The Evolution of Content Marketing Over the Past Decade
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.