Content Marketing

How Has (and Hasn’t) Content Marketing Changed Over the Past 10 Years?

Content Marketing from Smart Content

I started writing website content more than 10 years ago. In the beginning, I was using content marketing to promote my solo law practice. My target audience was small business owners, and pushing out content—both on my firm’s website and on other platforms—gave me a way to showcase my knowledge, insights, and capabilities to prospective clients.

It worked. I got enough clients to pay the bills, and I was as busy as I wanted to be. But, I still struggled with two nagging issues.

First, I always had a sense of impending doom. Since I worked with small business owners, my services were a luxury that my clients couldn’t always (or often) afford. If they had to choose between registering a trademark and making payroll, there really wasn’t a choice to make. So, while I was busy, there was always a sense that my luck might run out tomorrow.

Second, I quickly realized that I liked writing more than I liked lawyering. I enjoyed the creative aspect of writing, and I found that I could lose myself in thought while writing much more easily than I could while reading a trademark clearance report or negotiating another lawyer’s poorly written contract.

When Life Hands You a Glass of Lemonade, You Take It

But, things happen. Just as I was becoming disenchanted with my career as a lawyer, I got an unexpected phone call. A recruiter was looking to fill an Assistant General Counsel role at a publicly traded company whose offices were near my home, and she had come across my profile on LinkedIn. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew I was negotiating multi-million-dollar contracts with some of the biggest companies in the world.

It still wasn’t enough. If you had asked me seven years earlier, I would have said that this was the dream. But, living it—going to work before the sun came up, going home after the sun went down, and only going outside to walk to or from my car—was something else entirely. I didn’t like it, and I couldn’t imagine doing it for another 30-plus years.

So, I left. I went back to writing, but this time I was all in. My last day at the office was New Year’s Eve of 2015, and I haven’t spent a day in an office building since.

Let’s get back to the subject. The point of this history lesson is to emphasize that things change over time—and they often do so in unexpected ways. At the same time, some things that you expect to change end up staying just about the same.

How Has Content Marketing Changed?

I don’t remember exactly how long it took, but when I started writing articles to promote my solo law firm in 2010, I remember that I got to the top of Google’s search rankings pretty quickly. And I wasn’t writing all that much. My website wasn’t that big, and I recall trying to publish two 500-word articles per week. I also wrote as a columnist for a couple of small business websites, and they also wanted 500-word articles.

“Content is king” was a popular saying back then (at least in certain circles), but a content marketing strategy that worked back then wouldn’t stand a chance of being competitive today. There simply wasn’t as much content online, and this meant that you didn’t need all that much to stand out from the crowd. This was true when I started, and it was true when I closed my firm in 2012.

Now, more than 10 years later, things are very different.

Today, ranking at the top of Google’s search results is much more competitive. It is still achievable—our content marketing agency does it regularly—but it takes more than it did a decade ago. You need a sound organic search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, and you need to monitor and adjust your strategy regularly to seize opportunities and respond to competitors’ efforts to target new keywords and move up the rankings.

Why is this the case? Simply put, there is a lot more content out there. With more businesses competing for rankings—and with another decade’s worth of content out there in the ether—targeting new keywords (or building a competitive website from scratch) in highly competitive industries requires a comprehensive and coordinated approach.

But, while some things have changed in the world of content marketing, others have stayed the same. For one, while keyword strategies have been forced to become more hyper-focused due to the volume of competition, how you use keywords remains more or less the same. If you went back another 10 years—or maybe even another five—this wouldn’t be the case. But, from 10 years ago to today, the general principles have remained more or less the same. Use your keywords enough (but not too much), be strategic about where you place them, and incorporate related terms to help Google understand the overall focus of your page or article.

In some ways, content marketing is still surprisingly simple given the advancements we’ve seen in other areas of technology over the past decade. Use the right keywords effectively on your website, and you’ll rank. It may take time, and it may take a decent amount of content, but you’ll get there if you’re committed.

Secondly, the quality of the content you produce still matters. It’s no secret that the overall quality of written communication has been on a steady decline. This is thanks in no small part to the advent of texting and direct messaging, which have now begun to affect how many people write professional emails and other business communications. But, Google now penalizes content that it characterizes as spammy. So, somewhat paradoxically, search engine marketing may actually play a role in saving the art of content writing.

Where Do Today’s Content Marketing Opportunities Lie?

Where does this leave us? Where do today’s content marketing opportunities lie?

When it comes to website content writing, there are a handful of areas where businesses can leverage quality and SEO-focused content to generate traffic. Here are some of the main opportunities our agency currently targets for clients:

1. Targeting Specific Topics (Rather Than Broad Keywords)

In some industries, broad keywords still work—although a lot of work may be required. For example, we were able to maintain a top ranking for “work injury lawyer” in the highly competitive workers’ compensation law field despite heavy competition from law firms, lead generation sites, and a variety of other businesses.

But, in many cases, it will make sense to target specific topics instead. Data and experience show that targeting specific topics—such as the questions that show up in the “People Also Ask” section of Google’s search results—can help businesses rank relatively quickly compared to building a body of content (both onsite and offsite) to support broad organic keywords. Data and experience also show that these types of content marketing efforts tend to convert relatively well since they focus on potential clients and customers’ discrete wants and needs.

2. Targeting Niche Industries (or Niches Within an Industry)

If targeting a broad industry keyword proves to be too much of a struggle, then narrowing the business’s content marketing efforts to a niche industry (or a niche within an industry) will likely prove more effective. This could involve geographic targeting (i.e., “Miami estate planner” instead of “estate planner”) or audience segmentation (i.e., “estate planner for young families”). While this may mean limiting the size of your audience, (i) this can be overcome with additional keywords and content; and, (ii) if it means getting a piece of the pie rather than nothing, it will be worth it.

3. Targeting Niche Markets

A third option is to target niche markets. We see this a lot with foreign companies targeting U.S. customers and clients. Targeting the U.S. market can open up a host of opportunities for foreign businesses, from law firms and other professional service firms that want to work with U.S. companies that need services in their home countries to retail businesses that want to tap the lucrative U.S. market.

4. Translating Content for Non-English-Speaking Clients and Customers

Another area with a lot of opportunity for businesses in the U.S. and abroad is translating their content for non-English-speaking clients and customers. For example, reports that the United States has the world’s second-largest population of Spanish-speaking residents. Spanish-language content marketing is nowhere near as competitive as English-language content marketing in the U.S., so translating professionally written content into Spanish (along with other languages) can generate significant return on investment.

5. Writing Articles for Third-Party Outlets

Finally, another content marketing strategy that has proven to be effective throughout the past 10 years is writing articles for third-party outlets. Doing so serves two different purposes. First, links from reputable third-party outlets can improve a website’s authority score under Google’s algorithm, and this can provide a significant boost in rankings. Second, having articles professionally ghostwritten under your name as a business owner, executive, or service provider can enhance your own reputation, and this can lead to more relationships—and more clicks and conversions—as well.

To sum things up, how has content marketing changed over the past 10 years? While it has certainly become more competitive, the core principles remain the same: High-quality content and an effective organic SEO strategy are key. With the right approach—and the right content—businesses can improve their search engine rankings while connecting with their prospective clients or customers.

Inquire About Our Content Marketing Services for Businesses

Smart Content provides professional content writing and organic SEO services for businesses and institutions throughout the United States and worldwide. If you are interested in our services, please contact us to start a conversation today.