With the recent upheaval in the online world caused by Google's Panda and Penguin updates, it's difficult to know on any given day which search engine optimization (SEO) strategy works and which doesn't. But there's one strategy that's still clearly "Google approved" and likely always will be: Content marketing.
Google has made clear that its long-term vision is to reward helpful, authoritative sites in the natural search results. That means it's critical for websites to provide valuable and informative content that will both build relationships with users and yield high rankings in the search results.
If your content isn't all that it could be, consider these tips for developing a killer content marketing strategy:
1. Invest time in understanding your audience's needs.
Your writing can be highly informative and your videos can be visually stunning, but they might not draw traffic to your site if they don't meet the needs and desires of your prospective audience.
To determine the types of content your audience wants most, observe the kinds of articles that are popular on blogs in your industry, identify content that's shared frequently on your readers' social networking profiles or survey your readers about their favorite topics. You can also look to your past blog posts, videos and other website content to see which topics drew the most reactions in terms of Facebook "likes," blog comments or other social metrics. Then, use those findings to plan your future content campaigns.
2. Dedicate resources to your content marketing strategy.
Good content doesn't happen by accident. Once you've identified the topics that will be most interesting for your readers, set aside the time and money that may be needed to implement your content marketing strategy.
Even if you're capable of creating your own content because you're a talented writer, infographics creator or video producer, you still will need to block out time in your busy schedule.
On the other hand, if you don't feel confident about your content creation skills, consider outsourcing some work to freelancers. Farming out tasks can cost you money, but you should eventually see a positive ROI as you attract more customers with your new content marketing strategy.
3. Set high editorial standards.
As you develop articles, blog posts, videos and other parts of your content marketing campaign, take care to ensure that quality remains high. As a business owner, it's easy to cut corners on content creation when faced with competing priorities and time and money constraints.
You may be tempted to crank out mediocre content simply to satisfy some arbitrarily set publishing calendar. But weak content can damage your brand and cost you readers and business. If you notice a steady decline in your site's traffic or your reader engagement, that might be a sign that your content standards have slipped. Establish specific editorial standards and stick to them, whether you're creating the content yourself or hiring freelancers to produce it.
4. Build a presence on social channels.
A content marketing strategy's success depends heavily on social sharing by your readers and other members of your community. So don't sit back and wait for your readers to disseminate the content you've invested so much time in. Be proactive about building your presence on popular social channels.
To do so, you'll need to commit regular time to connecting with others on social networks, especially Facebook and Twitter, and avoid being too promotional. Try first to engage naturally with members of your community. Then, seed your best content on the social networking sites when you feel it can provide clear benefits to your followers.
But if you see a decline in the number of followers, reassess your strategy. You may be advertising your own content more than your community -- or Google's search standards -- will support.
5. Be consistent.
Not every piece of content you create will go viral or generate significant interest in your website. No matter how well it's planned and crafted some content will simply fail to resonate with your audience.
But it's important that you not become discouraged. Try to stick to a consistent schedule of content creation. By producing new content regularly, you'll increase the likelihood of hitting that viral sweet spot. You also can develop a reputation for authority in your industry, as your readers become accustomed to seeing your name frequently on the web.
AJ Kumar is co-founder of Single Grain, a digital marketing agency based in San Francisco. Single Grain specializes in helping startups and larger companies with search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media and various other marketing strategies.