4 Criteria for Choosing Successful Content Marketing Topics

Feb 27th 2017

4 Criteria for Choosing Successful Content Marketing Topics

This article is repurposed from our new book, “The Content Marketer’s Guide to Ideation.” This massive 187-page guide is available free as a PDF (get it here), and is also available in Kindle and paperback.


There’s no magic to choosing the right topics—just a few criteria and some additional research. All of the data points you uncovered when researching segments and personas are relevant to your audience. But information that’s relevant to your audience doesn’t necessarily make for good content topics. Further, some seemingly-relevant ideas just aren’t a good fit for your brand.


How do you determine which topics are the right fit for your brand? Along with relevancy to your customer, Iterate’s criteria for good topics are:


  • Does it have demand?
  • Do we have the credibility to talk about it?
  • Is it relevant to our objectives?
  • Is it Evergreen?


Does it have demand?


You need to make sure that new topics have significant interest or else you’ll find yourself pursuing a dead end. It doesn’t matter how deep these topics go. If it seems like a niche topic with limited versatility, that’s perfectly okay – it may make for a good “sub-topic” down the road.


Does It Have Demand?

You need to validate that the topics you arrived at have the ability to warrant some attention. There are two main tactical methods of validating the demand of a topic on the web:


Search Engines: The most common method is researching the quantitative search volume for a word (i.e. keyword). But demand can’t always be reduced to keyword volume, as quantitative analysis can’t uncover how deep the need is, only how widely it has been expressed. Further, some problems aren’t expressed in common phrasing.


Social Web: The social web reveals richness and the depth of need among forum users and social media sharers, but the data points are fragmented, and discovering how wide the need is can be difficult. You can find expressed needs on sites like Quora, Reddit, and Twitter, but how many people have those needs?


Use a few of the following tools and your own judgment to determine demand for a particular topic.


On search engines:


  • Google Trends. This will give you a sense of the growth or decline of a topic. If you find that a term is declining, research why that is. Often, there’s another term that is replacing the one you searched.
  • Google Keyword Planner. Go back to the trusty old Keyword Planner to get a ballpark sense of the total volume of searches for your chosen phrase.


On social media:


  • BuzzSumo or Ahrefs Content Explorer. If you see thousands of shares in BuzzSumo or a similar tool, you know that you’ve found a topic that’s interesting to people.



  • BoardReader. If you haven’t validated a topic through search engine data and social media data, then your last stand will be on forums and communities. I love BoardReader as a tool that pulls Reddit and other forum data. If you see a lot of conversation happening on forums, you have a topic with sufficient demand.


An analysis using both search engines and social engines will help you with a subjective measure of the demand of a topic. Use the checklist below to help you decide whether the idea has the type of demand that will make for compelling content:


✓ Is emotionally charged (engaging and compelling)

✓ Is universal (allowing for wider scope and targeting)

✓ Can be analyzed deeply


This article is repurposed from our new book, “The Content Marketer’s Guide to Ideation.” This massive 187-page guide is available free as a PDF (get it here), and is also available in Kindle and paperback.


Do We Have The Credibility?

If you produce content that you’re not equipped to speak on, you risk ruining the credibility of your business. If you’re speaking out out of turn, why should I believe the claims you make about your product/service?


Who’s authoring your content? Have they written about similar topics at a high level? If the topic requires technical know-how, does someone have the technical expertise to write on this topic? Two credibility criteria are:


  • Sources of Expertise. Can you (or someone in your organization) create confidently and cite original sources, or is the information based off of feelings, hunches, or opinions you’ve read elsewhere?
  • Data. Is the data on the topic simply outdated? If you must cite data and there isn’t any recent data, you might compromise your credibility by citing outdated material as if it were new.


There are a lot of great topics that people want answers to, where good answers simply don’t exist. Don’t overreach and threaten your brand’s credibility.


Is It Relevant to Our Objectives?

What is your north star? Unlike in journalism, content marketing is ultimately about producing an action from a customer or potential customer. Do your new topic ideas connect with your overall marketing objectives? Do they move a reader closer to an action that benefits your business?


Many brands map their objectives to broad areas like brand awareness, lead generation, lead nurturing, or brand advocacy/loyalty. Within those areas, you might have specific content goals around  product-awareness, thought leadership, sales enablement, and more.


Decide how newly discovered content topics fit into your overarching objectives, not the other way around. It sounds obvious, but in the pursuit of great content topics and ideas, it’s easy to fall prey to ideas that offer viral social distribution or search engine distribution, while those don’t match the goals of your content strategy.


Is It Evergreen?

If all of your content is Evergreen, then each successive effort builds upon the last. I don’t have to convince you of the value of Evergreen content, and while I’m in favor in some cases for covering topics that are not Evergreen, I strongly encourage you to invest effort only in topics that will stand the test of time.


Topics that don’t last are usually around dates, events, seasons, and trends. Topics that tend to have lasting value involve how-to’s & tutorials, tips & tricks, FAQs and lists.


Before you go creating content ideas off of a topic, ask yourself: will this topic be relevant two years from now? If not, don’t pursue the topic.


Bonus: Who Cares?

It’s easy to get carried away with new topics you’ve discovered then validated through research. The final gut check is asking yourself “who cares?” Sometimes, you’ll find:


  • the demand you found was for a different meaning of the word or phrase.
  • the people who care aren’t your ideal readers.
  • you don’t care enough about the topic to put an appropriate amount of effort into it.


You do need ensure that the topic fits your brand. Does it sound like something your company would talk about? Does it sound like something your C-suite would love to see associated with the brand? Those are the criteria we want to use to find new topics.


This article is repurposed from our new book, “The Content Marketer’s Guide to Ideation.” This massive 187-page guide is available free as a PDF (get it here), and is also available in Kindle and paperback.

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