Our method for coming up with endless blog post topics

Our method for coming up with endless blog post topics

Once a client’s website launches and the initial honeymoon phase dies down — usually right around month 2 or 3 — I find that there is a common issue that many website owners come across:

They don’t have any idea what to blog about.

If you’re not used to sitting down every day to write, or if you don’t fancy yourself a writer, then it can be intimidating to try to come up with ideas for blog post topics.  What do people want to read?  What do you have to offer?  What can you add to the conversation?  Why is this so much work?

In a previous post we covered why you need to blog, so I’m sure you’re already sold on the importance of blogging.  But just because you know something should be done, doesn’t mean you know how to do it.  When I started my business I knew I was supposed to track my expenses, but it wasn’t like I was born with an innate knowledge for it.

Systems don’t spontaneously come to life. They either need to be developed or learned.  So today that’s just what we’re going to do.

Blog Post Topics - Akamai Websites - We are born not knowing
We aren’t born with innate blogging knowledge.  (Well, okay maybe this baby was…)

Our system for brainstorming blog topics

Before we get started, I want to give credit where it is due.  Many of these ideas are from Michael Killen from MeBoxMedia.com, who is one of the coaches over at WP Elevation (a WordPress consultancy business course and membership that I am in).  He’s also an all around great guy.

During one of the learning tracks at WP Elevation he shared his system for brainstorming blogs (which I think he adapted from someone else), and which I took and adapted for myself.  And now you’re going to learn it and hopefully pass it on to someone again in the future. #payitforward

Believe it or not, it only takes me about 30 minutes a month to come up with more blog topics than I could ever write in my lifetime.  The great thing about this system is, if you follow it to the letter, you’ll never run out of ideas, because you’re constantly fed new ones every day, week and month.

But since you’re all starting from scratch, I’m going to break this system down into two parts.  First, what you should do the first time to come up with a quick list of 20+ blog posts for your queue.  And second, how to keep adding blog post ideas using two of the easiest methods I know.

And as a bonus, I’ll also give you six other methods you can use in case that isn’t enough.

Ready?  Then let’s get started!

How to come up with blog post ideas — the first time

If you’ve never had to brainstorm blog post ideas you might not know where to start.  What is a good topic?  How do you know if people will want to read what you’re writing?

This initial process is to help you “jump start” your blog topics and come up with topics that are ones your leads and clients will thank you for.

This isn’t the month-to-month system, but it is a good place to start so you can figure out the highest priority posts to provide true value to your audience.

And it involves just two steps:

Step One: Answer common questions

This is the easiest step and should only take you a few minutes to do.

Assuming you aren’t just starting your business today, you probably know the most common questions you get on a regular basis.  You might even have them written down in an FAQ (more on that in a second) but for this I want you to select the ten questions you get asked the most often.

The priority is on picking those with the highest frequency, because these will also form the cornerstone for any future lead education automation you might do.

You can probably come up with a lot more than ten questions, but for now, just focus on the top ten.

Blog Post Topics - Akamai Websites - Ask Questions
Time to start answering some questions

A quick note about the difference between FAQs and blog posts.

I hear this alot: “Can’t I just post up my FAQ answers as a blog post?”

There is a key difference between a FAQs and blogs that you should understand because it affects everything.

  • The purpose of FAQs are to summarize an answer to a question or problem.
  • The purpose of blog posts are to explain the answer to a question or problem.

Here’s an example for the question, “How did you spend your summer?”

  • FAQ: “I went to Japan”
  • Blog: “I spent 2 months in Japan traveling along the coast from Tokyo to Fukuoka.  Here are some videos and photos from my trip, along with the itinerary and how I found the best plane, train and hotel deals so you can do the same thing if you want to.”

See the difference?  The first one summarizes, the second one explains (and potentially solves a problem).

So, back to the common questions.  If you’re in the unusual position of never having been asked questions about your business, then think of the questions you wished people would ask you.

Or, if you’re really stumped because you did actually start your business yesterday, then ask yourself the questions you want to know the answers to about your new venture.  Research them, find the answers, and share them on your blog.

Examples from Akamai Websites

If you’ve poked around our blog a bit, you’ve probably seen this blogging method at work.  Here are a list of some of our blog posts that answer our common questions.

So, now that you have your list of ten questions, what’s next?  Now we’ll go to step two in this initial blog brainstorming session:

Step Two: Describe your processes

This is a little harder than brainstorming questions, but not by much.

Think about your business and the things you do for your customers and clients.  What are the steps you go through to help them get results?  Odds are you have specific methods that you follow to add value to people’s lives and that is what we’re going to list out here.

Select the ten tasks or processes you have that provide the highest value for your customers.  What do you do that helps them the most?  What have your clients thanked you for the most?  How do you solve their problems?

Blog Post Topics - Akamai Websites - Describe your process
Share your process for doing what you do

Before you object …

I can almost hear your objections right now: “But won’t people steal my processes and methods if I share them on my blog?”

No, they won’t.  I mentioned in a previous post that your value to your customers is actually not about your process, it is about your and your brand.  It is how you deliver that process, more than the process, that sets you apart.

But even more than that, people might want to know how something works, but it doesn’t mean they actually want to do that work themselves.  Just because I want to know how my car’s oil is changed doesn’t mean I’ll stop going to Jiffy Lube every three months.

Showing your process actually builds authority and establishes you and your brand as experts in your field.  You’re showing them how you do what they’ll hire you to do.  When it comes time to buy, you’ll be top of mind.

The other important thing to keep in mind is that you’re not giving away your trade secrets.  You don’t have to explain your intellectual property to the general public.  This is about explaining those things that your clients and customers typically ask you about.  It is just an overview of a “how to” from your business.

Examples from Akamai Websites

In our blog we’ve also tackled these type of blog posts.  Here are a few examples of how we’ve shared our process with our audience:

The first blogging hurdle covered

So, there you have it.  We’ve spent just a few minutes to come up with 20 (or more) blog post topics.  Not only that but these are the topics that will probably provide the greatest value to your audience.

How do you know which ones to write about first?  Well, we’re only worrying about the first month with this batch of topics so it depends on your blogging frequency.  Are you a weekly blogger or a bi-monthly blogger?

Let’s say you’re going to blog weekly (and in next week’s blog post we’re going to show you our exact method for doing just that) which means you’ll need to pick 4 topics.

My recommendation is to pick the four most common questions, since those type of blog posts are easier to write.  However, you could also pick two questions and two processes to write about.

The main thing is to make sure that they are the ones that will give you the biggest bang for your blogging buck.  Pick the questions and processes that you’re asked about the most as your highest priorities.

So, now you have your first month’s worth of blog post topics.   What’s next?

It’s time to share our system for coming up with blog post topics on an ongoing basis so you’ll never run out of ideas to blog about in the future.

How to come up with blog post ideas — on an ongoing basis

Now, this process will not be easy for some of you, especially if you’re not used to tracking things or you tend to fly by the seat of your pants and are always putting out fires (you know who you are).

There are three things that you’re going to be on the lookout for as you go through your day:

  1. Questions
  2. Problems
  3. Methods

Keep a pad of paper or an open document on your computer and put headings with each of those words.

Then, during your day, write down anything that is related to one of those three things.

Asked a question?  Write it down!

Come across a problem (for yourself or someone else)?  Write it down!

Think of a way to do something?  (You guessed it!) Write it down!

Blog Post Topics - Akamai Websites - Tracking for topics
Keep that notepad handy and write down topic ideas all the time!

Since I always have Trello open while I’m working (and have it on my phone) I have a board and cards set up for the various blog post ideas that I come up with.  But you should figure out the quick-tracking-and-writing method that works best for your flow.

Another great way to keep track is to set up a folder or label in your email system where you can tag questions, problems or methods for later retrieval.

The main challenge is to get accustomed to tracking these things down.  Especially for those that you might take for granted.

But no matter how small they might seem, track it!.  If you regularly meet with clients — as an accountant, physical therapist or consultant, for example, — then you are probably asked dozens of questions during each interaction.

Or people come to you with their problems asking for a solution. Or they ask you how something is done. It might seem simple and quick to answer these, but keep note of them because those are blogging gold!

If you’re diligent, by the end of the month you will have collected more than enough questions about your business, processes, products, industry and market to provide you with several months worth of blog posts.

Pro Tip: Keep a tally of each time you come across a specific topic so you know which are the most frequent issues you might want to address.

The key is tracking, so set up a good, easy-to-use system, and stick with it!

Three ways to prioritize your blog topics

So, here you are at the end of a month and you have 20 to 40 blog post ideas listed out.  How do you know which ones to write about?  They all seem sort of important but you’re unsure where to start.

There are three methods you can use to prioritize your blog posts, and you can pick the one that works best for you.  Here they are:

Method 1: Write the easiest first

Those blog topics that you know like the back of your hand and/or don’t require much research go first.  This method is good for building momentum if you’re not too comfortable with blogging or writing on a regular basis.  This is the “lowest hanging fruit” method and should get you up to speed with less fuss.

Method 2: Write the most common first

If you’re tracking things well and you followed the Pro Tip from above, you know which topics come up  frequently.  This method is good if you want to start working on automating your lead education or client onboarding processes since it gets the most common, time-consuming questions and problems dealt with first, freeing up more of your time down the road.

Method 3: Write based on topics

If you have a diverse business with many different categories of products or services, then you can divide up your topics based on these different “content silos”.  Determine which of the categories you want to focus on first and then write out all the posts that deal with that area together.  For example, with Akamai Websites, we focused a lot of our initial blog posts on the topic of web design.  From there we branched into blogging and automation systems.  We’re eventually going to cover quite a few categories, but you can select one to focus on and create a good storehouse of information in that area.

Blog Post Topics - Akamai Websites - Learning the method
Time to come up with some topics!

Okay, now you not only have dozens of blog topics and know which ones you’re going to write about first, second and third, what is next?

We’re actually going to cover our total method and process for writing blogs in our next post, but we didn’t want to leave you high and dry so we’re going to bleed into that area a bit and talk about the blogging worksheet template and how to use it to quickly provide guidelines for the structure of your blog posts.

The Blogging Worksheet Template

Our method is, once a month, we take our 4 blog posts topics for the next month and fill out our blogging worksheet template for each.  It is a very quick way to create a very general structure for your post that will be invaluable when it comes time to writing each one.

Oh, and if you’d like your own copy of the template, just click here to get your own from our Google document file.

Again, I can’t take all the credit for this.  A lot of this is modeled directly from Troy Dean’s “Content Creation Framework” which he teaches at WP Elevation.  While some of the titles and pieces are slightly different, much of this comes from what he teaches.  So, thanks to Troy (and the whole team at WPE!) 🙂

Here’s a quick overview of the different parts:

  • The question / problem: What is the question we’re answering, problem we’re solving or solution we’re describing?  What is the pain point we’re discussing?
  • The promise: What will the reader have by the end?  What solution are we going to give them?
  • The answer / process: This is a bullet point list of the general steps to get from where they are (pain) to where they want to be (solved).  Don’t get too detailed.  Just a sentence or two for each. Aim for more than three and less than nine, if possible.
  • Do’s and Don’t’s: Write out the things that they should be careful about with the process.  What mistakes should they avoid?
  • Summary: Summarize what you covered in a quick bullet point list. What did they learn?
  • Next Steps: provide them with a specific action to take

As I said earlier, the idea isn’t to get too detailed. You just want a general process to follow and reminder yourself about for when you’ll be working on this specific post.

How to write a blog post

I know what you’re thinking: “Great, now I know what to write about, but I have no idea how to write the blog!

Not to worry!  I mentioned it before, but next week I’m going to be sharing our entire process for writing blogs.  Going from our initial blogging worksheet all the way through the published post, you’ll see the exact method we use to write our weekly 3,500 ~ 5,000 word posts.

And, believe it or not, we do it in under 40 minutes a day, 5 days a week. That’s right.  We create these massive posts in under an hour a day during the week.  From start to finish. That’s it!

Plus, we’re going to provide you with checklists and videos to give you an inside look at us writing an actual blog post.

But for now, focus on coming up with your first 20+ blog post topics and setting up a tracking system for the following month, and next week come back ready to learn how to get those posts up and running with a minimum of fuss.

Other methods for coming up with blog post topics

Of course, the methods we shared above are just our “easiest to implement” methods for coming up with blog post topics, but it is by no means an exhaustive list.  Questions and methods are easiest to write about for most business owners, after all.

But just to give you some more options, here is a list of six more effective methods to come up with dozens (if not hundreds) of blog post topics.

Events

Blog about events that have happened.  If you’ve been to a conference or held an event, or even just had something interesting happen to you related to your work, this is a great opportunity for a blog post.  Recap it, provide some pictures or videos, and share what you learned or experienced.  This is also a great way to promote your professional activities and show people that you’re active in your market and industry.

Resources

Blog about the resources you recommend or use.  List posts are not only easier to write, but they provide a great value to your audience.  You can select a specific type of resource (blogging tools, for example) and come up with your top ten for that category.  Write up a summary of each with pro’s and con’s.  And don’t forget to include an affiliate link while you’re at it. 🙂  Bonus points if you share a video of you using and evaluating the resource.

Readings

Blog about something you read.  Sharing books, articles, magazines, industry reports, white papers and anything else is a good way to show that you are actively learning and growing.  Plus, it establishes your viewpoint and brand in a very effective way.  Rather than list out a bunch of books in a blog post, try to pick just one book (or a few books that are related) and do a summary (or comparison) of them.  It is better to dive deep into one book than list out lots of books without explaining their worth..

Blog Post Topics - Akamai Websites - What are you reading
Read any good books lately?

Industry

Blog about new developments in your industry.  If there is a major shift in how things are done, or a policy change that affects what you do, share it with your audience and customers.  They’ll appreciate that you are on top of things and able to give them useful information that relates to your business, products and services.

Notable People

Blog about people worth knowing.  If there are key people or personalities in your industry you can share them with your audience.  If someone is at the top of their game, why not tell their story?  Or if there are organizations or businesses worth knowing about, you can talk about them too.  For example, if you’re an accountant, you can introduce some of the big accounting firms out there.  Or if you’re a lawyer you can talk about a famous lawyer or judge and explain what made them great.

Products / Services

Blog about your products and services.  This isn’t about making a sales pitch.  This is about sharing details on how your products and services can help enhance the lives and businesses of your audience.  Give potential customers (or existing ones) a look a the benefits that you’re able to provide and how you’re constantly working to improve your solutions. This is also a great way to introduce new products or services that you’re rolling out.

And the list just keeps going.  (And I haven’t even talked about using media, such as video or podcasts, to enhance your blog!)

Trust me. If you keep your eyes open and start your tracking system, you’ll be amazed at the number of blog post ideas that are constantly cropping up in your brain.  They are literally around you all day long. It just takes building the awareness of seeing them, and then creating the habit to capture them so you can act on them when the time is right.

Things to keep in mind

Naturally there are some things to be aware of as you move forward to come up with your blog post topics.  Here are a few important ones:

You never know where ideas come from

Sometimes I’m in a completely unrelated conversation or situation and realize that it actually relates to my business and would make a good blog post topic.  Don’t be afraid to make connections that might not be natural or intuitive.

Always think from your customer’s perspective

If there is something your customers and clients find challenging, why not help them by explaining it in a blog post?  The less you think of things from your own viewpoint, the better you’ll be able to help people through your blog.  Always ask the question, “how is this helping my audience”?

Be flexible with your posting schedule

Don’t be afraid to change the order of blog posts you work on.  Sometimes you need to pivot based on circumstances.  For example, this blog post came about because I had started working on the post that will come out next week, but realized that I had forgotten to help you figure out how to come up with blog posttopics; a necessary first step.  So I pivoted to bring you this one first.

Don’t try to be perfect with your worksheet

Don’t worry about filling out your blog topic worksheet perfectly.  Just fill in what you can and don’t worry.  It is just a guide, not an essay.  Even just a word to remind you about a larger concept that you want to write about will do for now.  You’ll have time to dive deeper when you’re writing the blog post.

Remember: this is a process.  It requires skills that you’re going to develop, but don’t yet have down.  Be open to making mistakes and learning/refining your processes as you go forward.  Your 10th blog post is going to be 10 times better than your first one, so allow yourself to not be perfect and grow over time.

What did we learn?

Okay, I threw a lot of information at you today, so let’s take a quick look at what was covered:

  • First you learned you how to come up with a quick list of 20+ blog post ideas right off the bat
  • Second, you discovered how to keep coming up with an endless number of blog post ideas and mine them from your day-to-day activities
  • You got three different methods to prioritize your blog topics so you know what to work on first
  • You also got a worksheet to use to help you summarize your blog post ideas so they’re ready to go during your blog writing process (which we’ll be showing you next week!)
  • And finally, you learned six more methods  you can use to come up with additional blog post topics

Phew!  That was a lot.  So, now that you know all this, what’s next?

Next steps and actions

If you’re serious about leveling up your blog writing game (and if you need a reminder about the importance of blogging, click here) then here’s your homework for the week:

  • Use the first two steps to come up with your initial list of 20+ blog post topics.  This should take you just 10 – 15 minutes.
  • Then, using one of the prioritization methods, pick the first four blogs you’ll write.
  • Bonus: If you want extra credit, then fill out the worksheet for those blog posts too.

If you do that, then you’ll be primed and ready for next week where we’ll go into details about how to write your blog posts with less effort and greater results.

I also prepared a downloadable “cheat sheet” for you that outlines all of the steps I have in this blog post.  Just enter your information below and it will get sent to you immediately.  It is your quick checklist to make sure you’re covering all your blog topic generating bases.


Photo Credits

Photos by Chiến Phạm, Jonathan Simcoe, Jeff Sheldon, Andrew Neel, Dương Trần Quốc, and Corinne Kutz

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