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Saturday, October 11, 2014

How to Develop an Effective Online Content Strategy for Your Business

Note: This article was first published in KIM's Management Magazine.

Posting & Sharing that adds value

In the past CCM Midweek Digest, we looked at reasons why we should always think before clicking. Instead of recklessly posting and sharing information that can adversely affect both individuals and organizations, we can use the Internet for personal and business development.

In today's CCM Weekend Connection, we focus on the power of the Internet to attract, keep, engage and let customers further market a company's products and services. This is something Tony was forced to do.

“A web site is never complete...”

“Yeah, you heard that right.” Joe told Tony.
Joe was Tony's second web designer. He was saying things that Tony found hard to believe, even as Tony found himself at his tether's end in trying to establish a profitable business on the web. The first designer had come up with a great web site, with attractive graphics, interactive flash elements, robust code and secure databases. The site itself justified the cost, Tony felt.

Years later, the site's traffic continually dropped, visitors barely spent two minutes on the site, there were very few enquiries and even these hardly resulted in purchases.
Worse, the site was nowhere near the top in search engine results.

Tony decided to seek a second opinion and ended up engaging Joe, who bluntly told him that the beautiful web site Tony currently owned was far from complete.

“This problem is shared by many site owners and a few designers who are not up to date on the ever changing web trends.” said Joe. “People generally assume that the job is complete once the web designer commissions a new site. The site owner then sits back and waits for visitors to make enquiries and purchases. When nothing like that happens, the site owner often thinks that the designer conned him.”

“What should I then do to complete my site?”
“Your site will never be complete. No site is.” Joe emphasized. “Every web site is always a work in progress. What you need to do is develop a content strategy that will ensure you continually attract and effectively connect with your visitors and whoever they can influence. That is your potential market.”

Content. Content. Content.

A key fundamental in real estate is location. On the web, it is content.
Hard as it may be to accept, web sites are visited for their content. Design and other visible attributes only enhance the user experience.

Like Tony above, many business owners and senior managers frequently contend with having web sites which seemingly do not add any value. Having a content strategy changes everything. Following are key areas of focus.

The very first thing is to make it easier for visitors to find your web site. Being found is absolutely important since there are very many other sites of interest in your niche.
To this end, it is important to purpose your content so that search engines get to index your web pages more often. Use within your content, keywords that visitors are most likely to use while searching.

Have fresh and useful content. As more people find your content and share it, you get many other sites linking back to you and this gets you a higher ranking on search engine results. Fresh, useful content invariably encourages return visits.

Now that you rank favorably with search engines thanks to your fresh and useful content, you need to appeal to your targeted online audience and thereby create a loyal following.

Business itself is all about meeting a certain need for certain individual or corporate clients, and thereby getting a reward. Likewise on the web, where you identify a niche audience and meet their need through your products, services or information.

Understanding your audience makes it very easy to address their needs, interests, issues, and concerns. Offering solutions makes you relevant.

Once you establish your site as a useful source of information that results in solutions for your customers, it then becomes necessary to engage your audience. The Internet makes it possible to do this in real time, world-wide.

Social networks have made it possible to engage with customers both effectively and fast. In other content areas such as blogs, articles on web sites and white papers that are freely availed for download, feedback should be encouraged. Comments are a sure way to shape opinion and encourage topical discourse. Audience feedback also helps you better understand  your customers.

How to do it all.

Web logs [informally known as blogs] are popular web publishing platforms. There are numerous free blogging platforms such as WordPress, Blogger and Typepad that one can use to create, manage and publish a blog. A customized, self-hosted blog can also be incorporated in a web site.

With most blogs, the posts are chronologically presented in reverse order. Each post usually has a comments section wherein the readers can share their opinions. Posts can also be tagged/labeled to reflect topical focus. A tag, label or thread on a blog is equivalent to a hash-tag on Twitter.

Blogs are excellent sharing tools using what is known as track-backs. These are essentially blogs or web sites that also link back to that particular blog post. Additionally, blogs encourage sharing of content via social networks, e-mail, content discovery networks and blog aggregators such as Digg, Reddit, among others.

Integrating a blog in the company web site and regularly posting about your products and services is a sure way to add value to your web site.
The search giant Google is a very good example of a company that actively makes use of blogs to engage the audience on matters relating to its expansive product offering.

Content Marketing
Many companies are now embracing content marketing as a way of brand development, customer retention and product marketing.

The most effective way to do this is to write useful articles or publish an entire online magazine or catalogue, in which you explain your products and services, respond to customer questions, educate readers and announce new products or any other changes. In addition, such a publication will often include related issues of interest to your target audience.

On most web sites, content marketing is typically done at the resources section of the site. White papers, magazines, catalogues or articles published on the web are used to both market products and engage consumers. To continually create compelling content, a professional freelance or full-time writer, should be hired. An editor too, is a necessary addition, to ensure professionalism and maintain credibility.

IBM has a very comprehensive content marketing strategy that incorporates articles, white papers and blogs that address IBM products and services.

Social Networks
When it comes to Facebook, Google+, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and other social networks, any site owner can share links that make it easier to discover new content, start conversations, and engage a very interested niche audience.
Through pages on Facebook and Google+, groups on LinkedIn as well as dedicated accounts and trending topics on Twitter, you can engage those who follow and connect with you.
In Kenya, a leading telecommunications company has been using Twitter and Facebook to conduct laudable customer care. Other companies are doing a commendable job too.

The Way Ahead

In conclusion, your web site is a low cost, yet highly effective way to attract, inform, engage and assist your customers. With a content strategy in place, your site will truly add value to your business.