What’s Truly Working in Content Marketing in 2019 (Part 1 of 4)

Top 4 Trends From Verblio’s Front-Row Seats [Part 1 of 4-Part Series]

Front-row seats rock. You are in the action, even when you’re not on the court. The ball shoots directly at you out of a cannon, and sometimes giant sweaty men throw you their wristbands.

Nothing shows an athlete’s appreciation like the gift of a sweaty wristband.

Yes, front-row seats rock. But how many times in your life do you actually get to sit there?!? They’re expensive, hard to access, and you really have to choose the right outfit if you’re going to be on camera too. So much pressure.

We at Verblio are privileged to occupy a front-row seat in the full-contact, wild and crazy content marketing Olympics every single day.

We dig it. A lot.

What does that wild and crazy content marketing Olympics game look like? The jumbotron we’re gripped by includes 400+ of the top digital marketing agencies showing off their best content marketing moves in an SEO Thunderdome every day.

SEO trends are as dynamic as ever and our agencies are always working on their own version of the next Run/Pass Option offense that will dominate the NFL and give their clients the extra spice they need. Some players work and refine tried-and-true SEO strategies, like frequent blogging, to rank their clients at the top of search pages. And some are developing the next new wave of industry-changing strategies, like refreshing and relaunching successful posts 4x per year, or establishing Google siren-calling pages like pillar pages.

How boring would it be if the same strategies simply worked every single year in the exact same ways? We actively build the Verblio platform to support agencies with every new wave of content creation trends. And like a good surfer, we shoot that wave as early as possible as well to guide our customers to peaceful, consistent content waters without having to weather too many volatile trend-storms.

So without further ado, I begin my multi-part series on four of the top consensus trends we’re watching from the front row of the content marketing maverick’s challenge of 2019—and a bit about our surfing abilities.

What’s Truly Working in Content Marketing in 2019

Trend 1. Why Quality Matters & Long-Form Rocks

At the dawn of content marketing time, marketers could write for the machine (aka the mythical Google algorithm) and be duly rewarded with an onslaught of new organic traffic.

Favorite examples include such keyword-stuffing classics as:

old way keyword stuffing seattle plumber
(Source)

The machine loved this stuff. But, actual human readers? Not so much.

But 2019 and beyond brings a new day.

The New SEO Game

(aka now you can say stuff your audience cares about AND get rewarded!)

Google advocates that it wants to show the best search result to the audience seeking that result. It’s been chasing an elusive holy grail of how to measure which sites are indeed the best fits since the beginning. If this was easy, I have a feeling they’d have figured it out by now.

According to SEO expert consensus, audience engagement is a core part of Google’s current focus on how to reward companies as the best fits for that yummy organic traffic. As always, guessing what Google is thinking is a tough way to bet the future of your business, but that’s where we’re at in the power struggles of the modern marketing Olympic arena.

So, what does the importance of new audience engagement metrics mean to you? It means it’s time to focus more on long-form, high-quality content as the core of your written content strategy. Give the people what they want! More sweaty wristbands!

Long-Form Rocks!

While there isn’t complete expert alignment on what long-form means, we can confidently say that it rocks. Studies have tried to quantify the highly qualitative world of content and pinpointed the ideal length of a long-form post at about 2,200 words. That feels like a weird thing to say, but it’s a good indicator. And it takes a variety of different forms: long blog posts, long-form sales webpages, or those sultry pillar pages. We expect it to almost certainly evolve over time.

Here’s a quick sample of some top industry experts on what the ideal length of a long-form piece should be to maximize your organic traffic:

serp-iq-content-length

But some experts have a different view as well…

The perfect blog post length and publishing frequency is B?!!$#%X” -Rand Fishkin

rand fishkin word length blog post

Yes, size matters, but long-form doesn’t work because of the word length. That’s not the point.

The real strength of long-form is its thought leadership and ability to dive in depth on a complex topic. You can now offer well written, comprehensive content for your audience—and the search engines now reward you by connecting you with those audiences. Brilliant.

So what does “quality” actually mean?

In the world of modern digital marketing content, quality is writing that is clear, in-depth, and enjoyable to read.  

Be interesting and get to the point.

Organization and design are part and parcel to this concept as well. Laying out your content in an easy-to-follow fashion, or offering an inviting series of breadcrumbs of formatted points and subheads, carefully organized and architected, that lead the reader from one bite to the next to the information buffet waiting at the end, will serve you.

I hope I remembered to do that in this piece.

Plus bonus brand points:

While we tend to overly focus on SEO results from content, high-quality long-form offers other benefits as well. Quality content just provides a better brand experience, too. And with escalating content marketing competition, strong brand experience is critical and lends itself to readability and consume-ability of your content.

Quality should be measured in the sense of, “How much do you need, and in what form, will achieve the results you want?”

How do we know it works?

1. We’re doing it

In our own content marketing, a very large chunk of what we write is greater than 2,000 words. We have decreased our frequency to 1-2x per week after posting 5x per week since 2011.

This proved true when we started from square one in domain authority in October 2018 with verblio.com, but were able to make a full recovery just after Thanksgiving, which was a pleasant surprise for our SEO agency, to boot.

Here’s what our dip and recovery looked like for new organic users to the site (rebrand was launched early October 2018):

2. Our clients are doing it

Verblio’s product mix has changed dramatically towards long-form content in the last two years. For 3+ years, about 85% of our business was less than 1,000 words (what we consider the edge of the long-form frontier).

Now our portfolio includes less than 35% short-form and over 65% long-form articles!

We try to use our front-row seats with thousands of content-driven businesses to advocate for what’s working all the time, sometimes leading by our own example. But frankly, much of the dramatic, swift shift toward long-form was led by our visionary agency clients and savvy businesses that saw these results for themselves.

From where we sit, watching these game-changing plays before our eyes, we recommend long-form for its effectiveness and responded, dramatically bolstering our long-form service. And we certainly don’t take our seat so close to the content marketing action for granted. It comes with it great responsibility.

Here are a couple graphs about our work that show the strong trend of our clients towards long-form.

long form content clients verblio
shift from short to long form clients verblio

3. Smart companies that don’t work with us are doing it

You can see the impact directly as well. We’ve been seeing low domain-authority websites without strong brands outrank websites like Wired Magazine for a search query that gets thousands of searches per month.

Check out this example from a quick search for Nest:

domain authority comparison nest

The main takeaway here is that a smaller company with a domain authority of only 13 is crushing a top ranked 93 DA site with a higher ranking, long-form piece. Go underdogs! We’re here for you.

This example will probably change in the next five minutes before SERPs are updated, but other examples are bountiful.  

Do people even read anymore?

Some do. It’s true that video is the rising star of content, as more and more folks like to consume their content in quick, visual, highly digestible nuggets. (Stay tuned for the next episode in this 4-part series on hottest content trends all about video.)

In fact, the share of Americans who read for pleasure is down to 19% this year from 30% in 2004.

But a huge part of your target market does indeed still read. Maybe I’ll rephrase: a huge part of your target market with money in their pocket does indeed still read.

New statistics indicate Americans read less each year. But if your content is compelling and well written, they’re much more likely to read yours. Even in the modern spread offense, you still have to run great routes every time.

One of the most interesting stats I found in this area is how much of your long-form is actually read. Studies have been done that indicate that only about 20% of your long-form piece will end up being read on average. But long-form still outperforms because having longer, stronger content will establish you as an authority to your reader and help usher them in the door.

And getting them in the door is the critical part.

How do I get started transforming my content strategy toward long-form?

Long-form isn’t as easy as short-form. You have to take a stand, provide more thought leadership, find more time to write or a writer that gets you, and invest more overall. You also have to start thinking about scale for this operation, if you want to ace it.

Here are a few quick ideas that we’ve used with some of our clients to help them to deliver on their long-form goals, while lowering the time/effort barrier:

  1. Take smaller articles that are doing well organically and graft them into longer pieces using keyword research. It’s a nice shortcut to long-form.
  2. Take your most current presentation or video and transform it into your next major long-form piece. You already did most of the work.
  3. New topic creation tools have become better and easier than ever: Use ‘People Also Ask’ and you’re off to a roaring start:
slack google answers verblio

Slack tangent:

  • My favorite Verblio Slack channel is “boulderasitgets”.
  • Favorite two recent entries:
    • During yoga class, the instructor saying, “Feel the dew of heaven dripping!”
    • At Whole Foods when I asked the checker how his day was, he said, “Great! I just got a new fencing helmet!”

4. If you’re the CEO, make sure high-quality long-form really is happening

How to do this? By putting yours into the hands of someone who has the space and time to do it justice.

  • This means you should likely not be doing it yourself without support. It’s time consuming.
  • And it could be on your top 5 goals list each month, but it’s tough to make it writing part of your top 25 on any given day.

I’m so grateful to Kevin O., the Verblio writer who helped me turn my Denver Startup Week presentation into this very long-form piece. It needs to be in the hands of someone who has the space and time to do its drafting justice.

The simple takeaway:

Choose quality over quantity now. If that means fewer posts each month, so be it.

(Source)

But just as important as quality is making sure your long-form content comes out consistently. Find a way to make it an organizational priority and that you get it done.

We’ll be here if you need us along the way. Please don’t forget us when you get the $300-million contract, and throw us your sweaty wristbands when you make it to center court.

(Source)
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Steve Pockross

As CEO, Steve brings more than 20 years of startup, nonprofit, and Fortune 500 experience to not only running the business of Verblio, but also setting the culture, vision, and purpose of the team. Outside the office, Steve enjoys ultimate frisbee, telemark skiing, hosting jazz concerts, and spending time with his two boys.

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