Practical Ecommerce

Content Marketing: How to Find Topics

Content marketing can be a like a greedy monster. It may be powerful, it may be capable, but it is also hungry, devouring a constant flow of ideas. Every article, every blog post, every infographic, every video requires a spark, an idea, a topic.

Content marketing positions your business as an expert in your field, a source of useful, entertaining, or otherwise valuable information. It seeks to attract, engage, and retain customers. It often relies on reciprocity. You help your potential customers, and when the time comes to buy, they return the gesture.

But content marketing must be fed. Fortunately, finding good topics for posts or articles is a manageable process. You simply need to start paying attention and developing a sense of wonder.

Experience Finding Topics

I usually try to leave myself out of my articles. I suspect you’ll find the first person pronoun “I” in, perhaps, one out of 10 of my posts or fewer. But, for this one, I wanted to share my experience finding topics.

Although, I have lost the exact count, I believe I have published between 4,200 and 4,500 articles since 1996. That is something like 200 or maybe 225 articles per year. Think three to four articles a week for 20 years, on average. During peak writing times, when I was working as a full-time journalist, I wrote as many as ten articles in a week.

To reach these kind numbers, I have had to generate a lot of article topics. Somewhat organically, my process for finding content topics has grown to a two-part process: first exposing myself to information (call it paying attention) and then developing a sense of wonder about what I find.

Pay Attention to Your Industry

If you have read Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek, you’ll know that he promotes the idea of elimination.

“In the strictest sense, you shouldn’t be trying to do more in each day, trying to fill every second with a work fidget of some type,” wrote Ferriss.

The elimination section is one of the most powerful in Ferriss’ book, and certainly worth implementing in your work life. I mention it here because Ferriss, as part of elimination, suggests cultivating selective ignorance. It is the idea of not watching, reading, or listening to much news, if any.

To help make the point, Ferriss quotes Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon, who said that information “consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

This is somewhat counter to advice that journalists and content marketers often get relative to finding topics. At the University of Pittsburgh in the late 80s and early 90s, several of my journalism professors required me to read every article and every editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper every day.

The idea, it seemed, was to stuff as much information into my head as possible in the hopes that I would somehow be able to process it all and through that process find topics of my own to write about.

I no longer use the brain-stuffing approach. Rather, my suggestion is to pay attention, selectively, to your industry (or perhaps your industry segment). This is more in line with Ferriss’ recommendation.

Do not overwhelm yourself with newsletter subscriptions, daily blog reading, or hours of listening to podcasts whilst trying to run your business. Simply pay attention to your industry, your business, and your customers and look for content marketing topics on the very things that you’re doing to be effective in your business.

If, as an example, your business sells knitting supplies, like needles, hooks, yarn, or fiber, you might want to regularly check out Pinterest. A pair of recent knitting posts about a women’s knit top and a neck warmer earned about 8,300 and 10,900 pins respectively. These two pins could inspire a number of content topics.

  • Produce tutorials, showing how to make each item, including a materials list. That’s two articles. One for each pin.
  • Describe how to choose the right yarn for each project, comparing the materials needed for the top and the warmer. That is another article.
  • You might post about creating a pattern for each project, describing in detail how someone might create a pattern based on things they see on Pinterest. That’s a fourth article.
In the process of marketing a knitting retailer online, you are bound to look at recent knitting-related pins. When you see popular ones, take note. Use them as a source for content marketing topics.

In the process of marketing a knitting retailer online, you are bound to look at recent knitting-related pins. When you see popular ones, take note. Use them as a source for content marketing topics.

Having spent less than a minute paying attention to what’s popular on Pinterest, I was able to generate four different content marketing topics for an imagined knitting supply retailer.

In your particular industry segment, pay attention to what interests your customers, what things your customers are trying to do or accomplish, and what problems they might face. Do this, and you should start to find content marketing topics.

Develop a Sense of Wonder

Paying attention to your industry is the mechanical part of generating a lot of content topics. It is something that you can do. You can go to Pinterest and look for popular knitting posts.

The second part of creating a steady supply of content marketing topics has to do with how you look at things. It has to do with a desire to understand how things work and what is possible. You need to develop a sense of wonder.

When you see a picture of a knit top on Pinterest, you should start to ask why it is popular. What do the folks pinning it get from it?

A sense of wonder has lead to many of the articles I’ve written. What is the best way to find content marketing topics? What are some email campaigns you could run this quarter? What do add-to-cart rates indicate about ecommerce conversion? These are all questions that lead to articles published right here on Practical Ecommerce.

I hope my approach — paying attention to my industry and wondering about the things I find — will also help you generate compelling content topics for your business.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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Comments ( 4 )

  1. Alex April 19, 2016 Reply

    Thank you for sharing, Armando.

    I’d like to add that sifting through social media is another option. For example, reddit is a great place to start – there are tons of people posting on various topics and helping each other. This kind of content could easily inspire publications. And there are communities for practically any topic and this means that you’ll be able to find something to talk about.

  2. Patt April 19, 2016 Reply

    I needed this today! Some days I’m unable to focus and if I can’t think on one topic, I sure can’t write on one! The stuffed brain is probably the problem. Your ideas helped settle the panic feeling that I’ve run out of ideas and will never have a thought again!

  3. Carlos Rivera April 21, 2016 Reply

    Armando,

    I’ve followed your articles for several years, and many times I wondered how you were able to produce so much quality content in a short amount of time. My thought process brought me to the brain-stuffing example your professors suggested you do.

    However, after attending Ignite last year, I learned (indirectly) that there is a more selective and measured approach to building a brand/business. This independently lead me to the sense of wonder example you mentioned above; and how I can apply this to my own industry. This article confirms my journey and your influence, thank you!

    • Armando Roggio April 22, 2016 Reply

      Thanks Carlos. I always appreciate your comments.