This article was first published on the Flow SEO blog.
We have new ideas all day long, but ask us to come up with a list of them RIGHT NOW and most of us go blank. That’s no different for a content marketing team that needs to brainstorm content ideas.
Even if you work with an SEO agency or a content strategist that takes care of your content strategy, there will still be moments when you want to sit down and think about what kind of content could really propel your brand forward. After all, you know your offer and your customers best.
Luckily, there are many techniques you can use for content brainstorming and most of them are easy to implement even when your team is remote. We’ve listed some of the most effective brainstorming methods below.
Content Brainstorming Methods
Create a topic mind map
Mindmapping is a good technique for when you need to brainstorm content ideas on your own. You can use mind mapping software or a simple sheet of paper on which you write a broad topic – related to your brand – in the middle. Then, draw branches from your main topic to associated topics or subtopics, and keep branching out like this.
Some related topics may only give you one or two other new ideas, while others will bring up many. That’s okay. Just keep going until none of the ideas you’ve come up with leads to a new one anymore.
If you’re running a recruitment SaaS, your main topic might be “applications”. Related topics and subtopics could then be:
- job ads
- job ad templates
- job descriptions
- test tasks
- interview questions
- salary negotiations
- outreach templates
- Linkedin research
Keep a swipe file of cool content
Organizing a team meeting to brainstorm content isn’t always the best approach. One team member might be too tired to come up with ideas, another might not be in their most productive time of the day, and having to come up with great ideas when you’ve just been working on something else entirely often requires too much of a focus shift to be done successfully.
Unless… you make it a habit to content brainstorm on a continuous basis.
A swipe file is a digital or physical folder in which you save inspiring marketing examples. These can range from an article that presents its information in a creative way to a post that tackles a topic from an interesting angle, or a headline that stands out to you.
Add new content ideas to a swipe file as they pop and you’ll always have a bucket of inspiration for when you need it. As you start doing this, you’ll notice how easy it is. Ideas can come from:
- customer support queries.
- a comment you see on social media.
- an article you read online.
- a conversation in your team’s #watercooler Slack channel.
There are no bad ideas in this phase. Creating a content swiple file is about getting all your ideas in one place. The filtering happens later.
Listen to your customers
Since you’re creating content to keep your customers engaged and draw in new leads, why not research what they want to read? Here are just a few places where you can gather information about the topics that your audience cares about:
- the comment section of your social media posts.
- online reviews.
- customer support tickets.
- relevant forums and Reddit threads.
- customer surveys.
Do rapid ideation
Rapid ideation is a very simple brainstorming technique. All you need to do is set a timer and write down as many ideas as possible before the timer goes off. This is an exercise you can do solo as well as in a group.
If your team is remote, you could do this on a video call and discuss the results once the timer has gone off.
Organize a round-robin
During a round-robin, all participants have to share one idea. Nobody can introduce a new idea or comment on an idea until everyone has contributed something. It’s a great way to avoid one or two team members taking over the conversation.
When your team is remote, you can organize a round-robin over a video call.
Practice collaborative brainwriting or brain-netting
During brainwriting, each participant in the brainstorming exercise writes down an agreed-upon number of content ideas on a piece of paper. Once everyone’s done, they pass on their paper to someone else, who also writes down a number of ideas and so on until each participant has contributed to each piece of paper.
If your team is remote, you can do brain-netting, an online version of collaborative brainwriting. One way to go about it is by having each participant start a Google Doc in which they’ll generate ideas and that they’ll then share with another participant until everyone has received access to – and contributed to – every Doc.
And if your team members are scattered across different time zones, you might just want to create one shared document to which everyone needs to contribute two ideas per day over the course of the week. You’d then also schedule a meeting at the end of the week to discuss all of the ideas.
The great thing about brainwriting is that it’s a group brainstorming technique that ensures everybody contributes equally. This is important as some people may be more confident about putting ideas forward than others.
Do competitor keyword research
If you want your content to rank in Google, there is no way around doing keyword research. But you don’t need to start from scratch. Plug the URL of one of your competitors in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, see which keywords they’re ranking for and if those keywords have a good chance of drawing in lots of organic search traffic.
You can also use the Content Gap tool to check whether your competitors are ranking for keywords you aren’t ranking for. This helps you identify topics that may be important to your target audience and that you haven’t written about yet.
Analyze what you’re already ranking for
Your own keywords can spark inspiration as well. It’s not uncommon for an article to rank for a keyword that warrants its own blog post. This is the case when the keyword:
- has decent search volume.
- is ranking beyond the first page of Google for the article it’s currently ranking for.
- is relevant to your brand but different enough from the topic of the article it’s now ranking for.
Types of Topics: Promotable and/or SEO Content
Whatever the content ideas are that you come up with, you’ll ideally run them through a keyword research tool to figure out how competitive they are and which main keyword you should target.
That being said, search engine optimization is just one of several ways you can get your content in front of your target audience. Elsie Weisskroff, the Creative Content Lead at Siege Media, talks about the varying degrees in which content ideas can be promotable versus optimizable.
Let’s say that a keyword has a high difficulty (many authoritative sites are ranking for it) and your company blog is brand new. If you still want to create an article around that topic, it should be highly promotable, amazing content, or, as Elsie states it, “content that wows”.
For a more elaborate explanation of when you should focus on making your content highly promotable, versus when you should focus on optimizing it for the search engines, listen to this short podcast episode.
Best Practices to Follow When You Content Brainstorm
Have measurable goals
What do you want the outcome of your brainstorming session to be? If you don’t determine this beforehand, there’s no way of knowing whether your session was successful.
An obvious goal would be “to generate x new content ideas” or “to generate x creative ideas around topic y”, but if you’re new to content brainstorming, your goal could also be to figure out which technique works best for you, or to optimize the way you use a certain technique.
Set a time limit
Regardless of whether you’re doing live content brainstorming or asynchronous brainstorming, you’ll want to set a time limit for it. What that looks like, depends on the brainstorming technique you’re using, but ideally, your live brainstorming sessions won’t take longer than an hour.
If you’re brainstorming ideas with a remote team over different time zones, a week should be enough time to let everyone contribute.
Without a time limit, you risk getting stuck in the content ideation process.
Define a prioritization method
Alright, your ideation session has resulted in a long list of content ideas. Now, which article will you create first?
Come up with a way to prioritize content ideas based on your business goals even before you start the brainstorming process. That way, you can quickly start to produce content and make sure to work on the content that’s most likely to move the needle.
Keep your Content Core in mind
Whatever your business goals, you’ll always want to create content that lies at the intersection of what your audience cares about and what your company can provide. Garrett Moon from CoSchedule defined this intersection as the “Content Core” in his book “10x Marketing Formula“.
One look at the CoSchedule blog and you realize the brand practices what it preaches. Its target audience consists of professional content marketers and its blog is full of articles specifically for that audience.
Create a follow-through plan
Speaking of the creation process… Do you have one?
Ideas without execution lead to nothing, so you want to have a process in place to start creating content as soon as your list of content ideas is ready and in order of priority. Some things to consider are:
- who will create the briefings? Will you work with an SEO agency or a content strategist to make sure your new content is optimized or will someone on your team take this on?
- who will write the content? Are you going to hire a freelance writer or create the content in-house?
- who will proofread the content, prepare it for publication, and publish it?
- how will you market your content?
Get Your Creative Juices Flowing
There is no right or wrong way to do content brainstorming. What’s most important, is to find a process that works for you and implement it following the best practices outlined in this article. Don’t get frustrated if you get stuck or can’t come up with as many content ideas as you’d like. Take a break, and try again using another technique another day.
Once you have your list of ideas, do some thorough keyword research on it to figure out whether you can rank for the topics you have in mind or if you should focus on making your content highly promotable so it generates shares on social media and through other channels.
No time to do all that? Or maybe you just need someone to take care of the SEO part of it all? Get in touch to discuss how I can help you out.