Where Do Content Ideas Come From?

I was asked recently what my process was for developing content ideas — and I got to thinking that this particularly nosey client might not be the only one wondering how the gears and wires all go together behind the scenes.  After all, we don’t really discuss idea generation much, we just assume it’s a thing that happens without effort.  Ideas magically populate, we send them to our writers to write and BLAM!, we’re done.


Oh, Dear Reader, how I wish it were so…. but it’s not.  Generating content ideas takes genuine effort, real dedication and knowledge of your particular subject matter, whether that’s the mating rituals of assorted beavers or performance boating.  Whatever it is, we’re on it — and we’ll never make dumb jokes about the subject matter in hopes of coming up with really killer content ideas.  Never.  That would be totally unprofessional… (snicker, snicker, mating beavers…)

Step One:  Research and Digest

The first thing I do, no matter what your subject area (unless I am already a self-proclaimed Master of that Domain), is research it.  I’ll Google around the Internet a while, reading articles, news, looking in on your competition’s blog, and reading yours if you’ve got one.  And I’ll keep feeding myself information until my brain is filled to bursting.

Then I sit and I contemplate what I’ve read.  Just like back in school, I’m hoping to put all the pieces together.  If I still have a question about something specific, it’s back to the Googler to do it all again.  Often, I’ll find myself waking up in the night to answer a question using my smartphone (those things are really magic).

Only when I’m certain that I’ve got a full understanding of your subject matter, do I move on to Step 2.

Step Two:  Spew Forth Insanity

Ok, I lied.  I tend to hemorrhage ideas as I’m doing research, but only the smallest amount.  I may scribble some notes down on a Post-It, but they’re generally doomed to be lost during the research process.  Once that’s over, though, the gloves come off and the spreadsheet / Word document / whiteboard comes out.

This is the insanity portion of the show.  I start with your general topic, say, tractors, and I expand on it, based on my understanding of your customer base.  So, I might brainstorm blogs about types of tractors, how tractors are used today, attachments for tractors, brands of tractors, neat techy changes to tractors and so forth.

Each little section gets followed for even more topics, so if we discussed tractor attachments, we might get something like harvesters, mowers, scoops, etc.  That’s when I start thinking about these raw subjects as content.

See, content works to answer a question or fulfill a need.  People would much rather click on “5 Ways Tractor Tires Can Change the World” than “Tractor Tires.”  It’s basic Internet psychology or some such stuff.  Anyway, so that’s what I do next — if it can’t become content, it gets changed.

As a side note, I always write titles for the general topics, because you might want an overview article that can link to those little specialty articles, or at least one to introduce more complicated topics.  Generally, if I get to design the editorial calendar, I work from most general to most complex subjects, but that’s going to depend on your blog.  That’s the next section, anyway.

Step Three:  Weed and Format

Step Three is critical to preventing duplication, combining ideas that make sense together and ensuring that the ideas that are just crazy get dumped in the reject pile.  First, the rejects.  I take out anything really out there, for example, “Tractors in Space!!” from the list.  I mean, there might be alien lifeforms experimenting on cattle and creating crop circles, but let’s be honest with ourselves — they’re probably not using tractors.

Once the rejects are gone, I combine ideas that are similar, review old ideas we’ve already used (if your blog is one we’re generating topics for periodically) and organize my topics.  Once they’re neat and tidy, they get properly exciting names, like “Phil’s Guide to Ford Tractors,” and “6 Ways You’re Underutilizing Your Brush Hog.”

So, that’s how that goes.  It’s not always about tractors, though, so don’t be confused.  Sometimes it’s about construction, or parenting or gardening or boating or vegetarianism or software or generating content (those get freaky).  But it’s always about something, and it’s always an adventure.

Do You Want My Content Suggestions?

If you’re getting content from me, I welcome your content suggestions.  In fact, they help me do a better job of addressing your needs!  When you suggest ideas to me, you’re subconsciously telling me the things that are most pressing to you — and that helps me to better understand what it is you want your content to be when it grows up.  So please, if you’ve got your own ideas, let me know.  I’ll put them right into Step Two and hammer them through Step Three.

That’s it… that’s the woo behind the process.  It’s not fancy, but I still somehow feel like I should take a bow or something.  *shuffles off into the shadows*