In the old days (you know, the 90’s) marketing on the Internet was about spreading your logo as far as you could. The more visitors who saw your brand’s name, the more likely you were to make a sale. This “outbound” model of marketing is a carry-over from radio and television.

Nowadays the most effective form of marketing on the Internet (“inbound” marketing) is the development and distribution of relevant, valuable content that pulls users.

Let’s examine a basic, completely fictitious example.

You’re in the market for a personal theater system for your home. You want all the customizations, hard-to-find parts, and quality devices. Your local department store can’t stock the equipment you need, so you turn to the Internet. You find several online stores with just the right components.

Because these stores purchase their goods from the same manufacturer and their inventory costs are similar across the industry, their products cost about the same price. They may even be subject to minimum pricing guidelines. These factors are often out of the retailers’ control.

One of the sites you visit understands that home theater equipment can be extraordinarily complicated. They know their products involve a lot of unfamiliar pieces and installing them properly (and neatly) is tricky for those inexperienced with a screwdriver.

To help you out, this site has created an elaborate set of online how-to manuals and resources that show you how to hook it all together. Moreover, they’ve created blog posts on similar topics that discuss problems you may face, like How to Hide Cables Under Your Carpet, or Basic Drywall Techniques for Those Mistakes.

Studies show that users are far more likely to purchase products from a store that offers them content that solves their problems even if those products cost more.

Well-created content impacts your business in the following ways:

Content engages the visitor

Compelling content that matters to the visitor establishes an intellectual and/or emotional relationship between you. The visitor uses your content to learn new ideas or solve their problems, thus cementing you as an expert and authority.

Content gathers links

If you create something truly share-worthy, people will distribute it among their friends. This is especially true if your content is witty, humorous, controversial, profound, or new. The best content continues to reach people long after you’ve hit “publish.”

Search engines love it

Showcasing content regularly helps teach search engines about your site. By using keywords that relate to your business and discussion topics, you force search engines to expand your presence in their index. It doesn’t matter how incredible your website design may be, Google won’t learn anything about you if you don’t say something.

By using common keywords, you can associate your pages with a particular idea. Do some research to learn what terms searchers are using to find similar websites. However, be careful not to get carried away with your keywords. Be sure your content is readable and natural.

How do you offer content to your visitors?

Like any new endeavor, you need to have a strategy. You can’t start developing articles and images unless you know where you’re going with it all. You could spend a lot of time, money, and energy fighting battles that don’t support your business goals.

A content strategy involves five main phases.

1. Objectives

It’s critical that you define some objectives before embarking on your content strategy. Without clear goals in mind, you won’t know if you’ve succeeded or failed. Your objectives need to be tangible and measurable.

2. Audience

Next you should research the type of people for whom your content is intended. Your content’s audience may not be the same demographic your business targets. It might be a subset of that group, or a larger pool. You should create “buyer personas” of your targets and evaluate their needs.

3. Tools

An important component of a good strategy is the examination of the necessary tools. Consider your audience and gather information on what types of media they prefer. Do they like multi-part videos and large resource manuals, or quick-and-dirty images and articles?

4. Creation

Once you have your research in front of you, it’s time to start creating. Develop content that solves the problems of your audience in the manner they prefer. Steer them toward your objectives.

5. Measurement

Create a measurement initiative that ties in with your original objectives. Track a variety of metrics made available to you in your website analytics (like page views, unique visitors, and conversion rates) or any other measurement you can come up with. Did you reduce customer service call volume like you wanted? Did you sell more product wholesale?

The takeaway

A solid content strategy is an evolving process. As you begin to evaluate your performance you’ll see trends and patterns. Use this information to build the next phases of your strategy. Learn what’s working and what isn’t. Adjust accordingly. Create new objectives, refine your understanding of your audience, consider new methods, create better content, and continuously measure.

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