09/16/2014 09:00 am ET Updated Sep 16, 2014

Considering Content Marketing? 5 Key Questions to Ask Before Diving In

Like any marketing strategy, the success of a content marketing strategy depends upon clear objectives and precise execution. Here are five essential questions that will help you generate a winning strategy.

1. Can you wait six months before seeing any results?

This is the first and most important question for any prospective content marketer. Content marketing will not lead to an immediate ROI. For the first several months, expect a lot of work and very few results. Eventually, you will reach a tipping point, when you have established your credibility and your audience begins to grow quickly, but this is at least six months out. If your goal is immediate sales and product visibility, almost anything works better than content marketing.

2. Who will hate your content?

Most content marketers will tell you to start by determining your target audience. I find it much more useful to consider my target opponent -- who is likely to be offended, irritated or angered by what I'm writing. This exercise immediately adds clarity and focus to content. There is a palpable difference between the blog that "helps car buyers make sensible purchasing decisions" and the blog that "makes it impossible for shady car salesmen to dupe inexperienced car buyers." Nothing attracts a crowd quicker than passion, purpose and controversy. Don't start a blog. Start a movement.

3. How will you turn visitors into customers?

It's amazing how many content marketers neglect the marketing aspect. Are you going to slowly build trust with a weekly drip campaign or move for an immediate close with a call-to-action pop-up window? Knowing how you will eventually convert visitors into customers will animate every part of your campaign, from the content you write to the time of day you publish new content.

4. What is your system for delivering consistently great content?

Even the most creative people run out of ideas after a few months of posting regular content. How are you going to systemize creativity and design a reliable, sustainable way to generate new content ideas? Hint: your best bet is to borrow techniques from the organizations that have been doing this for decades, such as newspapers and magazines. Create weekly or monthly content series, such as weekly product reviews and customers of the month, enlist outside contributors to write regular columns, and build an editorial calendar that schedules content months in advance.

5. What unanswered questions do your prospects have?

Generally speaking, there are two ways to gain traffic, leads and conversions with a content marketing strategy. The first is to actively syndicate your content via outlets like social media and e-newsletters. The second is to write content that people search for on search engines. Both are important, but the second is far superior because visitors who find you through search engines are pre-qualified. The person who performs a search for "best lawnmower for large yards" is probably on the verge of making a purchasing decision. Write content that answers the questions your prospects are typing into Google searches, and your site will become a magnet for the visitors most important to your business.

Now that you have answered these five questions, you have a viable strategy for winning customers online -- but that's just the beginning. The strength of any marketing campaign lies in your ability to continually revisit and revise your assumptions about your customers and their expectations. Save this article and return to it regularly. As your campaign evolves, so will the answers to these questions.