Content marketing may sound intimidating, but the concept is simple: educate potential customers to win their loyalty, and eventually, their business. This doesn’t have to happen online, but an engaging content marketing strategy has proven to be especially effective in an age when customers head straight to Google to find solutions to their problems.

Google wants people to rely on its search engine, and seeks to return the most relevant results possible. That’s why populating your business website with educational content—content Google loves—also improves your ranking in the world of SEO. This process takes an ongoing investment of time and money; but if done well, it results in high-quality organic leads.

What do we mean by engaging digital content? We mean articles, photos, videos, social media posts and reviews that are interesting and informative for your target customers. Great content is a soft sell; it gradually captures leads, and converts sales by giving prospects a reason to return to your company. A content marketing strategy that wins sales keeps customers coming to your website—and it keeps your business at the top of their minds.

Content Marketing in Action

If potential customers visit your website to learn about new products or watch how-to videos, they are more likely to buy from you (and not your competitors) when they’re ready to purchase.

Home Depot is a great example of a business that uses a content marketing strategy to drive sales. The home improvement retailer uses the “DIY projects and Ideas” section on HomeDepot.com to reach an important segment of its customer base: homeowners who do their own home improvements.

Here’s how content marketing works with Home Depot customers. The process starts with a leaky faucet. The homeowner searches the internet to learn “how to repair bathroom faucet”. Among the top search engine results is the Home Depot’s step-by-step guide to fixing a leaky faucet, complete with photos and a supply list. Each supply listed—from needle-nose pliers to replacement parts—links directly to a product page where customers can add the item to their online cart and purchase.

How to Develop Your Own Content Marketing Strategy

How can your business cash in on content marketing like Home Depot? Start by developing your content marketing strategy. A good content marketing strategy will achieve two things: acquainting people with what you have to offer and raising your online visibility.

First, your digital content should help raise awareness of your company and your offerings. All of your company’s digital content, from the business descriptions on your website landing pages to the product photos and videos you share on social media, should aim to help your target customers (eventually) make a purchasing decision. If your content marketing strategy is effective and the price is right, those website visitors and social media followers will buy from you.

“Small business owners should begin by creating helpful content on their website related to the products or services they offer,” said Jeffrey Hensel, one of several digital marketing experts Manta interviewed for a comprehensive guide on SEO for small business. Remember to think of content as a soft sell. As you create your website and social media content, focus on building a relationship with your ideal customers rather than forcing a sales transaction.

How to Optimize Digital Content for Search Engines

While your content should not be about about the hard sell, the end goal of your digital content is, of course, to increase business. To make your content marketing strategy effective in generating leads and sales, there are two big questions you need to answer: Who is your ideal online audience, and what are they searching for?

For example, if you run a roofing company in a small town, your target customers are likely homeowners who live nearby. If they need your services (that is to say, if they are leads), they are likely to be using search terms like “roof repair” or “how much do roofs cost?” or “how long do roofs last?” You’ll want to include content on your website or blog that covers these topics and uses these key phrases.

Your business description should include those key search phrases you identify. Your business name, address, contact information and hours should be listed accurately and consistently on your website, social media profiles and in online business directories like Google My Business. This consistency assures customers that you’re open for business. At the same time, it signals to search engines like Google and Bing that your website is a legitimate source of information, which is essential to appearing in search engine results.

This is called “optimizing” your content. This helps achieve the secondary goal of your content marketing strategy. In addition to being useful to customers, successful content will help improve the search engine ranking of your website, making it easier for your potential customers to learn more about your company, products and services.

Improving your website’s search ranking increases the likelihood that your company will show up when people use Google or Bing to search for your products or services. Raising the search engine ranking of your website will require you to use a range of SEO tactics beyond content marketing. However, behind every business website in the top Google or Bing results is a company that knows how to use content marketing to its advantage.

Sara Oberst is vice president of marketing for Manta, one of the largest online resources dedicated to small business. Manta educates and empowers small business owners to succeed on their own terms by helping them compete, connect with customers and grow their businesses.

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