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Mice aren’t attracted to mousetraps. They’re attracted to what you put on it. The same goes for websites. What are you putting on yours?

Let’s start with a dead mouse.

When you run down to the hardware store to invest in a mousetrap, I’m quite sure you have a very clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish. So start with the end in mind. (Ick. It’s not the prettiest metaphor I’ve ever created.)

But seriously, killer, do you know what you want your site to accomplish? Every day I speak to business owners and directors who don’t.

Bad answer: we want visitors to learn about our company. Good answer: we want to capture the email address of the visitor so we can begin to nurture a relationship. Though it’s a very smart, strategic objective, email opt-in is just one possible objective. You don’t need to have this objective, but you do need to have one in mind.

Select the most effective bait.

Now we’re talking content. Though cheese is a popular choice for mousetrap bait, authorities in the rodent reduction business argue that peanut butter is the best bet for the mouse’s last meal. Whatever works.

The idea is pretty simple. You need to know what will draw your target in. The process of learning exactly what that is should involve research, and then testing. And in the world of online content marketing, both have become amazingly simple.

Rats. I hate to bail on my nifty metaphor so soon, but it’s time to introduce a second one: magnetism. No doubt, you’ve come to know the term “magnetic content.” It’s a beauty in so many ways, the first being the function of a magnet: pulling power.

You give your website pulling power with magnetic content — stuff that not only attracts eyeballs, but eyeballs embedded in the heads of the type of people that truly belong at your site, your target market and, hopefully, your brand advocates of the future.

For this next bit, I want to give big thanks to eMarketer founder, Geoff Ramsey, who co-wrote Digital Impact: The Two Secrets to Online Marketing Success, and present some ideas from his informative article, 2011 Trends: Content Marketing is Critical.

Marketers should ask themselves five questions about the magnetic content they are seeking to create to determine whether it will be truly attractive to their audience:

  • Is the content unique?
  • Is the content useful?
  • Is the content well executed?
  • Is the content fun?
  • Does the content make good use of the channel in which it appears?

Marketing authorities everywhere — and a booming brigade of companies that now embrace the principles of content marketing and enjoy its profound benefits — suggest you resist the urge to pitch your product. Instead, consider, product aside, what can you do for your customer?

To select the most effective bait, you identify exactly what whets your target’s appetite and serve it up in generous portions.

Be wary of stale cheese.

Let’s review. Your site needs pulling power. Now let’s expand the goal. Your site needs to attract qualified visitors and encourage them to stay awhile. But even that’s not good enough. Moving on now: Your site also needs to inspire its audience to interact with the content you put there, bookmark it, share it with others, and return often.

Freshness matters. Think of it as a bakery. It’s the fresh baked goods that’ll produce the aromas that magically waft from the racks and bring people back again and again. Think of it as a newsstand. People will rush to snag the breaking story. Now, think of it as the bait on your mousetrap and, as weird as it sounds, think of the mouse as having a sophisticated enough palate to steer clear of stinky old cheese.

Mostly, you should think of it as a search engine. The one that matters most has been tweaking its algorithm in an effort to recognize the freshness of content. By creating fresh content, you now have a greater chance of appearing in at the top of search engine results for relevant terms.

So your content strategy must include a schedule, and those responsible for manning the site must take an oath to abide by it. In general, you should update the content on your site as often as possible. Blogs are the bomb for this.

Warning: Close your eyes for this next part. It gets gross.

Consider the sticky stuff.

You’ve seen those traps where the rodent steps onto an adhesive surface? As you know, the little bugger gets stuck. He’s taken his last step.

While I don’t want you to take this 100 percent literally, I do think a little visualization helps me make my point: A killer site is a sticky site.

There’s no shortage of “how to” material on the subject of stickiness, but today I’d like to focus on the mindset you need to succeed.

In 3 Angles to Create Magnetic Content with the Triangle of Relevance, author Angie Schottmuller stresses that relevance is the key to making content great. She presents a three-part formula for getting people to “click and stick,” whereby you create content for your site that:

  • Aligns with your business objective
  • Caters to the interests of your target market
  • Capitalizes on the “now” — that is, involves an element of timing related to seasons, holidays, events, or what’s trending in the news.

Comfort is another must-have for your ultra-sticky site. If you’ve nailed the relevance requirement, visitors should be saying to themselves, “I should go here.” Next, we want them to say, “I like it here.”

Make your users feel at home on your website. Decorate it accordingly. Don’t make it too busy by bombarding their senses. Show them around. Offer them assurance and invite them to get involved. Ask them questions. Answer them. Give them treats. Ask them to come back often and tell them to invite their friends.

But don’t bombard them with product pitches. Don’t harp on how great thou art. And don’t insist they need to open their wallets in the early stages of your relationship.

And finally, don’t forget flavor.

So you got it going on. The stuff that’s going on your mousetrap is all of the above: useful, relevant, timely, and free of charge. Your site looks like a good place to cozy up with some good content.

Don’t blow it now by being bland and flavorless. The cheese needs to be tasty. I hope you’re not laughing at me. I’m serious. The boring website is an epidemic of massive proportions.

In an effort to please everyone, site operators the world over leave out the salt and pepper. It might be deliberate; that is, the mentality is to not risk offending anyone’s taste.

Stupider still, it might trace to flavorless writing. A lot of companies are too frugal to hire a professional copywriter to write the site’s content. You have to admit, these companies do not subscribe to the Content is King mantra. And then you have your inclination to let non-writers, such as the CEO or a product pro, create the content. You need to resist this strategy as well.

You can’t bore people into buying stuff, whether it’s your product or your ideas. If you want people to bite, make your bait rich with flavor.

So tell me, what are you putting on your mousetrap?