ve covered in a separate blog post, so I won’t go into detail here.
But once you know who the celebs are in your industry then you can keep track of the kind of blogs and articles they’re sharing, then tailor a few of your own blog posts accordingly.
That’s not to say that you should just cover what the influencers deem to be important, but it is another useful way of discovering hot topics.
What are competitors writing about?
You don’t become an expert simply by re-reading and admiring your own articles, so in order to stay on top of what’s going on in your industry one obviously needs to read other blogs and publications.
This is an important part of educating yourself but is also a good way of finding inspiration for blog posts.
I don’t mean blatantly ripping off other people’s ideas, but it’s inevitable that as you read about a particular topic you’ll think of different angles and ways of covering the subject that will be of interest for your own audience.
Similarly, if you notice that all of your competitors are consistently writing about a particular topic area that you aren’t covering, it might be good idea to write a few blogs on that subject to see if you’re missing out on a traffic gold mine.
Annual events and holidays
Holidays and national celebrations are a quick win when it comes to blogging, as there is always some sort of roundup that can be written to coincide with seasonal events.
For example, at Econsultancy there are any number of blogs we can spin out of Christmas – traffic statistics, predicted increases in online spending, how retailers are preparing for Christmas, email marketing promotions, etc.
Then we can recycle those ideas when it comes to Black Friday, Halloween or the New Year sales.
But whatever industry you’re writing about, there are hundreds of ways of using annual events as a jump off for blog posts.
What haven’t you covered in a while?
You’ll probably be amazed to read this, but often bloggers will reuse old ideas when writing posts.
I know, it’s flabbergasting, but the truth of the matter is that it’s sometimes necessary to dig out one of the old classics and give it a new lick of paint.
But these are often times the blogs that prove to be the most popular and useful for readers.
If you leave it at least six months to a year before you revisit an old idea then it’s almost certain that there will be new case studies, examples and ideas that you can call on to refresh the content and give it a new slant.
Obviously rehashing an idea using the same content but slightly reworded is definitely something you shouldn’t be doing – unless you work for the Daily Mail, where anything goes...
Check your analytics
All bloggers should keep one eye on their analytics in order to track both their traffic and how visitors are using the site.
This is important for keeping on top of how the site is performing, but is also a great way of identifying emerging trends and popular topics for blog content.
Last year at Econsultancy we discovered that our readers were particularly interested in the new EU cookie law, so in response we wrote a series of popular blog posts and a guide to compliance for our subscribers.
Use online forums
Sites such as Quora and Reddit are a decent source for uncovering inspiration for blog posts.
There are a huge range of subreddits and Quora topics, so it should be possible to find one that’s relevant to your industry. Often the questions posed in Quora can be used as the headline for a blog post, then you just take it from there.
Regular features serve two purposes:
- It creates a recurring format that should be easy to reproduce.
- If you come up with an interesting and relevant idea for a regular feature, then it helps to create a loyal audience.
The key is to come up with a format that is easily repeatable and that can be created on an ongoing basis. By this I mean that you should be able to save up the content during the preceding week or month then just quickly collate it into a blog post shortly before publication.
‘Newsjacking’ has proven to be one of the year’s most popular buzzwords, so it’s likely that you’ve heard it before at some stage.
It has something of a bad name as brands often try to gain cheap PR wins off the back of events that are better left alone. For example, we received some rather grim Nelson Mandela-related press releases just last week.
However, if it’s done in way that is genuinely relevant to your industry and doesn’t attempt to take advantage of a tragic event, then newsjacking can prove to be an excellent way of coming up with blog content.
Back in January department store John Lewis announced that its online sales had increased by 44% year-on-year. This is obviously big news that is absolutely relevant to Econsultancy’s readership, so I put together a post looking at the reasons behind John Lewis’ strong performance.
The combination of a strong news story, good timing, a list post and bit of luck meant that it proved to a very popular article.
Spotting the opportunities in single stats
A majority of the press releases that we receive at Econsultancy are completely useless and poorly targeted, and those that are relevant often don’t include enough information to make it worthy of a blog post.
However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use a bit of creativity and spin out an article using additional sources.
If a press release contains just a single interesting stat then that can be used as the starting point for an article that then takes in information from other sources or previous blog posts, alongside relevant examples or case studies.
It’s about being creative and finding opportunities to spin articles out of seemingly irrelevant press releases.
What are people asking you about?
From time to time I will get asked a question about digital marketing by a friend, colleague or someone on Twitter.
This can then be something that’s used as a jump off point for a blog post or article, particularly if you have to do some reading to find out the answer.
To use a real life example, a friend recently asked if I could send over some blog posts about the use of ‘nofollow’ tags in SEO.
@DavidMoth Ha, well done. Just some standard stuff I can share explaining nofollow links and the (lack of) value of FB for SEO?— Lucy Coleman (@LucheColeman) December 4, 2013
I obviously wanted to oblige, but was quite embarrassed to find that we hadn’t covered this topic recently so I had to forward over articles published on other marketing blogs.
This obviously wasn’t good enough, so I’ve now rectified the situation by writing a post on why nofollow tags are useful for SEO.
The lesson here is that even everyday conversations, combined with a healthy dose of professional shame, can lead to blog ideas.
Use major brands as a case study
Celebrities and major brands are sure-fire traffic winners, so it’s a good idea to include them in articles wherever possible.
This helps to contextualise the topic for your audience and also draws on their celebrity star power to help grab attention.
So for example, when our own Andrew Warren-Payne decided to put together a post about interesting digital marketing campaigns he focused on McDonald’s to give it a bit of extra glitz and glamour. This led to a hugely popular post which McDonald’s even linked to from its homepage.
Due to the success of that post we subsequently turned it into a recurring feature, which links back to one of my previous points.
A similar thing happened with my series of posts looking at how major brands use the four main social networks. It began as one article focusing on Walmart’s social strategy, but our readers liked the format, so it turned into a regular post that ran for more than 30 weeks.
In summary, if you’re stuck for ideas then shining a light on celebs and major brands is always going to help pick up some traffic.
Tune into Twitter chats
Twitter chats seem to becoming more popular recently, certainly as far as celebrity Q&As are concerned.
But there are also a number of industry-specific Twitter chats that are worth tuning in to for content inspiration.
At Econsultancy we often host our own Q&As where we invite our followers to ask questions on digital marketing and ecommerce, which is primarily an audience engagement tactic but also leads to some interesting ideas for blog posts.
I’m not suggesting that you should host your own Q&As (I fear that #AskMothra would not be a roaring success), but try to find one in your own industry and get involved.
Compile lists that show a trend
As mentioned we receive a huge amount of press releases and case studies at Econsultancy, and often they aren’t quite enough to warrant a blog post on their own despite being of relevance to our audience.
A useful trick is to create email folders where these can be tucked away for future reference, so that when you have four or five studies on the same topic you can write a trends post highlighting these examples. It’s easy to bulk up the list by trawling the web for similar case studies.
This can also be done with blog posts that you’ve already published. So for example, if we’ve written up several reports over the space of a few months that show a trend or support a specific idea, then it’s easy to write one final post pointing to all the other articles and summarising the main findings.
Use yourself as a case study
In general some of our most popular and useful blog posts are those where brands or marketers allow themselves to be used as a case study and give an honest appraisal of what they’ve learned.
Marketing blogs and conferences are full of people preaching about what should be done, so it’s refreshing when people open up about something that they’ve actually tried as part of their job and reveal the mistakes that were made as well as talking about the successes.
And this includes revealing the specific data, rather than just giving a vague outline.
At Econsultancy we often reveal data from our own marketing efforts - here Matt Owen talks about the problems we have with measuring social traffic using Google Analytics - as we know that it’s useful for other people to learn from and it also creates some interesting discussion.
Similarly, one of our most popular interviews from this year was with B&Q’s director of omnichannel Michael Durbridge, who was kind enough to give some real insights into the brand's multichannel strategy and its plans for the future.
The same tactic can be used in any industry, not just digital marketing and ecommerce. People like to read about real life experiences, so use your own day-to-day role as inspiration for blog posts (like I’ve just done).