Marketers have more outlets for their content than ever before, from SoundCloud to Snapchat. To be successful, though, you can’t push out content “spray and pray” style, hoping at least one piece hits its target audience in just the right way.

You need a strategy. “At a high level, the goal of a content strategy should be to help your business build an audience for your products and/or services,” says Dave Charest, director of content marketing for email marketing software platform Constant Contact. “More specifically, an early goal could be to increase traffic to your website, increase engagement, increase social shares, or drive specific customer actions.” 

Here are 10 steps you can take to build a winning content strategy in 2018 and beyond.

Choose the Best Content Management System (CMS) or Digital Experience Platform (DXP) for Your Organization

“When choosing a CMS, ease of updating is always key,” notes Keri Lindenmuth, marketing manager for The Kyle David Group, which provides technology services to its clients. “It should be simple for anyone on your team, regardless of their technical background, to make quick edits to content.” 

Lindenmuth recommends WordPress as a CMS because of its ease of use and robust plug-in ecosystem.

Related Article: 11 Rules for Selecting the Right Content Management System (CMS)

Define Goals for Each Piece of Content

What do you want to accomplish with your blog, video series, podcasts, or other content? Are you trying to educate existing customers and turn them into loyal advocates? Position your company as a thought leader? Rank highly in search results? Sell more products? Having a clearly thought-out goal for each piece of content will help it be successful, says Dew Smith, managing editor for Vendasta Technologies, which provides a sales and marketing platform and app marketplace.

“Try categorizing your content in terms of their goals — shares, traffic, engagement, backlinks, and so on — and don’t have every piece be focused on hitting the number one spot on Google,” Smith advises.

Build Personas That Reflect Your Target Audiences

In marketing, personas are imaginary people who act as avatars for your ideal audiences. One persona might be Sean, a 25-year-old sports fan who works in high tech, while another might be Lisa, a 50-year-old who runs a business with 30 employees. Targeting specific personas in your marketing content helps ensure that your content will resonate with its intended audiences.

When targeting content to personas, think of the questions they may have or the information they may want, suggests Lindenmuth. “Be as detailed as you can be,” she says. “Imagine their background, their work position, and even their education level. Some may find it a waste of time to create what they see as ‘imaginary’ readers or users, but it’s a great way to put yourself in their shoes.”

Related Article: Why Personas Matter in B2B Customer Journey Mapping

Perform a Content Audit

Patrick Nohe, content manager at The SSL Store, an SSL certificate reseller, says his company’s blog visitors jumped from 28,000 in 2016 to 742,000 in 2017. He attributes the traffic increase to positioning the blog as an industry authority and its lead writer as a thought leader.

“We accomplished this by starting with a full-on content audit that determined what we had, what pages were being viewed, and what topics our visitors were reaching our site on,” Nohe explains. “We used this information to define customer personas and the topics that are driving the most traffic.”

From that foundation, Nohe and his colleagues identified industry influencers and what kind of information they typically sought, which was original research. “Using that information, we began publishing three times per week, focusing on creating content that was unique and compelling,” he explains. They used search engine optimization (SEO) tactics to identify what their audiences were searching for, audited the content their competitors were producing, and eventually increased blog post frequency to every day, Monday through Friday.

All these tactics — starting with the essential content audit — has continued to improve The SSL Store’s traffic and domain authority. “Based on the last quarter of 2017, we’re projecting over 1.2-million visitors this year,” Nohe says. “And keep in mind, this is for a blog about SSL.”

Do a Competitive Audit

Check out your competitors’ websites to see the types of content they’re producing—with the goal of adding something new to the topic.

“You don’t want to merely rehash what’s already out there,” says James Nuttall, Content and Outreach Specialist for Cuuver, a car insurance comparison website in the U.K. Instead, focus on what’s not out there and that you can be the first to write about. “Have you got a great idea for an article that you haven’t found on any other site? This could make your content a link-worthy piece, attracting thousands of visitors who want a specific question answered they can’t find elsewhere.”

Related Article: Quality Over Quantity: Publish Less, Audit More

Brainstorm Content Ideas with Keywords, News Headlines

When brainstorming content ideas, especially blog post topics, use keyword research tools to get a sense of which words and phrases are garnering the most traffic, Lindenmuth suggests. She recommends Moz’s Keyword Explorer.

Learning Opportunities

“I try to write our company’s blog posts around those keywords,” Lindenmuth adds. Current events are also useful for creating content that stands a good chance of drawing traffic. “Spend time researching your industry’s news and see which events may make a good blog post,” she says.

For brainstorming meetings, encourage team members to present their content ideas, says Smith. “At the end of the meeting, the whole team votes for the most exciting, helpful, and valuable content to produce for your audience.”

For content ideas, think about the questions your potential customers have and how to answer them with content. “Talk to your sales and customer service teams,” says Julie Graff, brand engagement specialist for digital marketing agency Pole Position Marketing. “What questions do they answer over and over again? Providing a detailed answer in your content can help you not only become recognized as an industry expert but also help your search engine performance.”

Create Content Topic Clusters

Focus your content by breaking down topics into digestible chunks you can tackle each month, suggests Smith.

Each month, her company Vendasta focuses its blog and downloadable content on a specific topic based on keyword research, products and services provided, and new product releases. By clustering topics like this, you can focus on one key aspect of your business each month and create “heavy-hitting, keyword-focused content that will pay off in search engine results page ranking, traffic, and brand identity,” she says.

Decide On the Right Content For the Job

Different content types are more effective at different stages of the buying journey, says John Lahr, director of marketing for content marketing intelligence company Cortex. “For example, blog posts are great for customers early in the buying journey, and therefore should focus on topics that will point out their pain points and options to help solve them.”

“It’s critical to match content to each stage of the customer journey and have clear metrics that really capture the long-term impact that a specific piece of content generates,” adds Kim Kosaka, director of marketing at web analytics company Alexa. “A piece of content has so many attributes, from topic to target audience, tone, length, media type, and search visibility, that the task of analyzing performance requires tools able to extract actionable insights from this data. Successful content will move prospective customers forward in their journeys, and data-driven audits can really parse out the variables of content that works versus content that needs to be rethought or eliminated.”

Promote and Track Your Content

When you release new content, publicize it on your relevant social networks, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Be sure to add social sharing buttons next to your content, so audiences can easily share it with their followers.

Another way to publicize new content is to add a link to it in your email signature, Lindenmuth says. “Think of all of the people you email throughout the day. Posting a link to new content is a great way to catch their attention,” she says.

Use project management tools such as Asana to track deadlines, make assignments, update content progress, and record results, says Smith. Tag the content with specific topics to get a visual representation of what your content calendar will look like.

Refresh Old Blog Posts

Producing blog posts takes time, research and money. To make the most of your efforts, refresh older posts with updated information. Add new links and reference newer blog posts, too, says Rebecca Todd, brand marketing executive for The Hut Group, a U.K. e-commerce company. “Show your readers and the search engines that you’re still current,” she says. “Repurpose the content you produce by changing the layout, the format, or the images. Test different ways of displaying your post until you find what appeals to your readers.”

Summing It All Up

“In building a content strategy for 2018, you should continue to define goals and key performance indicators, build personas based on brand segmentations, perform competitive content audits, choose a CMS experience platform, brainstorm content ideas against persona needs and ideate on formats that those personas typically use,” says Robb Hecht, a digital influence strategy coach. “Finally, it’s important to promote out and distribute content as well as to refresh old content.”