Blog content ideas: How to generate ideas when the tank is empty

Content marketing can be wildly effective, particularly if you know how to come up with blog content ideas that people will swoon over. Even as an under-the-radar local business you would be surprised how much traffic you can generate by writing quality content. As part of our dental SEO work for one small dental practice, we were able to achieve the following organic traffic spike, mainly from content marketing. Yes, that’s a 900% increase in traffic from September to May.

content marketing organic traffic

What do you do when it’s not that easy?

To be fair, we do content marketing for a living, so the results you see above aren’t terribly unusual for us. That said, we’re not immune to hitting a doldrum of ideas. Even with a pile of the industry’s best tools at our disposal, sometimes it can be really difficult to come up with a new topic that’s worth the time for both you and your audience. But before we get too far into it, let’s talk about some things that make for a worthwhile blog post.

“Don’t just write to f&$*ing write!”

Imagine that said in Gordon Ramsey’s voice. Before you get Ramsey-level apoplectic by having spent hundreds of hours writing useless content, you better have some goals in mind for blogging. Those goals will help you decide what kind of content you want to make. Otherwise, you’re just flinging poo at the wall.

Some sensible goals for blog posts:

  • Generate social media traffic (or even going viral if you want to dream big)
  • Generate search engine traffic
  • Create topical authority (and use this for internal linking/topic clusters)

Full transparency here, my goal for this is primarily to generate some search traffic around the many long tail keywords related to blogging ideas and also creating some more topical authority around content marketing and dental SEO for internal linking. We’ll see how it performs, I suppose…

The goods: how to be your own blog idea generator

Over the course of time, I’ve developed a handful of tactics that have served me well when I’m in a rut for niche content ideas. And in all honesty, some niches are exceptionally difficult. I’ll share some ideas on how to think a little outside the box after I run down my trusty list.

Find questions on Quora and answer them

If you’re not familiar with Quora, it’s basically an open platform for Q&A for anything you can think of. If you don’t have fancy SEO tools, you can still sift through Quora to find some questions that people have about your products or services and provide answers on your upcoming post(s). Using a little Google advanced search operator magic, Google can help you find some popular questions around your subject. And don’t just read the headlines, check out the answers and discussions – these often lead to even more interesting topics and questions that you can use as topics. I would recommend using the site: search function and then your specific topic in parentheses to find pages on quora discussing your topic.

So, let’s say you’re a small communications company that creates direct mail. I would perform a search like the one below to see what topics on Quora involved direct mail.

quora site search

This search will return results from Google’s database only for the Quora site, and will only include pages that specifically mention direct mail. And the results? Jackpot! All four of these questions below are deserving of an answer long enough to be their own blog post. Bonus points if the question is still allowing comments or answers, and if so, you can write up a short explanation and drop a link to your longer answer in your blog post to pull in some more referral traffic to your site.

quora direct mail questions

Talk to someone unfamiliar with what you do

It’s easy to lose perspective when you work on one thing or in one area for too long. Many of us have been there. Everyone at the office speaks the same language. If you’re in a mature industry, there are very few “wow” types of innovations that get your customers whipped up into a frenzy. These are the times that it seems to be impossible to do content marketing.

However, you might be surprised by just how fresh your business can seem when you talk to an inquisitive person who really doesn’t know the inner workings of your industry. I brought up direct mail earlier because we’ve had several clients in that space. To them, everything had been said before – and they’d already blogged about it. But I had all kinds of questions for them. The more I asked, the more they realized how much untapped potential they had. Some questions I tossed out at them:

  • Do you do direct mail in braille?
  • Do businesses do their own DIY direct mail? If so, what are the pros and cons?
  • What times of year are best and worst for direct mail campaigns?
  • How do you run an eco-friendly direct mail campaign?

I unknowingly became my own test case for this strategy, but I’ve used this on a few occasions by seeking out inquisitive people I know and sparking up a conversation. You’d be surprised just how effective this can be.

Use Twitter advanced search

If you want to create some timely content, Twitter is the place to go. But what many people don’t know is that Twitter offers an advanced search feature that not only lets you find people tweeting about a topic, but also lets you filter by shares and likes – so you can see what’s creating a buzz around your topic. What you need to do is run a search on Twitter, and then you’ll notice the three dots to the right of your search box, and you’ll get a few options as you can see below.

twitter advanced search

Once you pick Advanced search you’ll see options for customizing your search by keywords, accounts, hashtags, replies vs. original tweets, and tweets with links. The real power, however, comes from engagement and date filters. When I specified a minimum of 20 retweets for my direct mail search, I found a lot of popular tweets about how political campaigns have been using direct mail.

twitter advanced search options

Now, there’s another timely and interesting topic to blog about. Heck, if you really want to get creative, you can set the dates back to prior election seasons and create a curated list of political races that were heavily influenced by direct mail – and then throw in your two cents for good measure. That’s the sort of thing that could get some legs on social media when politics are in the news!

Outside the box ideas: Don’t make it about you…at least not initially

There are just some industries that are so niche that no one is going to look for content specifically about them. You could try my suggested methods above and you’ll find that there are few, if any, results. Your company might produce a niche product that is an accessory to another niche product, or it’s a service so new that no one even knows the name of it. What do you do in these cases?

To me, this is when it’s vital to take your blog posts in a new direction. Rather than being focused on your product or service, you need to focus the thrust of the blog on your target customers. While your target customer likely wouldn’t know about your product or service – they likely do think about the end product it is designed to work with or the problem that your service helps to solve. Think of this as the reverse of the “Intel inside” approach.

For those who are too young to remember it, Intel took the novel approach of marketing their microchips in the 1990s to build their brand. Historically, consumers never much cared for what was inside their PC, only the name on the outside. But Intel aggressively marketed the performance of their product claiming it gave a better experience, and they built market share by forcing manufacturers to buy their product as consumers began to demand that Intel chips be in their PCs.

Of course, you probably don’t have a marketing budget for a national TV campaign, so if you’re Intel in this situation, you need to be talking to the PC owners. Taking this situation from the early 1990s to today, my reverse engineered approach would be to do content marketing built around the problems people might be having with substandard microchips in their PCs. You lure people in by answering a question that they don’t even know relates to what you do, and then you integrate it into the conversation. So, using this example, you could come up with all sorts of interesting ideas such as:

  • How do I know if my computer will run Lotus Notes? (Microsoft Word before there was Microsoft Word)
  • What makes a faster/more stable/better PC?
  • Why does my computer keep crashing?
  • How do I know if a PC will be good for playing video games?
  • What hardware should a PC have to use the internet?

These sorts of questions would certainly have generated interest among people looking to shop for a PC – EXACTLY our target market. While you talked through the ins and outs of Lotus Notes, you have the opportunity to seamlessly segue into how an Intel microchip provides the type of horsepower necessary to make sure your report doesn’t get deleted because the program crashed.

Need more ideas?

Try as I might, I only have so many ideas to share. Fortunately, there are other folks who have put together posts on this topic as well. Here are a few other links you might find handy if this post hasn’t quite quenched your thirst for blog post ideas.

Have your own ideas? Share them below!

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Adam Henige

Adam Henige is Managing Partner of Netvantage Marketing. Adam heads the SEO and link building efforts for Netvantage and has been a contributing blogger for industry publications like Search Engine Journal and Moz.

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