At a recent marketing association event about landing big company clients, one of the participants asked the speaker, "How do we find the watering holes where the decision makers meet?"

The room burst into discussion. Some people said golf courses. Some said nonprofit boards. Others (facetiously, I hope), suggested the Cayman Islands. But I couldn't help thinking of a better alternative: Build your own watering hole. Load your Web site with so much fresh, valuable, and compelling information that it becomes the center of your industry's discussions. Or at least the most valuable and visible entry point for potential prospects looking for answers—and eager to read what you have to say.

The key to building a watering hole is creating a constant stream of fresh content that seduces search engine spiders, lures qualified visitors, and encourages repeat visits—all while reinforcing your image as a credible expert. Here's what it takes to make it happen.

Don't swallow the goat

Ever see a boa constrictor digest a large animal? It can be done, but then the snake is immobilized for a good long time.

Too many Web site projects are like that snake. They begin with grandiose plans, elaborate designs, and bewildering navigation charts that span entire whiteboards. And what about content, the actual words? Out comes the old brochure copy, stale corporate bios, and tired mission statements. And they sit on that Web site, unchanged, for a looong time. Just like the goat in the boa's belly.

There's a better way to build a site: Start simply and create the minimum number of pages necessary to allow visitors to accomplish what you want them to accomplish on your site. Then think of your content development as an ongoing process that will continually refresh your site and help it grow organically.

Get your team involved

What should you put into your content stream? Business success stories. Case studies of your product in action. How-to articles and expert whitepapers. All that could make great content—but where is it going to come from?

Look inside. Chances are, you and your colleagues have all the expertise and experience you need to make compelling Web content. You just need to dig for it. I recommend beginning with a companywide email blast that includes the following elements:

  1. Tell them what you're doing and why: "Our custom concrete mixes have made all the difference between project success and failure. Now we need to tell the world about it through case studies we're posting on our Web site."

  2. Flatter them and tell them exactly what you want: "Your customer experience makes you indispensable to our plans. Think back on the last year and gives us your three most exciting customer stories—the ones in which our advice saved time, solved problems, and facilitated difficult construction. Just jot down a sentence or two for each—we have a writer who will take care of the rest."

  3. Set a deadline—or your request will find itself on the bottom of the to-do pile.

Connect your expertise to customer needs

Try this alternative—or complementary—approach to generating great content ideas. Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the center. On the left side, list your areas of expertise—the accumulated wisdom of your years of business experience. If you find this difficult, do this exercise with a coworker; as one of you shares a business anecdote (how you helped a customer succeed, how your business solved an important problem), the other jots down the little tidbits of expertise imbedded within the tale.

In the right column, write down your customers' needs, desires, hopes, threats, concerns, issues, etc. Now draw lines connecting the expertise on the left side with customer needs on the right. These points of connection are your potential subject matter.

For example, I have a client who offers resident screening services for property managers who need to evaluate tenant applicants. Among my client's expertise is online training; on the list of customer needs is an easy, standardized way to train leasing officers in locations across the country. Connect the dots and there's a great subject to explore: "How to train far-flung leasing officers quickly, consistently, and on the cheap."

Select your tactics and develop a schedule

Once you've gathered your raw material, you need to shape it into written formats—from blog posts to e-books—that are appropriate for your website. Remember this golden rule: The simpler and less formal the format, the more frequently it can (and should) appear within your site content stream; the more complex and formal the format, the less frequently it'll be created.

The important thing is to construct your content stream by committing to a regular schedule of activity. A sample format schedule, in order of complexity, might look something like this:

  • Blog: New posts one to five times a week
  • Case studies: Twice a month
  • Press releases: As appropriate
  • Articles: Once a month
  • Whitepapers: Four times a year
  • Virtual seminars: Two to three times a year
  • Downloadable e-book: Once a year

Keep in mind that any given idea may fit any format—your format selection should be based on how deeply you want to pursue the topic and the reading habits or concerns of your visitors. The previous training example might look this across the formats:

  • Blog post: "Smart managers are training their officers online"

  • Case study: "Herndon Properties Cuts Training Expenses in Half"

  • Press release: "Rent-Track Offers Online Training For Resident Screening Procedures"

  • Article: "How to Train Leasing Officers Faster and Less Expensively"

  • Whitepaper: "Leasing Office Screening: Best Practices for Multi-Property Training"

  • Virtual seminar: "The Step-By-Step Approach to Saving Time and Money with Online Screening Training"

  • E-book: "Fast-Track Screening: The complete guide to training leasing officers more effectively with less time and money"

Watch your stats and adjust as necessary

A few months ago, I asked a roomful of marketing managers how frequently they checked their Web statistics, the daily record of visits, page popularity rankings, referrer reports, and more. The overwhelming answer? Never. Why? Because "the IT people do that."

Wrong. If your Web site is an integral part of your marketing efforts, you need to watch the stats, even if it means holding the IT kid's iPod hostage until you get the access you need.

By watching the stats, you'll get a clear picture of the relative popularity of your content. With that info in hand, you may cut some content types and boost others. Or you might identify hot content issues you'll want to explore further. Or, if there's content you believe in that doesn't pull the pageviews you think it deserves, you may have to tweak your link and keyword strategies to attract more attention to it.

Whatever your response, the point is to watch and learn. See what works, what doesn't, and adjust your tactics accordingly. By following the feedback, you can keep your content flowing effectively—and attract more prospects and customer to your ever-expanding online watering hole.

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image of Jonathan Kranz

Jonathan Kranz is the author of Writing Copy for Dummies and a copywriting veteran now in his 21st year of independent practice. A popular and provocative speaker, Jonathan offers in-house marketing writing training sessions to help organizations create more content, more effectively.

LinkedIn: Jonathan Kranz

Twitter: @jonkranz