Sometimes, I feel like content marketing is a lot like playing Skyrim. Since the game was released last November, I spent an inordinate amount of time making characters, hunting dragons and generally convincing myself that I could take on a bear in real life, if I had the right sword.

In the world of inbound marketing, content marketing is a lot like hunting and slaying those dragons. You’ve got to have a plan, you’ve got to hunt a few dragons and you better have the right skills — because the game gets harder as you go along.

Have a Plan

Early on in Skyrim, your character bursts fresh-faced from the dungeons beneath Helgen after a vicious dragon attack (like Penguin, anyone?) and… the world is your oyster. You can follow any path you choose, but the wise player picks a strategy that compliments his play style and follows the paths to gather the rich rewards therein.

Same with inbound marketing. If you’re going into the wilderness without a game plan, you might as well turn the game off. Having a rich, detailed content strategy from the start only increases your chances of slaying the Dragon of Content That Kills (trademark that, please). In specific terms, this means audience analysis and persona development are just as important — if not more important — in today’s race to the top of the SERP.

Plan ahead, figure out who’s using your website (persona development) and how they’re using it (keyword research). Plan out some directions for content to develop on your site (topic modeling), and then head into the wilderness. Writing one piece of content without this direction of action is like walking up to a dragon with a puny iron sword and shoddy Stormcloak armor. It ain’t gonna get the job done.

You Gotta Have Skills

In Skyrim, you can spend your time exploring towns and dungeons, doing quests and using skills you naturally develop to get better at the game and make your character more powerful. Or, you can cheat – by going into the cities, paying for training, and then robbing the trainers to get your money back.

Of course, if you do that, you have no real experience. And the problem with Skyrim is that the game gets harder as you go along – as your character advances in skill level, so to do the enemies within the game. If you want to succeed, the harder road to the top is the best one – develop your skills, then hunt your dragon. Cheating is only a path to quicker, stickier death.

The same ideas apply to slaying the Dragon of Content That Kills. If you’re spending your time learning how to craft quality content developed to answer the questions and needs of your target user personae, then you’re leveling up the right way. In the mad dash to get content, don’t be fooled into cheating, and throwing up any old thing on your website.

What makes a piece of content “good” is a separate subject in its own right, but when “leveling” your content, keep these things in mind: good content answers a question for your users, and good content always has a call to action to help your users take the next step. Great content is always informative and useful, and it converts. It’s skillful and has deadly aim… and it puts you on the path to slaying your dragon. For more expert tips on content creation, check out Slingshot’s guide to the 5 W’s of Content Creation.

Hunt The Dragon

So you’ve got the plan, and you took the time to develop your skills. It wasn’t easy, but you navigated the wilderness, fought a few bears, followed your plan and leveled up. Now you’re ready to take that dragon. You just have to go find it.

In Skyrim, that’s actually not too hard. Once you get the game going, there are dragons everywhere. Sometimes they even come looking for you. But you have to go looking for a fight just as often, and spending time marching across the frozen tundra of Skyrim killing winged reptilian beasties is about as much fun as it sounds.

Content marketing doesn’t have to be as much fun as pulling teeth. It can be a great dragon hunt, crafting the content you need to give your users what they want, setting them up for conversion and proving to Google that you’re a genuine authority on whatever it is that you do.

Once you have a plan and you’ve developed the right skills, it’s time to hit the trail up the mountain, pull out that Elvin Sword of Scorching and show the Dragon of Content That Kills who’s boss. Follow your plan and get your content out there, on your own domain to generate your own authority, and on partner sites and other domains your users frequently visit to get some meaningful inbound links point to your site.

That dragon will be nothing more than a trophy on your mantle of inbound marketing in no time, and you’ll be the hero that saved Skyrim from swift fiery destruction – or the marketer who proved that content that is planned and skillful is worth all the fuss, and the stuff that separates the dragonslayers from the pretenders.