Several years ago, content marketing was a relatively straightforward venture. If marketers were releasing halfway decent and even remotely useful content on a regular schedule, they could expect to see big gains: high placement on the SERPs and plenty of leads for clients.
Ranking #1 on the SERPs is still useful, but it’s not as useful. Search features like featured snippets and the local 3-pack have edged organic search results farther and farther down the page until they’re virtually invisible. What the search features don’t conceal, paid search does. Today’s top content marketers are earning visibility another way: by cultivating reach and influence.
2017 content marketing trends indicate more and more brands are going to do their best to become publishers. Not just bloggers, mind, but true publishers. They’re creating television shows, magazines, and podcasts in the hopes of both entertaining and serving their target marketplace. The content quality has needed to rise accordingly. However, this type of content marketing really does speak exclusively to humans and moves through the social sphere. No algorithm or keyword mix in the world can help it if it isn’t up to par. A limited number of influencers will win the game: a few brands will soon gain the reputation in each niche for producing the best content. Customers will watch, listen to, or read the content put out by those brands almost exclusively, and others will be left behind.
Building Relationships and Earning Eyeballs
It will take top-notch content to build influence, but content alone isn’t enough. It will also be important to increase a brand’s “reach,” vastly increasing the number of times a customer might encounter any given piece of content. Pushing the content on social media is a start, but it’s also the bare minimum. There’s a process of relationship building which must happen: identifying other influencers and networking with them to earn shares and links from the people who matter most. This starts with finding out where customers are spending their time and continues with building relationships with the people who control these spaces, even if it means getting out from behind our computers and venturing into in-person networking spaces where other influencers spend their time.
This is not always what we, as marketers, want to hear. Building relationships is a fickle process. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to automate, though the activities that underpin the exercise can certainly be boiled down to a series of concrete steps. It takes time, and it requires us to relinquish a lot of control: there’s no way to guarantee an influencer will allow us to guest post on their site, for example, nor is there any way to guarantee they’ll offer a back link or throw our clients a share.
There are, however, plenty of best practices and conventions that at least maximize the chances that we’re going to get what we want and need out of any given interaction. And it’s not always hard. High-grade content often requires interviews. Interviews require subjects. The best subjects are expert subjects, i.e. influencers.
Sometimes, doing what you’d have to do anyway to create great content is the best way to get what you need. In addition, the human ego is a powerful thing. Influencers will often share content when they are featured in that content, getting it to a much wider audience than you can ever touch.
Taking Advantage of Paid Reach
The best things in life may be free, but they’re also slow. Fortunately, there are ways to speed up the process. They just require an investment. Paid search is one way; Facebook, for example, has always been very good at allowing advertisers to target content to the umpteenth degree. Marketing directly to people in your demographic or niche is always smarter than blasting content, and if you have truly stepped up your game you could easily gain loyal followers who invite you right onto their newsfeed.
From there, it’s not so hard to capture e-mails and maintain influence, so long as your content quality remains high. Paid social is more useful than paid search in this instance: paid search typically takes buyers to a landing page where they can make a purchase, where as social media users expect to find their way to interesting content when they offer the click.
The only way to be successful is to change the mindset that it’s about creating content for the sake of creating content. The search robots still influence the equation a little bit, but at last it’s not about them anymore. Now, we’re really and truly talking to the human beings who make the purchases…which is the way it should have been all along.