"Content is king!" is a phrase that gets passed around a lot in the digital world; often to the point of obscuring the true meaning behind this saying and inducing nausea among the seasoned veterans of the Internet who have grown weary of this expression over the years. Unfortunately, tossing out this overused - yet highly accurate - declaration without a second glance is an easy way put your dealership on the outside looking in when it comes to reaping the full benefits of customer interaction and site optimization.

With this in mind, here's a look at what content marketing is all about, why it matters to you, and how best to fit this practice into your search engine optimization (SEO) operations going forward. Once you're done digging into this overview, you'll be able to put all of the pieces in place and finally understand why content really does deserve its rightful spot on the throne.

What Is Content Marketing?

Before we go diving headfirst into the finer points of this practice, it's important to offer up a quick recap for the readers out there who might not be completely in the loop when it comes to the "big picture" perspective of content marketing. As the team over at The Content Marketing Institute explains, content marketing is all about generating increased interaction with your audience via valuable, relevant, and engaging site content.

"Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action."
- The Content Marketing Institute

In other words, content marketing is the process of transforming each page of your site into a wellspring of information about the car buying and selling experience for visitors from around the web. Whether you're looking to translate your intimate knowledge of the local marketplace to desktop and mobile screens throughout your area, or simply aiming to make the car buying process a little easier for your faithful following, the concept of value is the one constant throughout each phase of this endeavor.

It is important to note that committing to this approach isn't something to do on a whim, as successful content marketing requires a hefty amount of work and dedication on your end of the equation. However, it's hard to argue with the fact that standing out as a thought leader among your peers - and enjoying a hefty boost in traffic and conversions - is clearly a prize worth pursuing.

Going Beyond Blog Posts

If you're like most dealerships, when the discussion turns to the different types of content-based marketing, you probably assume that this is a practice that revolves exclusively around blogging and on-site content. While these selections definitely serve as the bedrock of any content marketing plan, the truth of the matter is that today's version of content-oriented outreach takes on multiple iterations and forms.

To give you a little taste of the different flavors of content marketing, let's go over a couple examples of content in action:

  • Site Content - Blogs, consumer guides, customer testimonials, specific vehicle/model breakdowns, and virtually any addition to a webpage that adds value to the reader experience falls under this portion of the content marketing umbrella. The big key here is that infusing a site with content marketing principles and best practices is all about going beyond "duh" information and sharing something worthwhile with your audience.
  • Infographics - The visual heavyweights of content marketing, infographics often consolidate complex ideas into an appealing and simple format, thereby making these offerings perfect for sharing on social media or sending out as part of your email marketing newsletter.
  • PPC Content - The content that supports pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns often serves as an engaging teaser or lead-in for even more valuable insight and information stored within a landing page or other related site.
  • eBooks/Case Studies - Have a great story to tell about a one-of-a-kind customer experience or unique car that ended up on display at your dealership? Longer format content - like an eBook or case study - is the perfect outlet for bringing these memorable events to life.

for those of you who are feeling especially adventurous, trying your hand at socially-savvy memes, livestreaming video sessions, and even operating full-fledged YouTube channels dedicated exclusively to addressing the needs and concerns of your target audience are all also viable avenues for sharing content. The prevailing theme here is that implementing content isn't a "one size fits all" process; your dealership can utilize a multitude of different formats and approaches as it starts connecting with customers across the digital expanse.

The SEO Connection

Of course, no discussion regarding content marketing would be complete without taking a moment to explain its relationship with SEO. Depending on how up to speed you are with the latest advances in consumer outreach on the web, you might be wondering if there is even a connection to highlight in the first place.

"Once upon a time, SEO and content marketing were separate concepts…They are quickly becoming one and the same."
- Jeff Bullas

Yes, there was a time when these two digital practices stood at odds with one another. However, as the above quote from industry expert Jeff Bullas' personal blog explains, those days are firmly in the rearview mirror - and growing more and more distant as the Internet continues to evolve and advance.

The big thing to understand here is that enacting a sound content strategy and optimizing your site as a way to rank with the all of the major search engines is virtually the same undertaking. The people who twist and turn the search algorithm knobs behind the scenes at Google and the other major industry players only want to spotlight informative, useful, and user-friendly sites in the first place, so SEO and content marketing naturally inhabit an ever-growing shared space.

Shifting Consumer Values and Expectations

Now that you have a more grounded understanding of content marketing and its relationship with SEO, it's time to tackle the next big hurdle: What caused this shift toward a content-centric experience for customers in the digital world, and is this trend sticking around for the foreseeable future?

To answer the first part of this question, you have to understand that content marketing appeals to the modern online shopper who is tired of traditional advertising channels and worn-out practices. A great thought experiment to help prove this point can come from your own personal experiences.

Answer the following questions honestly:

  • How often do you use your DVR to skip over the commercial breaks while watching your favorite TV show?
  • When is the last time you were flipping through a magazine and actually noticed an ad?
  • Do flyers and handouts you receive in the mail ever make it past the trash can on your way in through the front door?

While there's undoubtedly a small minority that go the opposite way with their responses to the above questions and champion these once-proud - but now virtually defunct - marketing tactics, most of you understand the message being presented here: Great site content matters because more people than ever before are leaning on this online medium as a way to learn about products and services before committing to a purchase.

If this little exercise isn't enough to convince you, then take a moment to look over some of the more impressive stats and facts that support this shift in consumer values and expectations:

  • 57 percent of purchase decisions happen via information gleaned from content and before a customer ever reaches out to a brand, supplier, or retail outlet. (Carolyn Goodman, Target Marketing Magazine)
  • By 2020, this number will skyrocket to 85 percent as more and more customers shift away from interacting with a human during the purchasing experience and focus entirely on learning about products and services online. (Gartner, Inc.)
  • 54 percent of organizations point to quality content as one of the most effective SEO tactics in the current digital landscape, while 50 percent also highlight frequent website updates as an effective optimization technique. (Laurie Sullivan, MediaPost)

As for the future of content marketing, there's no question that this practice is alive and well-positioned to continue thriving for years to come. In fact, a joint study conducted by MarketingProfs and The Content Marketing Institute shows that 88 percent of all businesses utilize some form of content marketing to reach customers (up from 86 percent in 2015), with 76 percent of these companies planning to increase their content production throughout 2016.

Figuring out Your Path to Content Marketing Success

Clearly, content marketing isn't going anywhere, anytime soon. With that fact out of the way, we need to start talking about how your dealership can put its best foot forward and develop a winning take on content. The best way to kick this process into high gear, according to Econsultancy's David Moth, is by ensuring that your base site copy gets the important information out front and in the open as soon as possible.

"Remember that people will be scanning your web copy, so they need to be able to glean the important information upfront or they'll go elsewhere."
- David Moth, Econsultancy

Whether you're spotlighting new and used cars in your inventory or digging into vehicle model breakdowns and suggested service schedules, the concept of getting straight to the point remains the same. You only have a few seconds to capture the attention of the visitor once he or she lands on your page, so it's best to make these precious moments count for as much as possible.

Once you have your basic site copy in order, feel free to let your creative juices flow and explore other forms of content outreach. Blog posts, infographics, curated content on social media, and so many other opportunities are ripe for the picking, so it's up to your dealership to test the waters and find out which of these content marketing channels offer up the most interaction with your local audience.

Regardless of which channels you leverage, there are a few simple guidelines worth keeping in mind that can help ensure that quality and engagement with your viewership remain high across all platforms:

  • Embrace "KISS" - The old Navy saying from the 1960s - "keep it simple, stupid" - goes a long way when crafting quality content. Your audience isn't looking for the next great Shakespearian sonnet, so focus on simple, concise, and easily understandable English in your writing.
  • Get to Know Your Audience - Keeping a finger on the pulse of the local automotive marketplace is a powerful way to craft timely and relevant content, as well as foster a deeper connection with car shoppers in your area.
  • Break Your Content up When Possible - Nobody wants to read a massive wall of text, so work in some subheadings, bullet points, and lists to help break your content up and keep the experience interactive and "scannable."
  • Show off Your Personality - The truth of the matter is that more and more dealerships are understanding the importance of great on-site content, so having some fun with your offerings and showing a little personality is an easy - and effective - method of differentiating yourself from the competition and making a lasting impression with viewers.

Absorbing everything that's been covered here might feel like a lot to handle initially, or even completely overwhelming in some cases, but you'll be okay - we promise! Once you've had some time to digest what you've learned here and start relating the need for content marketing (and how best to leverage this approach) to your dealership's unique situation, you'll find that all of the pieces of the puzzle start falling into place and the path to a better digital future becomes crystal clear in a hurry.