It happened with SEO first. We didn’t know exactly how Google’s search algorithms worked, but we knew they looked at metadata and keywords and the number of links leading to our domains. So, we stuffed content with keywords, built link farms, and raked in the traffic. It’s all fun and games until the algorithms get smarter, and ruins it for everyone else. The old school surefire strategies are now not just old hat. They’re black hat. And they will get you in trouble with Google.

Content marketing works. It brings in empowered, informed buyers who feel like they can conduct business on their terms for the first time. Content drives organic traffic to websites—the most qualified, valuable of visitors, who are the most likely to complete a conversion and lead to closed business. So why are we growing increasingly frustrated with content marketing? Because we can’t game it.

The Content Marketing Problem

The biggest frustration, and arguably the toughest news to deliver to the C-suite is that getting to content ROI takes time. Content produced consistently over time will yield greater returns than a handful of other activities delivered more sporadically. You’re seeding a complex ecosystem of information in which you will cultivate expertise, credibility, and trust.

Content Marketing Institute co-founder Joe Pulizzi interviewed successful content marketers for his recent book, Content Inc., in order to discover whether there was a consistent, repeatable formula for success. He found that the time frame to big results for the content marketing success stories was 12 to 18 months of consistent publishing—9 months for superstar outliers.

While there were no shortcuts, the results are worth the wait. Organic traffic visitors brought in by high-quality content are more engaged, will consume more content on your site, have lower bounce rates than paid traffic, and are more likely to convert into subscribers or customers.

How to Make B2B Content Marketing Suck Less

Content marketing is awesome for consumers, but it sucks for B2B marketers who are trying to demonstrate that has real business outcomes and shorten the time to value. How do you make it suck less?

Have a detailed, documented content marketing strategy. B2B content marketing reports from MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute have consistently reported this one fact every year: the most successful marketers are those who are crystal clear on their goals. Your strategy begins with desired business outcomes: whether it’s increased engagement or increased revenue, you can’t set your KPIs without a target. Your strategy should also account for your customer needs, the stages of their buying process, and how their concerns change according to their intent. Finally, have a content mission to help focus your efforts and ensure you’re only creating content that delivers what your audience will find most valuable.

Also have a plan for the short term. Following through on a robust content strategy is very rewarding, but the gratification is delayed. Be prepared to balance out your content marketing efforts with short-term tactics that can drive more immediate results. To get in front of more people in the early stages, you will need to boost your signal through paid advertising, buying lists, public relations, influencer programs, third-party distribution and syndication channels, or a mix of all of the above. You can probably guess that having some content to offer your audience will still be required to feed these campaigns, but when starting out, outbound methods will be an effective way to reach new audiences.

Know which problems can’t be solved with content. Resist the temptation to see every problem as a nail that can be struck with a content marketing hammer. If your product or service doesn’t create value for customers, content won’t help. Creating content without a strategy or good understanding of your ideal customer will also take up time and resources, growing your workload without actually growing your audience.

To take the frustration out of being a B2B content marketer, it’s best to have goals aligned to a well-defined strategy, set clear expectations of what content can do and how long that will take, and mitigate the pressure for growth with a tactical outbound approach. Be prepared to stick with it for the long haul, and watch your content investment yield great returns over its lifetime.