When it comes to growing an online business, nothing is more effective than a well executed content marketing strategy. You’d be hard pressed to meet a consumer who prefers to be interrupted by an ad, rather than educated or entertained by informative articles, videos, or infographics.

This makes intuitive sense. The web enables readers to exercise unparalleled control over the media they consume. Unlike a television audience, readers on the web have a choice of where they allocate their attention, and they’re exercising that choice. Banner ad click-through rates have declined from 9% in the mid-90s to just .1

A pre-World War I advertisement introduced Was...
A pre-World War I advertisement introduced Washington’s coffee to the public. Advert from The New York Times, February 23, 1914. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

% today. At the same time, 70% of consumers claim to prefer getting to know a brand through articles rather than ads. In fact, numerous statistics strongly support consumer preferences for branded or sponsored content over ads.

The verdict is in: Readers want to be educated, not interrupted.

Knowing this is one thing. Executing an effective content marketing strategy is quite another. One of the biggest impediments preventing business owners from fully embracing content marketing is the fact that the rules of the content marketing game are quite different than the rules that prevailed when advertising was the preferred marketing method.

In the old days, businesses ferociously guarded their trade secrets for fear that proprietary information in the wrong hands would either give consumers enough information to avoid having to buy the company’s products, or give competitors an unnecessary edge. Today, we know that fear is unfounded. As it turns out, the more you give, the more you get.

Becoming the #1 contributor of educational information in your market niche is the most powerful marketing strategy a business can adopt. And that’s not just because consumers like content– the case for “education”-based marketing runs deeper than that.

Reason # 1 – Consumers Hate Interruptive Ads

While the web makes it easier than ever to share ideas and useful information, it also makes it easy for readers to completely ignore things that don’t interest them. We mentioned this above, but it’s worth repeating. Even Google is instructing webmasters to go easy on the ads!

This has led to a precipitous decline in display ad spending, and a dramatic increase in the number of businesses who are now actively producing and distributing content that readers want to consume. Content is what readers want, after all.

Reason # 2 – Content Levels the Playing Field

This shift from ads to content levels the playing field for small and medium-sized businesses because the economics of ad space don’t apply to content. Publishers (including your brand’s own blog) can always use more content, while ad space is much more tightly constrained.

Gone are the days when the largest brands dominated the conversation with consumers because they could buy up the ad space, and the clicks. Thanks to the democratising power of the internet, it’s now easier than ever for small business owners with genuine knowledge and insights to reach and grow their audiences.

Reason # 3 – The SEO Benefits Are Local and Long Lasting

The SEO benefits of a well executed content marketing strategy are much more durable than any ad. Not only that, content helps search engines determine a business’s local relevance. As Google indexes each page of content you publish, your chances of being found when someone is searching for your target keywords continues to increase in proportion to the quality and quantity of the content you produce. Ads simply can’t do that– they only impact users who view them directly and then they are gone.

If your business builds a broad and useful content footprint, you will be found more often by more search users. Period.

To supercharge your SEO, focus on earning links from authoritative sites within your industry. Partnering in this way will often deliver quick results, both in terms of immediate referral traffic (as readers click over to your website mentioned in your author bio), and long term increases in search rankings.

Guest blogging is perhaps the most reliable of all high-impact, earned media strategies. While results are not exactly predictable, the barriers to landing a guest post on a respectable blog in your industry are much lower than trying to get a mention in People magazine or the New York Times. Not to mention the costs are a small fraction of what a respectable PR firm would charge. For a list of reputable guest blogging services, check out this post by Kristi Hines written for Search Engine Journal.

Here are some other tools for generating earned media mentions for your small business:

Zemanta provides bloggers with a simple tool for finding useful resources to share with their readers. Zemanta indexes your content and smartly recommends it to its network of over 750k bloggers for inclusion in their blog posts. Business owners who use Zemanta benefit when those bloggers include a link to a piece of content created by business owners like you.

HARO (an acronym for Help A Reporter Out) is another fairly popular tool for generating earned mentions online. As the name suggests, business owners are enlisted to help out reporters who need someone knowledgeable about their industry to interview or quote for a story. Business owners benefit when their business is mentioned within the context of an editorial story on a popular blog.

Reason # 4 – Better Engagement Means More Referral Traffic

Investing the time or money to produce quality content is well worth it. Industry-leading publishers who cater to the audience you need to reach are much more likely to publish thoughtful content that answers the most important questions on their readers minds, than they are to publish the type of filler content that many marketers put out.

Why does publishing on industry-leading blogs matter? Well…

“If you write a blog post and no one reads it, did you write a blog post?”

For small businesses, the added benefit of direct referral traffic from well-placed content is as close to a panacea as it gets in online marketing. Its not uncommon for a well-placed article to receive anywhere from a few hundred, to a few thousand referrals from members of that blog’s audience who want to learn more about the person who just educated them on xyz topic. This happens because sponsored posts and guest posts include back links which drive traffic back to the business’s website.

Reason # 5 – Educational Marketing Has Worked For Ages

While the proliferation of blogs has catalyzed the widespread adoption of content marketing strategies, the practice has been around for ages. In his book, The Sticking Point Solution, legendary marketing guru and business growth strategist Jay Abraham tells an inspiring story about a client whose business exploded as a result of smart content marketing back in the 1970s!

*The Story of Jim The Rare Coin Maven *

Jim was a struggling retailer of rare gold and silver coins at a time when gold and silver markets were booming. Jim tried every tactic imaginable to grow his business including full page advertisements in newspapers, exhibiting at industry conferences and direct mail, all to no effect. With only $300k in annual sales, there was no way that using traditional paid media campaigns would allow him to compete with the multi-million dollar industry leaders.

Jay thought that making Jim the maven in his industry would prove even more effective than paid advertising while costing Jim far less than buying full page ads. And he was right. Jay and his team created a handful of in-depth reports that showed investors how to profit from investing in rare coins. He then gave those reports to the leading industry newsletters, for free. Within 18 months, Jim’s sales shot from $300,000 to $500,000,000! “That’s a 16,667% sales explosion!” Abraham recounts.

While Jim’s story is exceptional, it doesn’t detract from the point of this post. When businesses take the time to educate their audience, something special happens. The audience starts to trust them. All else being equal, people would prefer to do business with someone they trust.

And luckily, for small businesses, it doesn’t take thousands of pieces of content to move the needle. A few pieces of quality content like an infographic, well written blog posts, an interview of an influential player in your industry, or a few white papers showcasing your ability to impart useful knowledge on your topic of expertise will go a long way toward boosting your status as a thought leader in your industry. Find what works. Then wash, rinse and repeat.


The decline of banner ads combined with advanced search engine updates is forcing the entire web marketing industry to converge towards content or “education” based marketing. Small business owners would be wise to embrace this leveling of the playing field by developing and deploying thoughtful content marketing strategies of their own.

Specific tips on how to execute a successful content marketing strategy are beyond the scope of this post. But I will be addressing this in a future post. Interested? Go ahead and leave a comment below.