Website copy, articles, videos, ad campaigns — digital content — all help prospects form an opinion about a product or service before they set foot in a store. Often times, this online research replaces initial face-to-face conversations businesses would typically have with potential customers.

So how do you write for this impersonal, but critical exchange with target audiences? Colorful language and clever analogies will only get you so far. For an effective content marketing program, you need to think more Washington Post and less “Mad Men.”

Aim for content that provides value (and depth) as opposed to a self-promotional (and limited) sales pitch.

When brainstorming potential article topics, consider the factors that help you as a reader determine that an article is educational, a resource is credible or an expert is quotable.

When writing, keep these journalistic practices in mind to make your stories truly stand out.

1. Write for your audience. The more complex the product offering, the more time you need to take to make sure you are focused on the value your solution brings to the audience, and not the technical aspects of how it is made.

2. Stand in their shoes. Take the previous idea one step further by thinking about the challenges your target audiences are facing, and the questions they frequently ask your company. Demonstrate that you understand what they are going through by creating content topics about them, not about you.

3. Contribute to a conversation. Search engines only care about one thing – providing relevant content to the terms entered in the search box. Because of this, they are drawn to timely content related to a news story or trend. Contribute to the conversation by providing your expert opinion or big picture thinking via your blog or newsletter.

4. Localize the story. This can take many forms, from providing a local take on a nationally trending topic, to featuring your customer experiences as proof points in a technical overview. The more the audience can directly relate to or learn from your content, the more frequently they will use you as a resource.

5. Give credit where credit is due. Familiarize yourself with the type of content you want to deliver to your audiences by finding examples of great work. Did you stumble upon an infographic that would be a perfect visual for your blog post? A statistic that drives your point home in a white paper? Don’t be shy to share it, along with a link back to the source’s website.

6. Fact check. The fastest way to lose credibility is to provide unreliable information. We’ve all been fooled by too-good-to-be-true photographs or news headlines. It is worth the due diligence to confirm the information you are spreading is in fact accurate and from an authoritative site.

With this foundation, you are ready to start creating quality content. Remember – regularly posting educational, trend-based and insightful information on your website not only demonstrates to your audiences that you understand their business needs, it also helps your website rank higher in search engine results.

If you need help bringing focus and structure to your content development process, download our free content planning guide.