As we move into the second quarter of 2016, I thought it would be interesting to review the topics targeted as "hot content strategy trends" in 2015 to see how accurate they ended up being. Implementing a strategic approach to content is something even a small business can easily invest in. So it is worth considering whether or not these trends were as impactful as predicted.
I was excited to see personas emerge as a trend again -- defining personas and developing customized experiences for each is crucial in a successful content strategy. However, this trend didn't quite take off the way I'd hoped. Some content strategists don't inherently understand the value of personas, focusing instead on achieving business goals without tailoring solutions to particular types of users. This results in a transactional approach, rather than a user-centered experience.
My hope is that it will not only remain "trendy" to properly target content to varied users, but that this aspect of content strategy becomes commonplace. A recent project for TeachforAmerica.org allowed me an opportunity to propose a content strategy that really speaks to the Candidates, Teachers, Alumni, Donors and other interested parties in a meaningful way. Let's keep this going in 2016!
The Rise of Adaptive Content
Users want a personalized experience that speaks to their motivations. The rise of adaptive content builds on the buyer persona trend by tailoring content toward different users. The value of investing in adaptive content is often made clear when analytics indicate better user engagement.
Adoption of this trend has been mixed. While most organizations don't employ robust personalization engines, many have at least seen the value in targeting content to segmented users, enticing them with the correct CTAs. Others have had a single-minded focus on a particular type of user they want to attract, rather than the diverse audience with different needs that actually visits their site.
I think we are going to see more organizations embracing this trend in 2016. The rise of the "omni-channel" concept depends greatly upon adaptive content. Inspiration can be found today in companies who are not only early-adopters of the concept, but masters of it. Starbucks, for example, allows users to check and reload rewards cards via phone, website, in-store, or on the app in real-time. Your hot cup of coffee awaits you as you re-load your account in line. Restaurants like Chipotle and Panera allow users to place (and save) favorite orders for pickup or delivery using mobile and other platforms. This trend is here to stay.
Most organizations understand that a significant percentage of their traffic is now coming from mobile devices, and they are optimizing the user interface to adapt to that. Unfortunately, their content strategy does not always follow suit. A report from Regalix found nearly 80% of B2B marketers did not have an exclusive content strategy for mobile in 2015.
Providing a decent mobile experience means more than responsive design -- it requires variation in the content itself. Information presented on a mobile device should always be concise, edited in a way that breaks up the points into small, digestible sections or bulleted points. Implementing a proper IA enables you to publish content on different platforms in a meaningful way.
Google's announcement in April 2015 that it intended to include mobile-friendliness in its ranking algorithms sent web teams scrambling and caused industry pundits to herald it as "Mobilegeddon." The sites that failed to heed Google's warnings paid a price. Let's hope that innovators place as much importance on the adaptability of content as the presentation of it. I expect to see this trend continue to gain momentum in 2016.
Ample Visual Content
This is a trend that really took off in 2015 -- but I have my reservations about it. While I admire a beautiful user interface (which can only enhance the content that lies within), I find that over-emphasis on visuals leads some organizations to overdo their visual content. There is nothing more annoying than a video-only item when you just want a simple piece of information. When it comes to visuals, I believe that less is more.
Whatever my personal opinion, this trend is not going away. According to Hubspot, 46% of marketers say photography is critical to their current marketing strategies; 34% of marketers selected visual assets as their most important content; and 55% plan to prioritize creating visual content in 2016.
The website created to promote the blockbuster film The Revenant is a supreme example of visual content done well. It leverages breathtaking video with interactive content to tell the story of High Glass's harrowing 200 mile journey of survival. This site alone may make me reconsider my stance on this topic.
Website Content Optimization
Over the past year, I've witnessed many organizations, both large and small, embrace best practices when it comes to optimizing their content to improve SEO. In 2015, trends included an emphasis on social media visibility, "mobilegeddon" updates, and an emphasis on localized SEO.
What remains elusive for many organizations is defining clear CTAs to capitalize on SEO. Companies often invest in improving keywords to build traffic, only to find that users are not quite sure what to do when they arrive on the site. Spending money to drive traffic is of little value if the users are confused by the content and UX. More intuitive and accessible CTAs fix this problem. Sites like Netflix.com, Dropbox.com and Evernote.com make their entire introductory screens a clear and purposeful CTA.
Inbound marketing is an extremely valuable tool, especially for small businesses. Promoting a company through blogs, podcasts, white papers, eNewsletters and eBooks is an affordable but effective way to build traffic and attract potential customers. It also serves to build a relationship with a customer base by offering information to a potential client and showcasing what the company can offer in terms of products and services. When done properly, the organization’s culture and personality shine through their content and convert visitors to clients.
Most companies seem to be on point when it comes to this practice. Citing Hubspot once more, we find that 79% of companies with a blog report positive ROI for inbound marketing. In fact, 82% of marketers who blog daily acquired a customer using their blog.
These trends have certainly been at work in our industry in the past year. When properly executed, they often produce successful results. Of course, proper execution involves being cognizant of our clients' particular needs, not proposing a content strategy simply because it is trendy. That said, it is important to stay abreast of these developments and employ the most useful ones when advantageous. Read more on developing a content strategy on our blog.