While most of the Internet is measured in seconds or tweets, a good editorial strategy is more like training for marathon. It’s a lot of little steps eventually adding up to a big win that. With some luck, those steps get easier over time. But what about all of those publishers that toil for months and can barely get their readership out of the hundreds?

It’s likely they didn’t respect the funnel. In the e-commerce world the funnel is a succession of steps your users take. Like your standard e-commerce site, publishers hope that content results in some sort of conversion. Whether its buying a product, attending an event, or signing up for your service. But to get to the ultimate goal, you must first walk your reader through three levels of engagement:

Create useful content.

In the first step of the funnel, a reader arrives on your site from social media or another blog. However, all pageviews are not created equal. In order to eventually “convert” the reader you must add value to their lives. Then, add value again. Then again.

This is why the best company blogs have little to do with the company itself and instead offer content that makes the reader’s life better. Think of how Mint offers personal finance advice or how 37signals offers small business insights. Each blog identifies the company’s target customer and creates content of use to a specific niche. Notice how you rarely see a press release or other promotion material. Great content adds value, and luckily, you’re an expert in your industry.

Capture / subscribe.

Add enough value, and readers will want to keep tabs on what you publish in the future. Make your content so useful to their lives that they’ll be afraid of missing out if they don’t check back with you. Or, as the Simpsons once put it, they’ll want to subscribe to your newsletter.

It’s a crucial step that many publishers forget: once you have a reader’s attention, keep it! Your focus here should be gathering email subscriptions. Along with collecting data in exchange for premium content such as eBooks and whitepapers, this is how you draw closer to your audience and move them along the funnel. Once they’ve subscribed, you can send them stuff that’s useful.

Offer value via products / services.

If a reader has made it this far, they trust your ability to solve problems in your niche. To use the above examples, 37signals is trusted to provide resources for problems associated with small business. Mint is trusted to offer personal finance advice. Both companies offer value dozens of times a month for free. When they finally do offer a product, they do so only to the readers that trust them.

Once the reader sees that you’ve added value several times over and they’ve entrusted you with their email (and you haven’t sent them spam or sales-y material) a sale is no longer a sale. It is a heads up, a suggestion from a friend about how the reader can take their pursuit of knowledge further.

To veterans, this funnel sounds self-evident and each item could be its own book. But too often, publishers take an “if we build it, they will come” philosophy with content, leaving months of rudderless editorial strategy and frustrated stakeholders. Before you set off to create an editorial strategy, make sure you have solution for each of the three layers of the funnel. You’ll make the best use of your time and resources and, more importantly, you’ll give your customers the respect and attention they deserve.