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We are swimming in a sea of content on the web. Ever since Google decreed that content is king, content marketers have been churning it out like their jobs depended on it. Some of it is stuffed with value and oozing with insight yet the vast majority is worthless fluff.

This content won't get shared, won't go viral and worst of all it won't get read. I don't know about you, but every minute of my day is a very valuable commodity. If I'm blocking off a couple hours from my hectic schedule to write, that article better make an impact. Otherwise, I'm just wasting my time.

If you ever find yourself producing content for the sake of producing content then please stop. Google doesn't need anymore low quality articles to chew on, and there are more effective ways to get the word out about your brand and bring in new customers.

For those still with me, I'll assume you want to conquer this unruly beast we've labeled content marketing and are willing to put in the time to be successful at it. As Malcolm Gladwell said in his insightful book Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. What hour is your content marketing on?

To create truly great content, you have to engage with your reader on some level. I'll admit this isn't easy, and some pieces that you think are a slam dunk will ultimately fall flat. There are a few things we can do to improve our chances of reaching off the page and connecting with your customer.

Have a Plan & Be Consistent

We all start out with the best intentions. You are going to write three times a week. You are going to participate in key communities on LinkedIn and Facebook. You are going to finally train for that upcoming triathlon. What happens? Life gets in the way. We become overwhelmed, and our carefully manicured plan gets shredded. Don't be too hard on yourself. It happens to the all of us eventually.

Lay out a plan for yourself that you know you can accomplish. Maybe that plan comes down to writing one article a week. Block off a couple hours in your schedule every Tuesday to focus your attention on this task. In your mind, make this time as important as a client meeting. As the weeks pile up, you'll slowly foster that habit as it becomes ingrained in you.

Your loyal readers will know to expect an article from you every Tuesday and show up on your doorstep eager for the next installment. If you have the chance to write two or three times during the week, that is simply icing on the cake. Regardless, always focus on the quality of the writing and make sure the article is well researched. If you have to nibble on it throughout the week, one great piece of content will always overshadow three hastily thrown together articles.

Be Interesting

Before you begin writing any article, take a step back and ask yourself, "would I take the time to read this?" As much as I would love to download the collective knowledge of the digital marketing world into my brain Matrix-style, I realistically only have the chance to read two or three articles a day. I may scan 20 or 30 different headlines and summary blubs until I land on those select few.

This should show you the extremely limited window you have to capture that reader's attention. Your headline is critical in selling your content. Is it addressing a need? Is it invoking a reaction? Is it leaving you starving for an answer in a way that would make Buzzfeed busting with envy? Really spending the time to craft a compelling headline can make the difference between success and failure.

Getting the reader into the content is only half the battle. Now you have to keep them engaged and keep those eyes moving down the page. Tell a personal story to make that connection with your reader, construct a narrative where the reader has to find out how it ends, buck the status quo to kick up some controversy or thumb your nose at a conventional way of thinking.

Have you ever been stymied by writer's block? I'll assure you the answer isn't somewhere on that keyboard. Fire up your favorite social insight tool like Buzzsumo to search on heavily shared content by topic or from a given website. You can also head over to Twitter to see what people are retweeting on a given topic. Find a way to take a different angle or apply the original author's approach to a related subject to make the topic your own.

Be Social

When it comes to being effective with social media, that doesn't entail posting your shiny new article to your three social channels the moment after you've hit publish. If its 2am, your dedicated readers are most likely deep in slumberland. Take the time to look at tools like Facebook Insights to pinpoint when your followers are online and schedule your content to post during those prime windows for maximum reach.

FB Insights

Don't just share it once because you think everyone has already seen it. Repost the content several times throughout the week and, as long as its timeless content, dig it up in the months ahead to post it yet again. With organic reach plummeting to depressing levels and your Twitter feed moving like the mighty Colorado River, there is a good chance that your content was never seen by a large portion of your audience that first go around. Give it new life with a repost.

You should get in the habit of embedding 'tweet this' links a key points in your copy. It allows your reader to quickly engage as their interest deepens. Also, don't forget about channels with engagement already baked in like niche groups on Facebook and LinkedIn as well as Google+ Communities. Craft a really probing question that is triggered by your article and toss it out there for discussion on these like-minded groups.

Be Appealing

Maybe it was the countless hours of playing Super Mario Bros. as kids or perhaps its the technology overload coming at us everyday, but our collective attention span seems to be at an all time low. Don't make your content a taxing read. Help your poor reader out by chopping up your content into short paragraphs. Use compelling images throughout to help break up the content and ease the flow of the page.

Have you looked at your website on your smartphone lately? If your site isn't employing responsive design, you may be losing your reader before they hit the intro paragraph. Few people are going to take the time to expand the screen, scroll over and center it on the meat of the content. They are simply going to hit the back button, letting your competitor take a stab at wooing them.

Mobile-friendly design is as critical as its ever been. People are turning to their phones and tablets to browse the web more and more everyday.

Call To Action

When we say call to action, we are usually talking about creating a trigger to persuade our reader do something we want. We are mapping out the path and giving them a swift nudge. This could be buying a product or signing up for our newsletter. It can also be as simple as asking a question or requesting a social share.

If you've done your job over the course of the article, those synapses should be firing away in your reader's head. They should want to talk about this new discovery, comment on your appalling point of view or unload the avalanche of questions perched on the edge of their frontal cortex. Its up to you to give them a channel to unwind these thoughts whether it be this makeshift community that has suddenly sprung up around your article or through spreading the word on their social network of choice.

Take the opportunity to ask questions, jump into the conversation and tweet out great reader inquires with a link back to the article. Whatever you do, please don't let these readers keep this passion to themselves.

As you can see, creating engagement through content marketing is no simple task. It takes a lot of planning, a healthy dose of creativity, a love of testing and a dogged determination. Not every piece of content you produce is going to catch fire. Its going to take some time to pinpoint what works for you and to find your unique voice. The payoff is tremendous if you persevere and write with a genuine passion and curiosity.

I'd love to hear your opinions on how you create engaging content or share a success story on an piece of creative that really surprised you with its response.