Is branded content marketing dead?
Research indicates that it’s very much alive—it’s set to grow by $417 billion by 2025—and very much worth investing in. According to marketing platform Semrush, brands using content marketing generate 97% more backlinks and land 434% more search engine results pages—resulting in five times as many sales leads.
Not only can a good branded content marketing strategy result in sales, it’s also a future-proof strategy. With upcoming changes to privacy and data collection—including Apple’s latest iOS 15 update and Google Chrome’s plans to phase-out third-party cookies by 2023—the importance of organically driven traffic is more important than ever. According to 2019 research conducted by BrightEdge, organic search remains the most dominant source of trackable web traffic and the largest digital channel, accounting for over 53% of traffic.
“Content marketing won’t be affected by [data and privacy changes],” says Chris Tatum, Director of SEO at Visiture, an ecommerce digital marketing agency. "As long as you’re creating content that is valuable and specific to your customer’s queries, you have the chance to win those clicks and bring in traffic to your site.”
What has changed, though—and is constantly changing—are search engine algorithms. Content marketing didn’t die, but it has evolved and been transformed into something entirely new. The days of stuffing blog posts with search terms are long over. Today, site crawlers look at content within the context of your overall site, while Google’s search quality raters (actual humans who give insights into whether the algorithms are providing good results) now focus on what’s called E-A-T: expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.
Google is constantly trying to find new ways to improve the way that they understand and process content,” says Chris. “They are pushing toward making sure that marketers create content that isn’t just appealing to the algorithm but is valuable to the users searching.”
This all comes at a time when there’s more content being produced than ever. Consider, for example, YouTube: more than 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. For those counting, that’s 30,000 hours of newly uploaded content every hour. Meanwhile, WordPress users produce 70 million new posts each month.
“The bar is increasing for content marketing. It’s getting hard to stand out,” says Kevin Indig, Director of SEO for Shopify.
Instead, you have to really focus on creating outstanding high-quality content that only you have—and make it really hard for others to compete with you.”
Here are the biggest trends set to shake up the content marketing scene in the coming year—and how to ensure your brand stands out from the competition.
The biggest content marketing trends for 2022
1. What consumers want is changing
Although blogging continues to be the format that marketers prioritize (with nearly 70% of businesses using it as part of their content marketing strategies), there’s a disconnect from what consumers actually want.
In 2021, content marketing platform Contently surveyed over 1,000 Americans to find out what consumers wanted from branded content. Here’s what they found:
Consumers want more memes and visual content.
Video will continue to reign supreme as we move into 2022, with 30% of consumers indicating it’s the content they enjoy most, followed by memes and photography (28%).
These are also important for search engine optimization, as Google has started putting video snippets next to search results—and preliminary research indicates users are more likely to click on them when they’re displayed.
Consumers want to support sustainable and ethical brands.
Does your brand have sustainable practices? If so, now is the time to make it a central component of your content marketing strategy.
According to Contently, “social impact storytelling drives purchase consideration,” with 49% of consumers saying they’d buy something from a brand after reading about the positive impact they’re having on the world.
There are countless ways to do this—whether it’s through creating a short film highlighting your company’s green practices, or writing long-form articles and creating interactive features about sustainability throughout your supply chain, such as industry leader Patagonia does.
Consumers want more educational content and courses.
There’s a reason Google chose to emphasize the importance of “expertise” in refining how it indexes sites—it’s because it’s what consumers value. That’s also why Contently advises creating educational courses, with 58% of consumers saying they’d be likely to take a free course created by a brand.
These could be adjacent to your brand or directly related to what you’re selling (such as the tutorials created by Bullet Journal on how to use its product). They could also be aligned with influencer content creation, such as the partnership Bullet Journal has formed with author Cal Newport. “It’s a very solid, very successful strategy,” says Kevin.
2. Voice and visual searches are becoming increasingly popular
Why ask Jeeves when you can ask Alexa or Siri?
Increasingly, consumers are turning to voice and visual searches. In 2018, Google reported that 27% of the global online population was already using voice search on a mobile device—a number that’s only increased since then. By 2019, 45% of American millennials were using voice assistance to shop.
The result is that search engines are beginning to serve up multi-format content, including videos, images, podcasts, and shopping recommendations—which, in turn, changes the type of content brands will need to produce to stay highly ranked.
3. AI and AR will soon lead the way in content creation
AI is already being used by brands to optimize content marketing campaigns and to brainstorm and audit content. A good example is the popularity of tools such as Clearscope, an AI-powered research and content optimization tool.
AI can even be used to produce original content. Publications such as The Washington Post have already been using machine-generated content for years (although this writer would like to remind her editors that humans are still needed to refine the product before it’s published).
Likewise, augmented reality (AR) may become a key component of many merchants’ content marketing strategies, with the market currently valued at $30.7 billion and around 810 million active mobile users.
How to develop a content marketing strategy that works
Test new channels
According to Tatum, there are three main components of a strong ecommerce content marketing strategy designed to capture more purchase-driven searchers:
- On-page category content to help your category pages (where your products are) rank for specific keywords
- Informative blog posts and articles that will provide valuable information to your visitor.
- Low-funnel, long-tail keyword content pieces, which—while lower in search volume—will correlate to the highly specific queries from your audience
He says that the biggest mistake he sees merchants making is not utilizing multiple forms of content across their content marketing strategy.
“Merchants need to focus on a broad, comprehensive strategy that will utilize multiple forms of content to ensure they are appealing to users at all different points in their sales funnel,” says Chris. This wide-sweeping strategy should be based on the latest consumer trends and demands—including those for more podcasts, search-optimized video content (including livestreams), social media content, and user-generated content, including influencer marketing.
In addition to developing your brand voice, Tatum recommends determining what questions customers will ask at all points in the sales funnel, and how your brand can answer them.
“Without these pieces, it’s hard to build out a well-rounded content marketing strategy that will drive conversions and sales,” he says.
Create original content designed for users—not for search engines
SEO keywords may remain, well, “key”—but they’re not enough to stand out from the competition. To make it onto the first page of search engine results, you’re going to have to establish yourself as an authority on a topic by ensuring your content is meant for actual users—not for robots. This can also help to create consumer trust and establish your brand as an authority in your space. And while “authority” may have once referred to the number of backlinks to an article, this relevancy is decreasing over time, as search engines continue to revise their algorithms for real users.
“It is so important that the content that merchants create is built for users. At the end of the day, Google will reward what is best for the user and you’re more likely to get conversions from content that is relevant and valuable,” says Chris.
Take, for example, this blog post. Not to get too meta, but what you’re reading right now is a piece of content marketing for Shopify Plus. Here’s what might surprise you, though: We didn’t come up with the idea for this article by researching SEO keywords. Instead, we wondered what questions merchants might have about content marketing and how we can help answer them. Then, rather than regurgitating existing content or outdated statistics, we sought out the latest research and interviewed experts on the subject.
Original interviews are just one of the things that can set written or video content apart—another element is developing and sharing your own data-driven research.
“Data is increasingly becoming a key differentiator for content,” Andrew Dennis, Shopify’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, told CMSWire earlier this year. “There are likely already thousands of posts on the topic you want to cover—so if you want your page to rank in search, you’ll need to find a unique angle, and what better way to do that than with original research that other pages can’t replicate?”
When it comes to written content, go long (and thorough)
Think that the average attention span is shrinking? When it comes to SEO, nothing could be further from the truth.
In a 2020 analysis of 1.2 million articles (including their backlinks, social shares, and visits) Semrush found that long reads (posts of more than 7,000 words) are the leaders in terms of content performance. They’re more likely to be read, and drive almost four times more traffic than articles of 900 to 1,200 words in length.
Most importantly, the report notes that “long reads likely perform better because they provide users with in-depth information on the topic—not just because they contain more words.”
Be strategic when using SEO keywords
According to Brightedge, SEO continues to drive more than 1,000% more traffic than organic social media. But the days of keyword stuffing are long over, especially with more people competing for what Indig calls “commodity content” (content that anyone could create on a particular topic).
“The biggest mistake is to go after irrelevant keywords that have a lot of search demands or search volume, but to not really ask yourself whether it fits with your business and whether you’re the best authority on the Internet to appear for those search terms,” says Kevin. He recommends finding a mix and balance in your content marketing strategy between topics that you’re a clear authority on and those that you want to be part of the larger mix.
“A good thing to keep in mind is that anything that helps to establish more share-of-mind of your brand in your customer’s heads is also good for SEO,” he says.
Writing titles and title tags
According to Semrush’s research, the most effective headlines are between 10 and 13 words. Titles of this length drive twice as much traffic and 1.5 times more shares than those of seven words or less.
Title tags and meta descriptions also continue to be a key component of a strong SEO strategy. However, as of 2021, Google has started rewriting title tags, by replacing them with other relevant text from a webpage (often the page’s H1 tag).
While this change does not affect search page rankings, it may affect how likely consumers are to click on a search result.
Develop your content marketing for mobile and voice search
As we outlined above, voice, image, and mobile searches should be top of mind when it comes to creating your content marketing plan for 2022. In particular, as voice search technology continues to evolve, the type of content being generated will need to be modified for it.
“As the popularity of voice queries increases, the voice and tone of the content are undergoing some major changes. One of the biggest changes is a shift to a more conversation-like style of writing that would correspond to the natural voice queries users may perform,” reports DOZ Marketing Solutions.
Set up strategies to measure ROI
The last major component of a strong content marketing campaign is developing strategies for measuring its ROI—yet 27% of marketers indicate demonstrating ROI is their biggest recurring challenge.
There are several ways to determine if your content marketing campaigns are successful, including tracking conversions (sales or newsletter sign-ups), social engagement, backlinks, or earned media. And while few merchants invest in tracking gains in search traffic and rankings improvements, Contently says this is a missed opportunity and a valuable part of the ROI puzzle.
“By occupying valuable real estate on search engine results pages, content was not only driving traffic to their websites, but also improving brand recognition at the crucial research stage of the buying cycle,” reports Contently. “Forrester research tells us that executive buyers look at an average of 17 pieces of content before signing a contract. These assets provide a steady stream of qualified visitors without forcing brands to repeatedly spend money on paid ads.”
Kevin, for one, strongly advises that merchants make Google’s Core Web Vitals tool (which shows how your store’s pages perform based on real-world usage) a priority for monitoring your site and determining ways to improve its performance.
The future of branded content marketing
Social media platforms will come and go, and algorithms constantly will be in flux, but one thing has remained the same: the best content marketing strategies identify consumer’s problems and help to find them answers.
“Content marketing is all about creating content which is valuable to users and answers the questions they are asking,” says Chris. “Always keep that in mind as your top priority when creating content for your business.”