It seems like the internet marketing rules are always changing.  Once you get a handle on one way of doing things, Google comes along and completely changes everything.  It’s like they enjoy putting all of your hard work into a blender and leaving you with nothing but a bunch of unrecognizable mush.

But no matter how much Google’s algorithm changes, there is one thing you can always count on – being judged by your content.   Whether it’s the almighty Google or your human readers doing the judging, you have one chance to stand out.  Screw up your content marketing efforts, and you might as well wave a giant (virtual) flag over your website that says “failure”.

So, how do you master content marketing these days?

1.  Stop advertising

Or, rather, save the advertising for the proper channels.  Your articles, blog posts, press releases, and videos are not the proper channels.  People want information out of those, not a sales pitch.

Ever wonder why DVR is so popular?  Because it allows people to get the information they want, whenever they want it, without sitting through a ton of commercials!  Your content needs to be the same way.  No matter how gifted of a wordsmith you may be, if people are looking for hard facts, they’re going to be turned off by your sales pitch.

So, give them what they want, prove yourself, and draw them in.  THEN, you can sell to them – later, (in well-written sales copy, of course!) when they’re expecting it.

2.  Cast a wide – but top-notch – net

You already know that spinning and blasting content doesn’t work.  (And if you don’t know that, good luck fighting off the herd of Google Pandas who are going to eat you for lunch!)  So, set your sights on finding authority websites that can give you great exposure.

How do you do that?

Start by looking for great guest posting opportunities.  (Not sure how to find them?  Start with a couple of great, free resources – Blogger LinkUp and My Blog Guest.)

Then, once you’ve gotten published on a few sites that you like, use your wider resources – like Twitter and Facebook – to drum up some exposure for your posts.

But don’t stop there.

There are niche-specific outlets you can use to get the word out, too.  For example, BizSugar is a Digg-type website that caters to business owners.  So, every time I publish an article somewhere, I submit the link to BizSugar.  That way, I know that lots of entrepreneurs will see what I’ve written – the exact group I’m trying to reach.

3.  Tap into current events

As important as “evergreen” content is (you know, the stuff that is helpful and informative today, tomorrow, and six months from now), your content marketing strategy also has to stay on top of current events if you’re going to be considered a trustworthy, go-to source in your niche.

You don’t have to be a newsroom in order to get a spot in Google News.  Instead, a well-written, properly-optimized article is all you need.

More importantly, though, people are counting on you to keep them informed.  In fact, if your industry is talking about some big development and you’re NOT, you’re going to look bad.

One great way to tackle current events AND fetch some exposure is HARO, or “Help A Reporter Out”.  This service is free to sign up for, and it sends out three emails a day – all of which list reporters that are looking for niche-specific experts to interview for news stories.

4.  Go big AND small

If you’re constantly churning out 1,200 word pieces, a new reader may be intimidated to dive in.  Remember, web readers are notoriously impatient.  So, you need to appeal to people who may be crunched for time, or who may simply be looking for a quick answer and don’t want to wade through 1,200 words to get it.  That means you have to focus on shorter pieces of content, too.

A great way to do this is on a blog.  In 200 or 300 words, people can get introduced to your style and see that you really do know your stuff.  Then, they’ll be a whole lot more inclined to sit down with a cup of coffee when your name appears at the top of a longer piece.

(As an added benefit, adding a blog to your website is a great way to get SEO bonus points!  Every time you update it, your entire site will get “credit” for being updated!)

5.  Stop cutting corners

Microsites are dead.  Bare-bones efforts are dead.  (Well, they always have been to people.  Now, the search engines have caught up!)

If you want to go micro, you’ve got 140 characters on Twitter to do it.  Everyone there is expecting short, sweet, and so the point.  But on your website, they’re expecting you to dig deeper.  That means you’ve got to have a whole lot more than a landing page with a “Buy” or a “Sign Up” button.

Here’s the bottom line – if you expect people to hand over their hard-earned money or their email address, you’ve got to give them a darn good reason to do it.  And, if you want to be anywhere near the top of the search results, you’ve got to give the search engines a darn good reason to put you there.  That means you’ve got to be an authority – and authority sites don’t cut corners.

6.  Build a voice

Who are you?  What do you stand for?  Why should readers trust you?

Content marketing goes way beyond building a brand.  Readers want to hear from YOU, in your voice.  They want to know that you’re not some corporate robot or some talking head.  Instead, they want to see that you have some personality – that they can relate to you.  Until your content marketing strategy can do that, it’s never going to work.