While driving prospects to your website and getting them to follow you on social media are both important, doing so serves no purpose if you’re not able to convert those prospects into paying customers along the way. That’s where content can play an important role. It’s a critical tool for communicating with your audience as you seek to build a relationship with them and establish trust. Leveraged properly, it can help build your brand, position you as a thought leader, and accelerate sales cycles.

These are just some of the reasons why it’s important to have a sound content strategy in place to ensure that you’re creating the best content possible. Taking the time to create a strategy will not only help focus your work, but also give it the underlying foundation it needs to be successful.

Let’s take a look at the seven steps you need to follow to build a content strategy that will drive inbound leads.

1. Establish clear goals

Clear goals are the starting point for any good content strategy. But you have to be specific about what they should be. If you just have a vague notion that you want to get more customers, it’s going to be much more difficult to meet your objectives. A much better approach is to set SMART goals (i.e., goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely) that clearly define what it is you are trying to achieve in a given time period.

Start by thinking about the big picture. Maybe you want to double revenue over the next 18 months. While that’s a great goal, it’s much too big and nebulous to be useful. So the key is to break big goals down into all of the smaller component parts. Maybe that’s following a particular publishing cadence, increasing website traffic by X percent over the next six months, or having your eBook downloaded a certain number of times before the end of the year.

Consider what you’re trying to achieve with a content strategy and the various steps you’ll need to take to do so. That exercise should help give you the direction you need to orient your efforts.

2. Develop an in-depth understanding of your target audience

Knowing your target audience is essential if you want to create content that resonates with that audience. Practically speaking, that means that unless you can go out and meet them all individually, chances are that you’d benefit from developing personas that help you characterize what your buyers are like.

Personas are descriptions of who your buyers are. They should include basic demographic information, such as job title, age, and gender, as well as more specific information about what your buyers care about. They should answer questions such as what their pain points are, what issues keep them up at night, and what the typical journey looks like when they’re going down the path to purchase. They should also talk about their preferences, including what channels they like to be contacted on and what kind of messaging and tone of voice appeal most to them.

Having all of this information documented in one place will serve as a valuable guidepost that you should consult any time you’re creating content. That’s because when you write with a well-crafted persona in mind, you’re much more likely to create something that actually resonates with them and helps shepherd them down the path to purchase.

3. Develop a clear and compelling tone of voice

At a time when your audience is undoubtedly being bombarded with content all day long, if you want yours to cut through the noise and stand out, it needs to be compelling. And while the substance of your content is a critical part of the equation, so too is how you convey your ideas. Having a unique tone of voice that helps personify your brand can help you engage with prospects and customers and give them a reason to keep reading.

While there’s nothing wrong with adopting a generic tone of voice per se, it effectively amounts to a missed opportunity. If you don’t have a tone that attracts and engages people, they’ll be less likely to read your content and engage with your brand. Take the time to decide how you want your company to sound and adopt a distinctive tone that will resonate with your audience.

4. Identify thoughtful content ideas

These days everyone is creating content. With so much competing for people’s attention, you need to ensure that yours is not only interesting and informative, but that it’s also inherently useful. Take the time to brainstorm about what questions are most regularly asked about your product or industry. Then start packaging up the answers in a neat, accessible format. Think about how you can help your prospective clients tackle problems they may have using your product and go from there.

You also need to consider what types of content to create. Blogs and eBooks are table stakes. Can you mix things up with videos or infographics? Does it make sense to experiment with augmented reality or to develop an app? Remember, content doesn’t have to be static and not everyone likes to consume information in exactly the same way. Think about creative approaches to communicating your messages while educating your audience and helping to solve their problems.

5. Identify your distribution channels

There are many ways to get your content out, but that doesn’t mean that all of them are right for your audience or that you should try to be on every channel at once. Here again, your knowledge of your buyers’ preferences is critical. While Twitter and LinkedIn are common distribution channels, they may not be the best ones for your audience. Better options might be online chat forums, industry conferences, or a particular trade publication. Whatever the case, your job is to make sure that your content is available wherever your audience likes to hang out. Admittedly, that could be a lot of places, so be sure to prioritize your options and go after a few at a time, adjusting course based on the results that you get.

6. Create a content matrix

A content matrix is where you bring many of the elements of your content strategy together. While it’s a very basic tool, it’s critical because it’s where you align your personas and the journey that they’re on to your content and distribution channels. In doing so, you can ensure that you’ve got coverage for every persona at every stage of their journey.

To learn more about how to create a great content matrix, check out this post.

7. Measure and iterate

The only way to get better at content marketing is to measure everything that you do and try to learn from your successes and failures. Regularly track key metrics, including things like website traffic and social engagement to understand how individual pieces of content are performing. And while knowing that a piece of content has been viewed or read is useful, ultimately what you want to measure is how that piece of content is contributing to your company’s bottom line. For that reason, you’ll want to track conversions and begin attributing leads to specific pieces of content.  

Over time, you should start to see patterns and get a sense for what works well with your audience and what doesn’t. Make sure to apply these learning to what you do and to continue to refine your approach.

A smart strategy for successful conversions

A lot of content marketers concentrate their efforts on creating content, without thinking about its purpose, their target audience, or even the ROI they’re trying to achieve. As a result, their efforts tend to meander and not be very effective. A much better approach is to think through your content strategy and build the underlying assets you need to support it. Once you do, you’ll have a much more focused and disciplined framework with which to approach your efforts. Ultimately, that will help you create better content and get better results for your business.