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 doesn’t recognise 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 organise potential topics and 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 particular topic – let’s get started!
Meet our company
The company we will use is called Roll Over – they make healthy dog treats and snacks that don’t break the bank. They operate a brick-and-mortar location and want to expand and sell 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 on to his writer.
Keeping your content topics organised
We use a straightforward Google Sheet to stay organised – the 2 most essential tabs are Master, where we track pending or ongoing topics, 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. I advise writing down everything – some topics will be combined, and others won’t be a good fit. We aim to generate ideas for now – 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 organise topics in depth before passing them to our writers. We wrote a detailed post on the subject here if you’re interested.
Now that we’ve met the company and have a place to store our ideas let’s start!
Where to find content ideas for free
Google is an incredible resource for finding new topics and ideas, giving you many hints on what people are searching for.
As a dog treat maker, I’m 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 will want to look at is the People also ask section – it’s made up of real user questions related to my initial query.
All these are worthy of being recorded, so let’s add them to our sheet and scroll down the page to the Related searches section.
These are searches that Google thinks are related to “healthy dog food”, and I’d also record them in our sheet. To dive deeper into any of these, click on each and repeat the process. Each one will open a new page with a new section on Related searches and questions.
Trends is an excellent (and free!) tool from Google that shows you search trends over time for specific topics and related topics and queries.
The Related queries in Trends are more valuable. Still, 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.
We also use Google Trends to validate content topics – this will come later in the process. Still, it’s an excellent first stop to see if a topic is trending up or down in popularity.
For example, pet retailer Chewy has been trending up over the past 5 years, so we could create a page or piece of content on them as they are one of our competitors.
Reddit is among the most popular websites and comprises communities surrounding different topics like dogs and raw pet food. There is 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 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 a great tool when looking for real-life examples.
Quora is the Q&A hub of the internet and is excellent not only for generating website topics and ideas and 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:
- Many responses are overly promotional to get you to click on a website link – take these responses with a grain of salt, as many are just copied and pasted without much thought given to the question.
- It’s not suitable 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.
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 and share your expertise.
Content-wise, most forums won’t have the same search functionality as Google or Reddit. They may take more time to dig up relevant topics. However, we’ve found them better at submitting your questions as the user base is typically committed and super active.
For example, you could use this forum with a topic or question you found on Google to get the advice you couldn’t find on Reddit.
Compared to other sources we’ve listed in this post, I find Facebook Groups lacking when generating topic ideas. The search functionality can’t hold a candle to Google, the organisation is lacking compared to Reddit, and the sheer number of posts and comments can make finding anything helpful a chore.
Still, you can’t beat a popular Facebook Group regarding engagement.
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 for a content topic generation. Instead, I’d post a question related to a piece I plan 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 great insight into popular topics during your regular browsing; I wouldn’t choose it over Google or Reddit alone.
Other websites in your industry are a goldmine for 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 its 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 be helpful to see what topics they’re targeting.
Once you input a domain into Ubersuggest, you will see a few sections, two of which are essential to us.
The first is Top SEO Pages which shows what pages are estimated to drive the most organic traffic – you can use these to help prioritise your topics. For example, you can see that this site makes 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 many comparison keywords from the pages listed above.
You can use these sections in tandem to quickly find out what other websites in your industry are writing about and then determine if they are a good fit for your business.
Understanding search intent and competition
By now, you should have a solid list of potential content ideas. Still, before you start writing, it’s worth looking at the intent behind each topic and the competition. The goal is to get a feel for what types of content appear 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?
For 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 writing a piece of content, you always want to think about search intent – you can even check Google yourself to see what comes up. These easy steps can prevent you from creating a product page around “dog tricks” when Google tells you 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 risk 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” is classified as easy, meaning it’s probably worth prioritising in our list of topics.
You can go one step further here and see what other websites rank for this topic – just scroll down to the Content Ideas section.
Suppose this section is full of your competitors; you know they have a strong blog. In that case, you might reconsider this topic (or at least reprioritise it). However, if it’s full of sites you’ve never heard of, you should be ready to send this idea to your writer.
Where to start
There is a chance you might be suffering from choice paralysis right now – we’ve covered a lot in this guide. It can be overwhelming if you’ve never considered choosing suitable blog topics.
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, I will 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.