The blog is the cornerstone of a solid content marketing strategy. In fact, marketers who prioritize blogging are 13 times more likely to see positive ROI, HubSpot reports. What does it take to create and manage a successful blog? Learn the five key factors that define the best blogs and how you can emulate their success.

1. Documented strategy and goals

According to research from Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, marketers who document their strategy are more effective in almost every area of content marketing than those who do not.

Determine your specific blogging goals and long-term strategy, and write it all down. If you need help identifying goals, start by studying the blogs you admire.

Make a list of a half-dozen sites from within your industry or sites that create content you’re passionate about. Pay close attention to what characteristics make these blogs stand out and take notes. Look at the length and type of content they create, the number of shares and comments they earn, and how they go about promoting their content on social networks or through paid advertising.

Document your findings on a whiteboard or in a shared public document to help you build your own strategy. Velocity Partners has a great content marketing strategy checklist you can use to get started, too.

2. Empathetic content

The most successful blogs create content that speaks directly to their readers. Empathetic content can evoke strong emotion and even inspire readers to take action.

To craft empathetic blog content, focus on better understanding your readers’ interests, pain points and motivating factors. In other words, get inside the minds of your audience.

How to do that? Research. Go through the process of creating buyer personas — it reveals much about their thought and decision-making processes. Interview your current customers to find out how they consume content. Pick up the phone and ask them directly; you may be surprised at what you learn in an off-the-cuff conversation.

3. Visual content

Don’t overlook the power of visual content. Articles with relevant visuals get 94 percent more views and up to 40 times more social shares than content without, according to Buffer. Visual content helps ensure that your writing gets read.

Begin to think about ways that visual content can add to the story that you are telling on your blog. If you manage a business blog with more technical content, consider explaining the complexities of your industry in an infographic or Q&A video.

Your visual content doesn’t necessarily need to be expensive, but hiring an on-staff graphic designer or working with the same freelancer will help you create visual consistency over time. Check out our list of the 10 best tools for visual storytelling.

4. Natural, relevant links

Linking is the backbone of the internet. Your content should link to trustworthy, authoritative content that improves the user experience. A good rule of thumb: For every 300 words of copy, provide one link to a resource that helps readers get answers to their questions or research further.

Don’t just promote your interests, however. This means you’ll send traffic to third-party sites. While it may seem counterintuitive to send your hard-earned traffic off-site, readers care more about finding the content that matches their intentions and less about who created it. They’ll thank you for guiding them to the best content and may come back to you as a resource in the future.

Additionally, linking can be a great opportunity to share credit to other content creators or influencers and open the door for ongoing comarketing opportunities to drive the success of your blog.

5. Engaged audience

Whether it’s with giveaways and prizes or ongoing conversation, your readers should be attended to and recognized. Audience engagement can be a time-consuming process, especially because it is not easily automated.

Consider hiring someone who’s adept at social media and relationship-building. For businesses that manage a blog, this could mean hiring a community manager, working with your social media manager or melding the two positions.

Outside of responding to comments and scheduling distribution, consider thanking readers for sharing or subscribing to your content. Send personal thank you cards, branded stickers, social shout-outs, or other swag to your top engaged readers to help your blog community thrive.

Bonus: Impeccable grammar

Consistently good grammar is nonnegotiable. A slip-up here and there won’t kill you, but do have a strong focus on editorial quality. As this post on why good grammar is important explains, poor grammar harms your credibility and makes you look careless, whereas good grammar is a symbol of the quality of the work you do.