30+ resources for generating content ideas

As anyone who participates in content-based link building will tell you – coming up with ideas for content to produce is one of the hardest parts. If you’ve got a great idea, the rest of the process becomes a lot easier…pitching great stuff makes outreach much less painful. Bloggers get excited if you are pitching something other than lifeless crap. Your writers unsurprisingly fed up with rehashing the same topics into “SEO articles” will also be excited by the prospect of writing something decent.

Many of the writers we work with say they actually got into writing to produce stuff that would get read – why not give them an assignment that they’ll enjoy? If they enjoy writing it, the stuff they produce will be a whole lot better.

Granted you aren’t running a writers refuge so it has to work for you and the client but putting a little bit more effort into brainstorming content ideas will result in a massive upswing in the overall effectiveness of the campaign – our higher than average outreach response rates are testament to this.

Better content to pitch + more targeted prospects = fewer outreach emails being sent, better quality sites accepting your content and a much happier workforce (I’ve yet to meet an ‘outreacher’ who doesn’t get a little demotivated by receiving hundreds of rejection emails!)

Sources of inspiration

A good place to start is always some general sources of inspiration, focusing too much on industry resources can mean you just create content that looks, feels and reads like everything else out there – your job is to stand out.

There are quite a few places you can get inspiration on the web, here are some of my favourites:

News websites

Look for current issues and how this might relate to your industry but also use article formats and headlines as a starting point for working up content ideas.

  • MSN Homepage – you can always count on MSN for a crazy headline or wacky feature to kickstart your creative mind
  • Orange Quirkies – the weird and wonderful section on Orange.co.uk
  • DailyMail.co.uk – I can’t believe I am recommending you take a look at this sensationalist rag but hey it’s a source of inspiration for me as nobody can deny they know how to put together a viral piece of content.
  • Telegraph.co.uk – solid news coverage if you are looking for current affairs that could be tied in to your industry

Sorry this list is a little UK focused but I am just being honest about the ones that I use rather than pretending to read the Sydney Morning Herald. Perhaps our international audience could put few some of their new websites suggestions that are good sources of inspiration.

List and social websites

Lists remain one of the most popular forms of content on the web and there is nearly always something to be gleaned from what is out there. The larger social aggregation sites can also serve to kickstart your imagination.

Use a calendar

There’s always something going on in the world whether its Christmas, Valentines Day or the perhaps not so celebrated Boy Scout Day. These public events, celebrations and national holidays should give you plenty of inspiration for topical content.

HolidaySmart.com is my favourite calendar website and they have a great events calendar for 2012.

Sources of ideas

Whilst the previous section was there to help you get inspired in the larger sense, the following resources are all about sparking specific, topical and relevant content ideas no matter your industry…

Q&A sites & Forums

Creating content that answers common questions is of course a no-brainer but where can I find out about all these juicy questions?

Creating content around a common question is a really smart move when it comes to link building because you can use it as extra bait when reaching out to the site owner, you can explain that you intend to interact in the thread on LinkedIn or Quora and point people to the guest post or guide you wish to contribute.

Competitor websites and related websites

If you are building links for a client then competing websites very often provide a rich source of specific content ideas not just for content that is to be used as part of link building but also for blog post ideas or FAQ sections but I digress.

You can do this the semi-automated way using OpenSiteExplorer. Plug your URL in and take a look at their top pages, try and glean some ideas for posts you could write.

I personally think there is more value to be had from strategically browsing the competing or related websites (Use Google’s “Related:” search operator for a nice list of targeted sites to browse). Take a look at posts that have been written or content topics covered which perhaps are completely missing from the website you intend to pitch. This technique gives you excellent leverage during outreach and ensures your prospect knows you haven’t fired off the exact same email to hundreds of other site owners.

The target website

Take a look in their archives and their popular posts section then pull together a few of the ideas that grab your attention. You should be thinking about the potential of the following:

When you are conducting the outreach, be sure to include the rationale behind the content you are pitching citing their previous work which if nothing else is a bit of flattery.

Industry news websites

Nothing screams “I’m a link builder” like pitching content which is out of date or fluffy to those in the know, they treat you like an outsider, and quite rightly so. Gain some intimate knowledge of the industry you are working in using one of my favourite techniques – sign up to email broadcasts from the industry news websites.

You’ll get a daily, weekly or monthly brief which you can scan and keep abreast of the trends, issues and gripes in the business which all make for excellent ideas for guest posts, infographics, blog posts etc.

Industry data

On a fairly similar vein – look out for industry surveys and regular publications of data. This provide a superb starting point for content like analyses or trend reports which you can produce.

Industry aggregators

No matter how dry your industry, there is probably an aggregator for the best content (e.g. WPVote.com, AffBuzz or Crowdsourced.org). If there isn’t a standalone one then there might be a page on Alltop.com which you can use.

The idea here is to monitor and scan the latest content to see what’s popular and attempt to understand why so as to give yourself some fresh ideas. Perhaps you disagree with a particular post which has been widely read or you can expand on the concepts of a post which has been really popular.

Social media

If you are looking at generating ideas from social media on a larger scale then you’ll want to head down this post to the tools section where you will find all sorts of great ways to find out what the different social networks are talking about. This is just about sourcing ideas via your existing social media channels (or those belonging to your clients!).

Related topics in Wikipedia

This is a fairly quick and simple tip but can quite often glean a few strong ideas – head to the appropriate Wikipedia page for a specific topic and browse the “See Also” section which can help ignite some lateral thought processes giving you the nudge you need to devise a blog post which links topic A with Topic D.

Sometimes there are some great ready-made suggestions in there for you to use so this is definitely worth a look.

Magazines

Magazines are one of, if not, my favourite method for sourcing specific content ideas. Think personas and get into the mind of your target audience, seek out magazines they might read then mine them for content ideas.

The folks that write and edit magazines are some of the best in the business for reworking the same pillar topics over and over again – learn from them.

Read a book

I have to admit that this isn’t always that practical, particularly if you work for a number of different clients since it can be more painful than pulling teeth reading a book about pulling teeth if you would much rather be browsing the latest submissions on Inbound.org however many industry experts save their best work for their books so having a browse of at least the contents can give you some excellent ideas for content to write, don’t plagiarise of course but certainly pinch a few of the concepts or topic areas.

If you can find the book on Amazon and it has the contents page in the book preview then you are definitely winning! :-)

Tools

There really are an abundance of tools out there that make content idea generation a whole lot more efficient. Here are a few of my favourites:

Content strategy generator

This fantastic tool from SEOgadget’s Daniel Butler recently got a makeover and version 2 is amazing. Enter a search query and watch it pull in all sorts of potential content ideas for you to work with like Google News, Bing News, Digg, Reddit, Tweets, Yahoo Answers and much more besides. Learn More

(Remember to make a copy once you’ve accessed this Google Docs based tool!)

Spezify

Spezify is a visual presentation of search results from various websites. It aims to provide an overview of a subject and often brings up some readymade content ideas but failing that this is a good place to begin your exploration. Learn More

Google Suggest

There are plenty of content ideas to be had from Google Suggest just by starting with a basic search query.

YouTube Suggested Search

An often forgotten tool at our disposal is the suggest feature of the second largest search engine on the web, YouTube. Granted, quite a few suggestions are going to be relevant only if you are looking to create videos however very often it will generate ideas for other kinds of content too.

Ubersuggest

A firm favourite of mine, this creates large lists of keyword suggestions based on your initial seed keyword that people actually search for so this is an excellent source of content ideas. Learn More

Wordtracker’s Keyword Question Tool

This is a superb tool that aims to find the questions your audience are asking. The results that this tool generates make an excellent starting point as ideas for guest posts perhaps as a standalone question (if you think there’s enough meat) or a roundup Q&A style post. Learn More

Keyword Eye

Keyword Eye is another superb visualisation tool to help conjure up content ideas based around your chosen keywords. The content discovery feature finds shared content on Twitter as well as influential tweeters to gather additional ideas from. Learn More

Google Alerts

Google Alerts are free, easy to setup and they become your industry listening device ensuring you are bang up to date with what’s going on in your/your client’s market. This gives you a competitive advantage when building links because you can pitch hyper-relevant content for guest posts for example, interview rising stars perhaps or even provide commentary on a key industry issue to the wider press community.Learn More

OpenSiteExplorer

Plug in the URL of the target site, competing site or related site and take a look at the top pages tab within the report. You’ll get a list of their most popular pages which is quick and easy way to gather up some content ideas. Learn More

SocialMention

This tool pulls together content from across the web to help aggregate all the conversations, content and noise around a particular keyword or topic area. This is a useful way of seeing at a glance what is being talked about most frequently and with links to tweets, blog posts and much more it is a real time saver if you want to do some brainstorming. Learn More

If all else fails go for a walk, do a workout or just take a break – the best ideas will often come to you when you are away from your desk.

So what have I missed? How do you get your content ideas?

16 Comments

  1. avatar
    Matthew March 14, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    A great post James! I have never heard of ‘Spezify’ before so thanks for sharing.
    Keep them coming. :)

    • avatar
      James Agate March 14, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Much appreciated Matthew – thanks for taking the time to read it and for giving it a little tweet :-)

      J

  2. avatar
    Matt March 14, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    Another extremely useful post which deserves a tweet :) Don’t forget little old Keyword Eye for helping with content idea generation!

    • avatar
      James Agate March 14, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

      Hi Matt,

      Keyword Eye was actually in my draft tool list but it was late last night that I finished the post so must have missed it (along with TweetBeep too!)

      Anyway – Keyword Eye has been added :-)

      J

  3. avatar
    Cecilia March 14, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    Great post as usual! really useful, that goes to bookmarks! There is so many tools I didn´t know and so many others that I knew but never crossed my mind to use for this matter! Come on, Google suggest?? simple but dead useful!

    I usually look around in blogs of the clientt industry and get an idea of what´s popular. For other languages is always useful to read articles in english, compare and make sure there´s nothing like that in the language you need it and voilá!! You have your inspiraton! (That one is probably a bit of copying but it works a charm, LOL)

    Thanks a lot James :)

    • avatar
      James Agate March 14, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

      Hi Cecilia,

      Thanks – I think you are right though, so often it is just about finding the ‘content gap’ and making that work rather than having to reinvent the wheel or find completely untouched ground to cover.

      J

  4. avatar
    Wendi March 14, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    James,

    Once again, I’ve learned many(!) new things in this post. I eagerly anticipate your newsletter each month…which can’t be said for the majority that I receive.

    Thanks for continuing to share your wealth of knowledge with the rest of us!

    Wendi

  5. avatar
    Andy Cooney March 15, 2012 at 12:10 am #

    Hi James,

    Thanks for sharing these tools, a few firm favourites in there as well as a few I haven’t yet used. Really useful stuff.

    We at Red or Blue have actually made our own “inspiration engine” tool, have a look and see what you think http://www.redorbluedigital.com/tools/inspiration-engine/.

    Thanks,
    Andy

  6. avatar
    Yolk Recruitment March 15, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    Thanks loads – we’ve just launched our blog about recruitment and career advice. This has helped loads!

  7. avatar
    SEPo April 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Great article James – tons of great ideas in there. I think by far the best is SEOGadgets’s Content strategy generator – tried this today and was amazed at the great content ideas coming from it.

  8. avatar
    Brent Pittman April 12, 2012 at 5:36 am #

    Great ideas for content! Thanks for the sites.

  9. avatar
    Craig Addyman April 19, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    Nice list.

    Also a good source is your analytics for the who, what, how, why questions that you might want to extrapolate.

    • avatar
      James Agate April 20, 2012 at 9:31 am #

      Thanks Craig – without a doubt, that is a valuable resource for content.

      When this list gets updated next I will definitely be adding that in :-)

      • avatar
        Craig Addyman April 20, 2012 at 9:52 am #

        And when I update my blog list next you will be added to it :)

        • avatar
          James Agate April 20, 2012 at 9:53 am #

          Thanks very kind of you!

  10. avatar
    Emma Donald July 6, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    Great post; jam-packed full of information. Thanks.

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