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According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is defined as a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

In practice, I’ve found that the true goal of a well-thought-out content marketing strategy is to create an immense amount of free value for your potential clients in hopes that you’ll be able to attract, retain and build an eventually profitable relationship with each of them. Easier said than done, so let’s talk about a few of these strategies.

Content marketing is a long-term strategy that rarely leads to overnight success. One of the most common misconceptions about what it takes to be a good content marketer is that the bulk of your time should be spent on creating the content. The belief that your job ends once you hit publish couldn’t be more untrue.

As a content marketing consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a wide range of different clients over the past few years. From the world’s top business experts, like Tim Ferriss, to rapidly growing startups and established brands, I’ve learned through trial and error exactly which content marketing strategies are most effective at growing traffic and sales.

Here are the top four content marketing strategies that consistently net the highest return for my clients.

1. High Quality Blog Content

The core of any strong content marketing strategy is a system for creating and distributing blog content that does the absolute best job of answering your customers’ questions. Before getting started with your blog content, you need to know who your audience is, and understand how they best digest information. If they have the attention span to read posts that are several thousands of words in length, then creating content with that type of depth and detail will help your chances of ranking high in organic search rankings, thus driving more free traffic to your website.

Here’s an example. On my personal blog, readers come to me for ideas and inspiration on how to get started as an aspiring entrepreneur. I make a point to regularly engage with my readers to learn more about their needs and most pressing questions, so that I can turn around and create useful content for them.

2. Infographics

If your customers are visual by nature, designing an infographic that takes a more fun and unique approach to providing solutions for your customers can be a phenomenally successful content marketing strategy. Because infographics are designed to beautifully and harmoniously display information, they’re inherently more shareable, which drastically increases your chances of having your content go viral and land near the top of organic search results.

3. Downloadable Guides

Building downloadable guides that capture more in-depth information and tutorials for your potential customers is essential to any content marketing strategy. The reality of running a business with any online component is that most of your site visitors won’t buy anything on their first visit. They’re just researching, browsing or not quite ready to pull out their wallets. It’s up to you to instill trust in them.

Not only do guides allow you to go into greater depth and free yourself of the creative constraints of writing within your blog CMS, but it gives you a reason to collect names and email addresses from your prospects, in exchange for receiving your valuable guide. This foundational lead generating tactic will significantly help you in grow your email subscriber base where you can continue nurturing those individual relationships until they’re ready to become paying customers.

4. Online Courses

Creating free online courses that go a step beyond just content on your blog is a guaranteed way to start building meaningful relationships based on the value you provide to your potential customers. Whether your courses contain educational videos or consist of written lectures and worksheets, if you can successfully guide your prospects through the process of learning something that helps them positively impact their business, you’ll lay an early foundation of trust for the future.

Once you’ve determined which content marketing strategies are best-suited for the core competencies of your business and align them with your audience demands, it’s time to test your way into each new content medium to see what resonates best.

Remember that once you hit publish on your content, your real job has only just begun. Sharing with your existing audience, finding related brands and influencers who may be willing to share your content with their audience and taking to the social media channels where your customers hang out is just the beginning. Your success as a content marketer will be defined by how well you can target and reach your audience where they spend the most time.