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In my last blog I explained how content marketing is really just a fancy new term for a concept that has been around for a long time — more than 100 years, depending on how you define it.

So what is the definition of content marketing? Here’s a short, simple definition from Robert W. Bly’s Content Marketing Handbook: “Content marketing is any marketing activity that helps sell a product, service or organization with the offer of free information.”

The Silver Rule of Marketing

Marketing consultant Pete Silver came up with what he called the “Silver Rule of Marketing” to describe the main benefit of content marketing: “It is always better to get them (meaning prospects) to come to you than to have you go to them.”

And what’s the best way to get prospects knocking on your door? Offering them free, value-added (not sales) information, with no strings attached. When prospects come to you, you start the relationship from a position of strength because they initiated the contact. In contrast, when you approach a prospect, you convey the impression that you need the sale.

I’m not saying that you should never initiate the first contact with a prospect. But having prospects come to you in response to content that positions you and your company as experts in your field is much preferable, for obvious reasons.

Early next year I will publish the 100th issue of my e-newsletter, The Writer’s Block, which I started writing over a decade ago. I recently got a call from someone I met early in my freelance career who wanted to talk about writing projects. He had been receiving my newsletter for more than 10 years — and when he needed a writer with my skill set and experience, I’m the first person who popped into his mind.

That’s the power of content marketing.

Cha-ching! Close More Sales

But how, specifically, does content marketing help businesses close more sales? Here are six ways:

  1. It educates and informs prospects. Good content will educate prospects about the features, functions, capabilities and experience they should look for when hiring product and service providers. It will also keep them informed about news and developments in your industry. For example, I wrote an article earlier this year about how artificial intelligence is now being used by some marketers to write blogs and other types of marketing content.
  2. It helps you become known as a subject matter expert. This is the holy grail of content marketing, especially in the business-to-business (B2B) world. Companies want to know that the vendors they hire are knowledgeable and up to speed about their industry and the latest developments. Publishing articles, blogs, whitepapers and e-books is a great way to demonstrate your industry expertise and position yourself as a recognized authority.
  3. It improves search engine rankings. Lots of things go into the algorithms used by search engines to rank website pages and very few people understand all of them. But one indisputable factor in boosting search engine rankings is updating your site with fresh, relevant content. In his book, Bly cites data indicating that blogs lead to 434 percent more indexed pages and 97 percent more inbound links. Both of these boost SEO rankings.
  4. It drives more traffic to your website. The higher your website ranks in the search engines, the more organic traffic you’ll get. This is traffic that results from visitors finding your site simply by doing a keyword search, as opposed to paying the search engines to rank high (otherwise known as paid search). Bly notes that according to HubSpot, a site with 50 to 100 unique pages (each blog is considered a unique page) gets 48 percent more visitor traffic than a site with fewer than 50 pages.
  5. It helps generate qualified leads. Here, I’m talking about the marketing tactic of offering free content in exchange for a visitor’s name and contact information. For example, I’ve written lots of whitepapers for clients who offer them to prospects who fill out a form with their name, email address and phone number. According to Bly, a lead generation promotion with a free content offer will generate twice as much response as a promotion without a content offer.
  6. It takes advantage of the principle of reciprocity. It’s human nature that when people receive something they perceive to be of value, they feel some obligation to give something back in return. This doesn’t necessarily mean that prospects will feel obligated to hire you or buy from you because you gave them free content. But they may be more inclined to give you some of their time and attention.

Content is Critical in B2B Marketing

Content marketing plays an especially important role in the B2B purchase life cycle. According to Forrester Research, B2B prospects perform up to 90 percent of their product research and evaluation online before contacting potential companies. Publishing valuable content can help move prospects down the purchase pipeline and in your direction.