For most people, content development is this seemingly amorphous process that happens organically and spontaneously. Because you can’t put parameters on the creative process.

Or can you? Even creative processes and brainstorming can benefit from a formalized and structured process. So how can you formalize content development so you’re not scrounging at the last minute to come up with content topics?

Every person and every agency takes a different approach to content development. Even if they don’t have something set it stone, everyone has a certain way that they brainstorm and bring an idea to life. At S&G, we use a formalized process that our team of content creators follows to come up with new content topics.

From the client briefing phase, to audience research, to weeding out the good ideas from the not-so-good, the following seven steps consistently produce results and hones in on the perfect content to create for our clients.

And it can help you too:

1. First, we start with the client briefing. Right after we sign a new client we go through an onboarding process, which entails going through a thorough and in-depth look at their company, their industry, their customers, and their competitors. Via a questionnaire, our clients clue us in about interesting facts about their industry, their customers’ primary pain points, how they speak to their customers, and key industry terminology we should know and use in our content.

The briefing and onboarding process is essential as it gives us a deep dive into the company, their industry, who they are, and what they do to solve problems for their customers. This is where our content ideation starts, by gathering vital research and information right at the start.

2. Once we have our client’s company information and background, we start with our own audience research. We figure out who the client’s audience is, what kind of content they value, what publications they read, where they hang out online, what questions are they ask, and what kinds of search terms are they plug into Google that are related to the client’s services or products. Building out customer personas based on demographic research is also part of the research process.

3. Then, we look at our client’s competitors. What are their main competitors doing online, and what kind of content are they creating? What audiences are they targeting? This information is absolutely valuable because it gives us an idea of how to approach our own content development, as well as find untapped content opportunities for our clients.

Competitor research is also helpful in spurring on brainstorming, since certain content topics and angles can help spur on new ideas and provide inspiration for our own content.

4. Then we dive into our keyword research. Depending on what our client’s KPIs are, creating content that is based on strong keyword volume can drive a lot of our content ideation process, since ensuring that potential customers are searching for those strategic keywords and phrases is key in making sure our client’s content gets found.

Keyword research is also helpful in spurring on the brainstorming process, and other tools like UberSuggest can help find interesting and less-thought-of keyword phrases and angels that can provide a foundation for new content topics.

5. The next step is—you guessed it—brainstorming. We approach it by letting teammates brainstorm individually to come up with ideas. We each do keyword research, take it to form certain topics that revolve around those keywords, and then we toss around a range of ideas for content we can create, from blog posts to white papers to videos to ebooks. And then we come together to reach an agreement over which topics are worth tackling.

We believe brainstorming, in general, should be an organic process. Every person or team comes up with ideas differently because everyone has their own creative process. That could mean going off on one’s own to think, or spitballing idea with a coworker or team. Eventually, you finesse the nascent ideas into more refined content ideas.

6. After the brainstorming process, we now have a list of topic ideas. Those must then go through a topic scoring (or content scoring) process, where we look at each content topic created during the brainstorming process and filter it through the parameters of what the content needs to achieve:

  • Is this going to drive conversions?
  • Is this going to entertain or educate our audience?
  • Will this rank in Google search quickly and drive organic traffic?
  • Will this build our client into a thought leader in their industry?

A content topic on our brainstorming list might be a great idea, but if it doesn’t help us get results for our client, we may shelve the idea for another project. If we think it will get results, then we can move onto the next stage. Ultimately, every topic we come up with must make sense for the client’s audience and the client’s individual goals.

7. Once we have a confirmed list of content topics we know are going to get results, we take those and put them into an editorial calendar that we then give to the client for feedback. If there any issues we go back to the brainstorming process again and hammer away until everyone is happy.     

That’s our ideation process in a few simple steps. Aside from having a defined process for content ideation, technology and tools can help optimize the process too. Here are several tools we use on a regular basis to streamline our content ideation:

  • Google Keyword Planner – We use this all the time. It offers accurate search volume and competition levels for each keyword or search term, so you know what to base your content on. If you can match your keyword choices to the search intent of your target audience, you’ll have a higher chance of striking better results for your client.
  • SEMRush – Also handy for keyword research.
  • Ubersuggest – If you have a vague keyword—such as “sandals”—you can type it into this to bring up hundreds of long-tail keyword topics that can be a good fit, like “sandals that are blue” or “sandals that are gray” and it will rank them based on the number of searches that they get.
  • Buzzsumo – Buzzsumo is a way to find popular social topics that are trending. If you have a shoe manufacturer for a client and you want to find out what kinds of apparel or retail topics are trending, then Buzzsumo will tell you what’s going on in the world.
  • Google Alerts – We’ll set this up for specific industries sometimes to see what content other companies and our competitors are publishing. A big news story might come out about the shoe market and we can potentially leverage that trending topic for one of our clients.  

These are all great tools to help brainstorm content ideas, especially for topics that may seem unexciting or rote. Of course, if you still have questions about how to optimize the content topic ideation process, or if you want us to ideate some content topics for your brand, shoot us an email!

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