The biggest challenge of successful blogging is consistently coming up with engaging blog post ideas that readers will actually enjoy. At the beginning, we simply write down everything we would ordinarily say to curious customers. For a few months it seems easy. But then…
We get through all our initial ideas and one of two things happens: we realize our articles aren’t resonating with our audience, or we completely run out of ideas. Sometimes both happen, and the lack of growth combined with the end of our original ideas drains our motivation.
At this point, many business owners simply let their blogs die. We’ve all seen them – the blogs with six or twelve or maybe even twenty posts, all from 2014. They haunt the internet, waiting for someone to breathe life into them again.
At best, these dead blogs are wasted opportunities for interaction and engagement. At worst, they’re prominently featured and make the website – and therefore the company – look unprofessional.
This is all because those initial posts were written in a creative vacuum. Without feedback or engagement, finding ideas for articles feels like a waste of time. Writing them feels like an even bigger waste. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
You already chose the best blogging platform and you can create an endless stream of blog post ideas your audience will be eager to read, engage with, and share. You can learn how to structure your headlines and articles to attract a significant readership from Google, growing both your blog and your business. All you need to do is step out of your creative vacuum and start talking to your audience.
Getting your ideas directly from your audience makes it possible to create content they’re already looking for. Even better, you can learn the language they’re using to look for that content. Then you can use those exact words in your article headline, helping it rank higher in search engines and attract your target audience’s attention.
This guide will walk you through several different ways to communicate with your target audience, even if they aren’t already on your site.
How to talk to your audience
There are several ways to do this, but surveys are often the most effective, so we’ll focus primarily on those. We’ll also show you how you can communicate with your target audience if your current audience is small (or even nonexistent).
Method #1: Survey your email list for blog post ideas
The best place to start is always with your email list. These people already know and like you, so they’re more willing to answer your questions. If you’ve done your marketing right, they’ll also be members of your target audience, so they can provide insight into what a wider audience might want.
Surveying your existing audience also helps you deepen relationships. People love it when businesses listen to them. They like having a direct impact on your business and feeling like their opinions matter. And when you start making content based on their ideas, they’ll know you’ve been paying attention.
You’ll want to tailor the questions to your audience, but there are some basic questions every business can use (fill the blanks in with something relevant to your business):
- “What is your biggest challenge related to (blank)?”
- “What are your most burning questions about (blank)?”
- “Where do you see gaps in the services provided by companies in (blank)?”
- “How would you like to see companies fill those gaps/what products would you like to see them create?”
Remember that your audience has limited time, so the fewer questions you ask, the more likely people are to complete your survey. People also tend to rush through longer surveys. According to research performed by SurveyMonkey, people spend an average of:
- 75 seconds on a one-question survey,
- 40 seconds on each question in a two-question survey,
- 30 second per question if there are 3-10 of them.
And it only gets worse if you make the survey longer.
These rushed answers may be good for some things, but they’re not going to give you the best blog post ideas. If you want real gems, keep your survey down to one or two questions. For more general ideas, you’ll still want to keep your survey under 10 questions long.
Once you’ve created a solid list of questions you can make them available to your people in a few different ways:
- Use TypeForm or SurveyMonkey
- Both of these tools are excellent when it comes to creating surveys. CodeinWP’s favorite is TypeForm. We used it for our original WordPress hosting survey. You can simply create a survey and then send a link to it to your newsletter subscribers.
- Send questions in raw
- An alternative is to simply send your questions as a standard email and then wait for the replies to come in. The downside is that categorizing the answers you receive from this type of survey is more difficult.
- Embed a survey in your WordPress site
- You can create a simple survey via a handy WordPress plugin and then embed it in a standard page. Here’s how to do that.
Method #2: Display popup surveys to all visitors
Another great way to get information from your audience is to create a popup survey that all visitors see when they either enter or leave your site. These surveys are effective because they let you reach a wider audience, but they need to be even shorter than email surveys. Visitors may enjoy your site and want to help improve it, but they aren’t yet committed to you.
Ideally, popup surveys should focus on one or two major questions. A great example of this is our very own survey about WordPress hosting. This campaign focused on two seemingly simple questions – what hosting company you use and how likely you are to recommend it – but allowed us to gather an incredible amount of information about WordPress hosts.
You can find multiple survey plugins for WordPress that will make creating the actual survey a breeze. Any worthwhile third party tool will also offer this functionality.
Method #3: Use your newsletter’s welcome email wisely
Your welcome email is the first chance you get to, well … welcome people to your newsletter, and it’s also a great way to get instant feedback from your new subscribers.
These can be set up fairly intuitively with most email newsletter clients. Just go to the control panel for your email list and look for either an “autoresponder” feature or directly for “welcome emails.” You should set those emails to go out to all new subscribers immediately after they confirm their subscription.
The most important thing about this method is to keep the actual welcome email short, sweet and to the point. These people like you enough to let you into their inbox, but they’re not as committed as your existing subscribers.
Often the best question to ask here is one of the questions listed above: “What are you struggling with related to (blank)?”
Someone who uses this approach to great effect is Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA. Her initial email is longer than normal because her audience, writers, are willing to read more content, but she ends with this amazing section:
In Gabriela’s marketing course, Pixels to Platform, she shares that maybe one in 10 subscribers actually answers this question, but their answers have provided many of her best ideas. She’s even used these answers to shape more than her blog posts, including the content of her courses.
For a free resource that explains how to make this approach work for you, check out Sean McCabe’s guide, How to Grow Your Hand Lettering Audience.
Method #4: Take a look at your data
Talking to your audience is really more about listening, and sometimes you don’t have to talk at all. The data you already have available can tell you a lot about what your audience wants and what is already working.
Your WordPress site should have some built-in analytics, but you’ll always get more detailed information from Google Analytics (GA). If you don’t already have GA set up, you can get it running in a matter of minutes with this guide, plus here are some more advanced strategies once you have the basics figured out. You’ll need to have GA running for at least one month before you get significant data.
If you’ve already been using GA, go to your account dashboard and look through the available stats, focusing on the following questions:
- What are the most popular articles right now?
- What are the most popular articles of all time? Are they different?
- Why do you think these are the most popular articles?
- Can you expand on/create updated versions of the most popular articles?
Make sure you write down all of your answers.
There’s a good chance you’ll get several blog post ideas from these questions alone – but we’re not done! At this point, you should sit down with your favorite brainstorming tool and spend half an hour answering a couple more questions:
- What similar article topics can you cover on your blog?
- How can you connect those articles to existing popular content?
Set a timer and write down every idea that comes to mind. When you’ve got a solid list of at least twenty ideas, circle the ones you like most and start turning them into outlines.
How to “talk to your audience” when you’re just starting out
At this point, you might be thinking “Well, that’s all great advice, but I don’t HAVE an audience yet”. Or your existing audience might be too small to function as a good sample size.
Fortunately there are many ways to find your target audience and chat with them.
The three main places you should be looking are Quora, forums, and social media.
Step #1: Identify your target audience
You need to know exactly who your target audience is before you can communicate with them. We’ve already created an extensive guide on how to identify and find your social media audience, so we’ll just rehash a few basics here.
Technically, you can choose any group of people as your target audience, but if they aren’t interested in your products/services, you’re wasting a lot of time and possibly money. So you need to find the people your business is best equipped to serve, not just the people you want to work with.
You can identify your target audience by asking yourself a few questions:
- How do your products/services help people?
- Who did you originally create your products/services for?
- Do those people actually buy products or services like yours?
- Is your product/service relevant to one, two or all genders?
- What age group gets the most benefit out of your products/services?
- What are their core values?
- Do you want to focus on local sales or is your business international?
- Are your products/services ideal for people in certain industries?
- How much do customers need to earn to be able to comfortably afford your services/products?
You can use the answer to these questions to create a demographic profile for your target audience, which in turn can help you figure out where to find them.
Step #2: Use Quora to get blog post ideas
Quora is one of the best places to hunt for blog post ideas because it shows exactly what questions your audience is asking – and what answers they’re being offered. This makes it easy for you to improve and expand on those answers.
You can use Quora as both a marketing tool and a research tool:
- Follow topics relevant to your niche (Quora itself suggests that users follow ten topics).
- Think up answers to popular questions and publish them as blog posts. Use the exact same wording that the people asking the questions used.
- Answer the question on Quora and include a link to your blog post for reference / more depth.
We have talked in more detail about how to use Quora in our in-depth guide to starting a blog (#16 and #38).
Step #3: Use forums and social media to get blog post ideas
Forums and social media are also great tools for figuring out what your audience wants to know. You can glean a massive amount of information simply by following the right threads, groups and hashtags.
On forums and social media you can also directly ask your audience what they want. You can do this either by posting an open ended question or by creating a poll. The questions we used above, particularly “What are you struggling with related to (blank)” are often the most effective for getting useful answers here.
In some cases, particularly if you’re working in a small niche or you’re in a community of fellow bloggers, you can even directly ask “What should I blog about this week?” I run a blog for writers, so I frequently do this on Twitter. Sometimes I’ll make it an open ended question, but more often I use a poll. This is one I ran recently, with each option being one of my regular blog themes.
Each of these blog post ideas is specific enough to provide direction, but broad enough to give me some creative freedom. They’re also based on the three main themes of my blog: writing, productivity, and mental health. You can do something similarly broad, or even ask your followers to choose between specific headlines.
Of course, this only works in highly active communities. If you have fewer than 3,000 followers on a given social media platform, you probably won’t get a significant response. But you might still be able to run a successful poll for blog post ideas on relevant forums.
Creating an editorial calendar using what you’ve learned
Once you’ve got an exhaustive list of blog post ideas, it’s time to create an editorial calendar. This helps you maintain a consistent blog schedule, one of the most important factors in any blog’s success. It also helps you keep track of what topics you’ve covered so you know when you need to refill your list.
The number of articles you publish each month should be based on two factors: (1) how quickly things move in your industry, and (2) how many articles you can put out per month without sacrificing quality.
In general, the more times you’re able to post, the more traffic you’ll get to the blog. Research conducted by Hubspot shows that blogs updated 16 times per month receive an average of 3.5 times as many traffic as blogs that only post 0-4 times a month.
(Charts by Visualizer Lite.)
But posting 16+ times per month only works if you can maintain quality between articles. Google is constantly updating their algorithms to rank sites based on quality, and 94% of people online share articles based on usefulness. In other words, people are only going to find and share your content if it’s actually useful.
This makes the ideal number of articles the highest number you can produce each month without sacrificing quality. If you can only produce one high quality article a week for now, focus on making that single article the best it can be. As your business grows, consider hiring freelancers to increase your post frequency.
Some niches are also more demanding of frequent posts than others. News sites or sites focused on fast paced industries may require short, daily posts on top of longer weekly articles. Other niches, like my own creative writing niche, are more forgiving to blogs that post once a week or even once a month. Take a look at what the most successful blogs in your industry are doing and try to create a similar schedule.
There are dozens of ways to create excellent blog post ideas, but the best way to ensure your content succeeds is to root it in what your audience already wants. And the best way to find out what they want is to communicate with them directly.
By the time you’re finished, you’ll have more blog post ideas than you know what to do with (if not, you can always check this additional post of ours over at Themeisle – it lists 20 more ways to think up blog post ideas for your WordPress blog).
Also, we’re curious, what’s your current approach when it comes to coming up with good, interesting blog post ideas?
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Layout and presentation by Karol K.