Content marketing, our old friend, the king of digital marketing strategies, and the foundation of any SEO strategy, is in bad shape.
At least, according to some online commentators.
Content marketing pessimists insist this strategy is dying, or that it’s already dead, encouraging content marketers and search optimizers everywhere to find a different target for their marketing dollars.
But is content marketing really dying? And if so, what should you do about it?
The Rise of Content Marketing
In case you’re new here, content marketing is the practice of developing valuable content for a specific target audience, with the hopes of naturally attracting that target audience to a specific destination, usually a website. For example, if you have the world’s best blog on how to bake chocolate chip cookies, everyone interested in baking cookies is eventually going to find it. From there, you can sell them chocolate chips, cookbooks, or whatever else you want.
Content marketing rose in popularity in the late 2000s, and really came to prominence in the 2010s. Now that we’re squarely in the 2020s, it’s no longer fair to call content marketing a new strategy – but it was game changing when it first started emerging.
We need to understand why content marketing rose to prominence if we’re going to understand if and why it’s dying.
Broadly speaking, we can explain content marketing’s popularity with the following three influences:
- The internet and the power of inbound marketing.
- Consumer distrust in conventional advertising.
- The influence of search and SEO.
First, let’s talk to the internet and the power of inbound marketing. Historically, marketing and advertising strategies have been outbound, actively seeking people and trying to get their attention. Inbound marketing is a totally different approach to outbound marketing, luring people in with something they genuinely desire.
This only became truly effective when the internet reached mainstream popularity. Once people figured out they could find anything and everything with a simple search, Google started seeing millions, then billions of searches per day. Almost all of us use online search engines multiple times a day now, which means there are far more people trying to discover new content. This, in turn, makes discoverable content much more valuable.
Second, after being inundated with traditional advertising for decades, consumers finally began to grow distrustful of their persuasive messages. Every company in the world tried aggressively to convince people that their products were worth buying; as a downstream result, consumers became much less open to direct persuasion. That doesn’t mean traditional advertising doesn’t work or can’t work, but savvy marketers knew they needed to find an alternative.
If advertising isn’t as powerful because consumers don’t trust you, one solution is to simply gain more trust however you can. Content marketing is the perfect strategy for building that genuine trust.
Third, any search optimization expert can tell you that conventional SEO campaigns are practically impossible without content marketing strategy. Content is your main way of building authority, optimizing for specific keyword terms, and even link building. Because SEO is so valuable, it was only natural for content marketing to take over the digital marketing world.
The Challenges for Content Marketing Today
Why do some people think that content marketing is dying?
There are several competing explanations, and all of them may play some role in influencing this sentiment.
- Content spam and Google. There are more than 600 million blogs on the internet today, and billions of articles published across them. Digital marketers realize that producing blog posts can help you optimize for specific keyword terms, and it’s relatively easy to do. Unfortunately, this has led to a surplus of content spam – low-quality, low-effort posts that fill digital space without really providing value to anyone. Google has fought back against this by making specific algorithm changes and stricter rules on online content practices. This has made it harder for the average person to see value from practicing content marketing.
- Competition. Similarly, the abundance of online content has presented a competition problem. Let’s say you want to start a blog about how to play guitar. There are already thousands, if not millions of blogs already dedicated to this, and many of them have been publishing content for decades. How are you supposed to get an edge on them? You probably can’t outproduce them or outspend them, so the only real option is to avoid them by targeting a different audience or choosing a different subject. This has made countless digital marketers reluctant to use content marketing to compete directly.
- Saturation and consumer trust. The saturation of online content has also led to a decline in consumer trust. Remember, one of the primary motivations driving people to content marketing is a desire for more trustworthiness and authenticity – at least when compared to the trustworthiness and authenticity of traditional advertising. Now that consumers have been flooded with clickbait content and cheap attempts to get their attention with deceptive or manipulative articles, they’re less likely to trust the online content they find. This makes it very difficult to capitalize on one of content marketing’s biggest advantages.
- New content forms. When we talk about content marketing, most people think about written content, including blogs, eBooks, and whitepapers. In that context, content marketing is dying in part because of the introduction of new content mediums. Videos are the most important to acknowledge here – and especially short, punchy videos on social media.
- Lower attention spans. Historically, one of the best ways to beat a competitor in the content marketing game was to do what they do, but better. If they have a 5,000-word post about the history of skyscrapers, you could write a 10,000-word post on the same subject with more research and better arguments. But these days, such long, detailed posts don’t attract quite as much attention. People generally have lower attention spans and seek out faster, more digestible types of content. In line with this, people are increasingly relying on mobile devices for online browsing and research, and mobile device screens aren’t especially conducive to long-form content.
- Demand for engagement. People don’t want to be purely passive consumers of content. They want to be actively involved, whether that means simply leaving comments on a piece of content or responding with a piece of content on their own. Either way, if you want to maximize audience attention and participation, you need to think about the engagement dynamics of what you’re writing.
- AI content, content farms, and more. As we’ve written before, the internet has a ghostwriting problem. When you read a piece of content, you can’t be sure it was written by an expert, even if that seems to be the case. These days, it’s incredibly easy to mass manufacture low-quality content that “gets the job done” without truly providing any value to readers. Content written by AI, articles from content mills and content farms, and pieces of content ghostwritten by fake “experts” have littered the web – and undermined the value and authenticity of true expert content.
Why Content Marketing Is Still Valuable
We just listed a host of reasons to be pessimistic about the future of content marketing. But realistically, content marketing is still valuable – and for several reasons.
For starters, it’s still a crucial component of any SEO strategy. Even if human readers were completely turned off of reading online content, these pieces of content would still be valuable for search engine indexes.
Additionally, content comes in many forms and can be produced in countless different ways. If the biggest problems with content marketing are the written medium and low effort, you can make up for these by incorporating more visuals and investing more effort.
Also, it’s rare for marketing strategies to ever become truly obsolete. Printed newspapers are rarer than they used to be, but newspaper ads can still be valuable in some circumstances; in fact, in many instances, they’re cheaper than ever. Content marketing certainly isn’t the same as it was 10 years ago, but that doesn’t mean the strategy is truly dying.
How to Keep Your Content Marketing Strategy Alive
So what steps can you take to make sure your content marketing strategy stays alive and valuable for your brand?
- Commit to ongoing adaptability. Above all else, you need to remain adaptable. We don’t know exactly how the content marketing world is going to evolve in the next few years, let alone the next few decades. It’s also hard to say what the most effective content marketing strategy is today, since there are so many options and so many strategic possibilities, so only through ongoing experimentation and improvement can you find a reliable strategy that works. As long as you remain adaptable, you can keep your strategy alive and thriving no matter what happens to consumers or the digital marketing world overall.
- Understand and appeal to your target demographics. Content marketing works when it provides value to specific demographics. How do you do this? First, you need to know who your demographics are and how they think. Second, you need to provide them with information or entertainment that is genuinely valuable to them. You can’t do this unless you have a specific target audience; trying to reach a broad, generic audience isn’t good enough. You also need to do enough market research that you understand who this audience is, what their values are, and what type of content they want to see. Don’t just think about demographic factors like age, gender, or location; also think about where they are in the sales funnel. the more work you do on this front, the more effective your content will become.
- Differentiate from the competition. A decade ago, the best way to beat the competition was to outdo them. If they have a great post on a given topic, you can write a better one. But these days, such an approach is limited in its potential return. There’s so much content already in circulation, and that content is so high quality that it’s tough for even the best content writers to outclass them. On top of that, even if you end up with a better piece of content, your top competitors might be able to outspend and out promote you, rendering your efforts wasted. The solution is to differentiate from the competition, rather than tackling them head on. It might seem less valuable to target a different niche, but you need to find a way to remove yourself from the competition however you can. Find some way to make content that’s truly different, yet at least as valuable.
- Invest in quality over quantity. Everyone wants fast results, but this motivates people to produce as much content as possible without much attention to quality. If you want to see better content marketing results these days, you need to invest in quality over quantity. Users are already saturated with low-effort articles, so you need to truly stand out if you want to succeed. It’s typically better to have one truly excellent piece of content than dozens of trivial entries that make users roll their eyes.
- Prioritize new forms of content. As a content purist, it’s natural to find some of the modern content trends annoying or seemingly out of alignment with core content marketing principles. For example, long-form content is, by definition, more in-depth and better researched than short form content. But short-form content is what’s most popular today. As a content marketer, your job isn’t necessarily to produce objectively “good” content, but rather to produce content that people want to see. It’s functionally the same reason why low-effort action movies typically make more money than high-effort pieces of arthouse cinema; it’s not a fun truth to acknowledge, but as a businessperson motivated by profit, you have to do what’s most valuable to you.
- Encourage more interaction. Anything you can do to make your content interactive and engaging is going to benefit you in the modern era. Publishing on social media, inspiring users with new challenges, or creating interactive elements like quizzes and calculators can all make your content much more engaging.
- Follow the data closely. Always keep a close eye on your analytics. Which pieces of content are performing best? Which trends do you see in your content marketing overall? Which of your competitors’ pieces of content are performing best? And how can you take action on this information?
Are you concerned about the long-term value or effectiveness of your current content marketing strategy?
Or have you hit a content marketing plateau?
We have the content marketing experts who can help you, from strategy and planning to development and publication. Contact us today for a free consultation!