I’m not really one for bold declarations, but here we go…In 2017 content marketing will determine the level of success for every digital marketing campaign. Ok, I said it. Let’s look at why…

Google’s emphasis on user intent over keywords will increase exposure of user-friendly sites in organic search and change customer expectations (not to mention overall SEO strategies). All of which places a heavier emphasis on content to stand out, be noticed and drive conversions.

According to both Content Marketing Institute 2017 reports, only 6% of B2B and B2C marketers scale and measure their content across their organization. So for some, these changes will feel like a radical shift. For others, it may only require some minor adjustments or new ways of approaching content.

Either way, brands and businesses that adapt to the importance of content’s impact will enjoy bigger results. In 2017, content marketing success will rely on fully and enthusiastically embracing the following seven content strategies.

Employ Keywords Based on Voice Search

As voice search grows, content creators will need to account for a new type of keyword. Searchengineland finds a 61% growth year-over-year for voice search. And Statista reports 28% of users worldwide find voice search more accurate than keyboard searches. This isn’t a fad; this trend will continue to grow.

Frankly, voice search will completely transform online content. It simply doesn’t use the same kind of keywords or phrases. Instead, it features longer keywords, phrases and questions, just as you’d hear in normal, everyday conversation. A Moz survey found voice search peaks (today) at 3 words.

But, even that number may change. As virtual assistant use grows with ever-improving algorithms and AI, more and more people will converse with their mobile devices. This will make speech patterns, regional phrases and questions much more common. Highly specific details will also play a much bigger role as users engage their virtual assistants through voice search to find exactly what they want, when they’re ready to act.

To account for this change, content marketers will need to know their audience more intimately, by region and demographic. Really this will be the minimum. Those marketers who know the psychographic make-up of their audiences will have the advantage. They will speak more directly and more specifically to their audiences and create bigger results.

Test! Test! Test!

Successful content marketers will apply data to deliver trendy, relevant content users want. This approach will use data in two ways. The first will inform content in terms of keywords and conversion (what works). The second, attribution. To fully understand the marketing/sales funnel, data will need to attribute response to content beyond CTR and “last click.” Brands and businesses can leverage tools like Google Analytics or Analytics 360, or setup A/B testing to measure success.

For the best content in 2017, apply a simple strategy of test-test-test. Then, collect data, make changes, and test some more. Don’t assume you know your audience – trust the results of the tests!

Tell More Stories

Human beings don’t always remember details, but they always remember the essence of a story. And no matter how much technology you employ, your customers are human beings.

In 2017, brands need to do more storytelling. The stories that will be the most memorable will tell how the product or service improves the life of the customer. Or, the story will make the benefits real and memorable.

Now, before you go off to hire an aspiring “Faulkner,” here are a few factors to consider. Stories must communicate clearly, directly and simply. Part of this comes from the continued growth of mobile, but a lot depends on keeping attention with so many distractions. Let’s be honest, no one wants to spend time trying to understand a brand’s messaging.

Finally, a story must appeal to the target audience. So if you’re audience has a lot of time and loves long-form content, go for involved stories. If not, keep it short, simple and clear.

Plan for Personalized Content

To maximize content success, stories and messages need to connect with users on a more personal level. This will require audience segmentation, more research into each audience and more content. Like it or not, brands and businesses that embrace personalization will capture the attention of more customers for a far greater engagement and conversion than those that don’t.

Embrace Marketing Technology

In August 2016, the Content Marketing Institute posted a PDF of the marketing technology landscape. This very busy document contains the many varied types of technologies available to marketers. It breaks the categories into Advertising & Promotion, Content & Experience, Social & Relationship, Commerce & Sales, Data and Management. Each category has subheads like email marketing, interactive content and collaboration. While no marketer would ever use more than a few of these, this robust document shows the tools available to manage, distribute, collect data and analyze it.

The bottom-line here is simple: competitive brands will embrace the appropriate technology to increase efficiency and distribution to deliver the highest quality UX and track results.

Make ROI Justification a Priority

Nearly three-quarters of companies track ROI but lack clears measures distributing ROI evenly between Top, Middle, and Bottom of the Funnel. What does this mean? It means a lot of content gets produced with limited understanding to its real effectiveness. Isn’t that crazy?

In the past, content for keywords – call it “content for the sake of content” or “keyword stuffing” – had a positive impact on search engine results. Those days are gone. Google’s Rank Brain algorithm uses machine learning for analysis with a specific focus on content quality and links.

And let’s face it, UX rules. This goes for every content type from blogs, from social to email. Every piece must have a purpose and the only way to understand if the content succeeds is through ROI. Proper attribution reporting delivers the best ROI data as it reports on the effectiveness of every piece of content through the funnel and prevents seemingly unimportant, but in reality quite vital, content from being mislabeled as underperforming.

In 2017, regardless of the tools, tracking content success through ROI is a must. It ensures production efforts get directed to the most valuable areas to meet company, department and campaign goals.

Document – and in detail – a Content Marketing Strategy

Finally, a written out content marketing plan must be assembled strategically. This includes scheduling production and distribution of the content. The strategy here involves ensuring consistent messaging across all brand content. This reinforces the brand story and builds brand trust with the customer.

We recommend our clients use a content calendar which can be a document as simple as a spreadsheet. At a minimum, columns for this content matrix include content type, name, date of distribution and the media channel. For greater detail, use a lead nurturing dashboard that tracks response as well.
2017 promises to be year full of opportunity. If you’d like more information on document content marketing strategy, or any of the other six strategies, reach out and start a conversation!

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Also published on Medium.