You know, there’s no copyright on a blog post idea.
And although you want to create original blog posts, you don’t want to waste hours wrestling the “what to write about” fairy to the ground.
So when you’re filling up your idea bucket, cheating and stealing both work fine. Because when you do it right, nobody will ever know where you got your ideas from — by the time you write a post or a pitch, it’ll be your own.
To get you started on the path to your own endless reservoir of blog post ideas, I’m going to show you one of my favourite tricks for generating new ideas fast.
I’m doing this “live”, by the way. I’m literally writing this blog post while I come up with a list of blog post suggestions for one of my editors. Let’s see how long it takes me to deliver at least 5 fresh ideas, shall we? Start time: 5:21 pm.
OK, here’s what to do:
My top cheat when I need to generate several new ideas fast is to skim-read the client’s competitors’ websites and blogs.
Just looking at the headlines and subheadings is enough to get your thoughts flowing and show you plenty of general topic ideas you can steal.
This is a handy tactic to beat blogging burnout or writer’s block, too, by the way. If you’re stuck for ideas and you feel like you’ve got no creative thoughts left in your head, all you need to do is start reading.
At the moment I’m working on blog posts for a company in the business research and insight industry, so I pull up a few competitors’ websites and scan the post titles on their blogs.
On the first competitor blog, I find a blog post titled “Advantages and Disadvantages of Open Questions in Course Evaluations”. I don’t stop to read the post, because there’s no need to take in every nuance of angle and tone. The headline alone gives me two topics I could write about: course evaluation is one, and the issue of open questions is another.
Steal the topic, not the angle
Looking at the topic of open questions, the suggestion I pitch to my editor is “10 Reasons to Use Open-Ended Feedback Questions (And 5 Reasons to Avoid Them)”. Going back to the course evaluation side of things a moment later, I also pitch “How to Use Employee Training Feedback to Sharpen Your Competitive Edge”.
Then I see the headline, “New Worksheet: Personalizing Survey Email Invitations and Reminders”. Immediately my head’s filled with thoughts of the thousands of poorly-personalised emails I’ve received from spammers. So the new idea I add to my pitch list is “Survey Personalisation Gone Bad: How to Avoid the Alienation Effect”.
You can see I haven’t directly copied the post ideas I looked at. But I’ve used the core topic (or topics) as a springboard for my own ideas and angles. This part of the process might take some practice for you, or you might be brilliant at it from the start — give it a try to find out.
OK, so I’ve got 3 post ideas from the first page I looked at. Time now: 5:30 pm.
Not bad going. Let’s grab some more.
Don’t stop for roadkill
The next two competitor blogs I visit are, frankly, terrible. The headlines are short, vague and unappealing, so I leave after a couple of seconds.
The internet is a paradise filled with crap. Backspace fast if what you find isn’t what you need. [You like that thought? Tweet it!]
But wait a sec! Do you need more blogging gigs at the moment? If you do, note down the URLs of those crappy competitors — as long as your contract with your existing client doesn’t include a non-compete clause, you can offer to help those other companies improve their blogs too. 😉
Moving on, when I open another decent-looking competitor blog, the first 3 interesting blog post titles I see are:
- How to Ask Sensitive Questions in Surveys
- 2 Ways the Most Successful Businesses Learn from Their Customers
- 4 Tips for Writing Matrix Questions
In my pitch list, these topic ideas become:
- Sensitive Questions and Evasive Answers: How to Collect Honest, Accurate Feedback
- Are You Learning Enough from Your Customers?
- Matrix Questions: Are They Very Good, Very Bad or Somewhere in Between?
A trick I often use is to think of a short title when I steal a topic idea from a long title, and vice versa. Changing the length of the headline when you write down your own ideas helps to snap your mind away from the example you looked at, making it easier for you to generate fresh ideas loosely based on that example.
I need to write 4 posts for my client this month, so I wanted to suggest at least 5 ideas; now I’ve got 6 to offer.
For each idea, I list the working title (I might change it before sending the drafts to my editor, but it’ll work fine for pitching). Then I add a one-sentence summary of what the post will focus on and what points I’ll make.
Finish time: 5:44 pm, so it’s taken 23 minutes to come up with 6 short pitches. At this rate — less than 4 minutes per idea — you can easily generate 15 short pitches in an hour.
That’s all this editor needs from me. Your clients may want longer pitches, in which case you can flesh out that one-liner description into a more detailed outline. The important thing is, you’ve won the battle with your “what to write about” fairy and the rest is just a matter of adding detail.
Here endeth the lesson in cheating and stealing your way to an infinite number of blog post ideas.
You now have the power to create new blogging ideas and pitches on demand, just by scanning a few headlines to fuel your creative fire.
How does it feel?