Almost anyone who has even a cursory interest in food will know about the ‘Michelin Guide’.
Now you might be wondering why I’m talking about food in a blog post on content strategy, bear with me here…
The Michelin Guide, along with the ‘Michelin Stars’ associated with it, represent some of the highest honors that can be bestowed on a restaurant.
Of course, the Guide’s name and its similarity to that of another famous brand is no coincidence – it’s indeed published by the very same Michelin that manufactures tires for trucks, family sedans, and Le Mans endurance racers alike.
The first Michelin Guide was published in 1900, the intent of the Guide was to encourage the people of France – a country which at the time had a mere 3,000 cars – to buy more cars and travel around the country, enticing the readers to take long ventures to the restaurants featured in the guide. The thinking was: with more people buying cars and taking longer journeys, they would wear out their tires quicker, indirectly creating more business for Michelin.
The point of this story is to illustrate that content marketing has been around for a very long time. Over a century ago, Michelin produced a piece of valuable content for consumers in an alternative engagement channel, which led them to convert to paying customers within their brand. Textbook content strategy!
However content marketing is an ever-changing field that evolves along with people’s preferences, trends, and the marketing landscape as a whole.
And just like the Michelin Guide itself, which evolved from a simple travel guide into perhaps the most prestigious award-giving body in the restaurant industry; content marketers must adapt to a rapidly shifting marketing landscape. New search algorithms, user behavior, and other fundamental shifts ensure that those who refuse to change will be lost at sea. It’s survival of the fittest, and you’ll have to adapt to survive.
Today, let’s talk about the changes in content marketing today, and what it means for the future of content strategy.
What exactly are these changes that make a strategic change so important? Let’s break them down.
Search Engine Algorithms
The first major change that affects content marketing is a shared pain for our friends over in the SEO industry: search engine algorithms. The dreaded mistress who holds the key to all of our hopes and dreams.
In the past, it was enough to research keywords based on search volume and just pepper your content with the top-performing keywords, and that’s it – you’re on top of the SERPs.
For content marketers, this meant that it was easier back then to decide on what sort of content they wanted to produce, and what keywords to include within.
Now, however, search engines take numerous user factors into account at the time of a search, including geographical location and user profile. The sites they choose to display are also different now, taking into account factors like the use of rich snippets, and mobile-friendliness.
Overall, the kind of content that ranks highly has changed, and so has the way content is ranked.
Prevalence Of Semantic Search
The rise of semantic search has been a major player in the way content marketing has begun to change.
The reason is that search engines aren’t just looking at the keywords that users put into their search boxes, but also trying to get a feel of what they’re actually looking for.
This focus on search intent has been underscored by the various updates to Google’s search algorithm. In fact, the 2013 Hummingbird update explicitly stated that context would be more important than just matching keywords!
This prevalence of semantic search has been additionally bolstered by new searching methods that have gained ground among users.
One of these new methods is voice search. Google first introduced their implementation of Voice Search in 2012, hot on the heels of Apple’s Siri voice assistant which came out the year before.
Since then, an ever-increasing proportion of searches have been conducted over Voice Search. And it’s not just from mobile devices – assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home devices are also pitching in.
When people search with voice, it’s often in “natural language” form, including conversational questions and complete sentences. This means that traditional short-tail keywords are out, and more descriptive, long-tail keywords are the name of the game.
Additionally, more and more people are interacting with chatbots, asking for content in a similar question-like format.
For content marketers, all of this represents a different take on the keyword issue, parallel to the change in search engine algorithms that we described above. With search intent and semantic search being so relevant now, it’s more important than ever to rank highly in a variety of niche-specific long-tail areas, rather than just be the top dog in a few short-tail keywords with high search volume.
A Surplus Of Content
The amount of content that’s being produced is increasing exponentially, as more and more brands are created, who go on to produce more content. The growth of various content channels has certainly helped in this regard as well.
But the demand for content hasn’t quite kept up. It’s totally possible for users (even a mildly popular niche) to be utterly saturated with content, to the point where they couldn’t consume it all if they had a hundred years, let alone in the few minutes a day.
Users Are More Mindful About Their Brands
The fastest-growing and most Internet-savvy consumers today, Millennials and Gen Z, often come to expect the brands they choose to mirror their beliefs. This means rejecting or even lashing out against brands that don’t align with their moral values.
Now that doesn’t mean that the smart choice is to have no stance at all. A stance is virtually demanded of any brand that wants to make waves in these demographics. From sustainability to gender politics, from mental health awareness to environmental conservationism, consumers don’t just appreciate transparency on stances on issues – they practically expect it.
Riding The Waves Of Change
With a sea change comes new waters and new challenges for content marketers. We’ve decided on a few important strategies that could be used to adapt to this sea change, allowing your brand to stay on top in a brave new world of marketing.
Establish Yourself As An Authority In Your Niche
The old ways of trying to grab attention with as wide a reach as possible are starting to become less and less effective. There’s too much content out there, and too many brands vying for customers’ attention. One-off content that fails to set itself apart from the rest, will undoubtedly drown in the sheer mass of competitors.
You need to be able to stand out from the crowd. A great way to do that is to become an authoritative voice within your niche. This can be achieved by creating meaningful content that holds value for your niche’s audience. Articles, infographics, engaging features, and well-researched news are all valid ways of establishing authority.
It’s especially valuable because you’ll act as a resource for your audience, and they’ll know to turn to your site for quality content. This creating repeat leads that get several chances to convert.
Highly informative content is also highly shareable, gaining and maintaining plenty of traction long after the expiry date of other content. Speaking of which…
Focus On Providing Evergreen Content
While there’s a huge amount of content out there, hardly any of it is remembered after the initial post. Timely content that responds to topics of short-term importance is a seemingly great idea for a quick fix of lead generation.
However, the real gold is in ‘Evergreen Content’, which represents the most cost-effective solution for organic reach and engagement.
Evergreen content is highlighted by three attributes:
- It stays relevant long after the initial posting.
- It’s authoritative and in-depth on its topic.
- It’s a valuable and informative resource for your audience.
Evergreen content is the gift that keeps on giving. You can keep linking back to it as long as the information remains up to date. On top of that, it’ll keep getting shared by new viewers and entrants to your audience whenever they come across it. This can happen organically, or because you reshared it or linked back to it in a new piece of content.
Evergreen content stands out from the crowd, making it a powerful beacon that attracts leads and engagement within your niche.
Rank Highly In Topics And Concepts, Not Keywords
In the era of semantic search, you’ll find that ranking highly in a concept rather than a keyword is the way to go for market leadership.
You can’t just shotgun some random content in a broad target around your industry – you have to have laser-guided focus on a topic or concept in which you’re confidently able to make a difference.
Look up long-tail keywords and trending topics in your field. Make use of forum engagement and social media listening to figure out what your audience thinks of your industry and your brand in particular. Determine what their needs are – and address them!
One way to help you discover these concepts is Zag’s Compounding Interests app. Through the use of artificial intelligence and a search scope that can include your entire market, you can automate the otherwise tedious work of discovering topics in your field, and even uncover new ideas that no one else has detected!
Take A Stand, And Be Transparent About It
The often hailed ‘Father of Advertising’, the late David Ogilvy famously said: “The customer is not a moron”. He wasn’t wrong then, and he isn’t wrong now.
When we say to take a stand, we don’t just mean that you should have some kind of façade of support for a particular movement or ideology. This new breed of consumers demands that you have a position on important topics, and will see right through any flimsy attempt to pretend that you’re fighting for a cause. It’s not enough to say that you’re doing something about it – you have to describe exactly what you’re doing.
The key then is to lay it out for them to see. Be transparent about your position on key topics. Produce reports about the influencers and companies you’re working with. Show where every cent of charitable donations has gone.
Remember that as a brand with some degree of authority and reach, you’ve been provided with a voice, and your customers see this voice as a valuable opportunity to help a cause.
The key takeaway here is that you need to focus on producing top-quality content, rather than churning out short-term work of limited value. Content that addresses specific niches and topics, rather than throwing keywords into the void hoping to exploit higher search volumes.
It’s really about having a long-term vision and plan for your content strategy
Remember that content marketing is ultimately about providing value in a way that generates interest in your brand. This description hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, not since Benjamin Franklin distributed Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1732 to promote his printing business, almost two centuries before the Michelin Guide was first published.