Blank screens are the enemy of inbound marketing. So smug. So taunting. They think they're so great with all that empty, useless space. As an inbound marketer, your job is to take that empty page down a peg or two.
But you know what? A page full of drivel is no better than a gleaming white screen. When you're writing content as frequently as most inbound marketers do, you're bound to stumble over a few duds. You know, where the topics you're publishing just don't seem to be hitting the mark with your audience. So here are a few techniques we've picked up over the year for finding the right topics for your audience so you can publish the kind of stuff people will love to read.
Find Topics That Matter to Your Audience
Good topics should be found at the intersection of your expertise, and your audience’s core needs and interests. You know what interests you; now open up channels to find out what matters to your audience. Here are the venues you could be using to do that.
1) Keyword Research
Sometimes it may seem like there's nothing left in the world to write about. But millions of searches happen on a daily basis. Millions of people with questions take to Google (or another search engine of choice) to find their answers. So why not start reviewing keywords that readers have entered to find you -- and heck, keywords they've entered for which you're not getting found -- and seeing if there's a topic you could write around it.
The example below comes from a friend of mine's website, Factbrowser. He's using HubSpot to show the keywords most commonly searched to find his content -- and if you don't have HubSpot, Google Analytics will also show some keyword information.
His site aggregates marketing and business facts, so a lot of the keywords here have to do with that. In the past, he's blogged about mobile facts, but never Xbox360 or Coca-Cola. Clearly there's an untapped interest here that will help his search engine rankings tremendously if he begins creating content around them, particularly because it's the stuff people want to know more about.
Your customer service and sales staff -- or anyone interacting with leads and customers on a daily basis -- often have the closest view into the challenges your customers face and the questions your prospects have. Create a forum for them to send blogging and content ideas to you based on feedback from their customer interactions. At HubSpot, we have an internal wiki page where staff can suggest topics for the blog. For instance, last year, a member of our sales team mentioned that he had been receiving a number of questions from leads about SEO and the use of video. So we wrote SEO for YouTube: How to Search Optimize Video for B2B Marketing, a post that pulled in more than 11,000 views, nearly 500 tweets and a handful of interesting comments.
And if you're having trouble creating content around these topics, remember that your sales and services staff not only hears these questions every day ... they answer them, too. If you've created a strong content culture at your organization, you could empower them to write blog posts or create other content assets that puts down on "paper" the answers to the questions they field each day.
3) Internet Forums
If your staff and keyword research doesn't give you enough to work with, take a look at external forums and sites for some relevant topic ideas. Quora is one of the best sites to check out, particularly for B2B marketers, because it positions itself as a place where anyone can ask anything (although some fields are represented more than others).
For instance, some industries like landscaping and home repair have targeted forums like, DoItYourself. Try exploring these or other external forums that might help you surface questions in need of answers. And you know what's really cool? Once you create your content answering the question, you can also go back to that forum to update the person seeking advice with your content!
Here's an example of a question that yielded plenty of content ... I mean, who doesn't need a little help getting over some blogging block?
4) Historical Data
You can also rely on your historical data to determine which content topics perform best for you. For instance, if you're using HubSpot, you could export your Page Performance report to get a spreadsheet containing all of your blog posts alongside performance data, like inbound links, comments, and page views generated. export page performance, sort by inbound links, views to see what's performing best. Then, sort by topic to see if there are any correlations between great performance, and topic choice.
You should actually be performing these analyses all the time -- not weekly or anything, but a quarterly check-up is a good idea. For instance, we've learned here at HubSpot (a couple years back) that blog posts about Twitter performed extremely well. Great! Write more about Twitter for marketing! But because we continued to check in to see which blog topics perform best, we noticed that posts about Twitter aren't doing as well as they used to. They're still pretty good, but not a top performer like they were a couple years ago. In fact, these days, Pinterest is performing much better as a blog topic! Makes sense, since it's the new kid on the block and readers want to know how the heck to use it.
Performing these analyses frequently is a pretty easy task, and it helps you determine what has worked historically, as well as identify trends over time to see if performance improves ... or falters ... around certain topics.
Finally, the best content provides an opportunity for you to learn something new, and teach other people about it. I mean, I bet that's why we saw such success with Pinterest posts ... we happened to identify something new that mad marketing applications, and figure out what those applications were so we could teach other marketers about it. Because bottom line? No one wants to do their own research. It's a huge pain in the arse. Content creators that do it for their audience -- and do it diligently -- often see huge returns from it. And it wasn't just a one-time success, either. We hopped on Vine when it launched a couple weeks ago, and after toying with it for a bit, were able to create several content assets around the topic that performed quite well for us: a news post about what Vine is, and a post about some real life marketing examples of Vine.
All this being said, you don't always have to just on the new big thing to be an expert. You have tons of knowledge on which you can draw to create excellent content around really helpful topics. Think about what your audience needs to learn how to do, and that you can teach them. To give you an idea, one of our most successful blog posts of all time was about how to retweet. That's right. It may seem elementary, and we published it long after Twitter launched -- in November of 2011, in fact -- but we just heard the question over, and over, and over. And we happened to know the answer. Pretty powerful stuff.
Position Yourself to Address Content Topics
So you've found a good topic. That's half the battle. Now you've got to figure out how best to write about it. Considering the steps below will help you to further ground your topic and create content that's worth reading and sharing.
1) Determine how advanced your response should be.
Every topic has a natural progression of development. Let's take Vine again. When Vine first came out, it made sense to write introductory content. As more and more marketers heard about the new platform, though, new questions bubbled up and topics that merely introduced what the platform was no longer cut it. The topic evolved from "What is Vine?" to "How Do Businesses Use Vine?" For each topic area, you need to decide how sophisticated your content should be around that subject matter based on your audience's level of knowledge on the topic.
2) Find data.
As we note in this post, data is one of the best ways to add instant credibility to your content. It also just makes for a higher quality read, and provides some much-needed perspective by which to understand a topic. Try to find some data to help your readers understand the scope of something or see it's span of influence, so the topic's importance is positioned at the correct level of importance. For instance, in the introduction to this post about automated email workflows marketers should be using, we cite this stat:
Why site this stat? Because it helps tee up the reader for the rest of the content, showing them that this topic is really important and that they have a huge opportunity to increase the quality of the leads they're passing to sales using marketing automation ... which they'll learn how to do in that very blog post!
3) Conduct interviews.
When you've written one too many posts in your own voice (aren't you sick of me yet?) reaching out to a third party expert or interviewing a customer can add a new angle and tone to your content, and can extend the life of a topic. Including interviews in this post on the new roles in marketing, enabled me to stretch my topic and include first-hand accounts from people in each emerging role, not to mention lend more credibility to the content by quoting people to whom the reader can relate.
4) Run an experiment.
There's a common writers' idiom that advises: "Show, don't tell." A post that shows the set-up and results of an actual A/B Test will always be more useful than a post that just talks about the merits of A/B Testing. A how-to post on preparing for a vacation, finishing your basement, or creating a good marketing video will always do better if it has photos and examples from the blogger him or herself. No matter how wonderful your topic, you can make it resonate even more if you show through examples that help reinforce your points.
5) Choose the right format.
Once you’ve figured out the positioning of your topic, find the most appropriate content format. The format should fit the topic at hand. Are you answering a question? Laying down an opinion? Simply adding context? Each of these topic areas may call for different formats of response. Here's what I mean:
- If You're Answering a Question: A topic that centers around providing instructions or trying to teach readers something might want lend itself best to how-to blog posts, videos, or lists.
- If You're Providing an Opinion: Reviews and thought leadership posts are both good ways to detail your perspective on a particular topic. You can also do so through list blogs like this one on Ten B2B companies that create exceptional content.
- If You're Adding Context: Blog posts or ebooks that add context typically take a new angle on an existing topic. Interviews, event blogging, and list blogs are all good formats for this approach.
I hope this has been a helpful start to deciding on your next blog post, whitepaper, ebook, or any other content format topic. Keep that inspiration coming, and that content useful!
What other tricks do you use for determining which content topics resonate the most with your audience?
Image credit: joewcampbell