In Digital marketing 101

How to be an absolute boss at idea generation

idea generation

Soooo here’s the thing. Generally, I think there are two types of people in this world: those who are really f-ing good at coming up with ideas and…everyone else.

I belong to the bucket of the latter. I do alright, but I’m not that creative. Like, I’m prone to the occasional prone of genius while in the shower or walking to work but that’s where I draw the line.

Ideation is hard. The hardest part of blogging is coming up with a good idea. (Note I said ‘good’ and not ‘new’. New ideas are rare.)

I was actually sat in the office trying to come up with blog post ideas when I decided to write this post because I’m meta like that.

So let’s answer the question and start by going backwards.

What makes a blog post/article successful?

We’re not talking metrics here, people.

1. Your article needs to resonate on some level

If you can tap into emotion, you’re onto a winner. If you can’t offer emotional resonance, reach for intelligent or useful. If all else fails, be useful.

Tip: probably no one really cares about your boring day-to-day stuff. Don’t get me wrong, lifestyle bloggers are huge but that’s because they’ve mastered the art of being their brand. Most of us aren’t so good at that, me included.

2. Your content needs to (mostly) be well-written

We’re not talking Pulitzer-prize winning stuff here, people, but write shoddily and your readers will flee. Practice good grammar. Spell well. Typos aren’t actually the end of the world. Just be sure to be comprehensible and above all else: talk like a human. Engage with readers like you would if they were sat in front of you.

To me, the great difference between journalism and blogging is this:

Blogging: me telling you about a thing that happened from my POV.

Journalism: this is a thing that happened.

Of course, the line is blurring as online versions of traditional media move more towards a blogging/content outlook to try and hoover up ad revenue. But, hey, ain’t that a topic for another day?

3. Your content can’t be stale

I almost worded this as ‘your content needs to be fresh’–but that isn’t true. There’s plenty of mileage in loads of topics. Once you have a unique or useful perspective, no one topic is out of bounds, no matter how many times it’s been covered.

Caveat: probably.


4. You need a call-to-action

Key reason why successful bloggers are successful? Creating whopper content, absolutely, but many of them have a very clear goal as to what they want from a reader. They write a post with a goal in mind for what they want the reader to do next.

Your content needs to accomplish something for your brand or your reader. You are not going to appeal to everyone. Or anyone? Know your audience. Know your market. Write to that.

Okay, but seriously, how do I come up with topics?

Idea generation is a matter of quantity over quality. (Just ask BuzzFeed’s video content unit, of late…) Once you’ve got your list of ideas, it’s a case of whittling them down and choosing your launching point. So what’s the best process for generating ideas?

1. Sit your arse down in your work space and commit to idea generation

Procrastination is the bane of creativity. Stop procrastinating. Sit down and get cracking. The end.

2. Don’t let the blank page/document scare you

There’s nothing quite as threatening to a blogger/writer as a blinking cursor. “Why aren’t you typing?” it’s saying. Don’t let the blinking cursor put you off. Every article starts with a blank doc.

It’s a kind of magic really, when you think about it: creating something from nothing.



3. Idea generation is a constant process; be prepared to create on the go

You don’t have to be sat in an office. You can come up with ideas on public transport or out for a walk or wherever. Evernote or even just the note app on your phone are great for jotting down quick ideas. I’m often inspired in the middle of the night; my phone is full of notes written at 3 in the morning.

They often don’t make sense.

4. Define what makes you different

Special snowflake time! What knowledge do you have? What info can you share with your readers? What is your passion? Personally, feeling like I have something interesting to say is difficult for me. My books are my fiction. The themes I find interesting are the things that find their way into my long-form fiction.

If you looked at my blog, you’d have no idea what I write about. I’m not good at writing essays and I don’t like writing the private parts of myself in blog-form, so I try to be useful instead. I take what I like or know about and I put that into my words.

You need to find the thing you like best or that you’re interested in and write to that. It’s harder than you think. It’s why so many blogs are left to wither and die in digital space. You gotta ask yourself why someone should read your blog–because, let’s be real here, while some people write for themselves only, most of us write because we have something we want to share.

Even if all that is is what you had for brekkie this morning.



In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t have breakfast this morning.

So here’s the deal: take what you know and turn it into experiences. Take this post as an example: I sat down and tried to come up with ideas but was stumped–so I took that and turned it into this article. (Fascinating, I know!)

5. Use the power of the internet

There are pretty much no new ideas out there–especially if you’re in a busy niche. If you’ve had the idea, chances are someone else has already written about it. This is where the idea of fresh content comes into play. Fresh doesn’t have to mean entirely new. It just has to mean different. Some tips for finding out what’s hot in your industry:

Read competitor blogs

What are your competitors doing? What are they writing about? Do they vlog? What social networks work best for them? Mostly, be realistic in who you consider your competitor to be. 

Read the bigwigs

What are they writing about? What do they have to say? Why are they saying it? If they’re talking about it, it’s a conversation you need to be a part of it. Take at least an hour or two out of your week, every week, to keep up. Don’t be afraid to use their titles as a launch-point for ideas.

Scour social media

Keep up-to-date with Twitter in particular, for idea generation. Look up hashtags relevant to you. Note what’s popular. Use those titles as a springboard. Don’t steal, borrow!

Do keyword research

Sign into Gmail. Open Google Keyword Planner. Type in as many phrases and keywords related to your brand as you can think of. What gets traffic? Use the traffic results as a source for idea generation.

Check Google Trends

Google Trends is fairly broad and gives you an idea as to what’s popular in the world. It’s great for news sources, more so than articles, but there might be some ideas in there.

Utilise tools like Buzzsumo or HubSpot’s Title Generator

Buzzsumo is a content aggregation app that tells you what the most shared content is for individual keywords or phrases, or domains. I’m always somewhat wary of title generators, but they do have their uses, especially in the idea generation phase. HubSpot’s is over the top but it’s useful.

Buzzsumo in action.

Buzzsumo in action.

Let auto-fill auto-fill

Navigate to Google. Type your phrase in and see what Google suggests. Typically, these are popular search terms–and a great source of fuel for idea generation.

6. Mind map

By now you should have a list of phrases, buzzwords, and keywords. It’s time to hit the accelerator via the magic of mind mapping. Mind mapping works differently for everyone, but the basics work around creating a visual hive of ideas. At the centre of the hive is your phrase, and from that ideas will grow. Don’t be afraid to get messy!

If you’d rather do your mind mapping online, MindNode and Xmind are brilliant tools.

7. If you’re still stuck, listicles are your new best friend

List articles (listicles) are an easy way out. They’re easy to write, they invite humour, and they have a great ROI if you can hit a sweet-spot.

8. Just write

Writing breeds more ideas. Maybe you’ll write a sentence or paragraph that’ll inspire the floodgates to open. Either way, it’s time to flex those fingers and get typing.

Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot to idea generation. And even then, what are you listening to me for?

Want to listen to me talk crap elsewhere on the internet? Follow me on Twitter, because.

You Might Also Like