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Some 78% of CMOs view content as the future of marketing. But how we arrive at that future is already changing: We've learned that the job doesn't end with simply producing content; making sure it performs is critical to driving engagement and reaching target audiences.

However, the gap between production and performance is a real pain point for marketers: 86% of B2B marketers use content marketing, but only 21% say they're actually successful at tracking ROI, according to a study by MarketingProfs and Content Marketing Institute; moreover, only 1 in 5 pieces of B2C content are engaged with at all, according to research by BrightEdge and iProspect.

There is a way to close that gap. Successful content takes optimization at every step of the process—from ideation and creation to production and amplification. Optimization is powered by insights into audience demand to develop content that delivers results and value for both the customer and your business.

To help you optimize, here are three steps you can take to achieve content performance success.

1. Harness data to identify best channels and content types

The first step to winning with your content strategy is to understand both where your audience goes for information and what types of content your consumers prefer.

Tap into data from around the Web to understand which channels and types of content perform best for your audience. Every industry is different, and the ways your audience interacts with your content will differ greatly from those of an audience in a different industry. So, do your research and use this data to inform how you approach your content.

Maybe whitepapers should be more your style, or a series of blog posts might be the way to go. Our own research found that content combining video and images (what we call rich media) drives a 9% increase in performance, so try adding those to your repertoire.

And remember to pay attention to third-party competitor data: It can illuminate what content your audience might be searching for elsewhere, and help you to see what crucial themes or topics you might be missing.

From there, focus on how audiences actually find your content. Online search has never had a larger impact on content success. In fact, many site visitors for both B2B and B2C brands are driven by online search, so make sure you're investing in it.

If you're not paying attention to how your consumers reach your content, you could be missing out—and if your potential consumers can't locate your content on the web, you run the risk of them finding your competitors' content instead.

2. Create content that resonates, engages, and converts

After understanding your audiences and channels, the next priority is identifying audience demand for topics and optimizing content for engagement.

Optimizing content topics based on demand (and scaling the process across webpages and programs) will take your strategy to the next level. When content is optimized, it attracts audiences exactly when they're ready for it, yielding higher engagement levels and conversion rates.

So determine buyer personas, identify the topics they care about, and map content accordingly. Allowing authors to build relevant topics into content as it's being created helps ensure your content is tracking back to data-driven research and customer value.

Outdoor gear retailer Cabela's does a great job of this. The brand has zeroed in on how-to content, videos, safety tips, and more to target consumers at every level of outdoor experience (novice to expert). Cabela's has successfully mapped content to individual buyer journeys to uniquely engage each audience while they're searching and researching, ensuring Cabela's—rather than the competition—wins the hearts and minds of customers.

3. Monitor and measure progress to set future goals

The third step of content performance marketing is measurement. Right now, 44% of CMOs lack quantitative metrics to demonstrate the impact of marketing spend—and 20% use a manager's judgment to measure ROI.

Using analytics and third-party data to see the whole picture related to your content is critical to ensuring content marketing success. Key metrics to track include views, conversions, and revenue—yes, revenue!

Setting quantitative goals aligned to your business priorities, and tracking against them, will undoubtedly round out your content program—and allow you to share your successes with your broader organization.

Pointing to successes—and sometimes failures—and understanding why they happened is invaluable in a field that has traditionally been light on measurement, giving your brand a leg up on the competition. And it's that edge that will catapult you into success in this new era of content marketing.

Marketers in 2016 and beyond will be asked to run content marketing by the numbers. My advice is to prepare now for your future success.

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Three Steps to Maximizing ROI in a New Era of Content

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image of Jim Yu

Jim Yu is founder and CEO of BrightEdge, a  provider of Cloud-based enterprise SEO and content performance management solutions.

LinkedIn: Jim Yu

Twitter: @jimyu