Many trends have come and gone in digital marketing over the years, but among those destined to endure, content marketing is near the top of the list.
The primary reason content marketing has become such an indispensable tool is its incredible utility for almost any digital marketing situation.
Effective content powers SEO, social media, branding, audience building and a host of other marketing applications. It is often the most decisive factor in the success of a brand’s marketing strategy.
At the same time, content marketing has become more challenging with each passing year. I’m not surprised that once something is shown to be highly effective a great many companies will adopt it. But that comes with the consequence of exponentially growing amounts of content chasing after the same limited audience.
So what are content marketers to do?
I study and test content marketing trends and assumptions every day. From those observations, here are my primary content marketing priorities in 2019.
1 Balance Quality and Quantity
In the early days of content marketing (then known simply as “blogging”) the conventional wisdom was, “The more content the better.”
That made sense back then due to several possibilities:
- Before automated social posts, when most blogs were accessed via RSS feeds or email subscriptions, content had a very short lifespan, and only the most recent content was seen.
- As Google made its first shifts from being keyword-centric to content-centric (but didn’t yet have its present machine learning capabilities), its focus may have been more on the quantity and recency of content on a site rather than its quality.
- Most brands were playing a catch-up game because of a general lack of real content in the past.
In more recent times, most content marketing experts have emphasized quality over quantity. That shift seems to have been driven largely by Google, as over time the search engine has demonstrated an increasing ability to judge which content pages bring the highest quality response to a given query.
However, there are other factors motivating the push for higher-quality content. For example, brands have come to realize that consumers judge them, in part, on the basis of their content, and that they tend to stay more loyal to brands that are more consistently helpful and relevant in their content.
So has the priority for content marketing shifted entirely from quantity to quality? Mostly, but not entirely.
If your content production resources are truly limited, it’s more important to concentrate on fewer, high-quality content pieces, as opposed to as much content as possible. I want to emphasize the “truly” in the previous sentence because too often “limited resources” is just an excuse for avoiding the work. Resources are always limited; it’s a matter of how you prioritize those resources.
But if you’re truly limited in how much you can put into content marketing, I think investing in a few outstanding content campaigns rather than a lot of “meh” posts will bring you greater rewards. It’s much more likely that at least some of those better pieces will catch fire than it is that any of the churned-out, run-of-the mill posts will even be seen by anyone at all.
That being said, while I think that quality should always be a top priority in content marketing, if you can also keep up a consistent quantity of publishing, do it.
Eric Enge often mentions the example of the Cleveland Clinic, a leading health care provider. Beginning in 2013, Cleveland Clinic shifted significant resources into upping their content production abilities. They went from about 600 new posts in 2013 to averaging between 800-1000 since 2015.
I must emphasize that even though they now crank out an average of three new content pages per day, these pages are not junk. Many of them may be brief, but the information is correct, authoritative, and well-written.
Cleveland Clinic also did a great job of promoting their content via social media.
The results speak for themselves. Here is a chart of Cleveland Clinic’s search visibility over the past five years, as shown by SearchMetrics:
Even though it appears they took a hit from the spring 2018 Google updates, you can see that in September, they not only recovered, but surged to record heights. This is a testament to their sustained competitive advantage due to their massive amounts of useful content.
Takeaway: In 2019, high-quality content that is significantly better than your competition is table stakes for content marketing. You must have it. Quantity alone will never beat quality. However, if you can do it, having both is a knock-out punch.
2 Prioritize Content Hubs
Once you’ve made a firm commitment to priority one above, it’s time to level up. The best way to take your content effectiveness to the next level is by creating content hubs.
What is a content hub?
A content hub is a static page (not a blog post) on your site that hosts your most current and/or comprehensive piece of content on one of your core topics, and also links out to all the related posts and resources on your site.
When done correctly (and properly and consistently promoted), a content hub can allow you to take ownership of a topic, not only in search, but also in discussions about the topic, therefore locking that topic to your brand identity.
Why create content hubs?
Let’s start with the negative reasons:
- If a site has been blogging for years, the majority of the content on the site is outdated, no longer relevant, or lacking focus.
- It’s a simple fact that search engines aren’t going to rank your site high for everything you wish they would. It’s better to pick a set of topics that have key strategic importance for your brand and build content hubs around them.
- Blog content grows mold over time. By their very design, blogs keep the most recent content closest to the top of a site’s structure. Therefore, search engines are more likely to pay attention to that recent content, let alone visitors to the site.
Because content hubs are built around static pages, you can keep them close to the top of your site’s navigation chain. This tells search engines these pages are more important. In turn, that allows you to be in control of which topics you want to give the best chance of ranking well for.
Do content hubs work?
We’ve seen them be very powerful for a number of commercial sites we work with. Let me share our own example, since, of course, I’m most familiar with our own content.
You can see our content hubs by going to the Insights tab on the top navigation of this site. Below the “All Research” link, you’ll see links to all of our current hub topics.
If you select “Featured Snippets Resource Study” you’ll see our hub page for that topic.
This static page (again, not a blog post) always contains the most recent version of our ongoing study of how the presentation of featured snippets in Google search has changed over the years.
To the left of the content is a navigation sidebar that links to other featured snippets-related content we have published. This helps alert Google that we are a potential valuable resource on the topic.
One of the secrets of the success of our ongoing, updated study hub pages is that we redirect all traffic from previous editions of the study (which are moved to their own pages) so that all of the search-ranking power they may have gained in the past is directed toward this one highly focused page, rather than spread across many similar pages.
Some of our hub pages have succeeded in totally dominating their topic in Google search, and have held onto that dominance for a long time. For example, our DPA study hub page has been #1 for “digital personal assistants” on Google since shortly after it was created.
The same goes for our mobile vs desktop study hub, which ranks in the first three positions for dozens of high-volume mobile vs desktop keywords, and which continues to earn new links from high-authority sites every week.
3 Build Content Bridges
I’ve written extensively about my concept of content marketing bridges elsewhere, and we’ve also published a Here’s Why video on the topic, so I won’t go into great detail here. But I do want to include it in this list because I believe it is fundamental to content marketing success in 2019 and beyond.
Put simply, the content marketing bridge concept is that to be successful in accomplishing your actual business goals, your content needs to bridge the gulf between what you want to accomplish (brand identity and authority, increased visibility, sales!) and the hopes, dreams, wants, needs, desires, fears, etc. of your prospects.
It’s a delicate balancing acts, and most failed content errs too far to one side or the other.
Content can fail if it is weighted too heavily toward the brand goals side. Such content tends to be too salesy or promotional. It does nothing to grip or interest the reader, to make her feel like the brand understands and empathizes with her concerns and needs.
On the other hand, content can also fail by being too focused on getting the prospect’s attention. This happens when the content goes so far into pure entertainment or shock value that it loses any association with what the brand is about.
Strive to build content that balances both of those, and you’ve created a bridge that can bring prospects across to becoming customers.
Happy and successful content marketing in 2019!
Mark Traphagen is Content Strategy Director for Perficient Digital (formerly Stone Temple Consulting). He has been named one of the most influential content and social media authors in numerous industry listings.