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Inspiration Information: The 8 Best Tools for Generating Content Ideas

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10 Sep 2020

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If you’re in the business of content marketing and content creation, you’re bound to hit a brick wall eventually.

Call it writer’s block or a lack of inspiration, even the best of us run out of ideas on occasion…

Sitting around, praying for a bolt from the blue isn’t an option.

So, whenever I get stuck, I’ve got eight go-to resources I turn to shake things up.

I’m going to share them with you here in the hopes they make your content-creation struggle just a little bit easier.

TABLE OF CONTENTS* (In Ascending Order of Difficulty)
Answer the Public
AlsoAsked
Zest
Swiped
Google Trends
Ubersuggest
Ahrefs
Surfer SEO

* Most of these tools (especially Ahrefs and Surfer) are the worthy subject of comprehensive guides all their own. This post isn’t meant to be exhaustive — just some quick and dirty tips for smashing creative logjams when they inevitably arise.

Should you Answer The Public?

Answer the Public is a simple enough concept, but elegant in execution.

I find it very conducive to creativity.

Simply enter any short keyword (one or two words works best) and Answer the Public generates a “search cloud” based on search queries and suggested autocomplete data from Google.

All 5 W’s are represented in the search cloud — augmented by how, can, are, which and will.

Knowing what questions people have asked concerning your keyword or topic is at once one of the leanest and the most powerful ways of discerning what you should write about.

I can’t sing the praises of Answer The Public highly enough as a brainstorming tool. It takes seconds to use and should be one of your first stops when inspiration runs dry.

Why Does AlsoAsked Matter?

Kissing cousins with Answer the Public, AlsoAsked leverages Google’s People Also Asked (PAA) data.

Though people conflate the two, it’s wrong to assume that AlsoAsked and Answer The Public are the same, as they rely on different data sources.

AlsoAsked “provides results for more longtail searches and critically, shows the relationships between these topics and questions.”

If you’re looking to create additional content to augment your existing posts, AlsoAsked is an invaluable resource.

Zest For Life?

Once there was a time when people would get a newspaper delivered to their door every morning.

They’d settle in with a coffee, two eggs and bacon, and a couple of cigarettes…

While a leisurely breakfast with ink smudged fingers is a thing of a past, that doesn’t mean you can’t start your day with inspiring and relevant articles.

Curated by and for marketing professionals, Zest is crowdsourced content at its best.

Install the Zest Chrome extension, and the first thing you see when opening a new tab is a continually updated stream of top-tier digital marketing content recommended by fellow Zest users.

Zest gives back too.

You can submit your own content to the Zest community, and there’s even a paid Content Boost option if you want more eyeballs on your latest masterpiece.

I’ll be submitting this article as soon as I finish it!

You Swiped It?

“Don’t tell me how good you make it; tell me how good it makes me when I use it.”
Leo Burnett

“Talent borrows, genius steals.” 
Oscar Wilde

Swiped is a postmodern platform with a profound sense of history.

Drawing on the entire history of modern marketing, Swiped is an endless source of inspiration for copywriters and marketers alike.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing explicit sales copy or just trying to create an engaging blog post — the ingeniously curated and codified “Swipes” from Swiped can splinter the most stubborn creative logjams.

Any copywriter worth their salt knows there are tried and true approaches to connecting with your target audience.

Maria Veloso, author of the must-read copywriting bible, Web Copy That Sells, preaches that “Words tell, emotion sells.”

People buy on emotion, then justify their decision with logic.

Any copy that you write should tap into one of the 16 basic desires:

  • Power
  • Independence
  • Curiosity
  • Acceptance
  • Order
  • Saving
  • Honor
  • Idealism
  • Social contact
  • Family
  • Status
  • Vengeance
  • Romance
  • Eating
  • Physical exercise
  • Tranquility

Swiped holds these marketing truths to be self-evident and backs it up with decades of successful real-world examples.

Absorb the genius of advertising legend David Ogily’s oyster descriptions in his first-ever ad as the head of his own agency.

Swiped not only collates classic and current ads and makes them available as inspiration, it gives you the behind the scenes backstory and key takeaways you can apply to your own copywriting.

You can narrow your quest for inspiration by niche and medium, making it easy to drill down on specific topics, but I recommend applying the key takeaways more liberally rather than comparing apples to apples.

There’s nothing fluffy about inspiration, but Swipe also lets you filter by “Tested” results if you favor a more data-driven approach.

I really can’t recommend Swiped highly enough.

Even if you’re not a content creator, it’s a never-ending source of branding inspiration.

Do yourself a solid, sell the sizzle, not the steak…

Subscribe to the email list and refresh their homepage regularly.

As SEOs and content marketers, Google can sometimes feel like our archnemesis.

But, in reality, Google offers a plethora of free tools that can make your life as a content creator easier.

Matt Diggity recently released a new video showing how Google Trends can help power your keyword research, and the same process works equally well if you’re looking for what to write about next.

Starting with our “CBD oil” keyword, Google Trends does what it says on the box by showing us whether search volume for the term is waxing or waning over time, as well as a breakdown of where the term is being queried by region.

Good to know, especially if you’re considering writing about a specific keyword.

But when it comes to generating content ideas, here’s where the nuggets are:

Related topics are broad subject matters relevant to your keyword.

Personally, I associate Sonoma, CA more with wine than weed, but maybe that’s a Gen X bias.

Also, I guess Dr. Oz must be a CBD fan?

Related queries are the real goldmine for content ideas.

Since we’re trying to uncover new search trends related to our keyword to write about, make sure you select Rising rather than Top. This reveals the fastest growing search trends.

Related queries classed as Breakout have grown by over 5000%

Even non-breakout queries may be dramatically trending up — check out Tommy Chong at +550%!

Google Trends is one of the best ways to uncover what your potential audience wants to read about NOW. 

Give your readers what they want!

Ubersuggest

Regardless of what you think of Neil Patel as an omnipresent digital marketing “guru,” his free Ubersuggest tool is a potential goldmine of ideas for content topics.

Ignore the excessive personal branding and the incessant stream of popups, just enter one of your keywords, and head over to the Content Ideas tab.


You’ll see I’ve typed in “CBD oil” as my keyword.

Ubersuggest then returns the top 20 results, ranked by Social Shares (Facebook and Pinterest).

You’ll see Ubersuggest also gives you the estimated Google search traffic and the number of backlinks each article has earned.

The foundational idea behind the current iteration of Ubersuggest is simple, yet powerful.

The more times an individual piece of content is shared, the more people are interested in it or find it valuable.

If people share an article on their social channels, there’s a good chance they find it rewarding or engaging, right?

In a way, Ubersuggest allows you to crowdsource ideas for content that you should be writing about.

Patel suggests that you look for topic ideas which meet the following three criteria:

  • Number of Shares: 1k+
  • Number of Estimated visits: 100+
  • Number of Backlinks: 5+

Doing so enables you to deduce the value of a piece of content based on three different factors, rather than just relying on social shares, which can be easily manipulated.

Ubersuggest’s Keyword Ideas tool can also pay dividends, and its logic and structure should appeal to the writers and grammarians among you.

As you can see, in addition to suggestions, the Keyword Idea function gives you related results in the following categories:

Ubersuggest Keyword Ideas: Questions
Ubersuggest Keyword Ideas: Prepositions
Ubersuggest Keyword Ideas: Comparisons

Armed with just a keyword, Ubersuggest makes it easy to generate content ideas based on what people are asking about the keyword and what people are comparing the keyword to.

This makes even the free version of Ubersuggest a powerful weapon in the arsenal of any content creator.

Can Ahrefs Power Your Content Strategy?

Ahrefs is an essential tool for anyone engaged in digital marketing.

It’s also a highly underrated tool for coming up with ideas for blog posts and content.

Fundamentally, Ahrefs is a competitive analysis tool.

It enables you to gauge why and how your competitors are ranking for any given topic or keyword.

Backlinks are arguably Google’s most crucial ranking factor, and Ahrefs boasts the largest index of live backlinks — constantly updated and numbering in the trillions.

While you’re no doubt familiar with Ahrefs as a keyword and competitor research tool, don’t sleep on its utility as a hotbed of creativity.

Ahrefs founder, Dmitry Gerasimenko puts it best: “The Internet needs more good content. For that to happen, we must first start creating content that’s actually useful; that people genuinely want and look for.”

So much of SEO isn’t about just keeping up with the Joneses, it’s about kicking their ass.

When inspiration fails, conducting an audit of keywords and topics that your competitors rank for successfully is essential.

It’s usually safe to assume that if a competitor ranks for a given term, there is intent, research (and rewards) behind the SERPs.

Luckily, if you’re an Ahrefs subscriber, conducting a thorough competitor analysis is a piece of cake.

Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to conducting a content gap analysis.

Using the “Competing Domains” function in Ahrefs, reveal the websites you’re competing with for clicks.

No surprise that SEOButler is competing with heavyweights like Matt Diggity, Matthew Woodward, Moz, Backlinko, and Ahrefs itself. 😅

Now, head over to the Content Gap tool:

Enter at least three competitors that you feel are most relevant from the Competing Domains report.

Note: For Moz and Ahrefs, all their blog content has the Prefix /blog, so make sure to select Prefix from the dropdown menu. For our two other competitors (and for SEOButler) there is no Prefix, so select *domain/*

Well, it looks like I have my work cut out for me…

Over 17k keywords we don’t rank for — that’s a lot of content ideas!

The above results are from page 15 of the Content Gap analysis, and all have a search volume of around 500.

For me personally, that’s the sweet spot for brainstorming content. The topics are becoming somewhat specific and still have a decent amount of search volume.

The top pages tend to be full of high-hanging fruit.

Of course, the majority of results you’ll find doing a Content Gap analysis with Ahrefs are probably unlikely to spark the inspiration for your next 2k word blog masterpiece.

But it’s such a quick and easy way to see what your competitors are intentionally ranking for, that it would be crazy not to use it.

Surfer’s Up for Blog Posts?

(Editor’s note, we offer Surfer-optimized content written by our ace team of US and UK-based content writers if you don’t have time to use Surfer yourself.)

What happens if you already have a general idea of the topic or keyword you want to write about, but you run smash into a creative brick wall when trying to come up with the story’s angle and structure?

Surfer SEO to the rescue!

To say that Surfer has taken the SEO world by storm is a severe understatement.

Since its launch in 2017, Surfer has revolutionized how writers and editors create content tailor-made for search.

Surfer is invaluable for optimizing existing content and creating new briefs for writers, but it’s also a rich resource for brainstorming content ideas.

Surfer has somewhat limited keyword research functionality, so you’re better off doing that using one of the other tools in this post.

Let’s go ahead and plug “Sonoma Valley CBD oil” — one of our Breakout keywords from Google Trends — into Surfer’s Content Editor.

Right away, you’ll see Surfer pull in the top 10 SERP results for your keyword.

Here, you have the option to select/deselect the pages that most closely match your desired search intent and your goals for the piece.

Surfer gives you a handful of metrics right on this page to help you decide which pages are most relevant to your content goals — including their brand new Content Score metric.

Content Score claims to be “the most accurate on-page metric on the SEO market.”

A content score of 0-33 represents irrelevant or inferior content, 34-66 is solid, and 67-100 indicates good quality and relevance.

Content Score only launched in July 2020. So far, I’ve found it a useful shortcut for rating the quality and relevance of competing pages.

When in doubt, a quick scan of the actual page usually tells you if it’s relevant to your goals.

Select a minimum of five pages you want Surfer to analyze further — in this case, Surfer has done a solid job of this all by itself.

Now we get into what really makes Surfer shine not only as an on-page SEO tool but as a creative tool for creating content.

As you can see, Surfer has analyzed the five competing pages we selected previously and done its best to identify the best primary keywords, secondary keywords, prominent terms, and other terms.

Give Surfer a helping hand by eliminating any junk or irrelevant keywords from the primary, secondary, and prominent terms.

I’ve redlined my deselections in the screenshot below and manually added a secondary keyword:

Note that while some of the prominent terms are very vague — such as people, body, and life — I’m leaving them in because CBD oil is widely touted for its therapeutic health benefits. It makes sense that those terms would feature heavily in the highest-rated articles.

Without getting too far into the weeds of the almost endless possibilities for tweaking Surfer’s content editor, let’s take a look at the giant ‘word cloud’ below.

If you love words and putting them together in ways that make sense (also known as writing), you’ll no doubt see almost endless possibilities for keyword-related topic ideas here.

Scroll down, and Surfer goes even further…

(I added the “anxiety” question after being inspired by the prominent terms — plus, I’m on deadline.)

Click on Finalize customization and get right to the beating heart of what makes Surfer so invaluable for content creators.

You can create your article directly in the editor window on the left.

Progress towards relevant targets like:

  • Word count
  • Number of headings
  • Paragraphs
  • Target word count of important terms

is shown in real-time on the right:

The content editor works just fine, but I prefer to use the recently released Chrome extension for Google Docs (does anyone but lawyers use Word these days?)

As you can see, it looks like a regular G-Doc, with all of Surfer’s functionality in the sidebar.

If you’re not writing the content yourself, this is also the point you can hand off a fully customized brief to your SEO-trained copywriter.

Just hit Copy sharable link and send it on its way* — your writer doesn’t even have to be a Surfer subscriber!

* A Brief Caveat…

I’ve had the misfortune of editing work from writers who take a “paint-by-numbers approach” using Surfer — desperately trying to shoehorn in as many “Important terms” as possible.

While one of the primary aims of Surfer is to create a blueprint for a writer to follow when creating your content, keep in mind that you’re publishing content for a human audience as well as for Google.

Using Surfer doesn’t take the place of creativity and craft. If anything, it requires a new kind of skill for a writer to create SEO-friendly content following Surfer’s guidelines and inspiration.

Strive to get the best of both worlds…

In the right hands, Surfer is an awesome creative resource, as well as a game-changing SEO tool.

Author’s Note:

The author neither advocates nor denies the efficacy of CBD oil for the treatment of medical or any other conditions. It was just the first keyword that came into his head.

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SEAN SHUTERSEOButler’s Editor-in-Chief, Sean has been writing about business and culture for a variety of publications, including Entrepreneur and Vogue, for over 20 years. A serial entrepreneur, he has founded and operated businesses on four continents.

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