My first job in marketing was as an intern for a custom publishing company. In the ensuing years, I’ve worked in branded content, brand journalism, custom content, inbound marketing and, today, content marketing.
Name changes notwithstanding, content marketing has always been in a constant state of evolution, propelled by the explosive growth of the internet and how we communicate. For context, the same year I was cutting my teeth in custom publishing, YouTube launched, and you still needed a .edu email address to join Facebook.
Now, disruptors like AI have come on the scene, and there’s a new burst of change in the field.
This fall, I had the opportunity to attend Content Marketing World 2023 (CMW) in Washington, D.C., where the excitement and buzz (and, admittedly, some anxiety) that accompanies change were on full display. The conference was jam-packed with expert practitioners who shared insights on everything from AI and SEO to tactics for creating content your audience loves.
Here are a few insights I’ve found most compelling this year both from colleagues at the conference and through my own lived content marketing experience.
Whether or not the industry gets a new name remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the content marketing landscape has never been more exciting.
1. AI Is Here to Stay — And So Are Humans
It’s hard to believe it’s been less than a year since ChatGPT arrived on the scene and shook the whole of the internet — especially in the marketing space. The debate is still ongoing over the usefulness and implications of increasingly intelligent AI solutions. What’s clear, though, is that it’s not going away. In a survey conducted by the Content Marketing Institute, most B2B marketers predict AI will continue to dominate content marketing as the “shiny thing” into 2024.
As it does, though, there will be an even greater need for humans in the mix. Ann Handley, author and chief content officer of MarketingProfs, said it best from the CMW mainstage:
“You can’t use an AI tool to produce good writing unless you’re already a good writer. Respect the craft. Respect writers.”
Right after Handley made that statement, she took a question from the audience: “How do you make ChatGPT content sound more human?” Her answer: “Hire a writer.”
That’s not to dismiss AI’s place in content marketing. About 72% of marketers are using AI, according to the B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends: Outlook for 2024 report, and that number is likely to grow in 2024.
What will matter going forward is how you use the tools. Currently, 61% of marketers don’t have defined guidelines around AI use. That might seem like a surprising number, but for Handley, it represents an opportunity. She had this to say in a recent article:
2. Insightful Content Is More Important Than Ever
Being a content leader in the age of AI means getting thoughtful about the type of content you’re producing and how you’re producing it.
There are roughly 7.5 million blog posts published per day in 2023. Per day! That’s a lot of noise to wade through as digital marketers. But as Creator Kitchen’s Jay Acunzo noted, it’s not about being the best of all 7.5 million; it’s about being the ones your customers like the most.
It’s easy to get stuck on what Acunzo calls the hamster wheel of commodity content — churning out a set number of blog posts per month, optimized for SEO and hoping it connects. But what if instead of creating for reach, we created for resonance?
It’s not about how many people see your content but how much they care. When content resonates, it inevitably leads to results.
Basically, the era of content for content’s sake is over. Moving into 2024, when the amount of commodity content will only grow (thanks, bots), it’s more important than ever to create content that is original (infused with personal insights) and valuable (worth the read).
Check out this handy chart Jay and Content Kitchen Co-Founder Melanie Deziel built called the Idea Impact Matrix. Where does your content fall? In 2024, we all need to aim for the field of favorites.
Deziel is also the author of one of my favorite books on content marketing, Prove It, where she walks marketers through the process of proving their value to potential customers. In the introduction, Deziel poses this question: “In a world full of fraud, scams and shady businesses … why should any prospective customer trust us before they’ve tried us?”
To earn the trust of customers, we must be able to show (not tell) customers why they should trust us above anyone else. One way to do this is by providing valuable, insightful content that meets their specific needs — the kind of content that proves the truth of what you’re claiming.
“If you can do that,” Deziel writes, “you’ll make it impossible for your audience to believe anything else.”
3. The Evolution of SEO
In September 2023, Google introduced its latest helpful content update, which aims to “better ensure people see original, helpful content created for people in search results.”
What does this mean for your SEO strategy? As Google continues to prioritize helpful content, marketers need to move away from generic content and lean into producing genuinely informative, valuable content targeted to your buyer personas.
Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina laid out some great steps for making the most of your SEO strategy in his talk, “The Simple But Strategic Approach to SEO.”
Focus on a single URL. Google doesn’t rank entire websites; it ranks individual web pages. Crestodina shared his approach to helping brands understand intent and how pages rank: know, do, go.
“I think it’s almost poetic how these align with stages of the funnel,” —Andy Crestodina, Orbit Media
Everything you target should align with one of these intents. That’s the essence of search. Focus on the intent of each page, keeping in mind that 80% of queries fall into the informational (know) intent bucket.
Target a phrase you can win. As you’re deciding which phrases to target for each page, use tools like Moz and Ahrefs to understand your domain rating and, therefore, determine your potential to rank for certain words. There are certain keywords you just don’t have a chance of ranking for — don’t target those.
“I’m giving you permission today to ignore search volume,” Crestodina said. “You don’t care how many people are looking for it. You’re looking for the right person.”
Create stellar content. Your goal? Design the internet’s best page for your chosen topic. Crestodina underscores the importance of aligning with Google’s helpful content mission. With this in mind, present information in digestible chunks, avoid overloading readers with long paragraphs and support your content with images.
Creativity Is King
Like most digital marketers, we’ve been thinking and writing a lot about AI over the last year. Our goal is to be thoughtful in how we use AI as a tool, but always with a commitment to human creativity. And we’re not alone. As I reflect on the last year in content marketing and look forward to the one ahead, I’m encouraged by the persistent push for genuine creativity and human connection.
CMW’s keynote speaker, actor, director and writer, Elizabeth Banks, may have summed it up best when talking about AI as a tool in the creative process.
She began by noting that AI can’t replace our humanity and the soul, which is an intrinsic value in any piece of art.
“[AI] is not going to come up with anything new and fresh,” she said. “It’s going to give us the familiar. People like a little bit of familiar, but then you’ve got to surprise people, or you’re going to die. You have to bring some sense of new, some sense of fresh.”
As content marketers, our job in 2024 will be to ensure we’re not just adding to the noise but surprising our audiences with fresh, insightful, valuable content that connects.