Anyone can think of a topic or two. The trick is to maintain a steady stream of subjects that will keep your audience engaged. In one respect, it should get easier as you learn more about them – and, in particular, how they react to what you’ve already written – but, with the approach of each deadline, the range of topics not yet exploited only ever gets narrower.
Fortunately, there is a solution. Relying solely on human ingenuity might not produce the results you’re after, but analytical input from content intelligence tools has consistently proved its worth.
Who is your audience?
It all starts with the audience. Who will consume your content – and what concerns them right now? This varies by brand, audience persona and, to a degree, where the content is published.
In theory, the medium should have no bearing on a topic’s ability to gain traction. Long-form journalism and image-based social posts can achieve equal impact, so long as each is tailored to the consumer and the time and space available.
The traditional approach has long been A/B testing: splitting the audience into groups and distributing subtly different versions of the content to see which performs best. But it’s a flawed approach, since you’ll knowingly serve lesser-performing content to at least half of each test group; you just don’t know which half until it’s too late.
Can you afford to risk losing their business?
The answer is ‘no’ but, with artificial intelligence and a thorough understanding of your audience, you can cut those losses before they’ve been incurred by simulating the A/B tests without dispatching any content to real people.
Timing is everything
Very few topics are evergreen. That means that once you’ve identified the audience for your content – which might be only a subset of your total potential market – you need to think about what concerns them today.
We each have a limited capacity to care about or be interested in any subject. Over time, as new interests and worries arise, old ones fall away, so your content needs to address the freshest, greenest and most pressing topics if it’s to gain traction.
You also need to keep your planning window narrow and your audience intelligence up to date. Nobody could have guessed at the end of January 2020 how Covid-19 would dominate the global news cycle by March. Must-have phones can appear from nowhere and opportunities for making or saving money evolve quickly. In short, trends are ever-changing and their influence on your audience will mold its overall profile.
What you knew about your audience last week gets less relevant by the day, and the only way to keep up with its ever-evolving persona is through the use of machine learning, since computer analysis of big data consistently reveals patterns that human eyes can’t spot. Such patterns are catalysts for the creation of engaging topics.
Identifying top-trending topics
Neither Google, with Trends, nor Bing, with its Keyword Research tool, are shy about sharing how subjects and their associated keywords perform, allowing content creators to test topics and variations prior to publication.
If writing about personal transport, you can see whether car performs better than automobile. Likewise, whether camper is more popular than campervan. With answers to questions like these, you can optimize your content prior to publication and even, in many cases, as early as the point of ideation. By doing so you tackle two jobs simultaneously: content creation and content marketing. You’re producing material that you know will engage the reader while guaranteeing the highest possible return on the effort – and money – invested in its creation.
All of this comes with a caveat, that you don’t sacrifice relevance to trends. While the world may be obsessing about the latest reality TV results or royal wedding, such topics could be entirely outside the interests of your audience. True, crow-baring them into a subject line or ad will almost certainly grow your audience, because you’re following the crowd.
Yet, that audience may be worth very little to your brand. A handful of qualified responses is far more valuable than a tsunami of irrelevant inquiries that risk cheapening and diluting what you stand for.
By all means, look for and follow trends, but never sacrifice ‘message’ in the pursuit of popularity.