I should probably start with a disclaimer. There is no such thing as a “zero-cost” marketing strategy. All marketing has a cost, whether it is calculated in dollars or in time. But for many small and medium-sized businesses, where budgets are tight and enthusiasm is in abundance, time is much easier to come by (even if it means working long into the night) than hard cash.

Content marketing is an obvious strategy to adopt if your marketing budgets are limited. The first step to building a successful content marketing strategy is to blog.

Content Marketing Fact: The more effort you put into your blogging activity, the more traffic your website will attract. If your content is good, your website is well designed and your product/service offering is compelling, you will sell more.

Proof Point: I’m a big proponent of eating my own dog food. At iContact, we have recently seen a 40% increase (year over year) of unique visitors to our blog by simply increasing the number of posts we run every week. In a highly competitive space like email marketing, generating traffic can be incredibly expensive. The increase in visitors to our blog (which runs into many thousands) – and the traffic this generates to our main site – is therefore incredibly valuable.

But you cannot build a business on traffic alone.

Your content must entertain, inform and, above all, convert. A conversion might be a sale, a subscription (paid or otherwise), social media engagement or any other form of lead generation. This means having all the mechanisms in place to encourage engagement and drive conversations.

Seven Components of a Successful Blog  

  1. Regularly Update Content: This should go without saying. Try to update your blog as often as possible with relevant, engaging and timely posts. If this seems a little too daunting, remember – blog posts don’t have to be lengthy articles. Seth Godin (world-famous author and marketer) provides an excellent example of how short, conversational blog posts can have maximum impact via his blogTip: Try to get into the habit of blogging every single day (it gets easier with experience, I promise).
  2. Include Deep Links: Encourage your readers to explore your blog further by offering links to relevant content throughout your posts. If you talk about a specific product or service, always include a link where the reader can directly buy the product or register their interest in it.
  3. Harness the Power of Word-of-Mouth Marketing via Social Media: A good blog is social media fuel. Make it as easy as possible for people who find your content to share your posts via their social media networks by adding simple social media sharing buttons to your posts.
  4. Utilize Email Marketing: Formulize your relationship with your readers by offering them a free subscription to your content. Email is a great way to drive repeat traffic to your blog, as well as help you build your brand and sales.
  5. Integrate and Distribute Widely: Your blog should be an integral part of your site. Ensure that your readers can easily navigate from your blogged content to pages that help them become (and remain) customers. At iContact, we distribute our content via our blog, our email marketing app (the interface where users login to manage their campaigns), our social media channels and our monthly email marketing newsletter. We also encourage our employees to share our content widely (this is easy when the content is actually produced in-house).
  6. Include a Direct Call to Action: Don’t be shy; tell your customers what you would like them to do next. This could be to leave a comment, register for an event or download an information product, or simply buy now.
  7. Keep Going: Too many blogs are left to wither and die before they have ever reached their true potential. Content marketing can take time before it begins to show any real results. A handful of posts will never provide the critical mass to see you through to success. And remember, an ill-tended blog can be more damaging to your business than no blog at all.

How has content marketing helped your business grow? Share your comments in the box below:

This post first appeared on the iContact Email Marketing Blog.