With 2014 fast-approaching, we've reached that time of year once again where just about every content marketer, SEO, link builder (or whatever fancy title you folks go-by these days) embark upon their annual attempt to predict what the year ahead will hold for online marketers.
I think that by now, it's pretty much a given that content marketing is the way forward in this respect but to be honest, any online marketer worth his/her salt has known this for a while.
These days, it's only the $3-an-hour spammers offering a bazillion directory submissions on low-quality online forums (along with their clients who optimistically still expect long-term first page rankings by purchasing this) who refuse to accept the fact that a sustainable, high-quality content marketing campaign is the only legitimate way to attract attention online.
I've already seen plenty of blog posts predicting what content marketing 'trends' the upcoming year will hold and some of them seem pretty spot-on, but trends aren't always a good thing.
I also think that focussing on 'trends' is a quite frankly a waste of time. Instead of trying to predict what 'trends' we'll inevitably see in 2014, we should be focussing on what 2014 should really mean for content marketing and how things should evolve.
2014: It's Time To Grow Up
In my opinion, there's still only a small minority of online marketers who really understand what content marketing actually means, which is rather odd given the fact that the first sentence on this Wikipedia page sums it up perfectly.
Content marketing is any marketing format that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers.
Most 'content marketers' have mastered the first part (creating, publishing and sharing content/media) but still, many struggle with that last part; acquiring customers.
The primary reason for any content marketing campaign is to acquire customers; that's it. This is unfortunately where a lot of people get confused sidetracked.
In 2012/2013, SEO's have essentially had to make the transition from SEO's to content marketers and I think that this is part of the problem. Marketers and clients alike tend to judge the success of content marketing campaigns based on the number of links or social shares a piece of content attracts. These are poor and quite frankly misguided metrics for most campaigns.
While an influx of inbound links may very well be a by-product of a 'successful' content marketing campaign, it's certainly not the most logical way to define success.
Instead, success should be judged on one thing only; customer/lead acquisition as a direct result of the content marketing campaign and thus, an increase in revenue for the business.
It's important to understand that while high-quality content may acquire links from big names such as Forbes, Mashable etc, its content marketing strategy created for people, not links, which will create sales.
I believe it's time to grow up and start measuring the success of content marketing campaigns on more than just links and social shares alone. Sure, factor them into your equation as they certainly shouldn't be completely neglected (after all, your content must be great to acquire high profile links these days), but also think about the type of person your content will attract to your site and whether or not they offer any real value to your business.
Stop Creating Infographics (For The Love Of God!)
I have absolutely nothing against infographics (a little contradictory considering the subheading, I know). I personally do not believe the hype that infographic links will be 'devalued' by Google and I certainly don't believe that people will stop creating infographics any time soon (and nor do I believe that they should).
I've seen some incredible infographics this year and I'm sure I'll continue to see great infographics in 2014 and beyond.
Here's the thing though, I've also seen some pretty terrible ones and to be quite honest, it needs to stop.
I'm sick of seeing people/companies creating infographics purely for the sake of it. I'm talking about the so-called 'content marketers' creating them on a $50 budget with the sole aim of submitting them to a couple of hundred low-quality infographic directories as a 'link-building exercise'.
I'm also sick of seeing infographics that really shouldn't be infographics at all. I'm sure you know the ones I'm talking about; the ones where someone has essentially just packed a full blog post into a PNG with a few pieces of clip-art placed "strategically" around it.
Infographics are supposed to give a visual representation of information, knowledge or a concept. If an infographic isn't doing this, there's no reason for that information to be presented in that format.
Instead of opting for an infographic format because it's 'shareable' or 'embeddable content', we need to start letting the content define the format. We need to accept that in some cases, a blog post, video PDF etc might offer a better way to present that information.
'Relevancy' To Detach Itself From 'Seo'
For years, 'relevancy' has been a word used by SEO's/link builders to describe whether or not an inbound link or content placement on a particular site is 'relevant'.
Typically, when prospecting for content outreach, content marketers will analyse the type of content and audience a site has to determine whether or not they might be interested in featuring a particular piece of content (be it an infographic, video or whatever).
The problem is that for a lot of content marketers, this process once again gets overshadowed (or perhaps overexcited) by the possibility of a link and often, the audience/demographic of a particular site will get somewhat neglected during the decision making process.
For example, let's assume that you were prospecting for an infographic entitled '10 Ways To Build Muscle Fast'. You spent a lot of time creating this infographic on behalf of a site selling protein shakes/supplements.
During your outreach, you decide that you'd like to get your infographic featured on high-quality health/fitness/bodybuilding websites (a perfectly reasonable idea). You come across a lot of sites within these niches including FitBottomedGirls.com.
It looks like a good site. It's health/fitness related, DA63, PR2, has an engaged audience, is regularly updated etc. In terms of a link in Google's eyes, it might be alright (not fantastic, but alright).
The thing is, it's likely that the target demographic of that site is predominantly females. Although some females might require protein shakes/supplements, it's unlikely that getting your infographic featured on the site will bring in a lot of custom (which remember, is your ultimate goal) as clearly, your businesses primarily target market will be males.
While it might be worth it as a 'quick win' from an SEO point-of-view (i.e. it could boost your rankings very slightly which may lead to increased custom indirectly), it certainly isn't worth spending a lot of time and effort pursuing a placement on such a site.
'Relevancy' needs to be viewed not in a link-building/SEO way, but in respect to the target market of your overall business.
You also need to be producing content that is relevant in this respect too. For example, for our men's protein supplements site, a piece of content entitled 'How to get a six pack' will likely be more relevant to your target demographic than a piece of content entitled 'How to lose weight', despite both pieces of content technically being in the health/fitness niche.
I believe that in 2014, we need to finally move away from the SEO/link building state-of-mind that many of us are still in. Content needs to be created and marketed around a businesses core product(s) and demographic rather than what we believe Google might want to see.
What's more, no matter what industry you're in, you'll have competitors who are also investing in content marketing. You need to be better than them so don't bother creating good content, make sure everything is great. If you can create truly extraordinary content, customers will flock to you and you'll soon blow the competition out of the water.