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Ideation Mistakes to Avoid


Ideating for your content is one of the first steps toward filling your blog, email newsletter, and social space with valuable pieces. There are countless approaches that you can take to this task, but it’s important to filter your features carefully to make sure you’re not falling into one of the many common content traps. Watch out for these easy-to-make mistakes and make sure your content ideation is always smart, solid, and appropriate for the task at hand.

Choosing Overdone Ideas

When you’re ideating on a topic, avoid running with the first concept that comes to mind. In most cases, this will be a too-obvious option that’s already been overdone. If a Google search yields dozens of other pieces on the same or similar topics, you should rethink your ideation. Too often, marketers go with the popular topic that’s already been covered by competitors. Try to avoid subject matter where competition is already heavy. If Google’s already populated with pieces on the same idea, you’ll have a hard time making your way to the top.

Avoid this mistake and instead look for great content topics that yield few to no search engine matches. Originality will help you get better rankings and generate more interest on your topic. The best pieces are those that others are looking for but can’t yet find. Seek out ways to answer a need that’s currently unmet when you’re developing your ideations.

Picking Too-Timely Topics

Image via Flickr by ani!

A common mistake when ideating is to choose a topic that’s trending at that moment for a production timeline that will lead to a post several weeks in the future. If you choose to ideate with timely trends, make sure you’re writing and publishing on an extremely tight schedule.

A long blogger who writes the piece immediately after ideation may get away with this approach, but most marketing teams will find that a timely idea is well past its prime by the time it makes it through the writer, editor, and QA. If your idea will be significantly less relevant in a month’s time, it’s probably not appropriate for your campaign.

Ideators must tread a very fine line when they’re dealing with the timeliness of their topics. Though up-to-the-minute posts can be valuable if they work, evergreen content is ideal in many markets because it brings true staying power to your website and gives you a valuable piece of content that will deliver well for years to come. Keep in mind that it can often take months or years for a piece to gain the necessary backlinks and shares to rank well. If your topic never gets old, you can afford to be patient as your site grows in popularity and your page views increase at a steady pace.

Creating an Unfortunate Tie-In

Your content ideas should always tie back in to your business in some way. While you’ll obviously need to think far outside the box in some instances to maintain a steady flow of fresh topics, you should still be able to follow that tendril of thought back to your product, service, or industry. Every piece that you pitch should offer value for your brand. It might illuminate better methods for using your product line, emphasize the need for your service, or simply establish thought leadership in your general area. However, there should always be a clear connection to the brand.

As you’re following that connection back to the business, make sure it’s a positive association. If your company builds custom decks, you don’t want to publish pieces that promote the ease and affordability of DIY deck building. Though there’s an obvious connection, it’s not one you should promote. Think carefully about how your topic connects to the brand to make sure you don’t inadvertently point out a flaw with your products or offer readers a reason not to use them.

Using Unsubstantiated Subjects

Thinking creatively can lead to all kinds of fascinating content ideas. However, an essential part of ideating for content is performing at least cursory research on your topic. An article about the anatomy of unicorns would certainly be interesting, but it’s not a solid choice for a substantive fact-based piece. If there’s no evidence or information in support of your point, it’s unlikely that your writer will be able to produce high-quality content on it.

After ideating a title and basic concept for your piece, it’s important to complete enough research to make sure you can really create content on that topic. If you’re struggling with this, consider upending your ideation process and beginning with the research before you create your blog title. Dig up a few interesting studies in a relevant field and pull out fascinating facts that your readers may want to explore deeper. Starting with the evidence will help you craft concepts that are easily supported by fact.

Catering to the Wrong Audience

Before you begin any marketing campaign, you should develop an in-depth persona for your target audience. Even an outstanding blog idea will fall flat if it’s not catered to the right audience. In some cases, your idea will only need a few tweaks to better align with the appropriate persona. Still, it’s important to think through the lens of this reader from the very earliest stages of your ideation process to make sure you’re crafting the proper connections.

If you’re producing gardening content for readers in downtown Chicago, a piece about rose hedges will fall flat, as your readers are unlikely to have the space necessary for this feature. However, a piece about growing roses on a balcony or other confined space will hit the mark perfectly. Get to know your readers well. Do they prefer organic produce and value sustainable manufacturing methods? Are they avid DIYers or focused professionals who would rather hire someone to do the job? Know whom you’re writing for and be wary of ideating for someone else.

Forgetting Your Marketing Goals

Desperate to land an idea that’s not overdone or unsubstantiated, you may find you’re veering from the mark that you’d normally aim for. As you’re generating new ideas for your content, it’s crucial that you keep your marketing goals in mind. You’ll likely go through several diverse marketing campaigns over time, so you don’t need to trash ideas that don’t fit with your goals at this moment. Simply shelve them for later, stashing them in a file kept just for this purpose.

Set aside ideas that don’t serve your current goals, and make sure that every piece you ideate for your current campaign is in line with that campaign’s objectives. If you’re working to promote spring bookings for your country cabins, keep your posts seasonal and avoid those that look far ahead to the holiday season. Consider the CTA and the end of every piece and make sure you’ve chosen a topic where it will fit seamlessly without feeling forced.

Expanding a Small Point Into a Large Piece

Are you asking your writers to fill 1000 words on how to fold fitted sheets, or asking for a 500-word product description of a classic polo shirt? Watch out for ideations that grandly overestimate the amount of verbiage you can reasonably dedicate to a topic. Readers want clean, concise content. They’ll value a well-written product description of just 150 words far more than a long flowing essay that offers a lot of words but very little value. A short DIY piece is ideal when you can explain a process reasonably well in a few short steps.

Nearly all marketers ask their writing team to watch for wordiness, but word stuffing is the only possible solution when tasked with filling a large word count on a small topic. Think about your subheadings and make sure your topic requires enough subpoints to reasonably account for the length you’re looking for. Aim for roughly 100 to 200 words per subheading for a good idea of how a piece’s length will work out.

Failing to Establish a Valuable Point

Ask yourself why a reader should want to read your article. A solid ideation will provide obvious value for the audience. If you’re creating content for a target demographic of cat lovers, a piece on the hazards and benefits of catnip will hold readers captive. If only a small portion of your audience owns pets, or pets and gardening have no logical tie-in to your business, this topic may be abstractly interesting, but it won’t serve a meaningful purpose.

Always make sure your ideation focuses on one core point. An article titled “Legal Repercussions” has no clear purpose or sense of direction. Readers won’t have any compelling reason to dive into the piece, and even your writers may find they’re at a loss to fulfill your ideation. Take a laser-focused approach, like “Legal Repercussions of Illegal City Parking,” to make sure everyone knows what’s expected from an article.

Ideating is an ongoing challenge in a landscape where fresh content is always needed. Make sure you’re focusing your efforts properly so your ideations are poised to become content that gives you the measurable results you’re after.

About the author

Mandi Rogier