“Content Shock” was first discussed in 2014. Mark Schaefer’s prescient concept that there was too much content to read. More supply than demand.
If consumers were struggling to keep up in 2014… they must be completely overwhelmed today.
The content marketing bar has never been higher. People are pumping out more awesome stuff than ever before. Faster and more frequently.
So what are the pros doing? The best and brightest. The ones who’re on the front lines, slogging it out every single day. The content marketers themselves and content leaders within today’s leading marketing technology companies.
Thankfully, they’re also very nice and happily agreed to share their insight.
Here’s what works now in content marketing according to Aaron Orendorff, Zach Bulygo, Claire Suellentrop, Edward Dennis, Elisa Gabbert, Casey Armstrong, Bill Widmer, Brian Sun, Amy Wood, Kaleigh Moore, Andy Crestodina, Johnathan Dane, and Steli Efti.
Welcome to the Content Marketing Hunger Games
‘Thin content’ refers to any low value, scraped, or duplicated content.
It was squarely in Google’s crosshair several years ago with the Panda algorithm update.
The theory, at the time, was that web pages needed at least 300-500 unique words in order to be ‘valuable’ (and therefore, not ‘thin’).
For years, 500-odd words was the default blog post length. Easy. Only took an hour or two to crank out and you got on with your day.
Except something happened. Supply vs. demand. Everybody started doing the content thing. The Inbound Marketing thing. And that level slowly edged up.
Average word counts rose to ~800 in 2014 and then over ~1,000 in 2016 according to Orbit Media’s blogger survey. Then Brian Dean and Eric Van Buskirk analyzed over a million search results and found the average first page result had over 1,890 words.
But it’s not just length that’s gotten exponentially more difficult.
HubSpot was one of the first B2B sites publishing multiple times a day. Because it worked. Even in 2015, where they found:
“Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got almost 3.5X more traffic than companies that published between 0 – 4 monthly posts.”
Then there’s the complexity, detail, nuance, statistical evidence, images, gifs, video, skyscrapers, and more.
The time it takes to create a piece of content has risen proportionally. Over three hours to scrape together a measly 1,000 words. While longer pieces can take half-to-a-full day to complete.
Content marketing has gone from a cheap, easy, ‘free’ way to attract attention, to a cutthroat, winner-takes-all, heavily-funded marketing strategy.
Want attention? To rank and increase brand visibility? To keep those rankings and drive new leads?
Chances are, your stuff ain’t good enough. The Content Marketing Hunger Games (I’m trademarking that ASAP) will eat you up and spit you out. You gotta first take a step back, figure out where things are headed, and prepare yourself for the long road ahead.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. A muther-effing ultramarathon. And your journey starts here.
Begin at the Beginning with Customer Research
Aaron Orendorff owns “conversion optimization” online.
At least, that would be the impression you’d get if you tried to read anything about the subject.
According to his recent Unbounce piece (which has already racked up over 2,000 shares after only being published for a week or so), that includes:
- The number one ranked article for “conversion rate optimization principles”
- The number one ranked article for “wrong with conversion rate optimization”
- The number one ranked article for “optimize online copy”
- The most shared article for “CRO marketing”
What’s the catch?
He admits that he’s not a “conversion optimizer” and is instead “faking it”. (And doing one hell of a job at that, apparently.)
I’m stealing his lead here. Misappropriating it entirely. But I think it still works. Because the reason he’s been able to run away with “conversion optimization” headlines (rankings and credibility) is because he understands exactly who his audience is and what they’re looking for.
Not in a primitive, shallow way like most companies. But on a deeper, personal, and intimate level.
Take it away, Aaron.
Aaron Orendorff, IconiContent
Aaron Orendorff is the Founder of IconiContent and a contributor at Mashable, Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, Lifehacker, Inc., Fast Company, Business Insider, Success Magazine, The Next Web, Content Marketing Institute, Copyblogger, MarketingProfs, ConversionXL, Unbounce & more. (Jesus, is that all Aaron?!)
This next year is all about personas and funnels. Why? Because content for content’s sake — even popular content — is a seductive myth. What matters is creating content tailor-made for decision makers. B2C this matters. B2B it’s life or death. On top of that, content has to fit into the buying cycle of real humans and real organizations. The only way to do this is by creating data-driven personas and locating where in your funnel each particular piece of content can meet needs and catapult your audience into the next step. All this has to happen before you ideate and put finger to keyboard.”
Zach Bulygo, Kissmetrics
Zach Bulygo is the Blog Manager at Kissmetrics.
The most important thing you can do is have a great understanding of who your target market is. Understand what their job is like, what challenges they have, and how you can help them through your content. The best way to do this is from a list of “target topics” that you know your target audience is interested in, then sticking to those target topics in every new piece of content you produce.”
Claire Suellentrop, Love Your Customers
Claire Suellentrop is a SaaS Messaging & Conversion Expert at Love Your Customers.
Many marketing teams put all their effort into acquisition-focused content, but overlook how crucial content is during new user activation.
Imagine picking up a tasty-looking frozen pizza at the grocery store, flipping the box over, and realizing…hey, there are no instructions on this thing. If you have no idea how to bake it properly, chances are, you’ll put the pizza back and move on.
While acquiring signups is a valuable goal, shoving those signups into a subpar onboarding flow — without adequate content to guide trial users to success — is a recipe for low trial > paid conversion rates.
So, my thoughts on content strategy in 2017? Devote half your efforts to acquisition content, and the other half to activation content. Both types can often be tweaked and repurposed to fill the other funnel, and when you give the two equal attention, you set yourself up for a much higher ROI on your acquisition efforts.”
Edward Dennis, Core DNA
Edward Dennis is in Digital Marketing at Core dna and bwired. (Fun fact: His legal name is just “Dennis”. True story. Like Prince or Madonna.)
- Niche wise: start narrow.
- Branding wise: cultivate a “Us vs. Them” movement
Here’s what I mean by start narrow. Whatever your industry is; whether it be agencies, removalists, bodybuilding; there are a lot of “underserved” sub-niches. Nerd Fitness is a good example; it focuses on a sub-niche in the fitness industry – nerds who want to get fit. So, start by identifying a few underserved sub-niches in your industry. There are a bunch of how to build a startup related sites and content. But there aren’t a lot of resources on how to build a startup for people with typical 9-5 jobs.
Re branding/marketing, people want something or someone they can look up and relate to. FrankBody is a good example; for those who didn’t know, they sell coffee-based scrub. FrankBody is NOT for everyone – that’s how they intend it to be – and they’re proud of it. They’re for young, digital-native women who are not afraid to show their skin, rub coffee grounds all over their body, and believe in natural health products. With this “Us vs. Them” movement, you’re basically creating a sense of purpose for those who “fit in” and make everyone else worry they’re being left out – FOMO, anyone?
I’ve yet to see a company that’s successfully created this “Us vs. Them” mentality better than FrankBody. A quick search on Instagram for #frankeffect and #letsbefrank will prove this.”
Upgrade Your Existing Assets to Leverage Past Success
Most companies focus exclusively on their latest content. The stuff that got published this week or this month.
Yet when you open up Google Analytics and search for your most popular content, something surprising will happen.
You’ll notice that in most cases, your most popular content over the past few weeks that has brought in the most visitors might actually be from a year or two ago.
SEO rewards compound growth. The longer something’s been around, the more authoritative it tends to be. The longer it has to be shared, read, bookmarked, and linked to. And so each piece will continue to ‘snowball’; delivering more and more returns like the way compounding interest works.
And that’s exactly where some of the biggest content marketers are starting.
Elisa Gabbert, WordStream
Elisa Gabbert is the Senior SEO & Content Marketing Manager at WordStream, where she manages the WordStream blog. Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
– We leverage data from both our client base and our free tools whenever possible to provide original data resources. People are hungry for data and these resources end up being our most linkable assets-stuff like our industry benchmarks for AdWords and Facebook Ads, or data on how Expanded Text Ads affect ad KPI’s for early adopters. It’s not a new strategy, but we’re not slowing down.
– I’m actively optimizing for Google’s featured snippets whenever possible, as we’ve seen great organic CTR and traffic from content that earns the feature snippet. There are plenty of little technical things you can do to improve your chances, but the #1 thing you need to nail to get a featured snippet is intent match-make sure you’re giving searchers what they really want when they type in the query you’re targeting.
– We’re also proactively updating old content so we don’t lose rankings when new competitors roll around. This involves making sure all the information and images are up-to-date, and optimizing for engagement versus the more shallow SEO that used to work just fine in the old days.”
Casey Armstrong, BigCommerce
Casey Armstrong is the Director of Marketing at BigCommerce.
Optimize 1) current content that is close to ranking well and will drive significant traffic and 2) content that is driving quality traffic, but not turning into new customers or revenue. People often chase the bright shiny object before optimizing what they currently have, which the latter often bares fruit much faster.
I’ll stay very high-level, but for #1, figure out how can you best optimize your quality content that you already poured so much time into so that it ranks better or gets better distribution. I’ve seen this time and time again where you can increase traffic via SEO by 10% or 50% or 100% by fixing what you already have. For #2, figure out how can you create lead magnets or reasons for people to move deeper into your funnel from your current traffic before building more of what is likely the same content you’ve been doing.”
Bill Widmer, Content Marketing Consultant
Bill Widmer is a content marketing consultant and freelance writer for Social Media Examiner, HootSuite, SEJ, and more.
“The standards for content are getting higher and higher as more businesses hop on the bandwagon. This is actually great news for those who are serious about making it work – if you can create something truly awesome, you can stand out.
However, the content itself is only one-half of content marketing. Otherwise, it would just be called blogging.
Getting eyeballs on your content is getting harder as well. The strategies I’ve seen the most success with are networking and SEO. The bigger my network, the more people share my content. The better my SEO, the higher I rank on search engines.
And, of course, backlinking is still as important today as ever. Guest posting and (cover your ears, white-hatters) buying links are very prominent right now.”
Brian Sun, AutopilotHQ
Brian Sun is the Senior Manager, Content Marketing at AutopilotHQ.
At a high-level, I want to take a compounding approach to content so that everything our team creates builds on top of the content before it. How can blog posts be batched together into a series to show up higher in search results?
How can automated lead nurturing campaigns extend the life of recent articles? What recurring social media updates can we set up to run forever because the content is timeless?
Compounding our efforts is the name of the game in 2017.”
Level Up New Content in Every Way Possible
Only after understanding your audience and leveraging past success are you ready to start cranking out new stuff.
The ‘bar’ for new content has been raised in almost every facet imaginable. From the initial hook and topic idea, all the way through the depth, complexity, and production.
Many of the web’s top marketing companies, like Unbounce, pre-screen content ideas and don’t even give it the time of day if it doesn’t scream 10x.
Amy Wood, Unbounce
Amy Wood is a Content Writer and Editor at Unbounce.
The last thing I want to do is contribute to the noise. If it’s not original, if it’s not valuable, if it’s not educational, it need not be a priority. This means taking a hard look at our prioritization process and accepting that — despite what I was told when I first started blogging — publishing top-quality content less frequently is often more valuable than publishing medium-quality content several times per week.”
Kaleigh Moore is a freelance writer for Entrepreneur and Inc. Magazine and helps create written content for growing SaaS companies like Citrix, Campaign Monitor, WhenIWork, and more.
I’m focusing on creating more in-depth content for clients that teaches an actionable how-to rather than reporting on high-level trends or facts. The reason: There’s far more value for the reader in this type of content.”
Andy Crestodina, Orbit Media
Andy Crestodina is a co-founder and the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, an award-winning 38-person web design company in Chicago.
- 10x Formats: More images, more video
- Total Originality: publishing research, becoming the primary source
- Maximum Depth: Longer, more detailed, more thorough and more mega-roundups (which I don’t really like, personally) Brad’s note: <- Ironic, eh? 😉
- Headline Hackers: Better use of emotional triggers and power words
- Social Aggression: Keeping things in heavy social rotation for longer”
Doubling Down on What You Know Works
Inside sales tool, Close.io, originally started as Elastic, Inc., an outsourced sales team for startups.
In other words, they’re sales experts. Well versed in the latest Predictable Revenue, cold calling 2.0 tactics of referral emails and more.
And yet, they haven’t even bothered with doing outbound sales to grow Close.io.
KlientBoost is a fast-growing PPC agency that recently hit the $300k/month mark in only ~two years.
And yet, they don’t run many ads for their own company, either.
Instead, both Close.io and KlientBoost rely on content marketing. The massive success speaks for itself.
Here’s how they’ve been able to use content marketing to grow their companies so quickly that they haven’t even needed to lift a finger in their own respective specialties.
Johnathan Dane, KlientBoost
Johnathan Dane is the Founder and CEO of KlientBoost.
We’ve been able to have a strong consistency with our blog, so we’re going to expand our content efforts to video and do the same thing we’ve done with our content: trying to outdo everyone on the topic we choose to focus on.”
Steli Efti, Close.io
Steli Efti is the CEO of Close.io
Our content strategy for 2017: Do more of what worked in 2016 (and ’15, and ’14, and ’13…). There are many trends you can follow, many opportunities you could pursue. But you’ll be better off to focus on one thing that plays to your strengths. What enables you to deliver maximum value to your audience? Double down on that. I see too many people opportunistically jumping on every up-and-coming new channel. Stop listening to the experts and start listening to your audience.”
The content marketing bar has never been higher.
Supply has far outstripped demand. To the point that now you’re in a winner-takes-all race to top SERPs, get shares, and grab eyeballs.
Thankfully, the experts who’re doing it on a daily basis have stripped away the guess work for everyone else.
The first step is to deeply understand what your audience is looking for. What motives them, scares them, and builds trust with them. Then before cranking out anything new, go back and upgrade your existing content assets, first.
Only after leveraging past success are you ready to move forward and create new 10x content that’s original, valuable, insightful, in-depth, data-driven, and perfectly produced.
Once you’ve begun to reach those stratospheric heights, don’t stop.
Find out what works best for you. What’s moving the needle. And then double down as much as possible to the exclusion of other hot trends, channels, tactics, or growth hacks.