How to Ideate Content Marketing Campaigns
How to Ideate Content Marketing Campaigns
We’ve all been there, stuck staring at your computer before a content ideation session wondering how to come up with an idea that will attract big media placements that encourage long term SEO value. It is certainly not an easy task and combining this with journalists becoming savvier against blatant linkbait tactics and bloggers trying to capitalise on desperate link builders with hefty fees, linkable ideas that seem a natural fit within a client’s content calendar are becoming increasingly important.
Here at Screaming Frog, my colleague (James McCrea) and I have created this comprehensive guide to ease the pressure of building links and get you on your way to forming that perfect idea.
“Forget the light bulb moment”
While some of you may rely on sudden moments of inspiration to get everything into place, 95% of the time we discourage this as your primary strategy. It can happen, you sit there drinking a cup of tea and suddenly realise how to get a toilet cleaning supply company featured on The Guardian.
Unfortunately, sorry to be a buzzkill, but without doing your due diligent research you will form an idea that gets just one “nofollow” link on a low authority site that positions your work underneath a male enhancement advertisement.
Instead, you should follow these steps:
Step 1 – Understand your client
It’s important your content marketing project is a natural fit within a client’s content schedule and their tone of voice. As a result, you will need to know what ideas they have previously tried, what themes they should avoid, and so on.
The easiest way to start here is by looking at their blog, searching for their brand on Google News to identify previous success and assessing their social media profiles. If they have previous topics that have been successful, it is worth assessing whether there is scope for more content within that topic that they haven’t explored previously.
It can also be helpful to learn a little about the content of the competition and find out what has worked for them in the past. A quick way to do this is to take the URL of the site you want to inspect, enter it into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and click on ‘Top content’.
This will order the site’s pages by “social power”, a combined metric of referring domains, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest shares. While this feature will allow you to easily spot previous link building competitor campaigns, smaller sites often don’t have as much data to analyse.
In these instances, scanning through “Best by links” can be a good solution to start to pick out patterns in the content of the client and their competitors, to see what has previously been most effective.
Step 2 – Understand your goal
While we certainly want a client’s audience to enjoy our content, there needs to be a degree of honesty in the aim of our work. Try not to focus too much on content that you think will rank for valuable terms, generate links, social shares and increase sales all in one.
Unfortunately, if you do, what suffers most is what you have been paid to do – generate links. The outcome of chasing all four metrics will often result in boring and confusing content that no one will want to link to.
By being honest about our goal to generate authoritative links, we can expand our thinking process of what our client’s target audience could be interested in, beyond their services or products.
Step 3 – Identify shareable content topics that resonate with your client’s niche
A crucial step in forming a great idea is to identify shareable topics within your client’s niche. The most important strategy here is to always keep up to date with the news and always be on the lookout for topics that could relate to your client’s brand. While the news is currently being dominated by COVID-19, there are still topical events like the U.S. presidential election. Therefore, presidential campaigns past and present could be an interesting theme.
Alternatively, another strategy is to search for upcoming calendar events and assess whether they relate to your client’s business. A great website for this is Awareness Days, they list a number of different events throughout the year that every content marketer & digital PR expert should know about. For example, the beginning of July marks ‘Plastic Free July’ – a global movement to help millions reduce their plastic consumption for an entire month. This could be significantly relevant to any clients that have plastic-free or eco-friendly products/services. Creating newsworthy content around plastic as a topic would, therefore, be a decent way to generate backlinks to your client’s site during this month.
There aren’t always going to be breaking news stories or calendar events relating to your client’s brand. To identify content topics that are more evergreen, there are two different tools you can use to help you:
If you feel your client has the luxury of being in a marketable industry, and there are a broad range of relevant topics being covered in the media, you can start to brainstorm your own topics that you think would be interesting. A useful feature here is to use BuzzSumo’s topic generator. This will give you a list of topics to input into their content analyzer. From this, you should be able to find out which topics are getting more coverage (not all topics are equal, the media has a natural bias to specific topics).
Let’s say your client operates in the travel sector, you may think some interesting topics are “sustainable travel”, “stressful air travel” and “weddings abroad”. Alternatively, you may have found these topics from a broad “travel” search using the topic generator. The content analyzer returns the following results for these topics:
- “Sustainable Travel” – highest shared article received 40 links and 15k Facebook shares
- “Stressful Air Travel” – highest shared article received 12 links and 27.8k Facebook shares
- “Weddings Abroad” – highest shared article received 3 links and 5k Facebook shares
While BuzzSumo’s link data can sometimes be inaccurate, their social data is very solid, allowing us to make judgements on shareable topics. ‘Sustainable Travel’ and ‘Stressful Air Travel’ seem to be significantly more shareable than ‘Weddings Abroad’ in this instance. Therefore, we are already starting to validate what might work and what might not work.
Another useful tactic is to input the domains of target publishers into BuzzSumo’s content analyzer. For example, if you know that your client wants links from Conde Nast Traveller, you can input their domain as shown below:
What returns is a list of their most engaged with articles over the past year (although you can filter to different points if you want to be more specific). Here we get an idea of how their team writes headlines, whether they are featuring infographics, surveys or indexes, as well as some content topics Conde Nast journalists have had success with previously (and hence may want to repeat).
Considering journalists get judged on the number of social shares their content has, it is a safe bet they will want to explore content topics again if they have worked previously. Their most engaged with article assesses the link between wildlife and lack of activity during lockdown. As long as too much time doesn’t pass between your ideation and getting your content live, this could be a topical content theme that your key target publisher is also interested in.
It is important to sanity check your conclusions from BuzzSumo research. Reddit is a useful tool here as it allows you to easily become absorbed within a client’s niche. You will need to look at relevant subreddits to understand what your target audience is talking about. For example, if your client operates within the human resources sector, it may be worth looking into relevant subreddits such as:
Step 4 – Identify questions about your identified topics
Now you have identified some popular topics within a client’s industry, you will need to narrow down what questions your content is going to answer. Following on with our example, you have already identified sustainable travel as one of the most popular topics within travel at the moment, but what will your content answer about sustainable travel?
Immediately you will see there are a number of questions around sustainable travel ordered by popularity:
- What are tips for sustainable travel?
- What are some interesting ethical and sustainable travel suggestions?
- Where are sustainable traveling jobs?
When using this feature, it is worth bearing in mind that “why” questions will likely need attitudinal data to answer them. This is most commonly answered with survey data (although there can be exceptions), which can sometimes be expensive to fund.
To find more questions you can also use free tools, such as AnswerThePublic:
This gives you some options of what your content could potentially answer with the latest available data.
Step 5 – Identify emotional hooks
It’s always important to make sure your content has an aspect that elicits some sort of emotional response for your audience – this could be anything from joy or amusement to surprise or fear.
It’s easier to do this if the idea involves a relatable element to the reader: for instance, a regional-based idea where different locations are compared against each other using data, might induce competitiveness from readers as they compare how their local city or country scores against others. Similarly, useful guide form content might spark intrigue by giving users direct and easily-actionable advice.
Step 6 – Start to predict some headlines and angles
The best ideas can often be judged on their headlines.
While you will not always know the best angles and resulting headlines before you start your research, you should be able to predict some that could apply.
As an agency, we always encourage people to think about headlines for their ideas that may appeal to journalists. While thinking about angles, try to think about how your content can emotionally tell a story or how you can positively position your client’s brand as an expert in a newsworthy debate.
The best angles and headlines are unexpected and aim to actively question what we already know about a topic or bring fresh information into a topical debate. Sticking with the ‘sustainable travel’ example, if you wanted to explore ‘where has the most sustainable travel opportunities’, it is likely you already have some biases as to where has the least – think about whether these biases are likely to be topical (e.g. have certain countries recently been criticised/praised for their sustainability, or lack of sustainability).
In other words, the angles you should be thinking of here are:
“Are we wrong about X? They have just featured as the most sustainable for travel”
“First X ranks as the lowest for carbon emissions, now it is officially the best for sustainable travel”
Step 7 – Which format best highlights what I want to answer?
The format of your piece needs to be routed into the question you want answered. E.g:
“What are tips for sustainable travel?” – you may want to provide a visually appealing infographic.
“What are some interesting ethical and sustainable travel suggestions?” – you may want to rank destinations in an index by their ability to encourage sustainable travel (which city has the most sustainable travel tours, sustainable transport & food options etc.)
“Where are sustainable travelling jobs?” – you may want to scrape data from Indeed/Glassdoor to find where in the world has the most sustainable travel jobs and find the roles with the most positions.
It’s also important to ensure that your format displays the piece’s information in a way that is clear and easy to understand. The more effort the audience has to put in to work out what your content is saying, the more likely it is that they’ll lose interest.
You can test this out by showing an early draft of your content to people who haven’t previously seen it and asking them how long they took to properly understand it. This is particularly true for journalists, who receive a lot of pitches every day and don’t have the time to properly delve into them all. Therefore, they’re more likely to go for content that’s immediately understandable.
While it’s great to try to stand out from the crowd, it might be a good idea to keep things fairly simple rather than to create something complex that requires more time to get to grips with it.
Step 8 – Are there credible sources to support my idea?
All content needs supporting data. Even if you are looking to create an artistic visual on “what tourist landmarks could look like as a result of climate change” for your “sustainable travel” topic, you will need some credible sources to back up your claims. Make sure you have searched the internet for all publicly available data.
There might be instances where you don’t need to frantically search through Google Dataset Search. If the idea is directly linked to your client’s products, they are likely to have internal data that may support your idea! Furthermore, if the client is open to a bit more expense (or you are able to creatively play around with budgets), surveys can often be a fantastic way of creating your own datasets to directly answer any questions you want to know about.
Another route you could go down in ideation is to start by looking for interesting data and see if this gives you any content ideas. However, it’s still important to go through all the other steps in this article if you do so.
Step 9 – Sanity check your idea
If you followed the previous steps, you should have formed an idea that:
- Is in line with your client’s industry and fits their tone of voice and content schedule
- Is related to a topic that is topical and being shared at a high rate in the media
- Answers a specific question that target audiences want answering within that topic
- Is in a format which provides use to the overall goal of the content
- Has valid sources to support it
To fully check if your idea is likely to be successful in attracting media placements, it is worth double checking your idea against the following questions:
- “What could some news headlines for this campaign be?”
- “Has someone currently done this? If so, can we do it better?”
- “Has the type of content theme worked before? If not, why would it work now?”
- “Will this content leave a favourable impression to the client’s current and new customers?”
- “What publications/bloggers would write about it?”
Here at Screaming Frog, we have previously developed the STEPPS to SUCCES acronym that allows you to sanity check your content.
While there is certainly no right or wrong way to go about content ideation for link building, it is important to strategise and produce a ‘method to the madness’.
If you are just starting or an experienced professional, we all know how difficult it can be to get everyone on board with content campaigns.
Unlike technical and on-page SEO, everyone has an opinion on what content they think will work. Because of this, in-depth research into your client’s industry is critical.
Using tools such as BuzzSumo, Reddit, Quora and AnswerThePublic, you are able to provide numerical evidence that backs up your idea. No one can disagree with data. Therefore, when clients or colleagues seem to be at a conflict of interest, you can rely on this data to resolve any issues.
By following these 9 steps, you are on your way to improving your ideas. However, content ideation is a craft and like any craft, practice makes perfect.
To truly come up with the best ideas, you need to fully immerse yourself in the industry and draw inspiration from experts, in addition to following these steps. We have previously listed some of our favourite sources of content inspiration.