Content Marketing: 6 Steps to Developing an Effective Strategy

Search for "content marketing" on Google and you will come up with more than 1 billion (yes, billion) results. This whopping number is proof of just how much people are talking about the term as of late. Companies large and small are jumping on the content marketing bandwagon, and for good reason. The more original, helpful content that can be found on their sites, the more likely potential and existing customers will think of their brands when needs arise.

American Express is a company that has truly revolutionized the concept of content marketing. In 2005, it looked at its customer base and noticed that an increasing number of clients were small business owners, many of whom were applying for the AmEx OPEN credit card. This realization prompted executives to launch an experiment called American Express OPEN Forum, a site that would serve as an online magazine with helpful articles for small business owners. The articles wouldn't include plugs for AmEx; instead, professional journalists would write pieces just as if they were writing how-tos, features and service articles for traditional business publications.

The experiment worked and readers (many of whom presumably turned into AmEx customers) flocked to the site. Today, more than 1 million readers visit every month. And by going to the site, those readers are subconsciously thinking about AmEx. Genius.

As a small business owner, you may not have the monetary resources that AmEx does, but you can still launch a content marketing strategy that will bring in new page views (and trust me, if your content is relevant/helpful enough, those views will eventually convert).

Here are a few tips to get you on your way.

Step #1: Recruit writers
Think about your customers. Are they small business owners? Mothers? Fathers? Teenagers? Dog lovers? Exercise Fanatics? Once you zero-in on your demographic, research the top writers who serve that group. These might be freelancer writers who pen columns for the local parenting magazine, or business journalists for the local paper. Reach out to them and ask if they are interested in writing original articles for your site.

Don't have the money to pay writers? Focus on consultants that also serve your demographic. Consultants love to share their wisdom and may be open to penning a few posts per month for your blog.

Step #2: Establish frequency
Now that you have a few writers signed up, think about how often you will publish. Whatever your frequency, stick to it. You don't want to push out five articles in a week and then take a two-month break. Choose a few days each week to publish new articles and stick to that plan. Better yet, publish something new every day if you can. The more you put out there on a regular schedule, the more readers will rely on your site for information.

As part of your frequency strategy, I recommend establishing an editorial calendar. Ask your writers for an advance list of article topics and give them deadlines (I suggest asking them to turn in articles at least a week before the slated publication date, just in case there is a delay). Keep to this calendar and your life will be much easier.

Step #3: Assign a program lead
If you're too busy to run the program yourself, assign a member of your staff to do it for you. This position is usually best suited for a member of your marketing team. Check in with this person regularly to see how things are going, challenges they may be facing and ideas for making the program better as time goes on.

Step #4: Stay away from sales pitches
Do not use your content marketing strategy as a hybrid sales strategy; readers will see right through this and click away from your site. If you are unable to recruit outside writers, pen articles yourself but don't write about your own products. Instead, focus on topics of interest to your audience, how-to pieces that will help them in their daily life or re-post blogs from other sites (check first to see if you need permission) that offer relevant information.

Note: I recently wrote a piece on other content marketing mistakes to avoid. Check it out here.

Step #5: Share your content
Where does your audience hang out? On Facebook? On Twitter? On Pinterest? On Google+? On all four? If you aren't sure, do some research before you launch your content marketing strategy. Then, share your content on the platforms where your audience lives. If your readership/customers are mostly accessible via email, send notes every once in a while and include a link to the latest post that relates to them and/or their business.

Step #6: Constantly evolve
After a few months of posting articles, check to see which ones were shared the most and adjust your strategy accordingly. Don't be afraid to filter out what isn't working and write more about the topics that are gaining traction. Now watch your readership go up and customers roll in!

Content management experts: What else would you add to this list?