If we’ve learned anything about content marketing during our 10 years in business, it’s that content marketing is constantly evolving. Over the past decade, we’ve seen the industry grow in not only prominence, but also complexity. That’s why we’re breaking it down. Read on to learn about the history of content marketing, how it has changed over the past 10 years, and our predictions for the future of the content marketing industry.
Content marketing has no definitive starting point or exact history, but companies have used written content to educate and engage their target audiences in many ways over the years, regardless of whether they called it “content marketing.” Here are some of our favorite content marketing examples and milestones throughout history.
Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen content marketing evolve dramatically. In 2011, it felt like every company knew they “needed a blog,” but many had no idea why, or to what end, or even how to set up calls to action and get people to subscribe. Now, rather than seeing content marketing as simply having a website and a blog, companies are looking at it as a comprehensive, long-term strategy that encompasses content, SEO, and public relations.
A big reason for this turning point? The realization that consumers often make decisions before directly interacting with a company.
In 2011, Google’s “Zero Moment of Truth” study found that 88% of consumers encounter a Zero Moment of Truth — a stage in the buyer’s journey when they research a product or service before purchasing. As a result of this research phase of consumers’ journeys, companies began to realize that content marketing is an important part of educating and engaging potential customers and nurturing them toward a sale. The ZMOT study also brought the need for SEO into the spotlight, revealing that the brand’s appearance in search results is imperative for influencing consumers during this moment of truth.
After this study came out, Google tweaked its algorithm in order to discourage keyword stuffing. This change made creating high-quality, relevant, meaningful content even more important.
Of course, Google isn’t the only factor that has influenced content marketing’s evolution in recent history. Social media’s growth has popularized more passive content consumption. While consumers use Google searches to find specific answers or content, they began using social media to stumble upon content more casually. To capitalize on this, companies began creating more attention-grabbing, visually appealing, highly shareable content. And video has also grown in prominence. In fact, by 2017, more than half of consumers said they wanted to see videos from their favorite brands.
In addition to types of content changing, the technology powering the industry has also advanced a lot over the past decade. Ten years ago, it was not easy to attribute tangible business results to content marketing. But now, I could tell you exactly how much revenue our company drove from specific content campaigns we’ve done thanks to the features we use in HubSpot.
How We’ve Grown With the Industry
When Brent Beshore and I first had the conversation about what would eventually become Influence & Co., we weren't using the terms “content marketing” or “thought leadership” because those weren't as prevalent in 2011 as they are now. Instead, we were just talking about how businesses needed to share their expertise with their target audience in a way that was authentic, educational, and non-promotional in nature but that could still help accomplish business goals. I remember us talking about it as “a new form of marketing” or “a unique type of PR,” but what we should have realized is that it was content marketing — and that wasn't necessarily “new.”
Over time, as the industry around content marketing became more prominent, we realized that everything we did fit perfectly under this umbrella. We started from a foundation of thought leadership content — specifically guest-contributed articles — but we gradually evolved to provide a variety of content marketing services all focused on driving measurable business results.
Probably the biggest difference in the industry from where we started to where we are now is clients' understanding of content marketing and its relation to SEO. When we started out in 2011, we had a lot of clients who wanted to use us for “link building,” but they didn't understand that to actually get results, we needed to focus on high-quality content and a long-term strategy. Now, it's much more understood that content marketing and SEO go hand in hand when quality is put first.
Content marketing has evolved so much over the years, and that trend won’t change any time soon! That’s why, based on our decade of experience in the industry, we’ve outlined our predictions for what the next five years might hold.
We’ll continue to see more and more content, so creating unique, high-quality content with SEO in mind will be critical. Organic search is a big driver of website traffic, so it’s important that all content is written with SEO in mind. This ensures that content is showing up in relevant search results. But you can’t just write content and stuff it with keywords. Search engines are smarter than that. You need to fill your content with unique expert insights to help the content stand out and provide real value to your audience.
You might secure press in a publication that results in a spike in traffic to your website. But without a comprehensive content strategy, the results might end there. Increased traffic is great, but if you haven’t optimized visitors’ journeys when they land on your website, you won’t know who makes up the traffic and will have no way to nurture them, rendering the increase in traffic less useful than it could’ve been. With a cohesive strategy in place, the result you’re trying to achieve is identified first so you can build a plan that drives those specific results.
Content marketing has really taken off in the past 10 years with businesses creating an unprecedented amount of content. As companies try to find new and creative ways to get in front of their audiences, we’ll see companies focusing less on creating new content and more on updating older content to build up its search rankings and to provide up-to-date, relevant insights without always having to put in the time and effort to create new content from scratch.
We learned a lot during the coronavirus pandemic, but one of the most important insights is that strategies need to be diversified. While we expect to see events pick up as restrictions continue to loosen, there’s a lot of unknown around the value of event marketing moving forward. A new baseline for events will need to be set on what can be expected. While that baseline is being established, marketers have to rely on a diverse content strategy that utilizes a variety of approaches to meet potential buyers where they are.
Content marketing has long been seen as a fluffy industry in which it’s hard to tie tangible results to the work being done — especially in the B2B space. The more emphasis marketers put on understanding the buyer’s journey, the more impact marketers can have on influencing a buyer’s decision. With marketing automation platforms continuing to provide more value and detailed insights to marketers, the more value and metrics-driven results marketing departments will be able to deliver.
More and more free content is being created each day, which makes it difficult for publishers to maintain a profit from their content. Companies will need to stay up to speed on what opportunities exist in the publishing space so they can get their content in front of their target audience, which might mean switching between paid and organic content opportunities or doing a mix of the two.
A lot of marketers have focused on the data around people having short attention spans. But binging entertainment has become commonplace. Instead of focusing on people’s attention spans, marketers should look at what can be learned from the entertainment industry by inspecting leads’ entry points on the website. For example, does the preview encourage leads to binge the content? People invest time when the topic interests them, so marketers have to make content so captivating that people can’t resist immersing themselves in it.
From the inception of content marketing to the present, the industry has never stayed stagnant. And that trend will only continue as we grow and as new technologies emerge. That’s why we marketers have to stay agile and commit ourselves to being lifelong learners. To begin that journey, keep an eye on these seven predictions for the content marketing industry.