When consumers started ignoring traditional marketing efforts such as television commercials and print magazine ads, marketers realized they needed to give buyers what they wanted: information.
Information is now offered to consumers in the form of content marketing, which is developed to attract and engage consumers in hopes they will become customers.
While content marketing was not technically born five years ago, it was officially given a name. And like a 5-year-old child, content marketing has changed a lot in the last few years.
To keep up with the many changes like search engine updates and content marketing best practices, here we take a look at how content marketing has changed over the past five years and what you can expect in the next few to come.
The Birth of Modern Content Marketing
Great examples of content marketing from the past can be educational, inspire ideas and lead to more effective strategies. Top examples ranged from free Jell-O recipe books in 1904 to G.I. Joe comic books and LEGO Brick Kicks magazine in the ‘80s and ‘90s. However, nothing quite tipped the scale and inspired the term “content marketing” like the rising popularity of the Internet.
In 2007, the company Blendtec uploaded its first YouTube video, garnering more than 6 million views and a 700 percent growth in revenue. A year later, P&G launched the website BeingGirl.com, which was deemed to be four times more effective than traditional marketing. Why? Because content marketing provided real, useful information rather than the hard sales push consumers were long used to.
By 2010, almost 90 percent of companies saw the importance of content marketing and implemented it in some way, allocating about 25 percent of their marketing budgets to their content efforts. However, most fell into the trap of creating content for the sake of creating content.
Because there was so much content out there, marketers with access to SEO best practices of the time were performing a lot of on-page sculpting and black-hat link building. This led to consumers being overwhelmed by useless “noise” in place of truly useful content.
What Doesn’t Work Anymore
Five years ago, content marketing best practices looked very different from those we deem best practices today:
If you are still writing and publishing content simply because you know you should, stop. Content marketing is no longer an equation or formula in which companies can publish the perfect amount of articles with the exact amount of links and keyword phrases in order to show up first in the search engine results. Every time you publish a piece of content, ask yourself, “who is this helping?” This is the true power of the practice, and, in the words of Jay Baer, creating content “so inherently useful that customers would pay you for it” will help you build relationships with a slew of potential customers.
If you are still planting backlinks around the web, stop. Your bad habits will catch up with you; just ask JCPenney, the brand infamous for creating and buying links for every keyword from “bedding” to “skinny jeans” across hundreds of sites, most of which had nothing to do with home décor or juniors clothing. Google swiftly punished the mega brand in 2011 and warned others against this sort of black-hat SEO tactics. So take heed: Google wants brands to write content with humans—not search engines—in mind. Again, when your content is useful, the backlinks will come naturally.
If you are still exclusively publishing content about your products and services, stop. And now the cold, hard truth: No one cares about your brand. They want answers to their questions and solutions to their problems. While your products may very well be those things, consumers usually do not Google “TirePro 3650”; instead, they Google “How do I change my tire?” See the difference? Your content must relate to their needs, not push your product over and over again.
The Challenges of Modern Content Marketing
These changes have created some difficult hurdles for content marketers to clear. Based on content marketing’s trajectory into the future of marketing, it is being suggested that marketers:
1) Find Balance
Most notably, the greatest challenge of content marketing has become deciphering a balance between quality and quantity. You want to create enough content that your audience continues to visit your site and social networks for more, but you want to ensure each piece of content you put out, whether it is a blog post, a video or an infographic, is high-quality, useful content. To be considered valuable, content should be consistent, relevant to its target audience and offer information that informs consumers without blatant promotion of a product.
2) Successfully Share Content
When content is shared (or not shared) on social sites, it speaks to the relevancy and quality of the content. Search engines have begun looking to social channels to judge content and its usefulness among consumers. This means you want your content to be highly shareable on social networks and, therefore, must intrigue your audience. Because you cannot focus solely on your brand or product, it is imperative to draw buyers in with a story. Conquering the art of storytelling in your content marketing is not easy but is surely possible.
3) Personalize Content
Your customers are not one-size-fits all, so your content should not be either. The idea of personalized content means it can be accessed from any device, is tailored to where prospects are in the buying cycle and changes based on characteristics of visitors. This is the future of content marketing and will not be an easy undertaking. (To learn more, click here)
Where Content Marketing is Headed
Brands are not only using content marketing more than they were five years ago, they are becoming more confident with their efforts. According to the B2B Content Marketing 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report developed by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, about 93 percent of B2B marketers are using content marketing in their strategy. Also encouraging, 42 percent of B2B marketers consider themselves effective at content marketing, up from 36 percent last year.
In 2014, content marketing will not only become a standard form of marketing, it will experience unprecedented growth. This means marketers will need to learn to stand out from the content crowd. To do so, utilize these tips in your 2014 content marketing strategy:
1) Write Like You Talk
Thanks to Google’s Hummingbird update, content has the opportunity to be more conversational. Why? In the past, the search engine focused on words in a search it deemed important. Now, it focuses on the entire search to ensure it is returning the information the consumer truly wants. This means you’ll want your content to match up. Plus, Google now recognizes synonyms, which means no more having to repeat your exact keyword phrase over and over again (writers rejoice!).
2) Embrace Authorship
As Google continues to strive for the best possible results to users’ queries, it has put a major emphasis on determining the authority of content’s author. When an author is a real person with a real social reputation, Google sees this as a good thing and ultimately rates the content as real and genuine (as opposed to content from farms or spammers). While applying authorship may see uncomfortable at first, getting your staff (in house or outsourced) on board with publishing under their own names will help your employees and your brand.
3) Get Social
Because Google wants to know your content is useful, it believes social sharing is a good indication of its worth. If it is good, people will share it, right? Don’t hesitate to start sharing your content on relevant social channels—especially Google+!—and put in the time and energy needed to encourage engagement and sharing.
4) Focus on Your Target Audience
As mentioned earlier, there is no secret content marketing formula. However, your content must be focused on your audience. Since Google’s latest update is geared toward providing precise answers based on the intent of the search, Steve Rayson insists marketers “need to understand what questions your customers have and be developing solutions across your platforms including your website, Google Plus and relevant communities.” Remember, your content is most often your first chance to make an impact on your targeted consumers.
If you are creating quality content that solves your audiences’ pain points, you already have a good grasp on the future of content marketing.
How do you think content marketing has changed? Let us know in the comment section below!
Brianne Carlon Rush is Content Director at Kuno Creative. She uses her content marketing powers to help Kuno and its clients build their brands. You can connect with her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google.
Originally published Dec 6, 2013 1:00:00 PM, updated October 20 2016