If you look at Content Marketing Institute’s B2B Content Marketing Research Study from 2020, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you won’t learn anything.
Sure, people say content marketing exists to build brand awareness and “educate their audience” but if you’re reading this (or that) then you already knew this.
Rather than insult you with the results of a survey you probably already know (because you answered it), I’ve taken an independent view of the state of content marketing today.
About the author
I’m Dom Kent, a Freelance Content Marketer. I work in B2B tech.
I spend most of my time developing content strategies or writing blog posts.
In 2020, the Mio blog reached dizzy new heights through organic search marketing.
2020 also saw me move back to having multiple clients rather than just Mio.
I wrote some crappy blog posts for a telco, I helped some SaaS startups decide what they needed to write about, and I lead content marketing efforts for a managed service provider who had never done it before.
I launched two podcasts.
Ooh, I also made The Freelance Top 50 by Databox Director of Marketing, John Bonini.
Most of my learnings along the way were documented in what I felt was a breakthrough year for me as a content marketer.
Sure, I’d been writing for ages. But, in 2019 and 2020, I became a content marketer. And I made a ton of observations. I’ve tried to include them all in here.
Enough about me; you probably don’t care.
In this post, get ready because you will learn:
- What is content marketing today? (this is a long section)
- Content promotion strategies
- Some cool content marketing statistics and observations to further your career
- Does content marketing stand out?
- Does content marketing work?
- What is the future of content marketing?
There’s a TL;DR at the end of each section for skim readers 😊
1 — What is content marketing today?
Content marketing has evolved. In 2018, this section would be written with the target of nabbing the featured snippet on Google.
Here’s what a featured snippet is; for those who don’t know.
Sounds like a good idea, right? You are the first result on Google when someone searches for your keyphrases.
The trouble is everybody has been doing this for years. And how many people do you think have targeted your keyphrase?
Use the “What is content marketing” example.
A Google search tells me there are About 3,050,000,000 results for “What is content marketing.”
And who gets the featured snippet? The bloody dictionary.
Content marketing has evolved and must continue to evolve.
Is SEO worth it now?
SEO authors have written entire books about SEO secrets and hacks — but these are all known techniques by now.
That’s not to say targetting organic search traffic shouldn’t be top of your agenda.
With every single one of my clients, the top acquisition channel is organic.
And by a long, long way.
People won’t stop Googling. Unless another major competitor does something remarkable, of course. But don’t put that in your content marketing plan. It took decades to build the largest search engine in the world and isn’t going to change this year.
What you must be aware of is:
- The competition for keyphrases (even long-tail) is incredibly high.
- Ranking high for competitive keyphrases takes time.
3. Google doesn’t always get it right.
To clarify the last point, I was searching for “how to find old tweets” on Google.
It took me until the fourth result to find the correct information.
As I type this, I checked back to see if anything has changed since June 2020.
The helpful post isn’t even on the first page.
If you are, or have the time to invest in becoming, an authority in your niche, SEO-driven blog posts are still a fantastic opportunity to generate traffic to your site.
(Good job otherwise we’d all be looking for work).
Once they are on your site, keeping them and eventually converting them is another task in itself.
This should be a key factor in your content marketing plan.
So, really, what is content marketing?
Here are some of the content types businesses are creating:
- Blog posts
- Webinars and virtual events
- Social media
- Review sites
- Interactive tools
Let’s look at the state of each of these content marketing types.
1. Blog posts
In December 2020, there were over 500 million blog posts published online.
Standing out and getting seen online has become as important as creating the blog post itself.
I’ll assume you know what a blog post is and skip straight to getting noticed.
You could hire the best copywriter in the world to write you a blog post a day but it’s money down the drain if nobody reads them.
That’s why content promotion will become more important than ever in the future.
And not just for blog posts.
The number of podcasts in the public domain has grown to over 1.5 million by December 2020.
At the start of 2020, advice to content marketers was “you need to start a podcast” — and it seems like everybody did.
I started two!
So, should you start a podcast?
The jury is out here.
As I write this, Chris Moyles, UK Radio presenter, has welcomed Simon Rimmer, a celebrity chef onto his show and asked what he’s promoting?
“Just what the world needs…another podcast!”
If you do start a podcast, it needs to be different. It needs a serious hook. And it needs to be valuable for your business.
Ask how it will generate leads? Or if you can use it as nurture content — like sending each episode out your email list every month.
The state of content marketing is that we’re over “hey we made a podcast” and have playlists as long as our to-do lists.
Video has become such an important part of our consumer lives that B2B content marketing has had to respond.
In 2020, YouTube has 2 billion logged-in monthly users.
An audience waiting to consume your content, right?
Not so much.
60% of people who’ve watched YouTube say that they watched videos that were related to their personal interests — not their business interests.
But marketers have been saying “you need to start using video” for years now.
So where should you be uploading videos and what kind of content does your audience watch?
These are both questions marketers got wrong in 2020.
Video should be a part of your content promotion strategy. When you create a blog post, make a 30-second video explaining what it’s about and upload to your social media.
If your brand relies on personal profiles, viewers want to hear from the author.
You should also use videos to produce demos or walk-through tutorials.
When your customers search for “How-to-do-whatever-it-is-that-you-sell-or-solve” then what better way to show them how to do it?
Sure, a 2,000-word blog post with screenshots is helpful. But, seeing how to do something removes incorrect assumptions and interpretations.
A small note on “going live” which seemed popular in 2019 and 2020. Going live without a large promotion process doesn’t seem to generate results.
When Facebook launched live videos in 2015, the novelty alone was the draw of watching someone broadcast live.
I asked 15 content marketers whether they had seen bad, good, or great results from going live with video on any platform.
Out of the 15, none said good, or great…
4. Webinars and virtual events
Speaking of live video, webinars are still around. But, they’re hanging on by a thread.
As more people are now home-based, event managers and marketers have turned to webinars, webinar series’, and full virtual events.
Brands struggled through 2020 to replicate the in-person experience of attending an event or session.
As I type, I have seen an underwhelmed attendee on Twitter reach out to see if his peers felt the same way.
Maybe my Twitter feed is full of people who don’t like virtual events?
I don’t think a week has passed since the start of the pandemic without someone complaining about the experience of a virtual event.
I’m certain webinars and virtual events can continue to be useful for content marketers. But, they must be conducted at the highest quality, at the optimum time (which includes on-demand), and for niche audiences.
Any content marketer hoping to cast a net and gain loads of leads must rethink their webinar strategy.
Focus on a small group of qualified contacts and produce content they can’t get anywhere else.
An oldie but a goodie.
I asked a Slack content marketing community for some advice when producing my latest infographic. One response was “every industry has enough infographics.”
This is clearly someone who created a lot of infographics in 2019 and 2020.
I don’t think every industry has enough infographics. As long as you are presenting valuable information to an interested audience, they are still a great content marketing type.
I re-used the same format that worked in 2019 in 2020 and it had the same results.
I also branched out and made something new.
As you can see it’s designed to provide real value to the audience — and doesn’t already exist in the public domain.
In fact, this type of work is what you’d usually pay a consultancy a few thousand pounds for.
TL;DR: infographics will still exist — make sure they’re better than any other source of information.
5. Social media
For lots of brands, social media is a dumping ground for links.
I’ve been guilty of this myself.
When reading Andy Crestodina’s book, Content Chemistry, I was reminded of the thirds rule. (PS buy this book; it’s my bible).
The thirds rule dictates that you should use social media to:
- Promote your own work
- Share news and industry insights
- Network with influencers and experts in your niche
Outside of using social media for content promotion, lots of brands will start leveraging the power of native social media — a social media post without a link dumped at the end.
I wouldn’t be the first (or even the thousandth) person to reference Harry Dry’s incredible social media presence.
Choosing one thread or post would be impossible so I’ve used the latest as an example:
At no point does Harry ask you to buy his stuff or hire his company.
Harry’s audience is there for examples of great marketing that they can replicate in their own marketing strategy. He knows that and he’s nailed it.
When reviewing the state of B2B content marketing, I expect lots of brands reporting they mirrored Harry’s tactic and saw great success.
6. Review sites
Review sites are some brand’s most important content marketing channel.
A non-traditional marketing channel but the power of the recommendation is one you can’t underestimate.
Depending on the industry you’re in, there’s a raft of reviews sites your brand can take advantage of.
- Software Advice
- IT Central Station
- Finances Online
- Top Ten Reviews
- PC Mag Business Software Index
- Software Suggest
The first step is getting your product or service noticed via content marketing.
The second step is validating you’re a reputable company with real customers.
A testimonial page is useful but human behavior suggests that user reviews that didn’t come from a marketer’s request are more trustworthy.
Don’t expect forced reviews or anything sinister. But, you can expect more pushes to leave a review on a trusted site as well as case studies on brand’s sites.
The SEO power that some review sites have is so much so that sites like G2 and Capterra outrank some brand’s own websites.
7. Interactive tools
If you follow or have followed digital marketer, Neil Patel, you’ll have likely seen him pushing his keyword research tool, UberSuggest.
The SEO goodness that an interactive tool brings to a website is incredible. But, if you think about it, it’s obvious.
If people spend more time on your website, researching and clicking through to different pages, Google is going to reward it.
One client of mine has created a comparison website for their niche. There’s a big job of getting people to it, to begin with. But once we create a content marketing strategy to get people to the tool, it will start generating its own SEO-juice.
Companies with the resource and the foresight to take advantage of this “SEO hack” will be rewarded.
In the same light as interactive tools, online courses have boomed and will continue to grow.
We can’t credit online courses to being SEO-magnets as the majority of online courses have likely stemmed from in-person classes being forced online by the pandemic.
The same can be said about online events. Few marketers planned for online-only events in 2020 but most ended up with an online version of what they planned for in-person.
But, the ease of getting to an online course, the reduced cost, and the option to make content available on-demand has proved more than valuable for some brands.
I reached out to several content marketers who’d developed courses for online-only consumption in 2020. But, none were willing to share any stats for public consumption.
Call me negative, but that didn’t fill me with hope.
Like infographics, webinars, and virtual events, if done right, I am still confident online courses will drive marketing leads.
Like social media, the newsletter was once a dumping ground for links.
Brands would stuff all the content they produced that month into their end-of-month newsletter and hope for the best.
In reality, 10–20% of recipients opened the email and 10–20% of those clicked the top link.
As email marketing has matured, and marketing has become synonymous with human behavior, the newsletter has evolved.
Adrienne Barnes’ newsletter is dedicated to this entire topic.
Successful newsletters are crafted to provide exactly what the audience wants at that precise moment in time.
And that precise moment in time is driven by the analytics provided in your email marketing software (use these so you no longer guess what time is best for open rates).
Newsletters (or regular email marketing campaigns) will remain effective as long as email remains the primary asynchronous communication tool.
It doesn’t look like dying out any time soon.
The eBook is the old friend of the content marketer. A vehicle to communicate everything a brand has to say about a particular topic.
Only…the vehicle has traditionally only had a few gears.
eBooks are high-effort to produce. They can be high-reward when promoted efficiently. But, few are.
One example is an eBook I wrote for an agency that was commissioned to produce an 8,000-word eBook on contact centers that work from home.
I thoroughly enjoyed writing it. The agency was thrilled with my output.
The customer did nothing with it.
As it stands, this eBook I was proud of has been viewed by two people. Me and the agency contact.
In my niche, I’ve noticed a large number of eBooks produced by analyst firms (because I follow said analysts on Twitter). But, outside of this promotion, little exists.
Marketers should continue to create eBooks — but invest in content promotion as only the best eBooks are found via organic search.
TL;DR A lot of the oldies still have their place in B2B content marketing. But, with so much competition, you need to produce the best *anything* to stand out.
Save this for later: 8 Awesome Content Marketing Books This Writer Actually Read
2 — Content promotion
Because Google is saturated, businesses that once relied on purely organic search traffic must now test other content promotion strategies.
And this applies to all ten of the content marketing types outlined above.
These include the standard sharing on social media and internal linking.
More complex and time-consuming efforts must also be invested in.
Many content marketers preach on social media about content being created once and promoted forevermore. But, few marketing teams take notice.
Here are some ways you can promote content:
- Niche forums
- Sales enablement materials
- Repurposing content in other formats
- Older and bespoke social media networks
- News aggregators
- Guest posting
- Answer HARO questions
- Link building
I explain how to promote content using these 20 platforms (and 20 more) in this post: 40 Actionable Content Promotion Strategies [With Examples]
Feedback on this particular post includes:
“The most bookmarkable thing I’ve ever read” and “Good lord, I love you for this.”
So, it’s worth a read when you’re done with this.
Is link building worth it?
Link-building is once again sexy.
Okay, it’s never going to be sexy.
But, its importance appears to be emphasized as much as the old SEO days where the content with the most links was rewarded — regardless of it if it was any good.
I am part of a link-building community on Slack which has over 5,000 members.
This is one of many communities dedicated to this niche task.
When asked whether linkable content or keyword-focused content is more important, of the 21 content marketers interviewed, can you guess how many said linkable content?
Case in point: I just linked to that round-up post.
Best practice dictates that if you are finding this post helpful, insightful, or perhaps thrilling, then you should link to it 😊
TL;DR Even if you’ve got a high-performing site for organic traffic, have a content promotion strategy ready in case Google shuts you down or competitors start to outrank you.
Save this for later: Should You Include an Author on a Company Blog Post?
3 — Some cool content marketing statistics and observations to further your career
The average content marketing team is made up of ???
How many people are in a content marketing team?
I posed this question to 1,672 members of Jimmy Daly’s Content Marketing Career Growth Slack workspace. Results were varied between 0.5 (seriously) and over 100.
More interestingly, Tatiana Morand, Content & SEO Manager at Wild Apricot, was the first to query what I meant by the core content marketing team. I didn’t have an answer for this.
At Mio, my core content marketing team is me (a freelancer), a freelance writer, and a freelance graphic designer. Between us, there is no full-time resource.
Content marketing salaries, jobs, and freelancing
According to Superpath’s content marketing survey, the average salary for a B2B content marketer is $88,679 or £65,294.
This increases to $95,775 or £70,510 for content marketers who operate 50% of more of their time as a freelancer.
I made an observation in 2020 that most of my content marketing peers who had a full-time job also worked freelance on the side.
One example of a content marketer crushing both her full-time work and freelance gigs is Rebecca Reynoso, Content Editor at G2, and Freelance Copywriter and Editor.
Perhaps this is one of the positives that has come out of national lockdowns, localized shelters, and spending more time at home.
Productising side-gigs and passive income
This side gig mentality has extended even further. Content marketers have started to productize their services.
For example, Elise Dopson has started a Podia community for sharing the best freelance/writing tips she’s gained during her career.
For a small fee, subscribers get access to Elise’s (and other high-quality guests’) brains, tools, and tricks of the trade.
Another example is the training courses that Kayleigh Moore has put together.
Using the lessons she has learned during her career as a freelance writer, aspiring writers and marketers can learn how to enhance their writing skills or turn their side gig into a full-time business.
TL;DR There are other ways and means of earning freelance, side, or passive income. You don’t need to do what you do all week long at the weekend and in the evenings. If you can productize your service, you can serve many customers in one go.
Save this for later: Podcasting From Home: The Podcast Starter Kit
4 — Does content marketing stand out?
I asked my Twitter followers if there was a single piece of content marketing that stood out for them?
While only 12 people responded to my poll, it speaks volumes that eight people said yes and over 2,000 people declined to vote or comment.
Marketers face a serious challenge in getting their content to stand out in a world where we are bombarded with adverts and content all day long.
Here are some examples people highlighted examples of great content marketing:
- Growth Marketing Guide
- SEO Tips From 20 Content Marketers Who Are Crushing It
- 17 Tips for Great Copywriting
- Your Definitive Guide to Fighting Customer Churn
- SaaS Marketing Makeover
TL;DR It is hard for content marketing to stand out (especially in B2B) so make sure whatever you produce is the best version of anything online — becoming a bit of a theme, isn’t it?
5 — Does content marketing work?
It’s the question your CEO and CMO want to know. They don’t want the number of blog views, perceived brand awareness, or how many people downloaded your last eBook.
Demonstrating that content marketing does work has been hard for marketers but there is a handy formula for calculating content marketing ROI
I must stress that showing off the output of your content marketing is dangerous if you haven’t committed to it.
Content marketing has never been and will never become an overnight thing.
Successful content marketing programs follow a six-step process. You might want to copy and paste this section for your own process.
Note: these six steps have many many sub-processes inside them.
1. Planning content marketing
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Yes, you’re probably sick of that little bit of wisdom from Benjamin Franklin but it’s so true.
I’ve taken on a new client that has LOADS of blog posts. But, none of them have any views.
We’re deleting 80% of them.
The first thing I did was review the existing bank of content to see what could be repurposed or rewritten.
You’ll see the quantity in my proposal is heavily-weighted towards to Existing content. More of that in step #6 below.
The point is that this was part of the planning phase. I know I was joining a team with a good bunch of writers. I loved reading their articles with personality and information.
But, they had no direction.
We’ve now planned to update 20% of their existing posts and are onto planning their new content.
The rest of the planning phase looks like this:
- Defining audience/buyer personas
- Keyphrase research and volume forecasting
- Where to promote the content
- Outreach for external input from subject matter experts
- Original research to be weaved in
- The angle each article will take
- How to make the content the most comprehensive version online
- How to turn the reader/listener/watcher into a paying customer
Easy, right? 🤣
2. Creating content marketing
Actually doing the content marketing is easy…if you’ve planned it thoroughly.
I got some stick for this when I tweeted similar the other day.
Each article brief or podcast script is (or should be) the equivalent of a project plan for that piece of content.
Think about it…if you write a comprehensive brief (for yourself, your staff writer, or freelancer) then you create an outline for the writer to fill in.
By making the writer’s task “filling in the blanks”, you speed up the writing process and blog planning to blog publishing sees hours shaved off total production time.
Sure, there is still research and outreach (or there should be in all great blogs) but the time-consuming 1500 words between the headers, keywords, and CTAs is reduced.
The same can be true for podcasts.
If your format is the same every week (like interviews or product walkthroughs) then you have a template or a script for every single episode.
What changes? The product/feature/guest.
As long as you have a plan, or a template, or guidelines, or whatever it might be, any content creation process can become that little bit easier.
3. Optimizing content marketing
When the copy or the audio or the video is ready, it’s oh so tempting to publish, isn’t it?
How many times have you hovered over the publish button on WordPress then thought better of it? Or maybe spent 10 minutes umming and arring before uploading to Transistor anyway.
The optimization process looks different for every business. In some cases, the writer may have to work through on-page SEO and technical SEO themselves. They may even have to produce the hero graphic.
In other cases, writers submit to an editor who “does the SEO” and a designer who creates an image.
In larger organizations, you may have an SEO team who has final say before an article is “ready” and a pool of graphic design talent working on constant blog images and YouTube thumbnails.
Whatever the setup is for you, the future will see the content that is not just the best but the best-optimized succeed.
So, that stock photo you’re about to use won’t cut it.
Consider creating custom images, hiring a freelancer to do so for you, or you could take advantage of The Mugshot Bot (it’s free to try and the paid version removes the Mugshot Bot branding).
And don’t forget about the power of SEO in your images. Titles, file names, meta tags are all considered when Google is scanning your content.
4. Publishing content marketing
Only now, once you’ve fully optimized your content for *insert platform, target audience, target anything here* should you publish your content.
That’s it. That’s the section.
5. Promoting content marketing
This is often the place where marketers fall down.
In 2020, I learned the hard way that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket and you can’t rely on a single channel for your inbound marketing traffic.
Here is my exact experience of feeling like an SEO king one day and a complete failure the next:
- The Mio blog has grown over the last 18 months and is pacing quite nicely at ~6,000 pageviews per day.
- Out of nowhere, I log in on Tuesday morning and notice that 160 people read the blog on Monday — this shock is depicted by the horrible dip and flatline on the graph below.
3. Where had the traffic gone? Had we been blacklisted? Is this the end of my content marketing career?
4. The answer was that over 93% of our traffic came from organic search. Via people using search engines and finding something we’d written. Upon searching those terms (in an incognito Chrome browser), I discovered we were no longer on Google for any of our blog posts.
5. After much panic, tweeting, and panic tweeting, it was clear that Google was suffering from its own indexing issue and we were one of the 0.02% of sites on Google affected. (0.02% still equates to a few billion pages).
6. To get back the organic traffic I felt we deserved, I was helpless. I could only wait for Google. (Don’t do this!)
7. Instead, I documented all the ways we could regain those figures that I got used to reporting each week. My content promotion strategies blog post was born and I started to follow them myself.
8. In time, we started to see the graph recover. But the lesson I learned during those three weeks was that a documented content promotion strategy is a must for any content marketing team.
To save yourself the leg-work, use mine: 40 Actionable Content Promotion Strategies [With Examples]
6. Updating content marketing
I stole this excellent blog post decision chart from Justin Simon, Global Content Strategy Manager at TechSmith.
The value of updating your existing cannot be understated. I’ve seen first-hand the spike in traffic on my many Google Analytics accounts.
Hiba Amin, Marketing Manager at Soapbox, shared similar success after she updated the content assets on the Soapbox blog.
When I asked Hiba what she did to achieve this growth, she shrugged the tasks off as simple things she does in her day-to-day.
The main things Hiba looked at were:
- What keywords were slipping?
- What People Also Ask questions can we answer?
- Updating links if they’re outdated
- Fixing up formatting (H2, H3, etc)
- Updating the publish date and creative
- What things were included in the top-ranking articles that weren’t included in ours?
These are all achievable tasks.
And the growth on Hiba’s graph showcases the importance of the Updating stage of the content marketing process.
TL;DR Don’t be afraid to stop publishing new content. Your existing content can always do better.
Save this for later: Success and Failures of Startup Content Marketing
6— What is the future of B2B content marketing?
For this section, I thought it important to get the view of B2B content marketing leaders.
And at this point, you’re likely done with my waffling about the state of B2B content marketing.
Andy Crestodina, CMO at Orbit Media Studios
For two reasons, B2B content marketers are getting disillusioned. First, top-line organic traffic numbers are flat or in decline for a lot of B2B brands. This is because clickthrough rates from Google are in decline.
Second, the sales team is asking where all the good leads are.
Combine these and the future begins to come into focus: content for sales, not just marketing.
The best B2B marketers have realized two things:
- Easy to see top-of-funnel metrics (visits, page views, followers, likes, shares) don’t correlate much with business success.
- Harder to find bottom-of-funnel metrics (conversion rates, MQLs, sales closing rate) have a huge impact on business success.
In fact, the more visible the metric, the less likely it is to be important and vice versa. We call this “Julian’s Law.”
This chart explains:
The future of B2B content marketing belongs to the marketers who figure this out and then partly shift their efforts to sales-focused content:
- Original research that supports the company’s value proposition
- Case studies and video testimonials
- Webinars with personal 1×1 invites are sent to top prospects
- Posts that answer the top sales questions
- An article you can send to prospects after the sales call
Watch how the best B2B marketers talk about sales enablement, objection handling, and account-based marketing. That’s where we’re going next…
The future of B2B content marketing will be more personal and as much more about who is telling the story and why they are telling it rather than simply what the story is.
This will mean more focus on subject matter experts and breathing more personality into content rather than dry, overly SEO-d fluff.
The successful brands will be the ones that break the fourth wall and build direct relationships between its team and customers.
(Think Morning Brew or Barstool Sports.)
Of course, high-quality content will still be a must — you’ll never be successful without that.
But the people behind your content will be just as important as the content itself.
Whether you’re marketing B2B or B2C, you’re still marketing to people, and personal connection matters.
Dr. Fio Dossetto, Content Marketing Manager at Aula
This may be a controversial opinion, but the future of B2B content marketing should not be any different from the present or the past.
Tactics and format will vary, channels may come and go, but some things never change — and these are the ones you need to stay laser-focused on.
I always go back to the same 3 steps:
- Start from a DIAGNOSIS phase, where you understand who you’re talking to, what problems you’re trying to solve for this audience through your content and define the challenge or opportunity you face.
- Continue with a STRATEGY phase, where you define the overall approach you will take with your audience.
- End with the specific TACTICS you will use to carry out your strategy. These are the ones that may look different in the future compared to 2015, like ‘let’s be on TikTok’ or ‘let’s do skyscraper content’.
Too often content marketers jump straight into the tactics part at the expense of the previous two steps — and you may get lucky and hit temporary success, but this is not a reliable, repeatable way to build a long-lasting impact with your content.
Thanks to everybody who contributed directly and indirectly. You’ve all played a part in my content marketing journey from 2019–2022.