One of the keys to running a great blog, is great blog planning. Whether you’re managing your own company blog, or writing for a client, here’s how to quickly and effectively generate killer topics to keep the blog hopping.
One: Schedule Regular Sessions
No scrambling around at the last minute to come up with blog topics. Schedule monthly, bi-weekly, or weekly sessions with relevant stakeholders (usually you and your client contact; sometimes a project or content manager). Be careful not to stuff the meetings with too many people, as it can get unwieldy.
Two: Be Clear About Your Strategy
Before you start planning blog topics, make sure you and the client are on the same page about who you’re targeting with the blog, and what the purpose of the blog is. Audience and purpose should inform everything you produce for it.
Three: Set Expectations
Ahead of time, communicate the purpose of the meeting (to generate blog topic ideas and choose a few to focus on), and stick to it. If the client wants to discuss other matters, let them know you’ll be happy to talk about other things at the end of the call or, if it’s urgent, to schedule an extra call.
During the meeting, re-establish the purpose, and then let the client know that you’ll be brainstorming first, then evaluating the ideas after.
Four: Ask Good Questions
There are many types of blog articles, and each type contains potential for multiple topics at any given time. Use this list of questions to guide your conversation. Don’t shotgun through all the questions at once–give each one time to develop and generate new ideas before moving on to the next.
What keywords are we trying to rank for? Are there basic topics we can build around a keyword or phrase (“What is a …” “How do you …”)? You can also check Google search suggestions for related topics on each keyword.
Where is our audience feeling the squeeze right now (this year, this quarter, this month)?
- What are they excited about right now?
- Are there any upcoming relevant holidays?
What questions do new members of our audience have when they take their role?
What questions do experienced members of our audience frequently ask?
Are there any recent case studies we can highlight? By name or not?
How about new premium content (white papers, case studies) we want to lead to?
Is there any upcoming announcements or news we can target a topic around?
What are people arguing about in this industry?
What bad assumptions are people making?
What tangential topics might our audience be interested in?
Five: Know Your Blog Topic Types
For every topic idea you generate, you may generate additional ideas simply by trying to place them in the context of various topic types. This is also a useful exercise for categorizing the ideas and getting a head start on organizing your material. Here are 10 common blog types to play with.
- What Is. Many people overlook this simple way to generate SEO results and answer basic audience questions. For any common term, process, or idea in the industry, there can be a related “What Is” blog article. “What is a Plan and Cost Review?” “What is Construction Document Management?” are good examples.
- Listicles. The classic “5 Ways to XX” and “8 Reasons You’re XX” headlines work, and they’re reasonably easy to produce.
- How Tos. Step by step guides are popular. People like them, people look for them, and people read them.
- Case Studies. The human brain is wired to love stories and to be motivated and persuaded by them. Client stories can name specific clients, or they can be formulated as a “problem-solution” story using a generic company as an example without naming anyone in particular. The former are most compelling, but the latter require fewer approvals to move forward.
- Controversy. Are there hot topics in the industry that you or your client have a contrarian view on? Grab it and run with it. Controversy fuels discussion, so don’t be afraid to say something that’s not what the common wisdom says.
- Thought Leadership. Do you or your client have something new or thought-provoking to contribute to industry discussion? Put it in a blog entry and present it with an authoritative tone, and you’ve got a thought leadership piece.
- Humor. There are few things in life that people love more than a good laugh. What are some topics that your audience might find funny? Can you work pop cultural references into your work? Are there topics in the industry that everyone knows are an issue but nobody talks about because they’re just too embarrassing? Can you draw analogies that will cause the audience to chuckle?
- News Round-Up. What’s going on in the industry right now? You can cover top biggest news items, or dive deep into one particular news item that impacts your audience.
- Seasonal Topics. Holidays, weather, new year, and industry events all present opportunities for blog topics. Besides the almost obligatory winter “Happy Holidays!” post, you may want to do an annual round-up of Most Popular Blog Topics of (Insert Past Year Number) or Biggest Trends to Look for in (Insert New Year Number). Perhaps your client’s audience is impacted by hurricanes or hot weather or ice storms, and you can write about preparing for or recovering from these events. Maybe there’s an annual conference that the audience all attends or is familiar with and you can do a round-up of the speakers or the hot topics for the year.
- Content Repurpose. If your client have a lot of old content sitting around, like white papers, case studies, or blog archives, don’t let it go to waste–take a tour and see whether some of it can be repurposed into blog content with a little tweaking and rewriting.
- General Interest. One pitfall many new blogs fall into is thinking that they can only talk about topics that are directly related to their offerings. This misconception can be unnecessarily limiting. The blog is an opportunity for the company to really connect with the audience in a meaningful way, and build a relationship with them. Find out what the audience likes to talk about, and talk about it.
Six: Focus It In
Once you’ve got a solid list of topic ideas, go through the list with your client and identify those that are highest priority. Priority may be determined by timeliness (upcoming holiday, for instance), urgency (hot news item), relevance (related to a company announcement or a new line of service), or interest (the audience will really love this one). Or it may be determined by a content strategy that is already established. Regardless, help your client choose a few topics to focus on first.
Seven: Identify SMEs
A SME (subject matter expert) is someone you can call up and talk to about the topic, and expect to get insightful information. You won’t always have a SME for every topic, but when you can, it’s beneficial to line them up. Make sure before you end the planning session that you’ve identified a SME or other resource (even if it’s just your own knowledge) for every priority topic, and determined how you will approach them (introduction, cold contact, etc.).
Eight: Put it In Your Workflow
Once you’ve got an organized list of killer topics, put the work in your workflow. I use Trello to organize my content workflows, and I love it. I block time for each activity in my calendar (including scheduling and conducting SME interviews, as well as outlining & drafting the content) so I know it will get done, and then I link to the relevant Trello card from each calendar item. Inside Trello, I link to resources, drafts, and outlines on each related card.
For more info on how I organize my workflows for greater productivity, check this piece out.