“My problem is that I have been off work for long and when I think about coming back now, I can’t find topics to write about. How do I come up with interesting ideas?”
I get lots of variations of this question from writers, and it makes sense that this is a major concern; whether you’re writing for your blog, guest blogging on other blogs or writing for clients, you need an abundance of ideas.
Here are 10 ways I get ideas on what to write about:
1. Get Ideas Through Interaction With Readers and Insiders in Your Niche
Majority of the most popular articles I’ve published on this blog have been informed by reader feedback; for example, the following articles featuring websites that pay writers:
All the above 3 articles were informed by reader feedback; after sharing lots of tips on how to make money writing, I kept noticing a pattern in comments and emails I was getting from readers. Readers were telling me “thanks for the tips, but if only I could have actual sites that will accept my articles and pay me”.
The request for a list of sites that pay writers kept coming in and I had to do something. If my memory serves me well, I believe I actually spent over 20 hours creating the first list of sites that pay writers; it was well received and there was demand for more, so I went on to create another list, which was well received again. In total all three lists have have been read around 500,000 times since they were published.
This article you’re reading was also inspired by several reader emails to me. The article was inspired not only by Myra’s email, but the about a dozen similar emails I’ve gotten since she asked, and countless others I didn’t pay attention to before hers. Due to the demand, I’m sure it’ll be a big hit!
2. Survey Your Readers and Insiders in Your Niche
If you subscribe to my newsletter, at a point you’ll be asked to take a survey asking about you and how I can make the Writers in Charge experience better for you; I’ve gotten hundreds of responses to this survey, and I read (and re-read) and pay careful attention to every response.
The result of surveying my readers and paying attention to their responses has been countless of ideas on what to write about.
The other day when I wrote about the curse of being a beginner freelance writer, the article was informed by several responses to that survey. The article on three most important steps to take to start as a freelance writer was also informed by a response to the survey. Both articles were well-received.
In fact, my Success Starter Guide was created based on feedback I got from that survey.
By surveying my readers and paying careful attention to their responses, not only do I get unlimited ideas on what to write about but I’m also ensuring that anything I write, or create, widely resonates with my audience.
3. Carefully Analyze Top Blogs to See What They Are Doing
It’s easy to look at my first two points and say “But you have a popular blog!” or “What if I’m doing this for a client?”
In that case, the answer is to leverage the audience of top blogs in your niche to see what they are doing.
Analyze the most popular articles as well as the most recent articles on top blogs in your niche to see what types of articles they are writing; think carefully about how this can inform articles you want to write for your blog or your clients, then go ahead and write your articles.
Don’t stop at analyzing content on top blogs in your niche; analyze comments on their most popular articles as well, and pay careful attention to objections, concerns and questions their readers are asking.
You shouldn’t only look out for open-ended questions. Instead, pay attention to phrases that include “but…”, “I’m confused…”, “what if?”, etc. Often times, these reveal questions deep down in the mind of their readers that they’d like to be addressed.
4. Use Buzzsumo to See What is Trending on the Web
I learned this particular technique from superstar blogger Neil Patel.
Buzzsumo is a tool that tracks the most shared content across the web, and using it to research content ideas won’t only help you find lots of content ideas, it’ll also ensure that articles you write as a result are big hits.
Effectively using Buzzsumo is as simple as visiting the site, typing the keyword of your choice into the search box and analyzing the results to see what ideas they inspire.
For example, here’s a screenshot showing the results I got when I searched for the term “pregnancy” in Buzzsumo.
As you can see from the results, shown in the above screenshot, the top 3 articles have gotten over 370,000 social media shares each, and they all offer different perspectives on pregnancy; if you’re remotely interested in writing about pregnancy, there’s no way you won’t get ideas by analyzing the results shown by Buzzsumo.
5. Quora, Yahoo! Answers and other Q&A Community Sites
I’ve written for clients in the education, law, weight loss, telecommunications and other specialized niches before; for most of these clients, I’ve written several tens of thousands of words.
Sometimes, when writing for clients in specialized niches I get so many ideas and enjoy the writing process so much that I sometimes find it as fun as I find writing my blog; in fact, sometimes I start missing writing for these clients’ niches when I stop writing for them.
My secret lies in leveraging Questions and Answers (Q&A) and community sites; I’m talking about sites like Quora, Yahoo! Answers, Answers.com, etc.
The Q&A/community sites can be more specialized depending on my client’s niche, but in 99% of cases the popular Q&A and community sites will do.
Getting ideas on Q&A/community sites is as simple as typing your question into the search box, analyzing the results and then noting down common questions.
For example, below is a screenshot showing the results I get when I search for “fish farming” on Yahoo! Answers:
The below screenshot also shows what I get when I search for “gaining skills” on Quora:
In Quora’s case, as it is with some Q&A/community sites, there’ll be an option to use filters; I simply used their filter to search for just “Questions”. You can also filter by date, topics, blogs, etc.
You should also take note of the number of people following a question on Quora; that’s an indication of how much interest there is in a question. If 20 people are following a question on Quora, that’s basically 20 people asking the same question.
I’ve already gotten a few ideas by taking a look at the search results from both Quora and Yahoo! Answers.
6. Actively Monitor What is Trending on Social Media
A few years back, there was a scandal involving a particular popular politician that a friend of decided to capitalize on.
The scandal was trending on social media, and it was basically the talk of the week then; my friend saw this and decided to write an article about this on his blog. The result? At a point, his blog traffic was peaking at 8,000 daily visitors due to writing about that scandal.
Is the moral of my story to start writing about scandals? Absolutely not. That story was a first-hand experience of how trends on social media can be a good source of content ideas and traffic, and there are good trends as well as bad trends on social media.
You also shouldn’t restrict yourself to what is trending; you can routinely search for keywords on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other top social media sites to see what people are discussing. If more than a few people in your niche are worried about something, maybe you should write about it.
7. Use Google Like a Detective
Sometimes, I get complicated projects from clients; on the surface, it looks like something that’ll take an hour or two to solve, but at the end of the day I’d have spent 3 – 4 hours searching and I’ll still have no idea about the topic. It will seem as if the topic has never been written about.
I’ve had lots of moments like this, and at the verge of giving up I’ll give Google one more try and find a solution.
I can boldly say that there’s pretty much nothing you can’t find with Google these days; sometimes, the results you want won’t be on page 1, or page 2 or even on page 5. In that case, before you give up keep digging deeper; I’ve had to go as far down as page 10 or 20 in Google before finding insights I need to write articles for some of my clients.
Often times, once you dig deeper and find the insights you need, things become easier; you’ll soon realize that lack of information on the topic is not because it doesn’t exist, but because you were approaching things like an outsider. You were simply using terminology and lingo that people in those niches rarely use, and as a result can’t find the results you were looking for.
To use Google like a detective, here are some tips:
- Come up with a list of keywords in a niche. Sometimes, there’s a main keyword the public is familiar with and then there’s the lingo people in that industry speak. You want to search for BOTH what the public speaks and what the industry speak.
- Don’t just stop at page 1 or 2. Stopping at page 1 or 2 is barely doing a thing! Instead, dig deeper; if you have to go down 20 pages, so be it. Often, once you find that result deep down, you will know how to revise your searches to find similar ones.
- Use quotes and Google search operators to make your searches more specific. Quoting a phrase tells Google that it must deliver results that include that phrase in the order you’re searching for it. That’s just one of the many ways you can get better results with Google, and there are lots of other Google search operators on this page.
8. Use Other Search Engines
I can’t imagine my life without Google!
As far as the internet is concerned, Google is currently my favorite tool and it is indispensable; I’m sure this is the case for most writers, especially since it makes research easy.
However, the fact that a tool is immensely valuable does not mean it’s the only option available.
Sometimes, after searching and searching on Google with no success, a simple search on Bing or Yahoo, or some other search engine will yield results in no time; this rarely happens, but there have been at least a few instances of this.
If you’re not having luck with the Google search engine, don’t completely write off other search engines as well.
9. Ezine Articles, Article Directories and Content Mills
When you get to a stage as a freelance writer, you start to feel as if article directories and content mills are completely useless. Are they? Not totally.
While I’m a staunch advocate of not writing for content mills, because you’re worth much more, I believe that, although the pay structure is atrocious, majority of the writers who write for these sites are talented writers who don’t know better or who feel that they don’t have an alternative.
In other words, content mills have a way of getting quality articles without paying well for it; as a writer, you can use this to your own advantage.
If you lack ideas on what to write, carefully review the category of your choice on top content mills, article directories and content sites, and let these articles inspire your own ideas. Often times, the articles are written by talented and informed writers and the editors at these content mills know how to get them to give quality.
After Google, Wikipedia is my next best resource when working in niches totally new to me.
I start by searching for my clients’ main keyword in Google, and the first or second result is usually from Wikipedia; I then study this result and carefully read the Wikipedia entry, sometimes several times.
Wikipedia articles are usually well-informed, because they were contributed by diverse people; they also usually include a careful breakdown of a subject, as well as links to other resources that talk about this subject.
If you’re completely new to a subject and you read a few entries about it on Wikipedia, you’ll leave the site well-informed and buzzing with ideas on what to write about.