6 Habits That Will Help You Create More Original Content
The idea of creating original content is an extremely elusive concept for some people. In marketing and advertising, we are told there is “no such thing as a new idea,” and we know that ideas have been recycled for years. You may have a new take on something, but it’s probably rooted in a past concept or execution. You need to prime your brain for originality. It’s easy to be intimidated by original content if you think you have to write about something that no one has ever heard of before. So let’s set the record straight on what original website content means and how you can create more of it.
Habit 1: If You Want to Think of Original Content, Walk Away From the Computer.
Stop ripping stories directly from the top three search results. Have you ever asked someone a question about something you’ve been pondering, only to have them turn to Google for the answer? I find myself thinking, “Yeah I could have done that, but I wanted to hear your opinion.” There may be times you will be happy with a response from Google. Other times, you need an answer based on experience, education, real-life testing and personal preference. In the most simplistic form, you are looking for original thought.
A) Original - Someone formed it out of their knowledge and experience.
B) Repurposed - Someone found it on Google, Bing or Yahoo and read it to you.
If you’re sitting at your computer, walk away from it. Break the cycle of immediately turning to a search engine to research your topic.
Why is Original Content Important?
As digital marketers, you should care about the website content you’re publishing. If we deliver bad web content, users will ignore it and probably discard it. Think about the rapid decline of display ads. We pushed millions of dollars into bombarding users with pop-ups that wasted their time as they waited for sites to load. It was nearly impossible to scroll through a mobile site without accidentally clicking on a few ads and causing a frenzy of new sites to load. Naturally, users responded by installing ad blockers on their desktops. Companies like Apple started blocking ads on their mobile devices. Facebook is making the move to keep content within its app through “instant articles” to control the user experience. Let’s learn from this and avoid the same fate for content marketing. For the sake of digital marketers everywhere, stop regurgitating the same content at hyper speed.
Habit 2: Give Your Brain a Break and it Will Reward You.
Let your mind wander. Don’t scold yourself for getting sidetracked for a few minutes or starting to doodle. In fact, David Rock, founder of the Neuroleadership Institute, talks a lot about how the best insights, new ideas, or “ah-ha” moments come to people when they give their brain a rest. In his book, Your Brain at Work, Rock explains that you’re more likely to arrive at a solution if you stop focusing on it and allow the subconscious regions of your brain to work through it. This is why entrepreneurs keep notebooks by their bedside to capture ideas as they first wake up. It is also why I guarantee you’ve had a few good ideas pop into your head while taking a shower in the morning or grabbing food over your lunch hour.
Habit 3: Capture Your Most Random Ideas, Especially When You’re Not at Work.
Original content ideas come as unexpectedly as they leave you. If you have a clever idea, write it down immediately, dictate it to your phone, email it to yourself, whatever you have to do. If you don’t have a need for them right away, save them for later. For one, it will help you get into the habit of recognizing these “ah-ha” moments. Secondly, you may be able to share them with co-workers if they don’t work with your current projects. Our content manager, Joe Lawler, passed this tip along recently, and it has completely changed the way some of us think of new content ideas. It seems silly, but try it.
Habit 4: Give Your Content Ideas a Few Days to Simmer or, at Least, Sleep on it.
If your brain operates better during a break, as you’re falling asleep or first thing in the morning, give it a chance to give you an idea. If you’re aware of an approaching deadline, start taking 10 to 15 minutes to think about the idea at least two days before it’s due. You’d be amazed at how other things in your life can inspire your work if you give it a chance.
What is Original Content and Why is it So Hard?
In digital marketing, you live and breathe search. With access to so much information, it is fair to say that we’ve slowly evolved into a culture where we verify information. If you and a friend disagree, one of you will wait 5 or 10 seconds before pulling out a cellphone to determine who is right. Why? Because anymore, our friendly disagreements are settled by a search. Google Instant (image to the right) demonstrates how people turn to search engines for the answers to life’s toughest questions. Search engines have improved our lives, but consider this: we are losing our ability to logically work through a question or problem. We aren’t forced to weigh the options, gather information from people around us and come to a conclusion. We instinctively reach for our smartphones and get the quick, easy answer from someone who has written about it before. If you struggle with original content, it could be a side effect of always having the answer and never needing to search your own mind for one. It is imprinted on your psyche to ask Google first.
Habit 5: Treat Your Quest for Original Content as a Conversation with a Friend.
Grab a friend or co-worker and talk to them about the subject (no cellphones). When you have a problem, you might call your parents or close family members. How disappointed would you be if they went to the computer to look up an answer for you? I imagine readers feel the same when they click into an article that is almost identical to the last article they read on the subject. Next time you need some ideas for original content, treat it like a phone call with a family member. Pull a co-worker aside, grab a chair (leave your computer behind) and ask them what they think about the topic. Have a conversation about it, present your different ideas and thank them for their time. You’re more likely to produce content that is structured in a new way and uses different nouns and verbs throughout the written piece. Not only that, you may even approach the topic in an uncommon way. We do this a lot at Blue Compass, and these content pieces are more likely to go viral, get double the number of pageviews and be more successful.
Disclaimer: This isn’t always possible with clients. Especially ones in fact-driven industries. Every once in awhile, look for opportunities to write articles that aren’t completely product- or service-focused.
Habit 6: Ban the Word “No” from Your Content Brainstorming Sessions
Ideas aren’t always refined or perfect at first, but just go with them. If you’re in a room with people engaged in content brainstorming, use positively-charged phrases. It isn’t worth damaging your team's creativity to tell them you don’t like one of their ideas. In the end, it won’t change anything, and it doesn’t matter if you use it or not because the point of content brainstorming is to generate a pool of ideas. Use phrases like:
- “I like it! What else could we do?”
- “How could we build on that to make it even better?”
- “Yes, and …”
- Keep going! I think we are getting there.”
If you tell someone, “it won’t work,” “the client will never let me,” or “this is a ridiculous idea,” you will discourage their brain’s ability to be creative. The biggest killers of a brainstorm session are the words, “no” and “never.” Once a co-worker’s mind has shut the content brainstorming off, you can’t call it back into action. If you get one of those wacky ideas, try telling yourself, “Yeah, ok. I could make that work,” and let your brain work through the details. If your co-worker has the crazy idea, then use a positive phrase to redirect the conversation like, “Great, let’s expand on this list of ideas.”
Recap: How Do You Think of Original Content?
It isn’t easy to force your brain to generate a new idea because you’ve got a deadline, but certain prompts may help ideas start flowing. Original content idea generation requires you to stretch the bounds of your topic a little bit, which can be a bit unnerving but it will help open your mind. Allow yourself to forget about out-of-bounds topics or client no-nos for a few minutes. Instead of turning to a search engine, leave the computer behind, grab a co-worker and talk through your thoughts.
Recap: Why is it So Hard to Think of Original Ideas to Write About?
Unless you’re trained in the art of brainstorming, original ideas aren’t things that stream into your consciousness when you need to fill up a piece of paper or when you’re staring at a computer screen. Original ideas will come to you as those fleeting “ah-ha” moments that you have in the shower or when you’re zoned out to the evening traffic. Pay attention to the thoughts you have outside of work; you will find some pretty amazing gems.