Lauren Kaye

How do content writers come up with topics for daily blog posts? The answer almost certainly differs person to person. Writers are partial to certain pens, writing processes and times of the day to spark their creative juices. (Charles Dickens did his best writing standing up, while Truman Capote claimed he wrote lying down. Jack Kerouac famously typed On the Road on a continuous reel of paper, Vladimir Nabokov liked to piece his stories together on notecards.)

So of course they have different methods for brainstorming ideas and generating the right topics for blog posts.

Whether you’re writing the blog posts yourself or working with a content writer, I would recommend question mapping to make you’re consistently publishing assets that cover what matter most to your customers. It’s a simple system for brainstorming ideas that relate directly back to customer queries – and it could be the solution for marketers looking to crowd source more content ideas.

Having a fresh supply of blog topics and content ideas is something a lot of companies continue to struggle with. According to a recent Kapost study, half of all marketing teams struggle to come up with enough ideas for their posts an almost 70 percent wish they had a better way of crowdsourcing ideas from across their companies.

Question mapping is a solution to both of these challenges by corralling internal expertise for fresh content topics so you can produce resources that you know your target audience wants. Here’s how it works:

Compile customer questions

The first part of question mapping is easy (if time consuming): Gather questions that you can answer.

You can do this by:

  • Polling customers

  • Asking prospects candid questions on sales calls

  • Conducting surveys

I usually sit down with teammates across departments – sales, account management, editorial, video and graphics – and ask them to list out questions they get from their prospects and customers. This gives me an opportunity to grab some face time with people who I don’t get the chance to work with every day, and it helps me get a step closer to the customers that I don’t work with personally.

As marketers, we tend to focus on the success of our companies. We’re always sniffing around for great customer results for a potential case study. But this is just one side of the story.

It’s also helpful to know what questions your clients have throughout the purchase process:

  • What are their concerns before they buy?

  • What information is a clear selling point that tips the scales?

  • What do people ask at the point of sale?

  • What are questions that frequently come right up after transactions?

If you don’t have time to do this yourself, ask your writer to conduct the interviews first-hand. It could be a helpful exercise for the person writing the content to pick up the language people use across departments and synthesize these terms into their articles.

Once you’ve met with people across teams, you should have a healthy list of the questions your business receives throughout the customer lifecycle.  From here, you can plan ahead and build out a content calendar with assets that will answer these queries.

Note: This also sets you up for success in search, now that Google’s Hummingbird algorithm is paying more attention to context and looking for answers to searchers’ questions. This is more important than keywords and could even get your website featured in an info card at the top of search results pages if you have the best answer to a frequently asked question.

Build resources to answer the questions

As you review the questions, break your topics out into project categories. Consider the feasibility of the project as you find a place for it in your content calendar.

  • Is it something that could be answered in a single blog post or news article?

If you’re confident you can answer the question right away with information you have on hand – or can easily find –  go ahead and write it up as a blog post or a news article. If it will require the assistance of someone with more subject matter expertise, make sure you find an appropriate resource and bake that additional time into the project calendar.

At this point, it’s also smart to evaluate the content categories. You don’t want to saturate your blog with too many posts about a certain subject in a short period of time. It’s better to spread them out and publish a mix of topics to keep your readers interested.

  • Is it something that is too big (or too valuable) for a single article?

A lot of questions can’t be answered in a single post, and they’ll need to be reserved for bigger projects like an eBook, white paper or case study. Let’s say you’re selling SaaS for building managers, and your sales team gets a lot of questions about how it works in different facilities. It might be worthwhile to create an eBook that gives case-by-case examples of how the software provides unique benefits for every industry.

You can feel confident investing a lot of resources in an in-depth asset because you know the demand is there. There’s nothing worse than spending a lot of time and money on a project you’re really excited about, only to release it and get a lukewarm response from your audience. On the flip side, if you do a killer job answering a common question and put the asset behind a download wall, you could generate a consistent stream of leads over a long period of time.

  • Is it something that’s visually appealing like infographics or videos?

Separate out topics that might be hard to spell out in a written post, but would be good for visual assets, like infographics or videos. For instance, if a lot of prospects ask: “Who am I going to be working with?” you may want to create videos introducing them.

If you get asked about the state of the industry,  you may want to create an infographic that gives an overview of the major movements in the field. Any answer that requires data might best be served by visual content that allows you to convey a lot of information without overwhelming your audience.

After you’ve sorted the questions into categories*, set the plan in motion and begin to produce your in-demand content. When you’ve cycled through all of your questions, repeat the process to see what other queries have trickled through in the meantime. Perhaps your teammates have an area of focus they know your company should address.

*There will probably be some you can’t answer, either because it’s not something you’d address in a post on your site or because it’s so specific to that client. Keep this feedback around – it might spark an internal conversation that ultimately improves customers’ experiences with your brand. 

Question mapping is a great technique that gets our team to think beyond our normal scope, get closer with teams across the company and learn more about our customers.

However, it’s not the only technique we use to brainstorm ideas for our website content. If your colleagues are shy with their questions on the first round, or you’re just curious about other ways to come up with content ideas …

Here are 10 MORE ways to generate ideas for your blog:

1. Use industry news for leads

2. Conduct social analysis to see what’s trending with your audience

3. Brainstorm with your team

4. Conduct competitive analysis and make a list of ‘enviable’ headlines

5. Look for headlines you DON’T like and find ways to improve upon them

6. Check the calendar for relevant events to cover

7. Dig into your archives and analytics and repurpose what’s been most successful

8. Check your analytical reports to see what your audience enjoys

9. Look at Google Trends for ideas about what’s popular in your industry

10. Think of how you want your company culture to be portrayed on your blog and think about if videos, employee spotlights or community posts would be applicable

What other ways do you use to generate ideas for your blog? Drop me a line in the comments section below!