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We’ve all been there. You need to publish a new story, but you just have no idea what you should be writing about. Maybe you have an idea but you’re not sure how to approach it. You might even be brainstorming with your team, but you’re not confident that your ideas are going to be interesting or engaging for your readers. So what do you do?

Taking a data-driven approach can help you uncover what your audience prefers and what ideas are most effective—a bit of research can go a long way. Here are some ways to find data-driven inspiration for your next great content piece.

Look to Your (Content) Competitors

If you’re running short on content ideas, your content competitors are a great place to start looking. Before we go further, let’s take a quick detour to understand what a content competitor is. When thinking of competitors, we typically think of business competitors—other companies that target the same consumers and therefore compete for customers, dollars, and market share. For a company like Herschel Supply Co., known for their backpacks, business competitors would include Jansport, Filson, or any other backpack company. However, Herschel’s content strategy is focused on topics like travel, design, and art—topics that their customers are interested in, but that deviate from the usual topics a backpack company might focus on. If we only look to Herschel’s business competitors, we’re unlikely to find content ideas that actually compete for the attention of Herschel’s readers. Instead, it’d be better for us to look to other publications that write about travel, design and art (such as Cereal Magazine or Wallpaper*) to find relevant ideas.

Conducting this competitive analysis isn’t just a good business practice, it can also yield some great ideas. By analyzing competitor performance and identifying which topics and stories are effective for your competitors (or conversely, which topics are not effective), you can emulate what the successes of your competitors (using the skyscraper method, for example), or avoiding the mistakes your competitors have already made. Tools like SharedCount or Quietly Insights are designed to help you keep an eye on what your competitors are up to, and can help you make sense of the data before launching into your own content strategy.

Keep tabs on your content competitors with Quietly Insights.

Find Relevant Communities

Aside from competitors, engaging directly with online communities can help you find out exactly what your audiences are interested in and talking about. Reddit forums (called subreddits) are great for identifying trending discussions on specific topics; Quora topics make it easy to understand what questions are prevalent in any subject; LinkedIn groups are ideal for finding audiences with a particular role or industry; industry forums can get even more specific. Looking through the most popular discussions or most engaging posts can help you identify your next content idea. Best of all, you already know it’s something your audience is interested in. Check out our post on crowdsourcing ideas for more communities to consider.

Use Historical Data

Finally, one of the most potent sources of engaging content ideas are, well, the ideas you’ve already tried. By looking at the historical performance of your existing stories, you may find that certain topics or stories are higher performers than others—typically, it’s a good idea to expand on these topics, or write a follow-up to these stories to further capture that interest. How do you know which stories are high performers? That depends on your goals.

Reach wider audiences

If your aim is to reach a wider audience, look for stories that have a high number of social engagements (such as likes, comments, and shares), social reach, or a high number of unique pageviews. These metrics measure how effective each story is at reaching new readers, so expanding on these topics or creating stories around similar topics can help further extend your reach.

Engage existing readers

To understand whether your stories are engaging readers, take a look at the stories with the highest completion rates or average read percentages. Both of these metrics take a variety of factors into account—from paragraph length to time spent per paragraph—and can tell you whether readers are actually reading your content. Needless to say, you want to publish stories that people will read, so identifying topics that already resonate with your audiences (or those that don’t!) can be a great starting point for coming up with new ideas. Both of these metrics are available through Quietly Insights.

Drive more conversions

If you’re looking to contribute to your bottom line, calculate conversion rates for your content to identify which stories are most effective at generating leads or driving sales. With this information, you can come up with story ideas that discuss similar concepts, or otherwise expand on the topic, and link back to those stories to further increase the performance of that piece.

Creating engaging content ideas isn’t always easy, but with a bit of research and taking a data-driven, evidence-based approach, it’s much easier to not only come up with fresh ideas, but also be confident that they’ll resonate with your audience.

Understand and deliver better content marketing with Quietly Insights.