What Does the Future of Content Marketing Look Like? (Spoiler: Still Less Content)

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T he information age is arriving at its natural conclusion and we’re all drowning in it . In 2015, Gartner’s “Hype Cycle” moved content marketing into the “trough of disillusionment” phase. With good reason — it’s getting harder and harder to get results with content marketing.
In 2015, Buzzsumo analyzed performance of one million posts . Here’s what they found:

  • 50% of posts receive 8 shares or less
  • 75% of these posts receive 39 shares or less

And it gets worse.
Not only is most content under-performing, it’s also getting harder for people who produce really good content to get attention. Engagement (measured by share count) is steadily dropping:
It’s not that this wasn’t a predictable conclusion. What’s happening in content marketing is really the same thing that happens to every marketing channel — they get less effective over time. In Andrew Chen ’s, The Law of Shitty Clickthroughs , he explains how this marketing law played out in online advertising. The first banner ever debuted in 1994 with an astonishing CTR of 94%. In 2014, average CTR on Facebook ads was .05%. Why? Because the number of internet advertisers skyrocketed, and that’s exactly what’s happening in content marketing land.

An Antidote: The Content Marketing Power Law

I am not suggesting you quit creating content. The days of salespeople having the power are over and if you’re not educating prospects and providing them with resources to make their lives easier, you don’t really have a marketing strategy. Content marketing is marketing today.
So, what’s the solution to getting heard in a distracted world?
Let’s look at some data.
I ran this analysis on the RJMetrics blog over a year ago. This chart shows how every post we ever published on the company blog performed in 2015.
Here is the most important takeway: the top 10% of our posts were responsible for 90% of the results.
It was painful to realize the vast majority of the work my team was doing was resulting in zero meaningful results for the business, but we also weren’t alone. Google “content marketing power law” and you’ll find other companies who have seen the exact same pattern play out in their own content.
Pageview data can be easily pulled from Google Analytics, do this analysis yourself and let me know what you find.
There are a few reasons why I think this happens:

  • First, we’re increasingly dependent on algorithms to surface good content.
  • Second, Search engines have become far more sophisticated in surfacing relevant content.
  • Third, we’re on information overload and if we’re going to share something, it needs to be exceptional.

I’m sure there are other reasons (share your thoughts in the comments). But what we know is true is that this law exists: Content results are going to a smaller number of high-impact pieces . This has implications on how content marketing is evolving and where it’s going in the future.
Let’s talk about what those are.

How Content Marketing is Evolving

  1. Content marketers are acting more like product managers. Product managers manage an organization’s most valuable resource — engineering time. They’re highly selective about what gets built. Content marketers are beginning to adapt this same mentality, but not because content marketing time is scarce, rather because attention is scarce.
    Product managers spend their time figuring out the highest-impact feature to build. They use data to understand the impact of a feature. They project manage. They coordinate a variety of roles to get the job done. They understand how the product, and the exact feature they are building, fits into the competitive landscape. Product managers are highly skilled at prioritization, they have to be — engineering time is too valuable to risk spending it on low-impact work.
    > Content marketers will also build strong prioritization muscle, we have to — attention is too scarce to waste it on low-impact content.

What this means is…
✅ Content marketers will get more strategic about what kind of content we create. ( Clement Vouillon has written about this here ).
✅ Content marketers will become much more sophisticated in what we measure. ( Sam Mallikarjunan has written about this here ).
✅ If a content strategy is based on high-volume, it will be assisted by artificial intelligence, not humans ( Vedant Misra has written about this here ).
There will still be enormous returns in content marketing, but it’s going to take a new approach. One that is powered by better research, smarter prioritization, and emerging technology.
2. Content marketers are becoming “farmers.” Lymari Morales calls this emerging role “ growth editor .” You might also think of this as a content strategist role. Whatever the word you use, it’s going to begin playing a bigger part in content marketing success. And the basic gist of this: Content marketers will be spending more time optimizing existing content than creating new content .
As always, we can blame Google for this shift.
Over the past few years, Google has been steadily changing its algorithm to favor actual experts (vs. content factories). 3–5 years ago, the SEO opportunity was in publishing a high number of blog posts that targeted long-tail keywords. Scoop up enough keywords with 100 searches a month, and you could build a nice little following. This doesn’t work so well today.
As Google’s algorithm gets better at spotting real experts, it’s started to favor “ topic clusters .” Topic clusters have three parts: pillar content, cluster content, hyperlinks that group them together.
Emma Brudner is the lead editor on HubSpot’s marketing blog, a blog responsible for 4.5 million monthly visitors. She says this shift has completely changed the way her team produces content:

“Our topic brainstorms used to be: ‘Hey let’s write about X because it seems like an interesting topic.’ Today that conversation is: ‘We should write about X because it’s an organic gap that fits in Y cluster.

In addition, there’s far less focus on new content, and more attention paid to promotion:

“My editors are spending a lot less time perfecting the written word and a lot more time experimenting with promotion, optimizing promotional channels (email, paid, etc.), and improving existing content.”

She struggles with the word “writer” and “content marketer” because, she says, “People who are successful in these roles are a lot more strategic and less creative.” Emma’s team is on the leading edge of some of these changes. If you want to read more about what they’re learning, check out these posts:
The Blogging Tactic No One Is Talking About: Optimizing the Past
How to Get Double-Digit Jumps in Organic Traffic with Content Pillars
3. Content delivery and distribution is playing as big a role in the value of content as the content itself. Everyone knows you need “quality content” to execute a good content strategy. But in a world drowning in content, even really good stuff ends up just adding to the noise. What becomes valuable then is not more content, but helping people find the right content.
Kevin Kelly, a digital culture expert, has identified 8 intangibles that make content valuable , 7 of these are particularly relevant for marketers. They are:

  • Immediacy: providing priority access or immediate delivery
  • Personalization: content tailored just for you
  • Interpretation: providing support, guidance and context in understanding a given area
  • Authenticity: real advice from real people
  • Accessibility: content that can be accessed when and where you want it
  • Embodiment: content delivered in the form you want it
  • Findability: filtering out irrelevant content

8 Strategies to Survive in the Attention Economy

Notice that the majority of these, with the exception of authenticity and interpretation, are about how content is discovered. We started to see this trend emerge a few years ago as newsletter roundups starting growing in popularity, people needed a way to sort out what content mattered and good curators delivered.
Now imagine this trend accelerated by machine learning. Watch out for better-than-ever recommendation engines, tools that can predict virality , content that is delivered in your preferred format, bots that send you the right content at the right moment, and marketing communications tailored to your precise preferences.

With AI the marketing dream of “right message to the right person at the right time” could finally become a reality.

  1. The composition of content marketing teams is changing. All of this means that content marketing is going to become a lot more fun. Instead of content marketing teams being comprised of underpaid college grads churning out listicles and roundup posts we’ll see diverse teams working on really interesting problems.
    Content teams will be comprised of developers, designers, artificial intelligence engineers, SEOs, videographers, and yes…plenty of writers 🙂 This trend too is already in motion:

  • At RJMetrics, we hired a data scientist who spent about 50% of his time doing research for our benchmark reports.
  • Unbounce has been experimenting with on-demand video content.
  • Zendesk is building a compelling editorial brand with Relate.
  • HubSpot is doing really cool things with educational content on HubSpot Academy, video content on social, and continuing to up its podcast game.

These are still content projects, but the skill sets have expanded far beyond just writing. These projects are ambitious and fun. They involve creative, talented people working together to solve problems in interesting ways. It means that content strategy will be much more than a calendar of blog posts. It also means that innovating will be harder than just brainstorming new Snapchat ideas, but this is good. Content marketing teams in the future will have access to more resources and talent than we’ve ever had. It’s going to get a lot more fun.

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The first version of this post was published last year and it struck a nerve. Since then I’ve given a few talks on this topic, had dozens of calls with marketing leaders who are thinking through their content strategy, and updated my own thinking on this just a bit. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

This content was originally published here.

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