In 4 Steps: Test and Refine Content Ideas in Advance

Jan Tissler Last updated on 20.10.2020
7 Min.
Content ideas
Last updated on 20.10.2020

If you’re planning some elaborate content, you naturally want to know beforehand how good your idea actually is and whether it’s worth the effort. I'll show you how to find out in this article. What's in it for you? You get to refine your content ideas and gain the first potential readers or viewers at the same time.

Does this situation sound familiar? You invest a lot of time and effort in what you consider to be extremely good content, you publish it, and then ... nothing. Complete silence. Perhaps one day a lost visitor on your site might happen upon it. But there’s no trace of the droves of visitors you’d hoped for, none of the desired range nor the promised success. 

Maybe your content even seemed like a success at the beginning, e.g. your video or blog post got a lot of views. But, in the end, you realize it still didn't pay off for you. Because to measure the success of your content, other key performance indicators are usually important. After all, you're more interested in turnover or customer satisfaction.

The reasons for failure can be many and varied. Perhaps your content strategy is wrong. Then you need to have a thorough rethink about who it is you want to reach - and how this can be achieved. Or, you've completely forgotten to schedule content distribution from the outset, meaning your content doesn't reach the potential target group in the first place.

Content Marketing Basics

This article is part of a complete series on content design. Expert Jan explains step by step how to make your websites and content more successful. Check out all of Jan's posts here.

Step 1: Basic questions

You can see why it makes sense to check the idea during the planning stage, especially for elaborate content. If you use the following tips you can, at the very least, better gauge your chances of success. Of course, no one can ever guarantee success.

By carrying out research in advance you'll also find out which questions, which points of view, and which content formats are most suitable. Meaning you optimize your content idea even before you've even started with the actual work. It's important to approach your analysis objectively and with a clear mind. You might find a topic particularly interesting and be fascinated by it. The decisive factor in the end, however, is how relevant the topic is for the target group you want to reach. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you get further in to the planning:

  • Does this content idea help one of your business goals? If so, is this an effective way to achieve it? How important is this goal?
  • Does existing content give you an indication of whether the idea could be successful? Think about a content audit, for example, to collect such information. This may also show that you'd be better off improving and expanding existing content instead. A quick look in your statistics tool can be very helpful here. SEO Tools can also show you which content would only need a little polishing to bring it from the lonely wilderness of page two to the oasis of page one search results.
  • Is your content likely to become obsolete quickly? If so, is there a way to turn it into an "evergreen" that remains interesting in the long run or only needs to be updated occasionally? If this isn't the case, is it still worth the effort?
  • Do you have the resources to implement the content idea and keep it up to date if necessary? This doesn't just include the time you spend on it. Ask yourself who'll create any necessary elements, e.g. infographics, or who can translate the content if necessary?

The answers to these questions may then show you that a topic isn't worthwhile. At the very least, the answers will give you hints on how to better approach the topic.

SEO Audit Tools
SEO tools show the honest state of your website

Step 2: Keyword research

In the next step, you'll want to refine your content idea further. First of all, comprehensive keyword research is essential. This will help you determine two things:

  1. How popular is my topic?
  2. What exactly are users looking for on Google and the like?

Point one gives you an estimate of how many users you could reach with your content. Point two gives you an indication of what direction you should be heading in with your idea. To get ahead in search engines, YouTube, etc. for a keyword, it doesn't help much if your content is on an obscure topic or if it only contains niche technical terms. An exception can be made here if this rare search actually fits 1:1 to your very specialized product or service.

Consider the important point of "search intention" during your keyword research. What is the likely goal of the users? Do they mainly want to gather information because they're still at the beginning of their research? Are they looking to buy something already? Naturally, this should have considerable influence on your planned content.

Instructions for search engine optimization (SEO)

Dominik has given the readers of wp unboxed his expert tips before in a detailed article. Also check out his SEO audit instructions.

Step 3: Competition analysis

With your insights from the first two steps, it's now time to take a look at the competition in your subject area. After all, you're unlikely to be the first person to write or talk about a topic nowadays.

Depending on the content format you're after, you can look on Google, YouTube, or Amazon Kindle, etc. to see what's already out there. A tool like Buzzsumo helps you estimate the potential reach of an article or blog post.

Pay attention to how popular these topics are when doing your research. If you see a lot of ads in the search results on Google, for example, the topic would appear worthwhile. If you don't see any ads at all, you've either made an incredible discovery or your topic isn't as relevant as you thought.

Customize your content idea

Don't be discouraged if you come across many hits and the content already seems to be very successful. On the contrary, this may indicate you're on the right track with your idea. Above all, it means that you may have to invest in your planned content for the long term and your success won't come overnight.

For example, you can look at the best hits on Google and ask yourself how much more extensive, helpful, or multimedia rich your planned content could be. Keep in mind that you'll probably have to offer much more than your competitors. Among experts, this is known as Skyscraper Content , 10x content and means: your content needs to stand out from the competition like a skyscraper.

At the same time, make sure existing content is actually implemented in such a way that it appeals to the target group you're aiming for. The same topic can be treated very differently and, in turn, will reach different people.

Blog Categories
The categories in our magazine address different target groups

You might decide your content topic idea is already so well covered that you can't add anything to it with your resources. Even in cases like this, there are still several ways to customize your content idea:

  • Think about whether you could deal with a single question from this area or a sub-theme instead? The goal is to make your content more specialized.
  • Check out the reactions and questions you see in comments under a blog post or under videos. Are there alternative approaches there that you could do differently or improve on?
  • Check if you can add a different viewpoint that isn't available in the other content. For example, your topic is covered by marketers but you're a web developer and therefore have a completely different background.
  • What about changing the medium and format? For example, instead of a blog post, you could create a video.

In summary: if there's already a lot of competition, you need to ask yourself whether you can add to what already exists or approach the topic in a different enough way?

Step 4: Further approaches to improve your idea

At this point, you may need further inspiration for your content. Either because you want to strike a new path with your idea or because you want to expand your idea to provide the best content for the question.

Forums and groups

For example, look for forums, Facebook groups, subreddits, and other places where your audience can talk about the topic. Ideally, this will give you more ideas and a good insight into which questions are really the most pressing. You might even find new keywords and search phrases that will take you back to step two.

Ask your customers, fans and followers

Another good idea is to ask your existing customers, newsletter readers, website users, and social media followers. This can be in the form of a short survey on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Or, make it even easier for them and ask if they're interested in content idea XYZ. By clicking "yes" they can then subscribe to a distribution list.

You can also ask directly which complex issues you should cover and investigate. This will also give you further insight into how your target group actually thinks and what issues they're interested in. All of this will help you answer your intended readership's questions as precisely as possible.

Get inspired by the lean startup method

You can let the idea of a "Minimum Viable Product" from the lean startup approach inspire you. Before starting its service, for example, Dropbox created a landing page with a video showing the planned functionality. The product didn't yet exist. However, the startup could test whether it was on the right track based on the reactions.

If you've planned an extensive white paper, for example, create a landing page for it explaining your idea and the possible content. Give users the chance to leave their email address at the end. This way, you not only validate your idea but also collect readers before you even start writing.

Another bonus is you can ask these interested parties what information they'd like to see in the white paper. You'll then receive further data to improve your idea. It may even be useful to promote this landing page on a trial basis, for example with Ads on Facebook or Google. With a A/B test you can also check if some wordings work better than others.


Among content experts, good planning is more important today than ever before. The amount of content on offer is simply overwhelming. You're no longer going to win customers with just any old texts, graphics, or videos you've thrown together. On that note, it's not about writing the longest article you possibly can. Especially for your target group, a series of shorter articles might be the right thing. Or a video series or a PDF download or an Instagram Story...

Ultimately, you'll have to experiment with your content ideas and formats. It's usually not enough to simply copy the approach of others. After all, you never know how suitable someone else's approach is going to be for you. In fact, you often don't even know whether your competitor has really been successful either as they're unlikely to publish their key metrics, e.g. their turnover.

Experimenting here can also mean you plan several formats for one and the same topic from the outset. If you have a detailed article for your Corporate blog you can also make a video for YouTube or a free webinar (and publish your slides on Slideshare afterwards). That way, you'll not only have multiple uses for your work, you're also increasing the chances your content will be discovered.

Find content ideas: What questions do you have for Jan?

Feel free to use the comment function. Do you want to hear about new articles on online marketing for agencies and freelancers? Follow us on Twitteror Facebook , or subscribe to our newsletter.

Jan is an online journalist and digital publishing specialist with over 20 years of professional experience. Companies book him as an author, consultant or editor-in-chief. He is also the founder and one of the editors of UPLOAD magazine. Photographer Author's picture: Patrick Lux.

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