Not to date myself or anything, but I vividly remember being a marketer before Google Adwords, marketing automation, and advanced data. Interesting times, to say the least.

What stands out in particular is a conversation I had with a sales rep about buying billboard space on a certain intersection in Glendale. I had questions.

How many people saw this billboard everyday? Of that number, how many were my target demographic? And of that number, what percentage was ready to walk in here and buy?

No one knew for sure.

When marketing shifted more online, my life and the lives of all marketers became increasingly more predictable. We could see how many people were coming to our website, where they came from, what pages they were looking at, how long they lingered, and their reactions to different types of content. I remember feeling so sneaky and stealthy having all that info!

Then the blogging boom began in earnest circa 2002, when Nick Denton launched Gizmodo and blog advertising began. Early adopters were able to turn their story writing skills into profitable businesses or transform themselves into social influencers. And now of course, everyone has jumped on the content bandwagon. Creating profitable businesses and well, a lot of noise.

Every year, brands pour billions of dollars into content marketing, but only a small few rise to the top of their industries. This is not based on their ability to string together a well-crafted sentence; it’s something much bigger than that.

Integrating Technology & User Intent

Despite the improved analytical tools, creating an effective piece of content can feel much like buying a billboard in the early 2000s. You put it up hoping it’ll be seen by the right people, but at the end of the day, they get distracted and drive on by without engaging or even thinking twice.

New marketing technology is beginning to change this, however, giving us a roadmap for achieving engagement on every piece of content we put out there. The BrightEdge Data Cube, for example, contains billions of data points on keywords, high-performing search terms and competitor content performance. All these insights reveal essential information on buyer behavior and intent. This means that marketers know exactly what consumers are searching for, and can plan and optimize their content to deliver the answers they seek.

“Great content starts by understanding consumer intent – often through search,” explains Kevin Bobowski, SVP of Marketing at BrightEdge. “These intent-rich moments are where decisions are made and preferences shaped. Understanding intent helps marketers create a unique form of content – micro content, atomic content or intelligent content. Call it what you want, highly optimized content for specific consumer preferences is the centerpiece of a successful consumer experience.”

But it’s still all about the content.

Armed with this valuable information, content marketers jobs are infinitely easier. But that doesn’t mean that they can cut corners on the quality of their content. In order to succeed at content marketing of any kind, you must think of your website as an entertainment media site. You want to share information that people find valuable and relatable. Not stuffed with keywords or optimized for search engines only.

I recently had a wonderful chat with Callie Schweitzer, who is now the managing editor of Thrive Global, Arianna Huffington’s new portal for all things health and success. Schweitzer is a master at generating online audiences, having been the Editorial Director for Audience Strategy at TIME and winning numerous awards for her work in journalism (before even turning 30).

You can find our full interview here on The Unicorn in the Room, but here are some gems I learned from her that day:

Great Content is Rooted in Love

If you look at the most successful blogs and bloggers, Perez Hilton, Moz, CopyBlogger, Engadget, they all have one thing in common: they love their subject. Celebrity gossip, search engine optimization, marketing, technology — and they speak about it with authority and passion.

“I always say lead with your passion,” Schweitzer says. “For me, when I get emails of stories, it’s the ones that show that people really care and are so deeply committed to what they do that really stand out.”

“This global conversation about health and well-being is all about creating new role models,” Schweitzer says. “There are so many different ways for us to connect around this topic and for us to learn from each other.”

And that’s really key. Remember that great content is a dialogue. When you give your audience a voice, they will be more engaged in what you have to say.

Set Your Audience Up for Success

“One of the things that we’re aiming to do at Thrive Global is to help people go from knowing what to do to actually doing it.” Callie explains that foundation of their media platform is all about microstats, science-backed tips that people can implement into their lives very easily to make lifelong changes. Don’t just offer teaser content or tidbits that pique interest in your audience and then force them to go elsewhere, or simply bury your information in the archives of their minds. Empower them with the tools they need to follow your guidance and be successful.

Creating human content that genuinely interests people and gives them actionable advice and tips is key. Answer the questions your readers are asking and provide them with real solutions. And if you’re not sure exactly what people are searching for, be sure you use the tools at your disposal. Being human above all is great. But being a human armed with useful statistics is even better.

Bottom line: you have to create content, or generate a conversation around what you love. Your enthusiasm and passion for your subject will then transmit to your audience and they can’t help but click through and like, share and retweet.

“You’ve read that, you’ve seen that, you’ve watched that video where you can just tell that someone is so passionate about something,” Schweitzer reminds us. “And you’re compelled – you’re totally drawn in by it, and so I would say it’s really about finding your passion and amplifying it.”

Be a Human Being

Writing for search engines isn’t going to cut it. “Great content is all about being relatable and being human and really solving a problem for people,” Schweitzer explains.

Content that is self-serving or isn’t written by a person who truly cares about their audience is never going to go viral. You could be the most talented wordsmith in the world, but the most finely crafted prose is rarely the stuff that gets shared. It’s those emotional stories that connect with people that have the viral quality. Just check out Allegro’s Christmas commercial, if you want further proof of that!

Start a Conversation

Great content shouldn’t be the end of the story. You don’t want people to finish reading and take no action. If you want to be successful at building audiences, you need to start a conversation.

On day one at Thrive Global, they launched the Thrive Questionnaire, a 10-question form that asked people to walk them through their typical days. They asked what the first thing they did when they woke up was, how often they checked their phones, and what their sleeping habits were like. And it generated one heck of a conversation, with Selena Gomez, Jeff Bezos, Ashton Kutcher, Mike Bloomberg, and other household names joining in.

Formerly a Vice President of Content Marketing, Molly is the Co-Founder of The Unicorn in the Room, as well as a Marketing & Business Columnist for INC and The Huffington Post.

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