Content marketing is having a moment. More than 75 percent of companies plan to increase their content marketing budget this year, with the increase set to comprise a substantial portion of the budget: On average, companies are planning to allocate nearly a third of their total marketing budget to content marketing.

Why the push for an inbound approach? Content marketing is about attracting attention through a more genuine connection. Instead of something overly promotional, your audience expects something that has high value with very little branding. The goal is to encourage engagement through this content that eventually fosters a relationship and will lead to a conversion.

Attention, relationships, and conversions all make up various levels of the sales funnel, and part of content marketing’s appeal is it can reach your target audience at each stage. Fractl recently outlined how an effective content marketing strategy – specifically one that combines an alignment of on- and off-site content – can help brands throughout every step of the sales funnel.

Here’s how content marketing impacts three stages of the funnel: generating awareness, building trust and converting leads.

Increase awareness through an off-site promotion strategy that targets authoritative sites.

Content marketing success relies heavily on authoritative publishers, and luckily for marketers, these publishers are always looking for a steady stream of great content. Another benefit to working with publishers? It is the most effective way for your content to impact consumers at the awareness level. More specifically, additional gains from earned media include:

  • Search engines indexing your site higher through a strong inbound link portfolio
  • Growth in traffic to your site from new and returning visitors
  • A higher return on the content you created because you’re actively promoting it versus simply relying on natural syndication

A great example of an effective outreach strategy is Groove’s highly targeted guest blogging efforts, which helped the software startup reach more than 1 million people. One guest post alone, for instance, earned the company more than 10,000 social shares along with more than 20,000 unique visitors. Although the overall influence of the content can be impacted by multiple factors – including the date and time of when the post is published – one thing is clear: Guest blogging is a cost-effective way to impact the top of the sales funnel.

Establish yourself as a thought leader and build trust with your target audience through valuable on-site content.

An effective blogging strategy doesn’t have to rely solely on earning guest posts, though. An on-site blog is a great way to establish authority – a crucial step in the sales funnel that will continue to drive your leads down to possible conversions.

The growth of KISSmetrics’ blog is a perfect example of one brand using on-site posts to position itself as a leader in its industry. Last January, more than 60 percent of the site’s leads for that month were generated through the blog.

Other on-site content that can increase your authority? White papers, case studies and eBooks—especially when grouped together. For instance, Cox Media created a “Success Kit” for small businesses that included an eBook and video. The bundle led to more than 500 downloads and generated more than 2,000 leads.

Drive conversion events through gated on-site content to optimize bottom line results.

It’s clear that a mix of on- and off-site content can generate awareness and drive traffic – a successful content marketing strategy has the potential to increase traffic by 850 percent – but how do you ensure conversions? Make sure your content includes a call to action.

Remember that although the goal of any content should be to drive conversions, it has a greater chance of driving conversion events. A common one is asking your audience to provide an email address in exchange for your content. This initiates a conversation with a potential consumer and offers the opportunity to provide them with additional content that can drive them further down the funnel.

However, this content can also be optimized for lower-funnel conversions. For instance, BuzzStream launched a combination of large-scale, research-based campaigns that earned placements on high-authority sites. These campaigns were hyper-targeted to consumers who were already close to conversions, and because all off-site content led to a gated on-site asset, the company managed to break its record for new subscriber sign-ups.

Another way to optimize bottom line results is to shorten your sales cycle. For example, PR Newswire launched a content marketing strategy in an effort to accelerate its sales funnel of more than 25,000 potential consumers. Through highly targeted, automated emails and expanding its client interaction to multiple channels, the company shortened its sales cycle by 30 percent in only a year.

The biggest takeaway from our research?

Carefully align content with your business goals while maintaining high value for your consumers.

Although there is no go-to content marketing strategy that will ensure every potential lead ends up at the bottom of your sales funnel, offering highly targeted, off-site content that leads back to conversion-optimized, on-site content will help initiate a conversation with your target audience.

Check out this deck highlighting five additional case studies that reveal how content marketing can drive your bottom line. Understanding how your content can benefit each stage of the funnel will help stimulate ideas that will have a profound impact on awareness, traffic, search rankings, and lead generation.