The blank canvas. The white screen. The blinking cursor.
What do I write about now? What do I have to say that's important enough to be worth publishing? Will anyone even care? This isn't working. I'll try again tomorrow.
We've all been there.
It's terrifying, at times, pushing fresh content out into the world. It can be unnerving wondering how your peers are going to judge your words. Is what you've written good? Will it be received well, or will it create a negative response? Or worse... no response at all?
This thinking often forces us to repress ideas and throw them into the "not worth publishing" bucket. It's a shame, because it stifles creativity. This is why we're often left staring at computer screens knowing that we should publish something, but unable to decide on exactly what.
Blink. Blink. Blink.
To combat this: Today we're going to look at some tried and tested techniques for coming up with blog post ideas even when you feel like you've got no creativity left to give.
Keep an ideas file
The most important thing about inspiration is that you can't predict when it's going to strike. When the sun is shining, you need to be ready to make hay. To a degree that simply involves basic preparation.
Keep a file - a document or a spreadsheet - with a list of all your blog post ideas. Keep this file in a place where you can access it at all times; like Dropbox.
When you have an idea that might make an interesting blog post, write it down.
Do this each and every time and before long you'll have a significant inventory to work from - even when you're not in the mood to be creative at all.
Steal from others
One of the best ways to come up with ideas for your own blog is to consistently expose yourself to blogs which you want to emulate. Use a feed reader (we like Feedly) to subscribe to your favourite blogs and check in once a day to see what's been published.
Don't be afraid to steal ideas which are clearly working for other people. There's a vast amount that can be learned from the success of others. Blog post series, subject areas, use of imagery, the list is endless! Just don't actually steal their content. That isn't cool.
Read a great post by one of your competitors? Write it down in your ideas file. On a rainy day that might be just the bit of inspiration you need to spark a new post.
Ask the audience
Foolish bloggers go out in search of ideas, efficient bloggers allow ideas to come to them.
You can crowdsource blog post ideas by reading your own comments section, checking your @replies on Twitter, and listening when people talk.
What questions are being asked? What do people seem confused (or excited) by? What stories do they have? Not sure about any of these? Ask your readers to tell you what they would like to read more of - and then give it to them. It sounds simple, but remarkably few people actually do it.
Ask the internet
Many-a-noble-blogger has been stuck for content ideas before you, and while that has been an insurmountable hurdle for some... there are many more who have conquered it and documented the process. Check out lists of awesome blog post ideas created by your blogosphere peers.
Here are just a few that we enjoyed...
- 32 of The Most Popular Blog-Post Ideas (The Blog Stylist)
- Blog Post Prompts and Ideas (Pinterest)
- The Blog Post Topic Generator (Hubspot)
- 56 Ideas for Blog Posts on Your Business Blog (ProBlogger/LinkedIn)
- 50 Content Marketing Ideas for Your Blog (Forbes)
Expand on your blockbuster content
Look through your analytics history and figure out what your most popular posts of all time are.
These are your blockbusters.
Weeks, months and years after publication, they still bring in a steady stream of new visitors to discover your blog for the first time.
So you know this content works, the next question is: How could you expand on it? Could you break one of your existing posts down into more fine-grained steps? Could you do a follow-up? Could you refresh the content in the post with a new and improved version? Whatever you decide, make sure you edit the old post to include a link at end:
[UPDATE July/2014: I put this strategy to the test in a whole new way this year, and the results were incredible]
Piggyback on trends
There are lots of ways to find out what's "hot right now" online. A great way to write a piece of content which will be read by many people is by knowing in advance what many people are searching for and reading.
- Google Trends - Tells you what people have been searching for online recently
- Twitter.com/Search - Gives you the worldwide trends in what people are tweeting
- Reddit.com - Shows you the people's news (TM) stream
All of these places show you the type of content which is popular right now. Spot the opportunity.
Tell the story so far
Sometimes the best post is the one that tells the story of all the other posts. Regardless of what you blog about, you've probably been doing it for a while now.
- What have you learned in that time?
- What has changed since you started?
- If you had to go back and give yourself one piece of advice at the start of your career, what would it be?
These posts aren't just an exercise in narcissism, they can be incredibly useful for other people in your industry. Everyone has to start somewhere, and by learning from your mistakes the next generation can progress even quicker.
Give a little back, and tell your story.
Write a guide
What's the best kind of blog post? That's easy. The best kind of blog post is one that makes people read 12 more of your blog posts. Only a very few people link their posts together properly and capitalise on this.
Sit down and go through your old posts. Group related posts together and see if you can order them into a way which makes sense as a mini-guide, so that reading one post after another in sequence is valuable.
Add an introduction, a conclusion, and some light descriptions + links to each post. You now have a guide post which will send people off on a click-quest around your blog.
Have a look at this wonderful Beginner's Guide to SEO on Moz.com to see an example of this in action.
Borrow a brain
Is your brain tired? Borrow someone else's! Who do you look up to in your industry who your readers might be interested in? Drop them an email and ask if you can do an interview. Your only challenge is to come up with some interesting questions which will get your subject talking. After that, they do all the hard work of generating fantastic content on your behalf.
But remember: Interview quality is paramount.
The web is littered with boring "so tell us who you are and what you do" shit. Don't repeat that nonsense. Write a proper introduction for your subject rather than asking them to do it for you. Do your research and ask them something significant. That's where the magic comes from.
Do some link analysis
What works well for your peers might also work well for you. Did you know that you can find out, with relative ease, what posts are most popular on any site in the world? The data on who-links-to-who is publicly available.
Using Open Site Explorer's "Top Pages" function you can get some really interesting statistics on which pages on any given site have the most links from other websites.
Could you come up with something similar? Could you expand on what has already been written and improve it? Make another note in your ideas file as soon as you come up with something.
Save the good stuff for later.
Train your idea muscle
Coming up with ideas is a muscle that needs exercising. The more often you do it, the stronger that muscle becomes. Come up with blog post ideas every, single, day, and you'll soon start to notice it become more natural.
One of the greatest bloggers on this subject is James Altucher. Go and read his Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine post right now. It doesn't just apply to blog posts.
A) WHAT DO YOU MEAN – “IDEA MACHINE”?
You will be like a superhero. It’s almost a guaranteed membership in the Justice League of America.
Every situation you are in, you will have a ton of ideas. Any question you are asked, you will know the response. Every meeting you are at, you will take the meeting so far out of the box you’ll be on another planet, if you are stuck on a desert highway – you will figure the way out, if you need to make money you’ll come up with 50 ideas to make money, and so on.
After I started exercising the idea muscle, it was like a magic power had unleashed inside of me.
- James Altucher
What to do next
Everyone has ideas for blog posts. The tough part is organising them in a way that you can act on. Hopefully this post has given you some ideas for where to start.
Now get yourself going:
- Start your ideas file as a Google Doc or spreadsheet. Add to it every day. Refer to it when you're stuck.
- Figure out what other people in your industry are writing about. Hijack and expand upon their ideas.
- Don't be afraid of the publish button. Some posts are going to be better than others, but some-posts is still better than no-posts.
Do you have any other rock-solid techniques for coming up with blog post idea when you're really stuck?
Photo by Rick Nunn