How to Evaluate Content Ideas (And Pick the Best Ones)
You have a massive list of content ideas. Maybe you’ve stockpiling them in Evernote for months, or you just met with your team and came up with a surprising amount of new ideas. You’re in a position that content marketers envy.
But how the heck do you choose what to do produce?
It’s time to start thinking critically, in a structured way. I’ve compiled seven of my favorite exercises for narrowing a large list of ideas into just the great ones. Along the way, you’ll discover better versions of your great ideas, and you’ll kill a few of your favorites.
Some of these exercises can be done alone, and some need to be done in groups. You don’t necessarily need a special meeting to run these exercises. All of these exercises can be used at the end of an ideation session, or can be done virtually, instead of face-to-face.
- Swap Sort
- Value Mapping
- Dot Voting
- The Murder Board
- That Will Never Work
- NUF Test
- The 10-Point Test
1. Swap Sort
The Swap Sort is a structured tool for creating a hierarchy of ideas within a group. It can be done individually but is best done in groups, to get further feedback on ideas, but also to help make decisions that your team will be on board with.
First, make sure your team is clear about the criteria with which you’ll judge your ideas and the objectives of this cohort of content ideas. Bring your 10 best ideas to the Swap Sort exercise.
- Place your 10 content ideas on sticky notes vertically on a whiteboard in no particular order.
- Ask your team if any of the ideas are duplicates or can be combined with other ideas on the board. Swallow any duplicates or combined Ideas into a new sticky note.
- Compare the first two sticky notes at the top of the board based on your criteria and content objectives. Move the best idea to the top of the board.
- Compare the next two ideas on the board, and swap them if they’re in the wrong order.
- Repeat the process until you can go through the entire list of ideas within reprioritizing any.
You now have a prioritized list of your best ideas based on a criteria you have selected. If you’re lucky, your entire team will have reached consensus. Regardless, you have majority buy-in to execute your top ideas.
2. Value Mapping
When armed with a lot of ideas and a large group of participants, Value Mapping is one of the most efficient exercises for determining which content ideas to focus on.
Value Mapping asks participants to narrow a content Idea list, of say, 20 or 30 items, down to 10 or so of the best ideas. The goal is to identify a thread or topic that your team or organization believes is most worth pursuing.
- Bring a list of 20 or 30 content ideas to a meeting.
- Write each idea on an index card.
- Group the items in a way that makes the most logical sense to you.
- Designate a notetaker to keep track of everyone’s choices.
- Color the cards based on how many times they were chosen. Don’t color cards that weren’t chosen.
Present the findings to your group. Showing a visual of the results is a powerful way of gaining consensus on an area of focus.
If you’re looking for consensus from a large group, this exercise can be done outside of a meeting environment, via email, with very large teams.
3. Dot Voting
Dot Voting is a simple tool you can use to help gain control over a very productive ideation session. It relies on the intuition of the group at the end of a group session, not based on carefully selected criteria or content goals.
Sometimes, in a group setting, participants find it easy to generate dozens or hundreds of ideas very quickly. Dot Voting can help cut a list significantly and get your participants focusing on only the best ideas.
- Ask participants to place dots next to the Ideas they feel are the best.
- Your dots can be pen dots, dot stickers, check marks, or whatever works.
- The exercise should be done in silence and as quickly as possible.
4. The Murder Board
Sometimes, when we come up with great ideas, we become blind to rationality and fail to think through the consequences of failure. The Murder Board is a group set up to criticize the hell out of your ideas to ensure that we see our Ideas from all angles.
Unlike most ideation exercises, a Murder Board, as the name implies, is a highly critical tool. It ensures that your weakest ideas die and your best are further examined and improved.
- Write your ideas out on a whiteboard, and ask participants to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the ideas.
- Feel out the attacks on your ideas. Ask the most critical participants if there is any way to salvage an idea in question.
- Kill the weakest ideas by erasing or crossing them out.
- Ask participants to pitch ways to improve the ideas that remain.
- How much interest does the group have in the ideas that remain?
One benefit of an idea coming out of the other side of a Murder Board session is that you’ll be keenly aware of the weaknesses of the idea and its potential for failure.
5. That Will Never Work
One way to better formalize the critical thinking that occurs in a Murder Board session is to run the exercise That Will Never Work. The gist of the exercise is to have participants explain why your ideas won’t work, the ways it could be made to work, and the specific how’s of doing so.
- Write your ideas vertically on a whiteboard.
- Write out three columns across the top of the board:
That Won’t Work
- Complete all three columns for one idea before moving onto the next.
- If you get stuck on columns 2 or 3 for an idea, skip them and move on to the next idea.
- Try to complete columns 2 and 3 at the end of the exercise, but if you can’t generate anything, set the ideas aside.
This exercise can be combined with a Murder Board to help first weed out bad ideas and then improve the good ones.
6. NUF Test
The NUF Test is a group exercise used to improve new ideas and get your team closer to a decision about priority. A lot of times when being pitched, people express reservations or push back without explaining their reasoning for why they don’t like an idea.
The NUF Test can bring any ideation session into concrete terms in about 15 minutes.
- Write 10 newly created ideas vertically on a whiteboard (10 rows).
- Create three columns across the top of whiteboard (3 columns).
- As a group, rate each of the 10 ideas on a 1 to 10 scale based on the following criteria:
- New. Is it unique? Has anyone seen it before in the wild?
- Useful. Does it have utility for our target audience? Is it Evergreen?
- Feasible. Can we actually pull it off?
- If you find that an idea that many participants originally liked ranks low on the scale, start a new exercise exploring how you could improve that Idea to make it newer, more useful, or more feasible for your company.
Don’t take too long agreeing on ratings. Numbering ideas isn’t about developing consensus but on coming up with rough estimates for the potential of your newfound ideas.
Feel free to tabulate score totals in a fourth column. Usually after completing the third column, the top ideas will become apparent.
7. The 10-Point Test
The 10-Point Test asks participants to split 10 points among all of the top content ideas. The more points devoted to a particular idea, the more voting in favor of that idea. The exercise can be reimagined in countless ways, in teams or individually.
I’ll present two options: a basic group exercise and my go-to solo exercise.
The Group Exercise:
- You have 10 points to allocate. Gather your team and some Monopoly money or just a whiteboard and a quiet room.
- Write each of your Ideas on a sheet of paper or on the whiteboard.
- Ask participants to privately vote using their points for each of the ideas. Privacy is important. If participants influence each other’s’ decisions, your numbers will be skewed.
- After participants have divided their points across all ideas, ask each to explain their reasoning for their choices.
- Give participants a chance to reallocate their dollars after arguments have been heard.
- Announce the winning priority of ideas, and thank your team members for participating.
The Solo Exercise: One variation I’m fond of is developing content marketing criteria to judge ideas. It takes a little more work, but the outcomes feel a little more data influenced. I like to use a spreadsheet to run the following exercise:
- Develop a criteria with which to judge your Ideas. That criteria could include:
- conversion potential
- traffic generating
- brand potential
- Instead of dividing 10 points across all of your ideas, judge each on a 10-point scale.
- Note 1: Depending on your goals, increase the point scale to weight favored criteria. If your goal is conversions, increase the point-scale for the conversion column to 50.
- Note 2: Cost is a negative number that will affect your sum.
- Add up the scores across all of your rows. This is a weighted sum total score.
Choose The Best Exercise For Your Needs
Marketers love nothing more than a formulaic approach to judging their best ideas. That’s why this rating system is so compelling.
At Iterate, we use many of these exercises depending on the situation. Sometimes we feel that we have a lot of great ideas, and we simply need to choose from amongst the best. In those cases, a quick Swap Sort of Dot Voting can be a big help.
Other times, we have a lot of high-risk-high-reward, possibly impractical ideas that need wrangling. An exercise like That Won’t Work is perfect for helping enlighten us as to the challenges of our ideas, and how to break through them.
Once we’ve narrowed a large list into a small list, we always use a scorecard like The 10 Point Test to help us make decisions based on data.
How do you choose content ideas?
How do you choose content ideas?