When it comes to content marketing, one of the most difficult aspects of the job can be coming up with awesome, share-worthy content on a regular basis. I’ve struggled with this over the years myself, but I’ve finally found a process that makes the once-challenging process of content ideation a cinch!

If you’re looking for a way to churn out awesome idea after awesome idea, then this process is for you:

Step 1 – Find Competitors and Seed Keywords

While there are plenty of tools available to help with this, my favorite by far is SEMrush. If you already know who all of your ranking competitors are, and the keywords/topics that you want to go after, feel free to skip to Step 2.

First thing to do is to drop your domain into the SEMrush tool, then click Organic Research on the left, then Competitors. This will take you to a page like this:


I recommend pulling out the top 5-10 competitors, though you may want more if you’re in a crowded space. I then drop those into a Google Doc or Excel spreadsheet for the next steps (you can check out a sample Google Doc template for this here.)

Next, I go back to SEMrush and pull out a list of core keywords I think best represent my site and the content/topics I want to cover. Because it’s easiest to go after low-hanging fruit, I like to start with keywords where I already have some rankings, but are not yet ranked #1.

In SEMrush, go to Positions, under Organic Research, and then filter the list to Include -> Pos -> Greater than -> 1. I also like to exclude brand terms, so I Add one more filter to Exclude -> Keyword -> Containing -> Brand. Then sort the list by volume, largest to smallest, and pick your terms.

In the case of my sample company, Domo, I might target Dashboards, Dashboard Software, Marketing Dashboard, Data Driven Marketing, and Business Dashboard.

Step 2 – See What Related Content Has Performed Well Elsewhere

As far as I’m aware, there is no better tool for monitoring content performance than BuzzSumo. For this step, I’ll be taking each of the competitors I found in step 1, as well as each core keyword, and dropping them into BuzzSumo one by one. Here’s what a typical result looks like:

data driven

For competitors, drop in their domain as domain.com. For keywords you want to put them in quotes for precisions, such as “data driven marketing”. You can also narrow the results to include or exclude specific sites, authors, and other factors. You can also narrow the date range, going back up to a year, or as narrow as 24 hours.

As I go through this process, I do three things. One, I open up the top 3-10 articles for each competitor and/or keyword in new tabs. Two, I drop each article title and link into my spreadsheet. Three, I go through each article and pull out the name of the person who wrote it, and if possible, their email address or other contact info (for future press outreach).

The goal here is to get a good feel for content types and themes that perform well in your space, which brings us to ….

Step 3 – Analyze the Content to Determine Why it Performed Well

For some content, it may just have been a creative title that did the trick. For others, it may have been the visuals. This step is highly subjective, but it helps if you can put yourself in the head of your target reader and visualize why they might have shared a certain piece of content.

Beyond this, there are a few key things I like to look at: how long was the content, how visual was it (I use my own little metric, number of images+videos per 100 words of text), on which platform was it shared the most, who linked to it, and who shared it.

With this, I’m looking for a few things:

  1. Which social platforms are the most relevant to my audience? This can help me to focus on high-leverage platforms, and not waste time on low-leverage platforms.

  2. Is the most shared content usually visual, or not? If my industry isn’t visual, I might not want to include visuals.

  3. Is the typical piece long, or short? If only short posts get shared in my industry, then I don’t want to waste time creating long-form content.

Next, I want to see who are the influencers in my space (domains, and people). BuzzSumo lets you look at backlinks to a piece of content, as well as people who shared the content on Twitter. If any sites or people stand out, I add them to my spreadsheet under an Influencers tab, and make a note to ping them when I launch my content.

You can also measure the ROI from content marketing ideas


Step 4 – Make a Set of Topically Relevant Title Templates

I like to look at the content that has performed well, and see if there are any patterns I can use. For example, on sites like Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, and many others, listicles perform very well (7 Tips for Thriving in a Competitive Office Space, 10 Reason You Should Quit Your Job Right Now, etc. etc.).

While some titles perform well everywhere, it’s best to examine your particularly industry to see what resonates. Again, this is highly subjective, but going through your spreadsheet you should be able to quickly see if:

  • Titles tend to have a positive, negative, or neutral stance (7 Ways to Succeed as a Small Business vs. 7 Tips for Small Business Owners vs. 7 Ways to Avoid Failure as a Small Business).

  • Do the most shared titles contain numbers? Or just words?

  • Are titles keyword-focused, or are they creative and catchy?

Here are a few I came up with for a company in the Business Intelligence space (you can also find these in the Google Doc I shared above):

  • Why [Keyword] is the Future of [Industry]

  • How [Keyword] Can Boost Your Bottom-Line

  • Reducing/Improving [Industry Term] By Using [Keyword]

  • 7 Tips to Make the Most of [Keyword]

I usually like to come up with 15-20 variations, and then spin out variations based on my particular industry.

Step 5 – Use Proprietary Data Wherever Possible

If you have access to data that other people don’t, and it can be presented in an interesting way, USE IT. Wherever possible, make it visual if you can, with order of preference being video, motion graphic, infographic, and then image (though again, this will depend a lot on your particular audience).

Here are a few of my favorite examples of blogs that provide data-driven articles in a visually compelling manner:

When you use content that is exclusive to you, and that can be presented in an interesting way, you’ve got a much greater likelihood of creating something truly share-worthy, instead of the “me too” content that often plagues business-centric blogs around the web.

Step 6 – Test, Test, and Test Again

Not all audiences are created equal, and though the previous steps should have helped you to very effectively dial in your content ideation, I’m a firm believer in the “test all the things” mantra.

How do you effectively test content? Throw it out there! Use this process, create a few pieces following these guidelines, and put them up and see how it goes. Ask readers for feedback (there’s a good list of apps on Mashable), monitor your own analytics data, and use tools like BuzzSumo and Moz to keep an eye on social share and link numbers.

Of course, I don’t recommend the “if you build it, they will come” approach to content, which brings us to our last step.

Step 7 – Seed Your Content

If great content falls in the woods, and nobody is around to hear it, does it go viral? I’ve found it best to give content, especially when I first start testing content ideas, a nice fat social boost for anywhere from a day to a week after I launch it.

While your options are plentiful, you’ll usually get A. the most bang for your buck, and B. the greatest likelihood of virality, from using Facebook ads and Reddit ads (even StumbleUpon ads can still be effective).

Of course, business-centric audiences might see more value from Twitter ads or LinkedIn ads, but they are much more costly than Facebook and Reddit, and at the end of the day, a B2B business is still selling to individuals on the other end, and it’s those people your content needs to reach and resonate with.

For Facebook and Reddit, you don’t need to spend much. $10-20 on each platform should be more than enough to get good content seeded, though for your initial content performance tests, you may want to allocate more to speed up the results.

And refer back to your spreadsheet, and reach out to the Twitter influencers and journalists you discovered during the research phase, and let them know about the relevant content you created that would be a great fit for their audiences.

After putting in place a content marketing strategy you'll want to speed up production. So check out these tips to keep production of content efficient

At the end of the day, if you understand your audience well, you should have no problem coming up with idea after idea on a regular basis…and if you do, you can always use this!

sam roberts

About the Author: Sam McRoberts is the CEO of VUDU Marketing, and the author of Screw the Zoo. When he isn’t working (rarely), you can find him wandering around Seattle with his wife and son. The fastest way to get a response is through Twitter.