12 content marketing secrets from the pros

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A recent survey by the Custom Content Council pegged the amount of money spent by businesses on production and distribution of custom content at nearly $ 44 billion. This includes print, Web, email, video and other types of content.

Nearly half of U.S. companies have adopted strategies for content marketing, according to Social Media Today, and more than three-fourths of chief marketing officers think custom content represents the future of marketing.

By no means have we at Sparefoot perfected the practice of content marketing, as the field is constantly evolving, so we reached out to content marketing experts for their advice. Here are 12 important insights:

1. Know your audience.

Rachel Parker, founder and CEO of Resonance Content Marketing in Houston, said it’s foolish to delve into content marketing without gauging the interests of your audience, understanding their “pain points,” and discovering what types of content they prefer.

This is Parker’s cardinal rule for content marketing: “It’s not about you—it’s about the people you’re trying to reach.”

Shaun Mehr, executive vice president of content marketing agency Sprocket Media in Pasadena, Calif., said it’s crucial to figure out how your customers and prospects gather information before they consider buying your product or service.

2. Commit to blogging.

Blog posts are an essential component of any strategy for content marketing, experts say.

“Blogging will continue to be important, because it drives search engine results, but companies will need to use all their channels to promote this content,” said Stacey King Gordon, president of Suite Seven, a content strategy and brand communications firm in Oakland, Calif. “I see the blog becoming more integrated with the rest of a company’s content, not just living on its own in a separate section of the website.”

3. Ditch the sales pitch.

Gordon said your content shouldn’t harp on the benefits of your products or services. Your content should offer “selfless” education or information “in a way that adds value, thereby making people more loyal to your company or brand.”

4. Measure, evaluate and revise.

Consistently evaluate results from your content tactics, Parker said, “and focus on the ones that are driving traffic, leads, conversions, and other vital factors.” If something isn’t working, look at revising your tactics.

5. Avoid over-optimization.

“Don’t let SEO get in the way of a good story!” said Natalie Henley, vice president of client services at Volume 9, a Denver company whose specialties include SEO and content marketing.

6. Follow the leaders.

Takeshi Young, SEO team leader at California-based EntirelyPets.com, an online seller of pet supplies and medicine, recommended checking out websites such as BuzzFeed and Upworthy to see what they’re doing well, and then borrow headline tricks and other content tactics.

7. Watch your words.

“Never sacrifice quality for quantity,” said Carly Fauth, director of marketing and outreach for personal finance website MoneyCrashers.com. “A content marketing strategy of a few high-quality posts trumps daily blog posts of subpar quality.”

8. Get more mileage from your content.

Gordon said her team will produce a piece of content for a client, then look for ways to create complementary pieces of content such as videos, infographics, or SlideShare presentations. That way, a topic can be examined from various angles, she said, and the content can be shared through various avenues.

9. Dive in for the long haul.

Gordon said you shouldn’t expect immediate results from a newly minted content marketing strategy.

“Engagement with your content comes only after you consistently publish great content for a while,” she said. “People will pay attention, but sometimes it takes some time. Companies need to keep going and expect it to be a long-term investment.”

10. Don’t forget the photos.

Images, including photos and infographics, quickly draw the attention of print and online readers. On top of that, images break up chunks of text. A few eye-pleasing images—purchased from stock photo services or shot by your own staff—can liven up what otherwise might be a bland blog post.

11. Invest in video.

Karma Martell, president and CEO of KarmaCom, a marketing firm in Brooklyn, insisted that video should be the top priority in any content marketing strategy. Why? Citing statistics published by EContent magazine, Martell said videos compel prospects to buy products or services, and they heighten the likelihood that your company will show up in Google search results.

However, not just any video will do the job.

Eric Goins, managing partner at Atlanta video production company Yes And Films, said a video should be 2 minutes and 30 seconds or less to ensure that it’s “clear, concise, and entertaining.”

[RELATED: Get advanced brand journalism tips from Mark Ragan and Jim Ylisela!]

12. Be responsive.

Your online content should be built with responsive design in mind, Martell said. It should look good on PCs, Macs, tablets, and smartphones. “With over 50 percent of all email being opened on a phone, this is a must,” Martell said.

John Egan is editor of The SpareFoot Blog, where a version of this story originally appeared.

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