Without a doubt, 2012 was a watershed year for content marketing. Everyone from mega-corporations to nimble startups seemed to learn that useful, compelling online content was the smartest way to reach their markets.
From mobile trends to big developments in the world of search engine optimization, life continues to look up for talented content creators and the companies that work with them. Here are five of the most important developments your brand needs to know in order to stay on top in this realm.
More businesses are adopting content
In the last year, mainstream attitudes have seen a profound shift. Content marketing is no longer viewed as an afterthought, but as a crucial foundation of all effective online marketing.
The most successful companies now understand that high-quality content draws people in, builds trust, drives traffic, mobilizes social media sharing, and results in sales. With more and more businesses jumping on the content bandwagon, there will be even more competition for audience attention. That means it's more important than ever to make sure your content is useful, interesting, and engaging enough to draw readers in.
You must understand your audience. Go out of your way to learn their needs, desires, and frustrations. Once you know your target customer intimately, you will be able to craft content that stands out, gets attention, and has a long shelf life.
What it means for your business: Don't just decide to ramp up your content marketing. To stay ahead of your competition, develop specific content marketing goals. By keeping a strategic focus, you'll stay well ahead of those who are blindly jumping on the bandwagon.
Google Authorship makes anonymity a losing strategy
Google values online content, and with its most recent updates (Panda and Penguin), excellent writing became even more important for search engine rankings.
On the other hand, Google's increasing focus on quality writing is bad news for websites and businesses that were producing junk articles at bargain prices and dressing them up with purchased links and other "unnatural" optimization efforts.
In the last few months, the web has been buzzing about what's been dubbed Author Rank, which expands the rewards of good search engine rankings beyond pages and sites to individual content creators. To get the benefits of Author Rank, writers must claim their content (on their own sites, in guest posts, in online magazine articles, etc.) using Google+ profiles. As the web's best writers continually post strong content and lay claim to that writing, Google has indicated it will reward them with better search engine rankings.
Google is, in effect, "learning" which writers are the most authoritative on any given topic and rewarding the best accordingly. Author Rank also elevates the importance of Google+ as a topical networking platform. Writers now ignore Google+ at their own peril -- so if you haven't looked at it lately, it's worth diving in and growing your presence there.
What it means for your business: Talk with your web designer or developer about adding Google+ authorship markup to your primary website, and help other online publishers you write for understand the benefit authorship can bring to them.
You'll also need to shift away from the mindset that company content is anonymous. Look for ways to create author-credited, authoritative content about your business topic. This might mean the addition or expansion of a company blog, but it can also involve publication on other sites.
There is a shortage of well-trained writers
All of these recent shifts in the content marketing world have caused a major challenge: We need good content creators, and we need them now.
Organizations that want to keep up in the web marketing world will need to grow their content creation mojo by training in-house communication teams or attracting qualified freelance talent. Nimble companies will have a huge advantage here; the faster companies can adapt and find the staff to fill their content creation needs (and the quicker they can train that staff to start producing good content every week), the better they'll do in this new content marketing landscape.
Companies that really want to succeed in content marketing should map out an editorial calendar and build their writing pool to implement that plan. Agility is important, of course, so stay flexible and make sure you're adjusting your calendar based on feedback you're getting from readers and customers.
What it means for your business: Start thinking now about who will be the "content authorities" for your business. You might have on-staff writers who already have the authority you're looking for. Give those people bylines and be sure to connect them with Google+ profiles; it will help your search rankings even if those writers exit the company later.
Smart businesses will also start developing their key executives as subject matter experts and publishing high-quality content (which might be ghost-written by well-qualified writers) under their names. Don't waste your time on pennies-per-word freelancers who "crank out" content. Low-quality content no longer works to boost search engine rankings, and it never worked to improve your relationship with prospects and customers.
Quality trumps quantity.
Social, search, and content are facets of an overall strategy, not stand-alone silos
Companies that use social networking promotions are waking up to the fact that simply having an active Facebook profile isn't enough to make profits grow. In previous years, companies treated search, social networking, and content creation as three unrelated online marketing arenas. Now companies are realizing that smart strategy integrates all three into one overall plan of attack.
For example, a great piece of content on a company blog needs to be effectively promoted on social media sites like Twitter and Google+ to attract attention and links, and then optimized for search engines (through smart SEO practices).
What it means for your business: Your marketing team needs to make an immediate shift away from thinking about content, search, and social networks as unrelated worlds. As content marketers, our overall strategy must integrate all three into a cohesive whole. Break down any department silos that might be holding you back.
Smart content marketers pay attention to mobile technology
Companies need to make sure their content is easily accessible on all devices. Content marketers are paying close attention to statistics on mobile usage, including a recent survey that said 25 percent of smartphone owners say they mostly go online using their phone, rather than with a desktop or laptop computer.
Skyrocketing numbers of users are using smartphones and tablets to access web content, which means content marketers need to make sure their websites are accessible on all kinds of platforms. Responsive website design removes any barriers mobile users might face when reading digital content. Responsive design simply means designing a site that works fluidly across all types of screens (smartphones, tablets, desktop machines, etc.). It's also the mobile strategy that Google endorses.
What it means for your business: Get your web development team working on mobile responsive design immediately. Your customers insist on the ability to access your content from desktops, tablets, or smartphones -- when and where they choose.
Where we're heading in 2013
Content marketing isn't a quick fix, and it certainly isn't a fad. It's a proven strategy for companies that want to build long-lasting direct relationships with prospects and sell their products and services in smart, ethical ways. Useful and interesting content is more valued than ever -- an asset that will only grow in value for your company
Just remember: While developments like responsive design or Google Authorship are important, don't let them distract you from the basics. If you regularly publish outstanding, targeted content and make that content easy to share on the platform of your audience's choice, you will attract and convert new prospects and clients.
Providing valuable information that is easily shareable is always the key to attracting the attention of prospects, driving traffic, and building businesses.
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