What are the top content marketing lessons we’ve learned in 2020 that are going to get us through 2021?
Well, we’ve been dealing with content marketing for over a decade now, and the industry is evolving so quickly that sometimes SEO is king, sometimes it’s, social media, or PPC, or something else. Things are evolving really fast and different channels work at certain times.
But in a nutshell, producing high-quality content is still the most important thing that matters to three of my companies. This is the reason why we’re spending so much time working with customers and working on ourselves, and on improving different content strategies as we speak.
As a result, here are the most important content marketing lessons that we have identified for the year 2021.
1. Persistence Is Key
I’m pretty sure you’re not surprised whatsoever, but really, persistence is the most important thing in content marketing.
44% of marketers consider content production as the biggest challenge. We’ve had several instances of just abandoning the blog for a few months or just taking a pause on our efforts on producing blog content. But afterward, it’s hard to get out of the rabbit hole, which is why making sure that your business is planning for your content marketing efforts, in the long run, is extremely important.
In his book, “Top of Mind”, John Hall puts emphasis on consistency or always being around. Just make sure that whatever your plan is for producing, posting, and sharing content, you know that you can follow through it 95 percent of the time.
Try to stick to a schedule that you can repeat. Don’t overextend yourself. Don’t do something that you know you can’t follow through in a continuous period of time, even if it’s once a week, or even if it’s once every two weeks.
2. Content Upgrades Are Critical
When it comes to SEO, decaying content can happen. Decaying content is the type of content that is gradually losing its relevance over a period of time.
If your content hasn’t been updated, it can lose its value because it’s no longer as helpful and relevant as it was once before. Google knows that. Other networks know that as well. This explains why it’s important to see to it that you are always preparing and generating content that is open to upgrades.
Over the past couple of years, I have been producing a lot of listicle content even though I’m more into brainstorming and essays, among others. It’s easier to work with listicles because you can quickly pinpoint specific pieces of advice that you would be using.
What do I have in mind here? Well, whenever you build a piece of listicle content, it normally looks like the following:
- 25 Tools That…
- 7 Pieces of…
- 13 Ways to…
- 20 Books That…
Listicles are often the type of content that you can expand easily.
I have multiple listicles that I keep upgrading every now and then. I find a way to upgrade these content pieces not as often as most do, but it’s so important that I upgrade. It tells Google that I still care about this piece of content, that it’s something that I’m going to work on and evolve, and I’m going to refresh it and make it even more so helpful to my target audience.
If you also use tools like the ClickFlow by Eric Siu, you can keep track of content that is decaying over time, meaning that you’re no longer receiving traffic for it, or it’s ranking is falling down.
These tools can help you capture decaying content and upgrade it properly so that you don’t lose any motion and traction.
3. Content Pillars Make a Difference
When you’re starting a blog, you have a lot of new content to write, right? You have zero blog posts. Even if you create a top 50, you’re going to break them down into three or four, or five topics.
You can work on this type of content but at some point, as you keep working, you could be acquiring another blog that you’re merging with your own website and reach 200 pieces, 300, or 500,000 pieces or more. With news websites that we have worked with, we did have over 100,000 pieces up to 250,000 pieces. It’s really important to segment them and to categorize them in a way that makes sense, which is how content pillars work.
The concept of content pillars revolves around picking a topic and then creating multiple pieces around this topic. You can imagine that as a category on a news website. But unlike news websites, stories have to be structured in a sense that’s complementary to each other.
There are two or three different ways to structure them. You may be producing long-form content as your content pillar post, like “An Introduction to Development” for example. “An Introduction to Development” is going to just list down the top 25 steps of what are the most essential steps to start in development.
This could include learning the foundations of Computer Science, then finding the right bootcamps or university to study. Next, this could also include picking a collection of books and courses, having the full list with a few sentences just to have the bigger picture, but then creating a complementary list of articles or videos and other materials that fill in the blanks for each of those topics.
So when Google sees something like this, they see a humongous guide and then they see a bunch of different pieces of content around each of those specific topics and they say, “OK, these specific pieces are connected because each of the substories has a link to the bigger picture, to the bigger story, or guide. This is how content pillars work.
You can structure it with cornerstone pages or category pages. You can also structure it in a way that has top picks and best practices. You can just have like 10 stories linking to one another without having a pillar piece. There are also different ways to organize that and it depends on the type of blog, but this is something that really makes a difference.
Organize content to tell Google and your readers that these pieces are related, or that you care about this topic that’s why you have written a bunch of pieces about this topic.
4. Consider the Entire Funnel
We worked with multiple customers this year in particular that haven’t really considered the entire content funnel. We also have the top-of-funnel businesses that work with content marketing or SEO agencies that are not really that experienced ones.
They want to grow the traffic of a blog, so they produce very generic top-of-funnel content that has zero sense whatsoever when it comes to the context of the business. It has zero value towards the target audience, but at the same time, it generates topics.
Let’s say, you have a publishing business for printing books and you just wrote a blog post of “100 Ways Trump Has Dominated Over the Past Four Years”. This is a viral piece. It’s going to get a lot of traction. Almost everyone is interested in this in general. It doesn’t exclude certain audiences or certain industries. It’s very generic, very broad, and can potentially go viral. But at the same time, it has nothing to do with the actual business itself.
Those top stories are generic, and although they can become viral and trendy, they don’t really convert. Content such as that has no value. That’s at one end of the story. On the other hand, we do have businesses that really don’t care that much about marketing and they only do the bottom of the funnel.
There are stories that directly convert customers, normally leading to a sales purchase. Unless you’re a B2C business on e-commerce or SaaS subscription business, the sales process is longer. It takes a few more steps to actually process and to make it successful. And as a result, you can’t just blast people with a landing page that says, “Hey, I’m here, buy my expensive services” or “Buy my expensive air conditioners” or anything like that. Having only the bottom-of-the-funnel articles is not the key. You have to think of the entire funnel.
How do you think of your entire funnel? Your answers to the following questions should help determine what type of content matters the most and converts well.
- Where are your top customers supposed to be coming from?
- What would your customers need?
- How do you get them closer to the right process of the buying journey?
- How do you educate them, nurture them, and warm them up?
- How do you build trust with them?
So, just really caring about the entire funnel is extremely important.
5. Create Evergreen Content With a 2020 Twist
Evergreen content is highly valuable. Building a database of organic and link-worthy content that grows is reliant on some evergreen content. I’m trying to build a blog with 90 percent evergreen content. Sometimes, news websites build three percent evergreen content depending on the niche, but the more, the better.
The 2020 twist refers to the best practices that are no longer applicable now in times of COVID-19 or in times of crisis, and they have adjusted in some way. Your target audience no longer faces these specific problems and now, they’re facing different problems in a different way.
What you need to do is create new evergreen content or update your own content with the 2020 twist by understanding the semantics of the economic recession, understanding the semantics of the lockdown, of how some businesses shift and how they evolve.
It’s still going to be evergreen content, but it’s going to be more timely now. This type of content is going to face less competition, is going to grow faster, and maybe get viral through different channels. Make sure you still focus on evergreen content. But instead of planning for the next three years of content titles, you should try to be cognizant and recognize the needs of your customers and how their ecosystem is adapting, shifting, and evolving.
6. Repurpose and Compile Content
What I really love doing is just recording a bunch of videos, sharing with my team, and getting transcripts extracted.
Videos can be a rich source of content. I have shared some other ways you can repurpose content from a video:
- Publish a video on YouTube or LinkedIn.
- Transcribe these videos and turn them into blog posts.
- Extract the audio for a new podcast.
- Examine the content for the best quotes you can post on social media
- Create a Slideshare presentation from the best nuggets.
- Schedule a webinar expanding on the content
- Compile videos as a paid video training resource
But once your business keeps growing, you need to understand that repurposing content is not a one-off job. You will have the need to also recycle and reuse content. As your business is growing, your content database is also growing. So, you need to resurface some of your old pieces and reuse them as well. You can make great compilations out of the small pieces of content such as the following:
- Top videos of the year
- Highlight stories over the past five years
- Most read stories over the past three years
Sometimes, you have old content that you’ve already repurposed or already reposted. That doesn’t mean that you can’t reuse it one more time in a year. For example, I do have some marketing videos and I’ve kind of bundled them into a marketing category. But over time, it turns out that this marketing category also includes a bunch of videos that are on the recruitment, such as the content on how to hire a marketing team, how to hire assistants, or whether you should hire a marketing agency or build one. I’ve also recorded different videos on recruitment and I also have different views on recruiting talent.
So as your content database grows, you can actually repurpose, reuse, and create different compilations of your existing content for different audiences. This also helps enrich your library for different audiences that you’re targeting or for different business challenges that your target audience is facing. Stop abandoning your old top content and check how you can bundle it in different ways for your readers.
7. Content Formats Evolve All the Time
I’ve always been a fan of blogging and writing is really my passion. It’s the thing that I love the most. I have been writing long enough to recognize that things have changed immensely over the past years.
The Internet was crappy back in the day. I still remember buying up dial-up cards to connect with 32.6 or 56 kbps model modem to connect to the Internet, and households using the same phone line making it impossible. It was pretty insane, pretty hard.
We had to be really creative and it was impossible to actually download media over the Internet. It was taking me about 25 minutes to just download a song. Thankfully, these days are now over in most countries and it’s now a lot easier with 4G and with 5G in certain locations.
It has also become a lot easier to start producing content and videos or stream online. A lot of people are taking advantage of all that. Most of them prefer watching videos because it’s faster. Videos are more interactive, and they can also see the body language.
We also have smart devices like Google Home, Alexa, Siri, or Bixby for Samsung that are letting us search online and get access to other resources. We also have podcasts and radio shows that cater to different formats right now. We need to recognize that as best as possible.
Through repurposing content, we can create content for different audiences and satisfy everyone’s needs regardless of what type of content—especially, the needs of our target audience. Creating different types of content is a must in order to match the audience.
I have produced videos for YouTube and LinkedIn but the organic reach was really tough and impossible to match. On LinkedIn, I have discovered that Slides is the format that works really well. We also have “Series”, now called “Newsletters”, although this one is not yet available as a feature to everyone. And just a year ago, they also enabled LinkedIn live and live recordings. That’s also a format that works for a lot more people. LinkedIn also enabled “Stories”. And with LinkedIn Stories in the game, video is again starting to gain some traction.
Understanding that content formats matter is important. You need to be creative. You need to stay ahead of the game, experiment, and use them more. Another reason it’s so important is sometimes, some networks may be successful one way or another and then they may hit a different blocker that prevents you from keeping in touch with your audience. TikTok is a great example.
It exploded in no time until some countries imposed a ban on TikTok. And now, it’s hard to figure out whether it’s going to be the most radical platform in the world or it’s going to close in the next year or two (at least in most countries out there).
8. Own Your Stack
Owning your content stack is another critical aspect of being a successful content marketer. I’ve been blogging for the past 15 years across three or four different blogs, but at least for the past two, I merged them into my current blog, mariopeshev.com. For stories that I’ve posted externally, I have a Press page that contains my guest posts. I repost those stories on a weekly basis through my weekly newsletter that has over a thousand subscribers.
I’m taking care of keeping track of and aggregating my content, making sure they remain accessible. It’s still something that we can reuse.
I’ve also recycled some of these contents in different ways, including releasing an actual book, the “126 Steps to Becoming A Successful Entrepreneur”, which is still generated from my own content. I own my stack in the sense that my content is under copyright.
I also have a database, as well as backups. Of course, I also use social networks. I give quotes for the different roundup posts and submit guest posts for other websites. But in the grand scheme of things, what I care about is only my content because most networks and social channels come and go. The content that you have been producing for over a decade is what really matters.
You also have to make sure that you have an external hard drive for your YouTube and TikTok videos just in case any of these platforms get banned. Losing access to any of your content can be very devastating.
9. Email Is Still King
Many people have thought that email will die down soon. That’s basically how Slack became successful—the system that “combats” email.
But again, email is still among the top three most converging channels because everyone has email. It’s ubiquitous. You have it in your phone. It doesn’t take a lot of traffic. It doesn’t take a lot of bandwidth. It’s an open standard. Everyone’s been using it for centuries. It’s like your own personal identity.
When it comes to attention, or keeping track of and keeping in touch with your followers and with your subscribers, email is still the platform that I find the most valuable. Although I’ve been late to the email game because I didn’t pay that much attention to it. It was only a little over a year ago when I started. In a year or so, I have gained over a thousand subscribers. In no time, I saw once again how important email is if you’re building a brand.
I was very active on Twitter seven or eight years ago, so that’s how I gained a big following. Now, I barely see new people joining Twitter. So what do I do with those 16,000+ subscribers?
Even when lots of my peers left Twitter, I still keep in touch with some of them. But, two-thirds of them are no longer using the platform. Unless they follow me on another network, it’s still going to be really hard to connect with those people. That is why I try to make sure that everyone has an email. It’s not a channel that’s going to die anytime soon. Make sure that you build your email list to keep in touch with your network and share content with them regularly.
10. Deliver 10x Content
When I say 10x, you may be thinking of Grant Cardone, and just having 10x everything, which is completely correct, of course. But, some people only deliver 10x content. One example is Brian Dean. His ultimate guide, the Skyscraper Technique, emphasizes the need to create a type of content that is always ahead of the game, on top of everything. That’s totally fine and even admirable. However, some people can’t afford it, especially if you have to produce content at scale and you need to retain your brand.
But, at least, deliver some 10x content. You can’t just deliver mediocre content. You can’t just deliver the latest news. You also need some top pieces that people can recognize and appreciate as resources. Producing 10x content can help in:
- Email gathering
- Sales prospecting
- Brand awareness
- Driving traffic
- Generating leads
Spend some time on creating top pieces that most of your readers care about. Even if it’s going to be just one 10x content every three months or so, it’s still four top pieces a year, which is really adding up over time.
These are my top ten content marketing lessons for 2021. I don’t believe any of them are going to change. Some of them were covered in my previous predictions for content marketing, particularly the one on voice search.
Make sure you follow through. Be consistent with your content efforts and stay relevant in your niche as an authority.