Updated: Jul 13, 2022
You have a content topic you'd love to add to your content calendar, or pitch to a publication, but it's not quite right. Maybe it's too narrow. Or not relevant to enough of your target market. Or too big for the space you have.
Don’t ditch that idea!
I liked to tell the students of my content writing and pitching classes that those first ideas you come up with while brainstorming are seeds of ideas. They’re not ready to harvest yet, but that doesn’t mean you throw them away.
Instead, try these methods to fix the most common idea issues.
Your Content Topic Is Too…OLD
Your idea is fun, enlightening, sharable—but there’s really no good reason it needs to be published right now.
Attach your idea to something that’s going on in the news. Maybe a celebrity just announced that she has some rare disease you wanted to cover. Or you want to write on a marketing topic, and a big business went viral in a bad way due to a major marketing fail. Some quick research will help you uncover any connections to current events.
Your Content Topic Is Too…NARROW
Long blog posts are more effective for your brand—or you’re pitching a magazine that publishes 2,500-word articles—and you could cover this idea in like 250 words, tops.
Consider finding three or more similar things and writing them up as a roundup. For example, instead of writing about one new tool for writers, find four new tools. Rather than a post on an interesting teaching technique for your homeschooling blog, share five of them.
This tactic also keeps your topic from looking like a promotion for the one subject your idea was originally based on.
Your Content Topic Is Too…BROAD
Your idea could be an 80,000-word book. Unfortunately, you only have space for 1,200 words.
Take one thin slice of the idea and blow it up. To do this, ask yourself, "What about topic X?"
Say you want to create a thought-leadership piece about job hunting for seniors for your job search website. That's pretty nebulous. What about job hunting for seniors? How to spin positions you had in the 1970s to make them seem more relevant for today's openings? Top 10 best jobs for seniors? How to volunteer your way into a paid job?
You can get even more specific if you keep applying the question. What about how to volunteer your way into a paid job? Maybe senior-friendly volunteer opportunities that are the most likely to lead to paid work?
WATCH NOW: What It's Really Like to Write for Newsstand Magazines
Your Content Topic Is Too…IRRELEVANT
You want to write about your favorite young fashion designer—but only 2% of your audience wants to read about them.
The roundup is your friend again. If most of your audience is interested in more established fashion designers, round up four well-known designers who are doing something interesting and add your favorite young designer into the mix. This way, you cater to that 2% of your audience who are interested in hot new designers without alienating the 98% of your audience who only want to read about the big dogs.
We always hear about the power of niche content topics—but niche topics are for niche brands/audiences. If yours is more general, you’ll need to match how much you cover a content topic with the percentage of your audience that would be interested in it. An article on a rare form of arthritis would be of interest to a good percentage of readers of an outlet that caters to people with autoimmune diseases—but it would be of interest only to a tiny fraction of the readers of a general health blog.
Your Content Topic Is Too…COMMON
You think you have a fantastic idea—until you do some research and discover that it’s already been done. A lot.
Consider: What's the opposite of your idea? Readers love counterintuitive ideas that surprise them and make them think.
Let’s say you’re a financial services brand with an idea on how to save money on groceries—which is, sorry to say, snooze city. Turn that into an idea on when it makes sense to spend more on groceries. (I did this for Fitness magazine, in an article called "Splurge or Save.")
As another example, if your idea is on how to market your small business, turn that into a white paper on how to attract customers without marketing.
From now on, whenever a brainstorming session produces ideas that just seem wrong—and they all do, at least sometimes!—don't give up in despair. Remember, these are all seeds of ideas, and you can nurture them using these tips until they grow into perfect content topics.