A few years ago, a friend of mine, who’s a LASIK surgeon, called and said he wanted me to help him with his practice’s marketing. “They think because I’m the youngest guy here, that I know I what to do, but I don’t.”

“What are you currently doing?” I asked.

“Well, every summer we slow down, so they buy $25,000 worth of radio ads in May,” he told me.

Once I stopped laughing, I said “Yes. I can definitely help you. But instead of radio ads, we’re going to consistently produce value for potential customers with content. Give me that radio money and I’ll get you a return you can actually see.”

Building a Successful Content Strategy from Scratch

This LASIK practice had no audience to speak of and little marketing in place (outside of some local sponsorships and flyers). All they really had was a decently revamped website, great Google rankings, a strong presence in their market, and a willingness to experiment—all things I could work with.

We can parse words, but at the end of the day, content marketing—and its accompanying strategy—is about two things: traffic and conversions. Each has to be treated individually while working together within the context of the whole.

So, off I went, laying out a long-term strategy, knowing I needed to show a return while implementing content in phases. I began with traffic (obviously). I needed to prove I could get people to pay attention.

We settled on a small budget for Facebook ads (a little paid traffic never hurt anyone, right?), defined our target audience, and began testing ads. Initially, we sent people to the website, knowing this was a terrible idea. But, you work with what you’ve got, so to the website they went. It worked. And the practice began to see an uptick in scheduled consultations.

Once we had traffic nailed down, we had a bigger problem. We didn’t have any content to keep people around. Aside from some generic info about LASIK and a scheduling page, there wasn’t much to engage visitors. Bounce rates were high. Time on page was low.

Naturally, we started a blog, beginning with pieces that talked about what surgery looked and felt like, what to expect at a consultation, how long recovery would be. I was able to create this cornerstone content through a combination of data mining (using sites like Reddit and AnswerThePublic), ad-testing on Facebook, and a little common sense.

We also started asking for feedback via email after patients’ two-month checkups, including a question that asks if they’d be willing to participate in a “customer success story.” This let me begin interviewing patients, finding out about their experiences, and mining their answers for deeper questions we could use to build trust on the site through our content.

Lo and behold, the number of scheduled consultations improved. The first year, it was by an average of three per week. That number carries with it the potential of $48k per month in extra revenue. Last year, scheduled consultations went up three per week, again.

This year, we’re focused on testing more content, growing our newly-started newsletter list to nurture those who bounce, and doing more case studies. Needless to say, our content strategy is working.

Is Your Content Strategy Working?

I tell this story to make a few points about content strategy. There are few simple truths that you must understand in order to build a successful content strategy.

1. It’s Not about Publishing—It’s about Leads

Consistency in content marketing is critically important. But too many companies still publish content just to say they did it. They check the blog box for the week or the month and go about their other business.

At the LASIK practice, we put a focus on delivering content that would educate. Having LASIK surgery requires a great deal of trust (and money), and we wanted our content to be able to build trust and expertise before a person ever steps foot in the office.

Knowing what issues people want to know more about (because I asked) helps us create content that creates a consistent stream of leads. And in a business where return customers mean you messed up, that’s success.

2. A Conversion Doesn’t Have to Equal a New Customer

How do you define a conversion? Is it when someone fills out a form? Schedules a call? For us, booked consultations are all that matter. We have to get a certain number of people through the doors each month.

This is where matching your content with a buyer’s awareness becomes important. Because without knowing where your buyer is mentally and what they’re thinking about, you have no idea what your call to action should be. And every piece of content you produce should have a call to action that makes sense for the reader or visitor.

Whether you’re asking the reader to download a case study, fill out a form, or schedule a consultation is up to you (and should be determined by the buyer’s stage of awareness), but a conversion doesn’t have to mean the person becomes a new customer; that’s just one way of defining it.

Obviously, there are sophisticated ways to determine MQLs and SQLs, but for the LASIK practice, operating in a small market, we only need to monitor one metric: scheduled consultations. This is enough for us because it’s the one that matters most.

Without a clear understanding of what a conversion means in the context of your strategy, it will be hard to know if your strategy is working. (We’ll save the topic of attribution for another time).

3. Control What You Can and Ignore the Rest

I have little control over whether a patient qualifies for surgery or not. And, frankly, that’s not my concern.

I was tasked with providing new leads (a never-ending task for LASIK practices) and the content we consistently deliver helps with that process. Scheduled consultations continue to grow, but once people are in the LASIK office to speak with a doctor, my job is complete.

Knowing which parts of the process you can influence—and which you can’t—will help you determine how successful your program actually is. I don’t like that some people don’t qualify for surgery because it affects the bottom line, but in the end, the content I create has zero effect on a person’s cataracts. Control the pieces you’re capable of controlling and base your success on those.

Context, Not Content

Admittedly, what I’ve described here is not overly sophisticated. But in the context of the business I’m working with, it doesn’t need to be. This isn’t a Fortune 500 company with a giant salesforce or huge marketing budget. And that’s precisely the point.

You’ll know if your content marketing strategy is working because you’ll have an intimate knowledge of the business, its customers, and the metrics that matter. If monitoring traffic, social media shares, or time on page can tell you something about new leads, then by all means, measure that! But if it doesn’t, figure out a better metric.

The real key to understanding if your content strategy is working is determined by the individual current context of the business. Our focus, our metrics, our expectations—our context is constantly changing because the business is constantly changing.

Remember when I told you to do more of what works? You’re the only one who can really say what success looks like. But it comes from a combination of research, experimentation, humanity, and analytics, not some prescribed notion of ROI that has no bearing on your situation. Trust yourself, learn about your customers, and deliver the goods. The rest will take care of itself.

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Chris Cooper

About Chris Cooper

Chris Cooper owns Real Good Writing in Denver, CO where he helps SaaS companies with Seed or Series A funding gain traction and kickstart their marketing program. Visit www.rgwriting.com or connect on Twitter @ElCoopacabra.