16 Aug 2016

5 Free Content Marketing Idea Generation Tools That Work

There are a lot of “behind the scenes” efforts in this day and age of digital marketing—search engine optimization, promotion, conversion—but without quality content your efforts to drive traffic and generate leads will come up short. Coming up with content topic ideas can seem daunting, but in reality it’s easy to generate hundreds of possible topics in a day or two using one or more of the free tools available to help you get there.

Here are some of our favorite free content marketing idea generation tools that can help you develop blog posts, e-books, free guides, infographics, podcasts, quizzes, and any other type of content you want to create for your audience.

1. Google Suggest

Google’s search prediction algorithm, also known as autocomplete or “Google suggest,” is a goldmine of insight for content marketers. In fact, it might just be one of the best but most underutilized sources of content marketing ideation research on the Web.

As you’re typing a search query in the Google search bar, autocomplete provides search predictions based on the keywords you’re typing and what other people are searching for based on the root words of your query. For savvy content marketers looking for fresh ideas, the Google suggest feature provides a hint of the motivations and emotions of real users (your target audience) searching for keywords and long-tail phrases related to your products and services. Remember, “long-tail” refers to very targeted search phrases that contain three or more words.

For savvy content marketers, #Google suggest provides a hint of the motivations and emotions of real users. Click To Tweet

Start with your target keyword and add prepositions (from, for, with, and, etc.) and adjectives (best, free, simple, etc.) and look at the autocomplete suggestions in the drop down box below the search bar. You can also see suggestions by adding letters of the alphabet after your root keyword. Write down all the suggestions that seem like good topics and check to see if your competitors have already written on the subject at length.

You can generate dozens of topic ideas in minutes using this method for keywords and long-tail phrases related to your brand, your industry, or your products and services.

google suggest for ideation

google suggest for ideation 2

google suggest for ideation

“Lasik eye surgery and natural birth” is a niche topic you might not have thought to write about on your own, but clearly people are searching for it and you can be the one to give them the answers.

Pro Tip: Go into “incognito mode” on your browser to disable your computer’s browsing history and web cache before diving into Google’s autocomplete feature. This will ensure that the results you see are not influenced by your personal search history.

2. Google AdWords Keyword Planner

Google’s Keyword Planner is traditionally used by paid search campaign planners, but it can also be used by content marketers to generate hundreds of viable topic ideas in minutes. Keyword research is important in today’s world of content marketing since it reveals what types of things users are really searching for so you can develop killer content that answers their questions, relieves their pain points, and generally delivers the information they need when they need it.

To start, enter your root keyword (generally a product or service you want to target) in the Keyword Planner tool. You can enter multiple keyword variations for a greater mix of suggested ideas. We recommend searching for all keyword ideas, not just those “closely related” to your main term (again, to produce a greater variety of ideas). Search filters also allow you to narrow down search results by location and language for more geo-specific and customer-oriented topic ideas.

using adword keyword planner

Depending on the root keyword (or topic) you entered, the Keyword Planner tool can generate hundreds of ideas. Of course not all of the suggestions will make for good content pieces, so you’ll need to comb through the results looking for potential topics ideas that a) you can easily write about, b) support your business goals, and c) your target audience is interested in.

Use Google Keyword Planner to generate hundreds of topic ideas for #contentmarketing. Click To Tweet

Keep an eye out for long-tail keywords and “Hummingbird” search queries to produce content that has a better chance of ranking and is more likely to address your audience’s specific needs, wants, and questions.

In addition to topic ideas, this tool also provides you with search volume so you can target long-tail phrases with high opportunity. However, don’t always rely on search volume alone; content marketing is about playing the long game. It’s better to consistently “get on base” with singles and doubles than keep striking out going after those super high volume/high competition terms (this concludes the baseball analogy portion of this post).

adword keyword planner results

“Can you tattoo over a laser removal?” and “How painful is laser tattoo removal?” are great questions to answer that can drive users to your website who are likely to be interested in your services (assuming you offer laser tattoo removal, obviously)

Pro tip: Repeat this process a few more times for some of the topics you identify for an even greater wealth of ideas. Two or three iterations of this process can help you drill down and discover topic ideas you might have never guessed people were actually interested in.

3. Answer the Public

Take some of the manual work out of using Google’s autocomplete feature for content ideation with this ingenious data visualization tool. Answer the Public fetches Google search query suggestions and presents hundreds of ideas in an easy-to-read results page that can help you quickly identify topic ideas.

answer the public

Try to ignore the impatient looking older gentleman behind the search box, or think of him as your audience, out there in the world waiting for someone to deliver the exact information they’re looking for.

Enter a root keyword and search by country. In seconds, the tool will generate beautifully designed visualizations of the most popular related search terms and queries.You can view results by questions (keyword + who, what, where, why, etc.), prepositions (keyword + for, with, versus, like, etc.), and alphabetical (keyword + each letter of the alphabet). There is also a data view for a more easily scannable list of ideas. Write down the ideas that seem like good topics you can produce for your target audience.

answer the public results

Pro Tip: If you’re serious about getting a lot of content produced in a short period of time, save the visualization image for the “questions” and “prepositions” results and try to create content around these long-tail search terms, crossing each one out as you go. How many do you think you can cross out in one month? Two months? Three months? This can be a good way to commit yourself to publishing content frequently and regularly (a key to seeing positive content marketing results).

.@answerthepublic generates beautifully designed visualizations of popular related search terms and queries. Click To Tweet

4. HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator

This is one of the least data-driven content ideation tools on this list, but it’s certainly one of the most creative. HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator can help you come up with search-friendly blog topics and headlines based on the root keyword(s) you enter. As with most other tools, not all of the results will be suitable, but you’ll definitely find a few good ones. Running multiple searches only takes a few seconds so you can weed through hundreds of potential topics in less time than it would take using a lot of other methods.

To use the Blog Topic Generator, enter up to three terms you would like to write about and click the “Give Me Blog Topics!” button. It’s that easy. In seconds, the tool will generate a week’s worth of relevant blog post topics and titles. Run the search again using the same terms or enter new ones to see different topic and title ideas. For our example we ran the generator with these three words: crossfit, fitness, and weight loss. 

a week of blog topics

See what we mean? Not all of these are winners, but there #1 and #4 would make great pieces of content (you might need to tweak the titles a bit depending on what the competition’s already written about)

Pro Tip: Not sure which terms to use? Think about how people describe your products and/or services, the problems your customers have, and the industry keywords you want to rank for on Google and Bing.

5. Your Staff

Okay, so this last one isn’t technically a tool, but we would be crazy not to bring it up in a discussion about the best free ways to generate content ideas. If you don’t already do so, start talking to your sales and customer support staff ASAP to find out what types of questions they regularly get from new, existing, and prospective customers. Then all you have to do is write content that addresses these questions, pain points, concerns, wants, and needs.

In addition to generating great content that your customers are really interested in reading (or watching or listening to or downloading), developing content based on feedback from your customer-facing teams has the added benefit of reducing the load on your sales and support staff. Because users can find answers to their questions on your blog or website, sales and customer service teams can focus more energy on revenue-producing activities and value-added projects.

Developing content based on feedback from customer-facing teams reduces the load on sales + support staff. Click To Tweet

After talking with your staff, compile the responses into an idea bank so you can stay organized and quickly turn a question into a piece of content whenever you need a fresh addition to your blog or website. If you’re serious about taking your content marketing efforts to the next level, put these ideas and others into a content calendar (also known as an editorial calendar) to serve as a road map for the months ahead.

Pro Tip: If you have a search feature on your website, scrape the data and look for commonly reoccurring search terms or questions to generate content ideas visitors to your site will find helpful, interesting, or valuable.

These are some of our favorite free ways to generate content marketing ideas, but there are countless others. As long as you take the time to develop content around the questions your customers are asking, the needs they have, and the information they are lacking, your content marketing efforts will be fruitful.

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