5 Sources For New Content Ideas You Probably Never Thought Of

They say that “content is king.” At least on the web, that is especially true. Every web designer and search marketer has, at one point or another, stressed to their clients how important new and quality content is for their website.

So why is this content so important? Content is very important to your visitors. It provides value to them and helps demonstrate your knowledge and expertise. By providing great content on your website, it helps to establish and build rapport with potential customers as well as your current customers.

Rich content is also great for search engines. Giving search engines pages of highly relevant, good quality content increases your chances of being returned for searches for matching keyword phrases. This of course increases your chances to bring more visitors to your site.

Of course, most clients understand the importance of adding good content to their sites. The problem is usually coming up with that content. And this usually comes from one or two issues… coming up with the ideas for the content and/or the actual content creation.

As you can guess, this article is going to help with the first issue, coming up with ideas for content. This is unlimited and you can really find ideas anywhere. There are the usual suspects for content ideas:

  • questions your own customers or clients have asked already
  • your competitors websites and literature and seeing what they have covered
  • expanding on specific features of your products or services

But maybe you’ve exhausted those sources. First off, this is rarely the case, but just in case you have, here are some sources that you may have never even thought of.

Keyword Server Logs

Hopefully you already give some attention to your website traffic logs. These may be as simple as the basic stats that come with your web hosting, or as complex as a dedicated analytics system. The keyword sections in these reports identify search phrases where your website had been returned within the search results and clicked on to come to your site.

Often what happens is people look at these results and say, “Great, it looks like we are showing up and people are coming to our site on the term ‘widgets’,” or “That’s weird, I wonder why we are showing up for those unrelated terms?” But this section of the report has an even more powerful benefit.

When you look over your results, you may find for specific searches, often three to five words or so long, that either form a question or could be turned into a question. Even though you may be showing up for these searches, you may not really be answering the question. If you aren’t, you just found a great topic idea for some new content that you already know people are searching for.

Time To Socialize

The web is becoming a very social medium. There are sites that serve to simply provide a way for people to interact or network with each other. Some of these sites even have question and answer areas where members can ask questions to get answers from other members. Again, you can identify questions that you already know people are asking and use these as content ideas for your website. You can either treat these directly as a question and answer format, or create content that just delivers the answer itself as the topic. Here are some great sources for this type of content:

  • sites specifically created for this like Yahoo! Answers
  • social and other networking sites that have a question and answer element like LinkedIn
  • other social sites like MySpace
  • forums and groups based sites that may be related to your industry

Follow The Money

Content that attracts a lot of attention is often focused on what is hot at the moment. Following trends and providing useful information can be a great way to connect with and attract customers or clients. This may be more or less challenging depending on your industry, but could be a great source for anyone who can connect their website to anything that has a retail component. Reason being, these businesses typically make money pushing and focusing on what people want, not trying to convince them into things they don’t want or aren’t interested in.

This idea is best looked at with an example. Say your website is related to the home improvement industry, specifically tiling related. So take a trip to your local Home Depot or any home improvement center or specialist and see what they are featuring regarding tiling. Talk with the staff and ask them what’s hot or the “big thing” that everyone is doing.

Or go on the next “tour of homes” that nearly every major community seems to have and take note of what trends you see. You should have some good ideas on what is hot or may become hot. Now you just need to tie that in to your site and what you think your visitors would be interested in.

Go To The Authorities

Very similar to the idea above, you can follow the lead of those who follow your industry. Industry and popular consumer magazines and key industry websites attract their audience by providing information that their audience is looking for. They feature stories and put headlines on their covers that they know will grab interest.

Of course this doesn’t mean that you should copy their information. Violating copyright is bad, but intentionally violating copyright of big players with lots of legal resources is just plain stupid. And you really aren’t providing value to your visitor. But just like above, you now have some topic ideas that you need to find a way to connect to your business and write about those aspects, which will probably be of more interest to your audience anyway. For instance, if your audience is locally focused, chances are big authorities are writing from a global perspective. You just need to find a local angle and write on that.

Turn To Your Uncle

Uncle Sam puts together lots of information on all kinds of topics. Some of this may not be as cutting edge, but it is a great way to identify key foundation topics. You can search for a lot of information right online and even request the free Consumer Action Handbook that calls out specific publications you can order, many of which you can order for free or even access online for free.

So there you have it, 5 new sources for content ideas that you probably never thought of before. But don’t be limited to these as there are always new ideas all around. The important thing is to keep developing new relevant content for your visitors. And you might even find that these content ideas work just as well offline.

5 Simple Marketing Ideas Learned From Lands’ End Business Outfitters

Next to a good parking spot and ways to get an extra 5 minutes of sleep in the morning, how to market a business has to be right up there in the list of popular topics. Whether your business is online or strictly brick and mortar, you probably find yourself struggling to come up with ideas on how to market your business. Ironically, most of us are great at looking at someone else’s business and coming up with all kinds of ideas for them.

So with that thought in mind, I thought I’d select a business and use it as a foundation for extrapolating some simple marketing ideas, both based on the business itself and on what it is or could be doing. Hopefully this gives these ideas a bit of real world grounding.

I selected Lands’ End Business Outfitters as our topic business because I thought it would prove an interesting example that many would recognize, and happens to be “just down the road a spell” from Identity Developments. Now, if you haven’t heard of Lands’ End, in their own words, “Lands’ End is a direct merchant of traditionally styled clothing for the family, soft luggage, and products for the home.” I couldn’t have said it any better. Lands’ End Business Outfitters is actually a specialty division that allows customers to have their own logos added to select Lands’ End merchandise. Perhaps your own company has shirts or attaches with your company logo embroidered on them from Lands’ End.

Okay, so now we know a little about Lands’ End and the Business Outfitters division. Of course, the idea of this exercise is that you can select any business to learn from. You probably spend a lot of time thinking about your own business and marketing in general, so it is very easy to get tunnel vision within your own industry and to marketing in general. What’s important to remember here is that we aren’t just looking at what marketing the business is doing, we are actually looking at the business itself. So what can we learn about marketing from this business that you might be able to apply to your own business?

Opposites Marketing

Thinking about opposites is one of the easiest so lets begin there. When you look at the Lands’ End Business Outfitters website, we quickly see there is a focus on business… as if the name “Business Outfitters” wasn’t enough. So, what’s the opposite of “business?” Perhaps you might say “personal” or “non-profit.”

Maybe Business Outfitters should try to find a way to include these groups more within their marketing. In our world of personalization, perhaps I’d just as soon wear a polo shirt with my own little logo or emblem as someone else’s. Is there some way that you could market your product or service to your opposite targets?

You can also think in terms of modifiers. Since we are considering “business” as our base term, maybe we add “big” as a modifier. The opposite of “big business” would be “small business.” Are you currently targeting one of these but not the other? Could you? Think about what you would need to do differently or more importantly, what this target would want or need that might be different than your current target. You may find that it doesn’t make sense or isn’t possible to target these opposites, but you might also find
that a little different positioning or altering your current offering ever so slightly could open up a whole new market.

Event and Role Marketing

Event marketing and “street teams” have become a popular form of marketing for all kinds of businesses and organizations. And of course every organization serves a role and has people in specific roles.

Can you tie into any events? What events might Lands’ End Business Outfitters target for their customers? Trade shows and company picnics or other special events might be something that their customers would find important in having shirts or other products with the company logo or a special logo for the event.

Are there special events that your customers might be involved in that you could specifically market for? Keeping trade shows in mind, could you create special products or even compile product or information for your customers to use at trade shows that would help them market themselves and/or your products?

Or are there events that your business will be involved in that you could market? Can you connect your marketing to a holiday, grand opening, neighborhood or city event?

Approaching marketing from a role perspective is similar to events. It is just another way to think about your or your customer’s business. I would imagine Business Outfitters sell a lot of merchandise geared towards sales people. Being public figures, many businesses would want to put their sales people in shirts that have the company logo on them.

Are there roles that you could target? Can you segment your product, package products or just create special marketing to target specific roles or the roles within your customer’s businesses? Can sales, customer service or marketing roles benefit from special marketing or products? Are there groups or organizations that are related and serve the same customers as you? Serving these other roles or groups could be like adding a whole new sales team to your organization.

Encourage The Middleman

This idea may tie in well with those roles or groups that you identified in the last step. Lands’ End Business Outfitters does this with their “Company E-Store” that enables their customers to create their own company store. This helps simplify the whole process and provides a useful service to their customers. Now, XYZ Company can setup their own store for their employees to purchase approved merchandise to maintain company image and brand integrity, and eliminates the need for someone to try to manage all of the orders.

Are there ways that you can help simplify your customer’s lives? Are there roles or groups you identified above that you might be able to partner with? Creating their own store system like Business Outfitters may not be feasible, but are there other ways you can help, encourage or even partner with target groups to sell with or for you? One extremely popular method online is through establishing affiliate programs. Through an affiliate program, you encourage others to help sell or refer business to you in exchange for an affiliate commission.

This might even be as basic and simple as providing a logo or special linking text that your customers could add to their website. Even without commissions or reward, you may find that your most loyal and satisfied customers are more than happy to refer business to you if you just ask or make it easy for them to do so.

Be The Bigger Picture

Whatever your business, chances are you are just one piece of a much bigger picture. Lands’ End Business Outfitters may be a piece within many different pictures. Let’s take a look at one of those pictures, trade shows. Companies often want to have new shirts with company or special logos made for their employees who will be representing their company at the trade show. This reinforces brand image and builds a team look for the company at trade shows.

For the people who are planning their company’s trade show attendance, selecting and ordering trade show apparel is just one of many tasks. Business Outfitters could simply play their role, or they could boost their role within the bigger picture. Even though they may not provide a solution to any of the other tasks, they could work to become the go to spot for anyone planning trade show (or any other event) attendance for their company.

Their Reminder Service where they email or call you before the event is a great example. They could also create reminder lists of important things to do in planning. They might also include links to recommended sites for things like nametags, lanyards, promotional items or other related items. They might even partner with some of these related but non-competing sites for mutual benefit in sharing traffic. Or solicit best ideas and tips from their own customers or even create a forum on their site for exchanging ideas and advice.

What are the bigger pictures that your business or products are a part of? Can you provide a bigger picture resource for your customers? Can you help your customers interact and assist each other?

Create Smaller Pieces Of The Pie

Lands’ End Business Outfitters is a perfect example of this idea as they are a smaller piece of the pie. Business Outfitters apparently evolved out of customers approaching Lands’ End who wanted to add their own logos to Lands’ End products. How can you segment your existing products? Can you create or service a niche with your existing products or services simply through marketing or making minor adjustments?

Hopefully, those 5 marketing ideas have sparked some ideas on how you can better market your business. More importantly, I hope the exercise of looking at another business, especially one unrelated to yours, is one that you can take away and use as a tool to help you identify entirely new ideas to market and grow your business.

You Are Your Website

When customers or potential customers come to your website, they aren’t just visiting your website, they are interacting with you. From their perspective, there is little distinction between interacting with you personally and your website.

There are many important elements to a website, far too many too to cover in just a few paragraphs. I’ll try to hit on a few key thoughts, but the most important step you can take right now is backwards. Take a step back and look at your website through the eyes of your customer or client. Forget everything you know about your business as you consider some of the key elements below in regards to your website.

It’s Not About You

Top of the list and the reason for taking a step back is that your website isn’t about you. Or at the very least, it probably isn’t for you. It is critically important to think about your website in terms of your visitor. What are they looking for? Why are they here? What’s in it for them? And this actually leads us into the next point that is important enough to stand on its own.

The Only Dumb Question Is The One Not Answered

Don’t make your visitor feel dumb. No, you can’t always answer every question that a visitor may have, but every website should make an effort to try to address some of the most basic questions. This may be done throughout the website or you may have a specific section, the ever-so popular FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section is a perfect example.

Every business and every site could use an FAQ at the very least. Initially you may start out by creating some questions that you think your visitors would have or have asked in the past. It is good to make it a practice to try to keep track of questions that come up through interacting with customers as these may be excellent additions. You might even provide a way for visitors to ask questions on your site. Either way, your customers will help you create new content for your website that will also help attract new customers.

Most important thing to remember: don’t believe that you are going to encourage visitors to call or stop in for answers if they aren’t on your website. It may be tempting to use your website as a conduit to a live connection, that simply by providing your contact information, your website will drive business. Your website should help establish rapport and build trust with your customer by helping them without making them jump through hoops. From your perspective, they are interacting with your website; from their perspective, they are interacting with you.

Don’t Tell Me What To Do

Take a look at your website. Do you tell people to use a specific web browser or recommend that they use a certain resolution? How do you think you would feel as a customer who came to your website and didn’t use that browser or had a screen resolution that was different? What kind of message are you sending? How would you feel going out to eat and being sat at a table by the bar when you wanted a booth by the window? Or being told how your meal was going to be prepared rather than being served to your liking?

There is no reason for your site to be restricted to a specific browser. It is important to understand that different browsers may render websites differently. Your web developer should work to minimize any differences though and should avoid developing in a way that requires a specific browser. While you may have your site developed for a certain resolution, you had best make sure that it is developed around the majority of your visitor’s settings and preferences, not yours or your designers. A lot of sites get developed at a larger resolution than they probably should because the designer doesn’t like being restricted to a smaller resolution… not a very good explanation for your visitors.

We’ve Been Online Since The Beginning

Just look at our website. The web is a fast moving, constantly changing and advancing environment. One of the best features to websites versus traditional media is that you can make changes and keep things fresh without the concern of having boxes of “whatever” in the back room that need to be used up.

One of the challenges though is that your website can still become dated. This is especially true if your website is more than 5 years old. The advancements with CSS (cascading style sheets) alone over the last few years have given a lot more power and capabilities in design. If you haven’t taken a look at your website lately, now may be a good time to go back and take a look. Does it seem dated? How does it compare to others in your industry? How does it compare to others… period. One thing to keep in mind is that your website may be judged by other websites outside your industry as well as your competitors. And this judgment will form an impression on your products, services and your business as a whole. Fair? Maybe not, but it is what it is.

This doesn’t mean that you need the hottest technologies and flashy, splashy bells and whistles. Most of that doesn’t really serve your visitor’s best interest anyway, it is merely for your designer to show off or keep from getting bored. So be careful that you aren’t adding in a bunch of stuff merely because you can. Again, it all needs to come back to your visitor.

We Seem To Have A Disconnect

This can be a challenge for many reasons. Perhaps you were working with a limited budget when your website was developed so you had to use a template design. Or maybe you ended up going with a design and look because someone just happened to like it or thought it was really cool. Whatever the reason, it is important to make sure that your website connects with your business and all of your other brand identity materials.

If your website looks different than your business card, which looks different than your letterhead, and none of which seems to tie in at all with your office or store, your image is out of alignment. You end up telling your customer that you aren’t really sure who you are or what you are trying to be. You end up painting a less than professional image. You may have the best products or services, but this type of image erodes confidence in the eyes of your customer. Make sure your website is aligned with every other aspect of your business and you’ll build a much stronger brand identity.

These are just a few things to consider, but they are very important and something that everyone should be able to evaluate. You may be able to resolve some of these on your own, and others may need professional help. Either way, the first step is determining if you have issues. Be sure to review your site every few months to make sure that you aren’t drifting off course. You might even want to talk with customers to find out any issues that they see or for ideas on what they would like to see.

Drive More Business While Decreasing Your Advertising Costs

If you are like most businesses, you would love to drive even more business through your doors. You’d also love to decrease your advertising expense. The idea of doing both of these at the same time sounds a bit more than just “too good to be true.” Over the next few minutes, you’ll learn how it is true and how you can do it.

The first step is that you need to have a website. If there is any requirements, that would be it. If you don’t have a website, then you should make that a top priority and have that addressed as soon as possible. Not doing so is like running your business with a big “CLOSED” sign on the front door. We’re not even talking about the quality of your website, just having one.

Not eCommerce

It’s important to understand that this has nothing to do with ecommerce. Maybe that’s why you haven’t developed a website yet, or maybe you have one and are thinking that this information won’t apply to you. That couldn’t be further from the truth. You can drive more business and not sell a thing online. You might be surprised to learn that the majority of websites are not ecommerce based. Certainly, more and more websites are adding some basic ecommerce elements, but even that is usually much different than what we really think about as being full-blown ecommerce websites.

A February to April 2006 survey by Pew Internet & American Life Project reported that 73% of respondents were Internet users, an increase from 66% in January 2005. The web is being used more and more every day for both home and work use, from tweeners to seniors and across all other demographics. Whoever your customer is, it is a safe bet that they are online… whether you are or not.

Traditional Advertising = Passive Marketing

So now that you’ve hopefully accepted the importance of having a website, you are probably wondering how that can cut your advertising costs. Before we can do that, let’s take a look at traditional advertising. Of course, your website is more than just an advertising medium, but for now, we are really just considering its advertising value.

When we talk about traditional advertising, we are of course talking about the old staples like TV, radio, outdoor, newspaper and other print mediums. We won’t even consider international or even national coverage as that immediately sky rockets the costs beyond many large businesses, let alone small businesses. Even at the local level, in most cases, you are probably looking at thousands of dollars a month in traditional advertising.

But let’s forget costs for now. All of these traditional advertising vehicles have at least one thing in common… they are all passive marketing. Okay, some are downright aggressive, but that’s a whole other story. What I’m talking about is from the recipient’s point of view.

As the recipient of traditional advertising, you didn’t actively seek it out. When the commercial came on for widgets, you weren’t actively seeking a commercial about widgets, which is also why a lot of traditional advertising gets “zoned out.” While you might pick up the paper or a magazine to flip through it looking for an ad for widgets, most people who come across that ad aren’t actively seeking it. And you are probably only going to flip through page after page specifically looking for an ad if you have a high level of confidence that it would be there… because it is always there and has always been there.

Traditional advertising is a mass-market medium. The whole idea revolves around broadcasting a specific message to a general audience… in other words, telling the world in the hopes of catching the attention of the small percentage of people who the message is even applicable to.

Ability Or Desire To Act

But that’s only half the battle. What you may be forgetting is the inability or lack of desire to take action. Because these messages are passive, coming at us often when we are doing something else, we may not be able to act on them even when they are meaningful. Or, they may arrive at a time when we choose not to act on them.

We are bombarded by thousands of messages every day, we are juggling too many thoughts and ideas, and generally find our attention scattered all about. What this means is that even those important and relevant messages often end up being distant recollections at best when we are finally able to act on them. We may remember seeing a message about something that we were interested in, but by then we have probably forgotten what that message was along with why it was even important.

Search Marketing = Active & Actionable Marketing

Search marketing however is active marketing. The value and importance of this is almost beyond explanation. The best advertising is both relevant and actionable. It would be hard to get more relevant and actionable than search marketing. When someone uses a search engine to search for a problem, solution, business, product or service, they are seeking out messages, rather than being bombarded by them. Even those in the early “informational” stages of search may be more valuable than most of the people traditional marketing messages reach.

So you are probably thinking, “that’s great but, how big of an audience is that?” Another report from Pew Internet & American Life Project reveals that about 60 million American adults are using search engines on a typical day. Of course, all 60 million are probably not looking for what you are offering and if your audience is local, it’s an even smaller number. But you can’t underestimate the power of reaching a targeted audience that is looking for you.

“But I thought people didn’t like banner ads.” That may be true, especially invasive, unrelated ads. While that is one area of search marketing, we’re not really talking about banner ads or any other form of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.

Importance Of SEO

SEO or search engine optimization is a specific area within search marketing that is focused on helping your website to show up for relevant searches within the search engines. Note the important detail here is relevant. It doesn’t matter how popular a search is, if it isn’t relevant, then it probably isn’t worth going after. Un-relevant ads are just another form of passive advertising, except this may be a deceptive form and will probably do more harm than good.

This brings us back to all those people searching on search engines everyday. Remember that is active marketing because people are actually looking. They are interested in what you have to offer. And because they are in a search mode, they are much more likely to be able to act on that, either by contacting you directly, learning more about you by looking through your site, buying on your site if you offer that capability or just bookmarking your site for later.

The benefit of search engine optimization is that all the traffic that comes to your site because of it is essentially free. It would be like running your ad in traditional advertising every day at no cost. Similarly though, you do have the cost of creating the ads initially. In this case, you have the cost of the SEO, which may entail research to determine what people are searching for and then the actual optimization of your site for those search phrases.

Unlike the traditional advertising, the impact of SEO is longer term. While this may vary depending on how competitive your industry is, any SEO work done by your competitors, as well as new sites coming into the mix, but sites can often maintain their positions in the search ranking even after the SEO work is done. Heavily competitive industries may of course require more ongoing search engine optimization. Traditional advertising though, stops when you stop paying, period.

SEO Helps You Fish Where The Fish Are

So you may be wondering whether you need SEO as long as you have a website. Just like traditional advertising, if your message isn’t seen, then it might as well not exist. Just having a website isn’t enough and you can’t rely on your website showing up in the visible area of the search results on its own… in other words, where the fish are. Just being online just means you are on the pond, not necessarily in the right spot.

You see, when people search, it really doesn’t matter whether they get hundreds of results or millions of results back from their search. If you want to be seen, then you need to be positioned at the beginning of those results. That beginning is getting smaller and smaller, in most cases now, down to the first page or two at most. Just think about how many pages of search results you look through before changing your search query.

A study by iProspect & Jupiter Research reveals that 62% of search engine users click on a search result within the first page of results, and a full 90% of search engine users click on a result within the first three pages of search results. Not only does the added visibility come into play, but also that position impacts how people perceive the companies at the top of search results. They found that 36% of search engine users believe that the companies whose websites are returned at the top of the search results are the top companies in that field.

Cutting Your Advertising Costs

Initially when you undertake search engine optimization, you may find that you are shifting dollars from traditional advertising channels to SEO, either for consultant fees or for a firm’s services. But as you gain key search engine placement, you should see increased traffic to your website by highly targeted visitors. These visitors, in many cases, may have a much higher value than people reached through traditional advertising. You will probably find that you are able to scale back your traditional advertising, thereby reducing your advertising costs.

You may also find that you can use your website to measure the effectiveness of your traditional advertising. Let’s face it; you probably aren’t really sure how much the traditional advertising impacts your business unless you specifically use a coupon or something that links a customer to a specific advertising channel. You can use your website to help track the reach of your traditional advertising by bringing people into your site through specific pages. Even without coupons, you could refer them to a page that has information regarding the ad based on where that ad was placed. Now your website can help track both offline and online marketing efforts.

Using your website as more than just an online business card, you can increase the effectiveness of all of your marketing efforts. You may be able to reduce costs or do more with what you are already spending. Through SEO, you will be able to expand your reach, attracting new business, reconnecting with existing customers and in the end, and driving more business to your bottom line.