content marketing successBrands want it. Agencies are scrambling to create it. Experts are calling it the future. Consumers crave it. However, is content making anyone more excited about the future of marketing in terms of providing real business value? Jef I. Richards said, “Creative without strategy is called ‘art.’ Creative with strategy is called ‘advertising.’ ” Without a strategic plan behind your content marketing and, more specifically, your guest postings, your content is just clutter — it’s not marketing, nor does it provide any more value than a glorified “About” page.

Originally, SEO professionals used guest posting as a tool to obtain links back to a site from a variety of different domains. This was about quantity and keyword-rich anchor text. As guest blogging has evolved, this haphazard, quantity-driven practice hasn’t been replaced, even though most knowledgeable content marketers and SEO practitioners understand that guest blogging is more about building credibility and brand awareness, or using content as the catalyst for social media conversations. Also, with reports of Google’s Author Rank, your authority as an author who submits quality content to quality sites will influence the page rank of your article in search results.

In order to get past what this Midwest girl likes to call “crop dusting” content, you need to build a plan for each phase of a guest post’s content life cycle: strategy, creation, and execution.

Strategy: Find your message

If you’ve been accepted as a guest contributor to a publication, or want to start pitching publications in order to grow your professional brand or the brand of your company, step back from the computer. Do not pass “Go.” Do not collect $200. Don’t start composing your thoughts on a recent tech announcement or spinning a gripe about a client into a 600-word article. Begin by outlining your goals for guest posting over a six-month period of time. Ask yourself:

  • How much time can I realistically dedicate each month to writing articles? Start with one to two articles per month. Block out two hours every few weeks on your calendar now. Writing requires patience, dedication — and possibly an intern standing guard at your door to ward off distractions. Writing only when you feel like it, or when inspiration comes, means you will never write.
  • What do I want to accomplish by contributing? Think about your overall business or professional goals. Outline a list of three or four things you want to achieve in the next six months. Is your goal to grow your product’s users by X amount? Do you want your company to be seen as the go-to resource for a specific service? Did the research you commissioned show that your clients have low trust in your brand?
  • How can I use content marketing to accomplish these business objectives? In order to get out of the clutter category, your content should align with one or all of your business goals. If you want to grow your product’s user base, you can create a specific strategy to utilize content marketing to achieve this. For example, if you want your company to be seen as one of the top resources for mobile website development, you or a designated person within your company needs to be seen as an expert on mobile. Every goal needs to match up with a targeted content marketing plan.
  • What processes need to be in place? What type of assistance do I need to write content that is compelling and engaging? Content is not as simple as just throwing in a few subheadings and emailing a Word document. Do other individuals in your organization need to review the content? How does your content overlap with the marketing department’s goals? Does your content need to go through a legal department? You may be the face of the company and an expert in many areas, but you might need one-on-one time with other experts in your company each month. Perhaps you’re a great writer, but you need an editor to refine your content for publication. Map out the resources you need to be successful with your content goals.

Once you’ve answered these questions, the strategy side of things will fall in line. I like to use a mapping exercise to help me visualize this and to keep my creation phase on pace.

find your message

Creation: Find your audience

So, you’ve got your business goals outlined, you have buy-in from marketing and legal, and you’ve mapped a diagram to solidify the plan. You thought that was the hard part? You might be ready to let those fingers have a little party with your word processor.

I’m going to tell you again: Do not touch that keyboard. When creating content, you need to think about the long-term effects of your publishing efforts. You can’t start with a 1,000-word manifesto on your area of expertise. You need to start small and build up and out from there. Take your strategy documents and start filling in the pieces for your first few months of content.

  • Brainstorm: This is where you call in your friends in marketing or other areas of expertise. Under each of your three content strategy areas, come up with a few article ideas. Each article should build upon, and attempt to cross-promote, the ideas of the last article. Start small and, as readers get to know you, you can begin to write more in-depth pieces in each core area. This will also work in your favor with publishers: If you can pitch a few ideas, or even a series, on a topic, they will see you as a more advanced writer and know they can count on you for in-depth content on a specific subject.

find your audience

  • Consider the audience: With each article, you should outline who you think can — or should — find value in the content. By initially considering whom you’re writing for, it will be easier to find the right publication for your piece. You’ll be able to tailor the article to the specific reader looking for your product or service.
  • Establish measurements: You’ve determined at least three business goals, with content marketing as a tool to achieve these. Now is the time to outline how you’ll track and record your success. Is traffic a measure of success? Do you know how to set up conversion funnels to track visitors from another site? What KPIs do you need to establish now so you can determine if, and how, your content and business goals are being achieved?

Now, start writing.

Execution: Find your supporters

You have your first few articles out to publications, and the day your first article is published has arrived. It’s even featured in a cool slider thing on the home page. Now you can get back to emails, meetings, and more important client-related work, right? Not so fast.

If you want your content to succeed, you can’t just leave it up to the publication. Success in guest posting relies heavily on social sharing. Many publications are reporting that a significant portion of traffic arrives from the “side door” — readers are finding content through social or news-aggregating sites and apps. So the success of your article could be determined by who shares or links to your article. Even though content marketing is heralded as a “pull” marketing strategy — creating inbound leads and interest, rather than pushing in-your-face marketing messages — that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider a plan to market your marketing. Here are a few ways to rally the troops:

  • Social media promotion: Once your article is live, you should immediately share it on your social networks. Twitter is great for driving traffic to your article, but don’t just share once. Guy Kawasaki states that you should share your article four times that day, with eight hours between each tweet. This way, your tweets will be seen at optimal times in each time zone, and they will be seen by users who visit Twitter at different times of the day (it’s helpful to use a service like Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule your tweets). You can also add your article to the publications section of your LinkedIn profile. If the publication allows you to add in your Google+ Author profile in your bio, be sure to add the URL of the article to the contributor section of your Google+ profile.
  • Find brand ambassadors: Does your company employ some supremely social staff? Find out who they are, and let them know what you’re trying to accomplish. Ask if they’ll support you by sharing and distributing the article to their friends and followers. Coordinate with your marketing department to promote the article through official channels.
  • Content re-use: Does your company produce an email newsletter? Do you or the company maintain a blog? Showcase your publication by a third-party site by posting an update to the blog, with an excerpt or highlight from the article. Feature the article in the monthly newsletter, and encourage your current and prospective clients to ask questions or share the piece. It might just be what they need to convince the C-suite to use your services.

Content marketing is a valuable tool, and it can be one of the best tactics to build your authority and reach new audiences. From meeting other experts in your field, to building trust in prospective clients, to creating an inbound lead strategy, insightful content that brings real value will stand out. Without a strategy, your content will be just another 320 KB file in the internet wasteland.

For more tips on creating and executing a successful guest blogging strategy, read The Utimate Guide to Blogging.

Cover image via Bigstock.