In the realm of owned marketing channels, organic traffic stands alone. Done correctly, content published on your website has the potential to bring in leads and sales automatically without having to pay for reach or update the content.
However, the issue for most businesses isn’t recognizing the benefit of organic traffic, it’s finding good content ideas to pursue. This post will help address that – we’re going to step into the shoes of a fictitious company and explore 7 different places where you can find free content ideas. We’ll look at how to find, vet, and organize potential topics as well as some tricks to reverse engineer what your competitors are doing.
Finally, we’ll explore the importance of search intent and how to determine if you stand a chance of ranking for a certain topic – let’s get started!
Meet our company
The company we’re going to use is called Roll Over – they make healthy dog treats and snacks that don’t break the brank. They currently operate a brick and mortar location and are looking to expand and start selling their dog treats online.
As a small business, the owner is always strapped for time and is looking for a process to identify website content ideas that he can pass to his writer.
Keeping your content topics organized
We use a really simple Google Sheet to stay organized – the 2 most important tabs are Master where we track topics that are pending or ongoing, and Ideas, where we list the content ideas we come up with.
As long as you know where you’re keeping your ideas there’s no wrong way to do it – this way works for us but feel free to adjust as needed. My advice is to write down everything – some of these topics will be combined and others won’t be a good fit, but for now our goal is to generate ideas – we can refine the results later.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that finding ideas is only part of the process – we also use content briefs to organize topics in depth before passing them to our writers. We wrote a detailed post on the topic here if you’re interested.
Now that we’ve met the company and have a place to store our ideas, let’s get started!
Where to find content ideas for free
Google is an incredible resource when it comes to finding new topics ideas and gives you tons of hints on what people are searching for.
As a dog treat maker, I’m obviously interested in getting my products in front of health conscious dog owners so let’s start by searching for “healthy dog food.”
The first place I’m going to want to look at is the People also ask section – it’s made up of real user questions that are related to my initial query.
All of these are worthy of being recorded so let’s add them to our sheet and scroll down the page to Related searches section.
These are searches that Google thinks are related to “healthy dog food” and I’d record them in our sheet as well. If you’re looking to dive deeper into any of these you can also click on each and repeat the process – each one will open a new page with a new sections on Related searches and questions.
Trends is a really cool (and free!) tool from Google that shows you search trends over time for specific topics as well as related topics and queries.
I personally find the Related queries in Trends to be more valuable, but just like with Google Search you’ll want to copy down anything relevant. And, just like before, you can click each option and see information on it as well.
We also use Google Trends to validate content topics – this will come later in the process but it’s a good first stop if you want to see if a topic is trending up or down in terms of popularity.
As an example, you can see that pet retailer Chewy has been trending up over the past 5 years so we might want to create a page or piece of content on them as they are one of our competitors.
Reddit is one of the most popular websites on the internet and is comprised of communities surrounding different topics like dogs and raw pet food. There is literally a community (aka subreddit) for everything so feel free to explore until you find one that works for your business.
Reddit is great for browsing and you’ll definitely be able to get some good ideas by regularly checking new posts.
However, when it comes to gathering content ideas, we want to treat Reddit more like a search engine and input our query into the search bar – note that this will work better if you’re already on the subreddit page as it will show topics from that community.
You can play around with the filters here to sort by more popular or recent topics, but the idea remains the same.
We use Reddit not only for generating ideas, but also to support pieces of content with quotes and first hand information – it’s really a great tool when looking for real life examples.
Quora is the Q&A hub of the internet and is great not only for generating website topics ideas but also for asking related questions.
You can use it just like Reddit by inputting your query into the search box – the results should be related questions that you can sort via different filters.
2 caveats about using Quora:
- A lot of responses are overly promotional with the goal of getting you to click on a website link – take these responses with a grain of salt as many are just copy and pasted without much thought given to the question.
- It’s not good for every topic – unlike Reddit which seemingly covers every topic under the sun, Quora skews towards tech topics and you might not have much luck depending on your industry.
Much like Reddit, most industries have a few popular forums where users can submit questions, interact with other members, and share relevant information.
As a business owner, these forums are a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in your industry as well share your expertise.
From a content standpoint, most forums won’t have the same search functionality as Google or Reddit and may take more time to dig up relevant topics. However, we’ve found them to be better at submitting your own questions as the user base is typically committed and super active.
For example, you could use this forum in conjunction with a topic or question you found on Google in order to get advice that you couldn’t find on Reddit.
Compared to other sources that we’ve listed in this post, I find Facebook Groups to be lacking when it comes to generating topic ideas. The search functionality can’t hold a candle to Google, the organization is lacking compared to Reddit, and the sheer number of posts and comments can make finding anything helpful a chore.
Still, in terms of engagement, you really can’t beat a popular Facebook Group.
So, how can you use this to your advantage? We treat Groups as a sounding board for our ideas – we ask questions, submit topics, and generally try and engage with anyone who responds. As a small business, these engagements have value outside of just content – these are real people who could become your customer in the future.
I wouldn’t treat Facebook as a first stop when it comes to content topic generation – instead I’d post a question related to a piece I’m planning on writing (like “what do you feed your dog who is on a diet?”) and take note of the answers.
However, if you’re active on Facebook outside of work, you can get some great insight into popular topics during your regular browsing, I just wouldn’t choose it over Google or Reddit on its own.
Other websites in your industry are a goldmine when it comes to finding topics to write about! To reverse engineer them all you need is the free SEO tool Ubersuggest – it allows you to insert a website and returns their best pages and keywords – not bad, right?
One thing to note here is that the domains you insert don’t have to be your direct competitors (like Chewy) – you can also use blogs and informational websites to generate some great ideas.
To demonstrate this, I found a UK pet sitting service called DogBuddy – they seem to have an active blog with a lot of content and it would definitely be helpful to see what topics they’re targeting.
Once you input a domain into Ubersuggest you’re going to see a few sections, two of which are important to us.
The first is Top SEO Pages which shows what pages are estimated to be driving the most organic traffic – you can use these to help prioritize your topics. For example, you can see that this site does a lot of dog breed comparisons – we might want to focus on those as well if our products are a good fit.
The second section lists the top SEO keywords associated with this blog – no surprise here as we can see a lot of the comparison keywords from the pages listed above.
You can use these sections in tandem to easily find out what other websites in your industry are writing about and then determine if they are a good fit for your business as well.
Understanding search intent and competition
By now you should have a solid list of potential content ideas but before you start writing it’s worth spending a bit of time looking at the intent behind each topic as well as the competition. The goal of this is to get a feel for what types of content are showing up in the search results and how hard it will be for your piece to rank – then we can weed out what’s unreasonable and focus on the best opportunities.
As Ahrefs puts it, search intent is the ‘why’ behind a search – why did the user search for something and what do they expect to see in the results?
Let’s look at an example – if you search for “dog food recipes” what do you expect Google to return?
If you said recipes you’d be right – you can clearly see Google understands the intent behind this search and puts formatted recipes at the top.
Another good example is “dog tricks” – it makes sense to see videos and blog posts on how to teach your dog a new trick.
Before committing to to write a piece of content you always want to give some thought to search intent – you can even check Google yourself to see what comes up. These easy steps can prevent you from trying to create a product page around the term “dog tricks” when Google is telling you that users want to see blog posts and videos.
Finally, let’s talk about competition – if you neglect to consider the competing pages when you create a piece of content you run the risk of spending a lot of effort on something that nobody will ever see.
Luckily, Ubersuggest can help prevent this – using the same example as above we can see that “dog tricks” has is classified as easy, meaning it’s probably worth prioritizing in our list of topics.
You can go one step further here and see what other websites are ranking for this topic – just scroll down a bit to the Content Ideas section.
If this section is full of your competitors and you know they have a really strong blog, you might reconsider this topic (or at least reprioritize it). However, if it’s full of sites you’ve never heard of then you should be good to go in terms of sending this idea to your writer.
Where to start
There is a chance you might be suffering from choice paralysis right about now – we’ve covered a lot in this guide and it can be overwhelming if you’ve never given any thought to choosing the right topics for your blog.
If this sounds like you, then I’d recommend starting with just Google + Ubersuggest – you can do a ton with just those two tools and mastering them is better than trying to do a bit of everything else.
If you’re a bit more advanced then I’d work on incorporating a social network like Reddit or Facebook to validate ideas – you’ll get some great feedback and first hand responses to build out your topic.