It’s the time of year again. Thanksgiving is a few weeks away; Christmas junk litters our stores, inboxes, and main street; and B2C marketers are blitzing to drive retail sales in the next 7 weeks. But what about those of us who focus on B2B marketing?
If you’re like most content marketers, you’ve spent the last two or three years chugging along with your company’s marketing program. You’ve got a strategy in place and have been steadily blogging 2, maybe 3 times a week. You’ve had decent (but not mind-blowing success growing your email list), and even passed along a respectable amount of leads to sales—with mixed results.
But leadership wants to know when the content marathon
ends pays off. “When are we going to start REALLY generating leads?” They want to know when they’re going to hit that uptick in the hockey stick.
So it’s the end of the year, and you’re looking at what to do in 2016. Budgets will hover around the 2015 mark as leadership waits for the big payoff, your organic traffic is sliding (perhaps even precipitously), yet content generation needs will grow.
To understand what needs to happen in 2016, and how you can save time with content marketing this year, we need to take a look at what we thought would happen in 2015, how that played out, and what it means for next year.
Content Marketing in 2015
Let’s take a brief look back at 2015. If you’re a big believer in the Chinese Zodiac, then you know it’s the year of the sheep (or goat, or ram). Personified as being the animal that gets along most with others, the sheep is categorized as calm, creative, thoughtful and persevering. All aspects that we need when working with clients—whether they’re internal or external.
Given this, it’s no surprise that this year was going to be a big year for marketers. Advances in Marketing Automation (big updates from companies like Hubspot abound), more leadership buy in and investment in content marketing than ever before (28% of B2B marketing budget, not including staff, is allocated to content marketing — MarketingProfs), as well as more marketers investing in measuring sales lead quality versus quantity (31% of B2B marketers stated the the Sales Lead Quality is the most important metric — Content Marketing Institute) made 2015 a big year for content marketing.
Recently, we took a look back at marketing in 2015, and examined predictions and trends of the year, as well as analyzed what did and didn’t work, based on our own experience as well as that of other leaders in the content marketing space. A few of this year’s highlights included:
- Content marketing budgets significantly increased over last year’s (2014’s)
- Personas would finally break out into two distinct groups: buyers and audience (influencers)
- Smarketing will rise to the top of the mix—sales and marketing teams working more closely together than ever in an effort to better educate and engage prospects, while closing more deals
While the results of the predictions varied, we were able to—as a whole—come to some consensus on common challenges we all face and some of them were captured in our interactive infographic on Content Marketing Statistics for 2015. For example:
- Nearly half of marketers don’t have a documented content marketing strategy (48%) — Content Marketing Institute
- The top 3 challenges of B2B content marketers are creating engaging content, producing content consistently, and measuring content effectiveness — DNB
- B2B firms spend over $5.2B a year on content creation efforts — Gleanster
These common challenges, the accompanying predictions for 2015, along with how they played out, and coupled with new developments (thank you, frequent Google algorithm updates), point to some very clear trends in content marketing for next year.
And we’re not sure you’re going to love where this is going.
What’s Going to Happen to Content Marketing in 2015
While we’re still developing 2016’s comprehensive list of digital marketing trends, we’ll note a few here, and how you can save time implementing them for your B2B content marketing program.
We’ll see budgets grow, but not as fast as last year
According the CMI, content marketing budgets were expected to grow a whopping 55% in 2015. This is one of the largest increases year over year for marketing in ages.
Unfortunately, there’s a downside. With B2B marketing teams creating more content than ever, the global audience for content marketing is becoming fatigued:
- Everyone has a blog
- Everyone has a white paper or case study you can download
- Everyone has a cheap, throw away video you can watch
- Everyone wants to add your email to their email marketing list
Unfortunately, when everyone is doing something, it becomes harder to cut through the chaos and noise.
Since it’s harder to get through to users, you have to invest more time/money/energy into creating more and higher quality content. And the results just aren’t quite where you thought they would be (or what you promised), are they?
And to that end, B2B groups that have invested a lot in content creation in 2015, and haven’t seen the results, will see push back from CFOs, Sales and Business Leadership, as the results aren’t what was expected.
We know it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but even a marathon has an end, and all that content has to pay off somehow, doesn’t it?
We’ll see more SEO consultants try to position themselves as content marketers
According to Josh Steimle, a respected writer and expert on SEO, a good SEO consultant will help you with:
- Keyword research: Ideally researching keywords that are being searched for frequently enough, are relevant to your market, and not targeted heavily by your competitors. The problem with this is that it’s now almost 2016, and pretty much everything that could be ranked for, is. So, when everyone is ranking, and it’s hard to crack into the top ten on the first page of Google search results, how do you do it?
- Google analytics analysis: Take a look at historical data to see what’s worked and what hasn’t. Ideally, this is doing more than scratching the surface with page views and number of visitors, and then delivering a rebranded free Google report. For example, you already knew that site speed is a factor in Google’s algorithm, right? A good report will show you which of your pages are slow to load, negatively impacting your Google ranking.
- Google webmaster tools analysis: We leverage GWT to learn what search queries are most likely to show your website.
- Link profile analysis: You already know that inbound links via credible website and social media channels boost your site’s ranking. Did you know that bad links, or spammy links, can have a negative impact on your SEO? If you’re not doing it already, it’s time to start (and you should do this every 3 months or so),
- and more.
While he does mention that, in his particular instance, a good SEO consultant will create content, we find that crafting high quality, long-form, creative content is outside the bounds of the more technical mindset than your typical SEO consultant is capable of. Now before those SEO consultants reading this lose their minds, there are plenty of high-quality SEO-focused writers out there. Most just haven’t cracked the nut of long-form content.
We’ll see more of a demand for long-form content
According to a few data points and marketing professionals, long-form content is gaining traction. While there aren’t a lot of writers out there experienced in generating posts with word counts that range in the thousands, we expect to see more cropping up slowly in 2016. For example, in 2015, we’re seeing the following:
- Long-form content (over 1,500 words) is shared more often — Imagine Pub
- 70% of B2B marketers are creating more content than they did one year ago — CMI
- The average content length for a web page that ranks in the top 10 results for any keyword on Google has at least 2,000 words — Quicksprout
We hear a lot that you should only blog for readers—300 – 500 words. But the reality is that 300 word blog posts aren’t ranking. At all. So while you absolutely should blog for your readers, you need your readers to find you some how, some way. And one of those ways is with long-form content.
So if budgets are about the same, you’re needing to roll in more work (SEO) to your already busy plate, AND you need to write long-form blog posts, how could you possible save time this year on content marketing?
Smarter Content Marketing in 2016
Here’s what you’ll have to do this year to shave off hours every week, yet still improve the impact you have on your content and lead gen programs.
1. Blog Less
You hear me. Blog less. Not fewer words, but with less frequency. I know, this goes against everything you’ve been taught by everyone and their mother. But think about it:
If the first 10 posts in Google search results for most categories have more than 2,000 words, then there’s little chance that blogging 3x per week at 300 – 700 words is going to get you anywhere.
If you’ve spent the last 2 years blogging, and have generated a good wealth of short-form, readable content, it’s time to switch your strategy to developing content that will help cut through the clutter and get your site to rank. That means creating content that is AT LEAST 1,500 words.
But how do you create quality content that’s THAT long?
Well you’re already writing 1,500 words, if you’re blogging 3x a week of at least 500 words.
Instead of trying to come up with three sort-of-related short posts, why don’t you leverage your buyer personas to tie those posts together, and blog once a week at 1,500 words?
For example, earlier this year, I wrote a post on when businesses should start content marketing programs for their technology companies (something we actually know a bit about). Like a TED Talk, the post was broken up into 3 sections:
- Common challenges facing B2B technology companies in getting started with a content marketing program
- Reasons technology companies wait to start a content marketing program
- Statistics supporting when a technology company should start their content marketing program
Instead of creating 3 short posts of 500+ words, I tied them all together with a wrapping theme, allowing me to—in the same amount of time it would take to generate three 500 words posts—create one 1,900+ word post that actually ranks for the long-tail keyword “when should I start content marketing”.
Think that’s too specific, and not outstanding? Depending on your location, we hit the first page of Google, almost overnight, among 350 Million possible results. I’m pretty happy with that.
I think you would be too.
2. Do Away with Short-form Spammy SEO Consultant Content
Sounds a bit harsh, but very few SEO consultants are qualified to write 1,500 words of quality content about anything—let alone your business. What can you do to save time here?
SEO has now become part of content marketing. If you’re creating content that is targeted towards specific users, you need to be working inherently in the realm of SEO, or you’re wasting your time. Think mobile first. Think social sharing (distribution). Think long-tail keywords. And more. You don’t need a consultant.
Spend a day this week with Google, and you’ll know everything you need to optimize your content for search. Take a class, read a book, and add basic SEO for 2015 to your skill set. Here are a few quick resources that you should look to daily:
3. Create Interactive Content with Existing, Off-the-shelf Tools
We wanted to do something a little more dynamic, and ended up building an animated infographic using a readily accessible WordPress theme. Rather than generate the same old tired long, scrolling, clip-art-filled infographics, why not create some really nice rich-media experiences?
A few marketer-without-a-developer-friendly tools we really like (beyond WordPress), include:
Tableau Public is a free version of a revolutionary software for anyone wanting to tell engaging stories with public data on the web. We really like this tool for visualization (especially for maps).
We also like Infogr.am, which allows you to create and publish visualizations of your data. They have some great pre-built templates for embedding within your blog.
Finally we love Visme, a super tool in early stages that allows you to create rich media presentations, infographics, reports and product demos.
Wrapping It Up
2016 is going to be an interesting year. With budgets hovering at about the same level (maybe a little up), and content fatigue setting in, you’re going to have to do more, and be more effective, with the same resources.
To do this, you’re going to need to be smarter about your time and the content you create. Combining short, underperforming blog posts into larger, more Google-friendly content; rolling SEO organically into your efforts rather than tacking it on to the front or the back; and delivering content that is no longer static, but interactive and fun to use, will all help you stand apart from the other 5 Billion content marketers vying for mind-share.
Too busy to create better, longer, more dynamic content but need to save time with content marketing? Contact us today to learn how we helped 5 major technology companies develop a long-form content strategy—and execute it—in 2015.