Topic ideation: How to uncover ICP pain points and goals
As a content manager, how can you filter content ideas and pick those most likely to drive traffic and conversions?
In this article, you’ll learn how to strategically choose content topics that align with all of your business goals; whether that be lead generation, acquisition or retention.
We’ll share content ideation methods used at Grizzle, as well as those used by content marketers at companies like Databox, ConversionXL and Braze.
Table of contents
1. Tapping into sales and customer success teams
Does your marketing team work in a silo, away from sales and customer success teams? You could be missing out on an array of content ideation opportunities to support prospects across the entire buyer journey.
Below are some tips to help you collaborate with sales and customer success teams:
Supporting your sales teams and generate leads
Lead generation is, of course, a key sales metric. And most sales teams would be grateful for content that answers common queries they hear from leads on a daily basis.
This will enable them to spend less time answering repetitive questions, and more time closing deals!
Here’s how to generate a pool of content ideas that help support your sales team and generate leads at the same time:
Interview sales managers and SDRs
Interview sales reps and managers to understand the sales cycle, their biggest goals and common pain-points or questions they hear from prospects. You can get rich, honest insights by interviewing sales members.
Pro tip: Record and transcribe these interviews and repurpose quotes in future pieces of content. This will help you collect deep, qualitative insights you can refer to when expanding your buyer personas, while positioning your salespeople as experts at the same time.
Here are some questions you can ask sales reps to elicit insights for your content ideation process:
- What are some common challenges prospects bring up again and again?
- Which part of our product/service makes prospects light up?
- Which content would you find most helpful to provide prospects?
- What are the main sales metrics you need to meet?
- What are the common queries you get from prospects?
- What are common sales objections you get across the sales journey?
- Are you happy with current sales materials?
- Can you explain the internal sales process? E.g from first point of contact to closing
- Which sales questions do you struggle to answer the most?
- Which sales materials do you most regularly send leads?
Audit and optimise your sales material
Ask your sales teams to send you the content they use on a regular basis. This can include:
- Any white papers, case studies etc. they regularly send to prospects
- Email outreach templates
- Template responses used for FAQs
Add these to a spreadsheet and note at which stage of the sales cycle materials are used, the traffic to these pages (if relevant), and quality of the content.
This exercise should help you notice obvious gaps and content that needs refreshing. For example, case study pages may get high traffic, but be thin in value and show low “time spent on page”. Refreshing case studies may be a priority area.
Sit in on sales calls (or request recordings)
Sitting in on sales calls will let you grasp objections from the perspective of a potential customer. You may pick up blind spots that weren’t picked up by speaking to the sales team alone.
As Emily Byford, B2B Content Marketer, says:
“Listen to your customers, listen to your sales team. If possible, get your sales team to record their calls, and make a habit of listening to a couple a week. This will help you understand what matters most to your potential customers – the problems they’re *really* looking to solve. What are the questions they ask most often? Use this to prioritise the content you’re planning.”
Once you’ve captured all this information from the sales team and your audits, present a shortlist of topics to the team about which you’ll be prioritizing for the next quarter.
Supporting customer success teams to boost retention (and prevent churn)
Customer success teams want to delight customers and prevent churn. Content can help support customers during this journey.
Below, similar to the section above, is an approach to help you generate a pool of content ideas for your customer success team.
Interview members of the customer success team
Just like you did with sales, fresh insights can be yielded from customer success teams. They speak with customers on a daily basis, and they can bring a different perspective than sales teams.
Some example questions include:
- What do clients love about our product/service?
- What are the common woes (both product and non-product related) that customers talk about?
- What are the customer success team’s goals and success metrics?
- What does the customer onboarding process look like?
- What is the big problem our customers are looking to solve by using our product?
- What are the most common reasons customers churn?
- What are the most frequently asked questions from clients?
- What content would be most helpful to send new customers?
- Best customer success stories?
Compile an audit of current customer success materials
Request to be sent all the current customer success materials in use and create a spreadsheet listing all of these.
Sit in on an onboarding call and a customer check-in call
Listening in on customer calls will help you empathise with customers and uncover content topics that you may not have thought of by talking to internal teams alone.
Agree on topics that will empower customer success
Once you’ve captured all this information, present a shortlist of topics to the customer success team about which you’ll be prioritizing.
I spoke with Todd Grennan, Managing Editor at Braze, who explained how he uses a similar process of interviewing different department representatives to plan each quarter’s topics:
“We operate on a quarterly schedule, aligned with the rest of the business. A month before the end of the previous quarter, my team starts having 1:1 meetings with representatives of other departments in the organisation. We basically sit down with them for half an hour each and talk through what their focus is for the next 3 months, what their business concerns are, what they’re seeing in the market etc.
Often, one of the biggest signals regarding whether there’s a topic we ought to take on is when we hear from disparate departments that a particular topic is a major topic of focus for them. This is usually a sign that this is a topic worth diving into that hasn’t caught on our radar yet.
Usually we take the raw material from these interviews and take that in concert with any demand generation information we have for the quarter. We don’t want to have tunnel vision when it comes to serving internal needs but we also want to make sure that any insights various teams have seen in the market are cared about, particularly if they have relevance for our audience.”
2. Finding SEO-driven topics to increase organic traffic
Below are some tactics to help your content rank on Google; an SEO-first approach to content ideation.
Chris Newton, Inbound Marketing Manager at Klaviyo, explains what we mean by an ‘SEO-first’ approach to support users looking for answers through search engines:
“Content ideation at Klaviyo used to follow an “SEO-second approach” but I’m establishing an SEO-first approach. People would often come to me with a blog post and say ‘can you optimise this for SEO’ after the fact. I find those don’t always tend to perform as well as posts where we identified the topic we want to write about first and then write the post specifically around a certain keyword that we’re trying to optimise for. I call that the SEO-first approach.
I think that as the year goes on, we’re going to be taking more of an SEO-first approach to content ideation.”
How to discover keywords for SEO-first content
When it comes to uncovering SEO-friendly topics, it’s important to begin with some keyword research.
Start by listing keywords you think your target audience would be searching for.
If you’re not sure where to start, have a look at blogs of your competitors. Input their URLs into a tool like Ahrefs, Ubersuggest, or SEMRush and you’ll see which keywords these posts rank for, as Automate.io’s Sr. Content Marketer, Archita Sharma suggests:
Use a tool like Ahrefs to check out your competitor’s keywords and get an understanding of what worked well for them! A simple lookup in Ahrefs’ Content Explorer would show you which keywords, which links are already ranking and how competitive these keywords are. Target these hot keywords and set up your content pipeline accordingly.
Next, punch your chosen keywords to an SEO tool like Ahrefs, which will show you will show you keyword ideas and similar keywords, allowing you to build upon your initial keyword list:
You can even use Google and look at the ‘searches related to’ terms that come up:
Make a note of the average monthly search volume for each keyword, along with the difficulty:
Next, use a tool or a simple incognito search to see which content is ranking on page one of Google’s SERPs:
Note down the content titles, assumed search intent per result (are the topics mainly step-by-step articles? News articles?) and the quality of the top 5 SERP results.
A tool like Clearscope will automatically give you this information to help you see areas to outshine the competitor content. Check which other keywords the top domain rank for: Input the domains for the top 5 results into a tool like SEMRush, Ahrefs or Ubersuggest.
Once you’ve gathered all this information, utilize this data to choose SEO-first topic opportunities. You may choose a buffet of topics. Perhaps a couple of 10x pieces to outshine the competition when it comes to high traffic, high competition topics.
You could also sweep up a bunch niche topics that you’ve identified as having low traffic, low competition.
Focus on niche content hubs to rank a new blog
It can be difficult for newer blogs to compete with content from authoritative sites when it comes to organic search.
Derek Gleason, Content Lead at ConversionXL, explains the ‘hub-and-spoke’ strategy that newer sites can utilize to create content that ranks in Google:
For newer sites, content ideation is pretty simple: Pick a topic that’s:
1. Relevant to your company or product
2.For which you can claim authority
3. For which there’s search volume
Then, cover the core topic and its tangents—a hub-and-spoke strategy, essentially.
For example, in my previous work at an agency, a client managed several pediatric urgent care centers. While anything relevant to healthcare could qualify as a potential topic, we wanted them to narrow the focus to their deepest expertise.
Ultimately, it made the most sense for them to answer the question, “Should I take my child to urgent care or the ER?”. We identified about a dozen posts on topics like “When is a fever dangerous?” and “Can you get stitches at urgent care?”
Google rewarded the narrow focus of our mini-hub, and – despite being a small site with unremarkable domain authority – they rank highly on Page 1 for several “Your Money or Your Life” queries that receive added scrutiny from Google.
When users come to any page, we want them to:
1) Know – know what the page is about
2) Feel – feel that the page gives them the right solution
3) Commit – commit to one single action
In terms of the ideation stage, Chris Old from IG suggests using KFC to get a ‘bucket’ of actionable ideas in the following way:
- KNOW – Leverage the expertise of subject-matter authorities in your business. Ask them to post-it note all the key things your company offers.
- FEEL – Once they’ve done that, expand on all those key concepts with anything you could write about on those topics. Udemy is another good resource for expanding on topics – check their table of contents for courses on given subjects. Or do it the old-fashioned way – have a look down Waterstones for books on the subject and see how they structure the content.
- KNOW/FEEL – Once you have all the ideas, categorise them into content clusters and run them through a keyword research tool to see where demand is. That means the keywords you’ve considered, any similar keywords you find, plus keywords the current ranking content is showing up for.
- KNOW/FEEL – Re-categorise your clusters based on demand. You should have one ‘blockbuster article’ or page for each topic, with off-shoot shorter articles expanding on it where there is demand. Have a super-interesting idea with no search volume? Add it to the hub article.
- COMMIT – For each topic cluster, what is the one thing you want users to do? Expand on that for every page within the cluster – what’s the one action you want them to commit to? This should be the first consideration when briefing the content.
- KNOW/FEEL/COMMIT – Now you have everything in place, it’s time to brief the content. That means the usual stuff – H1, H2s, title tag, keywords, Schema markup etc. But we don’t want to lose site of our KFC. Start with the ‘commit’, as above, then also brief in what you want users to ‘feel’ and ‘know’ from each page.
This approach ensures both Google and users see clearly organised content and a sound internal linking structure for each content cluster.
Including the ‘commit’ ensures you give users what they want at the endgame, and coax them into taking that action. And the ‘feel’ ensures they are comfortable to so and more engaged with the page. That, in turn is good for engagement metrics Google may be measuring, while also boosting semantic relevance around the topic.
The only pitfall to avoid: do not create too many off-shoot articles if there is limited demand or overlap between the content. You don’t want Google’s robots to be confused about which pages to rank for what keywords.
Steps to hub and spoke topic ideation:
Here’s a step-by-step approach to help your new website rank well in Google:
- Select a main keyword that will act as your main hub topic for your target audience . Using Derek’s example above, this could be the keyword “should i take my child to urgent care or the ER?”. This will be your hub topic that spoke topics will branch out from.
- Choose niche keyword topics that supplement the main hub topic. For example, spoke topics that relate to the initial query of “should i take my child to urgent care or the ER” could be “when is a fever dangerous?” and “can you get stitches at urgent care?”. These “spoke” topics expand on the hub topics. They can be separate posts that are also internally linked to from the hub post.
- Connect the hub and spoke topics with a URL hierarchy. Ensure there’s a logical URL hierarchy such as blog/urgent-care for the main hub topic and then blog/urgent-care/fever, blog/urgent-care/stitches for the spoke topics to increase your chances of ranking.
Huge content backlog? Create a comprehensive content inventory
On the other end of the spectrum, if you have a blog with a huge backlog of posts, the content ideation process should begin with a comprehensive audit of all your content.
Derek goes on to explain the process he uses at CXL:
“When I started at CXL a year ago, the content ideation process was quite complex. We had over 600 posts that we’d published over seven years. We had already covered the most relevant topics, often more than once (leading to “keyword cannibalization” issues). To succeed here, I started by building a comprehensive inventory of all content—a taxonomy that grouped posts into categories and subcategories.
The taxonomy has made it much quicker to help authors identify a topic that’s new to the blog and, ideally, covers an obvious content gap. For example, we recently published a post on how to identify SaaS metrics; we’ve written posts for SaaS companies many times before (and written about analytics dozens of times, too), but we’d never dedicated a post exclusively to SaaS metrics. I doubt we would’ve spotted that opportunity so quickly without an on-demand catalog of our existing content).
Admittedly, we’re very focused on organic search—it accounts for the lion’s share of our traffic. The content ideation process is different if you’re angling for social shares or links (although high-ranking content earns many “passive” links by ranking at the top of page 1. The takeaway is that your distribution strategy should inform your content ideation, not the other way around. You might have an incredible idea for a post, but if it requires a paid social media budget that you don’t have or an army of outreach specialists that you haven’t employed to get visibility, it will fail”
– Derek Gleason, Content Lead at ConversionXL
3. Product-Driven Content that Attracts Buyers
For many marketers, converting readers into leads and customers is a core content goal.
Which is why creating challenge-driven content, based on the needs and pains of your buyer persona, can be a great source for content ideas.
These are simple topics that dive into customer pain points that your product or solution solves.
Here’s a step-by-step approach to product-driven content:
Step 1: Identify which landing pages you want to drive traffic to
If you’re unsure which landing pages to prioritize, start off with an audit of your current product pages.
Gathering this data will give you an informed decision regarding which product pages to prioritise and let you see whether your new content has had the impact you hoped for down the line.
Product page data you could gather:
- Current traffic for each product page:
- “Previous page path” for current product pages via Google Analytics: Which pieces of content are already driving readers to your product pages?
- Conversion rate for current product pages: If you’ve setup Goals in Google Analytics or a have CRM like HubSpot, you’ll be able to see the conversion rate of each product page (whether that be free trial sign-ups, demo requests, or purchases).
Use this data to shortlist the product pages that need more traffic. For example, if there’s a highly converting product page with low traffic, you may want to prioritize content topic ideas that link to that page.
Step 2: Identify which pain points are solved by your product
Next, have a deeper look at the product pages you’ve identified. Note which pains are solved by the solution described on each product page:
Choose content topics about the specific pain points you’ve identified. Add a CTA to the connected product page that illustrates how you solution solves that pain point.
For example if your product page explains how your app relieves the manual effort of exporting spreadsheets, choose content topics like “tips to stop spend hours manually processing spreadsheet data”. Your solution solves this pain point so it would be natural to include a CTA to the matching landing page. Ensure you blogging efforts work with product pages.
4. Generating Product Demand with Top-of-Funnel Topics
Let’s look at choosing content topics to drive top of funnel engagement and traffic. Top of funnel content refers to posts that address problems experienced by your target audience.
Interview your target audience
Interview your target audience about their challenges to collate a buffet of top-of-funnel content ideas. You’ll uncover nuanced topics that are difficult to pick up through online research alone.
The most recent posts (including this one!) on Grizzle’s blog have come into fruition from this interview method:
- Contact a bunch of people belonging to your target audience that you’d love to interview
- Organise 30-minute calls with 3-5 of them
- During the interviews, ask about their goals, biggest challenges and approaches to problems. Ask lots of follow-up questions to get to the nitty-gritty!
- Make a shortlist of commonly mentioned pain points from your interviewees. You should begin to notice a pattern of nuanced pain points and topics that have emerged
Target audience interviews give you the added benefits of developing long-term relationships with your sector, a deeper understanding of your audience, and quotes you can inject into blog posts (or even a podcast) too.
Crowdsource ideas from your target audience
Databox have a super-organised way of collating ideas from their target audience, as their CEO, Pete Caputa explained to me:
“We collect 100s of content ideas from our writers and readers every month. For most of our content, we are sourcing contributions from experts. We do this by asking 25-50 experts one question, then weaving the best answers together into a long guide on the subject. At the same time, we ask them, “What articles would you like us to write next?” We also invite our freelance writers to pitch us ideas. We review the suggestions and pick the best 5-6 each week”
– Pete Caputa, CEO at Databox
Check out how Databox scale their collection of expert insights and ideas via this exceptionally well organised list of co-marketing opportunities:
Refresh old content ideas
Sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to great content ideas! If you’ve got a backlog of old content, refreshing old posts can do wonders, as Chris from Klaviyo explains:
“I’m a huge fan of going through old posts and re-optimising them with new data and new insights for a new audience. We have a ton of posts going back from 2015, 2016, 2017, and, with just a few optimisations and edits, we can give them new legs. That’s a big goal of our managing editor.”
– Chris Newton, Inbound Marketing Manager at Klaviyo
Identify sharable topics using BuzzSumo
Buzzsumo can help you identify topics that thrive on popular social channels like Reddit, Twitter, Facebook (Quora isn’t currently included).
Let’s say you want to write about topics around the general theme of “social media marketing”. You can run that search term and see the most socially shared posts via Buzzsumo’s ‘content analyzer’ tool.:
You can identify from this list which topics tend to be more widely shared than others.
You can take that a step further and click ‘view sharers’ for each post:
Not only will you identify influencers for certain topics (who you can contact to share your own posts) but you can also look at other content shared by those influencers for further topic ideas. Read more on connecting with B2B influencers here.
As covered, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to content ideation. It’s important to get clear about your goals before choosing a framework for topic ideas.
Here’s a recap of which content ideation frameworks you can use depending on your goal:
Organic traffic goals: SEO-first ideas using search tools and keyword research should be the base of your content ideation. Hub & spoke approaches are ideal for new blogs.
Conversion goals: Run an audit of your product pages and then choose content topics around pain points that your product solves
Target audience engagement goals: in-depth interviews with your target audience will help you identify nuanced pain points and patterns
Social sharing goals: Use a social sharing tool like Buzzsumo to identify which topics are frequently shared across different social media channels
Supporting your sales and customer success teams (lead generation and retention goals): Interview your sales & customer success teams and run audits of current materials.