Updated: Jul 13, 2022
It's time to work on your content calendar for the next quarter—which means you're on the hook for generating dozens of ideas for your brand's blog posts, white papers, case studies, guides, and even social media posts. (Did I say dozens? We may be talking about 100 or more at this point!)
And of course, that content needs to be good. It has to attract, engage, inspire, motivate, and sell. No pressure.
Luckily, there is a way to make all this, if not easy, then less difficult. It's to build your content ideas around themes.
How do themes help me create better content topics?
Developing monthly themes for your content will help you generate ideas that are all the good things: relevant, compelling, useful, cost-effective...and better than what your competition is publishing. Here's why:
Themes serve as guardrails around your creativity. They make it easier to develop ideas because they give you something to aim for, and keep you from getting too far off track.
Themes keep you from becoming overwhelmed with all the possibilities. Imagine trying to come up with "a month's worth of content ideas."Now imagine coming up with "a month's worth of content ideas about how HVAC companies can build a premium brand."
Your completed content will be easier to cross-link, repurpose, and promote. That's because all the assets will be relevant to one another.
It will be easier for you to see what performs well and what doesn't. For example, if your traffic spikes in January when you're doing a theme around X, and then nosedives in February when you do a theme around Y, it's simple to surmise that your audience finds X very interesting and Y very uninteresting.
Your visibility may improve. Content hubs consist of a "pillar page" (a high-level guide) and a handful of sub-level content pages relevant to the hub topic, all of which link to one another. This increases reader engagement [external link] because they will want to see all of the content on their topic of interest, which in turn sends positive engagement signals to Google. This (hopefully) boosts your search engine rankings. While you're not necessarily creating a hub with your themes—thought of course you can!—I'd expect that having themed content pages that link back and forth to one another can have the same effect.
Having a theme for each month will help you reach your goals, rather than just producing content for content's sake. You'll be developing your themes around things that matter for your brand—such as your customer personas, product launches, leadership viewpoints, or company news.
But don't stress, thinking that all your content needs to be "theme or bust." There are several reasons you may want to create content that doesn't fit neatly into your themes.
The topic is very timely, and if you waited until you could fit it into a monthly theme it would go stale.
The idea is so killer that you simply have to use it now.
You have a lot of content that can be reoptimized and republished, and you want to use some of it up.
You have some holes in your content calendar; there just aren't enough related topics to fully fill out an entire month's worth of content.
The trick is to scatter your non-themed content sparingly throughout your planned content so you don't dilute the theme. A rough estimate that I just made up on the spot is one-quarter non-themed content to three-quarters themed. So in one month, you might have six blog posts, two downloads, and 60 tweets (or other social posts) centered around "hacks for the inexperienced home cook" and two posts and 20 tweets using repurposed or newsy topics that don't fit that theme. Some of those tweets might promote some of the downloads and other content from the previous quarter.
When I was Inbound Content Manager for a SaaS company, I created a spreadsheet of every single social media post. When it was time to build a calendar, I would plan posts to support the following quarter's theme. Then I'd go back through the spreadsheet and also choose posts that were still relevant to scatter throughout my calendar for the quarter. They didn't fit into the month's theme, true—but why let good content lie unused? After all, people have short attention spans. Not to mention, social media feeds fly by so fast that a lot of your audience didn't even see your posts the first time around.
In short, themes = good. Sticking to your theme come hell or high water = not necessary.
Convinced? Let's get started.
WATCH NOW: Why the Best Freelance Writers Don't Want to Work with Your Brand
How do I develop content themes?
Based on your knowledge of your company's competitors, customers, upcoming products, and needs, use the prompts below to develop a theme for each of the next three months.*
Could you create a theme around...
An upcoming holiday?
A product your company is releasing over the next three months?
An industry topic your company can claim to be a thought-leader in?
A major customer pain point your competitors haven’t addressed?
One of your customer personas?
Different levels of your lead funnel? (Awareness, interest, etc.)
New industry trends?
A particular format/download type? (For example, a month of content that includes quizzes, templates, cheat sheets, scripts, worksheets, etc.)
One of your favorite/most representative clients? (You don’t have to mention the client...just create content around their challenges, wins, questions, etc.)
One of your least favorite or least happy clients? (Same as the above. What makes them not a fit? Why could you not satisfy them?)
Different aspects of your product or service? (If you’re a software company, for example, this could be a month of content round each of the top features.)
A challenge or opportunity for your audience?
These are only a few of the possible ideas you can base a content theme around; the prompts are meant to get you unstuck and to get the idea wheels turning.
*If you don't have a strong knowledge of your customer personas, competitors, etc.—maybe you're new or have never had a reason to know in the past—ask internally and do some research online.
What if the content themes I choose don't work out?
The idea of committing to a monthly theme may make you feel like I just asked you to marry a stranger. What if it ends up not working out?
Remember that, unlike spouses, you can always adjust a theme if necessary depending on what comes up as you start to brainstorm ideas, or as you start to implement your plan. Always have the mindset that anything is changeable; as for right now, the themes will help you cut through the overwhelm as you're building out your content calendar.
Themes exist to make your job easier. Done right—and adjusted to the resources you have available—they'll help you generate more relevant ideas, simplify analytics and reporting, increase reader engagement, and ensure your content has a good chance at succeeding.