Last Updated on September 14, 2020 by Chris
If there's one thing we don't want to become here at This Week in Blogging, it's predictable. And that's why this week, our expert interview will be conducted by me (Chris), and will actually feature none other than the other half of TWIB, Jeremy Jones.
The two of us were chatting about who we'd like to come on the site and newsletter as it related to talking about finding new blog content ideas, and we realized that Jeremy is uniquely suited to talk about this as he runs five blogs in several niches.
So we went with it, and I'd like to think that this will end up being a very useful article for our readers and subscribers.
Slowly but surely, we're building out our base of content with interviews on everything from brand partnerships for bloggers to self-publishing a book. But today, as I alluded to, we're going to dive into ways to brainstorm new content ideas that can take your blogging game to the next level – and we'll also touch a bit upon content strategy to boot.
As always, we hope this will be helpful for you!
1. When you’re looking to build out new content on one of your sites, where do you start?
I think context is key with regards to creating new content.
Are you writing for yourself and taking readers along with you? Writing for existing readers? Chasing search traffic? There is really no right or wrong answer to any of these, but your approach to writing may change significantly depending on how you answer those questions.
One of the things I love about promoting niche sites is that if you have a well-defined topic, generating content ideas should come much more naturally. Since most of our niche sites are based around quests, like trying to do everything in Pittsburgh or drinking every wine varietal in the world (both quite accessible from our home), finding new topic ideas while maintaining variety isn’t terribly difficult. In these cases, we’ll (my wife Angie and I) write about everything because it accomplishes our goal, even if the traffic potential for some articles is low.
I find this to be a stark contrast as compared to our general travel blog mostly because on that site all of our traffic comes from search engines, we travel only a limited number of days each year, and many, many topics have been covered by dozens if not hundreds of other bloggers.
In this case, we are much more strategic with how we generate article ideas, and do a fair amount of keyword research and attempt to fill in the gaps of what is already available online – which is getting harder and harder as time goes on.
The niche focus on our other sites simply makes generating article ideas that much easier by design.
2. How do you balance writing articles that you’re passionate about with content that people are searching for? Are you comfortable writing content that you know from the onset isn’t destined for the front page?
While I love to target articles purely for search volume (especially on our general travel blog), I know that there are some terms that we’ll never rank for under any circumstance. But there is still value in writing those articles for the sake of being complete (such as progressing towards trying all those wine varietals) or simply because they may be popular on social media or in our newsletters.
3. Does the way that you find new ideas for content differ depending on the site, or is fairly consistent across the board?
For more established sites, I think it is best to take time to reflect on where and why you get traffic, and then double down on that. Early on, it may be a bit more of a guessing game to try and see what works.
Some sites get search traffic from those seeking answers to a question, others may follow a blog because of the topic itself, or you may even have fans for being a personality-driven blog and they like you as a writer specifically and will read whatever you put out there.
Our travel blog is almost exclusively based on search traffic, so we do much more keyword research to help generate article ideas (and also deal with the competitiveness factor). For our local blog, we’ve found people use it as a way to discover new things in the city and our precise opinion is often secondary. Naturally, we’ve doubled down on those with our newest content.
In the past I’ve sometimes equated building a blog and writing content to world building in a novel. Every article should help build a piece of your story overall. Some of them are cornerstone pieces, others may be small and are only there for completion’s sake or to hit on a really obscure topic that fits. But at the end of the day almost every idea should fit within your branding and continue to tell your story.
4. For our bloggers where finding content ideas isn’t the problem, but actually getting around to writing that content is – how can bloggers ensure a measure of consistency? Any helpful tips around content calendars or content strategy?
Two things that have helped me immensely is that I keep a list of topics I want to publish in a running file, and also to practice segmenting my time to accomplish blogging goals.
The file is fairly easy to just keep all the topics I have in mind in an itemized list that is easy to read. Segmenting my time is much harder. Here, I first started blocking off a few hour segments at a time and only focus on a single site, with a single purpose (writing, SEO, social media, etc). I don’t necessarily give myself the goal of having a completed article in that time when I focus on writing, but often just let myself write out ideas as best I can.
With enough practice, I’ve been able to flesh out rough drafts of a couple articles in a sitting, and then would use a later chunk of time to work on polishing, formatting, and finally publishing. As someone who gets easily distracted (I probably switched to Facebook six times filling this out), segmenting out my time has been really helpful overall.
5. What are some unusual or unorthodox ways that you’ve come up with content ideas over the years? Feel free to drop include some actionable tips here for our readers.
I’m a big fan of creating content skyscrapers like our brewery guide, restaurant guide, or food quests like our goal to find great tacos. But we do two things a bit differently than most when creating these.
We treat these as cornerstone articles that build on themselves. Rather than writing an article that was “7 Pittsburgh Breweries” and then another of “7 More Pittsburgh Breweries” (a common writing style), we simply increased the number every time we went to a new one. Seven became eight, which became nine, and now we’re up to 66 and have the biggest guide to breweries in the region (and a solid hold on that keyword in search for similar reasons).
We also publish individual articles for each of the places mentioned in these guides (in most cases). This creates a tight linking network within our site but also provides more opportunities for readers to stick around and read another article.
I also like to stir the pot with some article ideas as well as a means to facilitate conversation and shares on social media. Our food quest posts (above) are fun because we rank the food from our least favorite to our favorite, and people love to tell us why our opinion is wrong.
Our article on 9 Things We Want in Pittsburgh is another example. A bit clickbaity? Maybe. But if you deliver with a quality article after that I see nothing wrong with it.
6. Do you ever get “writer’s block,” and, if so, what do you do to try to overcome that?
I generally think of writer’s block as an inability to come up with article ideas and therefore get writing paralysis as a result. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately depending on your viewpoint), I generally have no shortage of things I want to write when you look at my five sites as a whole – the niche blogs really help there.
My own version of writer’s block is sometimes simply being motivated to work outright. Some days I just want to not be on the computer at all. Others I really just want to work on SEO or social media and not write. Time continues to march forward whether I make progress on anything, and it really can get away from me, often, and can be quite overwhelming.
What has helped for me is that I recognized most of these burdens I placed on myself were because of goals I wanted to achieve, and most were virtually invisible to readers. Taking a day (or three), stepping away, and focusing on yourself is huge and odds are good no one will notice if you miss a few days of social updates or a week or two of article writing here or there.
7. In a world in which many topics have been written to death, how do you ensure that the content on your respective sites is unique and original?
In a way, the proper application of a niche simply allows you to take a unique look on a topic that may be oversaturated otherwise. We have dozens of websites, papers, and magazines that do restaurant reviews in Pittsburgh, but our angle as a couple trying to do everything was unique when we first started. This allowed us to look at a possibly over-done topic with a unique vantage point that hadn’t been seen before.
I think this is the shift the blogging world is slowly marching towards.
I often joke that the world doesn’t need any more 72 Hours in Bangkok articles, if only because most travel bloggers spend three days in Bangkok, do things they learned from other bloggers (who also learned about those things from other bloggers or a Lonely Planet before them), and so on.
This, of course, was partly in jest.
The truth of the matter is that there is likely still room for those such articles but with a unique angle attached. A 72 hour guide written by a native Thai. Those focused around vegan/vegetarian dining, nature, or the bar scene. I could go on. All the same topic really, but there is a uniqueness in how the topic is addressed that can still be valuable even now.
8. Let’s pretend that, for some reason, our readers & subscribers for This Week in Blogging don’t have time to read this interview. What are the 3 things that you’d tell them quickly that could be a game-changer for finding content ideas?
I like that you correctly assumed I’d be wordy here. Three things?
Here we go:
- Lean hard into your niche. Everything you create should support your blog’s overall goal. If it does not, ask yourself why you’re bothering and what you need to do to help establish yourself as an authority within your chosen topic.
- Be unique. You’re not going to do yourself any favors creating the same article that has been published 10 times over unless you have a very specific reason why the article being on your site is different. (See #1)
- Determine how you’re getting your current traffic and double down on that. Some blogs get their traffic from SEO and should focus on keyword research. Others pursue social traffic. Others have a fan base who follow them as a personality. Understanding where and how you get traffic can help glean insights on how to pursue content creation moving forward.
How are you taking a unique look at your niche with your content? Comment below to share!
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