You’ve heard that original content is an important part of building your online presence.
Blog posts. YouTube videos. Instagram photos. Facebook updates. LinkedIn articles. Email newsletters. These are just some of the many ways to go about it.
But regardless of what platform you publish on, or what format you publish in, you’ll run into the same question:
What topics should I cover?
And there’s an easy solution to that. Just look at the data.
If you know where to look, coming up with a list of topics doesn’t take much time at all. The data is already at your fingertips.
Consider these five sources of qualitative and quantitative data:
- What do you already know?
- What are your customers asking?
- What are others asking?
- What are others covering?
- What’s trending?
Let’s get into it.
1. What do you already know?
The first source of qualitative data is to dig into the topics you already know about.
Chances are your business exists to solve problems. Your customers come to you because of your skills or expertise. You’re already in a position of authority because you’re a professional.
Now imagine that you’re asked to teach a class about your area of expertise. Instead of customers, you now have students.
You won’t be able to make them all professionals. But you could teach them a handful of useful things.
So put on your teaching hat and think of the beginner-level problems.
Imagine you’re a personal trainer. The first beginner-level problem is goal setting. Is the goal to lose weight, or is it to gain strength?
From there, the next problem is creating an exercise regimen.
And once that’s figured out, there’s a third problem: creating a shopping list for weekly meal prep.
What if you’re an IT consultant? The beginner-level problems might include deciding between a Mac or a PC. Or setting up a home network. Or connecting a personal phone to a work email account.
The takeaway here is that you already know more than you realize. You may even be giving out this sort of beginner-level advice already.
The challenge is to package all of that advice into original content.
Action item: What twelve beginner-level topics should your customers know about? Publish an original piece of content about each one.
2. What are your customers asking?
Your customers are your second source of qualitative data.
If you’ve been in your line of business for awhile you might already have a list of common questions. You may have these written down somewhere, or they may be floating around in your head.
Your customers might also have questions that they’ve never bothered to ask you. Instead, they’re keeping those questions to themselves. Or even worse, they’re checking online and getting answers from your competition.
These questions are perfect topics for you to cover. And for the questions you haven’t heard, you need to get those out of your customers.
Action item: Add an “ask me anything” form to your website. Encourage your existing customers and website visitors to submit questions. If you get questions over email, use those too! Create an original piece of content for each question.
3. What are others asking?
This third source covers both qualitative and quantitative data.
The qualitative data comes from trawling online communities. Consider sources like Facebook groups, Reddit, Quora, and niche internet forums. These places are full of earnest questions.
The quantitative data comes from doing keyword research. Keyword research helps us figure out “how many people are searching for X topic per month?”
There are plenty of tools out there that support keyword research.
Action item: Define a handful of topic areas related to your business. Use the above sources to come up with specific questions. Answer those questions in your original content.
4. What are others covering?
Competitors are your fourth source of data.
And when I say competitors, I don’t only mean other businesses like yours. I’m also talking about any other website that’s competing for attention from the same people that you’re trying to reach.
Imagine you’re looking for advice about buying a new laptop. Search results will include traditional publishers, gadget blogs, eCommerce stores, and brick-and-mortar retailers.
They’re all competing for the same attention, even though they’re not competitors in the usual sense.
So how do you leverage your competitors to find topic ideas?
Go back to action item #3. There’s likely at least one popular website focused on topics related to your business. You may also find YouTube channels, Pinterest boards, Udemy courses, podcasts, and books.
Peruse the titles and sections of these existing publications. Look for quantitative metrics (e.g. view counts, social shares, purchase volume, reviews, and ratings). These metrics provide some approximation of popularity about the topic.
Action item: Run popular websites through BuzzSumo. This’ll give you a quick overview of their most-shared content.
5. What’s trending?
Our fifth and final tactic is like number four. We’re following in the footsteps of something that’s proven to have interest behind it already.
There are two easy options for jumping on trending topics. There’s newsjacking, and there are seasonal events.
Newsjacking means riding on the wave of whatever’s in the news. For this to work you need to act fast and be aware of the risks. Politics and religion, for example, are very sensitive subjects.
Seasonal events happen in almost every month. You can use those monthly themes as a source of topic inspiration. These events might be cultural, they might be regional, they might be specific to a particular interest.
May the 4th is big for Star Wars fans, for example. (“May the fourth be with you!”) Back to school is huge for parents and students. Black Friday is popular in North America, while China has Singles Day.
Social media is usually the most efficient platform for jumping on a short-term trend. Blog posts and YouTube videos, on the other hand, are good for seasonal or recurring trends. Why? Seasonal content is evergreen, happening every year. Plus people discover blog posts and YouTube videos through searching, and it takes time to rank in search.
Action item: See what’s trending. Check Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Google Trends. Is there an angle that relates to your business? Is there something you can add to the conversation? Create original content around that.
Note that whatever content you produce should be relevant to the trending topic. Don’t tack a hashtag to your post just because it’s trending.
Bonus tip: Keep track of all your ideas in one place.
Use a notebook, spreadsheet, to-do list app, or project management software. If you’re ever stuck and don’t know what to cover, you can turn to your list for inspiration.
If you want to be extra diligent, keep track of where you’re publishing the content, and make note of the URL. That way you’ll be able to also use your list as a reference for everything you’ve ever published.
An app like Airtable is particularly good for tracking this kind of information.
Final thought: You don’t need to be the first or the best.
All too often I see business owners recoil at the idea of putting themselves out there.
One business owner told me that he’s afraid of getting something wrong. He doesn’t want to get called out by his peers.
Another business owner told me that they didn’t see the point of publishing content if someone else has covered the topic already.
Those are valid arguments, and I get anxious about the same things. But that’s why we have to keep reminding ourselves that nobody’s perfect, and everybody’s unique.
In other words? Every business is different because they’re run by different people.
You can have a similar service, product, approach, or perspective as another business. But you are you. People do business with you because you are you. And sharing what you know and believe, in a way that is honest and true to who you are, brings that “you” factor to the forefront.
So go out there, dig into the data, and start publishing some original content of your own. Your future customers are waiting for it.