The motivation behind content used to be a little like a television in a waiting room: not what you came for, but rather something to pass the time. The evolution of search engines flipped that script entirely, creating a scenario where that waiting room was unlikely to even be found without that "television" turned on to the right station, at the right time, and at the right volume. Content marketing - the practice of using content as both a vehicle and platform for your brand message - was born. Today, as digital marketing picks up momentum through 2017, quality content is more important than ever.
It's Not You, It's Them
Google and its lesser search engine brethren have realized, through a long series of updates and research and tweaks over the years, that the one sure bet on the web is making the searcher happy. Make the searcher happy, and they'll return. When they return, they'll contribute more data to the algorithm. Better algorithms mean better ad response, which eventually translates to - you guessed it - more money for the search engines. With that in mind, the companies that have the best luck with search engine placement and engagement are are the ones that use a reader-first content planning structure - not necessarily their business goals. If you're simply churning out content for the sake of content and not studying and evolving the types of media and content that your readers like, you're really playing to an audience of one: yourself. Search engines notice companies that fail to cater to their content-digesters, and SERP rank slips accordingly. In fact, content marketing guru Larry Kim goes as far to say that if you're defining quality content through your own eyes, you're probably doing it wrong.
Content Is Not a Single Channel
If your content strategy - or worse, your lack thereof - falls under a single umbrella, you'll be in serious trouble as 2017 rolls along. While you don't need a massive content creation force to diversify your efforts, you will need content that's nuanced and interesting enough to survive being stretched and compressed into mediums like video, Instagram or Twitter. As BuiltVisible's Liam Fisher recently noted in a Smart Insights interview, consumers are confronted with hundreds or even thousands of ad messages every day. If you want your message to be the one that makes it through that "ad blind" perimeter, you're going to have to get creative, and that means tapping into multiple delivery solutions for content. If your content is light on substance or weak on message, branching out into new territory like video is going to seem less like innovation and more like desperation to a jaded consumer.
A Bigger Stage Than You Realize
It's called the internet for a reason: everything you put out there is interconnected to a consumer's need in some way. In other words, you're not trying to forge the path between their problem and your solution, you're trying to make an existing path easier to find and faster to navigate. If you're focusing on pushing content at your reader instead of drawing them in, you risk alienating them and nudging them right into the waiting hands of your competition. Never rule out coming in "at an angle" and capitalizing on more passive ways to reach customers, such as optimizing your content for customer-magnets like the coveted Google answer box placement.
The secret to quality content is a strong, unwavering focus on listening to the customer and giving them exactly what they want as often as possible. While higher data and techniques are definitely a part of that extended marketing process, if you aren't starting with your customer in mind in 2017, your content is destined for obscurity. Listen, learn, evolve and innovate, and your content strategy will seem more like an achievable jog than an uphill marathon.