Is content marketing still relevant?

Posted by Adrian Cordiner on 20 Apr, 2016
View comments Marketing
Much like the death of SEO which has long been predicted but is yet to materialize, the notion that it’s only a matter of time before content marketing also becomes outdated is one you’ll hear often.

The truth, however, is far less dramatic. Content marketing is not dead and buried. While it’s true that many content marketing techniques are no longer effective and new challenges continue to present themselves, content marketing as an inbound marketing activity continues to grow in usefulness and effectiveness. 

According to HubSpot’s Driving Digital Marketing report, time and monetary investment in content marketing is rising, with 71 per cent of marketers creating more content in 2015 than they did the previous year. That’s quite a lot of activity for a marketing approach that some industry commentators claim is dying a slow death. 

Don’t confuse death with evolution

Despite the term ‘content marketing’ now being a mainstay in the marketing vernacular, the process of creating and distributing valuable information to strengthen and support a business is nothing new. 

Brands such as Michelin created guidebooks offering free auto maintenance advice for customers as early as 1900, and food manufacturers have been providing recipes on product packaging even earlier than that. The major difference is that in 2016 content marketing has evolved to a point where everyone (and brands in particular) can distribute content online with just the click of the Post or Publish button. 

The advent of the digital age has benefited consumers, who are able to turn to their trusty web browser for fast information with just a simple search. However, as more brands create content to capitalise on this need for information (and to raise their brand awareness), getting content noticed over industry competitors is increasingly more challenging. And just because everyone has the ability to post and publish, doesn’t mean that they should, or that it’s being done well.

It’s true that some content marketing tactics are now dead, or dying. Techniques that used to be a fail-safe way to gain a readership are now no longer effective. Click-bait headlines ‘you won’t believe what happens next…’ have been milked to death and so have lost the trust of the audiences they were supposed to attract. 

Let’s not forgot those spammy keyword stuffed articles (if you can call them that) either, created purely to rank for certain terms rather than provide value to the audience they relate to. Thankfully as the sheer volume of content on the internet has risen, Google algorithms have become more sophisticated in prioritising well- written, insightful and useful content. This advancement has seen thin, keyword stuffed posts relegated to the vast void of cyberspace. 

So with more competition, a greater requirement for quality, and techniques that are no longer effective, there’s no doubt that the approach some businesses had been taking with their content marketing is no longer doing the job it once was. 

Brands willing to adapt their content marketing efforts can still reach their audiences in a cluttered online space. The following three techniques are ideal for those willing to change with the times and will help businesses to capitalise on the benefits of content marketing. They prove that with the right approach, the effectiveness and benefits of content marketing are still very much alive. 

Ways to ensure your content lives a long, useful life 

Focus on quality over quantity

While content needs to be found with a well optimised website, it should be worth finding in the first place. Instead of churning out a high volume of posts in the hope of widening website visibility and traffic, adopting the ‘less is more’ philosophy will ensure that what you do have to say matters. 

Focus on targeting the questions, concerns and problems customers have by adopting a ‘what’s in it for them’ mindset when brainstorming content ideas.  Maintaining this approach will ensure that your content has a higher chance of being linked to, bookmarked and promoted by your audience of their own accord. It will also widen your potential audience – and customer base. 

Quality entails many factors, not least ensuring articles are engaging and well written. In-depth articles that hone-in on the specifics rather than surface level information will continue to be increasingly important. Evergreen content (i.e. information that does not relate to a date, trend or time) never dies and will stay relevant for years to come. It’s worth focusing much of your content creation efforts on addressing high quality, in-depth evergreen subjects relating to your industry. 

Finally, considering the intent of the audience as they perform certain keyword searches has become more important since Google’s Hummingbird Update in 2013. Knowing your audience and buyer personas and focusing on their problems, questions and concerns in your content has never been more important. 

Do something different

Standing out by saying something different, or offering a new perspective is essential  in today’s crowded online space. Look for gaps in the research, help your customers become successful, investigate a new trend, take a different stance on a topic and look at other ways to stand out from the crowd by honing in on a specific niche or topic that hasn’t been so regularly covered. It may take more work to gather the information and answers, but ultimately, with less competition comes more reward for your business.

To maintain the interest and attention of your audience, try to broaden the types of content produced beyond just blog posts, or the ever-popular listicle. Supplement content with images, videos, charts, infographics and other visuals to improve the engagement factor, offering visitors something more to consume than just a block of text.  

Also consider repurposing old content with fresh insights, or compile related posts into an e-book, repackaging valuable existing information to give it new life. Old content is often still useful and relevant, so give it the chance to shine with another turn in the spotlight. 

Follow a process for success

Implementing a solid content marketing and social media strategy will ensure content is tailored, measured and promoted to the people that matter. This will help increase the return on investment of content production and also help foster an engaged legion of followers that can later be converted to buyers. 

An editorial strategy may involve planning posts for certain times of the year relevant to your business, focusing on ‘hot topics’ to leverage search traffic and building up a bank of topic ideas so you’ll always have something ready to post. Pitching other blogs in your industry and offering a guest post can also help to gain links and refer highly targeted traffic to your own site. For content that’s produced on your own site, promote it as far and widely online as possible by participating in groups, forums and social sharing sites and not being afraid to share the same piece on social media multiple times.

Content creation should follow a clearly defined process: research, forming ideas, copywriting, design, promotion, analysis, repeat. Whilst you can easily outsource your copywriting, design or promotion to a specialised service or digital agency, you’d be well-advised to get your subject matter experts involved at an early stage to set the tone of your content and ensure you’re providing real thought leadership and value.

Measure the results of content by testing different headlines, seeing what does and doesn’t work and tracking engagement metrics. Look at your analytics, which includes metrics such as click throughs, shares, likes, comments and time spent on page, and adapt the strategy as needed based on what works.   

Why there’ll always be a place for purposeful prose

Content marketing has been effectively used since the early 20th century to support brands, and the digital incarnation of this marketing approach over 100 years later proves that the practice is far more than just a fad. 

Because content marketing costs up to 62 per cent less and generates roughly three times as many leads as traditional marketing, the benefits to getting content marketing right are numerous. 

Sure, content marketing is still evolving and yes there are challenges, but with challenges come opportunities. In many senses, the medium may have changed, but things in 2016 are not much different from the early days of campfire storytelling. Good content is focused on the audience first and foremost. If you have something new, interesting or valuable to say, there will always be an audience willing to listen. As long as the need for useful information exists, and there is a desire for people to seek it, content marketing will live well into the future.

Are you planning to carry out content marketing this year? Do you see it as still being a relevant way to attract website visitors and connect with audiences? Let us know in the comments.