There’s no arguing with the fact that content marketing holds a tremendous amount of potential in terms of its ability to improve the customer experience on your website and drive targeted traffic in a cost-effective way.

Unfortunately, just because a strategy has potential doesn’t mean that it’s easy to do -- as anyone who’s ever tried (and failed) to launch viral-style content before can attest to!

The best way to ensure the success of your content marketing campaign pieces is to create these items around a subject that your readers have already demonstrated an interest in. To find these already-hot topics, try any of the following techniques to reverse engineer great content:

Technique #1 -- Look at Twitter Trending Topics

The first place you can look for content marketing ideas is Twitter’s list of “trending topics,” found on the site’s homepage. This list -- which is customizable by geographic area -- will give you an idea of the topics that are receiving the most social networking buzz at any time.

Unfortunately, most of the topics you’ll find on this list aren’t industry-specific (and if the sight of Justin Bieber’s name disgusts you, I’d recommend checking out one of the following techniques instead!). However, depending on the topics you find, it’s still possible to tailor your content marketing pieces to reflect these keyword phrases.

As an example, one of the topics that’s expected to become a trend on Twitter over the next month is the Olympics. If you write blogs on business topics, you could capitalize on the popularity of this trending topic by publishing content titled, “What Business Leaders Can Learn from the 2012 Olympic Contenders” -- even if your blog has no other relation to the Summer Games.

Technique #2 -- Find Tweets That Have Been Re-tweeted Several Times

In addition, you can use Twitter to reverse engineer topic ideas that are more geared towards your industry by following your niche’s thought leaders in order to see which of their tweets are re-tweeted more than others.

And while you obviously shouldn’t plagiarize the topics you find being shared virally, you can use the titles of their most commonly shared content pieces to take the pulse of your niche and come up with your own ideas that relate to these same topics.

Technique #3 -- Identify Popular Posts on Top Industry Blogs

Another way to jump-start your content marketing topic brainstorming is to take a look at the “Popular article” lists on industry blogs. Most blogs now include this feature in their sidebar columns, and while it’s a great way for these sites to improve their customer experience, it’s an even better way for you to find out which subjects their readers are most interested in.

Again, don’t plagiarize. If you find a hot topic, don’t be afraid to publish your own content on the subject, but be sure that you bring something new to the table.

Technique #4 -- See What’s Made the Front Page of Digg or Stumbleupon

Another way to see what’s hot in a variety of different industries is to take a look at the top articles on popular social bookmarking sites like Digg or Stumbleupon.

If you see a topic on these lists that interests you, brainstorm different ways that you could tailor the topic to your audience specifically. Remember, with any content marketing campaign, it’s important to put your audience’s needs first (though it’s even better if you can do this while still taking market trends into consideration).

Technique #5 -- Look for Key Themes in Your Own Top Posts

Assuming you run some type of web analytics program on your website (at Single Grain, we’re big fans of Google Analytics), there should be an area of your website’s backend that displays the posts on your site that have been accessed most frequently.

Navigate to this section of your analytics database and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can I group multiple posts on this list based on similar subjects or topics?
  • Do my top posts share any formatting or structure similarities?
  • Based on the posts I see here, what can I assume about what my readers are looking for?

This information can be incredibly valuable, as it contains specific data from your own unique audience. Spending time determining which posts on your site have been most successful in the past -- and what key features these content pieces share -- can be a great way to reverse engineer posts that will be even more successful in the future.

Technique #6 -- Check Your Top Keywords in Google Analytics

Another alternative for brainstorming content ideas while in your analytics program is to take a look at the natural search keywords that people have used to reach your site.

Trends here can tell you a lot about what people are expecting to read when they reach your website. If, for example, you see a cluster of keywords on your list that don’t correlate to any of your previously-published articles, you could be looking at a great opportunity to build new content pieces that will both appeal to existing readers and reduce your new visitor bounce rate.

Technique #7 – Model Popular YouTube Videos

One final option for reverse engineering potential content marketing topics is to take a look at what’s popular on YouTube. As one of the web’s largest search engines in and of itself, it’s a wealth of information about the topics that are currently capturing public attention.

Even if you don’t plan to produce video content for your marketing campaigns, you can use these clips to get a feel for the topics, phrases and stylizations that are popular with web users. Incorporating these elements (including, for example, hit Youtube phrases like “Nope, Chuck Testa!” or “Honey badger don’t give a s***”) into your future content marketing pieces is a great way to connect with users and enhance your website’s brand as being current and hip.

How do you come up with the topics for your content marketing campaigns? If you use techniques beyond the ones described above, share your recommendations in the comments section below!

Editor's Note: To read more from July's Content Marketing focus:

-- Word of Mouth: Content Marketers' New Best Friend by @chelsi