Even if you aren’t familiar with the books or films, I’d be willing to bet you know who James Bond is.
Secret agent extraordinaire. Likes his martinis shaken, not stirred. Epic collection of spy gadgets. Always gets the girl.
Who among us hasn’t admired the suave ways of 007?
Well, if you often find yourself stuck coming up with new topics for blog posts, it might be time to tap into your inner Bond and conduct a little covert spy mission of your own.
The Content Dilemma
Generating new ideas for content is often a challenge, even for the most seasoned bloggers among us. If you’re stuck coming up with topics, popular blogs in your niche could be a great place to generate ideas.
Through a bit of clever (and totally legal) spy work, you can determine which topic ideas generated the most interest for those blogs. You can then put these tested topics to work on your own blog, generating new posts that provide your unique insight into popular ideas.
To be clear, this isn’t about stealing or plagiarizing. It’s just old fashioned intelligence gathering to help get your own blogging juices flowing. And you don’t need a cool code name or crazy gadgets from Q to get started. Just your computer, something to take notes on, and your web browser. But you can always pretend that your watch is a communication device for receiving important MI6 messages. I won’t tell 😉
Spy Mission Step #1: Identify Key Targets
James Bond needs to know his targets before he can begin his work. The same goes for you. Chances are, you subscribe to several popular blogs in your niche. But if you don’t, or if you only know of one or two blogs, the first step in your spying mission will be to develop a list of about 10 popular blogs in your niche.
Alltop.com is a great resource for finding popular blogs. Let’s say you have a blog about blogging. In order to find some of the most popular blogs about blogging, you’d simply type “blogging” into the search bar:
And you’ll get a list of popular blogs, like this:
For the purposes of speed, jot down the URLS of the first 10 on the list (You’ll need to click the name of the blog to get the URL). You can always go back and look any time you’d like and choose different blogs to spy on. The whole purpose of the exercise is to brainstorm, so don’t get too caught up in browsing.
Spy Mission Step #2: Intercept Critical Data
Now that you have a list of 10 popular blogs in your niche, it’s time to intercept some data.
Topsy is a great tool to discover the most popular posts on a blog, based on social sharing. And it’s super easy to use.
Just go to Topsy.com:
In the search bar, enter the URL of one of the blogs you’ve chosen to investigate. You want to search by using “Site:” and then the website’s URL – with no space in between (e.g. site:becomeablogger.com). Be sure to select “Tweets” to see which posts have been tweeted the most. If you forget on the home page, you can adjust on the results page.
Notice you can search for a variety of time periods. For this example, I selected one month to give us a broad picture without getting overwhelmed. As you can see, in the last month, posts about reviving old list posts, managing overwhelm, YouTube, Instagram, and vlogging were some of the most-shared posts from Become a Blogger. If you had a blog about blogging, you could take this information and choose some of those topics to cover for yourself.
Zero in on one or two headlines that interest you, and move to the next step of your mission.
Spy Mission Step #3 Listen in on the Conversation
[unordered_list style=”tick”]You’ve identified popular blogs in your niche. You’ve discovered their most-shared posts. You’ve got a few topic ideas flowing. But there is still more information for you to uncover.
From Topsy, you can click on individual blog posts titles to visit the blog itself. When you find a few headlines that seem interesting to you, go ahead and click through to the posts. Read them carefully and take some notes. Here’s what you’re looking for:
- Does the author take a position that you disagree with?
- Does the author approach a specific issue that you find interesting, but doesn’t dive deep?
- Does the post leave you asking questions?
- Do you have unique skills/experience/insight into the topic that the post doesn’t cover?
When you’re done reading the post and taking notes, it’s time to start perusing the comments. Did people pose direct questions in their comments? Are there recurring themes in the comments? Did someone ask a question that you could answer? Jot all of this down.
Now it’s time to repeat. Hit the back button on your browser to investigate another website and run through this process again. You don’t have to run through all 10 in one sitting. After just two or three sites, you may find that you have pages of notes to work with. Go ahead and stop there. You can always come back and spy on the rest in the future.
Spy Mission Step #4 Analyze the Data and Complete Your Mission
Once you’ve got a good collection of notes, it’s time to analyze what you have. Are there recurring themes that showed up across several posts? Do you find that you firmly disagree with popular positions in your nice? What areas can you contribute to the most with your own blog?
Chances are, you’ve got some new and exciting ideas you can begin to tackle for yourself. You know people are interested in these topics because you found them on popular blogs and they were tracked in Topsy. Since these subjects have a good track record, you know you’ll have a great chance of connecting with your audience when you take them on for yourself.
If you spend a few hours every so often doing this little spying exercise, it can help you reduce your writers block and develop a long list of useful content ideas that people want to read about. It will also help you stay connected to your ideal audience and keep you on top of new and important trends in your niche.
Remember to Follow The Rules
James Bond was a secret agent, not a thief. He had rules set upon him from MI6. As secret agent bloggers, it’s important we all obey certain rules of decorum in the blogosphere. You want to use these tips only to generate original ideas for original content.
These steps are designed to help dust out the cobwebs that keep you from spontaneously generating post subjects. You don’t ever want to steal another blogger’s ideas and make them your own, and you certainly don’t ever copy someone else’s headlines or posts.
Add to the greater conversations in your niche by developing unique twists on popular topics.
And remember, even when Bond is faced with certain death, he never loses his cool, and he always has time to crack a joke. So when you’re faced with frustrating mental blocks when you’re planning topics for new content, try to have a little fun.
Good luck. And when you’re done, take some time to enjoy a martini (or just a glass of water). Shaken, not stirred.
Will you accept this mission the next time your idea well has run dry? Have you ever done covert ops to generate topics for your blog? How do you channel your inner 007? Please leave a comment below.