Content marketing is a modern phrase for what we called “advertorial” or “sponsored by” in the analogue past.

The business model is very simple: Publishers create a context in which advertisers love to present their products, and advertisers then enrich the context with their own content.

Both sides have to work hand-in-hand, a reality that journalists resent because they see their independence put at risk.

In the past, journalists’ points of view were clearly defined: They reported and wrote stories, safely to one side of a line that advertisers were not allowed to cross. Publishers, meanwhile, protected journalists by safeguarding that line.

Nowadays, in the online world, this line is hard to define.

Because of analytical tools such as Google Adwords or Searchmetrics, online journalists know well what content users are looking for. And they write stories optimised for search engines.

This workflow helps earn money: Google Adsense (CPC) or even affiliate networks (CPO or CPL) deliver the appropriate advertisements ready to click.

Of course, this knowledge impacts which stories a freelancer chooses to write; his financial situation depends on that. And these bloggers increasingly take ad money out of the market.

Some publishing companies, such as Forbes, mimicked emerging online companies like The Huffington Post, building businesses around the ecosystem of the blogosphere to capture the value of content bloggers create. Well-organised bloggers can shift the business model of content marketing to a very high level.

As I noted in a previous post (“Can we afford quality investigative journalism in the digital age?”), no one in a newsroom is capable of producing the amount of content needed to satisfy all niches. Let 1,000 bloggers write about 300 stories a day – and you have about 100,000 pieces of content at the end of the year. Even optimised newsrooms cannot do this.

We aren’t talking about bloggers who write only to let other people know what their daily lives are all about.

“Business blogging is about spreading the brand’s influence, creating leads, and increasing sales,” writes blogger, author, and social media and online marketing strategist Jeff Bullas.

Bullas urges a meaningful approach to blogging: Create verticals and let people find an environment focusing just on this special topic. “The benefits here also include improving search engine optimisation, positioning the company as a thought leader and expert in its market place and industry.”

In the news media business, U.S. company Newscred exerts a powerful impact on content marketing by helping publishing companies find the right position to improve the outcome of decentralised content production beyond the newsrooms. Here’s Newscred’s list of the 50 most influential content marketers.

Back to Jeff Bullas. He offers a checklist of 14 key rules to succeed with blogging in a world in which publishing is based on controlling what can or can’t be published. (Traditional editors call this “quality journalism” and mean that they don’t want to be surprised by the knowledge of their staff).

  1. Start with the strong foundation. Think of the growth of your audience and be prepared for an increasing amount of readers by a sustainable IT platform.

  2. Know who you’re talking to. Understand your audience and their needs.

  3. Create compelling content. Don’t be boring.

  4. Create content in a variety of media. Text, photo, video – there are more ways to tell people a story.

  5. Learn the art of the headline. Headlines are teasers to create interest in the details of the story.

  6. Structure your content for skimming and scanning. You cannot force readers to read each word; you have to seduce them with readable text size, subtitles, bullet points, infographics, and good language.

  7. Engage with other bloggers and influencers. Collaborate whenever you can. Peers are partners – not competitors.

  8. Market your blog. At least use e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter to help increase traffic. There are still other ways to market for free. Find them.

  9. Optimise your blog and social networks. Google will reward you in the index.

  10. Make it easy to subscribe. Just a click needed to become a sustainable reader.

  11. Make it simple and quick to share. Readers want to share their experience with you – what they’ve learned from you or how they have been entertained by you.

  12. Listen to your audience. You will gain so many insights. Optimise quickly.

  13. Be creative and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You aren’t perfect; no one is. The audience will help you improve.

  14. Persist and be patient. You need time and a learning curve.

Like many media entrepreneurs, Jeff Bullas is an optimist and sees any failure as an opportunity to move one step higher. He finishes with this question: “Are you ready to grab the opportunity and maybe change your life?”

Nike would say: “Just do it!”