In Four Steps: Test and Refine Content Ideas in Advance

If you are planning an elaborate content, you naturally want to know beforehand how good your idea actually is. And whether it's worth the effort. In this article, I'll show you how to do that. The good thing about it is that you refine your content ideas at the same time and gain the first potential readers or viewers.

Maybe you've already experienced it yourself: You create what you consider to be enormously good content, you invest a lot of time and effort, you publish it and then ... nothing. Complete silence. Maybe once a visitor gets lost on it. But there is no trace of the hoped-for masses, the intended reach, the success you thought was certain. 

Or your content seems successful at first glance because your video has a lot of views or your blog post has a lot of hits. But in the end you realise that it still didn't pay off for you. Because in order to measure the success of your content, other key performance indicators are usually more important: after all, you are more concerned with metrics such as your turnover or the satisfaction of your customers.

The reasons for the failure can be manifold. Maybe your content strategy is not right. In that case, you need to fundamentally rethink who you want to reach - and how and with what. Or you have completely forgotten to plan your content distribution from the outset, so that your content does not reach the potential target group in the first place.

Basics on the topic of content marketing

This article is part of a complete series about content creation. In it, Jan Tissler explains step by step how to make your websites and your content much more successful. See all posts from Jan in the overview.

Step 1: Basic questions

Especially with elaborate content, it therefore makes sense to check the idea at the planning stage. With the following tips, you can at least better estimate the possible success. Of course, no one can give you a guarantee of success.

Through this preliminary research, you will also find out which questions, which perspectives and which content formats are most suitable. You optimise your content idea before you have even started the actual work. It is important that you approach your analysis objectively and soberly. Maybe you find a topic particularly interesting and it excites you. But ultimately, of course, the decisive factor is how relevant it is for the intended target group. 

Some questions you should ask yourself at the beginning before you start thinking about it:

  • Does this content idea help any of your business goals? And if so, is it an effective means 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 to gather such information. This could also show that you should perhaps improve and expand existing content. A look at your statistics tool is of course helpful here. SEO tools can also show you which content just needs a little push to get it out of the desert of search results page 2 and into the oasis on site 1.
  • Will your planned content quickly become obsolete? If yes: Is there a way to make it an "evergreen" that remains interesting in the long term or only needs to be updated occasionally? If no: 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 your time commitment. Ask yourself who can create any necessary elements, such as an infographic. Or who can translate the article if necessary.

The answers to these questions may show you that a topic is not worthwhile. Or they may at least give you some clues as to how you could approach it better.

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

Step 2: Keyword research

In the next step, you want to refine your content idea. The first thing to do is a comprehensive keyword research. This will help you find out two things:

  1. How much in demand is my topic?
  2. What exactly are people searching for on Google and others?

Point 1 gives you an estimate of how many users you could reach with your content. Point 2 gives you an indication of where you should develop your idea further. Because in order to land at the top of search engines, YouTube, etc. for a keyword, it doesn't help you much if your content revolves around an obscure topic or only around niche specialist words. An exception can be made here if this rare search actually fits 1:1 to your very specialised product or offer.

Also consider the important point of "search intention": What goal are users likely to be pursuing? Do they primarily want to inform themselves because they are still at the beginning of their search? Or do they already want to buy something? Of course, this will have a significant influence on your planned content.

Instructions for search engine optimization (SEO)

Dominik Stein hasalready explained in detail how such keyword research works here at wp unboxed . See also his guide to the SEO audit.

Step 3: Competitor analysis

With your knowledge from the first two steps, it is now time to take a look at the competition in your topic area. Because usually you won't be the first to write or talk about something today.

Depending on the content format you are interested in, you can look at Google, YouTube or Amazon Kindle, for example, to see what is already available there. A tool like Buzzsumo helps you to assess the reach of an article or blog post (the search for German-language content is only available with a paid account).

When doing your research, also pay attention to how popular these topics are. If you see a lot of ads in the search results on Google, for example, it seems to be worthwhile. If, on the other hand, you don't see any at all, you have either made an incredible discovery or your topic is not as targeted as you thought.

Adapt content idea specifically

In any case, you should not be discouraged if you find many search hits and the content already seems very successful. On the contrary, this can show you that you are on the right track. It means that you might have to invest in your planned content for a long time and that your success will not come overnight.

For example, you can look at the best search results on Google and ask yourself how much more comprehensive, helpful or multimedia your planned content could be. Keep in mind that you will most likely have to offer much more than your competitors. Among experts, this is explained with terms like skyscraper content or 10x content: You have to stand out with your content like a skyscraper.

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

Blog Categories
The categories in our magazine address different target groups

However, you may come to the conclusion that the topic of your content idea is already so well covered that there is nothing more you can add to it with your resources. Even in this case, there are several ways to adapt your content idea:

  • Consider addressing a single issue from this area or a sub-topic instead. The aim is to make your content more specialised.
  • Look at the reactions and questions you see in comments under a blog post or video. Do you find more ideas there about what you could do differently or better?
  • Check if you can add a different perspective that does not exist in the other content. Example: Your topic is often covered by marketers, but you are a web developer and therefore have a completely different background.
  • Or you decide to change the medium and format: Instead of a blog post, for example, you switch to a video.

So if there is already a lot of competition, your basic question should always be: can I add something to the already existing offerings that is either much better or different enough?

Step 4: Further approaches to improve your idea

At this point, you may need more ideas for your content. Either because you want to take your idea in a new direction. 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 target group is talking about the topic. Ideally, this will give you more ideas and a good insight into which questions are actually the most pressing. You may even find new keywords and search phrases that you can use to go back to step 2.

Ask your customers, fans and followers

Another good option 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 you can make it easy for them and ask them if they are interested in content idea XYZ - with a click on "Yes" they can then sign up for a suitable distribution list.

You can also ask them directly which problems you should address and explain there. This will also give you further insights into how your target group actually thinks and what concerns them. This helps you to answer the questions of your intended readership as precisely as possible.

Let the Lean Startup method inspire you

Or you can be inspired by the idea of the "Minimum Viable Product" from the Lean Startup approach. Dropbox, for example, created a landing page with a video showing the planned functionality before launching its service. A product did not exist at that time. However, the start-up was able to test whether it was on the right track based on the reactions.

For example, if you have a comprehensive white paper planned, create a landing page for it where you explain your idea and the possible content. Give users the chance to leave an email at the end. In this way, you not only validate your idea, but also collect readers before you have even started writing.

Another bonus: You can ask these prospects what information they would like to see in the white paper. You get more data to improve your idea. It can even make sense to advertise this landing page on a trial basis, for example with ads on Facebook or Google. Using an A/B test, you can also test whether some formulations work better than others.


Among content experts, it is true that good planning is more important today than ever before. The range of content is simply overwhelming. You won't win any more pots of flowers (aka customers) with random texts, graphics or videos. By the way, it's not necessarily about writing the longest article of all. For your target group, a series of shorter articles postsmight be the right thing to do. Or a video series or a PDF download or an Instagram story...

Ultimately, you cannot avoid experimenting with your content ideas and formats. Simply copying the approach of others is usually not a good idea. After all, you never know exactly how well a competitor's approach will work for you. In fact, you often don't even know whether your competitor was really successful, because the key figures that really matter, such as the turnover achieved, are usually not public.

Experimentation can also mean that you plan several formats for the same topic from the outset. If you have written an in-depth article for your corporate blog, you can also turn it into a video for YouTube or a free webinar (and publish your slides on Slideshare afterwards). This way, you've not only recycled your work more than once. You've also made it more likely that your content will be discovered.

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

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