Can Your Brand Win the Content Marketing Arms Race?

I’m a child of the 80’s.

Beyond the normal 80’s zeitgeist that most Gen Xer’s remember (MTV, bad fashion, hair bands, VHS v. Beta, the blazing fast 10 MHz Intel 8088 chip, the Apple II, etc.), I grew up believing that there was a reasonable chance of going to go to war with Russia. My version of this war just happened to look a lot like Patrick Swayze’s movie Red Dawn.

I imagined a Russian invasion where kids like me that grew up in the country would have greatness thrust upon them to save the day. The backdrop of all this was the very real arms race that was happening at the time between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. You may think this is all very interesting, but what does it have to with content marketing?

My point is this. It seems that many marketers approach content marketing with same logic that created the arms race that I remember from the 80’s. These marketers believe that “winning” at content marketing is about having more mega-tonnage of content than your competitor. So the question is: Can you actually win a content marketing arms race?

Some people, such as Mark Schaefer (Schaefer Marketing), believe that content marketing is going to essentially collapse under its own weight. His recent blog post on the subject suggests that our ability to consume content will soon be eclipsed by content production as deep pocketed brands embark in content proliferation on a massive scale.

Schaefer postulates this as a sort of mutually assured destruction for content marketing. The best evidence that I can provide that we are indeed in an arms race is research from the Content Marketing Institute. According to the Institute’s most recent survey, 64% of B2B content marketers say they are challenged with producing enough content. There is clearly a feeling among marketers that we’re in a race to produce more and more content.

Prior to semantic search, (aka Google Hummingbird, August 2013), churning out massive amounts of content did work quite well, and it could help in your quest for total SERP domination. Google focused on keywords and links as the barometers of subject authority. One strategy for success was to use lots of keyword-stuffed content to “trick” Google into believing your website had subject authority worthy of a high rank in the SERP.

Thankfully for web users, Google ushered in a detente of sorts with a series of updates focused on quality, most recently with semantic search. Web users will ultimately win because they’re going to be increasingly rewarded with quality content. We won’t be subjected to as much spammy content to sift through in the SERP to find the content that truly meets our needs.

David Amerland illustrates this change nicely in the following excerpt from his book, Google Semantic Search:

Creating an entire page of content that convincingly answers the question of “How do you maintain quality in the menu of a restaurant chain?” for instance can produce great results in a search for the query: “What’s the best restaurant in town?” despite the fact that the words “best”, “restaurant” and “town” are never mentioned in the web page itself€¦

In the case above, it’s about understanding the intent of the searcher and serving that intent that’s important. I can only guess at the math involved in programmatically discerning the human intent of our search queries, but the advent of this logic has changed the rules.

So what does it all mean for the serious content marketer? Today, you have to consider the following in your content strategy:

  • Your content must provide real value to the consumer of that content.
  • Your content has to be frequently updated to be viewed as relevant.
  • The source of the content matters more than ever. Both who developed the content (authorship) and where it lives (publisher) can be almost as important as the content itself.
  • Develop your content pages adhering to structured data best practices ( to improve how your content is displayed in the SERP.

So does this all mean that the arms race is over? Probably not, but it is definitely a new arms race.

The good news is that if we’re all striving to create the most useful and highest quality content that we can for the reader, not for Google, it’s a race where brands and consumers both win.

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