An extensive dive into the current content landscape with examples and resources to give a clear view of the future. From the need to differentiate, how to go viral on social, premium content, tokens and video, to the inevitable ChatGPT and the infrastructure that enables atomic content. Preliminary disclaimer: this text was written entirely by a human being.
From advertising to content
Let’s take a small step back before we can take two steps forward. Before the internet completely changed the way we communicate, there was advertising. The massive and impersonal bombardment of a target group with advertisements via newspapers, TV, radio and billboards. The Internet enabled a niche approach and the collecting and analysing of customer data became easier and cheaper. This is how content as we know it came to be: stories that inform readers and move them to action in the customer journey. The better the channel, the message and the moment are attuned to the target group, the more personal, relevant and therefore more effective the contact moment. No more shooting with hail, but a fine-tuned surgical approach.
Yes, content marketing works
The latest State of Content Marketing 2022 Global Report from Semrush proves that content works very well as a marketing strategy:
- 97% of the 1500 companies surveyed from 20 industries indicated that content was an important part of their marketing strategy in 2021;
- 73% of those companies that believed they had a successful content marketing strategy in 2021 spent 10% to 70% of their total marketing budget on content marketing;
- 59% of companies with unsuccessful content marketing did not have a dedicated content marketing specialist;
- 72% expected an increase in content marketing budget for 2022, and 48% expected growth in the content marketing team.
But how exactly is success measured? According to the research, companies focus mostly on organic search (51%) and search ranking (42%), followed by leads (40%) and conversions (34%), social shares (32%) and email engagement (32%). ROI is nearly at the bottom with 15%, along with cost to acquire a lead, subscriber or customer (13%).
As a distribution channel, organic search comes interestingly enough only at fourth place, with 44%. Social media organic (69%), email marketing (54%) and social media paid (48%) make up the top three. This is also reflected in the use of technology: social media posting (65%), website analytics tools (50%), email marketing software (44%) and only then SEO tools (41%).
That distinction in channels translates into the underlying strategies: stand out in the crowd or bind your customers with premium content.
The big challenge of content is to distinguish
The amount of data increases exponentially every year. From 64.2 zettabytes in 2020 to an expected 118 zettabytes in 2023 (Statista). There are currently about 2 billion websites worldwide, of which 400 million are active. In the Netherlands (according to SIDN on Sunday 15 January 2023) there are 4,888,524 active sites of the 6,287,261 registered domain names. Around 500 million blogs go online every day worldwide. If you keep the same ratio of new blogs to the number of active sites for the Netherlands, then an estimated 6.1 million Dutch blogs will go online. In the Netherlands, 28.17% of the active sites include business, so you end up with 1.7 million blogs for B2B and B2C per day.
In B2B marketing, content also becomes more important:
- 90% of B2B companies start a purchasing process with a general search instead of calling a supplier and making an appointment.
- Contacting a seller usually happens more than halfway through the buying process for 57% of B2B buyers; and sometimes never.
- According to Gartner, individual B2B sellers only get 5% or 6% of a B2B customer’s customer journey.
The crux is, therefore, to distinguish yourself in the content that you use via organic search and social. It is also becoming crowded in niche markets. You distinguish yourself with the quality of your content, the consistency, the format and creativity. Marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuk has a practical approach for the next step.
Content that goes viral like a TikTok
Execution matters – im giving you a real insight … please use it ❤️♥️♬ original sound – Gary Vaynerchuk
For commercial success on TikTok, Vaynerchuk emphasises on execution, which he calls brandformance:
- Make lots of videos, up to four a day.
- Wait for one of your videos to go viral.
- Customise the video and add a transaction.
- Push that video with ads.
Have a look at Vaynerchuk’s own TikTok account as an example. Most videos have around 40,000 views, but one has 2.4 million views.
This video provides financial advice to weather a potential recession:
This screenshot is from the original video which amassed 2.4 million views in 18 hours. The counter stands at 3.2 million on January 16, 2023. The commercial hook is, however, still missing.
And before you dismiss TikTok as just the platform for dancing teens, Generation Z is now more likely to use TikTok and Instagram instead of Google Search or Google Maps, reports Prabhakar Raghavan, who leads Google’s Knowledge & Information organisation. Vaynerchuk argues that all the algorithms from the other platforms will follow TikTok because it works on merit. That principle is not new: on Facebook it was already wise to only boost a post when there was interaction and therefore organic reach. But where you stay in your own bubble with the established social media channels, the TikTok algorithm is also aimed at holding the attention of the user, also in the long term. And that means suggestions outside your bubble, which can make content go viral very quickly.
Your content as premium content for customer loyalty
Free content on social media and organic search competes for attention. So why would you put your content behind a gate in the first place? For creating and rewarding your own community. As the Dutch IT copywriter Bouke Vlierhuis explains in his newsletter of August 11, announcing his switch to going newsletter-first: You are my subscriber. My loyal, regular reader. You are reading this because you not only subscribe to my emails, but actually open and read them. And you get ridiculously little in return from me for that attention.
Other reasons to put premium content behind a content gate are the imminent death of the cookie and the upcoming e-privacy regulation. When content is really valuable and relevant to a target audience, they are happy to give their personal information in return. The Dutch agency Fingerspitz recently started doing the same with its Growth Lab, and even offers a paid premium membership for exclusive access to webinars and events. With this change, the agency is in line with the larger development that some companies are consciously taking on a publishing role. To support the marketing process or – for companies with a large range of their own – possibly as a new source of income, as the biggest Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn now does with sponsored products, for example.
The Tokenization of content marketing
Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, sees a major role for web 3.0 technology for exclusive content, as he tells Jerrel Arkes in an Inbound4Cast podcast. With social tokens (redeemable and non-unique) and NFTs (completely unique) you can reward loyal fans. You can use this to give access to exclusive content and opportunities within a community. You not only give access, but also a piece of ownership. For example, Pulizzi issued 100 Never-Ending Tickets for his company the Tilt, which always gives you access to his annual event.
Of course, you can show off with tokens as a revolutionary and progressive company. But beware: if there is no relevant value underlying it, it remains a form of Ponzi scheme.
Cut out the middleman
We’ve mostly looked at the use of content for marketing. What about the content creators themselves who want to monetize their content? They run into all sorts of limitations. After all, there is a middleman who makes a large reach possible: YouTube for influencers such as PewDiePie and Mr Beast and media companies such as Netflix and HBO for TV celebrities such as Jerry Seinfeld. That large reach is essential for successfully plugging content.
When you have your own audience as a star, you can easily set up your own channel. This is already possible via TikTok and now via YouTube, Instagram and Facebook as well, which reward content creators with a creator fund for the traffic they bring. The content is then freely available but provided with paid advertisements before and during the content, of which the creator also receives a percentage. For setting up a proprietary subscription model, there are out-of-the-box services of which Patreon, Fangage, and OnlyFans are the most used. These options are especially interesting for established influencers but seem less suitable for the independent production companies that are built around celebrities. In those cases, setting up their own platform will be the logical choice to fully unlock all future revenues. However, due to the lack of specialist knowledge you will still need a middleman, albeit a technical one.
And then now ChatGPT
When you have the above points clearly in mind, you can then take a serious look at ChatGPT and the other AI tools such as DALL-E (text-to-image) and Synthesia (text-to-video) that have been available for a long time . Ask yourself:
- To what extent will ChatGPT help you create distinctive content?
- How can AI-created content go viral?
- How can you use AI tooling to create content that is so valuable and relevant that your target audience likes to share personal information with you?
Anyone who has spent some time with ChatGPT will be amazed at what it can do, but also frustrated at the simple things it can’t do right. For example, try to get a meta description of 160 characters including spaces. Any output you want to put to serious use, needs to be checked by a human being, be it a copywriter or a programmer. Only when the bar is set a bit lower – such as with content for affiliate marketing and SEO, for example – could you see if it is an interesting way to create content quickly and for free.
On the Dutch site Sitedeals.nl you will find Dutch copywriters for 2 euro cents per word, so an article of 800 words would only cost you € 16. I asked the question: do you notice any competition from ChatGPT? The responses were telling:
- Bas van der Weerd of Webblish Content & Publishing: “The texts that ChatGPT produces are not exactly of a quality that you should worry about as a copywriter. Absolutely unoriginal and full of falsehoods. They are only interesting for short, simple texts that you need in large volumes, like product descriptions. But then you have the next challenge: the knowledge of ChatGPT is not more recent than 2021…”
- Tim E.: “It is good to consider that many content writers have long been using AI tools themselves. That is not necessarily booming with the arrival of ChatGPT. ChatGPT only makes it accessible to the general public. Many content writers have long used such tools for inspiration, drafts, ordering texts, writing H tags, etc.”
- Rbos: “Google has also indicated that you will receive a penalty if you use automatically generated texts for your website. This is also very easy to recognize with certain tools. And I assume that Google itself uses even better tools, partly because they themselves have been using AI for years.”
So the dyslexic entrepreneur who uses ChatGPT for his website texts and who predicts that everyone will do this in two months, can suddenly see a drop in his organic traffic. Automated content is against Google’s guidelines.
Good bots vs. Bad bots
Being called by an automatic tape. Standing on hold and being pointed to the website every thirty seconds where you couldn’t find the answer. Tweets that go viral without human interaction. An incoherent story written only for Google. If automation is the future, it will not always result in a better customer experience.
For example, according to Imperva (PDF), internet traffic in 2020 consisted of 37.2% bots. Of these, 13.1% are so-called good bots that perform tasks such as monitoring, collecting metrics, indexing and indexing feeds. The remaining 24.1% consisted of bad bots: impersonators, web scrapers, spam bots, and hacker tools. On Twitter, it’s about bad spam bots and good automated bots that provide a service, like @earthquakebot that automatically tweets about earthquakes. The distinction between good and bad bots is also made with bots and algorithms. For example, Google rolled out the helpful content update last August (and recently a December version!). Content made purely to rank higher is better recognized, but helpful AI content will still rank.
With tools such as GPTZero (this classic version remains available for free) and AI Content Detector (free trial) you can quickly recognise AI-written content. Even a plagiarism tool will help, as ChatGPT gets its information from public sources and will quickly write the same texts on specific topics. Now, there are all sorts of tricks you can pull off to make ChatGPT write more human (Like: “Write human!”), but that will be an AI battle you probably won’t win against Google. You see, Google itself has been working with AI for a while, and LaMDA for example – built on GPT 3.5 and fine-tuned by human AI trainers – is currently further than ChatGPT (built on GPT 3.0):
Since August 25, Google has been testing LaMDA and other experimental AI systems with users via the Android app AI Test Kitchen. It wasn’t until Blake Lemoine claimed that LaMDA had a consciousness that LaMDA received any media attention. Now, ChatGPT led to a code red at Google, which will probably speed up LaMDA’s market launch. That is the first step towards replacing the search model with AI chat. The big problem that Google is struggling with: a chatbot that immediately gives the correct answer to your questions means that users no longer click on ads. And therefore, organic search traffic will also go overboard. In response, companies will emphasise on their own channels with gated premium content. Probably. However, the same was also claimed when voice assistants made an entry.
Whether you want to distinguish yourself from the crowd or want to bind your own audience, the quality of content is leading. Creativity and unique perspectives do not (yet) come from an algorithm. That’s not only good news for copywriters and content agencies (hi!), but also for videographers and video companies.
Video is booming!
Back to Semrush’s content marketing research:
- As a content format, video brought companies the best results, according to 37%.
- Articles with videos get 83% more traffic than those without.
- Articles with more than three videos generated 55% more backlinks than those without.
Despite Vine’s swift demise, short-form video is still on the rise. For example, YouTube is still the number two search engine right after Google, and video company Wyzowl reports in its annual “The State of Video Marketing” that about 86% of companies will use video as a marketing tool in 2022.
In only a short time, you can efficiently convey a message with video, provided you use a good script, subtitles, graphics and elements of entertainment. A video is quickly made, but one that can also go viral requires real focus and effort. Here too, there are all kinds of handy AI tools, such as Synthesia with which you can convert a blog into a video including an AI avatar with a synthesised AI voice. But let’s be honest: do you really enjoy watching and listening to it? Would you put your brand name on this? Does such training offer a pleasant employee experience?
Repurpose, refresh, repackage
If you are reading this as a content marketer or even as an online marketer, you may think to yourself: Yes, video is nice, but our time and budget are simply limited. There is already a proliferation of channels going on. We are still active on Facebook despite the disappointing results, email marketing remains important and now TikTok has to be added?
There are two answers to that, the first is smart reuse of your content. This means: not making more content, but doing more with the content you create. This is called the COPE strategy: Create once, publish everywhere. Some examples are:
- Break your non-indexable white paper into several small blogs;
- Also make a mobile version of your blog that is easier to read;
- An infographic that shows the key figures of your white paper;
- Breaking the story of your blog into three small, short videos;
- The core of your blog as a Twitter thread;
- Transcribe your video (with YouTube or a handy AI tool!) and convert it into a blog;
- Update your existing popular content.
This gives substance to the old adage: the medium is the message. Putting exactly the same content on another channel lessens the relevance. The next question is how to reuse your content efficiently: with the right infrastructure and tooling.
Atomic content with headless and composable
Do you have separate content systems for everything? Then publishing a new campaign on all your channels is quite the job. The answer to that is to decouple the content management layer from the content presentation layer, also known as going headless. In the early days, this meant that everything had to be rebuilt, but today, there are practical solutions on the market. On the one hand, they provide a pleasant authorship experience at the back end for the content managers, enabling WYSIWIG for example. On the other hand, those solutions offer standard blocks with which a developer can relatively easily build a distinguishing front end.
This Lego approach is called composable, and makes digital asset management (DAM) workable. For instance, take your standard images, texts and templates for landing pages, CTAs, cases and advertorials. Once you have set up these parts, marketers can independently create and fill new pages. And when you want to change a specific CTA or video? Then it will be replaced on all your integrated channels, from web, app, email and ads to social. This omnichannel approach is only possible by breaking your content into small pieces that you can adjust and optimise separately: atomic content. It is the logical next step of repurposed content enabled by technology.
If you are in an enterprise-level company, pay attention to governance: determine per channel which content can be published and by which roles.
Quality is leading
The future of content is in the quality of your execution. AI-written content won’t help your business, but AI tools can help your content creators work more efficiently. Premium content distinguishes itself in the market, but only if it gets enough reach, organic or paid. For improving customer loyalty, premium content is always a good choice, regardless of the number of customers that you reach. This is how you show your customers that you really value them. So please, don’t serve them AI content. Content marketing naturally focuses on the efficient creation, publishing and promotion of content, however, ultimately, it is all about the customers. You can only make a positive impression on them with quality.