By Hanna Burmeister, Marketing Manager, Michigan SBDC
Article originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal February 2018

Content marketing was a buzzword tossed around in marketing departments, blogs, conferences, and coffee meetings throughout 2017. The trend will continue in 2018, and it’s more competitive than ever.

Luckily, there are best practices to follow that will help your business develop an effective content marketing strategy to reach your target market.

Those unfamiliar with content marketing often assume that it’s just another name for social media or writing blog posts. Content marketing is actually far broader, and includes both in-person and digital strategies. I consider the most accurate definition of content marketing to be the process of “creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract or acquire a clearly defined audience.”

One of my favorite examples of content marketing is the Michelin Guide. In 1900, there were fewer than 3,000 cars in France. In an effort to entice wealthy Parisians out of the city and into cars, the Michelin brothers developed the Michelin Guide. Full of maps, tire repair instructions, hotels, and later restaurants, the Michelin brothers distributed the guide to their target market. As the guide and its destinations became popular, there was an increased demand for cars, and in turn, Michelin tires. These guys created a need for their product through content — brilliant!

While marketing methods and mediums have certainly changed since the 1900s, the purpose of content marketing remains the same: to drive a measurable action. As your business considers its own version of the Michelin Guide, consider some of the top content marketing tactics: in-person events, eNewsletters, online videos, case studies, webinars, social media, blogs, research reports, white papers, eBooks, mobile content, online presentations, infographics and press releases.

Many of the small businesses that I talk to, B2B and B2C alike, utilize content marketing as a way to drive traffic their website. Increased traffic to a website positively influences your SEO ranking, especially if the traffic is coming from your ideal target market. As with any marketing initiative, the type of content you produce should drive action toward a specific goal. Those with the goal of driving traffic to a website generally want to make a sale or generate a lead. When executed properly, the tactics listed above can be amazing ways to implement a content marketing strategy. But with more competition and more content floating around now than ever before, how do you make your content effective?

This fall, Google released guides to help content creators striving for “high-quality documentation.” In this case, documentation refers to content. If you want to create high-quality content in 2018, consider these five recommendations. Content must be:

Useful and informative: Know your audience well, and include the information your audience actually is looking for. Do some keyword research.

Valuable: Your content should provide more value, or a different perspective than is already on the web. What makes your business, product or perspective unique?

Credible: Show your credibility by using original research, citations, links, reviews and testimonials.

High quality: Content should be unique, specific and of high quality. Craft sentences that are clear, concise and short, using simple words users will understand. Quality reigns over quantity. Rather than posting five, 300-word blog posts a week, put your energy into developing one or two strong, more extensive pieces providing value to your audience.

Engaging: Keep your audience interested by using a friendly, conversational tone with a clear purpose. Include images of your products or team, or leverage video.

Google’s Developer Documentation Style Guides are fairly technical, but they are a great resource for anyone looking to create content that users value and search engines prioritize. The official guides can be viewed here:

Developer Documentation Style Guide (content creation)
HTML/CSS Style Guide
JavaScript Style Guide
Java Style Guide

Content marketing will continue to play an important role in the customer journey. While your small business doesn’t need to attempt every tactic, these guidelines can help you focus on implementing a few tactics well.

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