If we could predict the future of content marketing we’d all be laughing right? Unfortunately it’s not as easy as X+Y = success. But we can take a closer look at what the industry itself thinks is going to happen.

Handcrafted Content

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Let’s start with the argument for ‘handcrafted content’ from Chief Content Officer Magazine, a publication produced by the excellent Content Marketing Institute. An article in the June 2015 edition explored the debate between “machines and handcrafted content”.

Jay Acunzo, VP of platform and content at NextView Ventures, argued the case for handcrafted content, although he conceded that the future of content creation is most likely to be a “powerful blend of technology and technique”.

He said that organisations will start to acknowledge the fact that cutting corners doesn’t work and can in fact risk damaging their reputation. Instead of looking for a quick fix, he suggested that more and more people will look to “hire, train and promote individuals capable of being creatively brilliant and prolific”.

The core of Mr Acunzo’s message is that great writers and content producers matter as much as they ever did, despite the rapid evolution of the supporting technology.

Automated Content Marketing

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Arguing the case for more technology in content marketing, is Ann Rockley, chief executive of The Rockley Group, Inc and one of the top five ranked most influential content strategists in 2010.

Ms Rockley’s points focus on automation. “The future of content creation lies with intelligent content,” she told the Chief Content Officer Magazine.

She explained that clever content strategies can enable small companies to have big footprints in the content marketing world thanks to the scalability that they deliver.

The key piece of advice she gave is to structure and tag everything that is produced, once this is complete “the main work is done; everything else can be automated” through systems that can extract questions and answers automatically or store videos for future access or post samples of content out to social media networks automatically.

The debate between the value of automation vs human input comes with the release of the State of Enterprise Content Marketing Report. One strong point we can take from the report is the youth of the industry and the fact that businesses are still to become fully aware of the extent to which content plays a part across their entire business.

Content marketing, particularly when used in an online context, has evolved from traditional media and traditional marketing to become far more than the sum of its parts, but in looking to the future of content marketing, it is flexibility that comes up again and again. Yes, we need the core skills from excellent content producers and solid innovative technology, but what we do with those skills and technology will define our industry, as will the speed with which we respond.

You can view the full SlideShare of the State of Enterprise Content Marketing Report below, but we wanted to highlight the two snippets below to underline the continued emphasis on evolution and adaptation:

“Successful businesses will no longer have a singular view of content as fuel to support marketing campaigns. Instead, they will evolve and begin looking at changing marketing into a function that increasingly supports the fluid use of content to create and support better customer experiences.”

“The successful plan of tomorrow will be powered by an ability to constantly reconfigure efforts and manage a portfolio of content-driven experiences. When a particular experience is no longer advantageous to business, the team will not lean on a “that’s-the-way-it’s-always-been-done” mentality, but will healthily disengage and dismantle the outmoded experience.”

As online news writers, headlines are one of the most important parts of our job. If our team don’t write engaging interesting headlines, there is a very real risk that the content they go on to write under that headline will never be read.

Inevitably this dilemma has lead to an ongoing quest within the content marketing world to create ‘The Perfect Headline’ – that one magic formula that will ensure the article is read and shared for all eternity. But is there really such a thing as a single Perfect Headline? We think not and here’s why.

The Perfect Headline is entirely dependent on the audience viewing it, and the audience depends on the publication. Online news appears everywhere from the multinational news organisations’ websites to individual businesses and blogs. Readers do not interact in the same way with all of these publications and publishers cannot expect them to respond in the same way to headlines they read on each.

The Financial Times and Buzzfeed couldn’t be much further apart in audience demographics. Let’s look at their individual approaches when it comes to creating their own perfect headlines …

 

The Financial Times

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The Financial Times has to be one of the most fact-focused publications in the world. Given the sensitive nature of the financial topics it covers, the FT has to stick to straight forward headlines that get the message across and leave no room for misinterpretation.

Headlines on the front page average out at about nine words and they all put the focus on getting the most amount of information into the lowest word count.

Compare this with Buzzfeed, and it’s obvious that the FT puts a much greater emphasis on clarity and delivery of information.

Buzzfeed

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Buzzfeed on the other hand, has something of a ‘style over substance’ approach to headlines. The website began life as the ultimate click-bait content site and their headlines still reflect this. Interestingly, however, the site has managed to develop from its origins of a site with a great formula for delivery but very little original content, to a site that manages to generate some really interesting points of view that are in fact amplified by its unique approach to content delivery.

Headlines are an essential part of this. Compared to the FT, Buzzfeed headlines are unsurprisingly longer, averaging out at 12 words each. They are nearly all list-based, and they tend to include an adjective or two, inviting the user to feel something by clicking the headline and reading the article.This use of adjectives means that the space for facts is reduced, but that’s fine as Buzzfeed’s audience isn’t necessarily looking for facts, they’re after entertainment that suits their mood. It’s emotive marketing at its most concise.

 

We picked the Financial Times and Buzzfeed for this quick blog because they couldn’t be more different in terms of how they connect with their readership. The lesson is just as applicable for industry news and onsite blogs: To write the Perfect Headline, get to know your audience and tailor your headlines to suit your readers’ approach to online news.

For traditional marketers, social media has always been a difficult avenue to quantify, but recent research is likely to keep the naysayers quiet, at least for the foreseeable future.

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Data compiled by KiteDesk found that 64 per cent of salespeople who exceeded their quotas in 2014 said that they had closed a deal as a “direct result of their social media efforts in the past year”. Furthermore, around 75 per cent of those who beat their quota for the year by 10 per cent or more said that they were ‘highly effective’ or ‘better than most’ at leveraging social media to sell.

When it comes to which networks were most fruitful in increasing sales, the answer depends to some extent on the product sold but the research certainly showed some surprising statistics in this area:

“For the first time ever, Twitter has dethroned LinkedIn as the most important social selling channel for B2B sales professionals.”

LinkedIn has always been the traditional outlet for business and professional connections, making it an obvious choice for anyone seeking to leverage their connections. But perhaps the ease with which people can connect to new networks and contacts on Twitter is proving more useful in modern sales environments.

Geoff Stuhf, speciality care, account manager from GE Healthcare, commented on the research:

“The healthcare industry is undertaking a major changeint he way that most facilities purchase products and in doing so, it has gotten even more challenging to reach anyone outside of the supply chain department.

“This, along with the onset of social media and social selling, has become the perfect storm for getting in touch with key decision makers, on their time, outside of the four walls of a hospital.”

It’s official. The votes are in. The results have been counted and varied, and we can reveal that the single most effective SEO tactic is content marketing.

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The focus in content marketing has shifted away from SEO these days and towards natural audience engagement. Sure, we know that what we do has a positive impact on SEO, but the impact is so natural it has ceased to be the primary driver in content investment.

But the latest SEO Survey Summary report from Ascend2 found that when asked to sit down and think about it, the majority of marketers and sales professionals still believe that relevant content creation is the most effective SEO tactic at their disposal.

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Ascend2 asked nearly 300 people for their best strategies and views in the research paper and 72 per cent confirmed that relevant content creation is their top approach in SEO. Second to this was keyword / phrase research (48 per cent), followed by frequent website updating (34 per cent) and relevant link building (33 per cent).

In comparison to the same study in 2014, content marketing has shot up in marketers’ estimations. Last year just 57 per cent voted it most effective. It seems that the increasing levels of sophistication from the search engines combined with a greater level of appreciation and understanding of the online medium from audiences has helped boost the value of great content.

Does quality really matter when it comes to creating online content? Quantity and frequency are discussed so much that you’d be forgiven for thinking that quality could take a backseat in the matter. Just to be clear, this is absolutely not the case, at least not anymore.

Online news used to be about the basic provision of information, but the industry has evolved. More than ever online media consumers are demanding their content to be of equal or better quality to offline content, a trend confirmed at the latest Online Media Awards held by The Drum.

The BBC took a grand total of five awards at the event, while Vice and Al Jazeera also proved to be big winners taking three each. The supervising producer for Vice News Europe, Yonni Usiskin commented on the changes in the industry: “I think what we’ve seen over the last few years is this shift whereby people don’t expect to be watching crappy content online, so our standards for online video really are as high as the TV shows we’re making with HBO in the US and the feature films Vice has started making.”

The changes aren’t just impacting video creation. Interest in online news increased almost three-fold between 2007 and 2014. However, as competition for readers is increasing, so too is the quality. But those who are truly blowing the competition out of the water are being smart about their quality development, focusing on ensuring they provide content that engages their particular demographic, rather than hoping to appease everyone.

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Allison Rockey, engagement editor at Vox.com, explained at the News Impact Summit in London: “At the end of the day, good content is what shares.”

She added that the focus on online news absolutely needs to tie in to that particular outlet’s audience; there’s no point writing news about puppies and kittens just because they’re trending on Twitter if your audience are looking for hard news about the political developments in the Middle East.

When online news started to take off there was real concern that quality journalism and writing would cease to exist as the demand for more blew all other considerations away. But the reality is proving to be the opposite – with so few barriers to entry in the online news and content environment, anyone hoping to make their mark needs to step up their quality. And this is exactly what we’re seeing with increasingly well thought out pieces, new research, new ideas and intelligent systems of delivery to ensure that people have the opportunity to view and engage with content that suits their interests.

 

Evergreen Content

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Fresh, regular news is a given, but to get long-term value out of your content strategy complementing regular news output with evergreen insights and analysis is the obvious approach.

What to write about will depend on your industry and goals. But if you’re struggling for evergreen topics, look back at your Google Analytics and assess which pages are already performing well over a longer period. There’s your inspiration.

Bear in mind that evergreen content doesn’t have to do quite what it says on the tin – it can last three or six months and still have a different level of value in comparison to an update that has lost its relevance within the week.

If you’re really on the ball, consider implementing a plan to check on your evergreen pieces periodically and ensure that they maintain value.

Focus on Sharing

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‘Shareable content’ is a clunky content marketing phrase; given that words are our tools we really ought to do better. But shareable content gets to the point. Some content can be easily digested, its message gleaned and banked and its relevance decided within the space of minutes if not seconds. Other content requires a decent chunk of free time for its reader to sit down and digest what’s being said. By the time they’ve got to the end of it that ‘spark’ moment that entices someone to share their revelation with someone else has gone, they’re too busy processing the large amounts of information they’ve just consumed.

Keeping this human trait in mind when you’re looking at content you want to be shared.

However, if you want long-term value you need to take things a bit further and remember to draw attention to your content on a long-term basis. Have a think about some different options for your social media strategy because you’re going to have to do a bit more than send out posts upon initial publication.

As a starting point, checkout the upcoming calendar of events in your sector and ask if your evergreen post coincides with any of them, set a reminder, tweak your hashtags, stand back and admire the beginnings of your new higher value, long-term social strategy.

Take Action and Make Connections

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It’s so easy to tell your team to build their network and then wonder why you haven’t got a network in place six months later.

So when the perfect opportunity presents itself and you have a piece of content ready to publish that you KNOW is of interest to your network, make sure your team actually getting it out there and that they’re aware of the ways in which they can continue to promote and reference it moving forward.

Social media, email, forums, timing, demographics, ACTION. Keep everyone informed of what’s coming out and make sure they’re following through on the great ideas you’ve all been building and getting them out to the eyes and ears that you want to reach.