How do you know what to write?

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#1
I am a pretty rigid and technical type of person. Which is why SEO and content structure makes sense to me. But I'm moving towards writing now and I'm a bit lost.

I find it hard to form a decision making process or system to determine what is the best article to write. I want to a create magazine-like authority so it is a mix of social content and product sell.

1. So I ask builders, how do you decide what to write next?

2. What kind of questions should I be asking when discovering content?

3. Is it mostly driven by gut and thinking creatively/being opinionated?
 
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#2
1. This will likely vary greatly based on how established your site is, what your goals are, how well you know your audience, and what traffic source you are targeting. So for example, I'm currently cutting my teeth with an Amazon affiliate site, and my posts are generally informational / review type articles that target search terms or shock-value / clickbait articles that are aimed at pulling in large amounts of social traffic. Deciding what to write differs a bit between the two types, but I always look for validation from online communities. If I'm trying to build out a new review page, I'm going to cruise the Facebook groups in my niche to find out what products people are talking about. Then I'll use that info to do my keyword research, get search volume validation, and it's easy to go from there. If I want to push out a new viral-type article, I'm going to look for the topics that are getting people fired up or that people are actively discussing. Keeping a healthy balance between the two types keeps my site looking like a well-rounded online resource as opposed to just a review site or just a blog.

2. I sort of touched on this above, but here are a few specifics. What are people talking about? What are people debating? What type of posts are getting the most engagement? (are you wasting your time writing lengthy articles when your audience prefers video?) Is there a content vacuum that needs to be filled? (Can you take advantage of the lack of infographics in the space and push out a bunch for some easy traffic?) Those last two are sort of opposite sides of the same coin - you should definitely write the type of content that you see working for others, but don't be afraid to experiment with things your audience isn't used to. Your idea may flop, or it might take off, leaving you poised to take over new territory before your competitors catch on.

3. So again I sort of went into this in my last answer, but I think it's important to be creative so long as you are in touch with what your audience is looking for and how they like to interact with content. I'm a 24 y/o male web developer targeting a 30-60 y/o female audience. My first "gut" reaction was to build a bunch of cool interactive tools that I was sure were going to be shared like wildfire. Boy was I wrong. Then I churned out a few opinion pieces in a fraction of the time and got much better results. Be creative and test things out - that's the only way to discover what works. But don't be surprised when a serious departure from what your audience expects doesn't get the reaction that you thought it would.
 
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#3
Thanks @mmm91492, that's a lot to think about and I especially like that you mentioned content vacuum. I've been looking at what's already published, and even though I already feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content and lack of a method to analyze the data, I cannot I forget to look at what isn't out there as well.

I suppose one of the reasons why I find myself overwhelmed is this.

There is, or I cannot find a global conversation worth investing in. But it could also be because I am setting the bar too high. I'm trying to find an article that covers a quadfecta of timeliness, appreciable work, globally shareable/relatable content and high conversion potential.

It's obvious to me and anyone reading this that that isn't possible, but that's what I've been doing anyway because I don't know what I should be looking for, i.e. I have no plan.

My site is not established, it is set up with no posts. So honestly any kind of post is going to be infinitely better than 0 as a multiplier, but I don't like to shoot with an eye closed, so I will squint and try to narrow down the scope of my search for content to be inspired and write from, i.e. get a plan.

1. Localize: Choose your origin story. Where do you start your search?

Publishers: These are your competition, and your competition knows what's what in the industry. An elite group of them will control the narrative and you will be posting behind the ones that do the heavy lifting of leading so you will lose out in timeliness. But being later means you have the power of hindsight to work a different angle, possibly even investigative one.

Sellability: [-](Might be difficult to do so without looking awfully like duplicate content against competitors, is this a problem?)
Clickability: [~](Depends on the messaging, users may gloss over and assume they don't need to know, or they might want to know more)
Searchability: [-](Loss in timeliness means other posts with the same keywords/topics will be ahead)
Shareability: [+](Sharers get to look smart if the content is great)

Communities: These are forums and groups that exist on an enthusiast/hobbyist level. They are the consumers of the industry, who you sell to, with real problems and content mines, but they are diamonds in the rough. Find trends, problems, unique experiences/observations here and turn your responses (like this) into articles for publication (but I'll make this is an exception). When the article gets indexed, go back and inject your response back to the community (I need a system to keep track of this). Reddit is a potential community, some subs are hardcore anti-advertising- but are a great source of information. Finding them is a needle in a haystack- Ideas?

Sellability: [+](Addressing a problem usually means providing a purchasable solution)
Clickability: [~](Higher engagement but narrower reach)
Searchability: [+](Semantically good for SEO when searched as a question)
Shareability: [+](Dark social? Friends of people who face the same problem, or just want to say "I told you so")

Social Networks: I think this will be tough to search for content from. But I could use twitter to find influencers and quote them into articles as voices of authority. Boost my site's credibility and trustworthiness by association and a voice not from me.


2. Research and Narrow down: Topic is decided, now research using content discovery services to find more meat for the topic. Also, determine what the article is going to be. Is it an opinion post, psa, meta-analysis, comparison or review. (I have a pre-defined list of types not mentioned and not with the same terms used here)

Determining the type of article is important to actually decide the breath of the article and being able to set an accomplishable task.

Here are some content discovery services I use and what they are good for:
Please suggest more.
  • Feedly: For publishers/competition
  • Bloomberry: Finding questions from communities
  • Right Relevance: Social conversation
  • Scrapebox: I just got it, no idea how to use it.

3. Write: There's not much more to say here. Just write. Gonna be okay. Duh-duh-duh-duh.

Reminder: When looking for content, don't be obsessed by the metrics of the source, i.e. the number of upvotes, the size of the community. A key ingredient of clickbait is finding old and usually unpopular content, and then making them irresistible. The onus is on you to shine a dirty shoe.

Reminder 2: Don't forget about the content vacuum. This is the secret sauce to getting ahead of the curve and being a true authority. [+] on all SCSS scales.

this has been me doublethinking to myself, out loud. return answer.
 
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#4
@doublethinker I hope this helps you out, but this is my 2 cents on how to know what you need to write in any given scenario.

1. So I ask builders, how do you decide what to write next?


It boils down to two factions of writing: Business and Creative Writing.

Business writing meaning writing articles or getting a lot of work done. Creative writing comes with stories, content, and screenwriting. I suggest putting your Business writing as first priority as it helps you gain money and helps you out in the long run.

Business writing will come to you when you need to get something done within a day. Whether that means to make a post on a forum or writing for clients, you'll get business writing tasks done with the highest quality and the biggest respect to time.

Creative writing is more relaxed because I can do it whenever I have free time. It's more intuitive than business writing, and I'd rather let my gut go with this.

2. What kind of questions should I be asking when discovering content?

Always ask "Is the content relevant?"

Especially for business writing, you'll want to ask this question. If the content you are looking for isn't relevant to your targeted niche, then there's no point of writing about it. Look for things that you can use to help make your content on your targeted website of higher quality.

3. Is it mostly driven by gut and thinking creatively/being opinionated?

I believe that it comes from a mixture of all three. Depending on what your scenario is, you'll want to use all three to get the best quality of writing. In business writing, thinking to a strict and concise outline is the best way to go if you want your audience to get what you are trying to say.

When it's creative writing, just let your mind just play around, and the words will come out almost naturally. Go with your gut, and edit your creative writing later.
 
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#5
3. Is it mostly driven by gut and thinking creatively/being opinionated?
I wanted to touch on this one specifically, as there's a principle behind this subject I think is oft forgotten.

In short, the answer is a resounding NO, most of the time, for most people, at least in any niche with any appreciable degree of competition. When a writer reaches the level of subject mastery, and has been so immersed in the community that they have their finger directly on the pulse of the community and marketplace, then yes, sometimes some writers can roll in a subconscious manner and be highly successful. This isn't most of us, most of the time.

The reason I wanted to highlight this is, very often I see writers get just a bit of remotely positive feedback, and it lulls them into a false sense of accomplishment. This is the reason why, should you manage a team of writers, it is paramount that you are extremely careful with giving praise, as it can lead to complacency and lackluster metrics. In essence, the principle here is, just because you didn't fail, doesn't mean you did anything right. What I mean by that is, it's very easy to get a few retweets, some social shares, maybe a link or two, and feel like you're doing an amazing job. The thing is, what actual revenue did that content generate? Far too often, I see people fall into the trap of generating marginally successful Buzzfeed-style BS posts, usually that have no real point and don't really target anything or have any actual goal. They then get a bit of off-site activity, sharing, linking around it, and subconsciously they let it reinforce the mindset of, "Okay, I should keep doing this. It's sort of working!?"

A much better approach for most people, more often, is:
  • Find a target, create a goal (Ex: keyword research + an offer to target or other desired conversion, etc.)
  • Create a plan (Ex: Competitor research. Who's doing well? How? Match & Exceed!)
  • HAVE a plan. Work your plan.
I hate the way that sounds overly-simplistic, but more often than not, it's a generally effective approach.
 
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#6
writers get just a bit of remotely positive feedback, and it lulls them into a false sense of accomplishment... that have no real point and don't really target anything or have any actual goal.
The prime difference between a blogger/influencer and a publisher/business.

just because you didn't fail, doesn't mean you did anything right
Damn. I'm putting this on a wall.
 
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#7
The comments section of blog posts and Facebook posts, along with the customer reviews section for products you're promoting are a gold mine of topics to write about. People will let their true selves out, good or bad, so spend some time in those areas of other sites in your industry.
 

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#9
1. What to write should align itself with the desired end goals of a visitor. Step back for a moment and think about WHY a visitor is visiting your website. Step back from the metrics, analytics, SEO, and micro-details of your website and ask yourself "WHY?". Why are they there?

They are visiting your website usually to solve a pain point or learn about a solution that can help them. Some users are bored and looking to entertain themselves, but generally there is a WHY behind it.

Now what I like to do to get a pulse on what's going on in an industry is look at what problems people are having in that industry. Reddit is a great place since there are tons of sub-reddits for almost anything and everything you can think of. Scroll through the questions/topics firsts, maybe go back up to a year, and read all the questions people have. Specifically note down the questions/topics that keep coming up over and over and over and over again. I would get a textfile and segment the questions and have direct links to each question so I can go back.

Now once you've got a general understanding of what problems people are having in your industry - assuming you have one of the solutions on your website (affiliate website selling the product or you own a product/service/SAAS that solves the solution) - select the one that's most asked about and talked about, and read the comments for each question. People will go into long detailed responses about topics they are passionate about. At this point you should be jotting down ideas for other topics, but also answers that make sense, and source material to help you when creating the content.

That first topic you can attack is a "101 guide to XYZ", or perhaps simply a guide with multiple solutions to solving the problem of XYZ. From there you've got source material and have read enough within a niche to understand what's going on, what the real pain points are, the lingo of the industry, and how different users have overcome them.

It's really about asking WHY. Keep asking why in a first principle process, and you'll be able to emerge yourself within an industry rather quickly. Reddit is great since it's ground-level for people in the trenches of an industry and getting a crash course in anything is faster if you are on the front-lines of the battlefield and understand the pain points of what your audience is having.

2. Look at what people in the industry are talking about in the comment sections of the sub-reddits, forums, and other platforms. The questions that keep getting asked over and over are key since there is something "missing" in their minds from the current content out there.

3. It's driven by facts and trends. There are two approaches, the first is to look at your competitors which one of their content pieces are hot by using BuzzSumo. Now if you research each hot content pieces there should be plenty of conversation around it to get a grasp of why something is hot and why this content piece hit.

Then look at the comments on subreddits and forums to understand the pain points of what customers in your industry are having.

At this point if see a ton of pain points in comment section but nothing within BuzzSumo or the blogosphere solving that pain point - you've just hit gold.

If you see a ton of content in the blogosphere about a subject but not a lot of commenting, than it sounds like that idea has been "accepted" and people are moving on.

If you see a ton of content in the blogosphere AND a ton of comments still asking questions than there are still opportunities to come at the content idea from a different angle and still get buzz.

So to conclude, look at what your competitors are writing and what's hitting for them and look at the pain points people are having in your industry - you should be able to come up with ideas where the two merge.
 
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#10
@jayk That is typically at the later stages of the writing process, or is it? I.e. once you have decided on a particular topic or item you want to focus your scope on.
It can be used for every stage, I think.

I use it for copywriting, so I guess the product / service is already known. It helps enter into the conversation they're already having with themselves, so I can push the buttons I need to push to make the sale.

It can be used to find new topics to create blog posts around that aren't necessarily showing up in keyword tools. If you notice common threads or problems they're having in the comments they leave, tailor content toward solving those problems -- which circles back around to writing good copy.