Using spark files for content creation
What is a spark file? It’s like your own personal and less structured brainstorming session that never ends.
I’ve only recently starting calling my mess of notes by this name, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve used these types of notes in some form or another. I used to just have a notebook, and then I started using emails to record info, sending one to myself every night and continuing to add to it and reply to it.
That was terribly inefficient and awkward, so I started using the Notes on my iPhone. Then I discovered Evernote — and now that’s my go-to tool as it syncs up across devices, and I can read my notes anywhere.
Since I do more than just link development, I love having an overall spark file for clients where I jot down anything interesting in any way. Sure, it gets pretty big, and I routinely have to go through and edit it, but it’s great to have a place where I can jot down ideas as they come to me.
Sometimes, an idea I have for a link campaign might turn into something I can put into practice for a paid ad on Facebook or Google AdWords. I might find something crazy during a site audit that I want to note as “something to check first!” with my next audit. If a webmaster responds to a link request with information that I hadn’t considered when I did the outreach, I usually note this so I won’t make the same mistake again — those points can be useful in other areas, too.
Here’s what my current company spark file looks like:
I have a spark file for my team as a whole entity, one for each individual member of my team, one for each client and a Master Ideas note, to name a few. Since I use Evernote for this, if I’m out running an errand and get a client email with critical info, I can just copy it into my client note and sync it up with my other devices. That’s the major selling point for me: a tool that updates your information in all the places where you need to access it.
To give you an example of how I use my Master note, let’s say you come up with some ideas for a client, but they are rejected or just not implemented. I always record these in the client note, of course, but I also copy them into a Master Ideas note that I consult whenever I work on something new. If I’ve used the idea, I note that. If I think it might work down the road for a new client in a specific industry or with a specific budget, I note that, too.
What should you record in your file?
- Articles to reference
- Awesome examples of something that’s relevant to your site
- Questions you have
How I use a spark file for my personal content creation
I like to keep a running list of article ideas and mark them if I write them up. Sometimes, something seems like a great idea at the time, so I’ll note it, but when I review the list, I realize it’s not worth doing for various reasons. However, I still keep these ideas in my spark file in case something comes out of a rejected idea.
Note: I’m just now adding one of Rae Hoffman’s ideas to my spark file, from her post, “27 Detailed Ways to Generate New Blog Post Ideas.”
When you’re asked a question by readers or customers at least three times, I refer to it as a Threepeat. Once a question hits Threepeat status, it’s time to write a post or create content surrounding it.
An article I wrote for Search Engine Land earlier this year, “9 Examples Of Link-Worthy Resources For E-Commerce Sites,” is a great example of an idea I’d been sitting on for ages before finally creating a piece of content around it. I had an e-commerce client that was having trouble generating good links to internal pages, so any time I came across an e-commerce site utilizing a creative content idea, I’d note it in that client’s file.
Unfortunately, for various reasons, nothing that I had noted was actionable for that particular client. But I’d been thinking about writing an article where I highlighted real-life examples of how businesses were implementing creative ideas with great success, and my client notes turned out to be great source material for that content.
What started out as help for a client ended up being help for my own business, as I received several contacts requesting more information about my services from that article. That piece of content also garnered links from 23 referring domains.
How I use a spark file for my clients
I don’t want to show an example here, since I like to keep all that information confidential, but generally, I note down any ideas I have for the client, any ideas the client has for me and anything relevant that I’ve seen a competitor do. I have alerts set up for major keywords for my clients’ industries, so if anything interesting and (hopefully) actionable comes through, I’ll note it in the relevant client file.
I always seem to get ideas when I’m not trying to come up with them. For example, I might be shopping at Costco and see a new item that gives me an idea for a restaurant client. It’s easy to take a photo and slap it into the client file, then revisit it when I’m back at my desk.
For more information about the concept of using spark files, I highly recommend reading the following two resources:
For using Evernote for your spark files, I’d check this out:
As I stated earlier, I’ve always kept notes like this, although not in a formal manner. But after reading more about the concept, I have organized everything a bit more carefully.
There are few things I love more than being able to take a bit of time to go back through something that I noted possibly months ago, when it wasn’t 100 percent clear how I’d use it, and immediately feeling that “Yes!!” moment where it all comes together.