Content marketing is a hot topic these days for very good reason. It can be an effective way to introduce your company to new prospects without hitting them over the head with banner ads, spending a ton on advertising, or forcing promotional messages in social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

If your content is interesting, informative or entertaining enough, people will be happy to share it with their contacts, spreading your brand and connecting your company with quality content.

But before you jump in (or if you’re already neck deep), make sure your content marketing efforts aren’t being held back by fundamental issues. Your ROI can be negative if the content you create doesn’t attract any attention or add real value to anyone.

In order to help you think through your content marketing strategy, here are 9 key areas to consider:

1) Focus on Quality First

Companies that focus on volume of content will lose out over companies that focus on quality. High quality posts will get significantly more shares on social media, will get the attention of other industry stakeholders, and will position your company as more of a thought leader, expert or educator. In addition, there’s an overabundance of average to poor content out there. People will gravitate to, follow, and refer providers of quality knowledge. Don’t produce junk!

2) Topics Your Prospects/Customers Care About

When starting out with content marketing, lots of companies take an internally-focused (I call it a “me-centric”) perspective. They think, “how can we get more details out about our products and services via our blog!”. This is the wrong way to think about it.

To really add value and to have success with content marketing, you need to start by putting yourself in the shoes of your prospects and customers. Think about their questions, concerns and “information gaps” that you can address on your website, via your blog in video content and in other places and ways (read this deep dive on customer-focused blog topics).

3) Don’t Ignore SEO

Content marketing is beautiful because it has the ability to combine Content (which can establish your expertise) with Social Media (which can help you exponentially spread your message) with Search (helping you be found via Google, Bing or other search engines).

Some companies limit the “Search” part of the equation by not being knowledgeable about the basics of SEO, by using terms that people don’t use (e.g. internal company jargon vs. commonly used terms) and by not posting enough keyword-rich textual content on their website or blog. A simple example – when embedding a YouTube video in your blog, why not include some of the key points or a full transcript (if not too long) in text below it so Google can pick up on these terms?

4) Think About Variety

When people think about content marketing, they may quickly think that this means a lot of writing. Cranking out text-heavy blog posts, lots of ebooks and various white papers. In reality, creativity and variety will help you stand out more in your industry.

Think about using a variety of media (pictures, videos, infographics, checklists, audio content, webinars and even live events), in addition to written content like blog posts, ebooks and white papers.

Also, variety can extend to what kind of content you create. You can create thought leadership pieces, “behind the scenes” content (e.g. pictures of your product/service being created), customer features, interviews, list of resources and many other types of content. Use your imagination! It will pay off in terms of attention.

5) Build a Social Foundation

Social media is a perfect complement to content marketing. Content is the fuel that keeps the social media “engine” humming as people share and re-share content they’ve discovered or that someone else (in most cases) shared with them.

By building up your connections on the social platforms that other industry influencers and your prospects spend time at (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ and many others), you’ll be laying the groundwork for potential sharing of your (great) content! In addition, engaging and sharing other people’s content before you have something to share is another critical part of getting your social foundation built.

6) Get Your Employees to Share

There’s nothing worse than coming to a company blog and seeing “0” or “1” shares for a given post. If you believe in your content, you should share it after you produce it. The next step is to make sure employees are aware of the content and to encourage them to share it on accounts that they manage (or optionally on their personal accounts in some cases).

7) Align Content Marketing and Advertising Efforts

Content marketing should be aligned with all of the marketing you’re doing in your company. In fact, you probably want to do some specific promotions for some of your content – e.g. a new ebook or a webinar are great hooks to pull people in via PPC or Facebook ads.

8) Monitor The Reactions Online

In addition to seeing the numbers of shares in social media, it’s important to see what people are saying about it. This is where social media monitoring comes in. You can use a tool like Meltwater Buzz to monitor brand mentions, specific keywords and industry influencers. Then you can then see which pieces of content or campaigns are working and which are not.

9) Engage With People Who Share and Comment

In addition to monitoring mentions and shares, engaging with people who responded to the content can be a very powerful way to spread your reach and to connect with potential prospects or industry stakeholders.

Content marketing is not just creating content, it’s about sharing and engaging with people who resonate with the content.

Is your content marketing strategy in shape?

Hopefully you’re taking care of these areas in your content strategy. Or maybe there are others that you found to be important. If so, let us know your thoughts in the comments!