We’ve come to a point where customers aren’t choosing products based on features, functionality and technology—they’re choosing based on brand.

That’s why in a hyper-competitive space saturated with content, there is one thing that will make or break your content marketing strategy: quality.

In the short term, you can drive traffic and get conversions with quantity and mediocre-to-poor content, but you’ll never be able to build a brand. That’s what makes quality the first thing you should focus on from the beginning, before you try to up the quantity.

When you build a brand, you get direct, unattributed visitors—people coming to your site for no clear reason—and that means that your content is memorable. It’s getting people to return to your site organically. Your content is doing its job, spreading awareness of your brand through word-of-mouth.

That’s a critical, early indicator of how you’ll perform over the long term with direct traffic and organic search, the two most important channels for sustainable growth. If your quality isn’t up to par over the long haul, you’ll see your brand and your search traffic suffer. The vast majority of long-term traffic comes from these channels, which means that if you don’t start with quality, you have no content marketing endgame.

In fact, the most common mistake that people make with content is scaling prematurely. As with everything in business, you need to nail it before you scale it.

The First Law of Content Marketing is Quality + Quantity = Eyeballs.

As a startup, you’re low on budget and resources, but you’re high on enthusiasm. You started your company because you experienced the pain point first hand, and you want to help people like you succeed.

Content marketing is how you operationalize your passion and turn it from a characteristic of your personality into marketing.

When you love your people and that love comes through in the content, they recognize that as quality. They tell their friends about you, your direct and search traffic grows, and you have the beginnings of a content marketing engine.

That’s why high-quality content marketing always begins with these three questions:

  1. Who are your customers?
  2. Where do they hang out?
  3. How should you engage them?

Once you know who your customers are, talk to three of them. Figuring out where they hang out can be as simple as asking them, “What blogs are you reading?”

To learn how you should engage, ask them, “What’s the most frustrating part of your day?”

What your people tell you gives you the context you need to define what quality means to them, and points you in the right direction for getting your content in front of them. It furnishes you with invaluable feedback, and the ability to improve.

Creating high-quality content is a data-informed process, which makes it deducible and reproducible.

Figure out what’s working. Do more of it. It’s a fundamental principle to run all your businesses by.

This rule applies to content, with a twist. Figure out what’s working for others. Imitate it but don’t rip it.

Simple rule of marketing

Everything having to do with content is publicly available and out there, so it can be measured. If you can measure it, you can reverse engineer it. The key to imitating great content is to first determine what content to imitate, since quality is specific to a market or customer.

Fortunately, if you know who your customers are, where they hang out, and how to engage them, you already have your answer. The content you want to imitate is the highest performing content in the places on the web where your customers hang out.

You can use any number of tools to dig deeper into this data, and discover what content performs the best. From there, it’s easy to study the piece, break down why it was successful, and imitate it.

This is how you begin to build a repeatable process for doubling down on quality—the next step is to combine that with quantity.

This post first appeared on Hitenism.com

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