Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Advanced Guide to GOOGLE Penalty Removal

WHY THIS GUIDE?

Few things put a site owner or an SEO on edge more than the appearance of a Google penalty.

In recent years there has been a regular rollout of major algorithm updates and changes. With the Panda update in 2011, Penguin in 2012, and Hummingbird in 2013, and almost constant smaller updates and data refreshes, it’s difficult to keep up with them all.

Future updates are going to be just as stressful for those who aren’t following these trends, cutting corners with their link-building, and not keeping on top of their link profile by being aware who links to them.

We wanted to make an in-depth guide to Google penalties, what they are, how to avoid them, how to protect yourself from all future changes and mostly how to rectify the situation if your site is penalised.

You want to get your rankings back? Follow our advice and you will.

WHO IS THIS GUIDE FOR?

You might be a business owner with an online store, an employee working in the internet marketing department of a FTSE 100, or a freelance SEO whose client has just been hit. Whatever your reason for being here, it’s likely that you have a big problem to solve.

Sales used to be arriving through the search engines, and maybe that revenue source has completely dried up. It’s a scary situation to be in, but all is not lost. There is always something to be done, and no domain is ever completely burnt.

Any site can clean up its act, and when it does, it will generally be in a much better position than one that’s brand new.

If you haven’t been hit yet by a Google penalty, you’re lucky to have found this while you have! Bookmark it, downloaded, print it out, internalise the information contained in this guide and use it to protect your business (or your job!) for many years to come.

HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE?

If you know nothing about SEO or Google’s misleadingly-fluffily named updates, don’t worry. By the end of this guide you’ll know more about recovering from a penalty than the guy you considered hiring to do it for you. We’re going to walk you through every little step, from identifying the penalty, to figuring out where it came from, from discovering the root cause, to fixing the problem, and finally, to recovering your much needed search engine rankings.

You might only need one chapter. It’s a reference guide, not a novel, so read through the descriptions below and navigate to the one you need.

CHAPTER
01

HOW TO IDENTIFYA GOOGLE PENALTY

In the first chapter, we’ll illuminate the dingy world of Google penalties, and show you the fastest ways to see where you stand with the world’s biggest search engine. You’ll learn how to identify which type of penalty you’ve received, and exactly how extensive the damage is, which makes a big difference in how you should proceed.

CHAPTER 02 WHAT CAUSED YOUR PENALTY(and How to Fix it)

In the second chapter, we’ll show you each and every possible reason for a Google penalty, starting with the most likely and highlighting the quickest results. You’ll discover what the different updates actually meant for your site, what they didn’t mean, and what you really need to be paying attention to.

CHAPTER 03 GATHERINGTHE CRITICAL DATA

In this chapter, you’ll learn how to gather your link data quickly and cheaply. This is the all important first step in the process of revoking your site’s penalty. There are a plethora of tools we can use, and we break down the best ones for the job, and how to use them to get a full panoramic view of your site’s current situation.

CHAPTER 04 HOW TO READYOUR DATA

In chapter four, we see that analysing your data can be the most interesting part of this process. If you understand what you’re doing, and know which tools are best for the job, you can breeze through the relevant metrics, pull the right numbers together, and see what they all mean. We’ll also cover how crucial your records of this stage are when getting a manual penalty revoked.

CHAPTER 05 CLEANING UP YOUR WEBSITEFOR LONG-TERM RANKINGS

Chapter five is where we do the work of removing all the signals that tipped Google off to shady activity in the first place. We’ll see how to make sure the links pointing to your site are squeaky clean, and how to make content that is excellent for visitors. While some will say that a good link is one you didn’t encourage, and good content is, well, just good content, we’ll take the time to see what Google is actually looking for, quantify it, and use it to our advantage.

CHAPTER 06 SUBMITTING A REINCLUSION REQUESTTHAT’S SURE TO BE APPROVED

In chapter six we’ll get into the heads of the Google employees who will be reading your reinclusion request and making the decision as to whether or not you will be allowed back into their index. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything, and when a denial can put your progress back by months, we’re going to take every measure to ensure this is done the right way.

CHAPTER 07 RECOVERY:WHERE TO GO FROM HERE

Finally, in chapter seven you’ll learn what to expect from the reconsideration process, how long rankings usually take to resurface, why they might not for some time, what to do about it. You want your rankings back quickly, and while removing a penalty lifts the cap on what rankings you can achieve, the process of clean-up and removal can leave your SEO a little worse for wear. We’ll show you how to rectify that and lead you into the promised land of sustainable page 1 rankings.

The Ideal Length of Everything Online

Every so often when I’m tweeting or emailing, I’ll think: Should I really be writing so much?

I tend to get carried away. And for the times that I do, it sure would be nice to know if all this extra typing is hurting or helping my cause. I want to stand out on social media, but I want to do it in the right way.

Curious, I dug around and found some answers for the ideal lengths of tweets and titles and everything in between. Many of these could have been answered with “it depends,” but where’s the fun in that? Solid research exists to show the value of writing, tweeting, and posting at certain lengths. We can learn a lot fromscientific social media guidelines like these. Here’s the best of what I found.

The ideal length of a tweet is 100 characters

Whom should you trust when it comes to advice on the ideal length of a tweet? How about Twitter itself?

Twitter’s best practices reference research by Buddy Media about tweet length:100 characters is the engagement sweet spot for a tweet. 

Creativity loves constraints and simplicity is at our core. Tweets are limited to 140 characters so they can be consumed easily anywhere, even via mobile text messages. There’s no magical length for a Tweet, but a recent report by Buddy Media revealed that Tweets shorter than 100 characters get a 17% higher engagement rate.

The Buddy Media research falls in line with similar research by Track Social in a study of 100 well-known brands that are popular on Twitter. Track Social also found that the perfect Tweet length was right around 100 characters.

Their analysis saw a spike in retweets among those in the 71-100 character range—so-called “medium” length tweets. These medium tweets have enough characters for the original poster to say something of value and for the person retweeting to add commentary as well.

The ideal length of a Facebook post is less than 40 characters

Forty characters is not much at all. (The sentence I just wrote is 35 characters.)

But 40 is the magic number that Jeff Bullas found was most effective in his study of retail brands on Facebook. He measured engagement of posts, defined by “like” rate and comment rate, and the ultra-short 40-character posts received 86 percent higher engagement than others.

The 40-character group also represented the smallest statistical set in the study (only 5 percent of all posts qualified at this length), so best practices on Facebook also include the next most popular set: Posts with 80 characters or fewer received 66 percent higher engagement.

Many different studies over the years have confirmed that shorter posts are better on Facebook. One such study by BlitzLocal looked at nearly 120 billion Facebook impressions and found that performance tailed off as posts grew longer. Their particular data found significant advantages to question posts between 100 to 119 characters.

The ideal length of a Google+ headline is less than 60 characters

To maximize the readability and appearance of your posts on Google+, you may want to keep your text on one line. Demian Farnworth of Copyblogger studied the Google+ breaking point and found that headlines should not exceed 60 characters.

Here is an example of what we mean. The post below had a headline exceeding 60 characters and got bumped.

This post kept the title within 60 characters and stayed on one line.

Demian’s advice goes even deeper. If your Google+ headline simply can’t be contained in one line, then you can turn to Plan B. Write a superb first sentence.

In the last update, Google changed the layout of posts so that you only see three lines of the original post before you see “Read more” link. In other words, your first sentence has to be a gripping teaser to get people to click “Read More.”

Here is Demian’s killer example:

In terms of overall post length, Google+ posts average 156 characters, according to Qunitly Research. Digging further, Quintly found the largest spike in engagement at posts of 5 characters in length and the second-highest spike in posts of 442 characters. Takeaway: You can write a lot longer on Google+ and still find great results.

The ideal length of a headline is 6 words

How much of the headline for this story did you read before you clicked?

According to a post by KISSmetrics, you might not have read it all.

Writing for KISSmetrics, headline expert Bnonn cites usability research revealing we don’t only scan body copy, we also scan headlines. As such, we tend to absorb only the first three words and the last three words of a headline. If you want to maximize the chance that your entire headline gets read, keep your headline to six words.

Of course, six-word headlines are rare (and hard to write!). If you can’t cut your title down to six words, you can still be aware of how your headline might be read, and you can adjust accordingly. As the KISSmetrics post says:

Of course, that’s seldom enough to tilt the specificity-meter into the red. And I have it on good authority that some of the highest-converting headlines on the web are as long as 30 words. As a rule, if it won’t fit in a tweet it’s too long. But let me suggest that rather than worrying about length you should worry about making every word count. Especially the first and last 3.

 

The ideal length of a blog post is 7 minutes, 1,600 words

When measuring the content that performs best on their site, Medium focuses not on clicks but on attention. How long do readers stick with an article?

In this sense, an ideal blog post would be one that people read. And Medium’s research on this front says that the ideal blog post is seven minutes long.

To arrive at this number, Medium measured the average total seconds spent on each post and compared this to the post length. All Medium posts are marked with a time signature for how long the read should be. After adjusting their analysis for a glut of shorter posts (overall, 74% of posts are under 3 minutes long and 94% are under 6 minutes long), they came to their conclusion:

And there we have it: the average total seconds rises for longer posts, peaks at 7 minutes, and then declines.

And in terms of word count, a 7-minute read comes in around 1,600 words.

(A photo-heavy post could bring the average down closer to 1,000. Medium’s seven-minute story on ideal post length was filled with images and graphs and contained 980 words.)

SerpIQ examined the question of ideal post length from an SEO perspective. They looked at the top 10 results on search results pages and counted the words in each article. Their data included text in the sidebars of posts, so you can knock a few words off of the totals below.

Of course, as with any of these ideal lengths, the answers you find here could very well be taken as “it depends,” since research varies from site to site. For instance, Moz found that longer posts on their blog get linked to more often, and Upworthy found little correlation between length and attention when they tested Medium’s hypothesis for themselves. (Upworthy cited factors like type of posts and audience as a couple of possible explanations for the discrepancy.)

Perhaps the best takeaway here is this, borrowed from the conclusion of Medium’s study:

What it does mean is that it’s worth writing however much you really need. Don’t feel constrained by presumed short attention spans. If you put in the effort, so will your audience.

The ideal width of a paragraph is 40-55 characters

I know, I know. Width and length aren’t the same thing, but I just couldn’t resist this interesting take. Social media expert Derek Halpern found that there are a pair of very important, underlying factors that go into the width of your content:

  • Content width can give the appearance of simplicity or complexity
  • Content width is key to maximizing reader comprehension

The ideal paragraph length, in this sense, would appear simple to the reader and allow for easy reading. Halpern believes he found the window where this happens.

The problem is, to ensure maximum comprehension and the appearance of simplicity, the perfect line length ranges between 40 and 55 characters per line, or in other words, a content column that varies between 250-350 pixels wide (it depends on font size and choice).

Forty and 55 characters per line means about 8 to 11 words. If you’re viewing the Buffer blog in a desktop browser, you’re likely seeing up to 20 words per line. Whoops!

You may have noticed many sites online that have a different font for their lead paragraph than they do for the remainder of their text. Would you believe there is psychology at play here? Consider that shorter lines appear as less work for the reader; they make it easier to focus and to jump quickly from one line to the next. Opening paragraphs with larger fonts—and therefore fewer characters per line—are like a a running start to reading a piece of content. This style gets readers  hooked with an easy-to-read opening paragraph, then you can adjust the line width from there.

Here’s an example from Smashing Magazine: 

The ideal length of an email subject line is 28-39 characters

In September 2012, MailChimp published the following headline on its blog:Subject Line Length Means Absolutely Nothing. This was quite the authoritative statement, but MailChimp had the data to back it up.

Their research found no significant advantage to short or long subject lines in emails. Clicks and opens were largely the same.

By this token, you are likely to be okay writing an email of any length (and always better off being specific and helpful with the subject you write, regardless of how many words you use). That being said, other research hints at a sweet spot: 28-39 characters.

A study released by Mailer Mailer around the same time as MailChimp’s study found a slight bump in opens and clicks at a certain range of characters. Here is their analysis:

  • 4–15 characters: 15.2% open; 3.1% click
  • 16–27 characters: 11.6% open; 3.8% click
  • 28–39 characters: 12.2% open; 4% click
  • 40–50 characters: 11.9% open; 2.8% click
  • 51+ characters: 10.4% open; 1.8% click

The stat is one of the few of its kind to show a demonstrative (but not overwhelming) difference in subject line lengths. Litmus referenced this study in their popular subject line infographic. If there were ever to be a recommended length for a subject based on research, this would be it.

Beyond the perfect length, you can also adhere to best practices. In general, a 50-character maximum is recommended, although MailChimp does point out thatthere can be exceptions:

The general rule of thumb in email marketing is to keep your subject line to 50 characters or less. Our analysis found this to generally be the rule. The exception was for highly targeted audiences, where the reader apparently appreciated the additional information in the subject line.

At Buffer, we tend toward the upper threshold of the 50-character limit and often go beyond.

Of course, you can always just learn from those who do it best and those who do it worst. In MailChimp’s studies they came across some especially high performers—and some low performers.

7 Explosive Content Promotion Strategies

#1: Snip.ly

Sniply is a powerful new tool that allows you to use content curation to drive targeted traffic to your website.

What if I told you that you could use a piece of awesome content written by an influencer in your industry and use it to drive a wave of targeted traffic to your site?

Here’s how to do it –

Head over to sniply and log in –

Next, find a popular piece of content that is related to your new blog post. For this example, I’ll use my post about recovering from a Google penalty –

Now, I’ll copy the URL of the top ranked post for this search query and enter it into Sniply –

Hit the “snip” button.

Next, customize the way you would like your ‘snip’ to appear using the fields below –

Select the ‘button’ action type, this will place a CTA button on the curated content that will direct people back to your site.

Enter an attention-grabbing message that is related to the piece of content you have written. Make sure the message indicates added value for the reader.

Next, customize the button text and enter the destination URL of your content.

Hit create and copy the custom sniply URL –

Now, head over to Twitter and re-share the influencer’s content using your new sniply URL –
Bonus Tip: When you curate the content always make sure you mention the author’s name along with the publisher. Leverage influencers to maximize the CTR on your sniply link.

When someone clicks on your Sniply link they will be exposed to the message and CTA you set. When people click on the “read more” button they will be redirected to your site –

Sniply also provides an anlaytics dashboard so you can see which snips have generated traffic to your content.

The clicks metric tells you how many users actually clicked on your sniply link, whereas the “engagement” metric indicates how many people click the CTA button linking back to your site –

 #2: Weekly Roundups

Weekly link roundups might be one of the most underrated content promotion strategies on the planet. Where else can you find people that are actively looking to link (and send targeted traffic) to your content?

If you’re not familiar with roundups, they are simply blog posts that link out to the week’s best content.

The key here is to find roundups that have a large readership and receive a ton of social engagement.

The first step is to find popular roundups related to your industry.

Here’s how –

Type in the following search strings to find weekly roundups in your niche –

“link roundup” + your industry

“weekly link roundup” + your industry

~KW + “link roundup”

“KW” + inurl:roundup

“KW” + intitle:roundup

If there is a particular site that you would like to see if they publish a link roundup, type the following search string –

site:domain.com +”roundup”

Make sure you set it so Google is only returning search results for the past month –

Next, head over to Twitter and run the queries in the search bar –

You will need to make sure you are entering broader search queries to increase the number of results being returned –
Next, make a list of the sites publishing roundups on a regular basis and take note of their contact information.

Now it’s a matter of reaching out to the bloggers and suggesting your content.

Here is the exact template I use –

Hey NAME,
First, I just want to say thanks for the great weekly roundups you’ve been putting together over at the BLOG NAME. I’ve been getting a ton of value from them.
I’m writing to let you know about a new piece of content I published that shows business owners YOUR BLOG TITLE.
I’ve found this strategy particularly effective for building links for local SEO. You can read the post here: BLOG URL
I thought you might like to add it to your weekly roundup.
Either way, keep up the great work!
Cheers,
Robbie.

P.S. Would love to know what you think about the post?

#3: Link Poaching

The best way to build links to and promote your content is to find people that have already linked to similar content and introduce them to your new (and improved) content.

There are a number of great backlink checkers out there. Two of my favorites are Ahrefs andOpen Site Explorer.

First, do a quick search in Google to identify topics similar to yours –

Next, copy the URL of the top result. This piece of content likely has a large number of quality links pointing to it.

Enter the URL into your backlink checker of choice –

Navigate over to the “inbound links” section and select the “links” option –

This will give you a list of all the pages linking to the URL –

Head over to each site and copy the site’s contact email address.

Reach out to the webmaster with this template –

Hey NAME, 

I just wanted to say that I’m loving the blog. I actually came across a great post of yours today, POST NAME. 
 
As always, great stuff!
 
I noticed that you have a link to POST NAME
 
I really like this resource, some very valuable content in there. In fact, it inspired me to write an updated version called ENTER YOUR POST NAME. You can check it out here: POST URL. Might be worth adding to your article. 
 
Either way, keep up the great work!
 
Cheers, 
YOUR NAME
Rinse and repeat this technique for the top 10 search results and you’ll have a solid list of link prospects.

#4: Scoop.It

Scoop.It is a content curation platform, and is one the best ways to promote content and build quality backlinks.

It’s basically a platform where people collect their favorite content from across the web and publish it in a magazine format similar to Paper.li and Flipboard. The best part, many of these publication have 2+ page rank value and can deliver boat loads of targeted traffic to your site.

Here’s what a Scoop.It page looks like –

scoop1

This is a PR3 page with 27,000 views.

First, create an account. Click the “my topics” button and choose “create topic” –

Make sure that your topic is related to the content you have written.

Next, search for Scoop.It pages that curate content similar to what your content is about –

Make sure the pages you target with your content have a large number of page views, and ideally a large Twitter following. Generally, active “scoopers” (creative, I know) will also share their content on Twitter.

Follow all the people with popular Scoop.It pages and large Twitter followings.

Now it’s time to suggest your content. Navigate back over to one of the popular Scoop.It pages and hit “suggest” –

Select the appropriate Scoop.It page from the dropdown and hit “suggest”.

This will notify the owner that you have suggested content for their Scoop.It page. If they like your content, they’ll post it to their page and you’ll have a link referring targeted traffic back to your site.

Scoopers usually share their Scoop.It pages on Twitter, so you can potentially get double the bang for your buck.

Bonus Tip: To increase the number of Scoop.It prospects you can target, click the dropdown next to the search bar and see if there is a category related to your content –

Next, click the “recommended topics” tab –

You will then be given a list of popular Scoop.It related to that category. Suggest your content to any related pages –

Check out this page with over 28,100 views.

Next, check if the owner of the Scoop.It page is active on Twitter –

Engage and start building a a relationship. This will give you another audience to leverage for the promotion of your content –

#5: Buzz Bundle

BuzzBundle is one of my absolute favorite online marketing tools. Hat tip to Matthew Woodwardfor introducing me to this tool.

BuzzBundle is great for both content promotion and link building. It allows you to monitor and track conversions related to specific keywords and brand mentions across a number of channels, including –

  • Blogs
  • Social networks
  • Forums
  • Q&A sites

It allows you to quickly find your target audience and engage in the conversations related to your content and area of expertise.

Here’s how to do it –

Once you’ve installed the free BuzzBundle desktop application, open it up and click “create new project” –

Hit “Create New Stream” and enter the keywords and URLs you want to track. For this example we’ll use “link building” as our keyword target (add as many as you want) –

You will then see a list of streams highlighting content and conversations surrounding the topic of “link building” –

It may take a while for the streams to fully populate.

The threads that have been grayed out are only accessible with the paid account. The free account currently gives you access to 30% of the threads, which is still plenty to engage and promote your content to the right people.

Create a persona

After you’ve selected the keywords and URLs you want to track, it’s time to create your persona. This is the identity you will be using to engage in conversations online –

Type in your username, password, email and email password. BuzzBundle requests the password to your email account in order for verification purposes.

Then, you can add your social media profiles –

Now you’re ready to start buzzing!

Get your buzz on

Once you have your persona completed and keywords added click the “Find Buzz” button. You can also filter the types of websites you want to monitor –

BuzzBundle will go out and scrape all the content listed on social media sites, forums, blogs and Q&A sites related to your keywords.

Once you find a post that you like start engaging. I look for people asking questions related to the content I have already written.

For example, this person is asking about different link building techniques on Twitter. You would engage this person –

And provide him with a link to your post –

Or, you might find a question in a forum that you can drop your link in –

This is a great strategy for engaging your target audience and driving traffic to your site. It also provides an opportunity to build links directly through forum, blog and Q&A comments, as well as build links indirectly through social engagement.

The more your content is shared the more people will see it, the more people that see it the more likely you are to get some backlinks.

On the topic of social engagement…

BuzzBundle provides you with the ability to filter social media conversations. This is great if you find a piece of content similar to what you have written that has gained a lot of social engagement –

Enter the post’s URL into the search filter and look through all the people that engaged with that post. These are the people you will want to reach out to –

I would reply with something simple like this –

“Hey @person, if you liked [insert post name] then you will want to check this out [insert your link]“

Now you have a powerful weapon to find your target audience, engage and drive traffic to your content.

#6: Google Plus Communities

Google Plus communities provide a targeted channel to promote your content.

As the name implies, Google Plus communities are online groups where like-minded individuals interact and share content.

There are thousands of communities targeting almost every industry and topic under the sun.

Once you have written your piece of content, head over to Google Plus and select “communities” from the left navigation –

In the top search bar enter a keyword related to your industry or the topic of your content –
Scroll through and “join” all the communities related to your niche –

Next, copy the URL of your content and head back over to your Google Plus profile.

Paste the URL into the “link” box and add an attention-grabbing message –

When posting your content be sure to mention others you have referenced in your work (where applicable) and select the relevant community you want to post the content  –

Your content will now be exposed to people with an expressed interest in the topic you have written about. These readers are more likely to engage with your content and click-through to your website.

Bonus tip: It’s a good idea to engage with (+1, comment, share) other content in the communities before you begin promoting your own content.

Also, spread out the frequency with which you share content in communities. Here’s some great advice from Google Plus expert, Mark Traphagen –

“Google+ runs automated spam detection for posts to communities. Posting the exact same content to multiple communities in a short span of time can get the posts flagged as spam. Flagged posts get sent to a penalty box seen only by community moderators, and the post will never be seen by the community unless a mod decides to set it free.

No one knows the exact thresholds for the auto-flagging, but my advice is to vary the intro text in your posts, and spread them out over several days if you’re targeting multiple communities.”

#7: Subreddits

Reddit is another popular online social media community you can leverage to promote your content to a targeted audience.

An effective strategy is to utilize subreddits. These are niche communities of people voting and commenting on a variety of content types.

Simply find a subreddit related to your content and share it with the community. As people ‘vote’ for your content it will rank higher in the subreddit.

Head over to Reddit and register for a free account.

Once logged in, click the “submit a new link” button –

Next, enter an attention-grabbing title, enter your URL and select a subreddit related to your content –

Hit “submit”.

Another option is to submit your content as a text post.

Follow the same process as submitting a link, but this time select the “text” option at the top of the page –

Now, enter a catchy introduction for your content with a link to read the full post on your site –

Using the text post layout gives your audience a taste of what they will find in your post and can be effective in increasing the CTR to your website.

Tip: Make sure you engage with other people’s content within the subreddits. Vote, comment and share other content. If you only use the platform for self-promotion you will quickly be banned. Give a little before you take

Tips to Come Up With 50 Topic Ideas in 30 Minutes

The core issue for many content marketers is this: How do I come up with article topics? Without topics, you have no articles, no content, and therefore no content marketing. It’s obvious that we need to figure out how to come up with topic ideas quickly and effectively.

That’s why I put together this brief guide on how to come up with 50 topic ideas in 30 minutes. My goal is for you to read this article, then be able to spend half an hour to come up with your own set of topics to write about on your company’s website.

Before you start, some quick rules:

The idea behind this exercise is quantity, not necessarily quality.

You might come up with some junk ideas as you race to write them down, but at least you’ll come up with ideas. Those ideas can be massaged and coaxed into an awesome title or topic for a winning article. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Force yourself to write stuff down.

When you actually begin to type words, you begin to come up with more ideas and to think in clearer ways. There are three major sections I’ve outlined in which you will be prompted not just to think of ideas but to write those ideas down. This exercise will be completely useless unless you actually write things down.

This is idea generation only.

Now is not the time to assign article topics, craft the perfect headline, or create the chapters for your ebook. This isn’t an editorial calendar. This isn’t article outlines. These are ideas, pure and simple. Confine your efforts, and you’ll maximize your productivity.

Be as specific as possible.

The following is a process for coming up with tons of topic ideas, but the specifics are up to you. As you write stuff down, also force yourself to be specific.

For example, in a section below I ask, “How did you get started in your industry?” Come up with two specific topics based on that question. If you write down something like “Why You Should Go to College,” you’re not getting it. Instead, write down something really specific and personal.

One of my first entrepreneurial gigs was selling CDs in high school. I could have chosen to sell pirated CDs, but I opted for the legal route. That simple choice shaped the direction of my business. So, maybe I could trace out an idea like this: “Why I Didn’t Choose an Illegal Job, and How It Shaped My Life.” See how a specific trigger event can spark a killer idea?

Now, let’s come up with 50 ideas…

1. Go to a place that is free from distractions and interruptions.

This doesn’t need to be anywhere magical or special. Just turn off your phone if that helps.

2. Open a document to capture your thoughts.

Since our goal at this point is speed and efficiency, it doesn’t matter what note-taking application you choose. I use Evernote and Drive for quick-and-easy document creation.

Google Drive makes it easy to create a file. Plus, you have it saved forever in your Drive archives. Evernote, meanwhile, functions as a de factobrain for some people. It’s perfect for storing ideas.

3. Start your timer for 30 minutes.

Having a specific amount of time will force you to be productive. It’s focused time. Knowing that the timer is ticking down the seconds will either paralyze you or motivate you to action. If you feel paralyzed, remember that you need to kick yourself into gear.

4. The question phase.

Time: 12 minutes

Goal: 25 topics

Instructions: Ask yourself the following questions, and try to create at least two topic ideas from each one:

What are you passionate about in your industry? Is there a certain angle or approach that gets you excited? What’s your greatest skill? What do you prefer to spend most of your time on? Rather than answer these questions directly, think of article angles that you can derive from them.

For example, I’m passionate about content marketing. It’s what inspires me, and I’m convinced it’s the key to online marketing success. But I’m not just going to write an article on “Why I’m Passionate about Content Marketing.” Instead, I’m going to channel that enthusiasm into a major work that I can get excited about, like an advanced guide to content marketing.

How did you get started in your industry? Everyone enters their niche in a different way. How did you get interested in your area? What training did you have?

Don’t be afraid of getting personal here. The best content is stuff that is personal, while still actionable and oriented to your audience. People love to hear about others’ experiences and to read things from a first-person perspective.

Again, use your answer to this question as an article topic. For example, if I started as an online marketing professional by facing a traffic challenge on a small-time ecommerce site, I can tell that story, while providing a lot of great advice. Maybe it can be something like, “Five SEO Lessons I Learned While Working on a Struggling Ecommerce Site.”

Why is your product the best? If you sell a product, you are hopefully convinced of its value. Why does it rock?

What are some mistakes that people make in your industry? Every industry has its pitfalls. What are some in your industry? What makes people go out of business, experience a slump, or lose interest?

What is the greatest challenge in your industry? If you tell people how to overcome common industry challenges, they will eat your content up. Jot down the biggest challenges, and just write “solve it!” beside them. You’ve got an idea that can transform into a powerful article.

What does success look like in your industry? What does it mean to get to the top or to dominate? How do you get there?

Who is the most successful person in your industry? Write down their names and the word “interview.” Later on, you can call them up to request an interview, or read other interviews that they’ve participated in. From published interviews, you can pick up on a salient point and tease it out into an article or two

What is the biggest news in your industry? One of the richest sources of articles is contemporary industry news. Turn your mind to the breaking news, and jot down a couple ideas.

What is a success story from your business? Biggest failure? Stories of personal experience are perfect for article topics. Want to write an article that gets read and shared? Discuss how and why you failed at first, or what factors led to some huge success.

What personal skills help someone become successful in your industry? This is easily a top 10 list — several of them, actually. From time-management tips to email ninja advice, you can bust out a bunch of practical and tactical advice that will really appeal to your audience. Everyone wants to become successful. This series of topic ideas tells them exactly how to get there.

What tools do you use to get your job done? This is another list or top 10 article. What kind of things do you use — a desk, a Macbook, an iPhone, a Bluetooth device? What about mobile apps? Web apps? Data storage? Coffee? Write it down.

Where, when, and how do you do your best work? Each industry is going to have its own take on getting stuff done — the hows and whys. You can become the authoritative voice in your industry for how to do it. Think about tips like avoiding burnout, maximizing productivity, and accomplishing major tasks.

Why do you enjoy being in your industry? There may be some days when your work is a chore, but what about those bright moments? How do you stay motivated in your industry? How do specific challenges motivate you? How do the experiences intrigue you?

What is changing in your industry? Every industry has its developments, technological innovations, and major shakeups. These are great current topics that will fuel search queries and drive traffic. Jot down a few of these changes, and pull out some article topics. Most of the time, you won’t be able to posture yourself as a breaking newsprovider. Rather, you should take the position of providing opinion, commentary, response, or advice based on the developments.

What are some processes or practices that you have perfected? If you’ve achieved some level of expertise in a specific area, describe how you did it. Advanced guides and detailed topics are best. I’ve done this with SEO and content marketing and seen some really strong returns from it.

5. The Search Phase

Time: 12 minutes

Goal: 25 topics

Instructions: Here, you’ll enter the search phase — actively seeking out ideas elsewhere on the web. Perform each of the following searches, and jot down at least five ideas from each source.

Visit the blogs of industry leaders. What are other leaders saying? If they are all discussing similar things, there’s a good chance you need to be part of the conversation. Join the topic and provide your own angle.

Some blogs share the most-visited or most popular posts. There’s a good chance that the top post is an evergreen topic that continually drives traffic. Take that topic, reshape it, and use it yourself.

Simply browsing around on an industry leader’s blog for two minutes should give you plenty of fresh ideas for content.

Visit the major industry websites. Beyond the blogs, there are other websites that provide industry information. In my niche, for example, Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Land are great sources for news and authority discussions on topics. If you’re in SEO, you can invariably extract some topic ideas from a one-minute survey of the homepage.