This is a guest post by Brandy Cross. Brandy is a native English freelance writer operating in the Netherlands, where she functions as a technical copywriter for companies ranging from Fortune 500 to startups.
The Internet is alive with content, with even single platforms like WordPress publishing over 70 million new blogs per month. These posts range from the inane to the deeply impactful, at an average length of just over 1,000 words, and are published by authors ranging from teen fans to industry experts with millions of followers.
Adding to that Kaleidoscope of content can be intimidating. More importantly, adding to that content while providing any level of commensurate relevance and value to clients and readers can be difficult. Doing so requires narrowing your scope and focus to a specific client, audience, and added value.
At the same time, anything you could possibly write will have a specific audience, goal, tone, and style guide. These factors, along with search influencers, existing content, and your own unique input for ideas will allow you to create content that is unique, interesting, and relevant to its audience.
As a copywriter, I use defined processes to brainstorm content ideas for clients, so that I can deliver value.
What to Consider When Researching Content
Most writers follow consistent guidelines when creating copy. You take a topic, frame that topic with research, create a skeleton or guidelines for your copy, and then write around that outline. I tend to follow the same process when brainstorming content. Here, I define the parameters for the content and use those guidelines to frame ideas, so everything I submit stays “on track”. Here, the most important factors are topic, target audience(s), goal, search, tone or style guide, and existing content.
Anything you brainstorm should (obviously) be on topic, but “on-topic” is often much broader than a client will initially consider themselves. Your average bank will be most interested in blogging about savings accounts and banking premiums, but most people don’t find these topics to be very interesting.
Instead, you want to look at content goals and your readership to define not only what your client is about but also the types of content their readership is consuming. Think Red Bull’s focus on extreme sports, Capital One’s blog about lifestyle and money, or Atlassian’s developer blog. These topics don’t necessarily directly promote the company they’re published for, but they draw readers, build brand awareness, and generate brand trust.
Topics should be chosen based on diverse factors such as industry, specific goals, company products, readership, search, goals, and of course, existing topics on the site.
Understanding a target audience or audiences allows you to make quality decisions regarding tone, style, topic, depth of content, expertise, and focus. Most businesses will have more than one demographic so you may find yourself writing for one, several at once at a compromise, or for several individual demographics.
Target audience is most important when choosing how you approach content, how you approach the expertise of the reader, and what you actually write about.
If you go on the Wix.com blog, you’ll notice topics are simple, geared towards non-technical readers, and most-often about utilizing strategy or click-interfaces.
If you visit the WordPress blog, you’ll find a mix of content geared towards an audience with a significantly higher level of technical expertise. This is important because both platforms offer the same service to different audiences.
Who are your audience?
- What is their age? Sex?
- What do they care about?
- What are their problems
- How does your client solve those problems?
- What problems do they have with your client’s solutions?
- What is their level of technical expertise in the industry?
- How well do they understand the industry? At what level are they reading at?
In some cases, your client will hand you customer profiles. In others, they won’t have any idea of what their target audience or demographic is, and you will have to complete this research on your own.
Most clients will have specific goals for content, which is delineated in an overarching content or marketing strategy. In most cases, goals will include clicks, sales, traffic, brand recognition, brand awareness, customer relationships, and so on. Some pieces will have more than one goal. Others will add towards the same goal. Recognizing the end-goal or actual value of the content allows you to define a topic much more easily.
Let’s look at some examples of a possible change in approach based on goal for a company selling a product, like a chat AI for banking:
- Clicks (to a landing page) – 5 Ways AI Boosts Chat Responses for Banks
- Sales (top of funnel) – Implementing Chat AI for Banks
- Traffic – How JP Morgan Chase Bank Cut 360,000 Hours of Work with their Chat AI
- Brand Awareness – X Bank Saves 20% on Customer Service Budget with Chat AI
- Customer Relationships – Implementation and Strategy Tips for ABrand Chat AI
The most important takeaway is that content must be structured around the end-goal. Start from end-value and brainstorm content from there.
Search is an incredibly important element of any content strategy because it often impacts how and if content is ever seen. No matter how strong a brand’s audience, chances are they will need good search ranking. You need to know:
- Search phrases by topic/audience/demographic/goal
- Individual search terms
- What competitors are using
- What people are talking about in and around your topics
Search is often a secondary element of brainstorming topics but keeping it in mind when approaching what you intend to write will allow you to create content within the parameters of what people are actually looking for.
Tone and style guide are important in the context of what you can and should write about. If your client offers a formal blog for a high-level audience, it would be a mistake to introduce a broad and informal topic. What fits the tone and style for the existing content or brand, or of the brand which you are creating for the client?
Anything you create should complement, link to, or add to existing content on the client’s website or blog. This means familiarizing yourself with products, About information, any existing blog topics, social media posts and so on. Your goal should be to add to what the brand is about and what the brand cares about without creating duplicate content.
Developing parameters for content allows you to create ideas that are relevant to the brand and its audience.
Researching Content Ideas
Once you’ve established parameters for content research, you can start looking at the content itself. Here, you should either be familiar with or familiarize yourself with the topic.
What do people want to know?
What are people searching for? What are people trying to answer? What questions do you logically have yourself? Search tools and forums are excellent resources. If available and you have the resources to do so, discussing content with customer support is also a good idea, because they understand what people care about.
What needs to be discussed to meet SEO goals?
Sometimes content is all about search. If you can define a list of keywords and phrases, you can easily build content around it.
What needs to be discussed to meet goals?
Consider your goals and how they impact content. What types of content contribute to those goals?
What’s in recent news? What about on relevant association/convention/talk websites?
It’s extremely helpful to research your topics, your keywords, and even specific article titles you’ve come up with. Researching content through a variety of mediums including recent news, relevant associations, conventions, other blogs, and competitors will give you a good idea of what is being discussed.
In some cases, it will also give you ideas for very relevant and interesting ideas. In others, it will tell you what people are looking for and reading based on the success (or lack of it) on other websites.
What angle are you approaching from?
Your angle or approach will completely define your content. Why? You can take almost any keyword and write about it from numerous angles. Take a look at my selection of titles ideas under “Goals”. Most of those titles includes the keyword “Chat AI” and most also include banks, which will come up under “Chat AI for Banks.”
Even if you’re writing around basic information like “How to troubleshoot a printer”, you can try to make your content pitches unique:
- Can I add anything new to this idea?
- Can I add my own expertise or interview an expert to add their expertise?
- Can I make it brand/specific or audience relevant in some way?
- What unique value can I provide here?
- Can I make this more in-depth, more up-to-date, more comprehensive than competitors?
- Can I deconstruct what competitors have done and why that is successful? Can I use that for something unique?
- Can I reference interesting and relevant information that would add more value?
Most content strategies will eventually ask you to create content that already exists on the Internet. This is an inevitability considering search terms and the pure volume of published content. Your goal should be to familiarize yourself with the most popular of what’s currently available so that you can create something unique with its own added value.
Understanding Your Sources
Your content sources will define how and what you write, how you write about it, its value, and its legitimacy. However, not every resource will be valuable for every piece of content. Understanding your sources, how to use them, and when to use them is important.
Existing content is the easiest way to see what is there, what people are talking about, and how popular it is. My go-to resources for existing content research include:
- Competitor blogs/websites
- Industry blogs/content publications
You can research content on blogs and websites to see topics and content ideas and to see if people are reading it. Tools like Ahrefs (not free) and SEOQuake (Free) will give you a good idea of traffic, backlinks, and content popularity. You can also look at comments and page views or shares when this data is public.
Depending on the industry, you may also want to look at formal sources such as academic and scholarly content, relevant blogs, podcasts, or even YouTube for ideas.
Keyword tools allow you to quickly pull up a list of relevant search terms, often organized by how searched they are. I tend to use:
There are many other tools and many of them frequently change. Your best option is to explore and see what works best in your industry/niche. You should use keyword tools for content ideas as well as to frame your content in ways that it will come up in search.
News and new information is everywhere and it can allow you to deliver relevant, interesting, and on-topic content. Even if you’re writing basic information, news articles can allow you to add context that will help your article to stand out.
How? Let’s say you’re writing about solar panels for a small installer located in Cape Town, South Africa. You’re writing very basic article on what you need to install panels. A quick news search would allow you to add a lot of content. For example, if you search for news about solar panels in South Africa at the time of writing this article, you would learn that solar panels in the area have to be registered.
News and relevant content updates can be found on Google (or other web search) news, convention and industry websites, and association websites. In most cases, you can use this to add context, up-to-date information, or just interest-points to your content. However, you should be careful. If you’re trying to write evergreen content that doesn’t age or become outdated, you don’t want to talk about news items as news items.
Industry experts are an interesting but cost-intensive resource that can greatly add to the value and credibility of your content. Here, you can either work with an expert on a one-off basis, work with them as an ongoing partnership if they are part of the organization you are writing for, or very casually ask questions.
- Experts inside the organization can offer helpful information and provide quotes to add interest
- Tools like ExpertiseFinder and HelpAReporter can help you find experts to interview and quote
Working with an expert can give you insight into what’s actually going on in an industry. However, if you’re writing for beginners or persons outside of the industry, it’s important to take consumer perception into account.
Books and formal long-form content are a good resource for a number of reasons, mostly because they provide an extensive overview of a topic from a specific angle. Here, even reviewing a chapter list can be valuable, because it will give you a good idea of what people are talking about and why.
My advice would be to use books to add context and depth to content and ideas, use them to frame specific topics, and read them when you’re working for a single client for a longer period.
Brainstorming content is most-often about setting parameters and using a variety of input to come up with ideas. You can then validate those ideas against keywords, popular topics, and what the client wants or needs.