Experienced marketers expect change. If you continue to use the same [ content marketing ] strategies and tactics today that worked 20 years ago, you will get buried.
It has been quietly whispered in marketing circles for the past few years that Google has been suppressing organic reach. It has been more difficult to hit the magically shrinking first page of the world’s largest search engine.
The experts at The Markup finally conducted an experiment that demonstrated what most marketers already suspected — Google shows you a lot of content to keep you on Google before showing you any organic results.
While these practices may raise ethical and antitrust concerns, you have to deal with the reality on the ground. It’s time for businesses and marketers to think about what the true state of content marketing is. Cranking out dozens or hundreds of 500-word blog posts is not going to help your business.
That doesn’t mean content marketing is dead. It means that you need to look at the purpose of content marketing is and understand how to use it beyond keywords and blog posts.
Purpose of Content Marketing
Content marketing is a way to build trust with your ideal prospects and move them into your sales funnel. Content marketing was not invented for the internet. It has existed for hundreds of years.
Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac was a form of content marketing to show off his printing expertise. Brands as diverse as John Deere and Betty Crocker have made fortunes using content marketing long before the first microprocessor was ever fired up.
We tend to associate content marketing with blog posts because that has been one of the cheapest tools in the marketing toolbox for the past 20 years. Only recently have businesses begun to embrace video and podcasts as content marketing tools.
Many marketers have gotten complacent. They acted like Google would always be around to drive organic traffic to websites if they followed a few simple best practices. While those days are long gone, that doesn’t mean blogs or content marketing are dead.
It means that you need to find new ways to get your content in front of your ideal customers. You need to be more creative and disciplined in how you showcase your authority and expertise.
Google is Killing Traditional Business Blogging
A blog used to be the best way to build almost any kind of online business. You could write high-quality posts and know that the search engine algorithms would eventually find your content. If you wanted to build an audience faster, you could just write more content.
Blogs can still be a powerful way to build a business. But, it takes much longer to bear fruit. You also can’t put up a bunch of short blogs. Your content needs to be more detailed than ever before.
You are not just competing with other blogs — you are competing with Google’s desire to drive traffic within its own ecosystem.
The best performing blog content is now skyscraper posts or cornerstone posts that are 2,000-words to 10,000-words long. These are much more expensive to produce, but if used wisely, they provide a much higher return on investment than short blog posts that now seem disposable.
You also need to do more legwork to drive traffic to your content. That means rethinking the way your sales funnels are constructed.
The Old Model and the New Way
The old content marketing model relied on organic traffic. You wrote content that people found on search engines. That content invited people to contact you or to join your mailing list. Once you had a prospect’s contact information, you could guide them through your sales funnel.
Now, organic traffic is too slow and too small. If you have enough time, six months to three years, you can still rely primarily on organic traffic to power your business. Most entrepreneurs and marketers aren’t that patient.
The new way requires you either invest in social media advertising to drive traffic to your content or to expand the channels you use to increase your organic reach. This often means branching out from blog posts and expanding into different types of media.
Content marketing is a way for you to show your audience what you can do. It provides an entrance to your sales funnel.
If your content is only generating likes, views, and shares, you are doing it wrong. Effective content marketing collects contact information, and it generates email list sign-ups.
Is Email the New Blog?
Email has always been an important part of a digital marketing strategy. If you have someone’s email, you have the key to their heart. You can reach them directly. Direct marketing is the best way to convert marketing dollars into revenues.
It used to be that you created a massive amount of content to generate email list sign-ups. Now, you need to create fewer, better quality types of content to generate email sign-ups. Instead of pushing out blog posts to social media and the blogosphere, savvy businesses now save their best material for their email lists.
Services like Substack are betting massive amounts of money that email newsletters will replace the blog as the primary form of long-term content marketing.
It is much more cost-effective to invest money in high-value content as a lead magnet to build email lists of your ideal customers than to write a million blog posts. Once you have someone on your list, you can send them the same content you used to put on your blog in an email. Your emails nurture the relationship with your audience the way blog posts used to. But, with email, you have a much better sense of how effective something is.
You also can drill down on the core needs of your audience.
Best of all, Google isn’t scraping your email content and using it to keep people in their ecosystem. Email gives you a direct line to the people most likely to buy from you.
Another critical difference in modern content marketing is the role curation plays. The truth is none of your customers lack access to information. They don’t need you to tell them how or why to do something. They can just ask Siri or Alexa.
What your audience needs is a way to filter all of the information out there. While every business still needs to create amazing content, they also need to focus on curating content for their customers.
Curation means you put the best of the web together in a simple bundle for people to consume. You will want to include some of your best work too. Through curation, more people will come to trust you. They will also learn to enjoy your unique brand voice.
If you love music, chances are you enjoy checking out the playlists your favorite artists make in Spotify. Those playlists are a form of curation. They are a type of content marketing.
Curation scares some businesses because they are afraid of sending their customers away. They don’t trust their customers to come back.
In March of 2020, Taylor Swift created a Spotify playlist for Women’s History Month that highlighted a bunch of other female artists. Was Swift worried that her fans would discover other artists and never listen to her music again? No, because that’s idiotic. That playlist was good for Swift’s career and it was a nice signal boost to other talented artists.
Curation shows people that you are confident enough in your brand voice and business value to highlight the great work other businesses are doing.
Reimagining Your Sales Funnel
The future of content marketing will require you to create and curate content on many different channels. You may want to use Apple podcasts or TikTok or YouTube. But, no matter where you create content, you need a sales funnel. You need a strategy behind your content marketing.
It used to be that you wanted to drive everyone to your website or blog. You still need your own website. But now you want to drive traffic to a specific lead magnet or landing page to join your mailing list. That lead magnet could be a bribe like a free PDF, or it could be a skyscraper blog post that anyone can access.
You may find that curating content helps you build your email list faster than creating all of your own original content.
However, you need to get people on your email list, and then you need a strategy to nurture those leads into becoming paying customers.
If you think this sounds almost exactly like the old way of building a funnel, you are right. The only difference is in how you are using content to get people to join your email list.
You don’t need a weekly blog anymore. You may get the results you want faster by changing the type of content you are using to attract your ideal customers.
Content marketing and direct marketing are never going to die because they are based on human psychology. However, just like John Deere isn’t using the same content strategies in 2020 that it used in 1920, you shouldn’t be using the same content strategies today that you used in 2000, or even in 2016.
The best content marketing is not dependent on Google or any other single platform to drive traffic and generate leads.
The future of content marketing requires empathy, creativity, and adaptability. Instead of churning out another basic 500-word blog post today, spend time reimaging ways to show your ideal customers you can help them.
That’s what successful marketers have always done and will continue to do.