We spend a lot of time brainstorming content ideas for our clients. It’s a time consuming process that requires mental space, research skills, creativity, significant company time, and (for me) a lot of tools. Unlike the robust outreach, content production and link research tools in the inbound marketing space, content ideation tools come and go. Many of these tools pop up as “Free While In Beta” and then end up costing more than they’re worth. In general, even the most innovative of these content ideation tools lack the robust functionality that other content marketing tools offer. That’s okay, because there are a ton of them, and they’re all you need to generate creative, industry-winning content ideas!
I use three types of tools for my research: keyword and related topic tools, content conversation tools, and title & headline tools. Here’s my list of the best free content ideation tools and creativity tools broken into the three major ideation buckets:
Related Topics & Phrase Tools
You should already be clear on the topics and keyword phrases you’ll be targeting before you brainstorm content ideas. That said, deeper research into long-tail keyword variations, semantic topics, and topic visualizations can help spark your imagination, get your creative juices flowing and broaden the scope of your targeting.
[button_yellow_modern iconlink=”” url=http://keywordtool.io]KeywordTool.io[/button_yellow_modern] is my go-to source for long-tail keyword variations. You won’t find search traffic numbers or trend data, but skimming a long-tail list should help you better understand the conversation around the topic and the needs of your customer base. Also try: Soovle
[button_yellow_modern iconlink=”” url=http://www.freebase.com]Freebase[/button_yellow_modern] is a massive curated library of semantic topics. Semantic topics should help you identify related topics and alternate phrases. Also try: http://lsikeywords.com/
[button_yellow_modern iconlink=”” url=http://sonar.bottlenose.com]Bottlenose Sonar Solo[/button_yellow_modern] Remember the Google Wonder Wheel? Bottlenose has one of the best Wonder Wheel alternatives, providing a quick visualization of topics related to your core topics.
Content Conversation Tools
Whether you’ll be newsjacking or writing evergreen content, following the conversation is a crucial piece of an ongoing content strategy. Drop the topics and phrases you have curated from “Related Topics & Phrases” into the following content conversation tools. Create a list of ideas with links to popular content that you can reference.
Disclaimer: While there is no one perfect toolset for generating unique results, and many of these tools overlap, never rely on just one of these tools. Each of these tools have gaps and blind spots. Using a handful will ensure you capture as many ideas as possible.
[button_green_modern iconlink=”” url=https://clearvoice.com/search]ClearVoice[/button_green_modern] is a great tool for influencer research, but it also shows you “Popular Topics.” If you find an influencer in the space, click through to their profile to see what they’re saying about your topic. Hint: Save that profile for later!
[button_green_modern iconlink=”” url=http://topsy.com]Topsy[/button_green_modern] searches Twitter for content matching your search phrase, as well showing you basic Twitter analytics on that term.
[button_green_modern iconlink=”” url=http://socialmention.com]Social Mention[/button_green_modern] searches a bunch of blogs, microblogs, social comments, YouTube and more.
[button_green_modern iconlink=”” url=http://boardreader.com]Board Reader[/button_green_modern] is the best source for identifying forum and message board conversations around your topic. What are product/service users saying about your product/service? Hint: Set up an RSS feed to track the conversation on an ongoing basis. Also try: http://omgili.com/
[button_green_modern iconlink=”” url=http://buzzsumo.com]Buzzsumo[/button_green_modern] is one of the most robust tools for identifying high-performing content from all major social media platforms. As a free user, you’ll hit data limits, but search away until they stop you!
[button_green_modern iconlink=”” url=http://www.icerocket.com]IceRocket[/button_green_modern] is a fantastic blog search tool, which also brings in some social results. Its advanced search function helps you drill down to increase your search precision.
[button_green_modern iconlink=”” url=http://builtvisible.com/content-strategy-generator-tool-v2-update]Content Strategy Helper[/button_green_modern] by BuiltVisible really shows off the power of utilizing Google Docs for API integration. This Google Spreadsheet tool integrates Topsy, Google Insights, Reddit, and much more. Sure, it’s a hack, but it’s a great tool for quickly accessing content conversation data.
Title & Headline Generation Tools
With a list of great content ideas, you’ll likely want to get started on production. Don’t forget that headlines are one of the most important features of successful blog posts, articles, infographics and videos. Don’t put all your focus into your content and forget about the hook. Generate a massive list of headline ideas using the following tools:
[button_blue_modern iconlink=”” url=http://www.hubspot.com/blog-topic-generator]Blog Topic Generator[/button_blue_modern] by HubSpot quickly spits out a handful of potential blog post titles based on the three keywords you provide it.
[button_blue_modern iconlink=”” url=http://www.portent.com/tools/title-maker]Content Idea Generator[/button_blue_modern] by Portent is a useful tool for B2C link-baity blog post titles, and sometimes just for a good laugh (i.e. “Why You Shouldn’t Eat Content Ideation in Bed”).
[button_blue_modern iconlink=”” url=http://www.contentrow.com/tools/link-bait-title-generator]Link Bait Title Generator[/button_blue_modern] by Content Row is the most powerful of the three aforementioned tools, producing three pages of blog post titles.
[button_blue_modern iconlink=”” url=http://ideas.contentforest.com]ContentIdeator[/button_blue_modern] is a simple tool that uses the keyword you input to find headlines that use the phrase. Of course, don’t directly copy others’ headlines, but use the tool to steal some headline thunder from your competition.
[button_blue_modern iconlink=”” url=http://www.aminstitute.com/headline]Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer[/button_blue_modern] isn’t an ideation tool, but it will help to validate (or invalidate) some of your initial title and headline ideas on an emotional scale.
Don’t let these tools replace your process. Be sure you’re starting from an understanding of your target market, your customers’ influencers, and your competitors in the space. Often, a few Google searches and clicks through your competitors’ websites can reveal a ton of great content ideas very quickly.
Tools cannot replace creativity or brainstorm sessions with co-workers and your clients/bosses. If you do as much idea brainstorming as our content team does, you and your team will want to check out James Altrucher’s rules for becoming an idea machine.
What are your favorite tools for content ideation? Share in the comments!