Plan, Collect, Iterate

How to Generate Content Topic Ideas (23 Tips for Headline Inspiration)

One of the most frequent questions I receive when it comes to marketing is:

“How do you come up with so many ideas over the past few years across so many channels?”

The truth is, I get help—thanks to my team at Growth Shuttle following the processes we’ve established years ago especially on the social front as we maintain an omni-channel approach toward covering a number of segments.

In practice, I’ve been blogging for the past 13 years, own nearly a dozen sites in different verticals, co-authored a technical book back in 2008, issued my own Entrepreneurship book, and manage multiple social media accounts with tens of thousands of followers—all while running DevriX, a top 20 WordPress agency.

Many of the resources on my blog here (which I started 3 years ago) have been referenced and even taught at 15+ universities across North America, Europe, and Asia—and I keep growing the content database steadily over time.

Here’s the practical yet diverse framework I use to generate topic and headline ideas on a consistent basis.

Content Topic Ideas

1. Revise Your Target Audience

You can’t run a successful blog unless you focus on the most important aspect of building a following: your target audience.

Defining a Buyer Persona is the first step to organizing your blog content. Start with two to three audiences that resemble your ideal reader and focus your attention on them, exclusively.

Don’t be afraid to dive deeper into their habits or personality traits. Your blog can be shaped in numerous ways, including the tone of voice, the content format, and the length of content pieces your visitors are used to consuming whether images or video embeds. These would make a real difference.

Use the persona template from the source above and you’ll get a clear perspective on the best approach to target your ideal audience.

2. Gather the Top 10 Problems Your Audience Struggles With

Audience Relevance

Once the buyer personas are defined, jump into brainstorming mode (if you haven’t already).

What are the biggest pain points your audience struggles with?

  • Web agency clients may need a secure website that doesn’t break, a lead generation machine for their business, a cheap solution that gets the job done, or a long-term vendor that takes care of maintenance.
  • Yoga-relevant blogs targeting 45-year-old women may revise the starter kit to practicing yoga at home, asanas for back pain, post-pregnancy positions for stronger core or losing belly fat, or spiritual and wellbeing practices to encompass weekly exercises.
  • Marketing coaches may delve into quick but powerful ways to generate more traffic, practical tools to automate social media posts, actionable blueprints for running email marketing campaigns, and PPC channels that convert leads at affordable costs.

Sit down and think about the most common problems your prospects face that have a direct impact on what they fear like losing revenue or reputation, gaining excessive weight, procrastinating, and dealing with panic attacks—whatever your blog would be most suited to help with in a way that makes real impact.

Interview your prospects if possible. Contact the people you know who fit the bucket and poll them quickly.

3. Define the Key Categories

Once you’ve analyzed the main problems, prepare an actionable structure that would fit the first 100 posts or so.

An Instagram marketing blog may revolve around:

  • Growing Followers
  • Converting Fans to Buyers
  • Establishing a Brand 
  • Introducing a Product Innovation (new features like Carousels or Reels)
  • Posting Viral Content Ideas

Your categories would be the starting point for content ideation over time—and the beginning of creating your pillar content later on.

If your current setup looks chaotic, think about organizing your existing articles around categories that make the most sense. This way, you’ll be able to provide relevant content that decreases your bounce rate and leads people through the different stages of the marketing funnel.

4. Look Up Google Search Console

Unless you’re starting from scratch, you probably have a Google Search Console property set. It’s the most reliable way to discover keyword ranking for your content pieces and unlock opportunities for new keywords to target.

Here’s what the keyword profile of this blog looks like now:

top ranking keywords for mariopeshev.com

Expanding upon existing topics is a great way to provide additional context to your readers, morph your top ranking pieces into “ultimate guides”, and reference any existing topics that would benefit your readers.

Since “business problems” generates a large number of clicks here, we can supplement it with:

  • 12 Ways to Effectively Document Problems and Create Sustainable Processes
  • 15 Dashboard Monitoring Tools for Problem Escalation and Mitigation
  • The Most Effective Operations Responsibilities For Reducing the Impact on Work-Related Problems

As for “digital consultant”, assuming that our audience is looking for a consultant to support their business:

  • 14 Reasons to Schedule Your First Call with a Digital Consultant
  • The Actionable Guide to Finding a Long-Term Consultant for Internet Marketing Activities
  • Revenue, Branding, Recruitment: How to Employ Consulting and Skyrocket Your Business

Apply the first technique on a smaller scale based on what you currently rank for, then cross-link it across your top pieces (and back), and your traffic will flow through your content database.

5. Create a Competitors List

Before taking on a new customer (in my agency business or my consultancy), one of the first question that pops up is:

Who are your competitors?

Apart from the buyer persona, your competitors are the next group of businesses you need to pay attention to.

Not only do they serve the same target customers, but there’s a lot to learn by the way they deliver the brand strategy, convey the vision through user experience, provide different content topics that get the job done, and offer training courses, products, or services you can gather inspiration from. You can also dive deep down into how they run social media or email marketing campaigns.

Create a competitor list based on the keywords you rank for, events they speak at, books they’ve authored, social groups they participate in, or paid ads you stumble upon in your field.

6. Run a Competitor Research for Pages

Know what works for your competitors, especially the big ones that have somehow already figured out how to navigate blogging for business.

Semrush is a great tool for running a competitor research, particularly in examining different pages. One important feature is the Organic Research that allows you to examine every URL from a domain that is part of the top 100 rankings of the database of that domain.

Let’s examine the screenshots below of the pages of http://hbr.org/ and  https://neilpatel.com/—respectively.

HBR.org Pages Report
NeilPatel.com Pages Report

Each Pages report shows a table listing all the URLs belonging to the above-mentioned URLs, along with the following information:

  • traffic and traffic percentage
  • the number of keywords that the page is ranking for at the moment
  • advertising keywords that points to the URL
  • the number of backlinks

By analyzing the pages of the list of competitors you have gathered, you can extract information that will not only help you generate content topic ideas but will also help you make tactical decisions as to which topics or titles work.

7. Generate a Competitor Research for Target Keywords

As discussed earlier, the key to running a successful blog is identifying your target audience. Knowing what problems they are facing is critical in determining their values and interests.

You want to write about content topics that respond to the user queries and provide solutions to the problems of your target audience.

Keyword research is a great strategy in pinpointing what your target market is looking for. 

There are several tools that you can use in conducting keywords research—free and paid.

Among these options is the highly-rated keyword tool, Ubersuggest by Neil Patel.

Ubersuggest is a great tool in reverse-engineering the content of your competitors. You can find the keywords they are using and other related keywords ideas for more content ideas.

Let’s take a look at the screenshot below showcasing the keywords of the https://smallbiztrends.com/ domain that have 9-10k monthly searches.

smallbiztrends.com keywords ranking 9-10k monthly searches

The information displayed include the following:

  • Organic keywords – The number of keywords that the domain ranks for in organic search
  • Search Volume – The number of monthly searches corresponding to the keyword 
  • Position – The position of the URL in the Google search results pages
  • Estimated Monthly Visits – The estimated monthly traffic from Google
  • Search Difficulty – The estimated competition of the keyword in organic search

If you are aiming to rank organically which is what leads to a higher click-through rate, then you must gather what keywords to target and these insights to guide you through choosing the right keywords.

Once you have a collection of targeted keywords, it will be easier to come up with not just any topic—but topics that will most likely rank well.

8. Find Relevant Quora Topics and Subreddits

Fifteen years ago, forums were the holy grail of connecting with like-minded people on topics you are passionate about.

I was a regular member of multiple forums on tech and marketing, alternative metal, neuro-linguistic programming, and freerun (dating back to my interests at the time).

With the inception of social media and groups, forums are nearly non-existent now, even though they may still work for certain topics.

Quora and Reddit are the two generalist networking forums that gather hundreds of thousands of topics and subreddits.

If you look up business coaching in Quora, here’s what the topic list would suggest back once you select the relevant topic and click the Answer tab:

Business Coaching topics looking for answer

Readers are looking for insights on the purpose of business coaching for entrepreneurs and what goals they serve, along with the struggle of finding a coach in the endless pool of online scams nowadays.

Writing relevant content on your blog that busts the myths and conveys credibility is a great way to target prospects and convert them over time.

If you target freelancers and check out r/freelance, you’ll discover topics that your audience deals with:

r/freelance topic ideas

You can respectively write a few pieces on:

  • How to deliver bespoke services that can’t be automated
  • How to ace your very first project (and get a glowing testimonial)
  • Filtering out toxic clients: the A to Z guide

9. Browse Twitter Hashtags

Twitter gathers over 300 million users together and tends to be the go-to place for posting content across the board.

Collecting ideas across reputable profiles—or in this case, hashtags—is a great way to push forward.

Fire up Twitter and type in #emailmarketing (or a hashtag that corresponds with your ideal core topics). Here are some samples tweets that you’ll stumble upon:

Use the top-ranking stories as an inspiration to other relevant content pieces you can author (and later on share on social media for some extra boost).

10. Join Niche Facebook Groups

Facebook groups can be a powerful instrument if you can find a small yet strong community that doesn’t blast tons of spam.

LinkedIn is my preferred social network, but be careful with community groups as they are never monitored and traditionally used for loads of spam.

Facebook looks the same when it comes to large public groups with tens of thousands of followers. However, smaller communities with up to 500 people are often well-behaved and spark intriguing discussions that your blog can benefit from.

Look into networking groups in your area that may gather on Facebook as well, or search for targeted niche keywords (and apply accordingly).

11. Dive Deep in BuzzSumo

BuzzSumo is one of my favorite tools when it comes to content marketing ideas.

Its free version is limited, although you can still get some insights from it. But here are a couple of tools within BuzzSumo you can use further if you’re into this.

What if you look up Content -> Web and search for “social media strategy”?

BuzzSumo social media strategy

One of BuzzSumo’s key benefits is compiling content based on social shares. As a result, not only you get credible content that generates a lot of traction across social media, but you’ll explore some newsworthy stories that may shift your perspective in a completely different way.

The first story about extremists gives a different angle that compares strategy to a dangerous group of people with limited channels to react through. While you must avoid similar groups for obvious reasons, think about relating your key work to lessons learned from movies or books, or how top actors or athletes employ a given strategy in their day-to-day.

Name-dropping does wonders, and coming up with a unique topic may spark the viral effect you are looking for.

The last piece below reviews social media tips for the travel industry. If your content is too broad, think about differentiation based on your buyer personas and writing more in-depth content for specific verticals or industries. This is a great way to build your following with tactical advice that’s entirely related to what they face at work.

Another key tool BuzzSumo provides is Topics. Click Features -> Content Discovery and look for something like “digital consulting” (which I rank for on top with this blog):

digital consulting – topic suggestions from BuzzSumo

The tool provides groups of topics (clusters) with corresponding headline ideas you can use right away. Some of the core topics may relate to your audience directly or specific problems they face (that you should cover accordingly).

“Digital transformation” is a trendy topic in the enterprise field.

Mentioning Deloitte and Accenture gives you some key insights into how the leading consulting companies serve enterprises and how you can tap into this same field and translate it to your target audience.

12. Expand Ideas Through Answer the Public

Another extraordinary tool—being free on top of that—is Answer the Public.

It’s the go-to place for content marketers looking to expand on a very specific topic. Once you know your key categories defined in the third chapter of this guide, type them in and discover some actionable topic ideas you can start drafting right away.

For instance, here’s what comes up when you look for “content marketing”:

Answer the Public – content marketing

There are several graphs that pop up, so spend the time to study them carefully. Here are some of the actionable topic ideas that the tool generates (and you can leverage if you’re gathering ideas in this segment):

  • How content marketing is changing the game
  • How content marketing will change in 2021
  • Is content marketing the best/effective/changing
  • Are content marketing and content strategy the same
  • How content marketing drives sales
  • Which content marketing is best
  • Which content marketing tools
  • Why content marketing is important for B2B

There are tons of ideas you can develop from the starter kit that Answer the Public provides!

13. Add a Poll On Your Website

Polls are a great way to connect with your audience especially as you start to generate some traffic from anonymous channels (organic, paid, or social).

You can use tools like HotJar to integrate a poll inside of your website and ask your visitors about specific problems they’re facing at the time. You can get creative and update polls weekly (or bi-weekly) to test out different strategies or topics they may be interested in.

Some chatbots also offer polls that are more sophisticated, including walking visitors through multiple steps and providing unique recommendations based on the answers. In this way, you can qualify your visitors and directly connect with the right readers at the time of engagement.

My current poll question is a little different and looks like this:

My current poll refines the audience

I wanted to validate my buyer persona definition and this poll delivered to its promise. However, when testing it out, I discovered something else: professors are one of the active audiences looking for support materials for their curriculum, which is why I was able to connect with universities using my resources as recommended content.

MBA students are frequently browsing my business topics and there’s a chunk of traffic coming from Moodles across the board. So this opens new opportunities for talent about to graduate in the next year or two.

14. Run Social Media Surveys

As your accounts keep growing, polling your audience is a great way to gather some up-to-date insights on content topics – or even content formats – that your audience is happy to engage with.

The more generic the polls, the higher the number of responses you’ll end up with.

As Twitter and LinkedIn are my most effective channels in terms of community engagement, I’ve been experimenting with regular polls such as this one:

Asking my followers about the content formats they use the most when it comes to education allows me to focus my efforts on what works the best for them. Even if books are the number 1 choice at a time, working on free downloadables behind a lead magnet (in exchange for an email) is great for building a large email list.

Additionally, if videos rank high, repurposing content is a great way to develop a video channel while distributing your content easily across other mediums.

15. Look Into QuestionDB

QuestionDB is another handy tool for topic ideation that delivers diverse topics.

If you’re uncovering business problems in a similar fashion to what I do, here’s what the tool will suggest as an aggregated list of relevant questions:

QuestionDB – “business problems”

There are some insightful ideas when it comes to targeting certain business segments (agents and brokers) or some technical industries (related to AWS).

For brick and mortars, “problems with Yelp” yields some creative ideas on exploring challenges with the platform or best practices on ranking there (and generating 5-star reviews).

16. Read the Most Relevant Amazon Books

If you aren’t following Tim Ferriss yet, one of the most influential podcasters and productivity experts, then you should do so.

In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim expands upon his strategy on becoming the expert on anything in a matter of four weeks. His second tip is simple: Read the three top-selling books in your niche.

While you should definitely follow through, there are two ways you can save some time while covering a broader set of top sellers that would provide the insights you’re looking for.

The first technique is skimming through the Table of Contents across the best sellers. You don’t even need to purchase a copy as it’s usually available right on Amazon.

If entrepreneurs represent your target audience, here’s what my book covers once you take a look at the ToC:

The ToC of 126 Steps to Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur

Gather the most influential books in your industry and write down the headlines that make a lot of sense for authoring as blog pieces. And, of course, buy and study some of the books for actionable frameworks you can adopt in practice.

The second strategy involves some reading—in a condensed manner.

Sign up for a tool like Blinkist. Thousands of great books condensed into 15-minute reads provide a great way to cover the foundations of any topic without spending days studying each and every one of them.

17. Explore Top Ranking YouTube Videos

YouTube’s algorithm works in mysterious ways. But, generating a lot of traction during the first 24 hours and scaling upon already developed channels (or through other channels you own) works insanely well.

In any case, browsing the top videos on your segment will reveal the topics your followers would care about, the key nuggets that the videos provide (available for free), and even strategic comments you can explore in the comment section.

Here’s what pops up if you search for “content marketing strategy” in YouTube’s search bar:

YouTube search for “content marketing strategy”

It comes as no surprise that three out of the four recommended videos are from Brian Dean (the inventor of the Skyscraper technique), Neil Patel (a Forbes top 10 recommended marketer), and Semrush, one of the best tools for content marketing research.

(Bonus points for gathering additional keyword suggestions and keyword volume using Ubersuggest’s browser extension, also owned by Neil by the way).

After browsing Brian’s video and its comments, here are several ideas quoted directly that you can employ in your blogging strategy:

  • “I love the way how you design your page. Do you have any tutorials on that??”
  • “Can you also make a video about increasing Instagram followers organically … Because I love your research, tips, and explanations. Thank you 😊”
  • “How do you set up a goal like your ‘Thanks Page’ if they come from e-mail?”
  • “How do you know whether a competitor’s podcast episode/topic had a lot of downloads, or if it fell flat?”
  • “Brian, once you publish a YouTube video, blog post, or whatever, how much goes into marketing that content. What does that side of things look like for you?”

18. Find Udemy Courses That Resonate

The Udemy strategy is a mix of Amazon research and cross-checking YouTube search terms.

Udemy is one of the largest video networks providing affordable training courses at scale on various topics. If you know a viable network with targeted content for your industry, use it instead. Or if an industry leader in your space offers a designated program, check out what they teach and how it can be incorporated as blog content.

I’m currently working on a couple of pieces around communications, so let’s check the Business – Communication Skills category:

Udemy – Communication Skills

Udemy – Communication Skills

The top section lists down the most popular courses based on the number of purchases combined with top rating from users. It’s a great place to start from and browse further.

Moreover, there are relevant topics you can browse separately, listed as related topics right after the first section.

Let’s check the first course and scroll to the Course content section:

Udemy – Communication Skills Master Class ToC

You can design an entire segment of communication topics based on the topic suggestions included in the video courses.

The 6th suggestion covers “skills for success.” My soft skills article ranks really well in Google including a featured snippet in organic search, so it’s likely that the best sellers have done their research in terms of organic keywords as well.

Pick at least 5 to 10 courses and write down the topics that resonate with your audience. Voila!

19. Find Relevant Conference Talks (And Slides)

Okay, this one covers two separate strategies under the same topic.

The first one is exploring relevant conferences or meetup groups and the topics covered there. Conference organizers usually pick trendy topics that would sell more tickets, which is why you’re in good hands when it comes to discovering specific topics for your own blog.

In addition to relevant conference talks, some of the leading businesses may organize webinars or Twitter chats on designated topics. Slack communities organize these as well, so pay attention to alternative gathering formats (especially due to the virtual nature of events lately).

The second trick is reverse-engineering the content pieces publicly available by keynote speakers and other veteran presenters. Slideshare is a great place to discover topics and you can dive deeper into the content format and the sequence of topics organized in a solid manner.

Since we’re discussing content topics and headlines here, there’s an example of Gary Vee’s notorious deck on coming up with tons of content topics across a series of channels:

20. Document Your Own Journey

There’s a separate category of blogs organized around the author’s journey, but you can mix this in with an educational blog as well.

The first technique is starting a blog that’s entirely organized around your own journey. How you started, what tools you tried at first, early drafts of your content pieces – any historical attempts you engaged with, along with your current techniques that you leverage to date.

This is particularly powerful if you suffer from the Impostor Syndrome, being afraid to write about areas you don’t feel confident about.

There are a lot of areas out there that don’t rely on decades of experience. Experimentation is just as useful, and providing your own input will uncover small steps that others will highly appreciate (and often don’t get mentioned in refined tutorials from the experts).

The second technique is mixing in educational content with your own interpretation.

This piece alone is a mix of “the best practices” and my own take on content topics. I write about the tools I use and how I approach them, the techniques I leverage on a weekly basis, how I authored my book, and how my channels come in handy at work. Personal experience is invaluable and it’s a lot more powerful than raw theory compiled from different places on the web.

You can create your own case studies based on your tactical approach. Here’s an example I published a few years back on ranking top articles and reverse-engineering their approach.

Managing Content

21. Engage With Your Followers

Pat Flynn authored a great book called “Superfans”. It praises the most active followers and the most engaged participants in your own community.

Once you define your buyer persona and start to produce content, you’ll start to notice some people who engage frequently with your posts and social statuses. These are the most engaged visitors you need to engage frequently with, discuss topic ideas, invite to follow and comment, and use them as your own “board of directors” when it comes to topic ideas.

I’ve gathered some incredible ideas thanks to my email subscribers and social media followers. Thanks to comments, emails, polls, and direct messages, I’m able to keep my content schedule intact with relevant pieces that my community cares about.

22. Brainstorm With Your Peers

Content Production

Gather with your colleagues at work, folks from industry events, and other peers from social media producing similar types of content.

Organize monthly sessions over pizza or beer and think about the topics that your audience cares about. It may be beneficial to peer up with people who care about the same market segment as you but cover different topics – which is how you can also work on co-created pieces or co-hosted webinars together.

My team and I gather research through different mediums, most of these described in this article. And I analyze all data every month to discover the most actionable topics I can focus on.

During conferences, we often hang out at after-parties or just hang out in hotel lounges discussing industry problems and pain points which inevitably generates ideas for content production.

This is especially valuable when you meet someone who fits your target audience. Buy them a coffee, find out what they struggle with, and take it from there.

23. Look Up Relevant Podcasts

Podcasts are a relatively new content format (compared to content pieces and even video). But they have been growing rapidly over the past few years.

Some podcasts are incredibly active. And if you discover one in your segment, it may become a gold mine.

In terms of marketing, my favorite show is the Marketing School by Neil Patel and Eric Siu.

Marketing School

The daily podcast has generated over 1,700 marketing episodes already.

If you’re authoring anything related, you can spend hours reviewing previous episodes and actionable headlines your blog will benefit from.

Plan, Collect, Iterate

Content Strategy

The content production process is never-ending.

In order to define the most actionable plan for producing high-quality content consistently, you need to follow a three-step phase for success:

  • Plan: use the actionable tips above to discover the most data-rich sources where your audience gathers.
  • Collect: compile a comprehensive list of headlines and start to work on outlines once you’re ready to write about the topics.
  • Iterate: produce and publish content, schedule new pieces ahead of time, and iterate upon the same process so you never run out of ideas.

That’s it! Here’s to thousands of fresh ideas you can generate in no time.

What is the most effective tip that works for you? Let me know in the comments below.

Your thoughts?