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This is the third post on content marketing that I’ve written, the previous ones “Getting Started in Content Marketing“, and “How to Write Content that Helps Find Your Customers” were about the process, this one is about the actual writing and how we come up with our ideas here at NorthIQ.

The number one thing that stops people from content marketing is that they are afraid they’ll run out of things to say. I’ve been writing semi-professionally in some way or another since 1997, I’ve had a personal blog for pretty much that entire time. I’ve never run out of things to say.

I’ve got a few simple rules for what I write, and I find that following those rules gives me good stuff to write about.

Rule 1: Write What You Know

I don’t make stuff up whole cloth, I write about challenges that keep me up at night. I’ve found in the past that the stuff that bothers me, is the same stuff bugging others out there.

Rule 2: Write What You’ve Learned

When I learn new skills, I write about them. This whole series on Content Marketing came about after I became certified in Content Marketing last year. For the last few months I have been building content plans and mapping out editorial calendars, and now I’m doing it for my own company.

Rule 3: What’s Your Unique Take on this Subject?

I focus on what I can add to the conversation – Having a list of topics is great, but I also need to have my own take on the topic. What can I bring to the conversation? What is my unique insight? I probably have a different point of view than others that have written about the topic in the past.

Rule 4: Make it fun.

Every blog post doesn’t need to be an academic slog. You can have fun, tell some jokes, use fun pictures, and tell a story. The most successful content I have ever written has been the stuff that was the most fun to write. On this blog right now our post “Simple Rules for Writing on the Web” has been shared more than twice as much as the next closest piece of content.  I think this largely due to the zombie and giant fluffy kitten picture that is the header of that post.

Ways to Generate Content

Sometimes you’re staring at a blank screen, trying to figure out what you’re going to write for tomorrow morning’s blog post.  The clock is ticking, and you’re getting nowhere.  This is the time to think about the different types of content you can write and how you could turn each one of these into a blog post.

  • Reviews of products or services related to your subject matter
  • Commentary on news stories related to your subject
  • Text details around a photo gallery you recently posted
  • A “How to” guide on something you have expertise in
  • Stories about real things that have happened to you or someone you know
  • A video reaction to something that is a currently trending topic
  • Interview someone in your industry (customer, mentor, supplier or competitor)
  • A quote that you find interesting and how you can apply it
  • Reactions from others to a topic with your own commentary
  • A challenge that you’ve recently overcome that makes for an interesting story

Craig and I text each other almost daily with “That’s a blog post” when something difficult comes up. In the last two weeks some of the things that have come up include:

  • Setting up a simple ecommerce website
  • How frustrating Rogers website is
  • Why am I entering my email address in twice when I order a movie ticket on the Cineplex website?
  • How to generate leads on LinkedIn
  • How to set up MailChimp the right way (because I’m currently doing the ChimpEssentials course)
  • Why you can’t rank for keywords that you don’t have on your website
  • How ads work on Facebook and why they’re a massive untapped market
  • Whatever Gary Vee said today

We seeded our initial blog backlog with a brainstorm of about 12 ideas. Each one of us pitched six ideas, and we built from there.

Right now in our backlog, we currently have 13 active posts in the “writing” or “researching” phase, and another 30 in the “ideas” phase. That gives us 43 weeks of content right now without anything new coming up.

Since we’ve started writing weekly posts, I’ve broken 3 of the posts that I had originally started writing into two separate posts in order to keep things brief.

Other Ways to Generate Ideas

Start out with your focus, and think about keywords around your focus idea. Try out the Hubspot Blog Topic Generator. It allows you to input three nouns and get a list of topic ideas that will help you to come up with your first list.

Another effective way of generating ideas is to use the Google Adwords Keyword Planner to search what keywords are generating positive responses for your competitors.

Asking your customers what they would like you to write about is an obvious idea generation strategy, but one that is often overlooked. I like to send out an email asking which topics they are interested in reading more about.

This strategy will give you two key benefits.

  1. It shows that you are interested in knowing them better, which is the building block of creating a relationship.
  2. It gives you a great launching point for figuring out what kind of material you should be writing.

When all else fails, if you’re completely stumped, simply brainstorm. Start by generating as many bad ideas as you can, the more ridiculous your idea may be, the better. Cliche? Awesome, bring it on. Corny? Clickbait? That’s great. Get all those bad ideas out in the open.

With ideas, something wonderful happens. If you throw out enough bad ideas, the good ones will just come along for the ride.

The Takeaway

There’s a ton of ways to generate compelling content that people will want to read. Start building ideas early, keep a groomed list of ideas somewhere that you can always revisit them, and jot down anything new as it comes to you.

With a little bit of planning, you’ll have content for years.

Even though this is the third official post on content marketing, the truth is that we’ve written seven posts on the subject so far.  Next week’s post will be the final one in the series (for now).

Other NorthIQ posts on content marketing:


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Brian Garside has been building websites for two decades and has worked on some of the largest websites in Canadian media. He focuses on creating good user experiences and building websites that make their owners money. Brian is certified in blogging and content marketing from Shaw Academy.